Music in STEAM Education Part I
Several weeks ago, a third grader asked me, “Ms. Bearden, is being a teacher frustrating?”
You have no idea, I thought.
“Well Sara, it can be very frustrating sometimes, but the rewards you get from teaching make all the difference.”
“But Ms. Bearden, is teaching difficult?”
“It can be,” I said, “but I think lots of jobs can be difficult. What really matters is how you feel about what you’re doing. If you have passion about something, you can make it through the difficult times.”
“Good, that’s what I thought,” said Sara, “because I’m thinking that I want to be a teacher.”
Some days, I do get frustrated, and, yes, teaching can be very difficult; but the rewards of teaching music help to weigh out any of those not-so-great feelings. Music is language, music is math, music is reading, music is exploration, music is active, special, and creative —all rolled into one. In music class, we sing, dance, step, stomp, move, create, clap, shake, and so much more.
I feel blessed that I see my K-2 students 3 times a week for 45 minutes each time. In a typical class period, activities range from singing (first and foremost), clapping rhythms, tapping a steady beat, writing rhythms, reading rhythms, playing singing games, playing freeze dance, or reading a story. When we sing songs and clap out the rhythms, we are accessing our language and our math brains. When we play Freeze Dance, we learn to respond to musical cues while expressing our creativity, often also working on our balance, depending on our choice of final freeze pose.
One of my favorite activities I’ve been utilizing lately combines language, creativity, and solo singing. I call it “So-Mi Stories.” So-Mi is the first interval that a toddler inherently learns. Many children’s songs like “Rain Rain Go Away” contain this interval. It is often the interval a door bell makes and many of us use it when we “sing speak” words like “Hel-lo!”
For So-Mi Stories, we start off simple. I sing the students a question like “What is your favorite color?” using the interval So-Mi. Hearing that, the student will mimic back their response singing, “I like blue.” For more of a challenge, I sing, “Sing me a story about what you will do after school today.” Again, the student will respond to the prompt, but they must sing it back to me. Sometimes the stories are “I’m going to do my homework and then play Xbox,” to which I answer, “I hope you’ll do them in that order.”
I’ve had even the shyest students participate because they just really want to tell me something about their day. One such student, who, on a Monday, told us about her weekend, singing that she went downtown to the museum and went shopping with her mom. She was on a roll and sang the whole thing!
Giving my students a voice like this and a form of expression that is dear to my heart is what makes my job worth it every day.
Ms. Amy Bearden is currently in her 7th year of teaching. She has been at Horizon Science Academy McKinley Park in Chicago, a public charter school serving grades K-9, since it opened in 2013. A native of Arlington Heights, Illinois, Ms. Bearden holds a bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Millikin University and a master’s degree from Indiana University in Medieval and Renaissance Music History and Performance. Outside of teaching, Ms. Bearden sings professionally in the Chicagoland area and is the artistic director of an early music vocal ensemble, The Marion Consort.
HSA McKinley Park is managed by Concept Schools is a 501(c)3 non-profit charter school management organization with 30 charter schools in 7 Midwest states. Follow us on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.