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Music and math?

Music class is a time for children and music teachers alike to learn about and enjoy the benefits music can give to our world, despite the effects our national economy is having on our school systems and budgets, ever dwindling. Music reaches beyond the daily façade we all march through, delving into our true thoughts and emotions. The effect music has on humans has always been mystifying, even to the best scientists and psychologists, and the impression music makes in the life of a child is especially important. Aside from helping one grow socially with hand games and jump-rope songs on the playground, music can inspire a child to find new ways to express themselves, deal with personal disappointments and joys, and find a place to “fit in” when everything around them seems to be constantly moving and changing.

To help students see the importance of music in school, and to help them understand what they are capable of accomplishing in various economic situations, I assigned a Music Budget project to the 4th and 5th grade classes, extended over a period of two weeks. In the first week, we discussed in detail what is needed for an elementary music classroom to successfully teach students valuable lessons in the world of music. Students mentioned instruments first, as they have become enamored with the idea of playing music to release their energy. But after a little prodding and direction to the literary side of music, they expanded their necessary materials to visual aids, sheet music, audio files and CDs, and curriculum materials. This discussion helped students think deeper, reach into higher-level thinking, and help them open up to a new perspective: “What if I was the teacher and I got to make all the decisions?”- Because someday they might!

In the second week of the project, the students created small working groups, and each group received a different monetary value that represents their “Music Program Budget,” varying from $380 to $1,000. Each student was assigned a job: the group “manager” who helped keep everyone on task and working as a team, a “mathematician” who kept track of how much money the group spent on materials, “creators” who cut and pasted pictures of needed materials onto their poster, and a “writer” who completed the labels on the poster, including a total amount for any “multiples” or class sets.
The students had no choice but to communicate on this project, and since face-to-face communication is losing ground in our society of technology, this was a great opportunity for them to practice this skill with one another. Some groups did a great job with this, spending their budget to the last few cents, and others fell short, left with two- and three- digit numbers at the end. The students voiced that it became difficult to decide what to buy when their money ran low, and some had to make the decision to scrap one instrument for some sheet music or an activity book so they would be able to teach their students valuable information.

In public schools today, teachers, students, parents, staff members, volunteers, and community members are experiencing the effects of our national economy. This brings feelings of anxiety, anger, even panic for the years to come. As individuals, we may feel like there is nothing we can do but “deal with it” and “do our best until it’s over,” but something we can do is help our young people learn the tools and processes needed to overcome these hardships. Teaching children the skills to manage their lives in a frugal manner may help to decrease the national debt over time, and will definitely provide a more stable future for our children and generations to come.


Written by: Amber Mattatall, Music Teacher
Posted: May 01, 2012 by Jennifer Williams

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