History Beats Beats On

If you want to engage students, start with the things they love. Music is a universal language that is also a powerful gateway to many things, including learning. I have developed a few music-related Building Outside the Blocks projects (BOBs) including my well known Personal Playlist Project, which is the format for my Personal Playlist Podcast. I also created Music and Lyrics, and then came History Beats.

When I first conceived of History Beats, it was because I was teaching MYP 2 Individuals and Societies in an IB school. In Ontario. That means teaching Geography and the very Canada-centric History curriculum in a globally minded school. In looking to find ways to connect with a wider view of history, I thought of this project. I wanted to have students use the historical lyrics to take them beyond the curriculum while also working towards expectations in Reading, Writing, Oral Communication, and Media Literacy. While I am not teaching History this year, I am teaching Music, which is something I am not qualified to teach. In my virtual classroom, this projects helps my students work towards Music expectations by having them analyse whether the elements of music contribute to the meaning or message of the song. It also helps my students develop research skills for our non-fiction literacy unit. It’s also a great way to teach research skills and help students develop their critical thinking skills understand the bias of different perspectives. It had been a few years since I used this project, and I loved providing it for my grade 8's this year with all of the dimensions.

When I introduced the History Beats assignment, I reviewed the outline and sent the students to a link with an alphabetical list of “historical” songs from which to choose. I then gave students the remainder of the period to investigate the song options and consider selections based on the song or the topics, not limited to the list, and the planner on which to sign up for a presentation date. That was the last bit of class time allotted for this project except when it was time for presentations. We listen to and watched 2 presentations on 4/5 school days for a month, and we have all learned a lot.I have tweeted some of the projects under #HistoryBeats, but here are some of the songs they chose:

This Is America by Childish Gambino The Gunners Dream by Pink Floyd Boston Tea Party by The Sensational Alex harvey Band Cold Harbor by The Outlaws

Black Friday by Steely Dan Ring Around The Rosie

London Bridge Is Falling Down Fortunate Son by CCR January 28, 1986 by Owl City Crazy In Alabama by Kate Campbell Wednesday Morning Macklemore Enola Gay by OMD Countdown Rush Sunday Bloody Sunday by U2 Radio Bikini by The Vaccines The Great Titanic China by Joan Baez Zombie by The Cranberries Canadian Railroad Trilogy by Gord Lightfoot

Mississippi Goddam by Nina Simone Run To The Hills by Iron Maiden A Great Day For Freedom by Pink Floyd Glory John Legend and Common Biko Peter Gabriel (and new version with Playing for Change)

Buffalo Soldier by Bob Marley and The Wailers

Great Day for Freedom by Pink Floyd Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story- from Hamilton the Musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda

Through History Beats, students taught themselves and each other (including me on some accounts) about events, places, people and time periods that made the learning truly global. The stories of the songs presented came from many eras and genres and included such themes such as:


-equal rights





-indigenous peoples

History Beats is about selecting a song lyric relating to an historical time period, person or event. Students research at least 3 different perspectives on the song’s meaning, annotate the lyrics, and present. This is a high yielding project for many reasons, and I gauge my success based on their work and reflections (unedited):

The songs we had to choose had to have a historical meaning behind it, so we went deep into the history of the event the song was talking about. -Andrew

This is a powerful and cross-curricular project because it involves more than one aspect of learning. We are combining literacy, music, history and communication skills. I think we've learned a variety of new tools by doing this project and they all can help us in the real world. Now, when we hear new music we can analyze it through a new eye and maybe do some research into new songs. -Eva

Thanks to the History Beats presentation, I learned about segregation in Alabama and the Civil Rights Act, the Boston Tea Party, and the Bloody Sunday event in Northern Ireland. This was a very powerful project because there were a mix of music and history components included. I liked how the songs told the stories of different historical events and I think it's important that we understand the events that happened in history so that we can in a way, predict the future based on what happened in history. -Melissa

I learned that the London bridge nursery rhyme isn't just a playful rhyme. It was about the London Bridge that fell and I also learned from that that there were children buried in the structure. I also learned that in the Boston Tea Party, about 92,000 pounds of tea was dumped overboard. As well, I also learned that Enola Gay was the name of the plane that dropped the atomic bomb in WWII, and that the plane was named after the pilot's (Paul Tibbets) mother, Enola Gay Tibbets. I think that History Beats was a really good way to learn about the history of our world through music. This project was a smart way to combine music and history class together, learning about both important historical events and searching for parts of music in the song. Caiah

This project was a powerful project because each of us learned something, and we learned about the history behind the songs. Each of us had a chance to teach another and that experience matters. Jake

This was a powerful cross-curricular project, as [Superintendent] Michael Cohen had said himself when he came to our class and listened to our History Beats. He commented that he didn't know what class he was in as it felt like history but also music and literacy. I feel like our curriculum is quite limited especially for history where it's only Canadian history and I'm glad that we touched on historical events and people all around the world. The music aspect of it was interesting as I think the usual curriculum would be doing rhythm and sheet music or playing an instrument but we can't play an instrument online and we don't have a designated music teacher. So looking at how the elements of music impacted it was a great way to include that into the project. The presentation allowed many subjects to be fitted into one and that's what made it powerful. - Felix

In virtual classrooms, this was a particularly great project because it helped students work towards meeting many curricular expectations in Music and Literacy, it helped them continue developing learning skills like organization, responsibility and thinking, and it has helped me set the groundwork for their next PBL that turns into a BOB- the Impact Project by helping them build research skills. It is also a great way to use the global competencies, as my friend and mentor Rola Tibshirani reminded me. I am so glad that History Beats beats on to fill my virtual classroom with "...music, love and pride"