Teach Like A Rock Star
Using pop-culture to teach your students.
by Laura Hill
Last night I brought my daughters, 11 and 13, to see a post hard-core band playing on Long Island. We saw four bands in all who played for a total of four and a half hours. Everyone you could imagine was there in the tightly packed but intimate, super-artsy venue that seats 1500. Huge steel gears and pipe left over from industrial days spun in a dazzling array of colored lights. Loft seating and stadium chairs overlooked the floor. A mosh pit opened up, then a girl with blue hair surfed the crowd followed by a dozen others who were lifted up and thrown to the stage by strangers in an ultimate game of "trust fall." When they reached the stage they were put down in the run by one of the half dozen bouncers on hand to keep things safe. Kids of all different races, colors and nationalities some sporting colored hair, piercings and tattoos, others satisfied with a simple concert T-shirt mixed, some like my daughter were as young as 11. After each band played the lead singer held a meet and greet to sign autographs and take photos with a few lucky fans. And when the show was over we all surged into the street.
So good, you might be thinking to yourself, glad you had a crazy night of family bonding. But as an educator what does this mean to me? Well, here's a thought.
Music, Rock 'n' Roll, pop culture, for your generation and the one you are educating, is a vehicle that enables people to find their voice. Poets like Bob Dylan sang songs that spoke to the changing ideals of a generation. And you can probably remember times when you were at odds with your parents and peers about your association with Rock, Punk, Grunge, Hardcore, Hip Hop or any other style of music. What attracted you most likely was the excitement of the musicians but underlying that is something more fundamental, a provocative mindfulness that pushes us to look beyond ourselves, to see the world in a new perspective.
And, in a world where we all are desperately trying to define our identity online and in person, this is really huge.
At the show, despite the diversity of the audience, there was no fighting, there was no heckling, there was no injury and every band who played sent out a message of using your personal voice to create peaceful solutions to world problems. The band fronts encourage the audience to get involved in their communities, to have faith, to believe in themselves and to make a change for the better. The lead singer of Sleeping With Sirens, Kellin Quinn, went so far as to say you're the voice of the generation. Sound familiar?
Today, educators often find themselves straddling a line between what they know and how to interact with a technology driven youth culture that they don't quite understand. But the truth of the matter is if you combine pop culture with lessons you're going to get a lot more bang out of your book because your students will be much more enthused about what you're teaching.
Let students lead by starting with simple prompts like designing a great a new instrument and see where it goes. By the time the group is done collaborating and creating their instrument they will have done research, used math, engineering, art, writing, science and maybe even technology-STEAM in an optimum pumped-up application. Form a band and record a music sample to take it a step further. Share with other students around the world or better yet collaborate as part of the process and you're mimicking life skills students will use working together in the real world. These types of opportunities are an outlet for personal expression and collaboration with diverse student groups.
You are giving your students a chance to expand their minds to collaborate and learn without really noticing that they're being taught.
By helping students learn this way you're also showing students how to work together. When students go and see musicians or are exposed to other influencers that have a positive, inspirational messag
e of hope, love and ingenuity, they will collaborate together to spread a message of hope, love and ingenuity.
This is really important because students at these ages, typically between 11 and 18, are constantly trying to define themselves and find ways to express their emerging personalities, views and interests.
We as adults have many ways to express ourselves through the clothes we wear, the cars we drive where we choose to live and the people we choose to associate with. Students often don't have that much flexibility of choice, the financing, or the buy-in of decision makers (aka parents, teachers, coaches...) to express themselves in ways they feel represent the people they are becoming.
If you give students a learning experience that is linked to their popular culture and embeds a message of hope, love and ingenuity your students in turn will have a positive impact on popular culture and become people who can use their voice along with technology to reach millions of others around the world. Look at the opportunities created by YouTube alone.
Immersing students in collaborative experiences using pop culture will take time and effort on your part.
However it will teach them to be stronger people. By interacting with others and exploring their cultures students will learn tolerance, to overcome adversity, to reject haters and the divisive and often destructive nature of negative messaging.
As the world gets smaller more often we are being asked to except people who are very different than ourselves, who have different cultures, desires and motives. If we are going to nurture students who are proactive communicators, lovers of learning, lovers of culture we need to give them a sense that it's OK to explore diverse cultures and to learn to collaborate with others who are very, very different from themselves.
And here's the real uptick- children who can't find their "tribe" in traditional school channels of sports or academics can find acceptance and success in cultural arts, something that has been cut out of many school programs but that is vitally important to creative, out of the box thinking. It's something I've been fighting for for years and you should too.
Every child should have the opportunity to grow their talents with like minded students. Last night at the show I saw American youth acting more mature and more like citizens of the world than I many adults I've seen this past week.
So teachers, educators and concerned people in the world why not take a chance on the youth of today? Help to make their voice be heard. Help them bring their culture to life through positive collaborations that will allow them to grow the future in new and exciting ways.
You may have to go out of your comfort zone but you'll be giving voice to a generation that will shape the future and who knows, you may decide that some of the elements of pop culture are right for you too.
Why not take a chance, what have you got to lose?
I know that going to see the show with my daughters last night was about much more than just music. It was about helping them find like-minded people that are creating a culture of inclusion and freedom of expression, of tolerance, creativity and fun.
Now it's up to you to decide how to let your students use pop culture to learn in your classroom. How about trying a creative bottle flipping contest in which students explore the world around them creating videotapes of places where they can find the perfect bottle balance? What about a project in which students create outfits out of recycled materials?
Teaching children to be resourceful and to use pop culture to express themselves is a gift you can give. Pop culture usually doesn't grow from plenty but from need and innovation. It is the voice of the people, so let your students be heard.