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Classroom, Jazzy lessons and activities for K-12 cats
Index of Lesson Plans and Activities for Grades 6-12

Social Studies

"Jazz is About Freedom": Billie Holiday’s Anti-lynching Song Strange Fruit
This lesson focuses on Billie Holiday’s signature song, Strange Fruit, a protest song written in 1938 about the ongoing and intransigent problem of lynching in the American South. Students research the history of lynching in America through analysis of primary documents and reflect on the role of music in various protest movements.

"Jazz is About Collaboration": Jim Crow Laws And Segregation
Groups of students form their own imaginary jazz bands, which will tour several cities in Depression-era America. Jazz band members create imaginary identities for themselves, develop publicity for their tour, and keep diaries of their journey to explore what Jim Crow laws and a segregated America mean in their daily lives while on tour.

"The Will to Play Together": Jazz Music and the Crisis Over School Desegregation
Students produce a jazz radio program as the school desegregation crisis in Little Rock, Arkansas unfolds before the nation in early September of 1957. As part of their jazz radio broadcast, students interview many jazz musicians, legal scholars and writers; their most important guest on their show is Louis Armstrong, who risked his fame and fortune when he criticized President Eisenhower for failing to publicly support the Supreme Court decision and act forcefully in Little Rock.

 

Language Arts

Visualizing Jazz Scenes of the Harlem Renaissance
Students in grades 8-12 may investigate the Harlem Renaissance, focusing on Harlem as a "Mecca" for African American artists, musicians, and writers. Using jazz music and literary selections related to the Harlem jazz scene, students will create a Harlem Renaissance-era jazz exhibit.

Black and Blue: Jazz in Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man
Students in grades 11-12 explore recurring themes of invisibility and jazz by reading excerpts of the novel, writing about major characters, summarizing events, connecting jazz themes with key concepts in the novel and creating new interpretations of the impact of jazz on Invisible Man.

Transcending Poetry, Jazz, Rap & Hip Hop
This lesson is designed to allow grades 11-12 to explore poetry, jazz, rap and hip hop music and discover the common threads that run through the poetry and music, and how the themes and subject matter of the poetry and music reflect the lifestyle of the period. Students will read and listen to lyrics, research historical periods and artists, and write their own lyrics to a jazz, rap or hip hop song.

Defining Jazz Music
Students in grades 9-12 listen to jazz, read literature about jazz music and explore interviews with jazz musicians in order to investigate the types of sounds that make up jazz music. Students will research where those sounds originated and who the early players of jazz music were, and then construct a timeline showing how the sounds of jazz have changed over time.

Improvise a Short Story
Students in grades 6-8 learn that improvisation is a highly structured art form that requires a great deal of practice, awareness in the moment and awareness with those that you interact with musically. The lesson culminates in an improvised group short story, group discussion, and a student-led musical improvisation.

 

Music

Defining Jazz Music
Students listen to jazz, read literature about jazz music and explore interviews with jazz musicians in order to investigate the types of sounds that make up jazz music. Students will research where those sounds originated and who the early players of jazz music were, and then construct a timeline showing how the sounds of jazz have changed over time.

The Blues As A Tool To Improvisation
Students use the 12 bar Blues form as a vehicle to gain fluency with improvisation. Students will improvise on a given instrument a melodic line in the 12 bar Blues structure. The lesson will culminate with students recording and transcribing their 12 bar Blues solo.

Improvise a Short Story
Students in grades 6-8 learn that improvisation is a highly structured art form that requires a great deal of practice, awareness in the moment and awareness with those that you interact with musically. The lesson culminates in an improvised group short story, group discussion, and a student-led musical improvisation.

 

Math

Jazz and Math: Improvisation Permutations
After an introduction to improvisation through a drama game, a discussion, and a video clip, students in grades 9-12 explore how many different rhythmic combinations can be improvised in a jazz/blues piece of music. They use trial and error, and they apply the formula to calculate the number of possible rhythmic combinations.

Jazz and Math: Rhythmic Innovations
Students view a segment of the PBS Ken Burns JAZZ documentary about Buddy Bolden creating the "Big Four," which gave jazz its lilting rhythms as opposed to the straight "boom-chick-boom-chick" of a march. Students compare and contrast the rhythms of marches and jazz based on the examples in the film, and explore notation, subdivision of notes and the altered and innovative rhythms found in jazz music.

Jazz and Math: The Beat Goes On
Students in grades 6-9 use their heartbeats as a basis for finding beats per minute and then relate this concept to tempos from various selections of music in the PBS JAZZ documentary to develop a better understanding of the concept of rates (ratio).

Jazz and Math: The Fibonacci Keyboard
After watching segments of the PBS Ken Burns JAZZ documentary that emphasize the use of the piano keyboard, students in grades 6-9 explore the relationships between the piano keyboard and the Fibonacci Sequence.

 

About the Authors

Patricia D. Bradford (Language Arts Lessons):

Patricia Bradford, chairperson of the English Department at Charles Herbert Flowers High School in Prince Georges County, Maryland, was recently named Prince George's County Teacher of the Year.

Carol Fisher ("The Beat Goes On," "The Fibonacci Keyboard"):

Carol Fisher is a veteran teacher within the Chicago Public School system. Winner of both the prestigious Golden Apple Award for Educators and the Illinois Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science and Math Teaching, she has been recognized as an innovative math educator. Her lifelong involvement in music, currently as principal bass clarinet with the internationally acclaimed Northshore Concert Band balances her right brain and left brain energies. Carol enjoys sharing ideas with other educators and welcomed the opportunity to intertwine two aspects of her life and share these activities with others.

Judith M. Kelly (Language Arts Lessons):

Judith Kelly, currently director of the D.C. Area Writing Project, taught middle school for 27 years in the District of Columbia Public School System. She was recently honored by the D.C. Council of Teachers of English.

Amy Lein ("Improvisation Permutations," "Rhythmic Innovations"):

Amy Lein has taught mathematics and the performing arts for the past 5 years—but usually not at the same time! Being an advocate for involving all of our multiple intelligences in education, she jumped at the chance to develop lessons linking jazz music to mathematics. Currently she is teaching math and science to high school students with special needs, and continues to play classical violin and sing jazz in her free time.

Consentine T. Morgan (Language Arts Lessons):

Consentine Morgan, currently academic dean at Frank W. Ballou Senior High School in Washington, DC, has taught English for 28 years. She is one of the three 1999-2000 ACE-Intel Teacher Summer Institute grand prize winners for her lesson plan integrating technology into history and English language arts.

Joan Brodsky Schur (Social Studies Lessons):

Joan Brodsky Schur teaches social studies and English at the Village Community School in New York City. Her work in the classroom has been described in various articles she has written over the years for Social Education. Joan and fellow-colleague Sari Grossman are the editors of In A New Land: An Anthology of Immigrant Literature. Joan is also a contributing author to the Constitution Community, a Web site of the National Archives at http://www.archives.gov/digital_classroom/constitution_community.html.

Brett Smith ("The Blues As A Tool To Improvisation," "Improvising A Short Story"):

Brett Smith’s sixteen years of teaching classroom, vocal, and instrumental music, have been broad and varied including each grade level of K-12 students as well as College instruction. Teaching assignments have included suburban and rural settings, with his present duties focusing on elementary classroom music in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. Brett received his B.A. from Gustavus Adolphus College and his M.A. in Music Education from the University of Minnesota. In October of ’99, Brett was named the Minnesota Teacher of the Year, and went on to become one of the four finalists for the 2000 National Teacher of the Year. He is the President-elect of the Minnesota Music Educators Association.

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