Banfield students connect music to math, writing

Published 6:31 am Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Students at Banfield Elementary are singing all the way into summer.

Nancy Arneson’s music students recently started a 42-day countdown song. Twice a week, each time they meet with Arneson, students sing the song to the tune of musical notes taped to her classroom wall.

This is just one annual activity in Arneson’s music room, where she said most of the lessons are rooted in making connections. At Banfield Elementary, music and art classes are valued as their own disciplines as well as complementary tools to reinforce other concepts, she explained.

An example of the link between music, art and the other subject areas is evident in one of Arneson’s favorite projects.

Each year, Arneson and art teacher, Jackie Porter, team up with English teachers for a creative writing, music and art project.

For this project, the students are first assigned a poem in creative writing class. The poems, which are often written to a special person in their life, are then brought to music class where they put a melody to it. The students then perform the song — either by singing it or playing it on the recorder for the class. Next, it’s transferred to a colored sheet and is decorated either in art or music class. Finally, the students are directed to give the sheet as a gift or perform it to the person it was written for.

“This is one of my favorite connection projects because it involves so many skills,” Arneson said.

Similar projects are done with a variety of other themes such as the study of the Underground Railroad in history class and the emergence of spring in science.

Projects like these, Arneson said, are done to help students reinforce their learning. Links are drawn from music and art to all of the subjects but most attention is paid to reading and math, she said.

“There are children in our school who would sing everything they learned if they could,” she said. “These lessons are for them, and for any student who benefits from an extra connection, an extra spark.”

The most natural connection from music is to math, she said.

“They are extremely correlated.”

Music can be used to help students learn material and prepare for tests in other classes as well. Arneson said she often teaches individual students a rap or song to memorize material when they need extra help.

Even the schools concert programs, which center on an educational idea, work to tie music and art into the other disciplines, Arneson added.

Arneson said she hopes that fifth-graders leave her class and head off to middle school knowing how to sing in tune; the elements of rhythm; sing a repertoire of songs; and play instruments.

She also wants them to understand how music and the arts can enrich their learning.

“When they make a connection, their eyes just light up.” Arneson explained. “The concept is just that much better for them. It’s so fun to see.”