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Grade 6 gets Creative by Practicing Awareness

by Felipe Calderon,  High School Music Teacher, Colegio Franklin Delano Roosevelt, cross posted to Teaching Journal Blog.

The International Baccalaureate defines creativity as: ” The capacity to generate new ideas and think of existing ones from a new perspective as well as recognize the value of an idea in order to solve a problem or innovate”.

Innovation and creativity are currently 2 of the big buzz words in education. There are  numerous university courses in the field of creativity. I recently took an online workshop with stanford university called ‘Music to my Ears‘ where people from different parts of the world explored their creativity through a variety of tasks that focused on music. As a musician a lot of these things are  embedded in the way I think and do things but I wanted to see if there was anything I could apply in my own teaching. A few questions come to mind:

1) Can creativity be taught? 2) Why do adults ‘loose’ the ability to be creative in later life? 3) What can the way in which we teach the arts help inform other subjects about their creativity? 4) What is creativity in music?

An opportunity… Grade 6 is working on a unit in the arts where they explore the following concept:

                                      “How can I define myself through Art?” When planning, the obvious things came to mind: composing a song about themselves, singing songs that describe this concept etc. At the time of planning I was teaching a unit on 20th century art music to DP students. We were listening to music from Reich and Cage, Sattie and Varesse to name a few. We were also about to attend a concert conducted by Krzysztof Penderecki in Lima, a great experience! One day in a lesson a DP student ask me wether the music from this era was considered art or music? This was a great observation from the student and got me thinking…Is there a difference between these 2 concepts? if they are different where does it leave music with regards to creativity? How is music creatively different from other arts? To try some of these ideas I decided to focus my grade 6 unit on contemporary 20th century ‘art-music’ and see what happens.

I used the idea of ‘awareness’ because it’s present in the criterion objectives and because it’s a powerful word! I decided to look into the power if this word and landed on Buddhism and meditation. No… i was not going to try meditating with grade 6! This is what happened: The students had to make a list of all the sounds that represent who they were. The sounds could be anything but they had to be ‘non-musical’. The way awareness played a part was by asking them to sit quietly and still for 1 minute everyday and list all the sounds they hear, to become aware of their sonic surroundings. They collected sounds for about 3 weeks and they had to assess how important or meaningful was that sound in their lives. In the meantime we did other music-type-things like learning to write and read rhythm, pitch and sing. 2 weeks before the end of the unit, students put all their sounds into garage band. They started cutting and morphing their sounds into patterns that became rhythm and adding effects that gave the listener the impression of melodies and textures. The results were very interesting. Without me telling them what the elements of music were, the students were discovering this themselves by turning non-musical sounds into music. Here are 2 examples: (warning: experimental music, better with headphones)

The feedback from the students was very positive, the word ‘creativity’ popped up a few times. We also had some great discussions on what music is? it was a very good opportunity to mention different cultures and parts of the world and what music is in other places.

Great unit! definitely doing this again!

#ColegioFranklinDelanoRoosevelt #Peru

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