farmington – Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are coming to Farmington.
No, it’s not the legendary Rolling Stones duo, but rather Maureen Oswald and Mark Simpson, Mt. Blue Middle School teachers who will play the rockers’ roles as part of a unit they designed to teach students history and English through rock and roll music.
For the seventh straight year, eighth-graders are taking part in the unit, which lasts three weeks. On Thursday they will culminate their work by performing their song in “air band” style. While the performance is the final stage of the process, the unit is much more extensive, and brings in elements of social studies, English, computer skills and art.
“To teach the ’50s and ’60s, which is part of my curriculum, we do it using music because kids love music,” said Simpson, who teaches social studies and is an avid music fan. “I’m also trying to expose them to actual good music.”
Students must pick a band or artist popular between 1955 and 1975 – what Simpson calls the “golden age of rock and roll” – and research the history of the band as well as what was going on in the world at the time.
While Simpson is working on the historical aspect of the project, Oswald has students perform a lyrical analysis of their song as part of her English class. She says it is important for them to look closely at the lyrics to truly understand their meaning.
“To get it deeper, I make them go in and find lines that prove that what they think is happening is really happening,” she said. “Also, what was happening at the time that song came out is as important as the lyrics in that song.”
Students also create a PowerPoint presentation that is played during their performance and they make a banner that serves as a drum cover, calling on their artistic skills.
Local music experts are brought in to judge the performances. Prizes are given to the top three acts.
Students have free choice over group size, but Simpson and Oswald noted that in the unit’s seven year history only solo acts have earned first place honors.
Simpson said that this approach to teaching allows students to really connect with the era and learn about it more directly.
“It brings it alive for them more. They really feel it,” he said, “You’ve got to be able to feel history. Not just learn it, but actually internalize it.”
“A big lesson for the kids is that things have changed so much from back then to the way it is now,” he added. “So we don’t do a lot (with censorship), we allow them to explore and find out. But we do tell them that this was an age of much turmoil and change in America.”
The final performance will take place at 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 1, at the Roberts Learning Center, room C131. The following morning the students will perform for their fellow eighth-graders at the middle school.