When San Diego schools transitioned to distance learning in March 2020, Gage Elementary third grade teacher, Maria Weiss, joined the legion of educators suddenly pivoting to online learning. But Mrs. Weiss, a passionate GITC teacher, had one very special tool in her toolkit to deal with challenging transitions-- her ukulele!
Mrs. Weiss had already begun the semester singing and strumming with her students in person, and she knew the benefits -- increased student engagement, enhanced literacy and math skill-building, and an overall boost in class morale. She also knew it was important that they continue to have access to instruments at home to deal with the stresses of being out of school.
Luckily, with support from GITC’s unique Porch Pickup℠ team, Mrs. Weiss was able to provide a free ukulele, as well as some fun accessories, to each student in her class who elected to participate.
“Distance learning is hard,” Mrs. Weiss explains. “Getting students to turn in work is a challenge. Keeping their attention on Zoom for long periods is a challenge. The ukuleles were a big help. We played music every day for fifteen to twenty minutes and it ended up being the best part of their day.”
Music makes learning more fun and engaging, and Mrs. Weiss was able to see this in action, even in an online setting. “During math, all of a sudden I could hear them singing a song [that we’d worked on] to solve a problem. I could see they were using all parts of the brain and not just staring at the screen,” she explains.
Mrs. Weiss noticed another important benefit of the work quickly as well -- the boost in self-confidence that the students showed as they continued to practice. The students started saying things like, "just by practicing every day, we sound so good!" and "I can kind of do this, I’m getting better!"
As far as music was concerned, Mrs. Weiss had only one solid rule for the class, a rule that had been passed on to her by GITC Faculty Member, Dan Decker. “I said ‘you have to share your music with other people. That’s the one rule. Who are you going to call today and play a song? Who are you going to share this music with?’”
Mrs. Weiss reports that many students shared the music with friends and family members, some of whom even joined in the fun on Zoom. "The class took the story The Big Red Lollipop and broke it into beginning, middle and end. Then we split into 3 groups. A couple of parents helped in the Zoom breakout rooms while students wrote their section to the tune of “Hush Little Baby,” she explains. “The process took a week but it was almost like a celebration when we finished!”
In another effort to the share the music, Mrs. Weiss also put together an incredible Google Slides Ukulele Class that GITC teachers can download below.
“Of course, playing at home is not as fun as in person,” Mrs. Weiss clarifies. “But just hearing the students getting their voices out has been amazing.”
During this time, we each have a chance to do everything we can to express our care, concern for and commitment to the cause of creating social justice. Doing our absolute best to address and cure prejudice, vanquish racism and disarm hatred is all-important. There are many different ways we can go about this and our choices are very personal.
One way we can make a musical difference is to speak up and sing out for social justice with the beautiful, powerful and historical songs that have helped people build solidarity and work for civil and human rights for over 60 years. So many of these songs have always had an important place in the GITC curriculum.
"This Little Light of Mine," "I'm On My Way," "Oh Freedom", "We Shall Overcome" and "We Shall Not Be Moved" are just a few of our favorites. Each one gives us and our students powerful, uplifting messages to share at all times, and especially in times like these. Newer songs like Ben Harper's "With My Own Two Hands" carry the message forward.
When you sing, play and teach any of these songs, you can feel the positivity, power and presence of all those who have come before to advocate for social justice in our lifetimes and throughout history. Please enjoy the amazing videos and recordings below. They are performed by the very people who have sung them for the purpose of changing society for the better.
Here's hoping you'll join us in letting your light shine brightly for the causes of compassion, understanding, peace and justice in our
time. Black lives matter! https://blacklivesmatter.com