BITS - Curriculum
WHAT BLUES IN THE SCHOOLS (BITS) IS:
The most effective BITS programs utilize a classroom curriculum that affects many students and disciplines. A comprehensive curriculum of one week to a month in length can address the main educational issues of the next century, inter discipline and diversity.
HOW CAN BLUES IN THE SCHOOLS FIT VARIOUS SUBJECTS?
Subjects like Music, Art, English, and Social Studies are natural fits, while creative teachers can individually explore ways to tie Math, Science and Technology to a BITS unit.
Just a simple activity like designing a CD package enlists Art, English, and Music disciplines. When students plan out the touring itinerary for a band, they will utilize Math, Geography, and Language Arts skills in their planning of a month on the road.
At the high school level, the in-depth study of the sharecropping system in the Mississippi Delta combines English, Social Studies, and Music to deliver a very crucial understanding of the relationship between these social and cultural factors in the birth of the blues.
WHAT TYPES OF PROGRAMS ARE AVAILABLE?
In reality, there is no cohesive, nationally directed BITS initiative that is an established program for schools grades K-12. It is more decentralized and individualized. The Saskatoon Blues Society (SBS) can help you get started with what is right for your educational discipline; your school division, school, classroom and intended age group.
The Blues Foundation provides some direction to its affiliated Blues societies, and organizations like the House of Blues, the Seattle Experience Music Project and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have designed curriculum units and lesson plans that are ready to be plugged into any grade or discipline. (Refer to links below.)
For example, Experience Music Project, in association with The Blues Foundation, has produced extensive educational materials to support The Blues series. Central to these materials are blues lesson plans for grades 9–12 in the social studies, English and music disciplines. Lesson topics include the blues in history, using the blues to study geography, racial and gender issues in the blues, the blues as poetry, identifying the blues in literature, the blues beat, making blues music, and the impact of the blues. These lesson plans are designed to make the blues accessible to teachers regardless of their level of blues expertise.
These lesson plans are available to educators in The Blues Teacher’s Guide, which was distributed in 2003 (The Year of the Blues) to 25,000 social studies, English and music department chairpersons across the United States. The guide included a compact disc comprising the seminal blues songs referenced in the lesson activities, essays on the history of the blues and blues musicology, and a blues bibliography, discography, and glossary.
A downloadable version of the Blues Teacher’s Guide, including song samples from the accompanying CD, can be found here.
The Blues in the School program offers the following:
1. A one-hour school assembly (limitation on numbers).
2. An all day workshop that either moves from class to class or remains in the same classroom all day.
3. Artist in Residency programs that last from a week to a full month. These usually culminate in an evening performance or performance at a funding festival.
Blues in the Schools - Curriculum Related Resources
How To Blues
Using Blues to Teach Literary Devices
Jimi Hendrix’s “The Wind Cries Mary” is an ideal song, not just to illustrate personification, but also to demonstrate how poetic devices enhance the meaning of the poem. As soon as the students recognize that the speaker is mourning the loss of a special person, the purpose of the personification will blossom for them.
The Underground Railroad was a significant part of American History. It served as a lifeline to hundreds of slaves who risked their lives to escape the horrors of bondage. Through readings of primary sources and listening to music, students will gain a better understanding of how slaves pursued their “freedom” by stealing away to “Follow The Drinking Gourd” to the north and to freedom.
Muddy Waters: A Case Study in the Evolution of the Blues
This lesson explores the origin and legacies of the Blues through the person of Muddy Waters. Includes a student worksheet The Great Migration and the Blues. Students will consider the causes and effects of the African American migration from the Mississippi Delta region to Chicago, and how this migration impacted Blues music.
Langston Hughes and the Blues
An authentic African-American folk-music and the foundation for much American music including rock and roll, the blues is a unique expression of black American culture. In addition to being an art form in its own right, the blues has inspired many writers and artists including Langston Hughes. Exploring the connections between the blues and the poetry of Hughes will enrich students’ understanding of the African-American experience in the early part of this century.
“And Still I Rise” Proud Black Women
By examining the lives and lyrics of popular, positive black female rappers such as Queen Latifah and Lauryn Hill, students can trace a direct line back to the inspirational writer and poet, Maya Angelou. Rap lyrics will help explicate poetry, and vice versa, in a way that students can emulate with lyrics and poetry of their choice. Segments on dance and graffiti art will further enhance students’ understanding of the creative expression.
Using Music to Teach Personal Narrative
The personal narrative, apart from appearing as an option in the writing component of many state assessment tests, is a form of writing which allows students the chance to reflect seriously and honestly on important events in their own personal experience. The use of popular music creates a space for students to express their own experiences.
Guthrie and The Grapes of Wrath
Studying the music of Woody Guthrie along with John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath will enhance students’ understanding of both works and of the historical conditions which produced them. Students will see how these artists drew inspiration from the common people and how both attempted to use their art as agents of social change.
Mending Walls: Barriers in Communications
From Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall” to Pink Floyd’s “The Wall,” humankind erects and maintains real and symbolic barriers to protect and defend opposing stances, beliefs and territories. The resulting lack of communication reinforces those barriers, often to detrimental effects. While writers, movie directors, and artists explore this theme frequently, perhaps the most accessible genre for students to study is contemporary music.
Know Thyself: Reflections of the Adolescent Identity Crisis in Music
Knowing oneself and attaining a mature identity is the developmental task of adolescence. Successful resolution of the identity crisis involves making healthy choices and personal commitments to an occupation, religious belief, and a personal value system. The search for identity is often reflected in popular music as many song writers and artists struggle to define themselves through song. In this lesson, students will analyze song lyrics which express the states of identity as proposed by the psychologist James Marcia (1966) and reflect upon their own journey towards a sense of self.
This lesson examines both the content and form of lyrics in blues songs. In addition to highlighting the basic musical form of a blues song, it also addresses the use of floating verses in blues music, both within the context of the original era in which the songs were sung and also in relation to how this practice is perceived today.
History of African-American Music
Students will be made aware of African-American music history from the slave work song through modern rap and hip-hop. Students will also be made aware of significant musical figures from several styles. Dates range from c.1619 through 2005.
The Roots of Rock and Roll
The student will use specialized music reference sources to locate information about the origins of rock and roll. The student will take notes on the origins of rock and roll and organize the notes into an outline. This activity may be used in connection with a social studies or music unit on the history of musical styles and forms.
Making Music and Playing the Blues
Students learn about the blues, research the construction of musical instruments, create an instrument using provided materials, and write a report about the process and the product.
Learning from Lyrics
Students research contemporary songs (alternative, blues, country, metal, pop, rap, and rock music) to study current social issues. They deliver oral presentations using factual data, graphics, and other media to interpret the song lyrics.
These units of study from the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute explore the history and influence of blues music.
The Blues Impulse
1997 Volume V
Table of Contents
1. They Lived in Music - Blues Women Sing Their Song - Charlene Andrade
2. The Visual Blues of Jacobs Lawrence, Aaron Douglas and Romare Bearden - Val-Jean Belton
3. How to Blues - Patricia M. Bissell
4. Finding the Rhythm of Blues in Children’s Poetry, Art, and Music - Jennifer Blue
5. Creating Blues: An Interdisciplinary Study - Medria Blue
6. The Blues Impulse—An Era and the Ambiguity of Adolescence - Sequella H. Coleman
8. Building Character: Remaining Resilient, Resourceful, and Responsible in the Face of Adversity - Kelley N. Robinson
9. Visual Blues—On the Move: Visual Art Syntheses of the Blues Impulse - Martha Savage
10. The Blues Impulse in Drama: Lessons on Racial Pain - Paul E. Turtola
11. A Guide Through the Culture of the Blues - Sloan Edward Williams III
The Blues Foundation:
Details what Blues in the Schools is all about.
The Year of the Blues Website:
Experience Music Project, in association with the Memphis-based Blues Foundation, has produced extensive educational materials to support The Blues series.
Central to these materials are blues lesson plans for grades 9–12 in the social studies, English and music disciplines. Lesson topics include the blues in history, using the blues to study geography, racial and gender issues in the blues, the blues as poetry, identifying the blues in literature, the blues beat, making blues music, and the impact of the blues. These lesson plans are designed to make the blues accessible to teachers regardless of their level of blues expertise.
These lesson plans are now available to educators in The Blues Teacher’s Guide, which was mailed this summer to 25,000 social studies, English and music department chairpersons across the country. The guide includes a compact disc comprising the seminal blues songs referenced in the lesson activities, essays on the history of the blues and blues musicology, and a blues bibliography, discography, and glossary.
A downloadable version of the Blues Teacher’s Guide, including song samples from the accompanying CD, can now be found at pbs.org/theblues.
The House of Blues:
Seattle Experience Music Project:
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:
Check out the Program section of the main page where there is a drop down menu with information for students, teachers, and general public.
If you are a music fan, this is a superb site to check out. Check out the web link below where you can play an online game called Play the Blues.
The object of the game is to put the pieces together to make a blues song! Do so by first listening to each piece and figure out which ones sound alike and then put them in order by dragging them into the box above them. At the beginning of each round, you will start with 100 points. If the piece is a correct fit, it will stay in place and you will keep all 100 points. If it is wrong, you will lose 10 points and the piece will slide back to where it came from. When you finish each round, you will get to hear the song in full.
If you are having trouble deciding which piece is to come next, you can listen to the hint and it will give you a quick preview of what the next piece is to sound like. But beware; each time you listen to the hit, you will lose 10 points!
Saskatoon Public Library:
A great source of information and selections of blues music is our Saskatoon Public Libraries. Library catalogue searches can be done from the comfort of your home.
Select E-Library Services. Select Research Guides. Then Select Music.
Find a Song on CD
Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation - Stewart Resource Centre:
Enter “blues music” to search catalogue.
American Roots Music:
The Blue Highway: