Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity


Posted at 5:00 AM ET, 12/30/2010

Learning the French Revolution with Lady Gaga: Teachers sing history lessons

By Valerie Strauss

Imagine learning about the French Revolution through a videotaped musical parody of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.”

Or about Leonardo da Vinci via a version of The Beatles' "Dear Prudence" as performed by Siouxsie and the Banshees. Or about Mary, Queen of Scots by way ofJenny from the Block” by Jennifer Lopez.

Teachers in Hawaii have found a way to get around the common student complaint that history is dry and boring.

Amy Burvall, who works at Le Jardin Academy in Kailua, Oahu, and her creative partner, Herb Mahelona, who used to work with her at St. Andrew’s Priory in Honolulu, decided to put history to music -- and then make a video about it -- to lure kids into the subject.

And they say it works.

The videos are posted on You Tube as History for Music Lovers.

Here’s Burvall’s account of how her song- and video-writing enterprise began:

“It all started about 4-5 years ago when we were both working at the same school (me teaching World History and Humanities and Herb teaching Flash animation and art, and working with teachers in tech integration).

“I have always loved singing and rhyming – and particularly coming up with silly, catchy lyrics. Often when a person moved away or took another job I’d make up song lyrics about him/her to popular tunes, then perform at the goodbye ceremony. When I first started teaching almost 20 years ago I would write simple French lyrics to well-known children’s songs for the kids to practice concepts.

“I think the first songs I created for my history classes were Civilization (to Gwen Stefani’s “Harajuku Girls”) and Henry VIII (to Abba’s “Money Money Money”). These were both created on a whim while listening to those songs repeatedly in the car. In fact, I remember rushing home to jot the lyrics to Henry down before I forgot them after my drive.

"Herb took a liking to them and suggested we record and film them instead of me trying to sing them to and with my classes.

"So, we did! I think “Iceman” and “Prehistoric” were some of the other earliest ones, since chronologically they had relevance at the beginning of the year. I started to get inspiration and write lyrics as I was teaching a unit, while everything was still fresh in my brain. Later the filming, costuming, and editing got more elaborate, especially when we saw that the students’ response was so positive – it really encouraged us to experiment with the green screen, etc.

"Shortly after my first two songs I was diagnosed with breast cancer (not fun with a 2 year-old at home). The chemo caused me to lose my hair – which resulted in the purchase of the variety of wigs you’ll see in all the videos (since most were filmed when I was bald).

"The drugs made me have a terrible case of insomnia, but I turned that into a positive thing as I worked on lyrics in the middle of the night. In fact, I have never since felt so creative! Sometimes the songs just flowed...I remember driving to radiation therapy everyday listening to a collection of my favorite ‘80’s tunes – most of which blossomed into a history parody soon thereafter.

"Herb eventually got into the lyric-writing as well, and I think three of his masterpieces are “Chinese Dynasties”, “Mary Queen of Scots”, and “Viva Roma No. V.

"My personal favorites are, in order: Elizabeth I (“She’s Not There”), Canterbury Tales (“California Dreamin'”) and Napoleon (to Violent Femme’s “Gone Daddy Gone”, which we haven’t even filmed yet).

"After about a year of showing the videos in class as either an intro/teaser to a lesson and/or as a recap for study help a lot of students expressed an interest in doing the project themselves, so I made that a culminating project option.

"I’ve had some amazing student-created lyrics and videos over the past few years. Some include “Jack the Ripper” to “Womanizer”, “Mussolini” to “Paparazzi”, and a beautiful song about Corrie Ten Boom to Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah”. The students really appreciate how time-consuming the process is after creating their own.

""Speaking of time-consuming ... lyrics can take anywhere from an hour to eight hours, depending on how much writer’s block I have. I am always being inspired by songs and topics, and now that we have “fans,” we get requests.....

"...To be honest, most kids have really enjoyed the ‘80’s songs--overall favorite being “99 Luftballons”/”Beowulf.”

"They frequently purchase the original after hearing it in my class. They often tell me they hear the song outside of school (like at the dentist) and can only remember my lyrics. My 6-year-old says that, too, she listens all the time and has all the lyrics memorized, though frequently asks me questions about “coup d’etat” or “illegitimacy.”

"One particular class felt drawn to “Agincourt”/ “As Tears Go By”, which really shocked me. The next was so into “Charlemagne”/”Call Me” that I called the group of girls who danced everytime the “Charlemagnettes”.

"The only song a student has helped write was our most popular one – the French Revolution “Bad Romance” parody. I had a change of curriculum and am just starting to need more modern history songs...I had this idea for “bad romance/ revolution in France” and the “la la liberte” line, but he came up with lyrics for the song (including “bread bread bread off with her head”) and Herb and I reworked them to include more info....

"As for the songs’ effectiveness in the classroom, for several years I took polls on this. The kids seemed to really think they helped them remember the basic info, but more than that they sparked an interest in history to learn more independently. I am constantly surprised to see how many college-level profs are using them, as they were originally intended for 15 year-olds. I’m glad, though, because we don’t try to “dumb down” any lyrics.

"I am also surprised at how some YouTubers take them so seriously – as if a two- or three-minute song could ever replace a thorough historical study or seminar. There are just a lot of things a lyricist need to omit due to timing or rhyme concerns. They read into the lyrics, too.

"Basically, they have to realize that these songs need to have discussions that bolster them, and maybe even call into question the advantages and disadvantages of learning history through pop culture.

"Overall, we are quite pleased with the response both from our students and the public at large. We hope they really help to make history fun and memorable. We have several recorded songs that we haven’t filmed videos for, and even more half written lyrics or brainstormed ideas for new parodies. We’re both quite busy and do everything on our own time and budget, so that is limiting. We plan to make a web site, perhaps sell the mp3s, (since we have many requests), and make more original videos using animation.

"Next subjects to tackle: Marie Antoinette, the Russian Revolution, and Genghis Khan!

-0-

Follow my blog every day by bookmarking washingtonpost.com/answersheet. And for admissions advice, college news and links to campus papers, please check out our Higher Education page at washingtonpost.com/higher-ed Bookmark it!

By Valerie Strauss  | December 30, 2010; 5:00 AM ET
Categories:  Arts Education, History  | Tags:  bad romance, dear prudence, french revolution, history and the arts, history class, history lessons, history songs, jennie from the block, jennifer lopez, lady gaga, music and history, teaching history, the beatles  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: University of Virginia reforms speech code
Next: A wrong-headed experiment in school leadership

Comments

I guess I'm a bit suspicious of bangles and glitter in the name of education. It seems we are trying to audition entertainers instead of teachers.

Back in the 60s and 70s, Saturday morning cartoons had little clips in the commercials about educational topics (the one that comes to mind is Conjunction Junction.) They were played all morning and many kids sang along. Did it work then? Not sure, but is this anything more than Cliff's Notes or the Reader's Digest version of a topic?

Where is the connection of what happened and resulted from that person and their historical value? Would any ditty like this mean increased knowledge or just increased awareness of the topic?

Posted by: jbeeler | December 30, 2010 7:47 AM | Report abuse

I just finished volume six of Winston Churchill's History of the Second World War, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading them all, but if I had known there was a video!!!...still I am glad jingles continue to help with memory as they have for products for years, but I am too old to give up reading history now, and I hope lots of HS students will feel the same way.

Will Fitzhugh, fitzhugh@tcr.org, www.tcr.org

Posted by: fitzhugh1 | December 30, 2010 10:48 AM | Report abuse

More dumbing down of America. At best Cliff Notes of history, with no real understanding.
Ask your teenager the real meaning of most of the Pop Songs they sing and they can't tell you.

Posted by: ohiggins51 | December 30, 2010 11:09 AM | Report abuse

"Les Mis" has been performed around the world to millions of people.........."South Pacific" helped break racial barriers...."Madame Butterfly" showed a terrible hypocrisy in US attitudes towards Asians....

We are wired for music for many reasons; music is also a universal language. If it only used as a springboard to greater understanding, music will have been a great means to educate and, most likely, make us a better people.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | December 30, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

I watched those educational clips in the 70s when I was growing up, and I still remember several of them to this day. I found that putting important facts and concepts into musical form or rap helped with the memory process. Teachers and parents have to adapt their teaching methods to fit their students. The important thing is that the children learn something.

Posted by: magooden | December 30, 2010 12:55 PM | Report abuse

Have you seen the guy who does the same thing for science? http://www.youtube.com/user/dsecms#p/u
Not as fancy, but same concept.
It's like the Glee effect on education.

Posted by: MomExpatEduWonk | December 30, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

I think some of you folks are missing the point of these videos! I doubt they are intended to be the sole means of instruction for history topics. These videos are a marvelous, creative way to add an ADDITIONAL activity to the curriculum that builds interest, engages learners, and appeals to different learning styles. And if the students themselves are creating these videos as a culminating project, imagine how many critical thinking skills they will use! It takes complete understanding of a topic in order to distill it down to a short video. (And yes, I can still recite the Preamble to the Constitution because I learned it from those Schoolhouse Rock songs in the 70s when I was a kid!)

Posted by: 2seetheworld | December 30, 2010 5:40 PM | Report abuse

I'm a former student of Ms. Burvall and Uncle Herb. I'm now a student at Humboldt State University double majoring in Psychology and Pre-Med with a minor in art. I was part of the class that got the teasers/intro of the videos. I can honestly say that I still remember the videos we watched on Napoleon and still remember some of the lyrics.

I think that

Posted by: Kirby3718 | December 30, 2010 5:53 PM | Report abuse

Continued:
I think that some of you readers are mistaking the point of these videos are not to replace the History lessons but in fact just to enhance the educational opportunities. These videos offer a fun and interactive way to introduce the topics and give a broad overview of the subject. Which inspires children to learn more about the subject. It also Gives a food review for student when they are finished learning the subject because they often are asked to fill in the missing details of the lesson which becomes much like a game to match parts of the song, and expand giving the opportunity to show what they have learned building their confidence and encouraging them to go out and learn on their own.

These videos are educational tools, and in 10, 20, 30 years from now just like any normal adult they might forget the details of these lessons but what t can often remember are catchy lyrics in beat with a catchy too

Posted by: Kirby3718 | December 30, 2010 6:16 PM | Report abuse

Continued:
I think that some of you readers are mistaking the point of these videos are not to replace the History lessons but in fact just to enhance the educational opportunities. These videos offer a fun and interactive way to introduce the topics and give a broad overview of the subject. Which inspires children to learn more about the subject. It also Gives a food review for student when they are finished learning the subject because they often are asked to fill in the missing details of the lesson which becomes much like a game to match parts of the song, and expand giving the opportunity to show what they have learned building their confidence and encouraging them to go out and learn on their own.

These videos are educational tools, and in 10, 20, 30 years from now just like any normal adult they might forget the details of these lessons but what they can often remember are catchy lyrics in beat with a popular melody.
I would just like to thank my former teachers for using these new and exciting methods of education. And only hope you inspire others to try new tools for education. Keep inspiring children Ms. Burvall and Uncle Herb!

Posted by: Kirby3718 | December 30, 2010 6:23 PM | Report abuse

Pretty creative. Glad to see something positive in education. How about a study on the cultural degradation in society by the music corporations putting out filth like Gagme-gaga?

Posted by: shred11 | December 30, 2010 8:42 PM | Report abuse

-------- http://www.ppshopping.us/ -----------

hello,This is a wholesaler's web site.

Items, fashion, and: popular personality.

Product quality,commodity price is absolutely!

Always deeply overseas friends love and support.

Please stop you progress in your choice so, need!!!!!

Purchase will have small gift to send.

We accept paypal payments, and delivery is free.

welcome to: -------- http://www.ppshopping.us/ ------------

Posted by: tshoes38 | December 30, 2010 8:46 PM | Report abuse

Excellent article Mrs Strauss!!!! This is such a strange world --these two teachers are practically my next door neighbors-- and coverage in the Washington Post brings them to my attention. I also use the musical Les Miserables and Karaoke subtitled videos with my students reading the Hugo novel. Music video provides the emotional bridge and engagement that students need. Kudos to these creative teachers! www.sls4reading.com

Posted by: zwgm | December 30, 2010 9:07 PM | Report abuse

Kudos to these teachers for finding ways to engage their students and make history memorable. I had students actually make their own music videos about history. This assignment required true historical understanding and exceptional creativity to complete. However, my students always exceeded my expectations.

Posted by: edpolicyponderer | December 31, 2010 12:20 AM | Report abuse

Not quite as bad as paying kids to go to school, but down the same track. How long will it take before this idea of forcing learning upon the kids who have no interest in being taught runs its course? Does anyone care anymore about teaching the students who are hungry to learn.

Posted by: fly66 | December 31, 2010 3:52 AM | Report abuse

I think the critics of these videos are missing the point. These videos are used along with a regular history class, not instead of it.
They do not present a dumbing down any more than the ABC song dumbs down the alphabet.
From my era, most people SchoolHouse Rock greatly aided memorizing the Premable and no one wails that it didn't address the deeper points of Constitutional, because everyone know that was not it's role.
Education works better when it's enjoyable and the teachers in this article, who put in many hours of work on their own time and budget, are the teachers that should be sought after,NOT criticized.

Posted by: chrisfs | December 31, 2010 12:18 PM | Report abuse

If you have ever dressed up as Emily Dickinson, worn a black veil to teach Nathaniel Hawthorne, worn a fisherman's slicker to teach Moby Dick, worn overalls and pigtails, even if you are over forty, in order to impersonate Scout Finch, or in any other way made a fool of yourself in order to make literature come alive for your students, please stand up. You are an outstanding teacher and care about reaching kids rather than whine about how life use to be when you went to school.

Posted by: tryan4 | December 31, 2010 4:57 PM | Report abuse

On same topic --video and education --here is Edgar Allan Poe's Raven with subtitling! Read by Christopher Walkins.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05AIbyA73Wc

Posted by: zwgm | December 31, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

I suspect the more pompous the comment the bigger the smuck. it is people like that who give history a reputation for being dull and dry. I had a number of animated history teachers growing up who fostered a live long love of history. I have read all of Barbra Tucuman as well as many others but have never lost a sense of humor. How many kids learned to read because of Harry Potter will grow up to read Shakespeare. Kudos to her though I have to confess a sense of disappointment to find out she is married LOL. I wish her good health and am sure she is an excellent teacher, the type we wish we all had

Posted by: brennan62 | December 31, 2010 7:12 PM | Report abuse

brennan62

It is a shame you didn't have an effective English teacher.

Posted by: demathis | December 31, 2010 10:59 PM | Report abuse

Didn't she portray Marie Antoinette in a movie? I mean, wearing a meat dress to an event makes "let them eat cake" seem like a deft comment.

Posted by: tcquinn | January 1, 2011 6:06 PM | Report abuse

One of my middle school classes thought the videos were too simplistic. After rewriting the lyrics, there was hardly any in-depth knowledge that one wouldn't get a from a topical 3-4 sentence summary.

Posted by: ericpollock | January 2, 2011 5:30 AM | Report abuse

One of my middle school classes thought the videos were too simplistic. After rewriting the lyrics, there was hardly any in-depth knowledge that one wouldn't get a from a topical 3-4 sentence summary.

Posted by: ericpollock | January 2, 2011 5:30 AM | Report abuse

One of my middle school classes thought the videos were too simplistic. After rewriting the lyrics, there was hardly any in-depth knowledge that one wouldn't get a from a topical 3-4 sentence summary.

Posted by: ericpollock | January 2, 2011 5:31 AM | Report abuse

The irony of this article is in the fact that in Hawaii, this can only happen in a private school. In the HIDOE (Hawaii public schools) YouTube, iTunesU, Twitter, and almost everything else that has developed on the internet in this century is blocked by HIDOE-OITS. (The Office of Denial of Information Technology)

Posted by: cellodad | January 3, 2011 1:49 PM | Report abuse

And the comment on Hawaii public schools is only partially true. Yes HIDOE-OITS blocks access to YouTube and FaceBook through the DOE Internet (While not blocking DailyMotion, MyLearningtube, Discovery Education, and many others) However -- Hawaii public teachers and students actively use YouTube and other resources in schools. There are appropriate ways to access those resources and use them in the classroom.

Speaking of School House Rock check out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P0eLoV2My6Y

And http://www.youtube.com/user/zwgm --these are all subtitling projects done by Hawaii Public School students!

Posted by: zwgm | January 3, 2011 10:15 PM | Report abuse

As a fellow history teacher, I feel these videos are a great resource to use with students in the classroom. They are not meant to substitute for an in-depth lesson and the commenters who are being so negative are entirely missing the point. They are not “dumbing down” history or providing all the information a student needs to learn on a topic. That is not their purpose. The videos spark an interest in a topic that can engage a learner in a new and fun way. Engaging a student in a topic where the relevance to their lives is often tenuous at best is no easy task and if a catchy tune can help me do that then I am all for it. I used “Renaissance Man” just yesterday in my classroom and the kids were enthralled. It was only five minutes out of my lesson but the kids loved it and referred to it constantly throughout the rest of the period. I say “thank you and job well done” to these passionate teachers. Now I only wish I could find similar videos for my US History class!

Posted by: heyteach0217 | January 4, 2011 6:26 AM | Report abuse

Videos are not supposed to spark an interest in the subject, teachers are.

Read any Rafe Esquith book and it is the teacher who is supposed to be inspiring. If teachers abdicate this role to videos, teachers are not doing their jobs.

Posted by: ericpollock | January 4, 2011 9:09 AM | Report abuse

Videos are not supposed to spark an interest in the subject, teachers are.

Read any Rafe Esquith book and it is the teacher who is supposed to be inspiring. If teachers abdicate this role to videos, teachers are not doing their jobs.

Posted by: ericpollock

=======================================

They're not abdicating anything; music and video are in their repertoire to inspire students. As a computer software teacher for adults I use donuts, props and comedy to keep people in my classes interested. For those who grew up with Youtube a catchy video works.

Posted by: bbface21 | January 4, 2011 7:55 PM | Report abuse

Post a Comment

We encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge washingtonpost.com's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions.




characters remaining

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2011 The Washington Post Company