At this time of year when students and teachers are looking forward to summer trips, I’m thinking ahead to the imaginary musical field trips I’ll be taking with my students next school year. These lessons are some of my favorite to teach to primary students. They’re as fun and memorable as they are comprehensive and educational. And because they are imaginary trips, no chaperones, buses, or money collection is required! Students sing and play music from around the world, learn about that music’s context and background, and expand their imaginations while learning concepts related to multiple standards.
Choosing a Destination
All music comes from somewhere, so it’s easy to enrich an existing curriculum or repertoire with musical field trips. For example, we went on an imaginary field trip to Russia this past winter to learn about The Nutcracker. We went to England when we had an opportunity to meet a composer from Bath. When studying rhythm concepts in a song from New Zealand, a country that my students didn’t know much about, we visited there to learn more. Because these field trips are imaginary, students can also travel by time machine to study music history. The possibilities are nearly limitless!
Before the first musical field trip of the year, my students make their Music Passports. They write in their name and class, and draw a picture of themselves. The remainder of the passport is filled with spaces for passport stamps. On each musical field trip day, the students pick up their passports when they enter, and must get them stamped before they leave the classroom.
The passport is a quick and easy assessment tool. At the beginning of class, the students are given a question. They learn the answer during the class, and write it in their passports. At the end of class, they line up at the “customs” table and I stamp each correct answer, welcoming the student back to the United States. Any incorrect answers must be fixed before leaving class. It’s a written assessment with immediate feedback and no after-school correcting!
Once a destination is chosen, there are many ways to spark students’ imaginations. In my classes, students are told the day before that we will be going on a musical field trip. When students arrive at class on the day of the trip, they get their passports, and find a seat on the imaginary plane. In my classroom, the plane seats are the chairs that the older students use for band in our shared classroom. Typical airplane announcements are made (“Welcome aboard flight 123! Please fasten your seatbelts and prepare for take off.”), and our path is traced across our classroom map.
Once we’ve arrived, students move back to their places on the carpets. In preparation for the trip, I like to decorate the room with the country’s flag, artwork, instruments and/or props and set the mood by playing a recording of music from our destination. For our musical field trip to Russia, I displayed a nutcracker. When we went to Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day, I brought a tin whistle and bodhran to class. These new additions to the classroom catch students’ attention right away, preparing them to learn.
Multisensory Cultural Experience
The more senses involved in a lesson, the more engaging it will be. On a musical field trip, students will be exposed to plenty of music. They listen to recordings, watch live or recorded performances, and learn to sing and play songs from the destination. To enrich the experience, it’s also fun to include folk tales, artwork, dance, and any other cultural experience related to the culture of the destination.
No matter how much students might like their own teachers, guest teachers are always extra interesting. Whenever possible, I like to invite someone with expertise on our destination to record a video message for my students. For our Russian field trip, the conductor of a local orchestra made a wonderful video of himself telling stories about his childhood in Russia and the role that music played in his family’s traditions. When my students were learning a piece from the Philippines for a concert, we went on a musical field trip that included a video of a friend who lives there singing the song the students were working on in Tagalog. Every person I have approached for this favor has been eager to share their culture and go out of their way to help kids.
While planning real-life trips this summer, consider how those experiences could be brought to your students. I’ll be on the look out for music, instruments, and souvenirs from other places and times in preparation for next school year’s musical field trips when I’m traveling this summer.