Music In Environmental Education

Delmar Janke, Texas A&M University

ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION REPORT (SPR./80) p.3.


Folksongs Teach About People And Environment:

One intriguing way to approach environmental education is through music with special emphasis on folk music. Tunes from an album can be used to set the mood for an investigation into an environment and its resources. Using

folk songs from a given geographic area, one can begin to investigate the expectations people had about the environment and the results which followed. If one wishes to focus upon a specific concept, such as the interrelationships of organisms in a local environment he/she may get a good start by listening to and ferreting out the lessons taught in songs like Pete Seeger’s”The People Are Scratching”.

Use Recorded Music Unashamedly:

One does not have to be an accomplished musician to use music in teaching. My musical abilities are limited chiefly to finding good records and tapes and playing them. It is possible that a musician will be found among your students.

Music To Introduce A Topic:

To introduce a subject you might inform your students that they will begin the study of a specific topic (water quality, ecology, whales, deserts) and ask them to bring records/tapes of any music about the topic which is meaningful to them. (e.g.: Water–Moldau(Smetana), My Dirty Stream(P.Seeger), or Old Folks At Home(S. Foster)).

With a little research, which could include help from students, a record set on a selected topic can be assembled. This set can then be used to develop a concept. [Listening to a variety of songs may reveal quite different descriptions of relatively similar geographic areas or points of view on the issues.] Students can be asked to suggest explanations for the differences.

Sounds Of Sea Animals:

One popular activity we use is to have students listen to [recorded] sounds of sea animals. The students are asked to become sailors on early sailing ships and try to sleep, but hearing those unusual sounds they were unable to sleep. The students are then asked to write or describe what may have been making the noises.

Doing this activity helps make the sea monster stories which have been told for centuries become more meaningful. By adding a few sea chanteys, especially some which relate to “monsters”, the activity may become even more creative.

Write Lyrics About The Local Area:

If you were to challenge your students to write lyrics about your local area (using a well-known tune), they would be forced to examine their home. They might dig into old papers, visit a local historical society to get names and dates, talk to some of the “old-timers” in the community. When it came time to perform the whole song, they would all learn the verses and would probably have a great deal more pride in their home.

Music Can Achieve Environmental Education Goals:

Many things can happen as we use music to achieve environmental education goals. We might pick up a point of view never considered before. We might put ourselves in the place of the singer or author and see a beautiful thing never seen before. We might become upset and try to do something to prove that the message was wrong or right. Or we might simply just enjoy learning with music. Shouldn’t all learning be a joy?

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