Learning Through the Arts: Media Rhythm Institute Ignites Student Voices at Margaret Brent Middle School

When you think about lessons on the Constitution, music is not always the first thing that comes to mind, but with 8th grade Social Studies students at Margaret Brent Elementary/Middle School music became a crucial platform for discussion of key topics in current events.


Students had the opportunity to elevate their lesson on the Constitution and Freedom of Speech to the next level with the incorporation of a program through a three week residency with Mr. Olu and Ms. Kay of Media Rhythm Institute.   Mr. Olu and Ms. Kay engaged Ms. Barillari’s Social Studies class in a discussion around recent social media tweets from an influential rapper that was getting a lot criticism about race, social justice, and politics. The students actively participated in conversations about free speech and what it meant to them.  They were then challenged to begin writing down their own thoughts and feelings as lyrics set to a beat, voted on by the students, laid out by Mr. Olu.

The students were broken down into groups, and as the catchy beat looped in the background, pencils met paper while heads bounced in unison.  Mr. Olu and Ms. Kay worked their way throughout the groups to offer guidance and took the opportunity to teach the students about musical elements like double-time verse, up and down-beats, and identifying/establishing the flow of music.  “Let’s break it down and write each verse on a different line so that it flows, “ says Ms. Kay to one of the students as they worked to match the lyrics to the beat.


After a few minutes of collaborative writing, students began sharing their verses with other groups and worked together to tweak their raps and give enthusiastic encouragement.  Ms. Barillari commented on how the students had spent the last couple of weeks discussing the Constitution and Freedom of.  Talking about these topics in relation to current events that the students can relate to puts their lesson into a more contemporary context.  “Thank you for making this experience a reality for our students… When your classroom becomes a recording studio turning current events debates into original raps”, Ms. Barillari shared on social media the day each student recorded their songs.  Working with Media Rhythm Institute gives students the opportunity to harvest what they’ve learned in class to create something meaningful using music as a powerful platform for creative expression.

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