David Oke
Classroom, Footscray 2014

Ground control to Major Tom…Ground control to Major Tom
Lock your Soyuz hatch and put your helmet on…

I love the way in which technology supports the classroom. Gone are the days of relying solely on library books and copied pages. Instant information from the internet via wireless connections and a screen on the wall have replaced chalk and blackboards, and texta and whiteboards.

My Grade 5/6 class were studying our solar system. Did you know that you can learn the order of the planets through a mnemonic song: ‘My Very Evil Mother Just Swatted Uncle’s Nose’? We found that song on YouTube.

Likewise, did you know that you can learn about life without gravity and that astronauts are human through viewing Commander Chris Hadfield’s cover of David Bowie’s Space Oddity that he performed on the International Space Station while in orbit?

My class loved the very graphic views of planet Earth in the film clip and were fascinated with the movements of Chris Hadfield in his non-gravity environment. When we studied the lyrics and compared the David Bowie version to the Chris Hadfield version the class discovered how the newer lyrics were modified to match the experience of arriving on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft and later returning to earth, as compared to David Bowie’s story where Major Tom seems quite detached from earth and the song suggests that he drifts off into the ether.

Ground control to Major Tom…Ground control to Major Tom
Lock your Soyuz hatch and put your helmet on….

Of course my class didn’t know about David Bowie. One student claimed that his dad liked Bowie. To put it in context, many in the class had a musical interest in One Direction and Five Seconds of Summer. If I was to recall a world event that changed modern history I would name the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001. This group of 29 students were all born AFTER that event.

The science lesson became a pop-history lesson too as the eleven and twelve year olds learnt about Glam Rock and the theatrical styles of music that were emerging last century, back in the 1970s, when I was close to their age.

As well as drawing on the content of the YouTube clip of the song to support learning, I could make a different musical connection to Space Oddity after another holiday to the U.S.A. While in Nashville I visited a well known guitar store called Gruhns. In that famous store there were row after row of acoustic and electric guitars, banjos and mandolins. In a glass case was not THE guitar used by Chris Hadfield, but an identical Canadian Larrivee acoustic. It was in a case, I assume, as the International Space Station song had gone viral on the internet. Only about 25 million hits last time I looked.

 

Over the years I have used a number of classic songs to assist in my lessons. Here are a few:

Return to Sender (Elvis) with grade 1/2 when we were learning about letter writing.

Cat’s In The Cradle (Harry Chapin) with grade 5/6 when we were doing a topic called Life, Death and In Between – learning about stages in life.

Wipeout (The Shadows) with grade 5/6 when we were learning about water safety at the beach and the students had made model surfboards.

Come Back Again (Daddy Cool) has the perfect timing and organisation for teaching a progressive barn dance.

We Will Rock You (Queen) has always been helpful in teaching basic percussion in music classes, especially when the lesson intent is to learn about not speeding up.

Leaps and Bounds (Paul Kelly) when we were studying a topic about Melbourne landmarks with some grade 3/4 students.

Money (The Beatles) when doing economics with grade 5/6 students.

Big Yellow Taxi (Joni Mitchell) when the 5/6 kids were learning about land use in a geography topic, but I have also used the song’s line ‘You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’ as a good writing/literacy stimulus.

©David Oke. More stories by David Oke.

 

David is a Melbourne musician, music teacher and primary school teacher. His debut Stereo Story was about playing Great Balls of Fire at Sun Studio in Memphis. He has assisted in the organisation, and leading of gospel music workshops and Sunday gospel celebrations at the Anglesea Music Festivals, and is a member of The Seddon Jammers. His son Dan is the creative force of the band Jarrow.