Gale-force winds? Waves seven metres high? Lobster fishing? These things permeate students’ lives in Grosse-Île on the Magdalen Islands, and what better way for me, a landlubber based in Montreal, to learn more about the students’ experience than to ask them to tell stories. To kick off the storytelling, I gave the Gr. 3-4 class a cliff-hanger I wouldn’t have been able to resist as a child, with a nod to the wild weather on the Islands…
‘It was a dark and stormy night. The reindeer were scared and didn’t want to pull the sleigh. How was Santa going to get around?’
I furiously transcribed the story, trying to keep up with the students. We worked and played hard – it isn’t always easy to come to consensus, as anyone knows who has been part of a team – and made something together that was more and different than any one of us could have done on our own. Seeing the excitement on the students’ faces during the creation of the play and their pride on sharing their work was a testament to what the arts do to bring people together.
To hear two students and myself speak about our project with guest host Julia Caron:
Picture a large room: concrete floor, low tile ceiling, bare plaster walls, tables lined with stools, a wall of industrial fridges and an attached commercial kitchen. Imagine the accompanying sounds: hums, buzzes and the metallic clanks of a busy kitchen. Now imagine the same room filled with 100 or so kids eating lunch, anticipating going outside to play. The enthusiasm and efficiency of this room are laudable; the sound levels impressive. I’m excited to be Artist in Residence for Sound Bites, a School Hosts an Artist project aimed at reducing the noise level in this room, Coronation Elementary School’s cafeteria.
A school cafeteria is similar to a restaurant or a bar – there are a lot of people in an enclosed space, usually with a fair amount of background music and/or noise. People talk loudly so they can be heard by their friends, which means other people talk louder in turn. In brainstorming with science teacher and visual artist Shelly Sharp, we came up with the following focus questions:
“How does sound affect our well-being? What can we do as artists, students and adults to understand and positively impact sound quality and volume in the Coronation Elementary lunchroom?”
These questions fall perfectly into STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math), as sound touches on issues of awareness, self-expression, behaviour, group dynamics, acoustics, and more. Students had previously studied molecules and transfer of energy, so sound waves and acoustics built on their prior knowledge.
The following experiment uses a marble as a model for a sound wave to learn about reflection, absorption and dispersion of sound.
3 different materials of similar dimensions (e.g. wood, squishy foam, corrugated cardboard)
Place the materials against a wall. Mark a spot on the floor to shoot marbles from, keeping the distance between marble-shooter and materials consistent. Shoot the marble three times against each of the materials, letting the marble roll to a stop after it bounces off the material. Measure the distance of each shot and record. Depending on the age of your students, crunch the data as you see fit.
Ask students for observations:
How did the marble bounce off the materials?
What were the similarities and differences between the different materials? Why might this be the case?
How does this relate to:
the room you are currently in and how it sounds?
a quiet environment like a library?
a loud environment like a cafeteria?
This experiment gave us a great hands-on beginning to discussing sound. Next up, we’ll visit the cafeteria in Music class and take a listen…