Academic journal article Science and Children

Cheep, Chirp, Twitter, and Whistle

Academic journal article Science and Children

Cheep, Chirp, Twitter, and Whistle

Article excerpt

Byline: Emily Silverman, Margaret Coffman, and Betty Anne Younker

Birds are a highly visible and audible symbol of the natural world, filling the skies and airways of even the most urbanized environments. Their behavior is easy to observe and their beautiful songs and strange calls have been the inspiration for much art and the source of thousands of scientific investigations. For scientists, birdsong can reveal important clues about social behavior, communication, and learning. For musicians, birdsong has been a source of inspiration for creativity and composition. For elementary students with varying interests and abilities in science and music, birdsong can be a key to unlock new skills, expand knowledge, and integrate learning across varying disciplines.

In this article, we describe an interdisciplinary, activity-based lesson plan implemented in a third/fourth-grade classroom. During these activities, students use musical concepts to think about, illustrate, and discuss animal behavior, and they use scientific concepts to motivate musical composition and performance. The lesson ends with small group performances that allow the students to apply their knowledge to a new situation. These activities require no specific background knowledge about birds or music on the part of the students. A classroom teacher familiar with basic musical concepts can teach this unit alone or collaborate with a music teacher and/or science specialist. In addition to science standards, these activities also include the arts education standards of music composition and performance and understanding relationships between music and disciplines outside the arts (CNAEA 1994).

For the activities described in this article, you will need the following materials:

Computer with internet connection and good speakers (see Figure 1, page 22, for an annotated list of websites used in the lesson);

Musical or percussive instruments such as recorders, xylophones, metallophones, hand drums of varying sizes, tone bells, rhythm sticks, and maracas. Students can also create their own instruments by placing beans or rice in cans; cutting dowels for rhythm sticks; or using tin cans, blocks, tables, or wooden boards for drumlike sounds. Kazoos and balloons are other low- cost sound makers; and

Audubon plush birds (optional). These small stuffed birds produce authentic vocalizations when squeezed and can be used as an optional resource to motivate student interest and help with identification. Hundreds of different birds are available from, or see, the manufacturer, whose website also includes games, teacher resources, and a discounted purchase price.

No special preparation is necessary for these activities, although students might be encouraged to listen for birds at recess, in their yards, or on the way to school. The lesson can be motivated by reading a book about birds (see Resources).

Activity 1: Observation

This introductory activity requires students to describe sounds verbally, think about the "words" of a bird song, and characterize and transcribe sounds. These skills are a precursor to musical composition and scientific classification.

Objective: To listen to, describe, and "look at" sounds

Time: 30-40 minutes

We begin by playing familiar sounds like honking horns, drums, violins, singing voices, dinner bells, airplanes, etc., which we found at We use these sounds to elicit a list of descriptive words. "Squeak," "buzz," "whistle," "tapping," and "whirring" were some of our student group's descriptors. (For younger students, words may be provided at the start and matched to sounds.) At this point the teacher should introduce musical terms that describe sounds, such as pitch, rhythm, staccato, and crescendo (see "Talking About Sound and Music," listed in Figure 1). …

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