Parts of a Whole

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Developing Skill for Greater Understanding

In our planning process we decide to frontload the ¼ note concept embedded within a new 3-2 clave rhythm. The teaching artist leads this demonstration with a call and response. She is creating a ta, ta, ta, rest, ta, ta, sound. Students clap out the clave rhythm while the teaching artists keeps a steady beat with the woodblocks.

Next, the students are separated into two groups and are challenged to play in polyrhythm: clapping one rhythm while listening to other students clap a different rhythm. The students take turns switching between the two rhythms to hear how they fit together. The teaching team works together to coach the students to keep a steady beat. This elementary and yet complex task challenges the students’ notion of rhythm. Polyrhythm is interwoven into many cultures around the world. Here, we wrestle with that complexity the same way one struggles to learn a new language.


Math and music integration

We have laid a foundation for incorporating music into our already existing language of math. We shift from the pleasure of using music for the sake of understanding the art form to a process of distinguishing how musical time illustrates fractions. The
teaching team makes an explicit connection between the ¼ note and the clave. We tap out a ¼ note, 2/8 notes, 4/16 notes, translating musical notations into fractions.

Students begin the process of writing out and playing the equivalent counts of ¼, 2/8, 4/16 to see the fractions.


We push students into the next realm of understanding.

They are issued several challenges with equivalent fractions (¼, 2/8, 4/16):
1. How do you play these in time?
2. How do you correlate their value?
3. How do you represent them through notation?
Students work individually to problem solve while the teaching team guides them through the process. We extend beyond one ¼ note to 1 full measure of 4 quarter notes. Students write out and play one measure of 4 counts using 4 quarter notes, 8 eigth notes and 16 sixteenth notes. We invite students confident in modeling the process to stand before the class patting out the configurations. The students are immersed in a moment of making our math visible through their bodies. “I like it when Miss Jamie pulls me out to demonstrate.”


By using visual aids on the board and playing an example in the class, the students learn the concept of a rest, or a silent beat in music. Jesus writes out the notation for a rest in place of a quarter note. At this point in the unit the teaching team pauses for reflection, “What are the students learning, what do they need to know?” We develop a formative assessment to gauge students’ understanding of fractions at this point. The teaching team reviews the quiz results and develops a plan to address any deficiencies.

Laura writes out a four count measure and its fraction representation.

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