Reflecting on the School Year

Reflecting on the School Year

Another school year has passed – and saying it was a unique one would be an understatement! We at Teachrock continue to be inspired by the teachers across the country who have not only faced the pandemic and the hurdles of transitioning to distance education, but so often went above and beyond, from helping provide meals to holding car parades for students. 

At the beginning of the academic year, we identified two areas of growth for Teachrock curriculum: we wanted to further develop our STEAM curriculum, and expand the diversity of artists represented in our materials. Both remain ongoing projects, but I’m pleased with the progress we’ve made so far. In Fall, we published our Long Strange Trip collection, which included two of the most hands-on science lessons we have ever produced. We used the same approach later to develop our Environmental Jukebox series, which gives students the opportunity to think through solutions to some of the planet’s most pressing issues. I’m also proud to say that we started the academic year with zero math lessons, and ended the year with math-specific lessons on The Beatles, the Grateful Dead, and Beyoncé.

In terms of increasing the diversity of the people represented in our curriculum, much work remains to be done. While our Trace It Back project has helped us create a more diverse roster of featured artists, the musicians in our curriculum remain skewed towards white men, despite the enormous contributions historically marginalized communities have made to American Popular Music. Yet, many of the lessons we’ve created this year, such as the Almost Emancipated series on the Civil War and Reconstruction, our scaffolded lessons on the history of MLK Day, our Afrofuturism lesson, and the lessons on Female, Black, and Latinx Country musicians, serve as an ideal framework as we continue to develop diverse, culturally responsive materials.

The final accomplishment I’m particularly proud of was one we didn’t plan for at the beginning of the year: the development of student-facing Distance Learning Packs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the sudden necessity for distance learning. I am humbled by the fact that the Teachrock team was able to produce 60 Distance Learning Packs (in addition to new lessons!) in the span of just four months.

Look forward to these initiatives continuing in Fall – as well as a few additional surprises! To prepare, we’ll be taking a short hiatus from these newsletters throughout the summer. 

In the meantime, we ask teachers to please fill out this survey so we may better communicate and respond to the needs of our amazing users for the next school year. 

Finally, great thanks to Pamela L. Brennan, for sharing in the below editorial how she implemented Teachrock’s Ethics of Sampling Distance Learning Pack to discuss plagiarism in her ELA classroom. 

Wishing you a great summer,
Ben Dumbauld and the TeachRock Team



To end the school year, we’re featuring the favorite lessons some of our content team worked on over the year. 

Randa Schamlfield, School Partnerships and Arts Integration Specialist

I love the Almost Emancipated lessons! It’s TeachRock at it’s finest. They are beautifully written and engage students in examination of primary source documents to gain a deeper understanding of the struggles and heartache of the Civil War and Reconstruction. They also provide the resources and framework for authentic exploration and dialogue – teaching students how to think, not what to think!

The lesson I worked on that I am most proud of is the Musical Roots of the Surf Sound. I really enjoyed bringing ancient Hawaiian culture and the history of surfing into this lesson, and it was fun to look at the music played in early surf movies like “Gidget” or “Beach Party” and compare that to the Ventures or The Beach Boys. I’ve lived in SoCal for most of my life, grew up listening to The Beach Boys, and l love Hawaii. I really wanted this lesson to honor those two special places and the super cool sound of surf music. 

Joshua Zarbo, Curriculum Designer School Partnerships and Arts Integration Specialist

One of the favorite lessons I worked on was How a Bill Becomes a Law: Legislating the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday. The history behind the MLK Holiday is a journey that begins with an atrocious and violent tragedy, but evolves into an inspiring account of landmark legislation and leadership, direct democratic action, an anthemic song of celebration, and a legacy of love and service.

DAMN.: The Art and Importance of Storytelling really resonated with me, especially how photography and song can be a simultaneous expression of art and activism. Kendrick Lamar and Gordon Park’s powerful work, which student’s examine in this lesson, are brilliant examples of imagery, verse, and music telling a story while also bringing attention to inequality and injustice. Already a fan of both artists, now I obsessively follow the Gordon Parks Foundation on Instagram!

Ben Dumbauld, Director of Content

I love, love, love The Reclamation of the American Cowboy lesson. It uncovers an often-neglected history, spurs critical thinking, and is quite simply FUN. Where else can you find a lesson that brings together Theodore Roosevelt, Solange, Mitski, and Lil Nas X?   

A lesson I developed this year that stands out was actually Little Steven’s idea – Greta Thunberg, Music, and the Climate Crisis. The lesson reveals musicians’ continued commitment to the environment, and inspires students by showcasing environmental activists around their own age.   

Bill Carbone, Executive Director

I’m overjoyed at the Feeling the Vibrations lesson because it brings STEAM concepts, and understanding of differently abled people and ways we easily create positive environments to share, and the freewheeling joy of the Grateful Dead to early elementary students.

Though the lesson is one of our oldest, I was able to convert our Historical Roots of Hip Hop lesson into a Distance Learning Pack. What moved me about the experience was recognizing that the original had a problematic narrative built in: that Hip Hop happened because of oppression and economic depression. While those factors are undeniable in some ways, they also serve to strip agency from the brilliant young people who pioneered inventive, previously unthinkable approaches to using new music technologies, and changed the world in the process. The DLP version celebrates a few key inventors and the South Bronx wholeheartedly. 



“What is Sampling? Or, To Plagiarize or Not, That is the Lesson”
Pamela L. Brennan, M Ed.
Hopatcong High School
Hopatcong, NJ  07843

I first heard about TeachRock several years ago, but exactly how at this point I can’t really remember. Five years ago, I joined a school committee tasked with bringing the Arts into core subject areas. I was asked to join as a general education teacher. I was one year behind the rest of the team of Arts teachers:  music, band, and art instructors. So began my journey of integrating the arts into core subjects in New Jersey, especially in the Hopatcong School District.

During the five years, I attended conferences and presented at several others. It was at one of these conferences that I experienced first-hand what TeachRock offered.  I participated in a workshop that had the attendees make video cameras out of boxes and leftover supplies. It was at this point that I knew I needed to find some way to incorporate what the TeachRock Foundation offers.

Fast forward to March 13th, 2020, and the last day of being in a classroom with ninety 8th-graders, learning about reading and writing (a.k.a. English). I sent them home with the last novel that would be covered for the school year, as the last unit of study would be a Project-Based learning unit (a welcomed change of pace after state testing). As April drew to a close and students finished the fourth unit of study, I was still completing a final project, especially one that could be self-taught and easy to accomplish for the students and parents, since we were all staying in our homes now. Typically I developed the project based on activities and lessons that engaged the students and weaved in the key concepts that were discussed throughout the year. Several projects were taking shape.

On May 4th, our Assistant Superintendent announced during a professional development the partnership that the district was entering into with TeachRock. There, Director of Policy and Outreach Christine Nick presented to our staff a sample lesson that turned into project-based learning assignment for the 8th-graders. Ms. Nick conducted the Google Meet with the staff in the same manner as the video camera workshop that I attended several years ago. But this time, she had the staff going through the “What is Sampling?” resource from the Distance Learning Packs. It clicked for me at that moment: why is sampling in music not considered the same as plagiarism in writing? My students LOVE their music, especially Hip Hop and other genres that “borrow” pieces from artists and their music and we had discussed all year long the need to incorporate others’ voices in your writing but acknowledging the writers. I begin seeing parallelisms between the sampling lesson and the standards that had been covered throughout the 8th-grade curriculum such as the crossover in the meaning of words (independently and within context), questioning speakers for authenticity on the topics, researching skills and finding reliable online resources, and reading and writing skills like compare and contrast and use of the five W’s and H (where, what, who, when, why, and how) to promote active readers and writers.  But at the core of all of this is getting the students to understand how to avoid plagiarism by giving credit where credit is due. The Sampling lesson presented a way to hear the “mash-up” and give the students a different venue to understand giving credit to the artist.

I opened the TeachRock’s DLP PowerPoint for “What is Sampling?” and read through the material and the teacher’s guidelines. The material fit like a glove and was easy enough to “borrow” and create my own SlideShow in Google Docs. But, the lesson needed some tweaking because of the levels of understanding within the classes and the emotional levels created due to the COVID virus.

So I began scaffolding the lessons by thinking about the amount of help the students could expect at home, their own comfort with technology, and the time factor that students would have to devote to the activity. Immediately, I noticed terms that students needed to look up and find the connection between our studies and the world of music: assimilation, dissemination, and plagiarism (in order to set the foundation for deciding if sampling should be considered “stealing”). I added links not used in the DLP lesson to help support distance learning and to refresh their memory for concepts presented throughout the school year. As the lessons moved forward, the videos from TeachRock presented perspectives from individuals from the music industry allowing students the opportunity to do background research online to better understand why the individuals would be speaking on the sampling. TeachRock provided open-ended prompts provided the students with the opportunity to write daily by asking about the thoughts.

The activities from TeachRock were divided into 20-minute segments which allowed the project to extend beyond the recommended time frame (and take the project to the end of the year!)  Other websites that I pulled into the project were edPuzzle with a video and questions on Sampling, Padlet as an venue for publishing and reading student opinions among peers, and Flipgrid to allow students to present their own samplings using the Soundbreak TechTool.

TeachRock’s DLP “What is Sampling?” allowed the students to bring together many of the concepts that we explored during this school year, to put the learning in another context (the Arts), and to produce an original piece of music through sampling while explaining the five W’s and H of their creation. TeachRock’s resources offer further exploration of the world of music and its connections into the classroom and can fit into all core subjects, bringing Arts Integration into all aspects of the school learning process.