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Teaching to her own beat

When it comes to music class, the students at Fredericktown Intermediate School never want to miss a day with their teacher Tracy King.

“This is not the kind of music class that most adults will remember from their childhood,” King said.

The third, fourth and fifth grade students experience music in unconventional ways and at times will learn something without even realizing it.

“I know that if the lessons are fun and interesting for me, they will be fun and engaging for my students,” King said. “Sometimes we’ll do unconventional things to keep learning fun.”

King said an example is when she reviewed rhythmic concepts and patterns with her classes.

“I could have just drilled them with worksheets or flashcards,” King said. “Instead, we had relay races with whoopie cushions that had rhythm patterns written on them. It was so much fun and 100 percent of the students were engaged and focused on decoding the patterns. It was a gas!”

King said she likes to use props and manipulatives in her lessons, and outsiders may see this as a way to draw students into the topic. She is fine with that.

“Whatever it takes to meet the students where they are and to help them to become musical, artful young people,” King said. “Earlier this year, fourth grade students used flashlights to demonstrate their understanding of dynamics.”

King said students used the ceiling as a stage to create a light show which showed how loud or soft the song was and how the dynamics changed.

“Fifth graders used tennis balls and bounced them to the beat to show note duration,” King said.

Another example of how King uses the interest of the children is how she incorporated Star Wars into one of her rhythm lessons. King created light saber like swords–made from pool noodles–which she calls steady beat swords for the students to practice rhythms.

Students were elated Dec. 4 when King let them each choose a sword. They took a Jedi stance and as the music played, they took turns repeating the beats played by tapping their partners sword. Most were not even aware of how much they were learning in that moment.

“Researchers have shown that when listening to music, our brain is simultaneously activated in many regions,” King said. “This is different than when we are doing a math problem when only a certain part of the brain is activated.”

King said people’s brains are constantly responding when they are listening or performing music.

“Music not only brings us joy, improves our workouts and accompanies us on long road trips, but can help us become better readers, better thinkers and become better humans by helping us find beauty in the world around us,” King said. 

This is King’s third year with the Fredericktown School District but has been teaching music for 23 years. She has taught preschool through high school and also creates teacher resources and travels to other states to present clinics to other music teachers.

“I love teaching here,” King said. “I work with amazing teachers at FIS and the music department in the district is top notch. The administration both at the building level and district level are very supportive and appreciative of the work that teachers accomplish in their classrooms.”

King will be traveling to Arkansas and Texas this winter to help teach other teachers some of the things she does in her classroom.

“I’m still amazed that others find merit and interest in some of my wacky ideas, but I love that I can inspire and equip other music educators,” King said. “I am lucky to have many music teacher friends online and we share ideas.”

King said she finds inspiration everywhere and can be inspired by a movie, a commercial, a song, a poster, just about anything.

“I think I’m one of those weird people that has more ideas than time to try them out,” King said. “I’ve heard that in order to have a good idea that you have to have many ideas first, and that works for me.”

King said it can be a challenge to find activities that capture the minds and interests of the diverse group of learners who sit in her classroom everyday.

“I don’t always get it right and when I don’t we all laugh together,” King said. “I’m honest with my students when things aren’t working or when they sound, well, less than awesome. We talk about it, encourage each other and then try it again. I think that helps students know that it is okay to make mistakes, but it is not okay to give up.”

Fredericktown Intermediate School fifth graders enjoy learning with their Star Wars inspired steady beat swords in Tracy King's Music Class.

Fredericktown Intermediate School fifth graders enjoy learning with their Star Wars inspired steady beat swords in Tracy King’s Music Class.

Adisyn Buchanan is in full Jedi character as she practices rhythms with her light saber steady beat sword.

Adisyn Buchanan is in full Jedi character as she practices rhythms with her light saber steady beat sword.

Left to right: Maisyn Moser, Diera Smallwood, Annabell Babbitt, Emilie Peek and Allie Clark are filled with laughter as they play a musical game during music class.

Left to right: Maisyn Moser, Diera Smallwood, Annabell Babbitt, Emilie Peek and Allie Clark are filled with laughter as they play a musical game during music class.

Fredericktown Intermediate School Teacher Tracy King leads her fifth grade class in a drum circle exercise. Students played drums, maracas and cowbells to be part of the fun.

Fredericktown Intermediate School Teacher Tracy King leads her fifth grade class in a drum circle exercise. Students played drums, maracas and cowbells to be part of the fun.

Victoria Kemper is a reporter for the Democrat News. She can be reached at 573-783-3366 or at vkemper@democratnewsonline.com

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