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What I learned at intersession: Day 3

Ted Drozdowski teaches students to play blues on their homemade diddley bows I walked into a portable at Neely’s Bend Elementary school and heard a strange chorus: the pluck pluck pluck of guitar strings over big tin cans. Then the singing started: “The Catfish Blues,” as sung by Ted Drozdowski of local blues band The Scissormen.

Ted wasn’t just singing. He was showing students the mathematics hidden inside of music. He and a dozen students all around him were playing homemade diddley bows (imagine a huge tin can attached to a tomato stake with a guitar string running the whole length), learning how to count to keep rhythm. Their art and music teachers joined in, using glass jars as slides and doing their best to keep up with a real-life bluesman.

The instruments are homemade as in made by the students themselves as part of intersession at Neely’s Bend. They learned all about the instrument and then started drawing up plans, measuring and putting them together – using key math skills along the way.

Now they were a symphony of diddley bows, made by hand from the barest of materials, with a gracious and professional guest leading them. It’s a perfect blend of art, music and core academics.

Mrs. Fields' Reading Class

Elsewhere in the school I met eight students working through reading comprehension. They started a story about a family in a covered wagon. To understand it better, they set about drawing covered wagons on big sheets of paper.

“It’s made of wood and has a big cloth pinned on top of it,” said one small girl who had the smile of a light bulb moment.

They took it a paragraph at a time, learning all about the long trip this family took to their new “territory” (another term the group stopped to examine). Each was there because of specific needs in reading, and each had lessons built specifically to meet them.

The same was true across the hall, where fourth graders lined up two-by-two in a lightning round of math problems. The first to shout the answer to the flashcard question was allowed to move on. They raced to solve the problems, in their heads and on their fingers, until only one remained.

This is another school with intersession programs not heavily attended – only about 40 students per day – but that’s the way it was intended. Students were there by invitation. According to the latest data, they needed a little boost in reading and math, so they came to school during vacation to get it. Even the school P.E. teachers came to help out, blending physical activity with the math standards that will be assessed on TCAPs next month.

Because it brought all of these students and teachers together for learning that I heard repeatedly described as “fun,” intersession is working at Neely’s Bend Elementary.