DQ: How is Dewey Finn’s class project in ‘School of Rock’ project-based learning?
Oh, God of Rock, let me to count the ways.
Focus on Significant Content
If you’re looking at significant content in terms of the school curriculum, the School of Rock project, ‘Rock Band’ definitely falls short in a whole range of areas. If you focus however on the creative arts, perhaps more specifically at music – the project totally nails it. The kids gain an appreciation of rock music, writing, rehearsing and performing their own song, designing their own stage show and outfits, working together to pull off an absolutely epic performance.
Students in Dewey’s class learn that rock is “not about grades, it’s about sticking it to the man” and that “one great rock show, can change the world”. By working together they learn about the importance of working hard collaboratively toward a shared goal.
It’s true that Dewey’s ‘rock band’ project doesn’t focus on “teaching students important knowledge and skills, derived from standards and key concepts at the heart of academic subjects”, so is therefore likely to fail to live up to BIE standards of significant content. However with a bit of thoughtful tweaking I’m sure ‘Rock Band’ would be able to do so.
There are a range of ways that Mathematics, English and HSIE could be a focus of a project like ‘Rock Band’, I’ll leave that to your imagination. For instance, the students could calculate the costs of the fabric needed for costume design, or the costs and potential earnings of going on tour, what social commentary might be included in their lyrics, but that probably wouldn’t make a very exciting movie!
Develop 21st Century Skills
I’ll separate these into subheadings below.
Critical Thinking/Problem Solving
Dewey encourages Summer, in particular, to think beyond the grades. There is a quote in there about grade grubbing where Dewey says “Summer, if you grade-grub one more time, I will send you back to the first grade, you got it?”. Haha.
When Dewey sees that Zack’s father is harshly critical of him outside of school, he arranges a learning experience around getting Zack to think deeply about his frustrations around his father’s criticisms, and turns this into an enjoyable experience of songwriting. The class sings together an awesome song with a chanting chorus of ‘Step off!’
Students are also encouraged to think critically about conformity: “Rock isn’t about getting straight As. It’s about sticking it to the man”.
There is a bit of a classic line somewhere in the film where Dewey (pretending to be concluding a lesson in front of the principal) says “OK kids, we will continue our lecture on the Man when we return”. Haha.
There is collaboration abound in ‘Rock Band’. Each of the students are assigned their individual roles which all contribute to the success of the project. There are the obvious band roles, but you also have more behind the scenes, supportive roles such as security, band manager and roadie crew. Dewey even assigns himself a role – lead vocals and shredding guitar!
This is probably a good moment to raise the point that PBL should be about the teachers too. Dewey is very much a part of the project and I don’t think that it should be about, “Here you go, kids. This is what you’ve got to do, now go off and do it.” Of course, students should be capable of working independently, but if you’re going to have any proper awesomeness to your work, I reckon that you need teachers who are inspired like Dewey and ready to get in and get amongst it with what the students are doing.
Dewey again drives home the collaborative nature of ‘Rock Band’ when asked by Zack why he wants the band to play his song. Dewey replies, “Cos that’s what bands do, man. They play each others’ songs”.
Perhaps the most comedic collaborative moment in School of Rock is when the whole gang work together to feign terminal illness (Stick-it-to-the-man eosis), thereby ensuring their place in the competition!
A whole bunch of communication goes on throughout ‘Rock Band’.
Everybody needs to communicate effectively when working out their individual parts. Of course, Dewey has a facilitatory role in this, for instance when suggesting when and where in the song certain people should come in.
“We need some “Ooh la la las in there too. Let’s try that again from the chorus”. He gets excited with this when practising the song and says “I’m gonna rock a solo there if that’s ok with you? And then you can solo later, but just let me rock a solo there, I can feel it!”
At the final moment before going on stage, Dewey conducts an informal vote whereby the class decides on which of their two songs to play. Suggesting they play Zack’s song he says:
“We should play Zack’s song. It rocks harder. This isn’t my band, it’s our band. What do you say?”
Also, upon learning that Zack has written a song that is really cool, Dewey emphasises the importance of communication by saying to Zack “No more secret songs”.
Engage students in in-depth inquiry
After learning that the kids have what he considers poor knowledge of rock music, Dewey gives each of the students a CD to go home and listen to.
Dewey adds a degree of specificity to the process by giving suggestions to some of the students:
“Laurence, Yes. That’s the name of the band. Listen to the keyboard solo on ‘Roundabout’. It will blow the classical
music out ya butt!”.
“Rush, Neil Pert, one of the greatest drummers of all time, Study up”.
“Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon, listen to the vocal solo on ‘The Great Gig in the Sky’, alright?”
There is a scene where the class produces a mind-map of rock and all of its genres on the black board.
Zack and Dewey study what makes an awesome guitar stage move by watching a whole bunch of seminal guitarists.
The whole class works through a slideshow of the Ramones and watches a heap of live performances.
The drummer inquires into technique by watching a video of the Who.
Organises tasks around a Driving Question
There is no real driving question for ‘Rock Band’. However if Dewey were to include one, I imagine it would be derived from his philosophy that ‘One great rock show can change the world’.
Some example DQs might be “How can we put on a world changing rock show?”, “How can we put on a gig that will change the world?” or “How can we create a set for the Battle of the Bands?”
Establish a Need to Know
BIE suggest that projects should begin with an entry event which generates interest and curiosity on the part of the students. The entry event for ‘Rock Band’ occurs when Dewey grabs his instruments from his van and gets all of the students jamming. He frames the whole thing around a fictitious inter-school band competition, supposedly meant to happen during the next quarter, for which they were not yet meant to be practising!
Some of the need to knows are established when a new class schedule is organised and written on the board:
8:15 – 10:00 ‘Rock history’
10:00 – 11:00 ‘Rock Appreciation and Theory’
and then band practise ’til the end of the day.
Encourage voice and choice
Summer voices her disappointment to Dewey after being given the role of groupie and, albeit under the threat of notifying her parents, is given the role of band manager.
After being given the job of roadie, Tomika says to Dewey “I don’t wanna be a roadie, I wanna be a singer”. She shows that she can sing and is given the part by Dewey.
After learning that Zack has written a song, the whole class listens to it and Dewey suggests that the whole class learn his song.
Incorporate revision and reflection
Dewey could probably have done a bit better with this aspect of the project, in terms of incorporating it the whole way through, however there are some good, reflective moments in ‘Rock Band’.
A little way through the project, Dewey organises a discussion with the students to get them thinking about what they have been doing and why:
“You guys have been doing really well and if I was going to give you a grade I’d give you an A, but that’s the problem, rock ain’t about doing things perfect. Who can tell me what it’s really about?”
Not long before the gig Dewy gets the students together to discuss how they’ve been going and where they need to go:
“Ok tomorrow is the big day. You’ve played hard in here, people and I am proud of every last stinking one of you. Let’s just give this everything we’ve got. We may fall on our faces. But if we do, we fall with dignity! With a guitar in our hands and rock in our hearts! And in the words of AC/DC “We rock tonight, to the guitar bite. And to those about to rock, I salute you”
After Dewey is busted for not being a teacher, the kids are left feeling a little lost, and take a moment to reflect and decide what to do:
“There is no project. He just wanted us to play a show so we could make some money.”
“What are you so bummed about, we had 3 week vacation? Yeah it was a waste of time but it was a lot better than school.”
“It was not a waste of time.”
“Mr. S was cool. We worked too long and too hard not to play the show.”
The students then go to pick up Dewey from his house, working around his refusal to join them at the performance, they reflect on their learning, using Dewey’s own words:
“We did what you told us to. We stuck it to the man.”
“Come on, man. Quit goofing around, this is serious business. One great rock show can change the world.”
Finally, after the show, they reflect on their performance. Dewey is initially upset because they didn’t win. The students turn his mood around:
“It’s not about getting an A. The pistols never won anything. Don’t let the man get you down. We played a kick-ass show.”
Dewey: “We did, didn’t we. It was unbelievable!”
Include a public audience
The whole ‘Rock Band’ project is built around creating to songs to perform at the ‘Wrok!’ battle of the bands.
School policy dictates that relief teachers cant’ take students on field trips, so Dewey goes to great lengths to get approval for this from the school principal. He takes her to a pub and plays her Stevie Nicks on the jukebox. This lightens her mood and gets her to commit to making an exception.
He does this by telling a complete lie about taking the kids to see the philharmonic orchestra who play things like Mozart, Beethoven and Enya! Lol.
So there you have it. I always knew Dewey Finn was epic. This is just further proof.
Excerpts are taken from the Paramount Pictures film ‘School of Rock’. I do not own, nor do I or intend to profit from this content whatsoever. “Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use.”