I. General Information
School Name: Horse Lake Elementary
School District: SD#27 Cariboo-Chilcotin
Inquiry Team Members: Lisa Pugh, Mike Davidson, Heather McKinnon, Jillian Eyer
Inquiry Team Contact Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
II. Inquiry Project Information
Type of Inquiry: NOIIE
Grade Levels Addressed Through Inquiry: Intermediate (4-7)
Curricular Areas Addressed: Applied Design, skills & Technology, Arts Education, Language Arts – Literacy, Language Arts – Oral Language, Language Arts – Reading, Mathematics / Numeracy, Physical & Health Education, Social Studies
Focus Addressed: Indigenous understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation), Community-based learning, Differentiated instruction, Experiential learning, First Peoples Principles of Learning, Inclusion and inclusive instructional strategies, Indigenous pedagogy, Land, Nature or Place-based learning, Social and emotional learning, STEM / STEAM, Universal design for learning
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? To see if Indigenous hand drumming would improve student engagement with learning multiplication.
III. Spirals of Inquiry Details
Scanning: When looking at where our intermediate students were frustrated with numeracy, many that needed extra help and time to complete math were needing it because they did not have a good mental math knowledge of their times tables.
All our intermediate students (4-7) found that they needed a foundation or working knowledge of multiplication (mental math) to complete so many other math tasks like: word problems, fractions, algebra, basic computation, rate/ratio, measurement, and geometry.
If students didn’t know their multiplication facts, they expressed frustration with having to use a multiplication chart or calculator which requires one to stop and do that before going on with the original task.
Many students were aware that they needed mental multiplication to be successful in multiple math tasks. Students expressed an interest in using multiplication math apps on their devices to learn, while others have tried dice, charts, and even good old flashcards.
When presented with the idea of learning multiplication through drum beats on a hand drum to help with learning this vital skill, many students were eager to try this out — some to connect to their heritage, some as a new or different way of learning, and some because they like music and like to move.
The First Peoples’ Principles of Learning that are reflected in our “Where are we going now?” scanning question are:
– Learning ultimately supports the well-being of the self, the family, the community, the land, the spirits, and the ancestors. Drumming as part of a group connects you to that group; it creates belonging and community with students. Drumming to some Indigenous people (First Nations, Metis) is a way to connect to the spirits/ancestors and to the Creator; drumming is the HEARTBEAT of Mother Earth and connects us to the biggest mother of them all!
– Learning is holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential, and relational (focused on connectedness, on reciprocal relationships, and a sense of place). Students went outside to drum in a circle on our school grounds, they also helped soak, stretch and lace the drums by hand, and then helped design and paint them prior to playing them.
– Learning recognizes the role of Indigenous knowledge. Using the drums, respecting, being responsible for them and taking care of them, was a way to respect and be responsible for the gift they are and the knowledge they can give. Drum protocols were learned, like telling who a song belongs to and giving credit to the owners of the songs (i.e. mentioning Martina Pierre as the creator of the Women’s Warrior Song).
– Learning is embedded in memory, history, and story. Students listened to the oral story of “The Drum” by Wally Awasis; they learned about drums from David Bouchard’s “The Song Within My Heart”; students listened to our First Nations knowledge keepers tell about their connections to drums before, during, and after we were guided to make a set of 25 deer hide drums.
– Learning involves patience and time. Learning to lace a drum and learning times tables both involve patience.
– Learning requires exploration of one‘s identity. Some students of Indigenous heritage (First Nations or Metis) were very proud to be drumming and expressed their Indigenous connections with pride—this was very special.
Focus: We chose this area because, as explained earlier, having competence with mental math multiplication impacts all areas of math: word problems, fractions, algebra, basic computation, rate/ratio, measurement, and geometry. It applies to all elementary and intermediate grade levels, so it could enact great changes that would impact students year after year.
Hunch: We noticed that a good portion of kids were coming into the intermediate grades and going through to grade 7 without the mental multiplication skills necessary to complete multi-step problem solving and multi-step algorithms, because they had to look up multiplication answers on a chart. Suggestions to fix the problem, like use an app on a device, regular throwing dice, and in-class games that set them up to compete with others who could answer the question the fastest, all produced a lack of motivation and engagement. Kids were bored with these approaches, so the competition-free, socially driven, kinaesthetic drumming circle provided a new and innovative way to get at what is often considered a mundane task.
New Professional Learning: We used books and stories about drumming to gain background knowledge (i.e. David Bouchard’s “A Song Within My Heart”, Wally Awasis’ oral retelling of “The Drum”, and firsthand stories and sharing of songs and drumming by two Secwepemc and Stó:lô knowledge-keepers who came to our school to share and then guide us in making a class set of 25 deer hide drums purchased as kits from Halford’s in Alberta). The FNESC’s publication of Math First People’s (2020) has some insights into drumming and math with a connection to circumference and pi with making drums. Some background scholarly articles were read by me (but not the other teacher participants), that made the connections between math and drumming using non-Indigenous drums, like African drums, from Lee, K. Drumming Math. The Canadian Music Educator; Edmonton Vol. 48, Iss. 2, (Winter 2006): 50-51.
I sent the resources to my colleagues via email and had their classes come into my class of grade 7’s so we could demonstrate how we drum, and then how to split the drum up into 1’s, 10’s and 100’s areas for drumming out answers. We also showed how to not drum, but make a hand action for zero. We shared a few traditional songs, like the Women’s Warrior Song (not owned), Men’s Warrior song (NIB), and even the 200 Pounder. After demonstrating how we did things, we put the drums on carts and covered them to protect them, as we learned, and then teachers used them at different times.
Taking Action: The division of the drum into 1’s, 10’s, 100’s and just tapping the side for zero made all the difference. Having anyone drum out the answer – not one specific person – took the pressure off an individual and made it a together experience which helped students who didn’t know the answer to participate and learn from their peers. Sometimes someone was really off, but we all made mistakes from time to time and mistakes were made with the idea that we all do and it was just fine. If a student had some learning challenges, we did use floor tape to put the numbers 1, 10 and 100 on the tape on the drum so they could know where to hit. We repeated ones that needed more practice, and did so outside as much as possible (but caution: drums cannot get wet, so do not take them out in drizzle or wet conditions). We warmed up our drums with our warm hands and didn’t drum if it was too cold (we live in the Cariboo) because it could ruin the drum. We did a pre-test and post-test with the same test to see results, as well as anecdotal student surveys about how kids felt about the experience. Some teachers timed their pre/post tests, some did not.
Checking: The pre-test and post-test were used to see progress, as well as teacher observation and student surveys. All groups improved their multiplication scores — the grade 4/5 class had a huge jump. I have all the exact data in my video of the percentages of increase, decrease or students that scored the same, and in general, it was around 80% of students who increased their scores across all the classes. There were only a few that actually decreased from the baseline pre-test. The question remained with me after looking at the data: was the increase from the drumming technique or would students have also increased just practicing their times tables more? I believe that anecdotal comments helped to tip the scales in favour of the efficacy of the drumming approach, because the personal, connected and heart-felt comments about liking drumming, liking being together to drum, liking learning traditional songs and multiplication through drumming were very telling.
Reflections/Advice: Do not buy pre-made drums! Make them with the students so they have the experience and ownership of them. They understand the hard work it takes to make them and they will respect the drums more. Have elders or knowledge-keepers come in to guide you with this process; smudge before, to do it in a good way; have multiple sources of information about hand drums and Indigenous hand drums through story, oral and print. Learn the Men’s and/or Women’s Warrior songs as they are open for everyone to sing and they are great ones to learn. Pay attention to how powerful drums can be for healing people and that they can create emotions in kids and adults very quickly. As for our program, I plan to start up again next week going out into the unusually hot dry fall weather and our forest school yard to teach a new set of grade 7’s about multiplication and drumming. Other teachers will too — it is now a legacy and easily recycled year after year with students now knowing what to expect if they had instruction last year. I think that if we took this further, we would dip down in primary 2/3 with patterns and skip counting (pre-multiplication skills). I have made an iMovie and I put it on a private Youtube account, so if others are interested they can get the link or contact me to view it.