Creating Lesson Plans with Teacher Needs
The nonprofit Birthplace of Country Music (BCM) honors the history and impact of the 1927 Bristol Sessions, a two-week period of music recordings that had a huge impact on the history and development of early country music. These Sessions are known as the “Big Bang” of country music. To carry on this important legacy, BCM owns and operates the world-class Birthplace of Country Music Museum, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, the annual Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion music festival, and WBCM Radio Bristol, which broadcasts from the museum. In 2012 the museum was built to tell the story of the 1927 Bristol Sessions, highlight the technology that made them possible, and explore the legacy and impact of these recordings.
The museum’s name – the Birthplace of Country Music Museum (BCMM) – and specific focus could limit its ability to engage with and serve the greater community. Not everyone likes country music, after all! But Dr. René Rodgers, head curator, and the museum’s curatorial team work hard to ensure the museum’s exhibits and resources remain relevant to the surrounding community by incorporating special exhibitions that connect to that moment’s social, economic, and historical context or that fulfill educational goals.
BCM is particularly known for creating those connections through its educational experiences for students and families who visit the museum. The on-site experiences go beyond the standard tours by incorporating hands-on learning activities led by trained docents. But René knew that it is often hard for teachers and administrators to justify a trip to the museum—financially and logistically. The curatorial team also had been interested in creating more tangible, classroom-based educator resources for a long time. In late 2020, they received grant money to launch the lesson plan project.
Before BCMM received the grant, they were already creating resources that might help teachers in the classroom. They had developed a set of coloring and activity sheets and educator videos, but the grant allowed them to do more. Because of the grant, they were able to build a team, conduct teacher focus groups, and ultimately create engaging lesson plans with a robust set of supplementary educator resources. The two school systems – Bristol, TN and Bristol, VA – provided letters of support for the grant, which contributed to BCMM’s
The grant allowed BCM to assemble a dream team to ensure the success of the lesson plan project.
Head Curator at BCMM. René has been working with the museum since its construction in 2012, starting as a freelancer on the original content team and leading a small but mighty curatorial team of three today. Over the past several years, she has been committed to ensuring educators see BCMM as a resource beyond the field trip. She oversaw the project, convening the teacher focus groups, working with the consultants on content development, and writing the supplementary resource documents.
Scotty Almany and Erika Barker
As members of the museum’s curatorial team, Scotty and Erika helped with early planning for the project, creation of the resource videos, proofing and editing the lesson plan materials, and delivery of the first lesson plans to teachers at in-service workshops.
David is a retired educator who had been a part of the original community group that brought the museum to fruition. In addition to his experience as an educator, he also had extensive knowledge of the area’s music history. David led research and content development for the lesson plans.
Lisa works with the East Tennessee Historical Society and served as a higher-level project consultant about museum education.
Amy is a teacher from North Carolina. She worked with the museum on the lesson plan project as an intern from Appalachian State University.
The grant application explicitly outlined the need for teacher focus groups. Because BCMM serves Tennessee and Virginia, teachers from both states were invited to provide feedback on the lesson plans project.
Marketing and Design Firm
The grant also enabled BCM to hire the High Road Agency, a marketing firm to build the templates for the lesson plan and educator resources and produce the resource videos.
Designing with Teachers and Learners at the Center
Preparing For Focus Groups
In advance of the teacher focus groups, the BCMM team conducted preliminary discussions, one with museum volunteers who were retired teachers and the second with teachers who had a history of engaging with the museum’s programming. They also reached out to the Bristol, TN and Bristol, VA school systems to find teacher volunteers for the official focus groups. These initial discussions helped the team prepare and craft questions for those meetings. Once the agenda was developed and the questions were refined, teachers were sent the information in advance so they had time to reflect and generate ideas.
The Focus Groups
The BCM team conducted three focus group sessions with the selected group of teachers. Each teacher also received a stipend in the form of VISA gift cards for their participation.
This session focused on information gathering. The BCMM team had ideas and things they wanted to know, but they dedicated most of the time to understanding what teachers needed and what would help them in the classroom. Questions included:
- What subjects are you interested in?
- How do you see our content connecting to your standards?
- What activities do you like?
- What type of information do you want included with the lesson plans (e.g. resource documents, images, videos, hands-on elements, etc.)?
- How should the information be presented/formatted for easy use in the classroom?
- What is a great way to engage the kids when they visit the museum?
- What do you need before you come to the museum and after you leave the museum?
After the first focus group, the BCMM team generated initial drafts based on the teacher’s feedback. And four months after that first session, the same teachers came back together to review the drafts and provide additional feedback.
Held at the end of the grant period, after the first lesson plans had been shared with the educator community through two in-service workshops, this session give the focus group teachers the chance to provide feedback on final lesson plans, the challenges and benefits of the project as a whole, and potential next steps for the future.
The design of the final lesson plans and supplementary resources directly resulted from teacher feedback. It reflected a shared desire among teachers to make things easy to use and navigate. The teachers shared that they are incredibly busy and often do not have time to research additional concepts about music history, find images, and build different activities outside the things they’ve already spent so much time developing. The BCMM team ensured their resources solved the problems of time constraints by creating everything a new teacher or a veteran teacher would need to jump into the lesson.
The lesson plans all follow a standard template that includes information like essential questions, goals and objectives, and lesson structure. Each lesson plan also lists the standards (from both Tennessee and Virginia) in various forms and degrees of depth. There are “at-a-glance” standards at the beginning of the lesson, standards “in-brief” so that teachers can pull keywords when they need to make a case to administrators, and complete standards descriptions for new teachers who need more context.
Educator Resource Document
The teacher-facing resource document includes all the context a teacher might need to build the lesson. This resource contains links to anything and everything they might need—stories, videos, and additional resources. The goal? The teachers shouldn’t have to look up anything else, everything should be in the document.
Student Resource Document
The student-facing document is brief, engaging, and includes vocabulary that creates another layer of learning for students.
Image Resource Document
The image resource document includes any images related to the lesson so teachers can print images quickly and use them in the classroom or in remote learning environments.
The BCMM team also used the marketing firm that the grant allowed them to hire to create a set of educational videos for teachers. This series directly resulted from the focus group feedback where teachers communicated the need for short, engaging videos. Teachers shared that students liked when information came from the experts themselves and included props or movement. The BCMM team wrote scripts and leveraged volunteers, internal staff, musicians, and other experts to make short, engaging educational videos for teachers.
After the BCMM team developed the educator lesson plans and resources, they hosted a two-day summer teacher in-service. The first day was for elementary teachers, and the second was for middle and high school teachers. Over the two-day experience, teachers learned more about the museum and then dove into the lesson plans.
René Rodgers provided an introduction to the museum, how it can be used by teachers as an educational resource and learning site, the lesson plans projects, and upcoming education-focused opportunities.
The BCMM team placed guitar-shaped sticky notes around the museum indicating which standards were represented in different exhibit sections, providing an accurate understanding of the potential learning connections throughout the museum.
The teachers received printouts of the lesson plans, educator resources, and activities. Intern and teacher Amy Myers facilitated the experience and guided the teachers through the lesson plan activities, making time for questions and reflection. Teachers could take all resources home at the end of the in-service.
The process they developed, and their commitment to designing around the needs of passionate but extremely busy teachers, resulted in a set of resources teachers can seamlessly embed into their curriculum. Several teachers who participated in the focus groups and in-services communicated what they appreciated the most was BCMM staff including them in the process and simply asking what teachers wanted and what could help them.
As a result of the early success of this lesson plan project, BCMM has fostered stronger connections with the local and regional school systems, delivered well-received and meaningful teacher in-service workshops, and since partnered with organizations like the YMCA to lead educational workshops based on these resources.
“I enjoyed how the material was presented in a way that it could be used with multiple / cross-curricular content areas.”
“Every single aspect of this inservice was phenomenal. I am a 24 year veteran music teacher. There aren’t ever opportunities for music workshops that are AP cross curricular. This was a perfect mix of examples of sound, music, film clips, and instruction. All presenters were so knowledgeable and provided great content. I was so thankful for the resources/lesson plans and documents to take back to my classroom this fall.”
The Lessons Learned
The BCMM team have developed five lesson plan topics that include different grade-level lesson plans and related educator resource packages,and are excited to build on this success with more tailored and niche lessons based on educator feedback. After this experience, a few key insights could help others with similar work:
Integrated Educator Support
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