Carol Falke needed some help.
Falke, a State College community member, was planning her fourth mission trip to Rwanda, where she works with the Urunkundo Learning Center, a non-profit organization focused on providing education for orphaned and poor children. The center includes a preschool, kindergarten, and instruction for students in grades 1-2. During a 2013 expansion project, a music and art room had been added, but they had neither a music curriculum nor equipment. That's when she turned to music education faculty member Darrin Thornton for assistance and advice.
Thornton was intrigued by the idea of creating learning materials for the school, and saw it as a perfect project for his junior-year music education students. "It was an opportunity to flex our music education methods and materials muscles and apply them to a real-life situation that music teachers often find themselves in—consultants about music curriculum."
Thus, Thornton initiated the "Great Lesson Plan Commission Project." During the last two weeks of the fall 2013 semester, after his music education students had cycled through a rotation of instructional materials units, they began working on creating lesson plans for Falke's mission team to share with the Urunkundo Learning Center teachers.
Thornton and 25 music education majors planned five 20-minute activities for each of the Rwanda school's grade levels, and each activity included a clearly detailed sequence of instruction. The activities were based on themes common to both the United States and Rwanda (i.e. seasons, holidays, weather/climate, colors, animals, etc.). Each activity was written in language that a non-music teacher would understand.
The same students gathered at the start of the spring 2014 semester to practice implementing their Rwanda plans and to discuss how to make them more effective. The State College-based Rwanda mission team was invited to a class where the Penn State students described their lessons and then taught them to the entire group. These lessons were videotaped so that the mission team would have examples of the songs and materials to use as a reference while in Rwanda. The teaching videos, sound recordings, and other sound materials were loaded onto an iPod that the mission team carried with them, along with the printed material.
Falke and her colleagues visited Rwanda in March 2014, where they shared the Penn State lesson plans with the teacher responsible for music instruction at the Urunkundo Learning Center. Falke reported that while the teacher seemed "a bit overwhelmed" (she is also responsible for teaching Kinyarwanda and French), the director of the neighboring Kigali School of Music was greatly impressed with the lesson, and he intends to assist the Urunkundo teaching staff.
Thornton believes that this project was incredibly worthwhile and eye-opening for the Penn State music education students who participated. "This project is a great example of service learning through community service, and it gave our students a wonderful opportunity to see the connections between what they will do in music education and the world around them, outside of their school walls."