PBL Idea: Throw a Concert

Having spent Saturday at Mumford & Sons’ Gentlemen of the Road Portland Stopover, I got thinking this morning: throwing a concert would make for a tremendous project-based cross-curricular learning experience.    

Mumford & Sons’ “Gentlemen of the Road” Stopover could well be a fantastic mentor text for amazing project based learning.



Project based learning may not be as hip as Mumford and Sons, mustaches, skinny jeans or bedhead, but it could get there soon.

I’ll break down my thinking by content area.

Math: Working out the budget for a concert isn’t just “here’s how much money we have and here are our costs.”  Some interesting work could be had with determining and isolating variables — ticket price, tickets available, concession overhead, concession prices, minimum and maximum profit, investors, booking fees, etc.

Also, some meaningful applied geometry work could be done on the venue.  Maximizing sight lines, capacity calculations — that work within fire codes and the thinking behind fire codes, height of stage, rake of audience.

Some statistical work could come from promotion, using Google Analytics to determine page hits, social media penetration.  Audience polling at the event.

Science:  The best and worst part of any concert experience for me is always the sound.  Incredible learning opportunities abound: acoustic design, wave frequency and amplitude, distortion and clarity, mixing and isolating sound.

And then you could get into the music itself: harmony and melody, tone, music theory — which is really science infused with art.

Examine instrument structure and design.  How electric guitars work, how the shape of an acoustic guitar, its materials, affect its sound.  This might be sideline material to the concert creating itself — and at the same time, meaningful learning.

Social Studies:  Now, this might be a tricky one IF you think Social Studies is just history class.  (And I know our faithful readers would never be so monocular, right?)

I’m thinking it’s a great opportunity to examine culture, as students determine what genres and styles would best be suited to the audience.   A little cultural anthropology might be done here, as well as some current events, some sociology.

From a civics and government angle, students could look into local regulations, the policies and rules that pertain to large gatherings, noise ordinances, and how permit processing works.  Students may have to attend school board or municipal meetings to request permission, to propose ideas.  They may need to attend civic organizational meetings to ask for support for their event.

Even the process of having the fire marshall examine the concert site would provide insight into how day-to-day behind-the-scenes systems operate.

English:  Let’s be honest, English Language Arts is always the easiest integration because it is all about effective communication.

Writing up contracts, writing letters for underwriters and advertisers, preparing presentations to administration and town officials, e-mailing back and forth with bands, managers, booking agents, it is all right here.  Not to mention effective written demonstration of all the above learning.

In addition, student emcees for the event itself could demonstrate public speaking skills, impromptu and prepared speech delivery.

And it doesn’t end with the four core.  Loads of academic and vocational programs could be involved.

Art, Graphic Design, Printmaking:  Posters, t-shirts, tickets, web sites

Metal Fabrication, Industrial Design, Building & Construction: Stage design and construction, venue layout, signage and crowd control

Health, Firefighting, Emergency Medical Technician: Audience services, concessions, emergency personnel, hydration stations, first aid tent.

Digital and Broadcast Media: Filming, live video display, web promotion

And music.  Music classes could probably find a fit here.  Somewhere.

In my formative days of education, the Civil Rights Team I advised put on a ska concert — it was the early 2000s and horn sections were huge.  (I’m not apologizing.  The band was Mrs. Skanatto out of Bates College and I thought they were amazing.  Still do.  Where my rudies at?)  We had about 75 to a 100 kids come, everyone danced like crazy, and it was incident free.  However, I did almost all the work and there was nary a classroom learning moment to be had.

I’m thinking this might be the year to go about doing things differently.

The Gentlemen of the Road show rightfully deserves credit for getting my head wrapped around this.  Here are are a couple of articles that help illuminate how this show seemed as a much a community effort as a concert.

Bangor Daily News’ coverage here.

Portland Press Herald’s coverage here.

Rolling Stone Magazine’s coverage here.

Imagine if we can get students involved in something like this, huh?


About Dan Ryder

Dan Ryder & Jeff Bailey, co-founders of Wicked Decent Learning, a blog, podcast, Twitter feed and who-knows-what-all-else devoted to teaching and learning in Vacationland and beyond. Teachers, dads, actors, writers, geeks, buds.

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