We Didn’t Start the Fire: Learning History Through Music – 15MS407

We Didn’t Start the Fire: Learning History Through Music – 15MS407

This lesson is for : Grade 8:


The year is 1989 and Billy Joel just received a Grammy award for best male pop vocal performance. The song, We Didn’t Start the Fire covers history from 1949 – 1989 and was an instant success due to its catchy tune and its historical, fact-laden, lyrics. Once the melody of this song enters your head, it is not easily dismissed or forgotten. In this lesson, students were assigned the task of researching and rewriting the lyrics from We Didn’t Start the Fire using contemporary history while considering the essential question: “How has the world changed and how might it change in the future?” The students recorded their artifacts using audacity. This concept was also applied as a review for World History as well. Students had to collaborate using Google Docs to rewrite the lyrics from We Didn’t Start the Fire to contain information pertaining to a specific time in ancient history.

TIPC Ratings

Research & Information Fluency

Rating: Developing – Explanation: Students were instructed to research on their own, and could choose their own sources. This approach gave the students the freedom needed to gather the necessary information and allowed for more student ownership and options when determining the lyrics they wanted to include when rewriting the song. The teacher modeled the use of advanced search techniques and meta – search engines, such as dogpile.com and mamma.com as an alternative to Google when reseraching online. Once the students discovered the information they had to synthesize and mold it in such a way to have it make sense lyrically when set to the We Didn’t Start the Fire Melody.

Communication & Collaboration

Rating: Developing – Explanation: Students are working in teams that they selected themselves and were able to collaborate without direct supervision. The students presented their information using collaborative technology such as Soundcloud, Twisted Wave, and Google Docs. Each of these collaboration tools leveraged the students ability to communicate within as well as outside the classroom walls.

Critical Thinking & Problem Solving

Rating: Not observed – Explanation: While students are asked to think about what information to include and exclude, problem solving is not the main feature of this activity. They were, however, challenged to think critically in regard to how to facts would be incorporated into the overall tune and melody of their end product.

Creativity & Innovation

Rating: Approaching – Explanation: The focus of this activity is definitely the creativity component. Not only does music strengthen memory, it often wraps feelings or emotions around a song that enhances learning experiences. The idea is to create a song that students will remember because they worked together to make it, thus enabling them to effectively review and retain information. Learning is strongly influenced by emotion – “the stronger the emotion connected with the experience, the stronger the memory of that experience” (Jensen, 1998, p. 73).

Student Artifact


Lesson Materials

H21 Lesson Artifacts

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