Could Aussie band Wagons help new science teachers?

“After an intricate and detailed band meeting back stage, I can tell you that we here at Wagons plan on having an amazing time for the next 55 minutes.” Henry Wagons, leader of the Melbourne-based country rockers, was explicit about what the afternoon crowd at Edmonton’s inaugural Interstellar Rodeo could expect. And it’s exactly what they got.

Wagons and his band put everything they had into connecting with the crowd, slowly pulling them away from casual sipping of their carefully selected wine pairing to the enthusiastic cheering normally reserved for festival headliners. (Yes, this music festival had wine chosen by local wine judge, store owner and columnist Gurvinder Bhatia to pair with each of the artists, and it was as good as it sounds). For the full 55 minutes, Wagons talked to the crowd and drew them in. He joked about his love for attention (“All I need is a face in my general direction and I’m over the moon”) and jumped high into the air to bring every song to a stopping conclusion. Wagons introduced his own song called The Gambler as part ode to Kenny Rogers and part homage to his favourite sin, one he apparently indulged in by trying the surprise drink treat of the day: The Bulldog, a beer margarita. The song was broken up by a sweaty romp through the crowd and a pause to solicit favourite numbers from those gathered around him, with jokes back and forth about their choices. After a charming duet with East Coast singer-songwriter Jenn Grant, they launched into another tribute, not a song by Willie Nelson but one called Willie Nelson. (You can check it, and some of Wagons’s energy, out below.) By that point, their sheer determination had paid off and a sizable crowd had gathered around the stage pumping their fists in the air. Willie Nelson (the song not the man) turned into a barn burner. Henry ran out into the crowd singing with every inch of his body, up the aisle of the amphitheatre, stopping only to surprise a women hiding sleeping eyes behind her large sunglasses. He jumped up on the few empty seats and waved his arms like a conductor urging people to sing along. Up and down the aisles, around the stage, up and down the stairs, Wagons dragged a small herd of photographers behind him trying to get the shot. The effort was honest, heart-felt and endearing and won the crowd completely.

It’s a feeling at least part partly captured by their video for I Blew It. Henry and the rest of the band go through untold lengths to escape a strange dreamy incarceration in what seems to be part prison, part old school sanitarium, and part carnival museum. They manage to safely escape only to pop up in a travel trunk that opens up into the stage for a private show for a boy and girl, only one of whom is impressed with the results. The look of confused frustration on Wagons’s faces in the final shot says it all “What? But look what we went through!” It’s a vaguely nightmarish dream sequence for a hard working band.

No one would be surprised to call the act of performing music an emotional one. Certainly all who were drawn into Wagons’s performance on Sunday would agree. When a guitarist closes her eyes and leans into a solo, it not only communicates the feeling of the music but creates a shared investment with the audience. The performer and the listener are together, moved by the rhythm and pitch and the emotion carried in the music.

A little bit more surprising is that science teachers use the same general principle to draw their students into science, and it turns out to be one of the important elements of learning to be a science teacher. A group ofresearchers (Roth, Ritchie, Hudson, & Mergard, in press) have followed young teachers through video-taped lessons and observed the way they use laughter and humour to develop intimacy with their students. They describe the solidarity that comes from these moments and how the feelings of belonging contribute to positive experiences for students and teacher. In a follow-up study (Ritchie, Tobin, Hudson, Roth, & Mergard, 2011) they observed how one teacher in particular learned from these positive experiences and was conscientious about trying to reproduce them. Those positive experiences of solidarity, forged through laughter and emotional connections, became an important part of her development. She turned to recreating them during difficult times in her classroom, when things weren’t going quite right. The authors suggest that understanding this relationship could help prepare new science teachers and improve efforts to increase science teacher retention.

Henry Wagons and the rest of the band no doubt have this mastered.  It seems like they put on a clinic every time they perform. Hmmm…maybe my next science ed course should start with this:

Update, Thursday August 2: If you don’t believe me, Edmonton photographer Aaron Vanimere captured the energy of the set perfectly.

Ritchie, S.M., Tobin, K., Hudson, P., Roth, W.-M., & Mergard, V. (2011). Reproducing successful rituals in bad times: Exploring emotional interactions of a new science Teacher. Science Education, 95, 745 – 765.

Roth, W.-M., Ritchie, S. M., Hudson, P., & Mergard, V. (in press, as cited in Ritchie et al, 2011). A study of laughter in science classrooms. Journal of Research in Science Teaching.

Author: mcshanahan

Science education researcher and writer

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