WASHINGTON (Nov. 11, 2004)—Fourth-graders from Harriet Tubman Elementary School fanned out across Washington this fall with tape recorders, maps and sharp ears to create a sound portrait of their community as part of Geography Action!, an annual National Geographic program for students in kindergarten through grade 12.
Capturing the sounds of America is the focus of “Cultures: The Sound of Place,” the theme of Geography Action 2004! (www.nationalgeographic.com/geographyaction). Participants create one- to three-minute sound portraits of their communities by recording sounds that illustrate aspects of their local geography. The program encourages kids to explore how language, music and other sounds of their hometowns give voice to the history, commerce, culture, movement and interaction of people and place through time.
The Harriet Tubman students captured the sounds of the school’s neighborhood to create their sound portrait: the Metro bus, car horns, Spanish music, Keely’s Boxing Ring, billiards at the Latin American Youth Center, the sound of children walking home from school.
“The Geography Action Cultures project helped the kids become better listeners, more aware of the cultural differences around them, and it helped them feel connected to their community,” said Nancy DiNunzio, fourth-grade teacher at Tubman. “They said the sounds reminded them of their friends and of places they like to go in the neighborhood.”
Music played a major role in the Tubman project. Students brought in instruments from other parts of the world, listened to the music of Africa, Peru, Scotland and Australia, and learned songs from India and Brazil. They listened to country, jazz, holiday songs, beach music, rap and swing and drew pictures of how the music made them feel.
The students admitted they didn’t know a lot about cultures when they started the project, but these are some of their observations now:
“Cultures are things people do.” — Gianni Pearson
“Other people have different cultures.” — Jairo Rubio
“Families have cultures.” — Glenn Wright
“Cultures have happy sounds.” — Vanessa Mendez
“Cultures make different sounds.” — Tiffany Penate
“Our cultural landscape is changing, and many of the sights and sounds we take for granted are quickly disappearing,” said Barbara Chow, National Geographic’s vice president for education programs. “‘Geography Action: Cultures’ gives students tools to help preserve their own local culture, to understand its relevance to their lives, and to understand the larger issues of the relationship among people, places and environments.”
The audio shorts will be posted on the National Geographic’s Geography Action! Web site with an interactive map, text explaining what the sound portraits reveal about the communities portrayed, local maps and pictures. The sound portraits also will be archived in the Library of Congress, which will hold the auditory time capsules in its permanent audio collection.
Students, teachers and parents who visit the Geography Action! Web site this fall will find a wide range of culture-related information and activities, links to educational Web sites, and an interactive forum board where kids and teachers can exchange information and activities. A comprehensive calendar will list cultural activities nationwide, and an extensive resource library will provide links to many Web sites related to the theme of cultures.
The project’s goal is to help students appreciate the things that make their place unique and to give them the means to create a cultural portrait of lasting value to their communities. Conducting a firsthand investigation of local culture encourages community dialogue and gives students a practical application for studies within the field of geography. Students also gain valuable skills in audio recording, journalism, editing and story creation.