Gaga over history on YouTube

Music videos by history teachers are hits on YouTube, reports the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Hawaii residents Amy Burvall and Herb Mahelona have won rave reviews for “The French Revolution,” set to Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.”  Dressed in period costumes and wigs, Burvall sings lines like, “La la liberte,” and “Walk, walk scaffold baby.” The video has topped 166,000 views.

Mahelona and Burvall produce their music videos in their free time, mostly on weekends, and from start to finish the process takes about three months. So far, they have posted 49 on YouTube, including “Black Death” set to Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl,” “Martin Luther” set to “Manic Monday” by the Bangles, and “Henry VIII” set to ABBA’s “Money, Money, Money.”

Napoleon will be next.

“The kids just eat it up,” said Mahelona. “And then they take the exam and just from singing the songs, they would remember everything.”

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  1. Michael E. Lopez says:

    We return to an oral history tradition, because students can’t read.

  2. dangermom says:

    Hey, that’s quite a bit more than I ever learned in school about the French Revolution. I am mostly very skeptical about technology in the classroom, but I really like the educational music videos produced by various people and then put out on youtube. Fear the Boom and Bust is one of my favorites–I’d definitely show that in an econ class!

    Mnemonic chants and songs have always been used in education. This just expands it and makes it a lot more fun.

  3. Mark Roulo says:

    We return to an oral history tradition, because students can’t read.

    And Schoolhouse Rock was such a bad idea, too, for this very reason.

    Or not 🙂

    Maybe we can have both???

  4. Michael E. Lopez says:

    OK, so my first response was simply to this quote: “And then they take the exam and just from singing the songs, they would remember everything.”

    I’ve now had a chance to watch the videos, and while they’re quite technically good, they’re pretty poor history. Much modern music isn’t known for its lyrical complexity, and this reduces much of these videos down to “keyword repetition” which is great for memorizing disjointed, disconnected speculative knowledge, but makes a poor substitute for a complete idea, expressed in a sentence.

    Perhaps if these teachers worked more on their lyrics, there could be some merit here, but for the most part I just see a wasted opportunity: the students should be making these.

  5. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Schoolhouse Rock was pretty poor at conveying history. You get a lot of memorable lines — “The shot heard round the world was the start of the Revolution” is something I still remember today — but the actual stories themselves didn’t carry so well.

    Schoolhouse Rock was at its best trying to explain a single idea: the generation of electricity, the function of conjunctions, etc.

    Schoolhouse Rock’s lyrics were also better than these, and aimed at a population who wasn’t expected to read yet.

    (Caveat: I’ve only watched five of these videos, so my sample may not be representative.)

  6. Gimmicks like topic-based songs do serve a purpose in the classroom – crowd control. They relieve the stress and boredom that may build up with continual content-dense instruction.
    That being said, they should not replace real instruction, only supplement it. Too many teachers, though, fail to realize this – hence the fascination with hands-on ‘authentic’ instruction that does little to make students actually learn.

  7. I highly doubt that these YouTube videos are replacing real instruction in the classroom. They are obviously meant to be a fun supplement. I can definitely see how a song like that would help students to remember key words, dates, and people while taking a test. Unless the song is downright incorrect—not simply failing to explain all of the nuances of a situation but actually conveying factually wrong information—I see no problem with it. The song is meant to gloss over information that the student has probably already learned in class. It certainly reminded me of a lot of stuff from my last quarter of Western Civ. in college.

  8. Cute, but these videos promote the pernicious idea that teachers are responsible for entertaining our children while educating them.

  9. Everhopeful says:

    About entertaining students rather than educating them: In my university classroom, I find that 2-3 min. of entertainment goes a long way toward building goodwill in a 75 minute class. I give my students rigorous reading assignments and demand a lot out of them in terms of their writing and discussion, so a little break every now and then rejuvenates everyone.

    If videos such as these are the meat of the instruction, we have a problem, but I don’t know how high school teachers use these things.

  10. I watched it with my 8 y.o., who didn’t know anything about the French Revolution. She learned a few basic facts about the Revolution from the song but somehow she got the idea that the rebels were the ones executed via guillotine rather than the aristocrats. And the majority of the references went WHOOSH, completely over her head. Robespierre? Napoleon? Trois etats? Why Austria would be concerned with the French monarchy? No clue.

    I thought the song was fairly clever because I actually had the background knowledge to make sense of the lyrics. The content has to come first or else the students will be as clueless as my 8 y.o.

  11. dangermom says:

    I’m assuming the songs are used as supplements, not content. It’s a fun way to cement in the information, but no teacher in their right mind could show the video and say that the students learned all about the topic.

  12. Technology and things like this can and should augment quality instruction, not replace it. I have personal experience with this:
    My son and I played Sid Meier’s Gettysburg game on our computers so much that we finally went and saw the actual battlefield. As I closed my blog post with:
    “The game sparked the interest, and then the real learning did begin. “

  13. This link helps to explain how they created and use the videos.

  14. I don’t know what to make of this. My preference would be for students to read history books. Unfortunately, teachers have to resort to pop culture tactics to get students interested in history.