Hands-on Activity: Cosmic Rhythm
Educational Standards :
Learning Objectives (Return to Contents)
After this activity, students should be able to:
Materials List (Return to Contents)
Introduction/Motivation (Return to Contents)
The definition of rhythm, according to The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition:
Source: Dictionary.com, http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=rhythm.
Obviously, rhythm is a rich concept with application in many areas. Notice how often the word "pattern" appears in the definitions. Other important terms are "regular," "repetition," "recurring" and "alternation." Rhythm is essentially a repeating pattern.
This repetition of pattern powerfully assists memory and learning. Think of the simple but compelling patterns of rhyme and rhythm of the Dr. Seuss books, including the classic Green Eggs and Ham, the best-selling Seuss book of all time. Notice how the lines have the back-and forth rhythm of a pendulum.
Do you like green eggs and ham?
I do not like them, Sam-I-am.
I do not like green eggs and ham.
You can feel your body sway back and forth as you are carried along by the rhythm. Not all poetry is this regular, of course, and there are many rhyming patterns. The rhythm of poetry is measured by its meter and counted by means of a unit called a foot, which is composed of a pattern of stressed ( / ) and unstressed ( ^ ) syllables. There are several types of metrical feet, which have names derived from Greek: iambic ( ^ / ), trochaic ( / ^ ) , anapestic ( ^ ^ / ) and dactylic ( / ^ ^ ). For this activity, it is not essential for you to know all the different metrical types (there are several more). For now, just notice the pendulum-like effect of the trochaic line:
Do you like green eggs and ham?
...and the iambic lines:
I do not like them, Sam-I-am.
I do not like green eggs and ham.
Iambic meter is the most common in English verse. It is said to be most like the natural rhythm of English speech. For additional introductory information on the meter of poetry see the References section.
Vocabulary/Definitions (Return to Contents)
Procedure (Return to Contents)
The theme for this activity — rhythm — takes its cue from the mechanical oscillation of a pendulum, as explained in Mechanics unit, Lesson 9.
In the immortal words of Duke Ellington, "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing." "It" includes everything from the beating of our hearts, to the ebb and flow of tides, to the rotation of pulsars. This literacy activity is a celebration of rhythm in its many cultural forms — music, poetry, art and dance. The activities included are only a starting point for students to begin a lifelong exploration of the wonders of rhythm.
Using the definition of rhythm (see the Introduction/Motivation section) as a start, think of as many things as you can that are rhythmical. Over a 24-hour period, make a list in your journal of rhythmical things you observe around your classroom and school, at home or on a walk through your neighborhood. See who can come to class the next day with the longest, most unique list. See who thinks of the most remarkable, unusual or often unnoticed rhythmical phenomena.
Generally, we think of rhythm in terms of sounds we hear with our ears, such as music or the drip of a leaky faucet. But, sounds are felt with the whole body as movement or vibration. Rhythm can also be experienced visually as in the harmonious lines of a painting or sculpture, or a beautifully engineered object such as a suspension bridge or sailing ship. In this respect, rhythm is often associated with concepts of balance and proportion in design. Use all your senses to add to your list of rhythmical things.
Perhaps, in composing your list, you thought of the rhythm of day and night, or waking and sleeping. Did you include the rhythm of the tides on your list? Did you know that rivers also move in rhythmic patterns? Over time, rivers form oscillating curves called meanders.
This rhythmic power provides an obstacle to engineers who seek to channel or dam rivers for flood control. The rhythm of the river works constantly to create new channels. Notice how the meanders of the river resemble the graphical curve of the pendulum swing shown in the introductory graphic. How many other natural rhythms can you think of?
Are you a poet and don't know it? Do you ever notice that sometimes your speech patterns develop a rhythm? Not all poetry has to rhyme, but all poetry benefits if it conveys a sense of rhythm in some fashion, either through patterns of words or rhythmic movements within the lines of the poem.
Notice how the repetitions of words (such as "mark'd," "filament," "surrounded" and "till") and word-forms ending in -ing (such as "unreeling," and "musing, venturing, throwing") and initial sounds ("vacant, vast" and "seeking the spheres") contribute to the rhythmic effect of this poem by Walt Whitman:
A NOISELESS, patient spider,
I mark'd, where, on a little promontory, it stood, isolated;
Mark'd how, to explore the vacant, vast surrounding,
It launch'd forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself;
Ever unreeling them — ever tirelessly speeding them.
And you, O my Soul, where you stand,
Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, — seeking the spheres, to connect them;
Till the bridge you will need, be form'd — till the ductile anchor hold;
Till the gossamer thread you fling, catch somewhere, O my Soul.
Now, try writing a poem yourself. You might want to experiment with the fun rhymes and meters of Dr. Seuss or the stirring free verse rhythms of Walt Whitman. You could first try closely imitating the poet's meter, using your own subject. What metrical foot is used throughout the following Emily Dickinson verse and the imitator? (Answer: Iambic [ ^ / ])
Emily Dickinson original:
Because I could not stop for Death —
He kindly stopped for me —
The Carriage held but just ourselves —
Because the car ran out of gas
I had to walk a mile
I met a troll along the way
We walked and talked a while.
Source: A Brief Guide to Poetic Imitation, Honors Program, University of Nevada at Reno, 2004, formerly located at www.honors.unr.edu/~fenimore/en297/imitate.html.
Assessment (Return to Contents)
Journaling: Journal entries of rhythmical things indicate how observant students are and how well they understand the concept of rhythm prior to the class discussion, and poetry analysis and writing exercise.
Activity Embedded Assessment
Kinesthetic Movement: While the rhythm of the river is being discussed, students may act out the principle of oscillation physically in the form of a dance or pantomime.
Writing Exercise: By writing an imitation of a famous poem or an original poem that uses meter and rhyme, or other rhythmic principle, students demonstrate how well they understand the principle of rhythm and apply it in their own work.
Activity Extensions (Return to Contents)
Activities on the topic of rhythm are potentially endless; below are just a few suggestions. Students can make observations in their journals about the activity, or write a brief report, essay or poem about their understanding.
Activity Scaling (Return to Contents)
References (Return to Contents)
Jazz. The Web's Ultimate Guide to Jazz. Accessed May 15, 2004. All About Jazz. http://www.allaboutjazz.com/
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language. Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000. Source of "rhythm" definition. Available online at: http://www.dictionary.com
DeSerio, Robert. "Chaotic Pendulum: The Complete Attractor." American Journal of Physics. Vol. 71, pp. 250-257, 2003. (Source of animated gif of chaos movement. Used with permission. See http://www.phys.ufl.edu/courses/phy4803L. Accessed August 12, 2004.)
Dictionary.com. Lexico Publishing Group, LLC. Accessed May 15, 2004. (Source of vocabulary definitions, with some adaptation) http://www.dictionary.com
Klawitter, George. Scansion. Updated July 23, 2000. Poetics, St. Edward's University, Austin, TX. Accessed May 15, 2004. (A basic introduction to scansion) http://myweb.stedwards.edu/georgek/poetics/scansion.html
Percussion for Kids. Stomp. Accessed May 15, 2004. http://www.stomponline.com
Rhythm, Meter and Scansion Made Easy. Mr. Black's 5th and 6th Grade English Page, Riverdale, Oregon. Accessed May 15, 2004. http://server.riverdale.k12.or.us/~bblack/meter.html
Stomp, The International Percussion Sensation. Accessed May 15, 2004. http://www.stomponline.com
Toon, John. Out of Time. Updated September 10, 2000. Georgia Tech Research Horizons. Accessed May 15, 2004. (Researchers recreate 1665 clock experiment to gain insights into modern synchronized oscillators.) http://gtresearchnews.gatech.edu/reshor/rh-f00/time.html
ContributorsJane Evenson, Malinda Schaefer Zarske, Denise W. Carlson
Copyright© 2004 by Regents of the University of Colorado.
The contents of this digital library curriculum were developed under a grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), U.S. Department of Education and National Science Foundation GK-12 grant no. 0338362. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the Department of Education or National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.
Supporting Program (Return to Contents)Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado at Boulder
Last Modified: April 16, 2014