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Learning activities


Students gain an understanding of day-to-day life in the past through learning about the types of leisure activities that accompanied the use of the gramophone. Students consider how family life was different in the past, and consider the types of activities that their families do together today. Students evaluate different types of technologies and consider how objects can give us clues about the past.



With your students, watch the video 'What is this? Gramophone'.

The opening of the video shows rainbow stripes moving across the screen from left to right. A cloud shape pops into the coloured stripes containing an image of a gramophone. The video title 'What is this' is superimposed on the gramophone. A question mark bounces into position at the end of the text ('What is this?') and an eyeball rolls around in the dot forming the bottom of the question mark and winks. Upbeat music plays in the background. A swarm of question marks moves across and fills the frame.

The question marks dissolve to a close-up of a needle floating on a spinning long-playing record. A scratching sound can be heard.

It cuts to Angela (the presenter) and Teddy (a small yellow hand puppet), both standing behind a table. An animated cartoon-like TV screen floats in the frame to Angela's right (screen left) and above Teddy. It contains and image of the needle and spinning disc.

ANGELA: What is this? It looks like a tiny needle pointing down onto something. It's attached to a metal, disc-shaped object about the size of a very large coin or medal. Mmm ... I think we need a clue.

(Music, a band with a woman singing, begins to play. In the TV screen on the right the needle and spinning disc can be seen.)

ANGELA: Okay, I can hear some music playing.

TEDDY: Hey, Angela, that music sounds very scratchy and the lady singing sounds a long way away.

ANGELA: I think it sounds quite old, Teddy. But I'm still not sure what this object is.

TEDDY: Is it making the music? I reckon we need to see some more. We're too close.

(A full screen close-up of needle and spinning disc shows a brass arm resting on a long-playing record. The camera pulls back for a wider view so that the wood cabinet and winding crank can be seen. An image of a dog looking at a gramophone horn is on the front of the cabinet.)

ANGELA: The needle is resting on a thin black rotating disc. The part holding the needle is attached to a brass tube which runs parallel to the black disc. What else can you see Teddy?

TEDDY: At the end of the tube I can see a really big brass horn.

(Shows a close-up of the top of brass horn and then moves slowly down to the cabinet.)

TEDDY: The black disc is resting on a beautiful, shiny wooden box.

ANGELA: You're right, Teddy. The wooden box has four sides. One side has a picture of a cute little dog sitting in front of a machine that looks the same as this object. (Close-up of the picture which has the words 'The Gramophone Company Ltd' below it.) Another side has a metal handle with a wooden knob on the end.

ANGELA: Have you figured out what this is?

(Wide shot of Angela and Teddy behind the table with the gramophone between them.

ANGELA: It's called a gramophone, and it's used for listening to music.

(The word 'gramophone' with animated question marks in the background is displayed on the TV screen.)

TEDDY: Hey, Angela, it looks really old.

ANGELA: It is. This one was made over 100 years ago when my great-grandparents were alive!

TEDDY: That is old! Hey, I know what that black thing is. It's a record. My Pop's got heaps of them. It has music recorded on both sides. I don't know how it works, though.

ANGELA: Well, I think I know. This needle (Angela's hand points to needle) — called a stylus — picks up the sound from the groove on the surface of the record (Angela's hand circles around record imitating the movement of the stylus.)

TEDDY: Where do you plug it in though? I can't see a cord.

(Wide shot of Angela on the right, the gramophone in the middle, Teddy on the left with the TV set above him containing rotating question marks.)

ANGELA: That's because gramophones didn't need electricity. I'll show you. You crank this handle on the side of the box, release the brake and that makes the record spin round.

(While Angela speaks the vision shows a close-up of Angela's hands cranking the handle, a close-up of Angela's hand moving a small metal lever that sticks out from under the record and a close-up of the record spinning.)

TEDDY: Ah, I get it. And then you put the stylus in the groove, and the music plays.

(Angela places stylus on spinning record. A woman starts to sing very loudly in an operatic style.)

TEDDY: Wow! The sound is coming out of that big horn and it's really loud. Put a sock in it, will ya!

ANGELA: (laughing) You know, that's exactly how you control the volume of the music on a gramophone.

TEDDY: What do you mean?

ANGELA: To make the music softer, you can put a couple of rolled-up socks inside the horn.

(Angela shows rolled socks to camera and drops them into the top of the horn. The music volume drops.)


TEDDY: Who would've thought?!

(Angela takes the stylus off the record, and turns on the brake. The music stops.)

TEDDY: But that's different to how you turn the volume down on things today. My CD player has a volume knob. No socks required.

ANGELA: Since the time when gramophones were made, there've been lots of changes in the ways we listen to recorded music and the ways that they work.

ANGELA: Gramophones were eventually powered by electricity and as fashions changed over the years, how gramophones looked changed too. Then came cassette players, CDs and now we have digital music players like iPods and MP3 players.

(Images of a 1960s portable record player, a 1980s Walkman cassette player, a portable CD player and an iPod are displayed as Angela talks about them.)

Who knows what we'll be using in the future to listen to music.

See you later.

TEDDY: Bye-bye.

(Music fades out)

ANGELA: What do you think we might use to listen to music in the future, Ted?

TEDDY: Choccie bikkies?

ANGELA: Oh Teddy ... but then you wouldn't be able to eat them!

TEDDY: Aw ... Hadn't thought of that ...

Upbeat music. An animation of rainbow stripes moving across the screen from left to right. A cloud shape pops into the coloured stripes containing an image of a gramophone. The video title 'What is this?' is superimposed on the gramophone. This dissolves to National Museum of Australia logo.

Note: The needle on a gramophone is usually played on the left side of the record

1. Listening to music

Ask students how they listen to music in their homes. Show students these two images:

Ask students to describe what they can see in the paintings.

  • How are the families the same as their families? How are they different?
  • Do the students listen to music differently in their families? Why might it be different or the same?
  • Both images show the activity as a special occasion. All the focus is on the activity of listening to music. Can the students think of any activities their family does today where everyone participates and concentrates on the same thing?
  • Ask the students to look carefully at the images of the families listening to music. Ask them to draw and label a picture of their family listening to music.

2. Looking at changing technology

Bring in an example of a record, a cassette, a CD and an MP3 player. Ask the class to speculate on which of these items is the oldest and which is the newest. Use this activity to model historical language to students and for students to use appropriate tense in their discussions. Make sure students have the opportunity to explain why they think an object is older or newer. Make sure students are aware of sources of information (their own prior knowledge, asking others, learning from other sources such as books or video). Students may need prompts.

  • Look very closely. What can you notice? What do you find interesting about these objects?
  • Do any of these objects look very worn? What might this tell us about the life of the object?
  • Do any of these objects look the same as objects we use today?
  • What do you already know about these objects? How can that help our investigation? Where can we go to find out more?

3. Moving to music

Ask students where they have seen people dancing and what type of dancing they have seen.

Show students one of the YouTube videos of people dancing to gramophone music in the 1920s: 1920s Charleston video (10 mins) or Roaring twenties dance craze video (2 mins).

Ask students to describe the kinds of movements they saw in the video. Ask them how it is different from other types of dancing they have seen.

Teach the students a few basic steps and let them dance to the gramophone music in the videos. Instructions on how to do simple steps may be found on the internet.

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