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Making music with STEAM

posted: Thu, Apr 20th, 2017

Spencer Daley and Cameron Ray test out their musical instrument

These sixth-graders didn't just make music, they made the musical instruments too. As part of their technology education course, pairs of students were challenged to make musical instruments using a limited number of resources: shoe boxes, duct tape, rubber bands, and popsicle sticks.

Each team was also asked to work with another team to write and perform a song using their creations.

It was a project that taught students the variables that influence the pitch of stringed instruments and allowed them to put that knowledge into practice. Since the instruments also had to incorporate some sort of headphone/amplification system, the students' knowledge of the properties of sound was also used.

Anthony Lanier tapped into his personal experience with stringed instruments to develop the project he created with Arav Luthra. A well-placed hole in their shoebox gave their instrument a rich resonance. 

"It's just like a guitar," said Anthony, who has experience playing the violin. "We thought of putting a hole in there so the sound will bounce off the insides of the box."

All the young inventors followed the standard engineering workflow of brainstorming, designing, building, testing, and refining. Those last two elements are integral parts of the process – something that takes kids a while to become accustomed to.

"Redesigning was a concept I had to keep emphasizing," said teacher Kristy McFarlane. "When they had a finished product that worked, they think that's it, they're done. They don't realize they could make it better. Learning and trying new things is what engineering is all about."

The opportunity to take a project from concept to completion over the course of two weeks gave the students a sense of accomplishment.

"We got to engineer something we came up with," said Cameron Ray, who worked with Spencer Daley. "It doesn't matter if it sounds good or bad, it's our own and we figured it out."

Technology education courses are offered to students in all three grades. They focus on the hands-on application of science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) concepts.

Up next for the sixth-graders: designing and building their own amusement parks. The eighth grade class is tackling something bigger. The students are constructing their own cities complete with infrastructure, utilities, public spaces, residential areas, and business districts.

Mount Olive Middle School
160 Wolfe Road Budd Lake, NJ 07828
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Phone: 973.691.4006 Fax: 973.691.4029

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