Lincoln Elementary School science teacher Karen Sykes and music teacher Cathy South recently collaborated to help their students understand sound in a unique and creative way. The inspiration for the cross-curricular unit was the New York State Common Core Standards.
"Cathy and I brainstormed a way that we could integrate science into music," said Mrs. Sykes. "I have a sound unit in science with an important invisible theme involving measurement and other mathematics principles. We realized that we could have the students create panpipes, which involve sound, math and music. We were so pleased with the results. In the past, my students have had difficulty with measurement as a concept but they recently took a practice math test and the percentage of accuracy in the measurement part of the exam was the best I have ever seen. I attribute much of the success to the sound unit. We can teach smarter and use our time better by integrating our curriculums so that we are both emphasizing the same concepts."
Students studied vibration, pitch and frequency as part of their sound unit. In science class they built panpipes, using measurement to the tenth of decimal, by cutting plastic pipes in different lengths and then putting the pipes together in three different lengths to create the instrument. In music class, students used the panpipes to play "Mary Had a Little Lamb." Mrs. South stressed important science concepts in sound such as the longer-lower relationship by showing that the longer the pipe, the lower the sound. She also demonstrated the concept with other instruments such as a trombone with its slide and a xylophone with its different-sized keys.
Lincoln Elementary School students Alaina Wright, Bridgette Donaldson, Devin Brown and Matthew Hofgren show off their panpipes project.
"If I can reinforce and enhance in music what they are learning in the classroom, then it is a winning solution for everyone," said Mrs. South. "This science unit is just one way I do that during music class. Students have created "The President's Rap" with facts about the different U.S. presidents. We study composers from around the world and talk about what was happening in their lives and their countries and how that affected their music and we use math constantly in music, especially fractions, when they are learning to read music with the concepts of whole, half and quarter notes. It just makes sense to incorporate the current curriculum in the different grade levels into music class.
The students love it too.
"I didn't realize that when we cut the pipes that it would change the sound until we actually played the flutes," said third-grader Alaina Wright. "Mrs. South taught us that the longer the pipe, the lower the sound. I think it's easier to learn about science when you get to do a hands-on project like this where you mix them together. It was so much fun and I can remember it better because I actually did it myself."