Music as a Vehicle for Cross-Subject Integration

By Van Loo, Bill | Children's Technology and Engineering, December 2011 | Go to article overview

Music as a Vehicle for Cross-Subject Integration

Van Loo, Bill, Children's Technology and Engineering

What do music and technology have to do with one another? Plenty! I myself am living proof that the two go together like D and [A.sup.m]7 (two of my favorite chords). In addition to my day job as the Technology Specialist for Honey Creek Community School, I am also a musician and recording engineer. I've performed everywhere from festivals to coffee shops, and have a body of recorded music available through iTunes and other outlets.

As such, I have an innate love of music as well as a desire to see music used as a way to teach and connect students with the various disciplines that come together in music: art, technology, science, and mathematics.

The Standards for Technological Literacy content standards describe the study of technology as "a way to apply and integrate knowledge from many other subject areas--not just mathematics, science, and computer classes, but also the liberal and fine arts." (ITEA/ITEEA 2000/2002]2007, p. 6-7). This article will discuss the connections between music and the subject areas listed above as well as present a case study that illustrates how you can use music as a vehicle for inquiry-based learning and design projects.


what is music?

So what is music, anyway? The question may seem strange; after all, we are typically surrounded by music in our daily lives. A quick look at the definition of music may prove illuminating, however.

In the book, How Music Works (Powell, 2010, p. 5)., John Powell writes,

"When it comes to music, we all have our favorites and intense dislikes, so no definition of music can include words like 'beauty' and 'pleasure.' All we can safely say is that music is sound which has been organized to stimulate someone--which is a bit feeble really ... Thankfully, it is much easier to define the individual building blocks of music: notes, rhythm, melody, harmony, loudness, and so on."

Notes, rhythm, melody, harmony--what do these things have to do with technology?

music and its connection to technology

By using music as an integration medium, we can investigate many different aspects of technology. Take the concept of rhythm as a first example. There are ways humans can create rhythms without the use of any other devices (such as hand clapping, finger snapping, etc.), but much of what we think about in terms of rhythmic accompaniment in both Western and non-Western music uses human-made objects of some sort--drums, shakers, gongs, etc. The design and construction of these instruments easily fall into the realm of technology.

The vast majority of the music we listen to involves a huge amount of technology in the process of getting that music from the writing of the songs to the recording studio to the playback in our car, house, or iPod headphones. Knowing how this technology can be used to create, record, play back and manipulate music and sound can empower students to create their own music and become familiar with the tools used by professionals. The accompanying activity on page 8 describes a process by which students can dive into this process further.

To further illustrate the connections between music, technology, and other subject areas, I've included a case study drawn from my own experience as a classroom technology teacher.

project details

The project examined by this case study was undertaken by the 2nd and 3rd grade students at Honey Creek Community School in Ann Arbor, MI, where I am the Technology Specialist.

My colleagues and I created a unit called "Energy: Sound and Light" for our 2nd/3rd grade classes after discussing how we might integrate technology and science themes more effectively. This unit was taught by the 2nd/3rd grade classroom teachers during their science time, and by me during my technology time.

For this unit, I started by asking, "What questions do you have about sound and light? …

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