Music and science education collaboration at Auburn produces sweet sounds

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If you had strolled through the Haley Center courtyard on a recent Thursday, you might have heard the strains of "War Eagle." Nothing unusual there – until you looked up and saw that Auburn’s fight song was being performed by two dozen undergrads on Boomwhackers.


"I thought it was a steel drum concert," said one student who stopped by to watch. "When I came up the stairs and saw it was students with a bunch of brightly colored tubes beating on the rails, I really didn’t know what to think."

In a unique collaboration between College of Education professors L. Octavia Tripp and Nancy Barry, elementary education students have been engaged in an innovative interdisciplinary project that integrates science and music through creative, hands-on lessons.

Tripp, who specializes in science education, joined Barry, whose emphasis is in music education, to provide professional development in science and music integration to a cohort of pre-service teachers. After a series of demonstration lessons, the pilot project culminated with the Auburn students developing their own lessons combining science and music, and teaching those lessons to children in a partner public school lab.

"We used a variety of methods to not only make music, but also to teach the students about pitch, the musical scale, wavelength, frequency and amplification," said Barry. "All of the instruments, some of which we made in class, would be appropriate for elementary education lessons."

Along with Pan Pipes, glasses tuned with different levels of water to produce different pitches, and whirling musical tubes, one of the instruments the students used were Boomwhackers, which are lightweight, hollow, color-coded plastic tubes that are tuned to musical pitches based on their length.

"With Boomwhackers, shorter tubes create higher notes because the wavelength created in the shorter tube corresponds to a higher frequency and higher pitch," Tripp explained. "As the tubes grow longer they produce proportionately lower tones. We matched the notes for different songs to color-coded sheet music so we’ve had a lot of fun playing music in class. With Boomwhackers you can go from anything as simple as Jingle Bells to classical music by Beethoven."

In addition to the focus on music and science, the students also discussed teaching methods, engagement ideas, classroom management and pedagogy during their university class meetings.

All of the students had an opportunity to translate these fun and engaging ideas to local classrooms in partner schools. One such student was Chelsea Stone, who worked under 2009 Teacher of the Year LaNedra Dear at Pick Elementary on North College Street. Stone is an elementary education major with a minor in art.

"I am very interested in the whole left brain/right brain idea, so this combination of science and music appealed to me," she said. ""Elementary Education is a really cool program at Auburn, and I love the way Dr. Barry and Dr. Tripp are bringing together what C.P. Snow called ‘The Two Cultures.’"

In her lab session at Pick, Stone focused on wave qualities. While the students took turns experimenting with musical tubes making different sounds at different speeds, Stone discussed frequency, or the speed of a wave, as well as amplitude, pitch and wavelength.

"Obviously I love kids since I want to be a teacher," Stone said. "This has been a great series of lessons and the students not only had fun with the different instruments, but they also learned a lot. I’ve had a wonderful semester here at Pick and have been able to use so much of what we did in our lab sessions this semester. I have also loved working with my teacher, Ms. Dear. I really feel like she’s the best in the business. I’m looking forward to having my own class next year."

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