Shawna Longo | January 2019

STEAMing Up Your Music Classroom

Have you thought about adding a little “STEAM” to your classroom?  There are many natural connections that can be made between science, technology, engineering, math, and music.  The “A” is authentically added to acknowledge the creativity and innovation necessary to succeed in STEM content areas.  The arts give us different pathways in which to see, hear, and understand the world. And, despite that fact, there are certain things in our lives that we see multiple times a day. For instance, if asked to make a drawing of any of those common items, we would probably miss some of the details. The arts also give us an opportunity to “see” the things that we miss.

Connecting Music to Imagination, Innovation, & Creativity

The connection that is made between STEAM content areas stimulates inquiry, dialogue, and critical thinking.  School Specialty states in an article, “The term integration means combining one thing with another to create a new whole.”  This definition is a key component to any STEAM lesson. When you naturally align the standards in two or more STEAM content areas, you create authentic, real-world connections for students.  If you take away one of the content areas, you affect the whole lesson. The learning will no longer look the same, nor will the experience for the students and/or the teacher(s).

STEAM also promotes a shift from a teacher-centered classroom to student inquiry-based learning.  As Trevor Bryan stated via Twitter, “If you aren’t letting your students get stuck, struggle, make things that don’t work, feel lost, confused and unsure, then you are not teaching creativity.  Creativity isn’t about certainty, it dances with the unknown.” In a STEAM environment or lesson, the teacher’s role shifts to that of a facilitator or guide. Ryan Holiday writes in The Obstacle is the Way, “It’s okay to be discouraged.  It’s not okay to quit…Failure shows us the way – by showing us what isn’t the way… Think progress, not perfection.”  These soft skills are prevalent in a positive, encouraging STEAM environment and show a shift in how we as teachers need to approach teaching and learning.  We’ve all heard the saying, practice makes perfect. But I disagree – practice makes us better.

Music Technology is STEAM!

At its core, music technology is STEAM learning.  But, a teacher’s INTENTION in how they present music content and skills is what determines the STEAM connection.  In order for music technology to connect to a STEAM approach, the teacher must:

  • Intentionally select standards from both (or all) STEAM content areas.
  • Purposefully teach both (or all) of those standards throughout the lesson/unit.
  • Deliberately assess both (or all) content areas through the naturally aligned standards.

The eleven Anchor Standards included in the National Core Arts Standards provide an excellent foundation for finding natural connections with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), ISTE (Technology) Standards, Mathematical Standards of Practice (Common Core), and the engineering design process.  Do you know what NGSS, Mathematical Standards of Practice, or Technology anchor standard(s) you are integrating throughout your lessons/units?  Once you know what other standards you are integrating into your music class, you might want to also consider the process of becoming a STEAM school.

We also know that music technology, and all music classes support the P21 Partnership for 21st Century Learning’s 4 C’s and Life & Career Skills.  The 4 C’s are:

  • Creativity & Innovation
  • Critical Thinking & Problem Solving
  • Communication
  • Collaboration

The Life & Career Skills include:

  • Flexibility & Adaptability
  • Initiative & Self-Direction
  • Social & Cross-Cultural Skills
  • Productivity & Accountability
  • Leadership & Responsibility.

The 4 C’s and Life & Career Skills align with the soft skills that corporations are looking for in the job market.  And in fact, a STEAM-based approach to teaching and learning facilitates the growth of these skills, which are practiced in music classrooms every day.

Are you already “doing” STEAM?

If you integrate technology into your music classroom, then you are probably already STEAMing it up!  Do you teach and/or use:

  • Counting and composing rhythms (technology, engineering, math)
  • Sound waves and amplitude (science, technology, engineering)
  • Music tech “products” like Noteflight, Groovy Music, Morton Subotnic’s Creative Tools, O-Generator, etc. (science, technology, engineering, math)
  • Composing, arranging, and/or recording using Noteflight, Soundation, Soundtrap, or GarageBand (science, technology, engineering, math)
  • Makey Makey, Little Bits Synth Kit, etc. (science, technology, engineering, math)
  • Music technology apps and/or websites (science, technology, engineering, math)

The difference might be in how you present and assess the learning.  Remember – one of the key elements to an authentic STEAM lesson is the natural alignment of the standards.

Do your lessons/units foster this process for your students? If not, then how might you adjust your approach to include these five essential steps?

What are the benefits?

Any new initiative or teaching strategy takes time, a little bit of effort, and a lot of reflection and revision.  Whether you want to align your music class to your school’s STEAM initiative, lead the way in adding the “A” to a STEM program, or light the spark for a STEAM initiative in your school/district, you will encounter increased:

  • student engagement or time on task.
  • student interest in learning.
  • respect with your colleagues in other content areas.
  • climate and culture within your building/district.

Use STEAM as an approach to transform the things that you don’t like and to support the things that you already do well!  In truth, I have found that STEAM can be an excellent advocacy tool. The more your non-arts colleagues, administrators, and community understand the importance of what we as teachers teach in our classrooms, the more likely they will see how crucial and integral the arts are to a well-rounded curricular program.

In order to facilitate the process of implementing STEAM into music, I have adapted a guide by EducationCloset to help you “STEAM” up your music class!

Promote your work!

Make sure you promote your work with STEAM!  Write a quick, brief press release. Create a bulletin board.  Set up a gallery to showcase student work at your next concert.  Regardless of how you choose to celebrate or advance your work as a music teacher and your student’s work, remember: “When we engage in what we are naturally suited to do, our world takes on the quality of play and it is play that stimulates creativity.” (Linda Naiman).

About the Author

Shawna E. Longo is the General Music (Music Technology) teacher at Hopatcong Middle School, Hopatcong, NJ. She also serves as the Arts Integration & STEAM Specialist for TMI Education; Coach for The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM; and Ambassador for MusicFirst. She is a clinician and consultant for music education, arts integration, and STEAM. She is also a recipient of the 2018 NJMEA Master Music Teacher Award and 2016 Governor’s Educator of the Year for Hopatcong Middle School. She can be reached at [email protected].
READ NEXT ARTICLE: 20 WAYS TO INCREASE CREATIVITY >>