Anatomy of a Course: Music

By Lina Chopra Haldar, Quest Designer, Math

Quest Forward Learning embraces a project-based learning approach to classroom instruction. It emphasizes the importance of artifacts at the quest level, and larger projects at the course level. The Mathematics and Science teams collaborated to create three short courses for the Exploration Phase curriculum: Gardening, Music, and Bridges. Each of these courses culminates in a final project, in which students demonstrate and apply their understanding of the course content. Through this methodical process, students develop confidence and prepare for their final projects.

In the Music course, for example, students design, build, and test an instrument of their choice. The course includes a total of 24 quests—11 science quests and 13 math quests. The math quests focus on trigonometry, specifically graphing trigonometric functions and making connections between graph features (e.g., amplitude) and properties of sound (e.g., volume). In the science quests, students learn about sounds as vibrations and they experiment with sound in different ways, which prepares them for their final projects.

Level 1: Explore Sound, students are introduced to the science of sound, and clear expectations for the final project are established. Students first learn about the project with the following description of the challenge: “Design a musical instrument that will play a musical scale of your choice.” They also read about three project deliverables (instrument design, demonstration, and report on accuracy). Clear expectations help set students up for success, as they evaluate their work and monitor their progress over the course of three weeks.

These earlier quests introduce students to sound as a vibration that travels through a medium, and about the qualities of sound waves. They also conduct experiments to explore the speed of sound and how sound changes in different mediums. As students work through these quests, they prepare for their final project by learning some foundational concepts of sound and by familiarizing themselves with Audacity software to measure the speed of sound. They use this same software to test their instrument in the final quest. While they engage with these ideas, they simultaneously begin to pose questions about their final projects, as they wonder how particular instruments create vibrations and how instruments play distinct notes.

Level 2: Sound Perception and Manipulation quests address questions that come up for students in earlier quests. Students learn why specific instruments have distinct sounds and they build simple instruments to experiment with the perception of sound. These quests play an important role in transitioning students from the idea of sounds to musical notes, and by scaffolding the final project with preparatory experience in building an instrument.

Level 3: Your Musical Scale quests, students develop a deeper understanding of the properties of sound waves, like amplitude and frequency, and how these properties affect the sound. Students build a panpipe that plays a scale. They experiment with it to explore how its length, radius, and other parameters affect the instrument’s sound.

This exploration helps students move forward with their instrument design as they begin to make informed decisions about instrument type, dimensions, and materials.

Level 4: Create and Test Your Instrument, students complete the final two quests to build and then test their instruments. They are able to draw on the work they completed in previous quests: to first build and tune their instruments in Build It, and They Will Come, and then use Audacity to record their scales and evaluate volume and tone in Your Mini Musical Performance. Students then share their work with a video journal that details how they made their instruments and a written analysis of how well their instruments played their desired notes at low and high volumes.

Students receive the necessary tools to succeed in this final Music project because they have delved into the conceptual underpinnings of sound and music throughout the course. They built two instruments, experimented with sound perception and the properties of sound waves, and created a preliminary instrument design. This intentional scaffolding provides opportunities for growth and the accumulation of knowledge and skills, which contribute to a successful project experience for students.

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