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How Do STEM Strategies Fit into the Elementary Music Classroom?

Twenty-four kindergartners line up at the edge of the safe line. They are peasants in the “village.” The king or queen stands across the room at the “castle” guarded by two sentries at the drawbridge. Between them is the “King’s Land.” This particular king or queen is not very nice and takes too much of the peasant’s produce and money for the royal taxes. The villagers (peasants) start walking and prancing towards the castle. They believe no one is at home and start trespassing while making fun of the royalty that own the land. They thumb their nose at the castle, make donkey ears, and do other provocative antics while singing.

I’m on the King’s land the King is not at home, 

The King has gone to Boston to buy his wife a comb!   

Suddenly the drawbridge comes down and out jumps the king or queen! He or she is at home and runs out to tag as many villagers as possible before they get back to the safe line. These tagged peasants must now become the royal servants. They are set out to tag others on the next round. At the end of ten minutes, the students are counted and the team with the most students wins.

Previously, the teacher had sat down and discussed this traditional English tag game with the kindergartners. They all discussed the types of people (kings, queens, and villagers). They defined the word “castle” and learned the mechanics of a drawbridge. They discussed why some kings were good, others bad. What powers did the peasants have?

This is a demonstration of how social studies, science, engineering and math can be integrated into a music lesson. Music teachers are already doing many of these things, but the next step is to take time to explain the non-music subjects to the students and identify through discussion these standard objectives as a class.

Let’s return to the example. One of the science standards in kindergarten is to design a structure that will reduce the sun’s warming effect. As the teacher, you could lead a class discussion on how we (the villagers) could protect ourselves from getting overheated on the King’s Land. What could we use, build or bring (trees, canopies, tents, materials)?

How does this tie into STEM? STEM is the acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The idea of STEM is that blending these skills during instruction improves the learning experience. It also is believed, as a result, that increased numbers of students will become interested in these skilled professions. This blending is one way to approach using STEM strategies in the music class.

An even newer idea is STEAM. STEAM adds the arts to the STEM process. The arts stand for music, visual arts, and design. This crisscrossing of skilled fields is controversial because some experts in the arts view it as diluting and possibly demoting music and visual arts education. But by challenging and stretching our philosophy to try out these new ideas, it cannot be anything but a benefit for our students.

Music education college and university professors are striving to prepare their students for a more inclusive approach to the subjects in the class. K-5 schools are asking that their arts programs increase integrating other subjects and increase their collaboration with classroom teachers.

The challenge now for all teachers is to think less of compartmentalizing their subject of expertise and think more of combining additional subjects in ways that enhance their student’s learning experience. By elementary teachers adding STEM subject strategies into their lessons, they are modernizing the curriculum to better suit student’s needs. It doesn’t have to be all at once. They should slowly and naturally add to their lesson plans.

For example, a music teacher could add a math activity with one song and increase discussions on story and characters with another song. The key is that having STEM and other subjects formally added to the lessons helps show music’s place alongside other subjects and most importantly music’s place within our society.

Featured image provided by author Kim Milai.

Recent Comments

  1. Gio Wiederhold

    Great notion. But there is also much science in the technology of music: octaves, fifth, well tempered exemplified through instruments as organs, trumpets, violins, piano strings.

  2. Kim Milai

    To Gio Widerhold’s comment: I wholeheartedly agree. The mechanics and the design of musical instruments along with the study of how they utilize the harmonic series should be part of the curriculum.

  3. Colin Iversen

    Yes, it’s maybe good to include STEM in music in order to validate music in the eyes of others, but when are the “others” going to acknowledge the importance of the arts in their subjects! Some might argue having to ‘dilute’ music time in order to ‘explore’ the STEM focus without gaining extra actual music time in classrooms is in fact reducing the input children deserve to have in developing music skills. Can we assume that all schools give an equal amount of time to music as they do to STEM subjects? I seriously doubt that is the case, and it certainly is not the case in Australia. Unless STEAM is the reality rather than STEM, then I suggest we will always be fighting an uphill battle for the arts to be recognised appropriately in curriculum and in funding.

  4. Kim Milai

    To Colin Iversen’s comment: Yes, you have very good points. In addition, when schools get budget cuts, the arts are always at risk. It does seem that the music classes are asked to dilute their music instruction time more, while other subjects in the regular elementary classrooms less so. But I believe we need to give STEAM a chance for it is still in its early stages.

    In my college days, I was taught a purist view when teaching music. Music as an aesthetic and as a skill had its own merits without being ‘justified’ by fitting it with other subjects. My viewpoint was that every second of valuable class time needed to be filled with singing, playing and moving.

    Coming from that background, I can see literally both sides. What compelled me to explore and share ways to incorporate other subjects in an elementary music class was a practical one. It was because of my desire to maintain control of my curriculum. In one teaching experience I was being told exactly how I was to add extra subjects; which included periods in which I had to leave my music room to assist classroom teachers in other subjects (no music!). I quickly needed to supply the administration with alternative activities (similar to the one mentioned in my article) so that I would have a say in how my time and professional know-how was being utilized. I needed to make sure that I had a say in how it was done.

    I have come to realize that there are many benefits to music students experiencing STEAM strategies. But like you said, it needs to be really STEAM, not just STEM.

    We all need to keep this conversation going and I appreciate what you say.

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