Process Driven Potentials for Interdisciplinary Learning: UBEATS, a 21st Century Model for Science and Music Learning

Authors: Cynthia L. Wagoner, Ph.D., East Carolina University
and Robin Wilkins, PhD student in Neuroscience of Music,
The University of North Carolina Greensboro

National policy makers, economic stake-holders, and learning advocacy professionals recognize the critical importance for young minds to develop as scientifically grounded, yet cognitively flexible. Creativity, the mind’s ability to link previously unconnected and often disparate concepts into a useful idea, is now recognized as inherently linked to interdisciplinary situational learning. The challenge for the arts and sciences is to reevaluate their inter-relationship and to explore collaborative new methods in investigative learning. The generation of new knowledge grounded in interdisciplinary concepts and methods is what will generate a co-created future led by scientists and artists. To achieve this goal, both the arts and sciences must reconsider traditional processes and methodologies that lead to curriculum-in-isolation. Disciplinary driven, yet artificial, barriers that unnecessarily prevent children from experiencing the potent and rich environment found within multi-modal and interdisciplinary learning must be challenged.

The next step in 21st Century learning is found at the intersection of arts and sciences. Whereas the science community seeks more ways to engage young students, the arts have often been able to easily engage students, yet without substantive inquiry. Finding a new model is the key. One example of a fully integrated interdisciplinary curriculum is UBEATS, a seamless science and music curriculum that utilize both science and music to provide creative problem solving activities and concept building. Using a BioMusic framework, both teachers and students benefit from interdisciplinary study in the following ways.

First, UBEATS is learner-participant driven, utilizing the experiential nature of both music and science. Second, the curriculum integrates knowledge of both subjects in a way that encourages student-driven original ways of thinking while simultaneously scaffolding new knowledge. Third, the curriculum design utilizes the embedded relationship between music and science to raise questions and create dynamic problem-solving activities, eliminating fragmented and disconnected scientific learning. And finally, teachers are able to differentiate instruction and utilize rich assessment methods, further enhancing broader classroom goals of literacy, numeracy, and individual and planet health and wellness.

Unfortunately, gaining ground in the elementary schools for such a curriculum has been relatively slow.  Specific issues include but are not limited to: lack of contact time with students, resistance to teacher-to-teacher collaboration, and misinterpretation of in-service efforts. Primarily, the perception of doing more, even if it is beneficial to their students, often is reported as impossible. Beyond the planning, even given a fully developed curriculum package, there is teacher time and investment in materials required for the classroom each year.   Given the deprived financial and time-structure environment of school reform, the pressure to produce strong test-takers has been the overwhelming requirement. Notwithstanding, teachers acquiesce the advantages of UBEATS interdisciplinary work.

However, positive views of interdisciplinary, multimodal and inquiry-based learning must be cultivated simultaneously from the ground up and top down within the educational system. Despite the successful piloting of UBEATS, receiving full administrative support has yet to be achieved. Further, those previously, educated within the university structure of isolated disciplines have more resistance than teachers who have been exposed to this curriculum in a summer session. Therefore, pre-service teacher exposure to the program is essential. Overall, responding to pre-service teacher needs, receiving administrative and university support, and receiving funding are the current challenges to genuine interdisciplinary, multimodal curriculum.