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. The challenge for the arts and sciences is to reevaluate their inter-relationship and to explore collaboratively new ways of understanding the world. As schools address the broader meaning of literacy in the 21st Century, skills of problem solving and scientific-inquiry are being examined. The time is ripe for artists and scientists to lead the way in exploring interdisciplinary concepts and methodologies. Grappling with a new paradigm of knowledge creation also challenges us to rethink traditional disciplinary relationships.

Current disciplinary driven barriers unnecessarily prevent and isolate young learning minds (children) from experiencing the potentially rich environment found within multi-modal and interdisciplinary learning. This is a challenge for researchers, educators, and policy makers. Infusing experiential inquiry-based learning within both the sciences and the arts is essential to the future of education. Using new ways of thinking about teaching and learning, we must generate meaningful and stimulating learning environments that enable young minds to generate cognitive flexibility, grow creatively, and to make connections about the world.

It has become more apparent than ever that the intersection of the arts and sciences provides fertile ground for 21st Century learning. Whereas science educators seek more ways to engage young minds through active participation in the arts, how to innovate such collaboration in effective, yet creative ways, has remained elusive. Concurrently, the arts, arguably the center of creativity and innovation, have often engaged participation without substantive understanding of inquiry. Finding a new model is the key. The Universal BioMusic Education Achievement Tier in Science (UBEATS) offers a specific model for the future in arts integration. UBEATS (see appendix A) was developed as a science and music curriculum package for elementary education in grades 2 and 5. The project was conceived to provide elementary classroom teachers with creative problem solving activities and concept building science and music lessons. Innovative modules were coordinated for upper and lower elementary grades, carefully aligned with both national and state science and music standards. The richness of the curriculum design is a model for collaborative work crossing disciplinary barriers to connect teachers to experts and virtual advisors from the fields of science and music. Such a model can lead the way for a new paradigm of interdisciplinarity in the classroom.

UBEATS lessons are unique in that the focus is on engagement through inquiry-processes. Science-processing skills are generated and developed as students investigate the ways in which the natural world is musical. Two consecutive UBEATS Summer Institutes were held to launch and test the curriculum utilizing both classroom teachers and students in grades 2 through 5. Hosting a summer program provided classroom teachers with experiential opportunities with the curriculum, and allowed them to work side by side with students in the learning process.

The culminating UBEATS curriculum project combines the subjects of music and science fluidly and the design allows users to encourage student-driven original thinking while simultaneously scaffolding new knowledge. Scientific skills are not sacrificed to do musical activities and musical skills are not diminished at the expense of scientific knowledge construction. The pilot summer programs allowed those involved the opportunity to observe the ways in which elementary children were responsive to the curriculum. Monitoring the effort of elementary-aged children and teachers as they studied side by side gave further depth to the project, as having teachers learning beside their elementary students created a co-learning model for teaching. Teachers became facilitators and co-creators of knowledge beside the students in this setting. Students participated fully as creators of their own knowledge, and were able to view the participation of the teachers not as dispensers of knowledge, but as partners in learning. Furthermore, having a depth of virtual mentors embedded within the program allowed teachers to connect students to careers in the field, imagine careers of the future, and investigate the way adults produce research in the areas of science and music.

The emphasis on the ways in which music and science naturally intersect allowed students to raise relevant and practical questions and in turn created a focus on dynamic problem-solving activities, eliminating fragmented and disconnected learning. Students are able to approach given tasks with a focus on broader literacy skills of problem solving and scientific-inquiry. For example, throughout the week of camp, environmental sound artist Philip Blackburn set up musical environmental soundscapes for the children to experience, and assisted them in investigating, researching, and creating their own music using similar methods while experiencing natural science concepts. Students investigated ways in which the natural world is musical through science-processing skills, building on the experiential nature of music and science. The lessons led them to become immersed in sound and the students were then able to articulate the principles of science in the world around them, all the while finding musical artistry through these same principles. The students carried the lessons from the classroom setting out into the field, behaving with curiosity as scientists, and formulated new ideas about their world.

During the summer workshops, teachers were also responsive to a curriculum that allows differentiated instruction and rich assessment methods. They were able to engage in conceptual ideas and specialized vocabulary from each subject area through working as peer collaborators. Once they had time to grasp the underpinnings of the lessons, teachers were joined for lessons with the children, modeled for them by the authors of the curriculum. Lessons were designed to build on the natural curiosity of students. Many units included books to introduce broad concepts to the students, using stories and beautiful pictures and language to raise more questions. Virtual mentors were included to assist students in further research and discussions about such environmental concerns as niche hypothesis, environmental sound, and human description of sound through musical terms. The curriculum has embedded the broad literacy goals, including individual and planet health and wellness.

Issues with Implementation and Suggestions for the Future

There is no doubt in our minds that the UBEATS curriculum model is a powerful example for the future of science and music teaching and learning. We must note that although the UBEATS curriculum has become available online during the past three years, teachers have not flocked to use the curriculum. Those teachers involved in the original camps and others who have gradually become aware of the availability of the curriculum, have been enthusiastic in adapting lessons for their own classrooms. The feedback has been positive. Downloads continue from the website on a weekly basis. We are left to ponder the following after two summers of work – why is such a dynamic science/music integrated curriculum, complete with virtual mentors and materials ready to use, not spreading like wildfire in our elementary schools? How do we create a tipping point for its use?

Indeed, issues reported incidentally to, during, or following implementation in classrooms appear to us as fairly consistent. First, elementary teachers express common concerns about lack of student contact time and the pressures of testing and school reform. The immediacy of these problems overtakes the support many teachers express for interdisciplinary approaches; therefore, it still isn’t moving into the classroom. There is also what we might refer to as fatigue or exhaustion of the teaching profession. Teachers may want to be enthusiastic about new ideas, but as they are conscious of the politics of reform efforts, any packaged curriculum or in-services becomes ‘one more demand’ on their time in an already time-constrained school day. Teachers want to do a good job, but feel hemmed in by all they are asked to do. When they encounter a clinic or in-service opportunity, they may enjoy the moment, but it may or may not actually make it into the classroom for a trial run. It may be a lack of time and energy, but it may also be a lack of money. Scientific inquiry and hands-on learning requires materials. In an economic era where many teachers may not have money for classroom supplies, spending out of their own pockets for specific curricular lessons is also problematic. More than one teacher informed us they altered the UBEATS curriculum and shortened lessons based on the materials they could afford to purchase, in combination with the limits of time in the classroom. Furthermore, grant access is limited and grant writing is time consuming, so few classroom teachers are able to utilize grant funding. Compounding the lack of funds, time, and energy, there are also fewer curriculum directors or administrative help available to teachers to find solutions to the problem of monies or time for specialized classroom activities.

There are also specific perspectives that keep classroom and music elementary teachers apart. Classroom teachers frequently have little time to interact with their ‘specials’ counterparts. Any time their classroom has moved into music, art, or dance classes, the classroom teacher has preparations to manage. Perhaps more importantly, classroom teachers indicated they were insecure with the language of music itself and felt incapable of interacting with the elements of music within their lessons. Indeed, it remains that one cannot begin to integrate the arts unless you speak the language of the art itself. Efforts were made to conceptualize and assist the teachers in the weeklong UBEATS seminars, but some remained unconvinced they could do so on their own, without music teacher assistance. Elementary classroom teacher preparation frequently includes one-semester courses such as music, theater, dance, and visual arts to encourage conceptual understanding of the arts for pre-service teachers. Research has indicated that overall, arts courses such as these do not encourage artistic language in integrated activities in pre-service teachers. Only if pre-service teachers have had positive artistic experiences in the public schools before arriving at the university does the experience in such courses become significant (CITE). In the current climate of education cuts to the arts, this does not bode well for future artistic integration in the elementary classroom.

As musicians ourselves, we must acknowledge what we find as the musician/artist perspective of interdisciplinary programs. Interdisciplinary studies easily generate apprehension for current reformation due to the historically wearisome efforts to marginalize or otherwise ‘do away with the arts,’ and specifically music. Having suffered through countless budget cutbacks, personnel scares and other ‘attacks’ on music, musicians and teachers of music are repelled by the notion that their discipline should require outside influences or integration with subjects such as science. Though many Arts educators are savvy enough to advocate their subject area as a way by which to know the world, they also recognize that there are specific ways in which musical knowledge might be diminished in attempts at integration. Some music teachers refuse to endorse the use of music with other subjects out of fear that such an endeavor will compromise their art” (Cane, 2009, p.37).

Beyond that fear, integration of music has generally consisted of limited activities, such as playing Mozart during quiet periods or singing songs about the life cycle of butterflies. With a poor record of classroom teacher attempts to integrate with a depth of musical literacy it is understandable that music educators would shudder to see anyone suggest another integration project using music. They need to be convinced that collaboration will strengthen musical objectives and enrich the learning process, not diminish musical learning. Music teachers, twice burned, have a right to be sensitive to the issues of integration. Without knowledgeable administrators, those in charge of hiring may misinterpret collaborative efforts as a way to teach music solely through other subject areas, eliminating the need for music educators, and removing music education completely from the elementary day (Veblen & Elliott, 2000).

Music teaching becomes a double-edged sword when music educators advocate that music is intertwined in human life. Musical associations can be created through a myriad of games, dance, and drama to encourage student understanding and participation in many very different subject areas from mathematics or social studies to language arts, and allow those subjects to be taught in a very deep and enriched way. Yet music education itself is easily misconstrued as a frill that is unnecessary to teach for aesthetic enjoyment. Curriculum collaborations between science and music can provide the means for students to enrich their understandings of the relationships between both subjects and enhance their differences. Music educators must be convinced that the use of music in the science curriculum such as UBEATS extends the students’ opportunities to explore the rich relationships naturally existing between music and science. It does not diminish the need for musical instruction any more than it diminishes the need for science instruction, but will allow our students to discover new ways of thinking that include musical concepts. Music education is multidimensional and music educators will need to be convinced others see the art as something other than frivolous fun before effective collaboration can exist.

UBEATS was presented as a team-taught curriculum, with the music teacher teaching alongside a classroom teacher. A collaboration of minds from both musicians and scientists and those who consider themselves both will not happen without a paradigm shift within elementary education. Effective collaborations take time. And the need for time doubles us back to one of the first issues for our teachers: a concern for time to actually arrange collaborations, plan for deep, thoughtful integration of the subjects, and to execute such plans.

Previously, we alluded to attitudes and understanding of integration extending to the ways in which pre-service teachers learn to teach. Modeling is the most powerful way to influence young teachers. That said, it is difficult to model interdisciplinary collaborative teaching at the university level. The structure of many colleges and universities do not support or reward interdisciplinary studies. “Despite the rewards of interdisciplinary work for individuals and institutions in the long run, few of us hired into specific departments or discipline-based programs have the time, expertise, and institutional incentives and structures to support a different kind of intellectual inquiry across those disciplines” (Gallagher et al., 2011, p. 135). University professors suffer from some of the same problems that elementary teachers face, if not for slightly different reasons. For example, those of us who teach the ‘special’ areas, such as the arts, outside of the school of education frequently must advocate for integration within the confines of a one-semester class in which we also must introduce skills of one specific art. Without a collaborative environment at the university level, it is an uphill battle to even introduce an honest integrated and collaborative program. That leaves modeling examples to the semester of student teaching for pre-service teachers. Mentor teachers need to model integrated, inquiry-based, multimodal instruction for the student teacher in the classroom setting. Teacher modeling won’t happen until administrators encourage and support curricular programs such as UBEATS. The stalemate of who will change the cycle of classroom practice is thus perpetuated.

Addressing Change into Action

As we have stated, the resistance to a powerful, revitalized multi-modal, inquiry-based curriculum is complex and deep. The problem is not as simple as developing the curriculum itself – the complexity must be attacked at several different levels and at the same time. As seen in our own research and across the literature, these include 1) Addressing pre-service teacher education (allowing for modeling and broad changes at the university and college level, sustained through student teaching), 2) Offering in-service training for teachers and more vitally for administrators (those who control purse strings, scheduling of students, etc.), 3) Developing a research base on multi-modal, inquiry-based learning, and 4) Political (combatting the stalemate in educational funding tied to testing). These are broad based obstacles that may be approached through such vehicles as the Network for Science, Engineering, Art, and Design (SEAD) network, allowing cross-pollination to occur across a variety of disciplines and various stakeholders.

Pre-service Teacher Training

Pre-service teacher training must allow the next generation of teachers opportunities to begin to examine what interdisciplinary studies truly are and what that might mean for their practice. There is much for them to learn and we are short on time as it is. For example, how does one go about creating meaningful integrated experiences for a future classroom when one is not an expert in every field? Preparing teachers for a non-traditional approach must include collaborative teaching, assessment and curriculum designing, broadening ideas of teaching to topics, issues, places, and problems rather than teaching through a textbook using discrete bodies of knowledge and focus on skill-based learning alone (Campbell & Henning, 2010). This will necessitate more detailed work at the university and college level to alter current teaching practices, and create an environment within the School of Education that leads change rather than reacting to it.

In-service Training for Teachers and Administrators

In-service training, such as UBEATS summer camp, must also become a foundational center of the University landscape. Finances aside, greater efforts need to be made to reach out to schools and bring collaborative, integrative discussions to the schools. Teaching through using a model curriculum may be the first step. Having the opportunity to present a tangible program and lay out the support, time, and financial needs first to administrators may help smooth the road for the teachers. However, this should not appear as a mandate for teachers. Working side-by-side then with the teachers who are initially interested in the new program, we hope to connect our pre-service teachers. The pre-service teachers might assist in modeling lessons in in-service settings, involving music and elementary classrooms as part of our university training experience.

Develop a Deep Research Base on Multi-modal, Inquiry-based Learning

One of the other issues we see is that the research base has yet to form a criterion-based measure for interdisciplinary studies. One might argue that isn’t needed. However, we need to understand how children learn best using research methods focused on a child perspective, not an adult perspective. Uncovering how children benefit from learning through integrative, multimodal, inquiry-based models of instruction are necessary, though difficult. Research to date has not given us ammunition for the age accountability concerned with illuminating gains in test scores. Though important case studies are being done, such as those through Drew Charter School, Exploratorium, Rhode Island School of Design Foundation Studies, Blue School, and Ximedica, there is much work to be done ( The perplexing dilemma is surviving a political climate that values criterion-based measures alone as an indicator of learning. Campbell & Henning (2010) stated:

(C)hildren exposed to challenging interdisciplinary lessons may experience feelings of cognitive dissonance, recognizing that they have more to learn about a topic than children learning topics from the perspective of a single content area. Moreover, perceived understanding, as an indirect indicator of learning, may not reflect actual understanding, unlike a more direct assessment of content knowledge through a criterion-based measure (p. 183).

Perhaps most importantly, others have indicated that opportunities to participate in interdisciplinary study increases maturation of the intellect for children, even as they enter adulthood (Klein, 1995; Klein & Newell, 1997). It is possible the effects of well-taught interdisciplinary studies reverberate through a lifetime. The curious mind is at stake. Finding some way to quantify the strength of inquiry-based learning, or provide evidence that approaches toward teaching and learning must change for the economic and political health of our country, is paramount today.

What we should be looking for are the points at which teaching and learning in interdisciplinary work involving the arts and the political pressures teachers are facing are at odds. “Standardized tests tend to compartmentalize knowledge in a way that may not adequately represent what children know or the way in which they put things together. Better measures of how children learn and process interdisciplinary problems are recommended for future research” (Campbell & Henning, 2010, p. 184). Furthermore some research indicates effective schools are populated by teachers who provide integrated instruction, blending workplace readiness skills into subject areas, and throughout the curriculum whenever possible (Stoll & Fink, 1996). Critics of interdisciplinary studies voice that the depth of subject matter and sequencing of important skills are somehow shortchangedin order to find ways to combine two subject areas (Ellis & Fouts, 2001; Sowell, 1995). The research base should be expanded to include well-designed studies to examine the ways in which integration is most effective in both short and long term benefits for children.

A shift is also happening in the realm of educational theory. As we move into greater understanding of how the brain functions, constructivism has gained ground. The tipping point may occur with changing teacher identity construction early on. From a university study on interdisciplinary teaching, Zimmerman, Peschle, and Rommer-Nossek (2010) found, “(t)he experience with four cohorts of students has shown that a truly interdisciplinary approach to cognitive science demands a different attitude towards knowledge as well as towards teaching and learning on both sides: the teacher and the student” (p. 144). As mentioned previously in this paper, the role of the teacher must change from being the owner and disseminator of knowledge to one of a co-learner, where knowledge is constructed through activities carefully designed with and for the student. It seems simple, but altering teaching identity construction can change how teachers teach, in turn altering how students perceive their responsibility for learning (Zimmerman et al., 2010).

Political Issues tied to Education Funding

Universities find themselves fighting for survival at the time when public schools need their help the most. We must be politically active and vigilant about funding for our schools. It is a little thing to think about all science and music UBEATS projects costing one classroom a total of $350, but that is a huge amount to ask teachers to spend out of their own pockets. However, finding the right time to hit hard for funding to provide easily accessible interdisciplinary, multimodal curricula in all schools remains elusive in the current economic climate.

Obstacles and Actions

Envisioning the learning environment as genuinely interdisciplinary with a multimodal curriculum, providing true situational learning means eschewing teacher-dominant connections. The arts, and in particular the science of BioMusic, can greatly enhance and reinforce student-driven knowledge while simultaneously enhancing the mind toward natural creativity, intuition substantiated with knowledge, and lead education in a much desired direction. We have listed our suggested actions broadly needed for the profession to begin to embrace the changes identified within this paper.

Suggested Actions:

Obstacle One: Pre-service teacher education does not include interdisciplinary examples of multi-modal curriculum with learner dominant connections.

Suggested Broad Action: Promote programs at the university level to encourage tenure and promotion guidelines to encourage collaborative cross-curricular partnerships. Administrators in higher education must be willing to make promotion and tenure guidelines include such cross-curricular partnerships to encourage educators across the university to collaborate. Encourage artists, designers, humanities, scientists and educators at this level to design new ways of addressing interdisciplinary studies and provide the support system for them to produce new ideas.

Obstacle Two: In-service training is sporadic at best and leaves teachers to implement new ideas without help.

Suggested Broad Action: In-service training for teachers generally starts at an administrative level, as school administrators are frequently in charge of both in-service workshops. As such, administrators are in need of in-service workshops to focus on their role in selecting pedagogical ideas that might encourage change within their school’s classrooms. In-service efforts must begin with the administration at the same time as teachers and continue as a partnership effort to effect change. In-service connections to the university should be forged as per obstacle one.

Specific Action: Articles are in draft format and at least one confirmed discussion at state-sponsored musical research/best practices session has been confirmed for our work toward UBEATS and integrative practices. We are beginning by approaching state and local agencies to create in-service teacher and administration opportunities that are collaborative and inquiry-based in nature. We hope to recruit both School of Education and STEAM educators as we continue to provide opportunities for a paradigm shift locally.

Obstacle Three: Without a paradigm shift, collaborative teaching for integrated multi-modal inquiry-based learning is lost.

Suggested Broad Action: Schools of Education and Arts Educators must support the suggested actions of obstacles one and two by modeling collaborative teaching, encouraging collaborative teaching, and assisting in finding the ways collaborative teaching can exist within the brick and mortar of the public schools with administration. A dialogue between administrators, teachers, and higher education specialists needs to begin on rethinking the silo mentality as it has seeped into the public school system.

Specific Action: Contact has been made with a local arts coordinator in the county schools to share this information.

Obstacle Four: Research on multi-modal inquiry-based learning is limited.

Suggested Broad Action: Foundations and Government Agencies need to invest in research to inform the ways in which creativity and cognitive flexibility can be defined and investigated through multimodal inquiry-based curriculum in real time with children in a classroom. Financial support for research speaking to long-range effects of interdisciplinary instruction and collaborative teaching is needed. Anecdotal teacher stories are not enough. We need brain research and educational research to collaborate on how to promote effective educational reform for the sciences and arts. In-service connections must be forged to research, and shared with practitioners and political stakeholders in obstacles two and four.

Obstacle Five: Political stalemates and punitive measures that tie educational funding to testing limit the ways in which needed reform measures can take place.

Suggested Broad Action: Create a collaborative forum to allow collaboration of researchers in brain science, SEAD, STEM, and other educational outlets to share ideas and create a lobbying unit for educational change. This is tied directly back to the first three obstacles. We have to address all these areas from every level at the same time to find the tipping point for change.

Appendix A – UBEATS acknowledgements

UBEATS, a project by UNC-Greensboro (UNCG), North Carolina State University (NCSU), and the National Science foundation, was developed as a curriculum package for elementary education in grades 2 and 5. Under the leadership of Patricia Gray and David Teachout from UNCG, and Sarah Carrier and Eric Wiebe from NCSU, two teams of in-service science and music teachers (Ms. Christen Blanton, Carmen Eby, Debra Hall, Crystal Patillo, and Cathy Scott) created the curriculum included online at

Virtual Mentors on the UBEATS project include Roger Payne (whale songs) Ocean Alliance; Steve Nowicki (bird songs) Duke University; Don Hodges (music/brain) UNCG; and Doug Quin (bioacoustics) Syracuse University; and Tecumseh Fitch (animal communication), U of Vienna.


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