PROCESS DRIVEN POTENTIALS FOR INTERDISCIPLINARY LEARNING: UBEATS, A MODEL FOR SCIENCE AND MUSIC LEARNING
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.
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. 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. Overall, responding to pre-service teacher needs, receiving administrative and university support, and receiving funding are the current challenges to genuine interdisciplinary, multimodal curriculum.
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.
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.
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.
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 and the feedback 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 and any packaged curriculum or in-service becomes ‘one more demand’ on their time in an already time-constrained school day. 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. 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 teachers remained unconvinced they could do so on their own, without music teacher assistance.
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 to exist within the public schools. 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.
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 frogs. 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).
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. 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. 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 (Hash, 2010). In the current climate of education cuts to K-12 arts, this does not bode well for future artistic integration in the elementary classroom.
Without a collaborative environment at the university level, it is an uphill battle to introduce an honest integrated and collaborative program. Modeling examples are left 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 lead the change in 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, challenges 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 broad challenges 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 in order to raise awareness and spur local and regional change.
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 such topics as collaborative teaching, assessment and curriculum design, teaching to topics, issues, places, and problems rather than using one textbook or focusing 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 the process with our pre-service teachers. 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 in this age of 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 (http://stemtosteam.org). The perplexing dilemma is surviving a political climate that values criterion-based measures alone as an indicator of learning. 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. 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.
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.
Challenges and Suggested 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, in spite of challenges.
Challenge 1: Pre-service teacher education does not include interdisciplinary examples of multi-modal curriculum with learner dominant connections. (Stakeholders: University administrators, university faculty)
Suggested Action: Programs must be promoted at the university level to encourage tenure and promotion guidelines to encourage collaborative cross-curricular partnerships. Administrators must be willing to make promotion and tenure guidelines include such cross-curricular partnerships to encourage educators across the university to collaborate. In turn, the artists, designers, humanities, scientists and educators at this level can be encouraged and rewarded for efforts to design new ways of addressing interdisciplinary studies.
Challenge Two: In-service training is sporadic at best and leaves teachers to implement new ideas without help. (Stakeholders: K-12 Administrators and school teachers)
Suggested 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 challenge one.
Challenge Three: Without a paradigm shift, collaborative teaching for integrated multi-modal inquiry-based learning is lost. (Stakeholders: University faculty, K-12 administrators and faculty, Pre-service teachers.)
Suggested Action: Schools of Education and Arts Educators must support the suggested actions of the first two challenges 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.
Challenge Four: Research on multi-modal inquiry-based learning is limited. (Stakeholders: University Researchers, Educational Researchers, Foundations and Government Agencies)
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. 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 challenges two and four.
Challenge Five: Political stalemates and punitive measures that tie educational funding to testing limit the ways in which needed reform measures can take place. (Stakeholders: Researchers across interested parties, Government and Educational Foundation/Agencies)
Suggested 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 challenges. We have to address all these areas from every level at the same time to find the tipping point for change.
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 http://performingarts.uncg.edu/music-research-institute/research-areas/biomusic/ubeats.
Virtual Mentors on the UBEATS project include Roger Payne (whale songs) Ocean Alliance; Steve Nowicki (bird songs) Duke University; Don Hodges (music/brain) University of North Carolina Greensboro; and Doug Quin (bioacoustics) Syracuse University; and Tecumseh Fitch (animal communication), University of Vienna.
Campbell, Cynthia, & Henning, Mary Beth/ “Planning, Teaching, and Assessing Elementary Interdisciplinary Curriculum.” International Journal of Teaching & Learning in Higher Education 22, no. 2 (2010): 179-186.
Ellis, Arthur K. & Fouts, Jeffrey T. “Interdisciplinary Curriculum: The Research Base.” Music Educators Journal, (2001): 22-26, 86.
Hash, Phillip M. “Preservice Classroom Teachers’ Attitudes Toward Music in the Elementary Curriculum.” Journal of Music Teacher Education, 19 no. 2 (2010): 6-24.
Sowell, Thomas. The Vision of the Anointed. York: Basic Books, 1995. Print.
Stoll, Louise and Fink, Dean. Changing Our Schools: Linking School Effectiveness and School Improvement. Open University Press, Buckingham, 1995. Print.
Veblen, Karl K. & Elliott, David J. “Integration: For or against?” General Music Today 14, no. 1 (2000): 4-8.