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Presenting STEM to STEAM at NAfME National Conference

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 11.18.46 PMIt has been a wonderful experience to present at the NAfME National Conference in Nashville, TN. Yesterday, my good friend and colleague, Jen Wagar, and I presented STEM to STEAM: Acoustical Engineering in the Elementary Music Classroom. Jen is one of
the science teachers at Far Hills Country Day School and she and I began teaching a unit about STEM to STEAM with our third graders two years ago. We began this unit after Jen had taken a webinar about STEAM and presented her findings to our faculty. Jen taught us that STEAM is not an acronym, but more of a philosophy about rethinking the way we teach, the connections students make, and the outcomes for which we are aiming. Jen has a great passion for teaching science that when she presented her findings from the STEAM webinar, I was inspired to collaborate with her on this unit.

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 11.16.55 PMThe unit involves our third graders studying sound and exploring the following essential questions: “What is sound?”, “What makes sound high and low (pitch)?”, “What makes sound loud and soft (volume)?”, and “How does sound travel?” At the beginning of the unit, Jen and I approached the questions simultaneously in our classes. After the questions are approached, we have the students explore these questions in a variety of ways. I have them explore the questions through composition and performance. Jen has them explore the questions through engineering and designing instruments from recycled materials. All of this occurs in the realm of solving a real-life problem that we present to the students throughout the unit.

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 11.17.18 PMTowards the middle of the unit, Jen moves the science curriculum towards the engineering design process of ask, imagine, plan, create, and improve. I move the music curriculum towards composition, creativity, and performance. As we teach this unit, Jen and I are keeping our curriculum’s standards and concepts intact. This unit helps my third graders improve their composition skills, their note reading skills, their performance skills, and their creativity.

At the end of the unit, science and music come back together as they perform the piece that they composed on their newly designed instruments. We chose to have them perform because the engineering design process becomes complete only when the students can share their diligent work with the public.

To check out a more detailed outline of this unit, please click here to visit this on my website.

I want to thank Jen for presenting with me at the NAfME conference. She truly made our session a great session.


Amy M. Burns is an elementary music educator, clinician, author, and musician. She currently works at Far Hills Country Day School in Far Hills, NJ teaching PreK through Grade 3 general music, grade 5 instrumental music, and grades 4-8 instrumental band. She is the author of Technology Integration in the Elementary Music Classroom, Help! I am an Elementary Music Teacher with a SMART Board, and Help! I am an Elementary Music Teacher with One or more iPads! She is also an author for Online Learning Exchange™ Interactive Music powered by Silver Burdett. She has given numerous presentations on integrating technology into the elementary music classroom as well as being a keynote speaker for music technology conferences in Texas and Australia. She is the recipient of the 2005 TI:ME Teacher of the Year Award and the 2016 NJMEA Master Music Teacher Award. TI:ME . You can find out more about Amy at her website:
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  • Peter Webster

    I thought this was really fascinating and we should work on this from a research standpoint too I believe. Great to see this emphasis on creative work!!
    Peter Webster