The previous days work had made us realize that still had lots of questions about why wind chimes had pipes in different lengths. Students suspected that the different lengths made different noises, but they weren’t sure if the collection of pipes were certain lengths for certain reasons. To answer that, we decided that we needed to speak to some resident experts for some help. When I asked, “Who know about notes and sounds here at school?”, the students said in unison, “Ms. S!”
Ms. S, full name Brittany Schmutzler, is MVPS’s Lower School Performing Arts teacher and Middle School Theater Coordinator. If you’ve every wondered how MVPS helps students think of themselves as performers and artists, you need to follow her on Twitter to see the amazing experiences she designs for them. Her weekly Student Spotlights are a fabulous example of how she celebrates and shares the talents of our students. For our wind chimes project she was the perfect expert that the first graders needed.
Having met earlier with Brittany to give her a heads up that my students would probably be seeking her out for some help, she came up with the great idea to use the piano in Fellowship Hall to help demonstrate some properties of sound and musical notes. I let her know that I anticipated students having questions about the relationship between length and pitch, and the combination of notes to produce pleasant sounds. For this last point, I used the examples of chords on a guitar or piano because I personally wasn’t sure of the correct terminology. (I was glad to find out that even with out a complete grasp of the vocabulary, I could still get my point across – a teaching point I often make to my students when they in the midst of a particular provocation, but still need to communicate their thoughts to a group of peers.) The piano would allow students to actually see the instrument’s parts that make the sounds. Plus since this instrument used strings to make sounds, it would give the students an opportunity to try and transfer the knowledge they gained to a music making instruments that used pipes to make sounds – transfer of knowledge to new domains is something students can never get enough chances to do.
When we arrived in the Hall, Ms. S invited us over and asked what we were up to in Maker. My students enthusiastically explained our plans to build some wind chimes, and through some questioning they arrived at their need to know more about sounds and notes. Ms. S. began to share information about “open” sounds and “crunchy” sounds. Open sounds were pleasant to the ear, and were created by playing notes that were further apart on the piano. Crunchy sounds were definitely not pleasant sounding, and were made when you played notes that were right next to each other. (Later on when we Brittany and I debriefed, she told me that “open” and “crunchy” are the words she uses with younger performers to explain the ideas of consonance and dissonance.)
I kept notes of student conclusions on Post-its in case we needed to refer to them later.
Then Ms. Schmutzler began to play some high notes and some low notes, and asked about the pattern of the sounds as she moved either up or down the keyboard. With that question answered, she invited them to look into the piano to see the moving parts that make the instrument work. She answered many of their questions and quenched they curiosities as they asked and wondered about many different things. Then, she asked about the low and high notes again. Specifically she asked if they noticed where the low notes were being made and where the high notes were created from. It wasn’t long before the students realized that the longer strings produced the lower pitched sounds, and the short strings made the high ones.
Armed with these insights, we returned to the Studio to process how this would all fit into our wind chime plans… after we thanked Ms. S first, of course!
One class was unable to meet up with Ms. Schmutzler, so we took a trip over to the church’s Sanctuary on the Founders Campus to investigate the pipe organ that was there. Even though we couldn’t get the instrument to actually play any notes, enough students has seen pipe organs in other churches that they were able to share with their peers how they thought is would work. We did open up the piano that was in the Sanctuary to look at the strings within that instrument. I played a few notes so they could see and hear the notes coming from the strings being struck. The conclusion they shared from their observations was that the short strings made high notes, and the long strings made low notes. Perhaps, the added, that it could that this same relationship works for the pipes on the organ or the wind chimes. For this class, Ms. S wasn’t available to help investigate that hypothesis. They would have to wait until the next day to test their theory themselves…
Some social media posts associated with this #MakerEd moment:
— James Tiffin Jr. (@JimTiffinJr) January 25, 2017