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Designing, Building And Analyzing Musical Instruments As A Gateway To Mathematics, Science And Engineering For Pre Service Education Students

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.373.1 - 15.373.12



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Paper Authors

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Robert Culbertson Arizona State University

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Dale Baker Arizona State University

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Janice Meyer Thompson Arizona State University

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Christopher Mehrens Arizona State University

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Stephen Krause Arizona State University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Engineering Design of Musical Instruments as a Context for Math, Physics and Technical Writing in a Freshman Learning Community Course Abstract

In order to enhance technological literacy and to integrate math, science, and technical writing into a contemporary context, a new math-science block course, Frets, Flutes, and Physics, for freshman at Arizona State University has been developed. The inquiry-based course is in an Academic Success Cluster and consists of an 11-credit hour course to satisfy basic math, laboratory science and English requirements. The course has been developed and has been taught by an interdisciplinary team consisting of a physicist, mathematician, engineer, educator, musician, and science teacher. The context for the math, science, and technical writing was the design and building of musical instruments. Students used the engineering process to design, construct, and demonstrate instruments. Additionally, a music school faculty and music librarian arranged weekly integrated sessions demonstrating the history, culture, physical features, and musical character of a wide variety of instruments played by local professionals and graduate students. The course was assessed with respect to changes in technological literacy, problem solving ability, and creative thinking and as a result of the project. The goal was to integrate the physics, mathematics, and technical writing to understand and quantitatively and qualitatively describe the sound of music as well as design and build musical instruments using the engineering design process. Initial attitude results indicated that the students have low interest in physics and math and high interest in music and took the course because of musical interests and to fulfill university core class requirements. Details of demonstrations, instruments constructed, barriers and affordances to learning, and assessment results will be shown at the conference.


Most science, technology, and math classes lack connections and coherence to one another and to the context of people's daily lives. While college courses that tap into personal interests, such as music, food, recreation, and art are usually well subscribed, they rarely touch upon Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) topics. However, if technical learning and problem solving skills were embedded in the technical aspects of a course subject focused on a personal interest area, such as music, relevance would be high and motivation would be quite positive, if well taught. For good teaching, the general theoretical underpinnings which are based on the principles of effective learning are found in How People Learn1, Knowing What Students Know2, and How Students Learn3. The materials developed were “learner-centered, knowledge centered, assessment centered, and community centered.” This was done by developing, teaching, and assessing a course which integrates required courses in mathematics and laboratory science for liberal arts and fine arts majors. It used inquiry and project based learning of the math and science content that was embedded in the engineering design process with a context of the STEM of music and musical instruments. Thus, connected and contextualized STEM learning was taught that emphasized both utilitarian and inquiry based motivations—where learning was conceived as fun and exciting, and was made relevant to students’ lives.

Culbertson, R., & Baker, D., & Meyer Thompson, J., & Mehrens, C., & Krause, S. (2010, June), Designing, Building And Analyzing Musical Instruments As A Gateway To Mathematics, Science And Engineering For Pre Service Education Students Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16480

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