Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Project-based learning

As I began to study Constructionism this week, I was excited.  Finally I would get to discuss a classroom model that I use everyday with success in my art and music classroom!  Even though I knew what constructionism included, I was a bit disheartened to see the highlighted instructional strategy for the week was "Generating and Testing Hypotheses".  Science?  Surely that wasn't all we were going to be limited to in this week of studying a great hands-on method of learning.

Fortunately, my disappointment wasn't necessary, as further study showed that generating and testing hypotheses is simply guess and check (well, with a little thought behind the guessing part).  Matt Kuhn posted on the McREL blog about a music teacher who had her students create a song as generating and testing hypothesis (2009).  This is the kind of lesson I prefer, and I believe it leaves a lasting impression on my students because they are able to become physically involved in their projects and make informed decisions about them.

This week in music class, I decided to do a cross-curricular lesson involving art, music, and science.  This year, my third grade students have studied simple machines in class.  While looking through one of our music books, I noticed a song about a toy, had a Rube Goldberg invention next to it.  We learned the song, and looked at how Rube Goldberg's design used everyday items in strange ways to come up with a specific outcome.

We also watched this cute Japanese video:

My students were given the task of creating a plan that involved at least 8 separate steps to make an instrument create a sound.  After they finished the drawing, they had to label the steps just like Rube Goldberg did, and present their contraptions on the document camera so everyone could see.  I was amazed at the creativity as well as the realism the students put into their contraptions as well as the huge range of instruments chosen.  After our presentations were finished, one of my students asked me how our project was related to music.  I told him that they all proved to me they knew how a variety of instruments worked without their human counterparts to play them, and some students invented a new kind of instrument altogether!

Kuhn, M. (2009, June 22). Generating and testing hypothesis is not just for science. [Blog message]. Retrieved from

To top it all off...without generating and testing a hypothesis, we wouldn't have these!


  1. Alisha,
    What an inventive project! I’m sure that student involvement was through the roof. How long did you devote to the entire process? What would you do differently now based on what the students were learning during the lesson? What was parent reaction to this unconventional means of teaching music?

    1. Thanks Sandra! We spent two weeks on it, but I'm so impressed with the kids' work that I plan on having them photograph their work to display to parents on our art website. Next year, I plan on setting up a simple Rube Goldberg contraption for students to see, or possibly setting out the tools and allowing students to create their own in-class. This year we had time constraints with the state's new I-Read test and I didn't know if students would be attending my class, so I kept it simple. Honestly, since I see so many students, I don't have much immediate parent reaction unless they are subscribers to our school's art website so I don't know what my parents think at this time.

  2. Alisha,

    I absolutely love this idea. This was a great way for students to be engaged and they can definitely relate to music. I really like the idea of briging art, music, and science. You fostered an experience that students would not have been able to experience by just writing a report or watching someone play an imstrument. Thank you for sharing!

    Liana Gray

    1. I'm glad you like it Liana. I try to bring other subject areas into my classes to show students there are other applications for their knowledge other than how they first learned it. For example: using 3-D shapes to make a robot instead of just seeing them in math, or learning geography to know where music comes from in different areas across the world.

  3. Alisha-
    I am glad you did not get too discouraged when fronted with the idea of testing and generating hypotheses. I think all teachers use some form of contructionism in their classroom and it can be used in every subject area if done properly. You certainly have some fantastic ideas for having students create and test hypotheses while creating some pretty cool and authentic ideas. I loved the video of the dueling banjos being played on the tesla coils, what great inspiration for your students! Thanks, your post this week was very insightful!