Inquiry sound and music

I probably shouldn’t have put that controversial word into the title, but I’m in a rush, so deal with it.

I’ve been goosing myself to hurry up and finish up the broad strokes of my sound and music syllabus. You know, things like “on this day we’ll cover this” and “the assessments will work like this.” However, I keep coming around to how much I like my second lab idea: measure the speed of sound with what’s in your pocket. It seems like it’ll lead to some great conversations about sound, but also about experimental design, implementation, and analysis. So I keep wanting more of the class to be like that.

So, here’s the hare-brained idea that I can’t shake out of my head: each lecture day (I use lecture there not to say what happens, but rather to differentiate it from a lab day. Dan Meyer really didn’t like me doing that on twitter) I’ll bring in some weird thing (either physically or though some video or just a description) and we’ll spend the day trying to figure out how it works, from a sound and/or music perspective. I could envision tackling standing waves, doppler, resonance, instruments, tuning, . . . in other words, all kinds of things like I’ve described here.

The difference between this and what I was planning is subtle, and I’m trying to decide if it’s important enough to make the distinction. Really I see this as following the passions of the students a little more. If they want to investigate, say, the connections among the brass instruments when I was thinking we might study resonances when bringing in a trombone, so be it! We can end the day determining the standard just as I’ve done in my recent classes, only I’ll have a slightly less idea of what those will be.

Also, this plays into my recent notion to “flip the flipped class” where any videos I make will be in response to what we did in class. The students will try to help me determine what further resources they might need to support the standards.

Labs will be where we develop tools to dig deeper. The obvious tools are things like fourier analysis (most likely using Audacity), but we can also use “lecture” time to figure out what else could warrant further study in the labs.

I say this is a subtle distinction from my normal approach because this sounds a lot like just starting each day with a demo. But I think I’m excited about letting our passions drive us. I love classes like this whose learning goals are more along the lines of “I can do science” instead of “I can calculate the electric field for some crazy contraption”

Ok, give me some help. Here’s some suggestions:

  1. Demos suck, don’t do them. Just do this . . .
  2. Cool idea, and I think it’s totally different from a typical planned syllabus because of . . .
  3. Um, there’s no difference between the two approaches, but it sounds _____ to me
  4. You should really let the lab lead everything, rather than the “lecture” (ouch, my fingers hurt typing that word). Here’s how you can do it . . .
  5. Never let your students steer your class. They are empty vessels you should fill up.
  6. I’m signed up for this class, but, after this post, I want to know how I can drop your class.
  7. I’m signed up for this class and I know exactly how I’ll game this system: . . .
  8. I’m signed up for this class and I love this approach because . . .

About Andy Rundquist

Professor of physics at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN
This entry was posted in syllabus creation, teaching, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Inquiry sound and music

  1. bretbenesh says:

    I’m NOT signed up for this class and I love this approach because . . . a lot of this just seems impossible to me. Measure the speed of sound with only things found in my pocket? I am skeptical, which means that I will be impressed with both of us when we pull it off.

    “Never let your students steer your class. They are empty vessels you should fill up.”

    Can’t you do both? Can’t you essentially have the students ask a question, and then you fill them up with knowledge?

    My only reservation about this is if there is a strong need for you to “cover” a particular curriculum. But it does not look like that is the case, so I hope you do this.

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      One interesting question will be what a student will do if they can’t measure the speed of sound. Will their explorations still lead to learning?

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