By Laura Brown, ISB HS/MS Educational Technology Facilitator
Hot Cross Buns – it’s a piece of music familiar to lots of people learning an instrument. Like the British cake it’s named for, a challenge to play this tune on instruments of their own design provided a fun treat for novice musicians at the International School of Beijing (ISB) recently.
As part of the Middle School’s Beginning an Instrument class, students were asked to design, create and optimize an instrument that plays a particular note. As you can see from these pictures and the video, they came up with some inventive, wacky designs! The students had to play Hot Cross Buns on the instrument as part of an ensemble at the conclusion of the unit. This project was designed to encourage the exploration of an instrument similar to the student’s own so that they could better understand how it responds to sound and how pitch can be changed. Students worked in teams to apply the design cycle commonly used at ISB to develop, plan, create, and improve their design.
It was an example of the kind of innovative, interdisciplinary learning that is happening all the time at ISB. Real-world problems are complex, and no one discipline can realistically find a solution to such issues. Through curricula that transcend disciplinary lines, students are exposed to multi-faceted learning promoting more compelling exploration of a variety of perspectives, to better understand and resolve complex problems. Classes based in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) with a focus on design thinking are an opportunity for students to draw on their skills, knowledge, and processes from a range of disciplines, and apply them in authentic and meaningful ways to problem-solve and develop connections with the world around them.
Integrated learning, such as in the Hot Cross Buns project, mirrors the way people generally work in the real world; cooperating in teams on varied, interconnected tasks. With communication as the key to knowledge exchange and bridging disciplines, students share and reflect on their learning by posting to their blogs – an authentic, global audience. Working on authentic tasks such as this one offers students a great opportunity for empathy-building, as well as feedback and user-testing.
So why is a seemingly non-musical exercise important for these musicians? These days, most students can expect to change jobs several times throughout their career, making it imperative that education prepares them with the skills required for success. Not only did these students better understand how their instrument works and the mechanism behind the variation in pitch, but they were also given an opportunity to develop their creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration skills; all skills and dispositions that will translate to the broadest range of jobs.
ISB is well-equipped with makerspaces that play a valuable role in entrepreneurship and interdisciplinary learning as the projects assigned to such spaces often prioritize the development of 21st-century skills. Our program allows teachers across all disciplines to work alongside our outstanding design team, consisting of facilitators within each section of the school, to co-plan and co-teach while applying design thinking through a variety of different perspectives. With ISB’s new Middle School/High School Design Center set to open soon, there will be even more opportunities for projects like this to actively integrate students’ strengths and interests, cultivating a passion and desire to learn.