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New book examines the theory and practice of aligning music to STEM

07/27/2020

STEM - the study of science, technology, engineering and math - has been a focus for American education for the past several decades.  School districts have established STEM magnet schools with a curriculum centered on those four academic disciplines. Colleges and universities offer degrees in STEM education.

In 2017 Professor Frank Abrahams, who was leading Westminster’s Center for Community Engagement and Critical Pedagogy, selected several sophomore music education majors to serve as research fellows and investigate ways that music lessons might align with STEM. At that time, there was conversation among arts educators that the letter “A,” representing the Arts, should be added to STEM, turning STEM into STEAM.

The group concluded that music should align with STEM, but that it should retain its uniqueness and be a subject worthy of study on its own.

“Based on that premise, each fellow developed a research project to consider what we might learn from the strategies, modes of thinking, and national standards that could inform music teaching and music learning,” says Abrahams. “We also explored ways that classroom music lessons might be re-imagined to integrate these processes into music instruction.”

Their work intrigued Rider University Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs DonnaJean Fredeen, who holds a Ph.D. in Analytical/Inorganic Chemistry.  She arranged for Abrahams and the students to present their research at the  Science Education for New Civic Engagement and Responsibility (SENCER) Summer Institute in California.

“This presentation was the first time that we shared our work outside the music education community,” says Abrahams. “It was a watershed moment for the students and me. We discovered that there were more commonalities among and between the various subject disciplines than we predicted. Further, the science educators in attendance gave us helpful feedback and were very supportive of our work. Encouraged by this positive reception, the students were motivated and determined to continue their investigation.”

Their work is now included in a new book - Aligning Music To STEM: Theory and Practice for Middle School General Music - recently published by GIA Publications, one of the leading publishers of textbooks in music education.

Reflecting on the project, Abrahams credits the students and colleagues who collaborated with him on its content:

“Members of the undergraduate research team with contributions in the textbook are Jessica Dalrymple, Lindsey Reinhard, Elena Byassee, Palmer Haffner, and John Lucado. There are also lesson plans by Ashley Dupont, Jessica Forbes, Rebecca Mack, Lauren Sander, Dan Wells, and Benjamin Norkus, all music education majors and alumni at Westminster. Dwight Weaver, a graduate student, majoring in choral conducting at the time, but who had done extensive undergraduate study at the Kodály Institute in Hungary, wrote a choral rehearsal plan that integrated the elements of STEM education. To complete the book, I invited contributions from other music educators whom I knew had specialized knowledge that would add depth and focus. We all decided that it was appropriate to dedicate the text to Provost DonnaJean Fredeen and to invite her to contribute the forward. Her support has been motivational throughout the entire project.”

Jamie Sokolowski, vice principal at the Molin Middle School in Newburyport, Mass., writes about the book, “This text outlines ways that we can carefully redesign curricula and explore new approaches that aim to provide students with new opportunities to problem-solve, create, collaborate, and experience the world. Abrahams concludes that as current educators, it is our responsibility to promote new ideas for teaching and learning that lead students to a successful, creative life.”

Aligning Music To STEM: Theory and Practice for Middle School General Music is available for purchase from GIA Publications.