Learning Across Fields: Music & Magnetism at Franklin
What do flow, freestyle, and beats have to do with wind turbines, MRIs, and electric motors? Quite a bit, if you ask Franklin STEAM Academy 8th graders.
This semester, their daily STEAM studio time is spent exploring the attraction between magnetism and music.
The “Musical Magnetism” project is part of a collaboration between Franklin and the Illinois Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (I-MRSEC) at the U of I. I-MRSEC, headed by Professor Nadya Mason and composed of high-level scientists from a number of departments, conducts research that applies to societal needs and supports interdisciplinary education and training.
“I-MRSEC’s outreach includes partnering with K–12 schools,” says Zanne Newman, Franklin STEAM Academy's Magnet Site coordinator. “This year, Franklin’s the beneficiary,” which means I-MRSEC faculty and students are coming to Franklin to teach students about the science of magnetism, as well as lead demos and engage in hands-on activities.
And while they’re learning about magnetism, they’re also using their newfound knowledge to compose musical pieces that explain the science and technology to others. Working in pairs, the students are guided by faculty and students from the U of I School of Music, as well as local hip-hop artists, to discuss beats, rhymes, and figurative language.
“It’s an incredible educational experience that integrates science, language arts, and music,” remarks Newman.
So far, students have deconstructed Magnadoodles to explore how they work, made compasses out of a bar magnet on top of a billiard ball (which rotates due to earth’s magnetic field), and discovered how credit cards work by aligning ferromagnetic domains. The 8th graders then followed up their studies with a trip to U of I’s Materials Research Lab.
At the same time, they’re also developing a “magnetism word bank”—an evolving list of magnetism vocabulary that they’ll use in their music.
Assistant Professor Adam Kruse, accompanied by his music education students, have been leading discussions and showing examples of perfect and slant rhymes used in hip hop and rap. Using the “Flocabulary formula” concept, students will choose terms from their magnetism word bank to create rhymes. Later, they’ll use music from a folder of beats that Professor Kruse is preparing. Additionally, Jaime Roundtree, hip hop artist and Unit 4’s director of elementary teaching and learning, is scheduled to discuss his hip hop music and its connections to science and academics.
The unit will culminate in students’ music performances, with I-MRSEC and music faculty in attendance.
“We’re building students’ confidence in science. The music project is one way students can teach science to others in an accessible way,” Newman says. “We want our students to see themselves as scientists.”
“Plus,” she continues, “kids should do cool, inspiring, engaging things—school should be fun.”