New England group of Hawkins Centers of Learning
The MIT Edgerton Center offers a range of experiential learning, hands-on activities and engineering challenge projects and clubs for students and participants from grade school to graduate school. http://edgerton.mit.edu/ Through its many K12 programs, children and teachers from local schools, or coming from other communities and international settings, participate in hands-on sessions and extended workshops. In a single session, children working in pairs design, construct and race a car made from Lego; a summer workshop has teens forming teams for developing and constructing an open-ended engineering of their own design. In doing this work, the Edgerton Center continues the legacy of strobe pioneer “Doc” Harold Edgerton, whose boundless spirit of investigation encouraged students to follow their curiosity in experimenting and questioning.
Discovering the Unexpected
The activity period began when Elizabeth Cavicchi, an instructor at the Edgerton Center, invited participants to:
Co-facilitator Yvonne Liu-Constant, early childhood professor at Lesley University, brought new materials, including glass bottles of various heights, to the tables. Both deep and high tones sounded from blowing over the bottles’ top, by mouth and soda straw. Rubber bands were stretched across bottles longitudinally, cookie tins and a dustpan. Fingers or fingernails plucked the stretched rubber bands. After 10 minutes, these activities were brought to a pause when Elizabeth made a ringing sound by hitting a brass bowl to gather people’s attention. Elizabeth then invited participants “to share discoveries, sounds, curiosities”. Those that blew over a bottle by mouth and straw described and demonstrated their “fog horn” and their surprise at producing a “whistle; I didn’t expect a whistle!” The video below reveals Amanda’s thrill at “discovering the unexpected! Whee”:
I discovered that I didn’t like it. This was too safe, it was going with an idea that I already know existed. It’s more fun to afterwards say, that’s why it wasn’t working! I was trying to repeat something that existed already. I realized I needed to let go of what I already “know” (she gestured air quotes), so I could get into something that I didn’t know. It was fun watching others who were more experimental...
After ten minutes of group sharing these initial sounds and observations, Elizabeth opened the next round of experimenting, saying
"I encourage you to continue taking something further. Amplify it, extend it, change the sounds, see what you can modify, what that means. There are more materials, ask for things. I want everyone to have an experience with a tuning fork.”
To set the tuning fork sounding, Elizabeth suggested striking it with a rubber mallet or against one’s hand; hitting it on a table or other rigid material could deform the fork.
Let’s do this next sharing Gallery Walk style. Come over here so we can see it, where the action is.
Making a Private Sound More Public
It started with a “dustpan guitar” during the first exploration. As the creator explained, he was playing with rubber bands, but did not like the sound when he wrapped them over tin boxes. So he looked around and found a dustpan in the corner of the room, which made sounds that were quiet and satisfying, “especially when you put it right up against your ear, the vibration is really nice.” Other participants at his table enjoyed it too.
We were thinking how sound and vibrations are what you hear. I put a rubber band on this glass; you couldn’t hear it, but you could feel it! I think of those who are deaf, how they hear vibrations. ... [A deaf person] could get an idea. It is like the experiment with colored jimmies, that you can see different sounds!
Discussion of Readings
I shared with you some readings. We’ll take time to talk about a reading. If you want to gravitate around a particular reading or discuss several. Talk in your groups. What intrigued you about a reading? Or did it gave you ideas of what to try?
List of Readings
- Excerpts (pp. 19-20) from “Confessions of a Lay Cello Teacher”, Sylvia Burns. From Outlook, Issue 15, Spring, 1975, pp. 19-22.
- Chapter V from SOUND: Simple, Entertaining, and Inexpensive Experiments in the Phenomena of Sound, for the Use of Students of Every Age, from Experimental Science Series for Beginners, Alfred Marshall Mayer, 1878. NY: Appleton & Co. https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=H64-AAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&output=reader&hl=en&pg=GBS.PP1
- Excerpt (p. 1-3) from Introduction by Paolo Gozza. In Number to Sound: the musical way to the Scientific Revolution, P. Gozza ed., 2000. Boston: Kluwer.
- Excerpt from “Sound and Sensibility, Pre-Service Science Teachers Bridging Phenomena and Concepts”, Edvin Ostergaard & Bo Dahlin. Paper presented at the NARST conference in Anaheim, USA, April 17 - April 21, 2009. Unpublished.
- The Cicada, A Fable from II Saggiatore, Galileo Galilei 1623. We used the 1976 translation of Philip Morrison, illustrated by Phylis Morrison [unpublished]. The fable appears on p 256-258 in Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo, Stillman Drake, trans, 1957. NY: Anchor Books.
Would each group like to share out of your discussions? Does someone have a reflection?
Exploring - the Cello - and Science Experiments….
When we introduce art to infants, it is really sensory ... When we do it with toddlers, we start to add tools, so we think of it as exploration, they are exploring all those tools, but we don’t show them ‘how to use them’. And when children make the developmental leap to preschool where they are representational, all that experimentation and play with paints and painting tools becomes then the work of art... So it was a parallel, to the idea of playing with music first before and playing with the cello before you learn the skills of a cello.
[maybe] the child hasn’t had that experience to experience it in a playful setting and develop a relationship with it. ...That frustration or wanting to give up, can happen quicker... if it feels too hard. Learning is hard. And we want them to have the passion to push through the hard part to get to the good stuff.
I would do all these science experiments with these books! And some experiments were “out there”! Fill up the bathtub! Crazy stuff! All of a sudden my science books started disappearing! My mother confesses to me now: “I was hiding those books!!” But I never stopped! My books disappeared! I never stopped! I was maybe 7 years old. I loved doing the experiments! So I think when kids see something, they get interested. Then later go to formal learning. That is best way to do it.
We were talking about different experiments we would like to try!! ...We were interested in the sand [Chladni plates illustrated in Mayer’s book], We were remarking on how it is similar to [Gallery Walk sharing with colored sprinkles] ...We remembered a museum display with violin bow and sand. ... We started talking about things you could do with kids! And we ended up playing some more! A satisfying way to have a private sound moment in the classroom: hang a spoon in the middle of a string, put the string’s ends in your ears with your fingers. Knock the spoon, it sounds very like a bell! Really satisfying.
There are so many different things you can do with spoons! Spoons are such a great musical medium!!!
It’s hard to [just] read about experiments. You wanted to do it!
I remember doing experiments in biology and chemistry. We did experiments. But the experiments were a recipe. It was --Bill interjected “scripted”-- So it is very different, when you experiment. I almost feel now, I resent that I was not allowed to find my own way in school! I feel a little bit of resentment right now!
I wonder what would happen if we took that 1878 book, and put that in our science class? That book’s level of education, that didn’t just skim the surface, that was not to learn that piece of data that you need to answer on that particular test. But really go back to digging deeply into an idea like that. What would science class look like?
Make Your Own Path
[In conventional instruction] the path is a standard path, it has nothing to do with me; there is no discovery! It’s different with these articles: the idea of choosing a phenomena like sound, that you can discover and make your own path through. I thought the two articles were really good together. I love this the cello teacher, I think that is a radical idea. Letting someone experiment with an instrument! The idea of personal relationship with object! With science, you are drawn into a relationship with the stuff! Kids are really engaged in are things that they love. Mud, bubbles and sound!!
We talked about what is happening in education and the importance of people being able to experiment. The importance of [doing experiments] in the foundations of learning, hitting that at every grade level. But the difficulty is there is only so much time to get to understand certain concepts. But the question is: “what concepts do students need to understand?” It is a challenging question in the broad spectrum of public education...We have no answers.
One four-year old boy worked on making a trombone. It didn’t produce a trombone sound. It was so beautiful watching him! It was two tubes. He was trying to figure out which tubes to pick, how to make them fit, how to get them to stay! It was a simple but beautiful moment of him remaking a trombone. ... The struggle with two tubes!
Experiments with Sound
You are creating your own instruments, questions, experiments and observations with sound! I encourage you to experiment. At the end, we will read aloud Galileo’s fable, one line for each person. When you read your line, illustrate it with any sound you love that you created today! Come up with a sound that everyone is going to hear.
Observing Patterns on Vibrating Surfaces
Workshop participants had already produced these behaviors while exploring sugar sprinkles on the cookie tin agitated by a tuning fork or the whirly tube (Gallery Walk). After the reading discussion, Elizabeth brought out instruments that put the Chladni effect into greater visibility.
The Technical Services Group (TSG) at MIT's Department of Physics loaned the workshop an apparatus for demonstrating Chladni figures: http://tsgphysics.mit.edu/front/?page=demo.php&letnum=C%2038&show=0
The vibrating surface of this apparatus is a black metal disc which can be interchanged among several differing shapes - during the workshop, only the square shape was used. As with the glass disc, the metal plate is supported at its center by a post. However, in contrast to the disc, the post support itself is vibrating, at a rate that the user determines by turning a dial on the accompanying frequency generator.
These powders will behave in the most extraordinary manner when the disk vibrates, forming little heaps and whirlwinds that seem to smoke and boil furiously.
Experimenting with Bows, Strings, Glasses…
Accompanying Galileo’s Fable with Original Sounds
A selection follows:
- Thumb flute, blowing into balloon to make a squeak, blowing over bottles
- Blowing over a bottle.
- Ringing a bowl, fingering the thumb flute, clattering a cup and stick together.
- Violin bowing over wound guitar string stretched over a homemade wood frame.
- Creaking of the room door hinges.
- Finger rubbed around rim of wine glass.
- Whirly tube flung in a circle overhead.
- Metal file scraping.
- Popsicle stick rubbed on a metal file
- Balloons squealing on release and balloon blown over a bottle, singing bowl set ringing, water dropping down a tube, the sound of air releasing from a balloon
Reflections on the Gathering
“This was such a wonderful experience - I was reflecting on it this morning - already recognizing how this gathering will impact my current practices on exploring sound with children. One point being - I will focus on exploring sounds rather than creating instruments, promoting the exploration of sound and creating a more open-ended exploration. I also am trying to figure out how to write a story with the class that will invite the children to create their own sound effects.” - Amanda
“I’ve been thinking about adult play of this nature, and how important it still is. I wonder about the idea of pop-up public play spaces. Places to create mental and emotional health, community, and peace.” - Sara
“This experience of truly playing, uninhibitedly, with sound, made me realize that even though I learned to play an instrument (the piano) as a child, I never really played it. It was about reading sheet music and then pressing the right key in the right way; it was music as a discipline, and as a result, I stopped taking lessons in middle school. I wonder what it would be like to go back to the piano and really play it? Would my prior knowledge limit my exploration, or open possibilities?” - Yvonne
“I think I enjoyed watching (and hearing the sounds of) the joy during this particular gathering--more than others. The offered materials and the human reactions to the sounds created got pretty “noisy” at times. I had to actually plug my ears a number of times. I was mildly embarrassed doing this. Again and again, I think about our expectations of children in the field of early learning. How do we offer each child the space and respect to react when sound (or other elements in the environment) becomes uncomfortable?” - Laura
MIT Department of Physics Technical Services Group (TSP)
Alva Couch, Edvin Ostergaard
Memory Yan Yang