A cross-curricular project between grade 2 music students and upper school engineering design and robotics students hit all the right notes—and emphasized the “A” for arts in Barstow’s STEAM initiative.
“We needed a project to teach the students about accurate measurement, safe tool usage and the engineering design process and thought it would be best to do something that could benefit another part of the school,” STEAM director Gavin Wood explained. The tubulum, a percussive instrument made from PVC pipe, was a good fit.
To build the instrument, students had to use the known frequencies of each note and calculate the length of the tube that would make the right sounds. Each student was responsible for at least one note and Wood said they worked collaboratively to paint and construct the base. As with many STEAM-related projects, problem solving was a crucial part of the process.
“The low notes were too long and the high notes were much shorter, so we came up with the idea of using curved pipes,” Wood said. “We also had to construct a frame, cut and attach the pipe and do measurements in advance to make sure all the pieces would fit. Not everything went perfectly, a few of the notes are not quite in tune and many had to be re-cut multiple times to get the notes right. However, maybe this will provide the lower school students with an opportunity to tune a few of the notes a little better and improve it. “
The project presented just the right opportunity for Kristi Mitchell’s grade 2 students, who were studying the glockenspiel in music class. In addition to learning keyboard skills, they learned about how the size of a bar changes pitch: the bigger the bar, the lower the pitch and the smaller the bar, the higher the pitch. The upper school students’ project provided a deeper understanding of that concept—and the opportunity to spark imaginations.
“When Mr. Wood’s class brought in the two-octave tubulum, the kids thought it was pretty cool. They were able to play the same songs on it that they played on the glockenspiel,” Mitchell said. “The upper school students explained the process and talked about the science of sound. I think it inspired the younger students because they put it to use immediately and had success making music. It was great to see students of different ages play a song together.”
Wood said his students learned about tool usage, iteration, measurement, construction, technical drawing and the engineering design process as a whole. The idea for the tubulum actually came from another Barstow learning experience. Students who visited Boston in eighth grade saw the Blue Man Group use a tubulum during a performance there, and were inspired to make their own. 

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