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MHC Professor Helps Create Dr. Bob’s SoundSchool
Dr. Jonna Kwiatkowski, professor of psychology at Mars Hill College, believes that children should spend more time playing in class, especially if they are learning about a difficult subject like physics.
Playful creativity as a tool for learning is the idea behind Dr. Bob’s SoundSchool, an experiential curriculum for second-graders that Kwiatkowski spearheaded. The curriculum, which meets state and national standards, integrates intuitive, engaging electronic musical instruments to teach the physics of sound to young students.
“The important thing about Dr. Bob’s SoundSchool is that students get an opportunity to explore science as fun,” Kwiatkowski said. “It’s very rare that science is taught as something that’s playful, but that is exactly what this curriculum does.”
The SoundSchool curriculum was developed over the summer of 2011 by a team of music and science educators and music technologists. Kwiatkowski, who is an experimental psychologist specializing in creativity, is the Curriculum Research Coordinator for the project. She conceptualized the curriculum design, led the team through the development process, and continues to oversee research and development for the project.
|Dr. Jonna Kwiatkowski (second from left), professor of psychology at Mars Hill College and Curriculum Research Coordinator for Dr. Bob’s SoundSchool, conducts training for Dr. Bob’s SoundSchool with teachers (l-r) Kevin Brignac (West Buncombe Elementary), Beth Evans (West Buncombe Elementary) and Robin Adams (Claxton Elementary).
The curriculum was named for Dr. Bob Moog, the founder of Moog Music, Inc., and the inventor of the Moog synthesizer. Moog spent his career combining his loves for physics, engineering and music and is considered by many to be the father of electronic music. Dr. Bob’s SoundSchool is the hallmark education project of the Bob Moog Foundation, which was founded in Moog’s memory by his family following his death in 2005.
Kwiatkowski said she got involved in the Bob Moog Foundation project because of her ongoing research interest in the psychology of creativity. Dr. Bob’s SoundSchool seemed the perfect outlet for her desire to be involved in research that would have a positive impact on the community.
The curriculum that Kwiatkowski and her collaborators created was “infused with creativity,” she said. Second graders learn about the physics of sound waves, pitch, volume, and hearing through hands-on play with electronic instruments like the synthesizer, and the theremin, an early electronic instrument which allows the musician to control pitch and volume by moving his or her hands in the air near the instrument’s two antennae.
This is the second year that Dr. Bob’s SoundSchool has been used in second-grade classrooms in Asheville City Schools. According to Kwiatkowski, early research with students who have been through the creative curriculum is promising, and shows a greater depth of learning than students who learn the same subjects with more traditional methods.
“We found that when students were asked standard factual questions about the lesson objectives, it made no difference how they had learned the material,” Kwiatkowski said. “When the students were asked open-ended questions that required them to apply their knowledge in creative ways, such as telling a story about a tiger’s roar, the students who had learned the sound units through Dr. Bob’s SoundSchool performed much better. That tells us that the more creative curriculum helped them to internalize the information better and apply it in a wider range of circumstances.”
Having seen positive results with last year’s students, the Bob Moog Foundation, together with Kwiatkowski and the SoundSchool team, has expanded the program and is using it with second-graders in Buncombe County schools. The goal is to expand to school districts throughout the Southeast, and then across the country.
Kwiatkowski believes that the research associated with Dr. Bob’s SoundSchool has wider implications for teaching science.
“We have a tendency to think that when children are laughing and playing, they aren’t really learning. When, in reality, the scientists in our world who make the biggest difference are the one that never stop playing,” she said.