2 May 2016
Songs of the Earth: Using music to connect students to the geosciences
Posted by Shane Hanlon
By Jennifer Beauregard
I distinctly remember a conversation I had as a graduate student. It was with a faculty member in my department and he was lamenting about how scientifically illiterate his undergraduate students were. I asked him why he did not include certain topics in his classes to address this issue. His response was that he was only going to talk about his area of expertise, not geosciences in general. I remember thinking that his attitude was part of the problem—if faculty do not make an effort to connect with their classes, how would these students know that geosciences are affecting them directly? And how could we expect them to think critically about what they hear in the media on scientific research, policy-making, etc.? These students vote, and personally, I would like them to have an appreciation for the geosciences.
Today, I am the only full-time science faculty member at Berklee College of Music. I teach Oceanography, Natural Disasters, and Environmental Science to music majors. I feel it is my duty to show them how these subjects connect to their interests and their everyday lives. I try to make these connections in a number of different ways during class, but I also have the students do a final project. The students can use any style of presentation to discuss a subject that relates to the course. Many students choose to write and perform original music. The song themes have ranged from oil pollution, to dolphins, to human population trends, to sinkholes. Some songs have serious lyrics, some funny, but all the songs resonate with the rest of the class. The music helps the students make personal connections with the science. The final projects have been so successful that I wanted to broaden their
impact. Last spring, several colleagues and I organized ‘Earthapalooza 2015,’ Berklee’s first Earth Day celebration. As part of this event, several students performed their music originally written for my courses. About 70 students attended this event and their response was amazing. It was so successful that we are hosting the 2016 event later this month. We are hoping for an even bigger turnout this year.
Using music to engage my students has been very successful. You may not have a classroom full of music majors, but if you find a way to connect your students’ interests with the class material, I guarantee it will improve your class. I bet you will have better attendance, more student participation, and more enthusiasm. Remember, these students vote, and there is a big election this year…
-Jennifer Beauregard is an Associate Professor of Natural Sciences at Berklee College of Music in Boston. She received her Ph.D. in geological oceanography from URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography.