In May of 2011, Found Sound Nation designed workshops at Brooklyn Community Arts and Media High School (BCAM) that integrated our process of music production with subject class curricula. Selected students from 10th grade Biology, Spanish and Math met with us during class time and after school over the course of 4 weeks.

Participants were asked to create original songs that would help their peers and future students learn important concepts from each subject class. This video documents our experience and features music written and recorded by students.

With this project — which we call the “Escalante” Project after one of the songs the project produced — we hoped to explore questions that are being asked and addressed by many in the education field: what are the possibilities of integrating creative learning strategies into classrooms? Can the introduction of music, art, and creativity enhance learning for students? And if so, what are the best ways to go about making this happen effectively?

We embraced a few theories going into the project, some of which were developed with our partner teachers. First: The utilization of the material — the repetition of historic facts, Spanish conjugations or mathematical formulas — would form the thematic basis of the students’ creative work and in itself aid in the learning process for these students. Second: The dialogue, debate, and discussion of ideas surrounding the creative process reinforces and deepens knowledge. And third: The creative reinterpretation of academically relevant material, both for themselves and other students, aids in the internalization of the material by the participants and also creates original teaching materials for classmates and future students.

We ended up leading three types of projects at BCAM: We began with a 10th grade Beginning Spanish class, which took place during class time with a group of select students from each period. For the next project we worked with a 10th grade Biology class in 4 after-school sessions that involved a self-selected group of students, most of whom were particularly interested in music and music production. The final project, which came about fortuitously, simply involved recording and producing a song already composed by a 10th grade math class to a pre-selected beat, inspired by an existing song, “Cat Daddy.” Mamadou Diallo, the teacher of the math class, had previously introduced a songwriting component into his class time, and the students had been working on the project during class for a few weeks.

We found that all three of the these models offered effective ways of integrating original music creation into standard subject curricula. A great deal of work remains to develop curricular models with demonstrable improvements to academic performance and student engagement in the material, but we feel the Escalante project was a step in the right direction.

Special thanks to The Bay and Paul Foundations, for their generous support, Sarah Feehan, Darian Silk, Mamadou Diallo, Samantha Exantus, and James O’Brien.