The National AfterSchool Association is the leading voice of the afterschool profession dedicated to development, education, and care of children and youth during their out of school hours.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Putting Some Steam into STEM

Join NAA Members at the Gaylord Texan, April 2-4, 2012, for the biggest and best convention of afterschool professionals ever!

I'll never forget that typical school day when I witnessed one of my differently-abled students engaged in one if his frequent tantrums. The 10-year old was a non-verbal autistic learner.  He lived with his single mother in a rundown apartment complex. She'd often put him in a harness when walking in public for fear he'd get away from her.

On that memorable day, I was simply making routine rounds through the school where I served as principal. When I heard the tantrum, I went to see if I could help the teacher. And I'll never forget what I witnessed.

Sensing my presence in the room, the teacher instructed her assistant to begin playing Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony (Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68), on their record player. She did as asked, and immediately the boy's tantrum ended as he sat and listened to the music and was visually transformed by it. I was flabbergasted! Then the teacher told me about the boy's taste in music. Only classical music would stop his tantrums. "Beethoven", she said, "works every time."

There is much being discovered today about the interrelationships between music and science.  Medical science is now confirming what musicians, philosophers, and generations of enthusiasts have intuitively known. We are now seeing examples of Parkinson's patients walk and stroke victims speak because of the power of music. Even some aging individuals who are suffering memory loss can remember songs. Music has become part of the prescription for many medical disorders. As we learn more about the science of music, it will become even more important and essential to our human well-being.

NAA strongly supports the strengthening of STEM offerings during out of school hours. Linked with what is taught and experienced during the regular school day, this expanded learning time adds greatly to young learners’ opportunities to explore and develop important skills.

STEM learning is enhanced when it is integrated throughout the curriculum. To separate science, technology, engineering, or math makes no sense, and we also know music should be integrated in everything we do. The findings from science of music are proving that every day.

As a music lover, I could easily suggest that the acronym STEM could be altered with another M at the end, making it STEMM to include music. But an even better one is surfacing, and NAA is committing efforts to put some STE’A’M into STEM in 2012 by integrating all the arts. We need to cultivate innovation in young people, and the creativity component in all the arts, not just music, can help us all, especially scientists, achieve our mutual goals.

Music can be soothing and used for healing. It sparks creativity. It is a language of its own. Music and math fit hand in hand. It is an essential part of most human gatherings and functions. Much has been done by researchers to show how the human brain reacts to music and grows stronger with regular exposure.

I am not suggesting that kids in afterschool learn to sing or play the piano. But what I do hope to encourage and witness in the coming school year is the inclusion of integrated arts thinking into the way we structure our programs. The arts are a way of thinking, viewing, making sense, and experiencing the world around us. They are much more than stand-alone arts and crafts or make it and take it activities.

Read the research. In a decade, scientists studying the effects of music on brain development will likely have proven, without any doubt, that music study can make humans smarter. A growing army of researchers will prove that music is a fundamental part of life. Music defines us and binds us together. It is a force far more significant than just entertainment.  All of the arts will benefit from these emerging research findings and be acknowledged rightfully for their important and basic role in education and human development.

So, put some STE’A’M into your STEM curriculum. Get ahead of the game. There is power in music. Music matters. Science and music are muses that depend upon each other.

Transform your afterschool program with music of all kinds. It will make everyone happier, healthier, more in tune with each other, and just maybe a little smarter!

Dr. Paul G. Young
President & CEO
National AfterSchool Association

"I would teach children music, physics, and philosophy; but most importantly music, for in the patterns of music and all the arts are the keys of learning."
-- Plato

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