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Making Waves: The Science of Sound

Creative music technology learning for girls as a pathway to STEM professions

Making Waves: The Science of Sound combined the forces and expertise of two innovative girl-centered youth organizations: The Lower Eastside Girls Club (LESGC) and Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls (WMRC). Making Waves is an experiential program, utilizing digital technology to enable 120 girls to collaboratively create, circulate, curate and manipulate audio content. This was an interest-powered, participatory learning opportunity in which music served as a portal to a deeper understanding of the scientific principles of sound. The project sparked girls’ curiosity through the creative process of music making, giving them hands-on exposure to technical science. Additionally, Making Waves facilitated the creation of open source teaching tools that can be disseminated to other youth groups wishing to use music as a portal to scientific exploration.

With Making Waves: The Science of Sound, the LESGC used the popularity of music to empower girls and young women in STEM fields, with WMRC also recruiting participants and piloting the curriculum. The program counteracts the historic gender and ethnic imbalance in students pursuing STEM subjects through secondary and post-secondary education. Through this process, girls collaboratively managed creative projects using digital tools and built community by working towards a shared goal. The experience created an opportunity to build familiarity and a knowledge-base leading to academic pathways in math, physics, and engineering, as well as competency in technical skills suited to the 21st century STEM-focused digital marketplace. Dubspot advised on music technology and provided numerous individuals who participated in workshops and in hackathons, speaking on panels, leading short workshops and mentoring youth.

Project Implementation and Discovery

The LESGC implemented a peer-supported, arts based, interest-powered and academically oriented program to achieve its goals. Objectives included: empowering young women to enter the fields of talk radio, audio engineering, music production, and sound technology; exploring digital media education outlets, resources and technologies; experimenting, creating, innovating and collaborating with peers and partner organizations, as well as connecting with digital media experts and entrepreneurs.

Participants quickly advanced their STEM knowledge, covering frequency, volume, compression, distortion, and music synthesis. The girls effectively translated these concepts into music production using advanced technological tools. In Making Waves, pop culture became a portal to science! Throughout the classes, critical discussions of music on the radio would organically transform into lessons in audio engineering. Notably, the classrooms promoted peer culture and a feedback loop in which girls were inspired to learn, share what they had learned, and collaborate in creating new sounds.

Participants gained a sense of ownership and were able to creatively express themselves. They grew confident in utilizing digital tools to generate audio content and were able to explore the senses of sound through different musical effects. Girls learned the practices of self-expression through music creation, sampling and remixing. They were also able to share their unique audio creations with peers, both in-person and online, using open source music platforms (Blend, Soundcloud). Making Waves acted as a reminder of the critical value of mentoring. Hackathons  introduced participants to female professionals working in music and technology fields. Girls were inspired by seeing real world applications of the technology and skills they were learning in classes. They realized, many for the first time, that sound design (music production and audio engineering) is a viable career path beyond the classroom, and that many women are leading the way. Girls had the opportunity to converse with creative professionals and technologists, learning from their experiences and career trajectories. Moreover, participants had the opportunity to capture these women’s stories, creating podcast interviews to share online.

Organizational Impact

The LESGC invested heavily in staff training and hired experienced program instructors to launch this program. This created an internal resource of professional educators who cross-pollinated ideas, curricula and teaching strategies. Through this program, the LESGC has become a new hub for women practitioners in music and technology. Building on the LESGC’s new Where Girl Radio Lives Airstream sound design studio and music labs, Making Waves allowed many successful, creative women in the music technology industry to work together as educators, mentors, volunteers and artists. In continuing to build up the Where Girl Radio Lives sound design lab, LESGC is now better positioned to incorporate STEM topics. Making Waves presented a challenge to develop a solid connected learning inspired curriculum that weaves science with experiential music production. For example, a curriculum unit on Sound Frequency combined digital tools with science.

An unexpected benefit of Making Waves was the ability to archive the deep, multi-faceted community work of the organization through sound and interviews. For example, LESGC has a store of interviews with female professionals in the field of music technology and has been documenting the stories of their careers (tracking their success and weaving this into their experience in science and technology as it relates to music). Managing and editing the hours of sound clips and interviews has been challenging, so a decision has been taken to have a more deliberate, selective approach to capturing sound.

Challenge and Resolution

Challenges faced in implementing Making Waves included: managing classroom dynamics while working with complicated equipment, creating post production workshops that would be engaging and educational, and managing workflow/ determining a level of editing that could be accomplished in class (as opposed to by teaching staff). The LESGC serves a large number of students with significant needs (including learning disabilities, emotional and behavioral issues)—the one-on-one attention required in class had an impact on teaching. This challenge was approached through staff training on classroom management and working with students who have additional needs. This training empowered instructors to spend more time helping participants to learn and less time struggling to manage the group. The LESGC also added instructors to the after-school classes. By increasing staff-to-student ratios in the classroom, participants were able to get the one-on-one attention they needed to stay focused, and gain digital music production skills.

Making Waves participants produced hours of content, which needed to be edited into concise, interesting outcomes. This process took longer than expected and required a level of patience, focus and skill that frustrated younger participants. These challenges prompted an altering of the approach—rather than holding classes devoted solely to editing and post production, activities were interspersed with content creation workshops and technical skill-building classes. This variation helped participants to stay engaged and focused in class. Additionally, instructors incorporated physical activities into editing sessions, allowing girls to release excess energy before concentrating on editing work.

Target Audience

Girls from low-income under-served communities throughout NYC, with 120 youth aged 11-15 enrolled. 95% of participants were Hispanic, Black, economically disadvantaged and/or English Language Learners.

Lead Organization:
Lower East Side Girls Club

Partner Organizations:
Willie Mae Rock Camp , Dubspot

Project Goal:
Spark girls’ curiosity and learning on music technology as a collaborative, interest-powered avenue to STEM skills.

Project Tags:
Media Literacy & Production, STEM, Youth Development & Leadership

Project Portfolio