Art, science, engineering and music are coming together in 7th grade music class at the Junior High School is The Kalimba Project. The Kalimba, or thumb piano, is a musical instrument from Africa. Music teacher Sharon Phetteplace was at a conference about project-based learning where she learned that having students build their own instruments, such as Kalimbas, can incorporate cross-curricular learning and community involvement.
Phetteplace and Jen Rafferty, another music teacher, realized that Kalimbas can be made with simple materials found throughout the local community and the planning began.
Initially, Phetteplace reached out to Tom Herting in the technology department and was able to secure wood to create the boxes. Thanks to 11th grade technology student, Sam Forrester, all wood necessary to make 90 kalimbas was cut, planed, and sanded. In addition, the students drilled holes for the tone hole and the sound board.
The metal tines were slightly more difficult to secure, but once Phetteplace and Rafferty had found spring steel that was ordered from Kalimba Magic (a website that has plans on how to make kalimbas). Next, Phetteplace contacted Fastenel for screws and wingnuts which were needed to secure the tines. Each of the 8 keys had to be cut a specific length.
Students were able to assemble the Kalimba by gluing the wooden box together, cutting and sanding the dowels and designing the outside of the box. In collaboration with the art department, Allisa Main and Rafferty introduced pop art to the 7th graders. Students used pop art style for inspiration to paint their boxes.
After the boxes were painted, students attached the dowels and then had to file, bend and tune the tines to a diatonic scale. Each Kalimba will feature 8 notes based on the C diatonic scale. Phetteplace plans on having the students use the Kalimbas to play music, “I have noticed the kids are excited to come in to class knowing they get to build their own instrument, learn how to play it and take it home.”
Rafferty described the project: “We were able to collaborate with technology and art for this project. Collaborating with other teachers creates a sense of community between the staff. I was happy to work with my colleagues to make this project happen and support Sharon’s vision. The explicit connection between what happens in art, music and technology is valuable for students to see.”
7th grade student Trent Sweeny has been enjoying making the Kalimbas. Trent said, “I think we should make more instruments in music class. Instruments are fun to make and you get to learn more by experiencing making an instrument rather than just playing an instrument. I learned that there are many different parts to an instrument that serve different purposes.”