Teaching Computational and Math Skills Through Music

Graduate School of Education Alumni Develop and Implement Young Academic Music and Computational Thinking (YAM) Project

April 25, 2022
Graduate School of Education alumni Samantha Wright and Tina Williams
Graduate School of Education alumni Samantha Wright and Tina Williams

Most education experts view Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Math, commonly known as STEAM, as an essential part of 21st century education. The Touro College Graduate School of Education’s (GSE) Young Academic Music and Computational Thinking (YAM) project was created to innovate and improve the teaching of math, music, and computational thinking in kindergarten.

Designed to provide access to vital computer science coursework for underrepresented students and students with disabilities living in rural and urban areas, GSE was chosen as one of 43 recipients across the country to receive a $1.4 million renewable grant for a 5-year initiative to develop and implement the YAM curriculum. Currently, GSE is leading the coordination of the creation and implementation of this innovative curriculum in Austin, Texas, and New York City.

Led by Professors Susan Courey, Roslyn Haber, and Timothy Bellavia, Samantha Wright, who graduated in ‘20 with an M.S. Degree in Special Education (Grades 1-6), and Tina Williams, who graduated in ’21 with an M.S. in Special Education, Generalist, Grades 7-12, joined the YAM team to provide a teacher’s perspective in order to seamlessly implement and design these critical lessons. We recently caught up with these alums who discussed their vital role in creating this curriculum and their passion that is driving the project, as well as why math, music, and computational thinking are critical for students to advance their education and future academic careers.

What role are you playing in creating the YAM curriculum?

Williams and Wright: The roles we play are the creators of both the YAM curriculum and the professional development component of the program. We provide kindergarten teachers with innovative strategies and tools to integrate music into their mathematics curriculum, with every lesson designed to meet diverse learning needs through in-person and/or virtual instruction.

Why are you passionate about this project?

Williams: I‘m passionate about this project because it allows me to share my knowledge and love for music and education with children all over the world. I studied vocal music at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in New York City and was a national performer before becoming a teacher, so this program combines my passions for the things that I love the most!

Wright: I’m passionate about this project because I know the value music has in education. As someone who has worked with many learners, including students with disabilities, music provides ALL learners with a different avenue to express their knowledge and abilities. Most people may not know that music activates many parts of the brain. I have seen students overcome stutters through music as well as witnessed non-verbal students who love to sing.  Music is a universal language that benefits all types of learners. The COVID pandemic created many challenges while working on this project, but we persevered and worked together as a team to deliver this groundbreaking curriculum.

What skills did you learn in the GSE classroom that you’re leveraging in this process?

Williams: The skills that I learned in the GSE classroom that I’m able to apply during this process include providing multiple access points for different types of learners, integrating audio, video, and images to increase engagement, which will help kindergarteners to focus for longer periods of time, and breaking down activities so students are successful.

Wright: In the GSE classroom, I learned many skills that I’ve utilized while working on the YAM project such as lesson planning, the vital importance of differentiating instruction, and integrating technology within my teaching. 

Are you currently a teacher? If so, where do you work and with what age group?

Williams: I‘m currently a Special Education Teacher in an urban area. At Central Queens Academy Charter School, I teach math, reading, writing, and science to seventh graders in accordance with the NY State Next Generation Standards.

Wright: I’m currently a third-grade remote teacher in a suburban Long Island school district. I also teach an after-school life skills program for students with autism, who range in age from four to six years old.

Why is engaging students in math, music, and computational thinking critical now and for their educational and academic careers in the future? 

Williams and Wright: The work that we’re doing and the ease with which students will be able to engage in math, music, and computational thinking is critical as students are expected to learn increasingly more complex material at younger ages. Music is weaved into the culture of each of our lives and is one of the easiest ways to reach students, regardless of their background. Computational thinking teaches students to think outside of the box and look at different ways to solve problems, which are both valuable life skills. To help students advance in the future, an understanding of early mathematical foundations is critical for students to be successful in this ever-changing digital world.

How has participating in the YAM curriculum development influenced your classroom practice?

Williams: Although I teach at a middle school, working on the YAM project has reminded me to be creative in how I deliver lessons to my students. I strive to make learning fun and engaging by adding videos and music whenever possible, which are both vital tools that we’ve utilized throughout this project. My hope is to make learning accessible to all students, regardless of their struggles.

Wright: My participation in the YAM project has influenced my daily classroom practices in many ways. This project really highlighted the importance of the arts and students’ ability to express themselves through any form of art. I now allow my students weekly opportunities to express themselves through this medium. I am also much more active when including technology, animation, and engaging programs within my classroom lessons. This has increased my students’ motivation to learn and improved their technology-related life skills.

In 2021, the YAM project produced three short-form animations, which won two awards including the Viddy Gold Award and the MarCom Gold Award. Most recently, the "Treble Leads the Class" animation received two international accolades including the AVA Digital Platinum Award for Outstanding Animation Short Form Web Video and the Hermes Creative Platinum Award for Video Creativity/ Outstanding Animation. In addition to the Graduate School of Education, SRI International, Daniel’s Music Foundation, The University of Texas at Austin, WestEd, mathematician Charlie Patton, music expert Endre Balogh, and The Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz are all playing integral roles in the development of the YAM project.