The Foundation for a Meaningful Life
Kindergarten - Grade 9 in Southborough, MA

The Sounds of Recycling

What is a musical instrument, and does it have to be something fancy? Those were two of the questions that Technology and Design Teacher Andrew Shirley posed to second-grade students as he presented them with a musical design challenge this week. Using recycled materials that their parents had sent in, Andrew challenged each student to build a percussion instrument that they would either boomshake, or scrape.
Andrew’s challenge was inspired by The Landfill Harmonic, an orchestra of young musicians in Cateura, Paraguay, a community that lives on a landfill. Without the means to buy musical instruments, the young musicians have scavenged trash like discarded oil barrels, oven trays, and Xray plates from the landfill to build their musical instruments. Second-grade students were familiar with the story of the Cateura musicians from reading Susan Hood’s book, Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay. They discussed as a class why music is important and how it has a unique ability to evoke feelings. As one student noted, “it gives you a little bit of happiness.”
Before dividing the class into boomers, shakers, and scrapers, Andrew guided students through the now-familiar Fay School Design Process of finding and defining the problem, ideating solutions, making a prototype, and testing and evaluating their design. Students began by brainstorming an idea for an instrument that would make the appropriate sound. With an eye on the pile of recycling in the corner, they sketched out plans for drums made out of shoeboxes, water bottles containing beans that they could shake, and ribbed cans that might make a good scraping sound when rubbed with a pencil. When they had sketched out one idea, they were encouraged to grab another piece of paper and sketch out another.
The next morning, students were ready to build. With the addition of tape and some hot glue (wielded by the second-grade teachers), instruments began to take shape. An empty Poland Spring water jug became a booming drum when hit with some reinforced paper towel rolls. A cardboard canister filled with beads made a sound like a rainstick, and beads that were hot-glued onto a cardboard roll made an excellent scraping sound. As instruments took shape, some musical groups did too! A group of girls got together and called themselves “The Stormy Girls” as they discovered that some of the instruments sounded like thunder while others sounded like rain.
When the instruments were performance-ready, Music Teacher Jay Besch joined the class, and after grouping the students into their boomer, shakers, and scraper groups, he taught them a song that would harness all their percussive skills. You can click here to see - and hear - what they created together.