STEAM Lessons with the OK Go Sandbox

As a music teacher, I enjoy finding ways to incorporate music into traditionally non-musical activities. Music plays a role in all of our lives because  everyone can connect to it. Using music in the classroom is a great way to engage students in a variety of subjects. Naturally, I was very excited to hear that Google has sponsored a collaborative project with the alternative rock band, OK Go, and the Playful Learning Lab at the University of St. Thomas! As a result, last year the OK Go Sandbox was launched as a free tool for educators.

The OK Go Sandbox

One thing OK Go became known for is their quirky, yet intricate music videos. In the video for the song, “Here it Goes Again,” the band performed a complicated routine on treadmills. Another video, “This Too Shall Pass,” was filmed around an elaborate Rube Goldberg Machine. Most educators can probably see where this is going! The OK Go Sandbox utilizes three of the band’s music videos to create pre-made lesson plans and activities for teachers to use. The music videos hook the students, and then they explore the various concepts related to its creation. To take things a step further, the Google Science Journal allows teachers and students to access numerous scientific tools to measure experiments and track results. Using a phone, tablet, or Chromebook, students can measure sound, light, movement, and more.

Each lesson, or  “challenge,” comes with an Educator’s Guide containing the challenge description, topics, applicable standards, and learning objectives. Teachers begin by having students watch the appropriate music video. Following the music video, there are 1-3 additional videos with the members of OK Go explaining each challenge and the concepts involved. The Educator’s Guide continues with details on how to complete the challenge, along with vocabulary words and guiding questions. It’s a one-stop-shop! Some challenges, depending on their content, also contain Student Guides and Student Worksheets. There is even a Science Journal Guide and Science Journal Worksheet (scavenger hunt) available.

In action

Right before school started, I had the pleasure of presenting a professional development workshop introducing teachers to this great resource. After a brief description, the workshop began the way any lesson would – with a music video! The teachers first watched the music video, “Needing/Getting,” which involves the band using a car, a two-mile racetrack, and over 1,000 instruments to play the song. Next, we watched a video about sensors, as the band explained how they used various sensors to plan the details for the video. Then it was time to experiment. Teachers got to explore the classroom space using the various sensors in the Science Journal to look for magnets, light, and sound. In the classroom, students would be instructed to experiment with the tools and hypothesize about the data they observed.   

After having time to experiment (which teachers love just as much as students!) we moved on to the next challenge: using sensor sounds with a compass to make music. There were two short videos to watch, and then teachers were asked to graph radii in a circle using both the compass sensor and the pitch sensor in the Google Science Journal. They were then able to use those pitches graphed from the radii to play a song! It sounds much more complicated than it is. In the classroom, this could fit with many math lessons, including circles, graphs, angels, degrees, measurement, and much more. Teachers loved having the sound aspect of the compass and agreed it would be a great benefit for students to experience that kind of lesson.

How to get started

The best way to get started with the OK Go Sandbox is to explore! On the website, you can access the Educator Guides for all of the challenges. Peruse them to find a challenge that has topics or standards you will teach this year. While some lessons might work for your class precisely as described, others may have to be modified, and that is OK. If nothing else, the Sandbox will serve as a great starting point to brainstorm ways to incorporate music and music videos into the classroom. You could even show students one of the music videos and ask them what science and math skills would be necessary to recreate part of the video. It would be a great inquiry lesson for students. The Google Science Journal website has additional resources and experiments available for teachers to use in the classroom. No matter what you do, have fun with it! Utilize the resources to create lessons that both you and your students will love!

Theresa Ducassoux is an instrumental music teacher in Arlington, Virginia. She is also a Google for Education Certified Trainer. As a member of the Personalized Learning Design Team in Arlington, Theresa frequently incorporates technology into her teaching as a way to enhance and personalize student learning. Theresa blogs at www.offthebeatenpathinmusic.com and can found on Twitter, @TDucassoux.