Developing and Popularizing STEM Online Tools: The Case of 'Listening to Waves' Tools for the Science of Music


Music is a source of joy and identity formation in all cultures and socio-economic strata, and its connections with science, technology, engineering, and math are numerous. One important connection is with the physics of waves. Listening to Waves (LTW) is a program designed to increase adolescents’ interest in STEM through the science of sound and music. Based on LTW’s early experience performing STEM outreach activities in schools, LTW recognized the need to create easily accessible tools for visualizing and manipulating sound. In particular, LTW has been developing browser-based implementations of a signal generator, an oscilloscope, and a spectrogram. These tools, commonly used in physics and engineering laboratories, represent and analyze data gathered through the computer microphone and sent to the speaker. LTW has modified them and added functionalities that allow students to deepen their engagement by playfully creating sound and music. For example, the oscilloscope tool also functions as a simple sound editor with which students can apply signal-processing effects and record their creations. The tools' are being used thousands of times each month throughout the United States’ school system. Here, I give an account of the development of the online tools and the elements that lead to their widespread adoption, hoping that this account can benefit other teams creating interactive STEM-oriented applications. This project is funded through NSF’s Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST), Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings.


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