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Bringing modular into my STEAM classroom.
MUFF WIGGLER Forum Index -> Modular Synth General Discussion  
Author Bringing modular into my STEAM classroom.
This year, I’m teaching a STEAM course as part of a pilot program within my school district. Previously, I was teaching elementary art, and this will be with the same age group. I’d really like to do something synth related with my students, but I’m not sure exactly what that will look like.

I only recently started getting into modular synthesizers (and synthesizers in general), so I’d safely say my knowledge level would consider me a beginner. I’ve started my own way through the Syntorial program, so I’m working on that.

With that, I thought that I would ask here to see if anyone has either done something similar, or might have any advice, ideas or suggestions. My thinking is that, kids are into technology. They are also almost all into some sort of music. Plus, I know that if someone offered an intro into synthesizers when I was in elementary school, I would have been ecstatic.

I’ve thought about getting an oscilloscope (not really sure about models and types) to connect to my Eurorack modules (picked up an OSC-1 from Reckless Experimentation) to show the actual sound waves and maybe do some basic mathematical manipulation.

We also have an event called the Great American Teach In in a couple of weeks, where people give presentations of jobs, hobbies, and other interesting things for the students. It’s a big deal for our school district and the kids get very excited about it, so that is another option as well.

Other than those things, I’m not really sure, hence the solicitation for ideas and advice.

Eager for your replies. Thanks!
I've only been doing modular for a few years. One aspect that fascinates me is the idea that, if you play the exact same note on a piano, a trumpet, a guitar, a violin, someone blindfolded will know exactly which instrument is which because of waveform, harmonics, attack/decay, etc. So you could do a physics/acoustics/music experiment with a VCO/filter/ADSR/VCA and an oscilloscope - actually you'd probably need multiple VCO's, ADSR'S and VCA's and a state variable filter or something like the XAOC Belgrad where you can select the type of filtration. Then try to show how a guitar is different from a piano is different from a horn, etc. Get a noise module and try to simulate the illusive flute sound. All sorts of places you could go...
Elementary school covers quite a few years. What I'd do for a group of six year olds would be quite different from that for a group age 11. Which age are you dealing with?

For the younger group, have a look at how Fred Rogers handled the issue back when it was new technology. Yes, he did at least one show about synthesizers.

Would ask them what they already know about synthesizers. Might be surprising, and also a jumpoff point to further discussion. Also might be inclusive of someone who doesn't normally speak up, and give them a chance to shine.

Bottom line, do less telling, and more showing. A conversation, not a lecture.

Any 20 dollar used -borrowed- oscilloscope will be fine, and would be better than using a computer scope application because then it becomes just another computer does this kind of thing.

But all of this hinges on what age they are to begin with?
I teach a 6th grade wave class on demand as part of our STEM efforts at the vintageTEK museum. I take a lot of gear. Their science book covers waves, typically ocean waves and a slinky. My objective is to give a pretty high level overview of a LOT of material hoping to spark some particular interest. I use a digital scope so I can project onto a screen and PowerPoint onto a second screen.

I start with physical waves, electromagnetic waves, periodic waves and modulated waves. I start with basic wave motion, a pendulum, and the sine wave. I then let them see and hear a sine wave. Then I use the microphone and find a student that can whistle. Then I walk them through a rectangle wave, ramp wave, and triangle wave. I let them see and hear those. I have an animated PowerPoint showing the harmonic buildup of sine waves to form squares, ramps, and triangles. I'll use a VCO and VCF with a square wave to show them the fundamental sine.

I walk them through frequency, period, wavelength. Then we move to string vibration and a guitar. I use a guitar to show that waveform and then the frets to demonstrate wavelength and frequency.

Then I walk them through the circle of 5ths showing the math behind the musical scale.

Then I demonstrate a spring reverb so they can observe electrical waves into mechanical waves back into electrical waves.

I walk through the concept of AM and FM modulation and demonstrate that with a VCO, VCA, and LFO if time permits.

Then I fire up an analog scope and show them lissajous patterns and the patterns formed by harmonics.

If time permits, I use a Tektronix pulse generator (sorry, my VCOs aren't fast enough) and demonstrate the propagation of a wave down a cable with a TDR setup. I like to give them the concept of wave propagation at about 124,827 miles/second.

Sometimes instead of an analog scope I will use my XY laser.

Its a lot to cover but I am only trying to expose them to concepts, not fully grasp them. What amazed me is the great questions the kids asked and some of their own experiments like trying to video the string vibrations on a guitar. I find as I get older I tend to take less equipment. I'd love to put together a small modular system with the right modules for such a class.

I'll also do something similar for music classes and for that I'll take my Arp Odyssey and theremin.

We have similar setups at the museum for when we conduct tours of school kids. We tend to give them technology tours (they tend to love nixie tubes).

Oscilloscope Artist demonstrates patterns in XY mode constructed with four oscillators. The kids will play with this for quite a while.

WaveShape Demonstration will show them synthesizer, microphone, and theremin sources. The little kids spend quite a bit of time with the microphone and older kids/adults play with the theremin.

Oscilloscope Music is where we our tours get sidetracked. Kids and adults just like to watch the images.

We have other hands-on exhibits, but they don't deal with waves.

This seems like a great idea. I know DIvKid has a few YouTube videos where he does does something similar at an all-ages music festival, so that could be worth watching for ideas. I think MylarMelodies did something similar at that festival, but I forget if he posted any videos about it.

I think an o-scope would be an idea worth pursuing, but keeping an eye out for whether the kids respond more to listening to the sounds or watching the o-scope.

If you want a cheap o-scope for one-off things like this, the DSO138 is a decent enough cheap option. I found it here ( .TR8.TRC1.A0.H0.Xdso138.TRS0&_nkw=dso138&_sacat=0), but you can find them a lot of places online in either kit or built form. I've had one for a couple years now and besides being very feature limited it's worked great for me.

Alternatively, there are a handful of good modules that have a built in o-scope, as well as a lot of other features. I have the older O'Tool module (, and it's been a huge help for me figuring out what's going on in my setup. The Mordax Data's another great one, but a little chunkier hp-wise and (I think) a little harder to get your hands on.
Just a thought. If each kid has access to a computer or if small groups of them do, why not use VCV Rack so that they can "build" their own synths? They will have access to an amazing number of modules and scopes.
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