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Middle School Takes on MusicX Innovation Challenge

Emanne Khan '19
Innovation took on a new meaning in the Middle School this past spring. As Derryfield places a growing emphasis on teaching students 21st century skills, Middle School head Mr. Blaisdell has been working in collaboration with Dr. Masoni in the STEMX department to incorporate these skills into the curriculum. Particularly, they prioritize “design thinking,” which is defined as “a design methodology that provides a solution-based approach to solving problems.” Dr. Masoni and Mr. Blaisdell led efforts to bring this unique method of problem solving into the classroom this past year, whether that be in the form of “a sixth grade English project to a seventh grade math geometry project to a signature project in eighth grade.” However, the culminating experience for the exploration of design thinking in the Middle School took the form of the MusicX Innovation Challenge.

The MusicX Challenge followed a similar project in 2017, dubbed “SportX.” SportX challenged students to develop the optimal game for Middle Schoolers to play that met a set of specific requirements, such as number of participants. The design process proved to be interactive and fun, and yielded exciting results. Hoping to continue this program but with a fresh challenge, Mr. Blaisdell discovered the connection between music and STEMX through a conversation with Dr. Masoni: “As a musician, when Dr. Masoni was explaining to me how he believes in the cycle of Design Thinking, I’m like, Yeah, this is totally what you do when you write a piece of music.”

And so MusicX was born: students were given the mission to “form a MusicX band with fellow students for the purpose of composing a new piece of music that consists of one or all of the following: original lyrics, original instrumental music, and original homemade instruments (this could include modifying ‘real’ instruments).” In addition, participating groups had to submit two audition videos, including a documentation of the creative process and a performance. An extensive set of guidelines prompted students to think critically and creatively as they engaged in the challenge.

A total of 11 groups participated, each composing a one to three minute long original piece, with some groups even designing original instruments. Particularly innovative was the submission from the “beet bop Billy’s,” who, “instead of doing separate instruments, actually designed an instrument that all of them could play at the same time.” Their instrument involved homemade percussion and strings, crafted using pie tins and rubber bands and cleverly coupled with guitar amps. Mr. Blaisdell also notes the number of compositions that included lyrics related to events at school as a highlight of the experience. All of the submissions were showcased at an all-school assembly, giving the young innovators a chance to shine.

As for the future of the design thinking challenges, Mr. Blaisdell hopes to rotate SportX, MusicX, and a science-based challenge on a three year basis to ensure that each class in the Middle School gets to sample each and test their 21st century skills. Their passion for discovery and design is inspiring, and we can’t wait to see more of their creative work in the future!
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