Innovative Practice - Making waves

Children across Europe are listening to the sounds of the beach and the ocean and turning them into music

Jana Christoffel

The background

Many schools will be familiar with the Comenius Programme, which was set up by the European Commission to increase joint working between pupils and teachers across the EU. About 3 million pupils are already taking part in a range of its projects, which aim to promote cross-cultural understanding and linguistic diversity.

One of its most recent initiatives has been to get schools thinking about their relationship to the sea. A range of projects have been started, but one of the more unusual ones involved German pupils listening to the sounds of the ocean and turning them into music.

The project

"The sound of the North Sea ... and the Atlantic" (Wie klingt die Nordsee? Und wie der Atlantik?), brought together two schools from cities with ports: the Gymnasium Altona in Hamburg, Germany, and I.E.S. San Sebastian in Huelva, Spain.

In the first part of the project, a group of the Hamburg pupils went on a field trip to the island of Sylt in northern Germany. They were accompanied by Olaf Pyras, a composer and sound scientist, who provided them with recording devices. These included a microphone that looks like an earplug, which records a person's whole hearing experience as a "panorama record". They also used a microphone attached to a fishing rod to record specific directional sounds.

However, it was the underwater microphone that fascinated pupils most. When correctly positioned, it is able to record noises not normally audible to the human ear.

The pupils, who were all taking a basic music course, spent the next eight weeks of lessons editing the material using audio software. After that, the artistic process could begin and the pupils could turn their recordings into music.

They also produced written reports explaining their work, their teacher, Dorothee Barth, said was important for transparent assessment of their compositions.

For the third part of the project, three pupils had the opportunity to visit their partner school in Huelva. They recorded sounds from the Atlantic, which were generally perceived as "lighter". Back home, they completed their "soundscapes" while staying in touch with the Spanish students to exchange new ideas.

Tips from the scheme

The Comenius Programme is eclectic and there is a good chance of receiving support, Barth says.

As a teacher, you should have a good outline of the project and find a balance between giving instructions and encouraging pupils' self-reliance.

Evidence that it works?

Barth says the project gave pupils an understanding of modern music and helped them be more open to other new topics. Working with an artist and sound scientist gave them greater confidence in their own creativity.

The common project showed the different pupils that it is possible to communicate and exchange skills across boundaries. Participants said it was very special not to be in a foreign country as a tourist, but as someone with a task.

See how your school can get involved by visiting bit.lyL2KIAa and bit.lyHoNBZo


Name: The sound of the North Sea ... and the Atlantic (Wie klingt die Nordsee? Und wie der Atlantik?)

Set up by: The Comenius Programme

Number of pupils taking part: About 30

Duration of project: Three months


Names: Gymnasium Altona in Hamburg and its partner school in Huelva, Spain

Age range: 11-18.

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Jana Christoffel

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