Sounds of Science: Music Helps Public High School Students in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Learn Biology

4/23/2009 [Music Production Tools ]

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — According to almost every assessment, students at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Baltimore have improved their skills in science thanks in part to the innovative MILEstone Program (an acronym that stands for Music, Images, Learning, and Engagement).

Sequel 2 used in Baltimore and Washington D.C. Schools
L to R: Andrew Stokes, Paul Alvaran and King Brand
Now, through collaboration with the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, the program is coming to the Columbia Heights Education Campus in Washington, D.C., which includes Bell High School and Lincoln Middle School. This pilot program began on April 7, 2009 and will culminate with a music performance by the students at the end of the six-week program.

Introduced in September 2007, in Baltimore, the MILEstone program uses image-based techniques developed by Dr. Sheldon Margulies, a board-certified neurologist and owner of Fascinating Education, which he developed during his teaching career as Assistant Professor of Neurology at Johns Hopkins University, Howard University, the University of Maryland and the University of Alabama.

Dr. Margulies instituted the program after noticing that students have shifted how they absorb information from reading texts to viewing images. Students expect information to be presented in short, pointed segments. Furthermore, they need to see the relevance of what they are being taught.

Instead of relying on the written word supplemented by images, Dr. Margulies flips the learning process by using PowerPoint images supplemented with attached audio files. He painstakingly relates each chemistry and biology lesson to a riveting medical case and to the students' own experiences. Dr. Margulies feels his visually-oriented and "clinically-relevant" program teaches more efficiently than traditional textbooks – for a number of reasons.

"Ironically, we teach evolution, but our own methods of teaching are not evolving to keep up with a changing student environment," said Dr. Margulies.

In the program's music component, overseen by audio expert Paul Alvaran of Sound Force Consulting, students reinforce their retention of concepts by creating their own music and lyrics using Sequel 2 music production software developed by Steinberg Media Technologies, which is owned by the Yamaha Corporation.

In addition to the music curriculum, Alvaran has developed an after-school program called the Dunbar Poet Producers, where interested students learn recording techniques, music composition skills and advanced Sequel 2 applications to become peer mentors to their fellow students. To bring teachers and administrators together, Alvaran has created the MILEstone Meeting Group to discuss school issues, the Sequel program's progress and strategies for success. Alvaran also serves as liaison between the teachers and administration to help implement policy and procedure for the Science Department.

Sequel 2 used in Baltimore and Washington D.C. Schools
The Dunbar Poet Producers
Fascinating Education has changed students' attitudes about education and has created a buzz around Baltimore's Dunbar High School. "The MILEstone Program is a wonderful multi-faceted intervention," said Mamie Green, Head of the Science Department at Dunbar High School. "Not only have we seen significant improvement on our Maryland State Benchmark examinations, their program has helped us achieve an 87 percent passing rate on our Biology State Assessments and we've met our Science Adequate Yearly Progress requirements."

Graduates of the MILEstone program from Baltimore's Paul Laurence Dunbar High School will perform their original compositions at a Dunbar Bio Idol performance on Friday May 8, at 1 p.m. at the school. In a related event, Towson University will hold a benefit for the MILEstone Program, entitled "Step to the Future," on April 14 at 7:30 p.m. at the college. Proceeds will support the purchase of laptops and Sequel 2 music production software.

Dr. Joseph B. Richardson Jr., Assistant Professor of African American Studies at the University of Maryland, recently provided motivational speeches to the Dunbar Poet Producers and will be assisting the MILEstone Program with other resources. "I admire the grassroots approach of Dr. Margulies' image-based learning and Mr. Alvaran's hands-on consulting," said Richardson. "The MILEstone Program is a model worthy of national replication."

The Baltimore Community Foundation, Maryland's third largest grant maker among charitable foundations, recently partnered with the MILEstone Program to assist its philanthropic efforts throughout Baltimore City.

For more information or to find out how to help out with the MILEstone Program, log onto

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