Crosby-Ironton Schools: Students learn music, technology with ukuleles

Eva Greeler (right) and Rayne Anseeuw, sixth-graders at Cuyuna Range Elementary School, paint their ukuleles during class with technology and innovation teacher Allison Larsen. The students are learning to laser engrave the ukuleles and will learn to play them as well, to combine music and technology in one project. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

CROSBY -- Music, art and technology collide in Allison Larsen’s STEAM classroom at Cuyuna Range Elementary School in Crosby to provide a unique learning experience for students.

Incorporating science, technology, engineering, arts and math, STEAM is designed to integrate those subjects with other educational disciplines for a well-rounded curriculum.

Larsen’s sixth graders are doing just that with ukuleles.

The idea popped up when the technology and innovation teacher attended an International Society for Technology in Education conference over the summer and noticed a booth featuring ukuleles.

“I didn’t quite understand how that fit with tech, so I stopped by and they had these maker kits, and then they used iPad apps to tune them and teach them (students) how to play,” Larsen said. “And I thought that was really, really cool.”


Larsen brought the idea forward to her principal and managed to secure funds for the project, thanks to donations from the Cuyuna Lakes Education Foundation and the Bay Lake Area Lions.

“So now we have a cross-curricular connection between my class and our music education class, where the kids can develop their STEAM skills while also learning how to play the ukulele.”

A class of sixth graders worked diligently on their instruments Tuesday, Oct. 15, as they built, painted and even laser engraved their ukuleles.

“They learn how to make images on the computer, and then they send it to the laser engraving software, and then they learn how to use the X, Y and Z axes,” Larsen said. “And they learn how to translate their images into G-code, which is then read by the laser engraver, and then they can engrave their images on the ukulele.”

Image choices ranged from smiley faces to various animals to favorite brand logos.

Alyssa Maile opted for an “MGK” to represent her favorite rapper, Machine Gun Kelly, while Kannon Grecula chose the Vans shoes logo to go on his black and pink ukulele.

Both students enjoyed donning protective glasses to watch the laser engraver do its work.

Ukuleles of purple, red, blue and orange, covered with polka dots, stripes, handprints and other artistic renderings filled Larsen’s classroom Tuesday.


Rayne Anseeuw and Eva Greeler said their favorite part of the project was honing in their creativity skills by painting the ukuleles.

“I think it’s really cool to be able to customize something myself,” Anseeuw said while finishing up the blue neck of her white instrument.

Gideon Anderson showed off his finished product, as he and classmates Zane Peterson and Victor Adams tried to strum a few tunes.

The three boys are excited to learn to play songs on their instruments.

IPad apps will help the students learn to tune their ukuleles and play chords, while music teacher Kennedy Niska will teach them how to play songs.

Larsen hopes the combination of technology and music will help students see connections between the different disciplines.

“If they have a passion for music, then maybe that passion draws over to the tech, or vice versa,” she said. “So maybe if they really like STEAM class, it brings their excitement into music class.”


The students also get to keep the ukuleles and continue playing them in the future, if they choose.

“So it’s a personalized project where they get invested and they make something that’s theirs,” Larsen said, noting her goal is for the project to get students excited about learning.

The kids will then show off those musical skills in January at a STEAM expo, where elementary students will come together to exhibit what they’ve learned in music, physical education, art and technology classes for the public.

“It showcases all the specialties,” Larsen said, adding she hopes to continue the ukulele project in the future, as it looks successful so far, but she will have to figure out how to secure permanent funding.

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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