STEM Marching Machine

Pequea Valley School District  |  Posted on

One of the songs being performed at the Pequea Valley Intermediate School winter band concert called for a very special percussion instrument—or more accurate, sound effect—called the marching machine. The special sound effect, a series of suspended wooden blocks that mimics the footfalls of marching feet, is available for purchase, but band director, James Ackerman, saw the band’s need as an opportunity for a cross-curricular project.

Mr. Ackerman approached STEM teacher, Jamiel Smoker, to see if it would be a suitable project for some members of the class. Mr. Smoker happily agreed and assigned four learners: Paul McGinley, Owen Pierce, Owen Hartmann, and Sean Ammon to the project. With a basic plan found on line, the learners used an online design program called Tinkercad and conferred with Mr. Ackerman regarding size, materials and timetable. For the next few months, they used class time in STEM class, under Mr. Smoker’s guidance, to laminate sapele wood for the frame rails, create the numerous blocks, and sand and finish all the parts. Along the way, the learners checked with Mr. Ackerman regarding questions of design and supply. Within a few months, the ‘machine’ was completed and ready for use in band rehearsals. Owen Pierce is a percussionist in band and uses the instrument because he is one of the STEM learners who created it.

The machine is used in a piece called “Terracotta Warriors” by composer Scott Watson. When the project was finished, Mr. Ackerman contacted Dr. Watson and shared the story of its construction. Dr. Watson was quite impressed and wants to include all the details of its manufacture so he can share it on his social media sites and website so that other schools will have a template for a similar experience.

Please go to YouTube to see a short video showing what the instrument looks like.