A Filipino elementary teacher in Phoenix, Arizona was given a National Science Teaching Association award for incorporating elements of music and culture in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) curriculum of his first grade students.
John Carlo Tulinao, who is called "Mr. T" by his students at the Amberlea Elementary School, received the Shell Urban Science Educator Development Award under the 2021 National Science Teaching Association (NSTA) Teacher Awards program.
In teaching the STEM program, Tulinao would feature various musical instruments from around the world including African drums, Japanese Koto, and the Tongatong or the bamboo musical instrument from the Kalinga province in the Philippines.
"I present the instruments before we delve into the scientific concept, we first study what is the cultural concept, what is the sociological concept, geographical concept of the instrument. Even the materials are part of the curriculum," Tulinao told GMA News Online in an interview.
Tulinao cited the example of the violin, which could teach aspects of science, that is, when a violinist uses force or friction, on how the instrument's materials affect the sound, and on how the vibration travels a person's eardrums and sends a message to the brain.
"As the kids learn the process, their perspectives broaden. If you will not isolate the concept ng music, you will see that it has other elements as well. There is Math, there is Science, you just need to look at it in a different point of view, and your curriculum is already right there in front of you," Tulinao said, partly in Filipino.
Tulinao's students are at the same time diverse, from Mexicans, African-Americans, Whites and Asians.
As he presented the Tongatong of the Kalinga to his students, Tulinao said they could not help but get curious.
"'What is a bamboo?'" his students asked. "They don't have bamboo. It's because there is no bamboo here in Arizona. Lahat ng nakikita nila rito puro cactus lang (All they are seeing here are cactuses)," Tulinao jokingly said, as he recalled showing pictures of the Kalinga people and their use of the Tongatong to his students.
"If you are going to count the Tongatong, each set is composed of six. I told them that it actually represents the community. The biggest one represents the grandfather of the community, the second one is the grandma, third one is the father in the community, the fourth one is the mother, the fifth is the youth and the smallest one is the children. You are actually represented in this set of bamboo. And they got so excited and interested about it!"
Tulinao's students then proposed making their prototype Tongatong, and started from using Pringles tubes to water pipes. Being able to produce a model that "worked like a real Tongatong," the pupils were "so happy" with their innovation.
"How are they going to recreate that instrument that will copy the same sound even though they don't have their material? Doon sila gumagamit ng critical thinking nila, doon na nila ginagamit 'yung kanilang engineering thinking. Kasi they really need to think outside of the box, most especially if you have limited material... Doon na pumapasok 'yung mathematical skills nila, engineering skills, nagme-measure sila ng instrument, kina-copy nila kung ano 'yung process na nangyayari doon sa mismong material. Doon tumatakbo 'yung lesson ko sa STEM program," Tulinao said.
(That's where they use their critical thinking, that's where they use their engineering thinking. They really need to think outside the box, most especially if they have limited material... That is where their mathematical skills and engineering skills enter, with their measuring of the instrument, copying the process of what happens in the original material. That's how my STEM program lessons run.)
From a family of musicians
Tulinao hails from Antipolo, Rizal, and grew up "in a family of musicians." He said he developed his love and passion for music as both of his parents were members of the church choir while his two sisters are musicians.
His family played strings, and Tulinao's relatives from his mother's side also play instruments, with each family having their own forte.
Tulinao took up his bachelor's degree in education at the University of Rizal System in Morong, Rizal, while at the same time attending music classes outside of the university. Soon, he took up a Masters Program in Music Education in Santa Isabel College in Manila.
Before moving to the US, Tulinao was part of the National Training Team of the Department of Education, conducting national trainings in arts and music for teachers, and writing modules and plans for the MAPEH subject during the rollout of the K-12 program.
As he took up his masteral studies, Tulinao learned more musical concepts that are geared towards cultural education in his exposure to the different ethnic music in the Philippines, including the Northern Kalinga tribe and the Southern Mindanaoan music.
Tulinao is currently taking up a doctorate program at the University of Miami.
Taking the teaching job at Arizona
It was in 2017 when Tulinao got a teaching job in Arizona, out of the 600 teachers that applied. Aimed at his passion of teaching children, Tulinao proposed during his interview that he wanted to teach in the first grade.
"It's a challenge, but I do enjoy working with kids. Like that's something that I do best."
Due to his unique way of delivering the STEM program, Tulinao said the district has turned the Amberlea Elementary School into an arts school. Tulinao will now assist in the expansion of the STEM program incorporating arts and culture for kinder up to eighth grade in his school.
Tulinao is also nominated in the Arizona Teacher of the Year for 2022.
Ambassador of culture
"Kung tayong mga Pilipino ang hindi mag-a-appreciate sa something na meron tayo on our own, sino pa? Isa 'yon sa mga advocacy ko, talagang maging ambassador of culture," Tulinao said.
(If we Filipinos do not appreciate something we have on our own, who else? That's one of my advocacies, to really be an ambassador of culture.)
"Isa sa mga intent ko kung bakit ko ito ginagawa, is to actually showcase our Filipino culture and also to make the Filipino people understand that meron tayong napakagandang kultura at meron tayong napakagandang music, meron tayong napakagandang tradition. Ang kailangan lang talaga, magkaroon ka ng intent na i-highlight at i-appreciate 'yung ganitong klase ng kultura," he added.
(One of my intent of why I do this, is to actually showcase our Filipino culture and also to make the Filipino people understand that we have a very beautiful culture, very good music, we have a very rich tradition. All you really need is to have intent to highlight and appreciate this kind of culture.) -- BAP, GMA News