creativity, student centered learning and web 2.0 applications


Goanimate screen shot

In term 3 myself and my fellow music/ICT teacher Andrew Williamson were given the opportunity to work with a group of 30 grade 6 students for an hour a week doing whatever we liked in the area of ICT (computer’s). Instead of devising a curriculum for the class with an end goal in sight we decided to go the other way and hand over the power to the students and see where they would drive the curriculum. We proposed to them that they would be responsible to find web 2 open sourced software of the internet that would lend itself to some form of creative output -what form that was didnt matter it just had to be something that was of interest to them and would provide them with an opportunity to create something. They would then have to add this to a collective list. Each member was then rquired to investigate the applications that the others were discovering and write a review on them. All of this helped to instill in the kids a sence of responsibility to the group learning and hopefully a much more powerful group intelligence would emerge than anything Andrew or I could have come up with.

Once all the reviews were in the kids could then go to any of the programs they liked and start making thing, music, pictures animations, tessalations, game making, programming, cartoons films whatever. The medium is unimportant the process and ability to express ideas is the real thing of interest so discovering new mediums that will help you do this was exciting for all the kids.

We used Google Wave as our place to communicate as a class. A place to add your reviews and a place to chat about how you were going what you liked and didn’t etc. As this no longer exists you could create a wiki for your class to do the same thing

The kids loved this class, so much great stuff was made. I have quickly raced around and grabbed a couple of screenshots but it really doesnt give you a good reflection on the amount of diverse work that was being outputted from this class.


Toondoo Screen Shot

This is a great example of what can happen when you simply set up an environment and trust that children have an inate desire to express themselves and to learn.

SOme online programes that were chose were

goanimate – a simple animation programe

Tagxedo – a tagcloud generator

Glogster – a poster creator

Aviary – a online image manipulator and music creator

Toondoo -a cartoon creator

Seashore – an image manipulator

SumoPaint – an online art program

NoteFlight – online music notation program

Scratch – Game maker

Scratch Screenshot

Scratch Screenshot

Aviary's music creator

Aviary's music creator

Composing with Grade 5 and 6 children

As I have mentioned previously composition is at the heart of my philosophy when it comes to music education. It is also what starts to make your music classes exciting and moves them beyond the some times mundane experience of teaching skills or singing songs.

With the grade 5 and 6 students this term we are focusing on a number of compositional styles.

These include

1. Composing with Melodic Instruments

2. Minimalism

3. Chance compositions

4. Composing soundtracks

5. Composoing with Text

5. Composing Machine Compsitions

These are all styles that are very accessible to children and there are lots of great examples on you tube of composers using these ideas as the basis for their own music. Composers like John Cage and the concepts he introduced always fascinate children.

The first four weeks were spent on Composing With Melody and to do this we used our diatonic instruments. Initially to children almost everything sounds good when composing with diatonic instruments so it gets things rolling quickly and gives you a chance to help them refine their ideas.

I always get them to write four parts into this composition. A bass line a melody line a chordal accompanyment and a percussion part and initially explain the roles of each of those parts. I then get them to add a B section which we decide to be something different to the A section and something short. A chance to provide a point of difference in the music. At the end of each week I film the children and one quick viewing at the start of the next week is all that is required for them to remember where they were up to. Depending on your philosophy regarding notation you could get them to notate but I find that childrens ears are generally pretty good and notation merely slows the composition process at this stage.

In the following weeks I will blog about how I go about teaching the other musical styles and upload some video.

But here is a video of a couple of completed Melodic Pieces

Under The Sea Compositions with Junior Kids

In the Junior levels I find vocal soundscapes are a really effective way to get them to begin to think compositionally. Here is an example of a very simple lesson which ends up creating nice little pieces of music.

Using the IWB draw up a series of pictures and then have the children suggest appropriate vocal sounds for them. The children can also suggest what the pictures would be. So we had bird sounds, rustling sea weed, we made body sounds to represent the octopus, screaming for the scary fish, bubble sounds for the school of small fish and a scraping sound for the large rock. Then draw a simple submarine and explain that the sub is on a sound gathering trip under the ocean. When ever he reaches a destination a new sound will emerge. Using your mouse guide the sub around the ocean and let the children make the appropriate sound.

To turn this into a more effective composition add a few percussion instruments that might be appropriate, we addes chimes and marimbas. You can talk about how they are to be played, dynamics, large or small intervals etc. so that each part fits in with the original idea of the composition – under the sea.

Finally record the whole thing in Garageband. Once the recording has been done it is a good time to play it and reflect with the children on how effective the piece of music was and does it need any changes. I actually took this time to teach some of the features of garageband such as cutting and pasting to double up the effectiveness of some sounds and also adding effects. We added some delay into the bubble sounds.

Heres a video of what it might look like.

Movie making, soundtracks, literacy the whole lot

I’ve uploaded a video (below) that gives you an example of something I blogged about a couple of weeks ago.
This was a task I was doing with grade 6 students that used Imovie and Garageband, two great programs that come with the ILife bundle for macs.
The kids imported photos into IMovie, they wrote a short story that related to their selection of photos and recorded that story in using the recording facilities within IMovie. finally they wrote a soundtrack in Garageband to accompany the movie (in Garageband) exported the music as an MP3 dragged it into I Movie and off we went. We talked a lot about the appropriateness of the music to the film, the role of the soundtrack and how it was to enhance the visuals not overwhelm them.
We also had a huge number of technical issues which is often the case and actually quite beneficial for the students to experience.

There was so many things involved in this project such as literacy skills (creative writing), editing, music composition, multimodal learning, authentic learning, investigation and presentation, rendering, teamwork, saving to a network, folder creation, troubleshooting technical issues, leadership, importing and exporting of files, learning different file types.

Music ICT Art Literacy the whole bang lot

A great idea that works on so many levels that Im doing with my Level 4 students at North Fitzroy Primary School Thanks to Andrew Williamson for the initial idea

The kids spent some of time choosing photos that they could use to create a visual story. I created a folder and placed about 100 random photos in there. The kids then copied and pasted the photos they wanted to use  into a folder they had created on the server. I think it is a really important  to teach ICT organizational skills and saves lots of headaches down the track.  Once that was done, the kids are going to import the photos and organize them in IMovie so that a clear narrative can be followed.

Soundtracks will then be created in garage band that will be used to enhane the narrative and finally if it is required audio recordings will be made directly into I Movie that will further enhance the narrative.

I guess the way to expand this is to hav the kids take their own photos.

Finally the project will be rendered down and placed into the kids own personal blogs.

Students as composers

remy-ruby-and-saskias-piece As a very good example of children as composers here is a composition written and played by 5 grade six students. They were given a one hour class to come up with this piece and then performed nd recorded it at the end. You can hear it is written for four parts with both an A and a B section. These children have been with us for the five years I have been teaching at Fitzroy North PS so are very used to the idea that they are composers, an idea that myself and fellow teacher Andrew Williamson really believe in and try to teach . It was exciting for me to hear this composition as it justified alot of the philosophy

My Music teaching philosophy

Fitzroy North Primary School

The music programme at North Fitzroy is an incredibly rich, exciting and stimulating programme that embraces composition, creativity, participation technology and fun. The main emphasis behind almost all our work is to empower the students with a sense of belief that their compositions are worthwhile. The role of the composer must be demystified and children’s compositions need to be highly valued. If our music department can do this it will create a lifelong love of music in children but rather than just being observers of music these children will go on to be participants and most importantly creators.

Every child gets to participate in a generalist music class once a week. It is in this class that the core understanding of composition is taught to the child. We try to cover a huge range of concepts and presentation styles to allow for as many different learning styles as possible. These include sound sculptures, movie soundtracks, abstract compositions, loops based composition, recording techniques, traditional notation, rap and hip hop and rock music. By teaching through composition you can teach the basic concepts such as pitch, rhythm texture and melody in a way that has personal relevance for the students and therefore will remain with them for their life. In their generalist class we have also done lots of work in instrument making, singing and African drumming. Almost every class starts with a listening session where the children listen to a variety of music and are encouraged to make comments on the compositional techniques as well as a personal judgement on whether they like it and why. A lot of these “listening” exercises are now done using DVDs and a data projector giving children a greater visual awareness of the music. On top of the generalist lesson children are encouraged to participate in the ensembles that we provide. We run a mixed percussion ensemble for each year level. This uses xylophones, glockenspiels, djembe drums, marimbas and hand percussion. . Each part is sung to the children and the learning is done by ear encouraging the children to learn all parts (a piece might have 5 different parts to it ranging from bass, middle, high melody lines as well as different beats). The students in collaboration with Kynan and Andrew compose most of the pieces we play. Improvisation in this ensemble is encouraged. We also run a couple of rock ensembles and a choir. As much opportunity as possible is provided for these ensembles to perform within the school at music assemblies, at the school concerts and outside the school. Strong links have been made with the local high school and region where groups have been invited to our school for mutual concerts and we have taken groups to other schools and community events. Finally we also run an EYT (extend your talents) programme for children who show a very keen interest and ability. In this programme they form their own groups to perform, record and look at other areas of the music industry such as advertising and management. They can also make their own short movies and animations using programmes such as imovie and istop motion. In this creation process they are required to score all the music for their movies and animations.

We believe our programme is innovative in a number of areas. Our core philosophy of valuing the idea of students as producers rather than just receivers of information, is what drives all our innovation. We have fully embraced technology as not only an important learning tool but we see it as merely being another valuable platform to allow for meaningful learning. A lot of our teaching revolves around understanding the role of music in various situations but to fully learn this children need to create those situations. With this in mind the children work on a lot of multi media projects such as film making, animations, the creation of radio shows and podcasting. Through programmes such as radio waves we have been able to podcast a lot of the children’s work on the internet thus forming valuable relationships with other schools and community groups throughout the world. By doing this we are allowing the children to produce work that has wings out side of the classroom. No longer are they producing work for merely one person, the teacher, they are now producing it for vast communities found and created by the internet. Technology is intricately woven into all aspects of children’s lives and therefore should be woven into all aspect of their school life. All of the children’s work is recorded and given back to them in the form of digital portfolios or uploaded onto the internet. This recording process is also handed over to the students in many instances.
One of our major innovations however is to integrate the music programme into the classroom programme. If you are able to do this your programme is no longer viewed as a marginalised idea falling into line well behind literacy and numeracy but rather it becomes valued as a nessasary aid to those things. We have done this by pushing the value of multimedia projects because they work with visual literacy. We have run many PDs teaching the classroom teachers various music programmes such as garageband, imovie etc. By doing this the fear of music has been removed from the teachers and they are confident to allow the students to integrate music into many of their projects. We have encouraged teachers ideas and tried to provide the infrastructure for them to do this. All classrooms have 5 computers in them and we have a Mac lab of 20 Computers as well as a small recording studio.
The impact we have is an exciting one. On a very grass roots level many of our students gone into high school with the innate believe that they are creators and their creations are valuable. They are not content to merely play a role but want to have a very personal involvement in the creation of that role. A number of our rock bands, which were formed when the children were only 10 years old, have maintained and are now gigging professionally. We have developed significant relationships with local community groups such as the Old Colnialist home for the elderly and the Croxton Special School. A special project is being run with the Croxton Special School where 10 of our students are working with 10 of their students every week for a term playing music and ultimately leading to a performance. This is being filmed by the kids and will be turned into a DVD for the performers. This has been a very valuable experience for all involved. Our programme is fortunate in the way it has been terrifically supported and valued by school leadership. This has allowed us to develop our programme. To pass on some of the skills we have learned we have been running PDs for our cluster groups to help share some of our information as well as learn from them.