The description of this Meetup group immediately hooked me: "This is a group for anyone interested in the application of music as a tool for communication, leadership, social and physiological change, education....and general human betterment and awesomeness. Not only for musicians and educators, but entrepreneurs, futurologists and technologists etc. All nerd-levels welcome!" I was fortunate to be part of the group's very first meeting and although it was a bit freeform in terms of organization, I nonetheless gained some insight into some perspectives on music-oriented technology in NYC public schools.
It was a small group - only 8 attendees - but as such we were able to get to know each other reasonably well during the two-hour meeting. Three members (including me) were educators, two were electronic composer-musicians, and three were music and tech enthusiasts but not using either vocationally. The composers were primarily interested in hearing from others how they could better leverage music technology to reach audiences who cared about similar issues or causes. For example, one composer was especially interested in portraying the American feminine experience in her work, so she was curious how she could better market and unpack that compositional technique for non-formally trained listeners. Gradually, the educators started sharing their experiences of using music tech in their classrooms. The other teachers were in public schools and were also parents - I was actually the only attendee who didn't have children - so it was insightful to hear their experiences as both teacher and parent. Most attendees agreed that the music experiences in their kids' schools was lacking. Either there were limited offerings or the only offering was after school. One attendee had two children who were in chorus because music was required and that was the only offering at the school. Neither child enjoying singing and were typically miserable in class. This reminds me of my current student teaching experience where band is compulsory for all three years of middle school. Another attendee shared how difficult it was to keep their child engaged in their rock band because it was only offered after school and thus competed with sports and other activities. As someone without children, I found this discussion highly engaging. It expanded my understanding of the dilemma faced by many parents in the city.
We also discussed some of the software we used in our lessons. The most common by far was GarageBand - all but one attendee was familiar with it. Every attendee had a computer in the home and several had purchased computers specifically for use by their kids. Most reported that their kids spent a few hours of week noodling around in GarageBand or some other tech-based composition software. Some had heard of Musical.ly but the general consensus was that it was a musical version of Snapchat - in other words, something more social than educational. I shared my perspective on how it could be used as an educational tool but the group wasn't really in a place to receive that info. I asked what types of projects their kids usually created in the various software, and only one person shared that they felt their kid's work had any coherent structure (one of the composer's children). In general, they felt that their kids beat on the drum pads randomly or played with the world instruments just for the sonic variety; they didn't feel like the kids were engaged in some form of meaningful play. I tried to push back on this issue as well, suggesting that improvisation and free composition were a form of learning and meaningful play. Most attendees laughed and said that I should listen to some of the products. I gently pushed back again and said that often times the process is more important than the product. If the child is enjoying the process of composing and exploring different soundscapes, I believe that could be meaningful to them. The two educators were somewhat swayed by this, but the other attendees seemed more product-oriented. If the child wasn't creating something the parent could reasonably interpret as coherent and beautiful, it wasn't meaningful. This was extremely frustrating for me, but again, it was helpful to hear this point of view.
We closed the discussion by spending a bit of time talking about a few social issues and how music technology might be used to raise awareness or provide solutions. Most interesting to me was the discussion on sanctuary cities, Dreamers, and the immigrant experience in the current political climate. One attendee was a first-gen, so his thoughts were informed by direct experience - an invaluable perspective in the conversation. He was excited to hear from all three of the music educators that we were committed to incorporating diverse musics into our classrooms. We agreed that using non-Western musics in the classroom and bringing more world music into the curriculum was a powerful way teachers could positively impact students' perceptions of diversity. We acknowledged that many teachers' curricula is still based on the conservatory model in the European tradition; however, many teachers are also shifting towards a more global, balanced approach to exemplar repertoire. I also added that music education and music therapy continue to be cornerstones of special education in NYC. I shared some of the research around music and exceptional learners, which the other attendees were glad to learn about. I appreciated that on this topic they were very open to hearing more. As we were leaving, one attendee (a teacher) asked to stay in touch about music and special education. He was struggling to implement differentiated strategies in his classroom and his administration was not being supportive in terms of providing special education pedagogy to general education teachers. I was glad to make this connection and I hope we can help each other grow our practice.
Although this was the smallest and most loosely organized event of the three I've attended, I was still able to glean some useful information from it. I intend to stay connected with this group and continue to meet with them going forward. Hopefully I can gain some traction on the topics that were a bit difficult and further my own understanding of the perspectives held by these parent-musicians.
Unfortunately, I wasn't in class last week so I missed the discussion of Stop Motion, Personification, and Blippar. I did, however, do a quick read into Blippar and I was amazed at the concept of augmented reality. I have never worked with AR before but the sample videos I found on YouTube were incredible. I immediately thought of how any museum - art, history, aquariums - could benefit from an AR-linked tour of their space. This tech elevates immersion to a new level and creates a sensory experience that could completely transform how we experience museums. I'm sure there are other contexts (e.g., flight simulations, corporate training) that could also benefit, but I confess I spent a good hour talking with my partner about all the cool and interesting ways AR could impact the museum space. I look forward to seeing how this technology evolves in time.
This week, we took a class field trip to Global Nomads Group and were given a tour of the organization's offerings by Afiya Williams. A important component of GNG's mission is that "young people lack the opportunities to meaningfully and productively engage with difference in a world that is undergoing vast social, cultural, technological…change." The organization attempts to close this opportunity gap by using synchronous and asynchronous tech-based learning modules to develop students' empathy, awareness, and action. For example, in Project Campfire classrooms from different parts of the world (e.g., US, Jordan, Europe, South Africa) connect virtually over a semester-long program. I was particularly intrigued by how each module can be seamlessly embedded within an existing ELA, social studies, or homeroom learning context. Another program Afiya discussed is Pulse, which are live-streamed, virtual events that take 2-3 class periods to complete. The two programs can also be combined through the Youth Voices project, where students mix real-time and asynchronous work over the course of several weeks. It's clear that GNG has worked hard to diversify their offerings and meet a wide range of needs. I also appreciated that Afiya confirmed the curricula and discussion guides align with the NYC/NYS standards, and that every module is designed to plug into existing content - not something that has to be taught separately as a one-off. This minimizes the demand placed on teachers and paves the way for ease-of-use in the classroom.
To help make the experience more vivid, Afiya provided each of us with a DODOcase VR kit, which is akin to Google Cardboard. We assembled the viewers and watched a few of the VR clips created by GNG for their modules. It was a mind-blowing experience. The immersive, 360-degree perspective heightens the sensory game unlike anything I've ever experienced. It's like a personalized IMAX theatre for each student. The content is authentic and student-centered, and carefully designed to resonate with young people. As with Blippar and AR, my mind was spinning with all of the possibilities.
As a sidenote, Afiya's work in South Africa reminded me of our doctoral student, Janelize van der Merwe. I believe that Janelize's work in the community music space and marimba bands might inspire some music-based modules for GNG. I will be sure to connect her with Afiya following our visit. I must also remember to check out a related partner organization: StudentsRebuild.org. Afiya mentioned that they do complementary work in the social justice space and leverage the resources of the Bezos Family Foundation to effect real change in the lives of young people around the world.
Overall, our visit to GNG was a wonderful experience. It was a great way to see how VR intersects with the ed tech world, and I know most if not all of my students would love this kind of content. I truly hope GNG and other companies like them develop music-based modules in the near future. I'll be among the first to pilot them in my classroom!
The range of topics covered by this batch of resources is even more diverse than the first. It drives home the point we've discussed in class that ed tech is a pervasive and ubiquitous aspect of K-20 education in the 21st century. Here are the topics from this round that resonated most with me:
What are the obstacles to successful implementation of developmental education tech, VR, and AR on the college campus?
These articles all a common theme that technology, when not implemented purposefully and with clear pedagogical intent, will not be the silver bullet many administrators are searching for. We've discussed many times in class that technology should be a vehicle to deliver instruction, not the instruction itself. These resources share stories of administrators who are possibly avoiding or missing this critical piece of the puzzle. As with any educational trend - be it Common Core, project-based learning, or technology - one cannot simply throw it in the classroom and expect students to be successful as they grapple with it themselves. As music teachers, we can continue to teach important musical skills that will enrich students' lifelong musical learning citizen-scholarship: composition, improvisation, performance, and listening. But we have wonderful opportunity at this junction to leverage technology and make these learning objectives more salient, accessible, and scaffolded. Especially for students that require remediation upon matriculation to college, technological literacy must be considered as a skill that needs to be nurtured and developed in a structured, logical manner as we would mathematics or literacy. High-quality MOOCs, mentioned in another article, can indeed be a powerful solution for many learners. If designed and implemented well, students can reduce tuition costs, ease the transition from home to independent living, and bridge the remediation gap without disrupting many familiar elements all at once. Provided that the students, teachers, and administrators approach implementation collaboratively and carefully, I see MOOCs, developmental ed tech, and other similar solutions as part of the new model for creating a college-educated society in the US.
How can Canada's example inform how we teach our SIFE students in the US?
In recent years, global violence has dramatically increased the number of students entering the US with interrupted formal education (also known as SIFE students). Not only are these often English Language Learners, they have typically suffered trauma, relocated transnationally, and may be living in homes without their complete family unit. With so much to navigate at once, technology presents a tremendous opportunity to bridge the learning and cultural gap for these students. Canada is one example of how schools are rising to meet the unique needs of these students, and the US can certainly learn from the models presented. It is unclear if they are scalable in large urban centers like NYC, but I can certainly see these systems thriving in smaller, more close-knit communities. It remains to be seen if these models are sustainable and efficacious in the long-term but examples discussed in the article seem promising.
Is DIY education a new millennial trend, or is it just a 21st century face of homeschooling?
For a number of complicated reasons, I would guess that most Americans of my generation have a negative perception of homeschooling students and the process as a whole. The media typically portrays homeschooled children as socially maladjusted, deeply conservative, and often religious - characteristics frequently at odds with the mainstream school communities they eventually join. Personally I think that homeschooling gets a bad rap - there are many reasons, including health issues, that a family might choose to homeschool their children. I've known several peers who, when they entered the mainstream school for the first time, were well-adjusted, kind, and open-minded individuals. In fact, most were often more advanced in their studies than the average public school child. The article discusses how millennial parents who aren't working traditional 9-5 jobs are increasingly turning to DIY education as an approach that fits the lifestyle and value system of the modern American family. These models feel similar to me in terms of their goals and motivations, and I wonder if perhaps it's not just a branding issue given the negative connotation often associated with homeschooling. DIY sounds empowering, self-driven, and resolute. By contrast, homeschooling may sound to some as restrictive, alien, and closed-off. I'm not sure how the DIY trend will evolve, but certainly the dramatic increase in school-based gun violence is giving many parents throughout the US pause to consider an alternative to mainstream schooling.
How can Scratch and other block-based coding systems be used effectively outside the computer science classroom?
Prior to coming to NYU, I worked for seven years for The College Board. During that time, I was part of the team that created a new AP course and exam, AP Computer Science Principles. The primary genesis for the course was to increase representation of girls and young people of color in the field of computer science. Educators had long told us that AP Computer Science A was often a barrier to these students in terms of its design and prerequisites. Passionate educators and parents challenged us to create a class that developed students computational thinking practices, including coding, but in a dynamic way that allowed for multiple, diverse points of entry. The result was a course and exam that allows teachers and students to use one of five coding languages or systems to create artifacts for assessment. One of those system is Scratch, which eliminates the need for students' first experience in computer science to be dependent upon their skills in Python, C++, HTML, or another traditional language-based coding protocol. Especially for our students who are ELLs or struggle with language processing, block-based coding open the door to computer science for visual learners, creative thinkers, and students who otherwise preferred this style of working with code. This experience illustrated for me how multiple points of entry into technology is not only more engaging for a broader range of students, it's actually more inclusive and supportive of learners with diverse learning capabilities. To that end, I would welcome coding-based music technology in my classroom any day. I appreciated the projects that Armando shared with us and they seem akin to the type of work we were doing in AP CSP. In the coming years, I hope to expand my knowledge of coding in the context of music education. Perhaps in time I can bring these exciting tools into my composition and performance classes!
The purpose of this workshop was to explore the "Invent to Learn" approach to teaching and learning developed by Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager. The approach combines the tenets of constructivism and the maker movement to create lessons in which students learn through direct experience. The movement is primarily used in STEM subjects; however, the overarching theory could be applied to other subjects with some creative thinking. I chose to attend this workshop because it focused on how technology could be used purposefully in the classroom to solve real-world problems. As an arts teacher, I hoped it would inspire ideas for how I could leverage composition, performance, and other musical activities in similar ways.
After initial introductions, the presenter gave us a brief overview the book and the tenets of the maker movement espoused by the authors. She then led us through four lessons, having us role-play as students in order to experience the learning process ourselves. The four lessons covered robotics, civil engineering, biomechanics, and ecology respectively; and all four were geared primarily towards middle- and high school-aged students. Before each activity began, the presenter shared what prior knowledge and skills the students would need to be successful, and also the targets of assessment for each task. Rubrics were provided before the task and images or videos of prior student work was shared after the task for reflection and discussion.
During the robotics lesson, we were first taught as a full class how to operate three mechanical devices (an electric switch, lightweight pulley system, and rotating gears). We then formed small groups and were given a box full of raw materials including wheels, metal sheets that snapped together, swivel arms, and various clamps. The task was to include all three devices somehow into a robot that we would build using the raw materials. The end product had to serve one of three purposes provided by the teacher. We had 20 minutes to complete the task and then share our robot with the group. While we worked, the presenter-as-teacher would observe each group and guide our inquiry with questions, assist with construction, and address any issues that arose. I found this activity delightful and enjoyed collaborating with my group. It reminded me of erector sets and Lego projects I worked on as a child, and sparked that joy of creativity and problem-solving that came with engineering-based play. I feel that we were given adequate preparation for success and just enough structure to get us started before our imaginations were allowed to carry us forward. It many ways, it reminded me of composition units that I experienced in college music classes, and the lesson inspired several ideas for future music-related activities.
The next lesson on civil engineering required that we solve one of three real-world problems using straightforward equations and small-scale models. The teacher briefed us on the math and demonstrated how each model worked and could be manipulated. In different small groups, we then had to choose which problem we would solve and demonstrate how the equation and model addressed it. We had just 10 minutes for this task, but all groups were able to do it successfully. Of the four activities, this one felt the least maker-based, as we didn't actually create any artifacts; however, the real-world applications were engaging. Feeling and discussing replicas of crumbling bridges, weak building foundations, and poorly designed highway exchanges really got us thinking about practical applications of algebra and trigonometry. I appreciated the relevant context each problem represented.
Next we moved on to biomechanics, which was essentially a lesson on prosthetics. Within reasonable parameters, we had to 3-D print a small component of a prosthetic device that would address a challenge described in a case study. For example, our group's case study involved a user with a prosthetic index finger who needed additional range of motion in the two bendable joints of the finger (we learned, distal interphalangeal and metacarpophalangeal). We watched a brief video on the device and were then shown three 3-D blueprints of components that might address the issue, each with pros and cons. Based on the dossier, we had to select one to print, attach it to the model provided, and then demonstrate it to the class while explaining how our choice best addressed the issue. Like the second lesson, this wasn't didn't involve as much manual construction as the first lesson; however, it required reasoning skills and prompted discussions of bioethics in our group. Overall, it was another fascinating look at how having students create objects in real-time can be an effective, engaging vehicle to teach a host of topics.
The final lesson on ecology involved the entire class being presented with a water treatment issue from the imaginary nearby town. This was a time-sensitive problem as it affected the town's main water source; therefore, each group was given only five minutes to perform their part of the task. One group played the role of engineers and had to select one set of design schematics from several options (each with unique advantages and costs) to another group who would ultimately fabricate the solution. After handing off the design, the builders could fabricate or 3-D print the design, making any changes they saw fit as long as it was completed within the timeframe. They then handed it off to the testers who were tasked to recommend one meaningful change back to the design team. The product then went back to the first group who could approve, revise, or reject the proposed changes. The builders would then implement any changes per the revised spec, and finally the fourth group had to present the model to the class, demonstrate how it worked, and describe how it solved the problem. Ultimately as a class we were not successful - we took too long and the water supply was contaminated! I enjoyed the timing aspect of this - it reminds of a "get the product to market!" scenario. Students were encouraged to fail quickly in the first trial run, but it was clear that our revisions had to be the correct solution. Throughout the project, some team members were volunteering to move across teams in an effort to get it done on time and it was great fun. I could envision this project being done in a setup where a group consists of four students, each who is responsible for one of the roles (engineer, builder, tester, presenter). This might help develop students' skills in weaker areas or leverage skills they have to be most successful in the work.
Overall, the workshop was a lot of fun and I can understand how a maker-based lesson could be highly engaging for a range of students. Experiencing the lessons with your tactile and kinesthetic senses was invigorating and elicited creativity, imagination, critical thinking, and inquiry all in one lesson. In addition, we had to collaborate and negotiate with team members, exercising those important soft skills. Although I need more time to consider how to adapt this approach to the music classroom, I sense that it's possible and I look forward to exploring it further.