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.
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.
My student teaching site recently had a Promethean ActivDisplay (a type of Smart board) installed in the music room, so my CT and I have been gradually learning how to incorporate it into our lessons. Promethean hosted a training event in Midtown, so I attended to see if there were any tips or tricks I could bring back to the classroom. The event was somewhat open-ended in that all user-experience levels were welcome and consultants were on hand to address individual questions. Attendees could also watch 15-20 minute demos on general topics if they wanted to learn more about generic functionality.
My time watching the demos generally reinforced what I've already learned just playing around with the board at school. Although it was helpful to have the consultant validate much of what my CT and I have been doing, there are several limitations to our use of the ActivDisplay in our class:
1. The system is Windows- and Google-based; thus, it is designed to plug seamlessly into other Windows software and online tools such as Google Classroom and Google Play. Both my CT and I use Apple devices, so the connection between our devices and the board can sometimes be bumpy or require workarounds.
2. A significant lift of Promethean is its teaching and learning interface, ClassFlow. This software is designed to replace ActivInspire, the company's previous interface that is widely used on both proprietary and non-proprietary boards. In this interface, teachers can design activities and assessments, display them on the board, push them out to students' devices during class, and create small groups for collaborative work in real time. An improvement of ClassFlow is that it is intended to be a student communication tool as well. Through it, teachers can email assignments, assessments, grades, etc. and use ClassFlow to display these various artifacts during their lessons.
The downside is that my school doesn't use any of this content, nor do they allow students to use devices during music class. The school already has an integrated grading, LMS, and SIS system (Jupiter iO) that includes a communication portal for documentation communication and sending emails to staff, students, and parents. The school has no incentive to change over to ClassFlow - it doesn't appear that the school considered this feature important when they decided to purchase the displays. In addition, the device policy is firm at the school so there is very little chance that my CT will ever be using the software to push content out to students during class.
3. All of my classes this term are performance-based (band), with very little interaction between the students and the board. My CT does not include composition in his curriculum, nor do students write out music literacy exercises on the board. Any writing is done as homework. As such, I don't see the students using the touch feature of the board any more than they used the traditional chalkboard.
4. The speakers on the display are powerful and clear, which is great for classrooms that don't have sound systems. My CT, however, already has a high-quality stereo system installed in the room, so I don't anticipate using this feature either.
As the demos were not especially helpful, I spent about 20 minutes talking with consultants about specific questions. They showed me a few tips to streamline navigation between apps, and helped me fix some whiteboard issues I was running into. Only one consultant had ever trained a music classroom, and she was limited in the amount of context she had for everyday use of the board. One idea she did suggest was to display the conductor's score on the board during rehearsals via forScore. I actually loved this idea with one caveat. My CT and I have the score on our iPads during the rehearsal and I think we'd continue to use that display (i.e., in front of us) as our guide. Meaning, I don't see us following along using the score on the board rather than our iPad. But having the big score displayed behind us might help students keep their place, improve their ability to hear other parts (by seeing them), and ensure that everyone knew where we were starting each time we ran a section. I think with some practice, my CT and I could probably integrate the score display into the process. We would, however, have to spend a bit of time teaching the students how to read a full score, since none of them are used to this (to my knowledge).
Overall, many of the features offered by Promethean aren't going to significantly impact the daily routine in this classroom. Currently we are only using two features - the timer and the generic display. The timer is helpful for students as they enter the room, seat themselves, and get organized. The display is larger and clearer than the chalkboard, so the agenda and homework are more easily read in my opinion. That said, for a $6000 per-board investment, I'm not sure an effective cost-benefit analysis was conducted for the variety of classrooms in which the boards would be used. I suspect other subjects may be using the tactile interface much more than we are in music; however, I wish the teachers would have been surveyed more prior to implementation. I also wish the administration carved out time for the departments to discuss and collaborate on ways to use the boards more effectively. Perhaps we might discover additional uses for the board if we had the time and space to discuss it with the other music teachers.