Coding Music? – Personal technology project

As part of this course this semester each student will be undertaking a personal digital project, exploring something in music technology that they are interested in.

During my first week on my prac I met with a member of the Education IT Pedagogy team (I’ve never heard of a school having a team like this, so I consider myself very lucky) and we had a chat about Girls Who Code. Having only recently learnt about this company started by Reshma Saujani (who I have have talked about in a previous blog post) I was excited to chat to someone who is actually involved in this. The conversation turned to music tech, and a program called EarSketch that this staff member had always wanted to use, but felt she didn’t have the music skills. I decided to explore this as a possibility for my tech project, promising that if I did it I would return and share my knowledge with her so she could incorporate it into her teaching.

Ear Sketch is a DAW that is controlled via coding (Python or JavaScript) and you follow a free course to learn how to use it. It is free and browser based. You can use a large library of loops, or create your own musical material to place in. I hope to be able to link this to my composition assignment and present my final piece created in this program.

For the presentation of learning I think a live demonstration would be very interesting, with me quickly building a small section of song in front of everyone.

 

 

Garage Band Resource

A quick resource made with Quicktime player screen capture (audio is unfortunately not very good as I couldn’t capture from the internal audio). I used this with my Year 8 Music class on practice and they found it very helpful. Will probably remake at a later date with Screenflow so that the sound is better quality.

Designing learning digitally – How much is too much?

This week was another one of those weeks that so much information hit me at once, so this is another long post.

The lecture was all about reflecting on how we can effectively design digital learning. What does that look like in the classroom today, as compared to 10 years ago? Is it possible to have too much innovation? Is anything worse than death by powerpoint?

 

 

First we covered the basics, how should we lay things out, where do our eyes go to on the screen? We covered using a mix of media forms – pictures, videos, words and audio.

We also discussed what to me felt like the biggest problem. Our brains can’t actually multitask, even if we identify as female. So we can’t listen and read at the same time. We definitely can’t listen and write notes at the same time. So we need to make sure our resources, and any verbal teaching we are doing along with these resources complete the picture. Rehashing the same information in 5 different ways at once is boring and bombarding the student with 5 different things at once is also a surefire way to make them switch off. That makes sense to me. But what about the idea of having a few different approaches to learning covered in the one lesson? If you have a beautiful powerpoint up and you as the teacher are cleverly filling in the gaps with your succinct verbal explanations, have you catered for the child that needs to verbally process to learn? Or the child that needs to touch and interact with things to learn? Or you say “don’t worry kids, no need to write this lesson” but that one child really needs to write things down otherwise they just don’t stick? Or that same child really struggles with screen learning and would much rather have a pen and paper? (Maybe that child doesn’t exist anymore, maybe that’s just me?)

What is clear is that designing digital learning and effectively reaching every member of your class is about clever and involved planning, and then being flexible. With a good mix of self-aware students who can identify their best learning practices thrown in.

But moving off that first section of the lecture (I told you it was a bit of an info overload) and moving onto the fun, hands on section of the lecture. These are the bits of these seminars that I really enjoy, I get to play with new things and have experts and tech wizzes right there to help me if I get stuck.

We looked at a further range of DAWs and how most of their designs and set ups and similar – and how the similar design is appropriating the idea of ‘intuitive’ tech. The class separated up and had a play with the new software and gave a short demonstration at the end of class, including how fun, easy to use and intuitive they found it.

The software we looked at briefly that I know and have seen or used (to different extents) was Garageband, Logic, ProTools and Ableton Live. All of those need to be downloaded and none are free – except Garageband but I don’t count that as it’s a Mac only program.

Things I hadn’t used before and that were all browser based, so able to be used on any computer or device the student owns included…

SoundTrap – Elyse and I made this obviously genius mini song which you can listen to here. It is browser based and really simple to use. And pretty! You can customize the colours.

Soundation – which was similar to the standard DAW design but had a slightly different layout. You don’t have to sign up to use this one and it is browser based.

 

Audiotool – This one is a little different so our resident tech genius explored this one. (He is a 2nd year student who is taking this class early and also happens to be my personal friend who helps me with tech issues at least once a week – see picture to the left) This one is a pretty different set up, it is made to look like a DJ station and can be a little hard to work out. I could it being really helpful aspiring but poor DJs.

 

 

All in all a great and thought provoking lecture. It was also great to hear about the tech that had been designed especially for use in disadvantaged areas, and to hear about the strides being made in Googles working offline/cache programmes. As I learn about all of this, and as I know I’m going into a prac school that has everything I could want and more in terms of technology it is important to me to keep reflecting on accessibility, intention and what is truly effective. I think that you have to be incredibly creative to get digital learning to really be effective, but it is also important to realise that the flashiest programmes and apps are not always going to be the best tool for your classroom.

Resources of the Future – What do they look like?

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This week the lecture was a crash course in a few different forms of digital resources.

So what is a digital resource? It can be anything used in the classroom or for learning that is in a digital format. To me a digital resource is a way to have greater control over the baby steps happening in the classroom. It also can extend (buzz word: differentiate) higher level students in a way that doesn’t use up all your time in the actual class, in a handy dandy “here is something I prepared earlier” item.  Just be prepared that these types of resources can be time consuming, particularly when you are fiddling around with an unfamiliar software/format. However the format isn’t so important when it comes to the impact, but the content is. Just because a resource is digital doesn’t automatically make it engaging or effective.

James’ Elements of Digital Resources

  • Text
  • Graphics
  • Audio
  • Video

AND MOST IMPORTANTLY

  • Interactivity

One of the ultimate digital resource formats, which sadly is only accessible on Mac (story of my life) is iBooks. This format allows a great level of control and customisation to include all the elements. However other formats are out there. Powerpoint when used to it’s full potential can be very slick, with the added bonus of being a great programme for creating student templates. Blog sites or websites if you are clever at coding are also a good alternative, and have the added bonus of being browser based so accessible everywhere on any computer/device. (Note: some websites can be mobile device hostile, this definitely needs to be taken into account)

However I don’t believe that all digital resources have to be a complete package with all the elements covering entire projects and unit. So here is a list of a few other formats we played around with that can be in a full digital resource kit or just bits and pieces to help a class along, teach one skill or introduce something new. It’s a no brainer that mixing up the teaching approach will keep most kids engaged.

  • Using DAWs and Sequencers to create templates or own loops on the devices available or in browser. Garageband, Acid and Logic to name a few.
  • Using pixabay.com to source royalty free high quality pictures for free. (Or try filtering your google image search by usage rights)
  • Screenflow for creating screen capture tutorials. Note: the free version will slap everything with a DEMO watermark.

So my big question is, what if a student doesn’t find it useful or actually has a better way to do what you wanted to teach? Although a digital resource isn’t a rehydrator oven quick fix, carefully constructed resources that are useable can be a real asset in the classroom. What works for one class may not also always work for another class, or indeed every student in that class, but having many options is always preferable to none. And be open to learning from other teachers and students and giving lots of things a go. There is no need to make the same instruments of the orchestra worksheets every year!

Lights, Camera, Cringe – How do we teach bravery?

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In last weeks skills class (focused on videoing and editing skills) I learnt a lot. In just one class we threw together a musical performance, set up all the cameras and mics and watched the tutor go through the editing process on screenflow (which unfortunately is a Mac only program). We were told the secret to making a video look professional is to have at least two differently framed shots, which when I thought about was a mostly true statement perhaps with the exception of the YouTube vlogging concept. However the experience of singing on camera and then having that first rough take edited on the big screen in front of the class taught me that I still am not immune to that “I wish the floor would swallow me up” cringey embarrassment.

I don’t often have the opportunity to watch myself in HD with excessive close ups (shout out to Flo for the extreme zooms). The fun I was having in class was marred a touch by how bad I felt I looked on camera. I know that no one in my class was laughing at me, rather with me. I was laughing too at my crazy facials. But I did feel really embarrassed seeing myself on screen. I also can’t really remember if I was pleased with how my voice sounded. My appearance was the first thing I focused on. And because it wasn’t perfect I learnt less because of it.

Then last night I found this Ted talk by Reshma Saujani the founder of Girls Who Code, and it made me think about this experience in relation to my teaching.

 

I have shared this video and experience because it has made me reflect upon the other important job I have a teacher, not just teaching music, but modelling how to be a “grown up”. I do believe that as a teacher I have a responsibility to be encouraging high self esteem.  This is particularly relevant to my life right now as I am going into a girls school for my prac placement this semester. I want my students to feel comfortable sharing their music with their peers, live and recorded. I don’t want them to have the same trigger reaction I did. Because that trigger reaction gets in the way of bravery. Making music, sharing music and exploring ways of doing that outside of your comfort zone takes bravery. For some students singing or playing in front of their peers is terrifying. For others composing is their percieved stumbling block. For me, and probably for many other girls, having to use technology and feeling like there is a risk of coming across as stupid for not knowing how it works is a big deal. I hope that I can encourage bravery over perfection in my class of young ladies this semester.

My favorite place to read interesting articles about inspiring women, empowering and teaching young girls and strategies for making the world a better more equal place is Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls Facebook Page and I would encourage everyone to check them out and follow them.

Notation Software- An abundance of choices

Sibelius. Noteflight. Notate Me. Notation. Flat.io. MuseScore….

The list seems to go on forever, some free, some expensive, some innovative and some not so innovative. But which one to use? My big revelation of this weeks skills lecture on notation software was MusicXML files. It turns out that if the software supports the MusicXML file it kind of doesn’t matter if your student can’t afford to have Sibelius on their home computer but uses it in the computer labs at school.

However I was excited about several features of Sibelius so I have looked into the benefits and costs of downloading the education version. It is surprisingly cheap, $299 upfront and around $8 a month to subscribe. Two features I learnt about that I think are pretty amazing is the ability to export videos of the scores and to put your own recorded sounds into the Sibelius file itself. I can see some potential for using these features in the ideas I am currently throwing around for my digital creative project.

For now I will continue to use MuseScore on my own computer and Sibelius on the uni computers and the mac laptop my prac school is lending me for my time that I am with them, using the universal file to transfer between the two programs.

DAWs – Figuring this stuff out

Over the next few weeks, in preparation for a big creative digital project, we are learning various skills on all things music tech. This week the focus was DAW or Digital Audio Workstations, like Garage Band, Logic and Audacity. Although the class was a great opportunity to ask questions and learn from the tutor and my course colleagues I did feel it wasn’t as relevant to the program I use the most, Ableton Live. I use this program not because I have strong feelings about the best DAW but because it is what I have been given access to through the uni. If I had a choice I probably prefer to be working on Garage Band or Logic, but I use a windows platform.

When is comes to working with music technology there is a lot of be said for the informal learning approach of jump in and play around, figure it out yourself. That is definitely what I did to use Ableton to produce the following video as an assessment last semester.

There are still issues with the sound quality and editing that I look back on and want to change, but to solve the issues I came across as I worked I turned to friends, the official Ableton website and the Ableton Subreddit , an online community that I am spend time on for other interest like makeup and theatre. I will continue to use these resources around me. As I discussed in the previous blog post, I don’t as the teacher need to know everything. I just need to encourage inquiry and exploration, so the opportunity to develop these skills from the beginner perspective is invaluable to my teaching ability both practically and philosophically. Hopefully I’ll be able to produce better cheesy pop covers in the future too.