Monday, January 14, 2013

The Project-Based Middle School Music Class (Part 1)

Educational Leadership (ASCD) publiched an article called '7 Essentials for Project-Based Learning'. The 7 Essentials, abbreviated, are:

1-A Need to Know
2-A Driving Question
3-Student Voice and Student Choice
4-21st Century Skills
5-Inquiry and Innovation
6-Feedback and Revision
7-A Publicly Presented Product

I am lucky to teach in a music technology lab at our middle school complete with 22 MIDI stations with HP Computers, 17" Flat Screen Monitors and Yamaha PSR keyboards. I teach 3 middle school grade levels-6th,7th and 8th grade. 6th graders learn music fundamentals using Music Ace software with reinforcement via games, quizzes and direct application of musical skills learned. The 7th and 8th grade classes are entirely project-based classes.

I will focus on the 8th grade curriculum by connecting what students do there to the 7 Essentials above, hopefully providing a useful example of how music classes can become Project-oriented.

I am completely convinced that project-based learning (and service-learning) are 'the way to go' to ensure student connection, motivation and engagement with learning. I believe when students are 'content creators' and they are given the responsibility (the respect!) to solve problems and questions creatively, they jump at the chance. Conversely, even the most motivated of students will shut down given a lack of something productive to DO. Doing is the key. Humans are born wanting to 'do'.

I decided a few years ago to jettison the 8th grade curriculum entirely and to start from scratch. I wanted something relevant and engaging for students to experience in class. We also had the technology on our side. I started investigating loop-based music composition and realized this is a perfect fit for the 'i-pod' generation. Since we're PC-based and were limited financially, I chose Sony Acid Music Studio as the software that would drive the 8th grade curriculum. All students take music every year for 10 weeks. So, even at a few thousand dollars for a lab-pack the cost per student (cps) was actually quite low the first year (something like $10 per student). Now that we're in year 3 the actually cps is less than $3 per student. (These are numbers that speak to administrators and school boards. Whenever possible, present your new programs in terms of cost per student.)

On day one, students are introduced to different loops (.wav recordings of actual instruments). This piques their curiosity (especially the dance beats and electric guitar loops that sound familiar to them). From there students ultimately begin by 'playing' with loops- finding them, listening to them and creating tracks for them. In due time, I teach them about balance, blend, panning, form, verse, chorus, effective endings......

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