Revisiting and Innovating on Playing With Sound With Year 3

This term I am returning to Playing with Sound with Year 3. We were intending this to be developed in term one, and indeed we did some small group work using Garageband and the Mac, but whole class work was halted when we discovered many of our headphone sets were broken. Unfortunately previous budget spends meant we were unable to replace these and so plans had to be altered.

Instead of playing with sound in terms of composing we instead used sound in another way, and I opted to do this through multimedia authoring, exploring how we could find, download and attach or embed sound files to simple texts. As it turned out this had greater benefits during this, the first term, in raising student skill levels, not only in using the internet as a resource, as they learned how to download and save images and files, and navigate pages, but also in supporting the establishment of Online Classroom routines, and the "Cascade Saving" model I wanted to establish for students working together. For many of them logging on and navigating the local network was still a problem. The students were also expected to do something at this stage they all found problematic, engaging with the idea that when we come to the ICT suite we are here to extend classroom learning activities.
From what I have said in my blog so far, it is easy to assume, that this has always been the case, and that embedding ICT sessions in the day to day work of the students was a common approach. However this year has seen a radical shift in philosophy and approach to the idea of teaching and learning with ICT, rather than teaching ICT in isolation. Historically ICT has been more or less a bolt on to the curriculum provided. Once a week the students would go to the suite to be taught ICT skills through the allocated QCA or locally constructed Schemes of Work unit, often regardless of relevance to what was happening in class. This year however I have been engaged in a crusade to shift this viewpoint, and to contextualise what we are learning about ICT in the Online classroom within the wider classroom curriculum. Developing a foundation that sees students and teachers utilising this hour long space to prepare them to use and apply tools worked with during intersession tasks in ICT area activity within the clasroom, or to see classroom based activities as a preparation for extended use of the suite space to develop ICT based outcomes. This has not always been smooth sailing, and amid all the excitement around the progress students have made as ICT users, there is still some frustration regarding ownership of the ICT tasks students engage with. But this is another story.

Returning to playing with sound, the sequence of activities we eventually developed enabled us to begin establishing how we could reuse Internet based materials to support simple text development. In Music the children were talking about instruments from the orchestra and using the Dallas Symphony Orchestra's Music Room as a starting point, we explored together instrument families, downloaded shared collections of images, and soundfiles. We listened to samples together at the IWB (not the ideal solution, but the only one available at the time), and in pairs developed slides in Textease Presenter about some of the instruments we had discussed. The students learned how to insert images we had downloaded together, and to link soundfiles to their slides. They compiled simple texts about their instruments drawing on what we had read about them, revising and reviewing during shared times, and in the final week shared these shows with each other in the suite, and with their teachers in class.

As the above unit evolved, small groups and our LSA worked with Garageband on the Mac, to compose 30 second music samples with the students. The children thoroughly enjoyed this, as they were using loops, and composing what they saw as "real" music. I love Garageband, and have spent many hours "playing" with the software myself, to create "tunes." Within the interface, at the bottom of the screen you are provided with a bank/collection of sample loops, played on a variety of "real" instruments, some everyday, and some from the world of folk and roots, and sorted and grouped according to musical genre as well as instrument family. In the main window, are the tracks, into which the loops and samples can be dragged, when composing. There are indicators as to what key each loop is played in, to help make decisions when mixing. The potential for mathematical work is embedded within the timeline which runs across the track window, setting the time challenge meant children needed to consider when they would introduce the fade out in their track, and whether they would have a fade in. Being able to drag loops about meant thinking about what position in the track each loop would fit for the effect they were trying to create. The visual representation of the track, began to enable the students to see their sound file outcome as a layered image and to identify how the music tracks they listen to everyday, are composed as a texture of sounds. Completed tracks were exported to iTunes and then converetd to MP3 to be played on the computer, and compiled into a class CD, they could play on the CD player. Their LSA was also excited by what he had produced while exploring the software before using it with the students. The students enjoyed playing their CD in class during Golden Time, identifying the tunes they had composed, though I guess after a while the experience became less enjoyable for the adults around them, through repeated exposure. The tracks they produced were also provided for our Year 2 students to choose from for backing tracks to their BeeBot Boogy Videos, making the Year 3s composers for a real audience.
Web 2.0 has introduced a new way of "playing with sound," and this term I am intending to revisit aspects of this unit, as the children make podcasts with Podium about their class based topic work. We will again be taking a multimedia approach, using photographs and images as starting points and scaffolds for language development. We will use 2create a story, as a tool to develop material for web publication collected on school visits, but also to develop visual scripts for their podcasts, before working again in small groups to rehearse and share their news stories or documentaries for publication. I also want the students to use this material in their class Blogs and think spaces.

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