Hello everyone out there! I’ve put together a cover of Jacob Collier’s ‘Make Me Cry’ from self-isolation in my room. It’s been years since I did one of these simultaneous multitrack arrangements & I had a lot of fun with this one. It’s incredible how making music is a way to be alone but not feel lonesome. Enjoy!
I hope everybody is navigating the COVID-19 pandemic with grace.
Today in EdTech, I had an opportunity to use an iPad Pro to interact with Google’s free educational coding platform Grasshopper.
Dr. Paskevicius informed our class of a really useful resource for educators interested in tech integration: Common Sense Education (CSE). On this site, teachers and educators review apps, indicating its usefulness, privacy level, and specific skills that it focuses on. Unfortunately, Grasshopper has a very bare entry on CSE. However, I’m happy to know about this resource for quickly evaluating the usefulness of a digital tool and getting the perspectives of other educators.
I really appreciated the presentation by Kelly, Acacia and Mark on Data Safety in EdTech last week. I thought the re-framing from ‘Privacy’ to ‘Safety’ was an intelligent choice as it is more of a call-to-action and implies a benefit to implementation. Although I am very busy with end-of-term obligations, I expect that I will take time over December to self-evaluate my engagement with the internet. I think, as I transition to a new phase of my professional life, it is time for a Data Safety Audit. From a practical standpoint, I have a few key objectives:
1. Watch The Great Hack, as the group suggested. I feel like it may provide a good wake-up call and frame a complex topic in an approachable way.
2. Finally implement a password manager. In countless exchanges with friends and peers interested in security, this has come up. Ideally, I could find one that is cloud-based and cross-platform so I could use it on the wide array of devices I will access day-to-day.
3. Continue to curate my online presence. Beginning with Jesse Miller’s talk, I already started to look into my ‘Google’ presence online. This led to me more closely controlling some of the video content I had on my personal YouTube channel. I believe I can take this a few steps forward, perhaps with a Facebook pseudonym and a closer look at other platforms.
4. Look for media and tutorials that specifically address Data Safety. This could include documentation from concerned organizations, YouTube videos and consultation with my eldest brother, who is quite tech-literate.
Anyways, I am very grateful to the group for raising these ideas. Their presentation was thoughtful, thorough and has motivated me to consider how data safety applies in my life.
During some late-night YouTube watching, I was introduced to the incredible scientific legacy of John B. Goodenough. His work has earned him an incredible array of awards (see his Wikipedia page), including the 2019 Nobel Prize for his work in inventing the ubiquitous lithium-ion rechargeable battery. It appears that, at 97, this pioneering chemist continues to push the bounds of his discipline! I encourage anyone with an interest in STEM to enjoy this video. It’s both informative and good for a laugh.
I am pretty blown away with Dr. Goodenough & plan to reserve a place of honour for a framed image of him in my future science classroom.
Dr. John B. Goodenough
At present, I am designing a unit on Electromagnetism for my Sciences methodology class. This has involved me getting re-acquainted with battery technologies. Prior to this video, I did not know that solid state batteries (SSB) with a solid electrolyte even existed! The implications and potential for world-changing technologies is very exciting. While I could go either way on longer-lasting cell phone & laptop batteries, I am particularly intrigued by this technology for its ability to complement emerging renewable energy technology by enhancing battery storage systems. Breakthroughs like a SSB are needed more than ever as we face the environmental dangers of this uncertain century.
During our EdTech presentations, my fellow teacher candidates Erin, Izzy & Jordan shared Chrome Music Lab. This is a free suite of tools that enhance the accessibility of music through hands-on experiments. I’ve taken some time to look through it & identify a few very interesting applications.
A basic sequence prepared in the Song Maker app.
Composition: students can experiment with writing their own melodies using the highly-visual Song Maker, Melody Maker & Rhythm applications. I see a lot of potential for using this to practice question-answer (statement-antecedent) writing.
Harmonics/Physics of Sound: the Spectrogram, Sound Waves and Harmonics applications are useful visual demonstrations that can help clarify abstract concepts like timbre, the harmonic series and overtones.
Oscillators: a very basic introduction to synthesis, demonstrating the characteristics of different oscillator types (‘sawtooth’, ‘square’, etc.). Considering the ascent in popularity of electronic music and analogue/digital synthesis with youth, this represents a good opportunity for early exposure.
This Saturday, I already started loading up the Chrome Music Lab for some students awaiting their lessons. I think the suite offers an accessible and intuitive access point for a number of neat music topics.
One of the new challenges that has arisen with group lessons is scheduling. In my traditional 1:1 piano teaching practice, managing student attendance is fairly simple: students have a set time each & every week. Should they need to miss a lesson, we could organize a make-up if sufficient notice is provided. This makes for a simple, predictable and concrete schedule.
However, group lessons complicate this. With my current cohort of group students, I have found that attendance is not as stable as with my 1:1 students. For instance, it is more often the case that students opt to miss a lesson or to change a lesson time last-minute. This may have something to do with a sense of diffused responsibility in a group-learning format. Without the 1:1 contact, students may seem themselves as less integral to the learning environment, resulting in a lowered level of commitment.
I actually do not mind this. I believe that people who are learning music should have ultimate control over the extent to which they engage and am always a proponent of balance in my students lives. Piano should enhance, not diminish, a student’s life. There have been times in my own life (now included) when I simply could not find time to practice as much as I wished. I support students taking time to address their needs as whole people. In order to be consistent with a mindset that values student autonomy, but also continue to encourage a healthy and thriving community in my group lessons, I believe I need to begin exploring alternative scheduling options.
The main idea that has come into my mind is the concept of leaving lesson sign-up to students themselves. I could perhaps use Google Docs/Calendar or a dedicated website to post a real-time schedule of student appointments and vacancies. If a student must miss a lesson and gives me 5-days notice, I can vacate their time slot. This would allow other students to access the schedule and claim the spot. There are three clear benefits to this in my mind: 1) it will help ensure more students are present at each group lesson, 2) it creates a mechanism through which casual students can opt-in on a lesson from time to time as convenient, and 3) it reduces the amount of time I spend managing the schedule. This system appears to be in use (see screenshot below) by the teacher on the Grow Your Music Studio blog.
Google Calendar Music Schedule, Grow Your Music Studio blog
With the new year around the corner, I will likely take some time in December to explore this with the director of my studio. Now that I am feeling more and more comfortable with the rhythm and pedagogy of the format, it is time to improve some of the ‘under-the-hood’ features.
On Tuesday, November 5th, we were fortunate to have a group from Colquitz Middle School come and share their perspectives on Minecraft. The learners were hilarious, self-actualized and engaged, which piqued my interest about the potential educational value of this ubiquitous sandbox game.
My first Minecraft creation.
Shortly after our workshop, an opportunity to integrate Minecraft into my own lesson planning revealed itself. I am currently writing a mini, 5-lesson unit for my Social Studies methodologies class on intentional community and utopia. Here is an excerpt from the project outline:
As a class, you will spend the next three classes collaboratively designing a utopian community.
Imagine that you have been given five acres of pristine land in Victoria, BC upon which to build a community where you will live with a community of others. Every student will belong to a sub-committee that is responsible for designing the systems and policies that relate to their domain. Although each sub-committee has a special mandate, it is important to consider the function of the community as a whole.
One of the sub-committees in the unit is tasked with Home Design and has a mandate to develop the physical space, including interior structures and exterior land-use, to meet the utopia’s needs. An immediate thought of mine was to encourage this group to use Minecraft’s creative mode to do this. They could consult with members from the other sub-committees (e.g. Food Production & Consumption) to determine the community’s needs and then realize these using Minecraft. Other students could explore the utopia virtually, experiencing a highly-immersive avenue into their peers’ work.
From a logistical perspective, I would need to find a way to host the server or find an external host which would meet the students’ needs. Were I to proceed with this, I would definitely take time to reach out to other educators like the educator from Colquitz for suggestions.
We recently had a presentation from PhD candidate Hector Vazquez on multiliteracy and music. In addition to finding the workshop to be engaging, I appreciated his assertion that music is much more than a mode of performance. He discussed its ability to scaffold religious rites, unite culture and fundamentally shape our humanity and identity. Although my teachable subjects are biology and history, I have a huge interest in embedding music into my practice. Which brings me to the subject of this blog post: sonic study aids.
I have been using music as a study aid for most of my life. As a high school student I listened to the contemporary piano album Divenire by Ludovico Einaudi countless times while studying, reading and working. Nowadays, I listen more often to instrumental beats and lo-fi hip-hop.
Divenire by Ludovico Einaudi
Lo-Fi Hip-Hop Radio on Youtube
I find that playing non-intrusive instrumental music can act as a motivator and augment my attention span. Entraining to a rhythmic pulse helps me to remain in a focussed state and significantly enhances my productivity. This insight is not new. Hall (1952) found that exposure to background music in study hall resulted in a significant improvement in subsequent test performance in secondary school students. Kang and Williamson (2014) found that accompanying second-language learning with medium tempo, ‘easy-listening’ music enhanced students’ ability in recall, translation and pronunciation tasks.
Of course, other studies (Jäncke & Sandmann,2010) have found no evidence for music as a beneficial study aid. I acknowledge that, for some, music is too distracting. For these individuals, I would suggest trying a different type of sonic study aid. The website A Soft Murmur allows an individual to produce a complex palette of environmental noise. Samples include Rain, Thunder, Waves, Wind, Fire, Birdsong, Crickets and Coffee Shop, all of which can be adjusted in volume to produce the desired mixture. I have found ~20% rain + ~10% waves + ~30% fire to be an incredibly relaxing blend.
I am interested in the idea of playing music in my classroom. With the consent of students, I would like to see the extent to which non-intrusive music played during labs, group work or silent work time could enhance motivation. If this is unacceptable to students en masse, I would still like to encourage students to experiment with this potential learning tool. One of my observations from Belmont is that the youth are incredibly music-oriented. I am delighted to see this. I believe it can be an incredible tool for expressing self, relating to others and maintaining health. I am glad to see the ubiquity of music with today’s youth and the extent to which they engage as listeners and creators.
Hall, J. C. (1952). The effect of background music on the reading comprehension of 278 eighth and ninth grade students. The Journal of Educational Research, 45(6), 451-458.
Jäncke, L., & Sandmann, P. (2010). Music listening while you learn: No influence of background music on verbal learning. Behavioral and Brain Functions, 6(1), 3. https://doi.org/10.1186/1744-9081-6-3
Kang, H. J., & Williamson, V. J. (2014). Background music can aid second language learning. Psychology of Music, 42(5), 728-747.
One of the first major challenges that students encounter when they first begin to learn piano is note recognition. Standard musical notation involves translating symbols on the musical staves into letters which correspond to physical keys on the piano. This integrates many skills simultaneously and can be slow-going for new learners. Many of you who took lessons in the past probably remembers using acrostics to remember note names like “Every good boy deserves fudge.” (or my new, modern take “Every girl band deserves funding.”). Note recognition is traditionally scaffolded with memory aids and polished through completing pencil & paper exercises like this:
Traditional note recognition exercise (https://notebusters.net/note-reading-sample-content/)
However, I have recently been experimenting with a new way to help students develop fluency with note recognition: game-ification. Specifically, I have been integrating an iPad app, Staff Wars, into my group and individual lessons. This program challenges students to blast notes with lasers from an X-wing by naming each note as it scrolls from right to left. I like it because it has an element of urgency. When sight-reading music, it is not uncommon to feel stress as you read ahead through a passage, anticipating notes and chords to come. The game is designed in such a way that you experience a similar crunch, which I believe enhances its applicability and validity to real piano play. With Staff Wars, you capture a feeling that cannot be emulated in a pencil & paper exercise. The goal is that students develop an automaticity with naming in which they intuitively ‘know’ a note’s identity without having to use acrostics or memory aids. So far, I’ve been seeing good results in students who have been incorporating this app into their practice regime.
Screen capture from Staff Wars on iPad
I will say that Staff Wars is not perfect. There are a few features that I wish would be integrated. First, the app only allows you to enter responses using the note names (“A”, “D”, etc.). I wish that students could also enter their responses using a diagram of a keyboard, to further reinforce the connection between the staff and a physical position on a keyboard. Also, this app is excellent for training single-note recognition. However, a trouble area for many pianists (myself included) comes with reading clusters of notes in chords. I would love to see a setting where students name all the component notes in a chord as it scrolls from right to left. Still, for $0.99, it is a worthwhile investment for any piano teacher or new learner.
Perhaps my favourite age-group to teach piano is adults. Currently, my group lessons are completely composed of adult learners and it’s made for a really wonderful learning environment. While mature learners don’t typically pick up the muscle memory or sight-reading with the ease of younger students, they almost always demonstrate a greater appreciation for the music itself. Having spent an entire life being moved by music and accruing meaningful associations between songs and moments, adults tend to be more adept at infusing thought and expression into their play.
One thing I often tell my adult students to motivate them is that I, myself, am an adult learner. I always tell them that it’s never too late to learn. In terms of piano players and teachers, I started unusually late in life. After being rejected for an a cappella group in second-year university because I couldn’t read music, I decided to formally commit. I took my first lesson at the age of 19, on October 28th, 2009. This means that today is the tenth anniversary of the day I began my journey in piano. Since then, not a day has passed where I have not felt immense gratitude for music. It is both a brilliant art & a shrewd science and I can’t help but feel that each hour of practice is another stone in a personal cathedral that I am constructing in my mind. Furthermore, I feel so honoured to be able to teach others and guide them along the path that has made my life so much more full.
Thank you so much to all my teachers, collaborators, friends, students, band-mates, jam-partners and every brother & sister who has joined me in song.