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.
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.
As a teacher, I am always on the hunt for high-quality learning tools to share with my music students. Today, I’d like to write about the excellent, free website Teoria.com.
Teoria home page
Teoria is a platform for learning music theory & improving your ear. The website provides well-designed and thoughtful tutorials on concepts like reading scores, chord construction and harmonic analysis. These tutorials are accompanied by exercises which enable students to gain fluency with each concept. These exercises are highly-dynamic, allowing students to tweak the parameters of an activity to match their particular skill-level, goals and interests.
Though theory has a reputation for being stale and mathematical, I believe that all musicians should make efforts to develop their understanding of this domain. Theory lays bare the fact that music is both a shrewd science and a brilliant art. It elucidates the underlying structures of sound in a way that does not diminish, but rather, augments the art form’s beauty. The idea that music theory ‘limits’ your creativity is something I do not agree with. As the amazing musician Adam Neely reminds us, “Music theory is not prescriptive [i.e. a series of rules that must be followed]… but is a descriptive discipline which is one that describes or seeks to describe music on its own terms as it’s made in the real world, free of aesthetic or artistic judgment.” Theory is a tool for understanding musical phenomena, and, understanding these phenomena means we can emulate, utilize or modify them as we see fit during performance, composition or improvisation.
An example of a lesson
Now, theory aside, I believe that the greatest asset on Teoria is the ear-training exercises. Training your ear without a structured class or study buddy can be very difficult. It is hard to test yourself and rely solely on your ears when you are playing the instrument because you know precisely what notes are being played. Therefore, Teoria is an incredible tool for solo practice. The platform generates essentially endless ear-training exercises to aid you in becoming fluent with identifying intervals and chords as well as taking rhythmic and melodic dictation. The fact that it is browser-based makes it very easy to practice on-the-go or on a public or private computer. For students of mine who are serious about aural skill development, I cannot stress how useful this site is. As educational psychologists have noted, engaging in distributed practice (i.e. 5-10 minutes a day) can have remarkable benefits for learning. This is how I recommend using Teoria, for a few minutes a day while eating breakfast, waiting for the bus or taking a break from the hustle-bustle of life. I have been sharing this tool with students for years and will continue to do so, both in my 1:1 and group piano lessons.
Settings for 7th chord ear exercise
If you’re reading this & wish to try Teoria, please do so and let me know what you think in the comments!
On Friday, September 27 I attended a workshop at UVic’s Digital Scholarship Commons on 3D Printing. I have never done this before, but am aware that it is an ever-growing domain in manufacturing and design. I took it mainly to become more well-versed in how the technology works, how it may be integrated in my future science lessons and to expand my imagination for what is capable with this tool.
Fused deposition modelling schematic.
Briefly, we learned about Fused DepositionModelling in which minute layers of plastic are extruded and sliced to construct objects in 3D. The primary material is polylactic acid, a thermoplastic aliphatic polyester which is derived from renewable biomass (corn, sugar beet, etc.). This plastic is quite non-elastic and is prone to shatter and is therefore often reinforced during the printing process and with internal scaffolding called ‘infill’.
In the workshop, I designed two items. A 6-sided die and a keychain. The main platform we used was called TinkerCAD, a browser based computer-aided design program that allows you to easily construct objects and export them in a printable format. Having done some drafting in high school (thanks Mr. Hansen), I found the software to be very intuitive and easy to work with. In addition to this platform, we also accessed free 3D plans from Thingiverse, an online community for sharing schematics with others. The treble clef used in my keychain design posted below was taken from Thingiverse & modified with TinkerCAD.
My 3D Design in TinkerCAD
The final product
The workshop was fun, interesting and definitely got the wheels turning for potential applications in the classroom and at home. To give us a sense of scope, the workshop leader, Dani, told us about some incredible projects that involved using 3D printing including a group which developed a hyper-affordable, $200 3D-printed prosthetic hand for use in developing countries.
Finally, it did not go unnoticed to me that the workshop occurred on the same day as the Global Climate March. I felt a little bit conflicted attending it and felt compelled to investigate the environmental impacts of 3D printing. An article by Megan Nichols weighs the costs and benefits of 3D printing. According to her analysis, 3D printing consume 50-100 times more electricity than equivalent production methods. However, this impact can be offset by the notable benefits of using less material, producing items locally (thus reducing distribution emissions) and using recyclable thermoplastics in the future. I personally see the potential for 3D printing to reduce our environmental impact when used strategically to provide small-batch items when needed and limit unnecessary manufacture.
For any others interested in taking this 3D printing workshop, there are two other dates this fall (October 10th & 28th) and registration is available.
In order to get the ball rolling on our EdTech inquiry project, I met with Graham & Geoff via Google Hangouts on Sunday. It was very useful to have all the team members together, sharing thoughts and collaborating on a relatively latency-free platform. I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on some of the pros & cons of the platform after my first use.
free & browser-based: the fact that the platform is browser-based makes it much more convenient. Instead of having to worry about ensuring that everyone has a Skype client installed (and updated), it is very convenient to just use Firefox to access the service.
low latency: I didn’t find there was much lag or that we were talking over each other
potential to expand functionality: we were using the Google hangouts online app, although it appears that there is a browser extension as well. This may enhance its usefulness
no whiteboard or media space: as far as I could tell, there is no shared whiteboard or media space. For some reason, I expected there would be some sort of work area where we could sketch or place text or images that everyone could access
plugins: we had to delay our meeting by about 15 minutes in order to get everybody updated on plugins. As such, it wasn’t as seamless as it could have been
can’t replaceface-to-face: while it was convenient for us to be able to meet remotely, it was not quite the same as an in-person meeting. In terms of engagement and communication, I would place it somewhere between a 3-way call & an in-person meeting
Anyways, that’s just my $0.02 on Google Hangouts. Moving forward, I think I’ll try & use it a few more times. I’m curious about the G Suite and the various tools that exist for long-distance communication and conferencing. I have been thinking lately about a potential project in Socials or Science class where my class pairs up with a ‘sister class’ in a different country in order to collaborate on a project over vast space. Google Hangouts & other tools that are related may help, assuming the students and parents consent to its use.
This June, I was fortunate to be hired as the new piano instructor at the South Island Studio (SIS). The director of the studio, Lonny Koch, floated the idea during my interview that we could develop a Group Lesson program at SIS.
My initial reaction was confusion and a little bit of dread. Having always enjoyed 1:1 lessons with my teachers, the idea of a group piano lesson seemed to be a pedagogic and logistical mess. How could a teacher effectively instruct more than one student at a time? However, Lonny & I registered for a primer course by a piano instructor named Daniel Patterson which provided us with a basic model for group lessons. We worked through those materials & considered how we could modify the program to match my teaching style, experience and musical worldview. In the end, we developed a system for 3:1 lessons which I will describe in brief below.
In essence, the experience I am trying to address with the group lessons will be familiar to anyone who has taken 1:1 lessons with an expert: the experience of trying to realize a teacher’s suggestion as they watch. For instance, while I was taking lessons in jazz piano this summer, I found myself wishing I could enter into a private practice ‘bubble’ to work through a suggestion from my teacher. He might ask that I perform a passage in a certain way, or practice a lick in twelve keys. Having him watch over me created a sense of performance anxiety and doubt which clouded my thought and slowed my progress. This is what I am trying to address.
If you’re wondering about the format, refer to the diagram I’ve included below. Everyone has their own digital keyboard and is practising with headphones while I circulate to give feedback and guide your progress. Having a private sonic space to work in allows you to hone and develop your music at your own pace & without the anxiety of having a teacher hover over you. Furthermore, it builds self-sufficiency and sight-reading ability by encouraging you to develop your own inner-teacher. Throughout the lesson, we remove our headphones and come together to have discussions, learn new concepts and play aloud as an ensemble.
Schematic diagram of the proposed learning space.
Moving forward, I have four principle goals for the program:
1. To emphasize playing first and foremost. Teaching the hands more than the head, at least initially.
2. To create a supportive, social, fun environment in which to learn piano, collaborate and get excited about the instrument with other beginners.
3. To make it more accessible by charging a significantly lower hourly rate.
4. To build self-efficacy & teach students how to practice.
This section of my website, found under the Inquiry >> Group Piano Lessons Program tab, will document my experience of developing and implementing group piano lessons at SIS.