Get Smart

I am fortunate to work in a school district with great community support. We have rarely, if ever, had trouble passing bond issues and everybody in the community is genuinely proud of the education we provide. The fruit of one of our more recent bonds is interactive white boards (IWBs) in every classroom.

I’ll admit it, I was pretty skeptical at first. Despite spending a lot of time doing research over the summer, finding good activities and resources for a secondary instrumental music class was difficult. There were vast amounts of activities geared toward the elementary classroom, but I had a hard time seeing how I could adapt those to a classroom with 60+ kids with instruments in their hands.

Two weeks in, I realize that I couldn’t have been more wrong. The IWB has become an integral part of our classes. Toward the end of the summer, I stumbled across the Sioux City Middle School music tech wiki, put together by Pat Toben. There’s a wealth of resources on there, including the always enjoyable iNudge and Incredibox. Those got used quite a bit during week one so that the kids could experience some music creation right away.

The IWBs also made me re-imagine some activities that I had been doing for awhile. In David Newell’s book Teaching Rhythm, he outlines a plan for using rhythm flash cards as part of comprehensive rhythmic literacy. We used rhythm flash cards last year with success, so for this year I put together a few random rhythm generators for the IWB. We’ve got one for duple meter, and one for triple. The rhythm generators are also constantly evolving, and will soon include an unusual meter generator as well as a compositional element for the students.

I also teach a jazz band that features a couple of bassists who are new to the genre. They are talented, but have never seen a walking bass line. Not a problem. Just open up Sibelius or GarageBand so they can see/hear the line.

There are also big plans for the future of the IWB in my classroom. Last year, I had the jazz band collectively compose a piece of music. This year, the project remains the same but the kids will be better able to see the piece develop. Rather than write things down by hand, we can plug lines into the Korg NanoKey and the students can see them pop up instantly on the screen. This will eventually allow us to take the collectively composed piece, and have the students go up to the board and experiment with creating harmonies just by clicking and dragging.

The key to making this all successful is ensuring that the technology available to us is enhancing the classroom rather than controlling it.

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