Wiki Project- Jazz Band

August 29, 2006

Last week was Count Basie’s birthday which sparked a conversation in my Advanced Jazz Band about the late Jazz musician’s life and contributions to Jazz. As a small project, we got out my class set of laptop computers (yes, you read that right!) and began to investigate the life of the Count.

When my students went to the Wikipedia, they were surprised to see that the entry for Count was not nearly detailed enough for such a legendary figure. We decided as a class that we would edit the Wikipedia entry to provide a more detailed account of his life.

What started out simply enough for the students (after all, how hard is it to google?) soon turned into a much bigger task when they realized that much of the information out there was on personal web pages or commercial sites and could not be considered authoritative. A great example is his middle name. There was disagreement among my students whether his name was William Allen Basie or William James Basie.  Believe it or not it took us 2 hours to find the answer!  We found LOTS of information supporting both versions, however as we looked at the source of the information, we found that we had to be very careful about what to accept as fact.   We decided that the middle name was James after finding the US census record for his death certificate.

We are going to use this project as a writing exercise for the class (at our school we are required to do writing in all subjects).  I am partnering with my academy English teacher to come up with a rubric for scoring the entry.  Projects like this are exactly what we need to be teaching our students to do with technology- collaborate and INVESTIGATE.  Since we are no longer the “gatekeepers of knowledge” it is incumbent upon us to empower students to make critical decisions when faced with overwhelming information.


Technology and classroom management

August 18, 2006

I am working with a colleague on integrating technology into his teaching. He is a seasoned band director who has been teaching for longer than I have been alive! He is very interested in the emerging technology side of our profession, and I of course am encouraging it.

As I am watching him teach his lesson (I’m blogging this as he is doing his lesson) he is experiencing resistance from the class that I don’t normally get. Here is the problem in a nutshell: He is using a laptop to project the lesson on a screen and having the students use wireless laptops to follow along. While this seems to be a logical way to implement the lesson, you must consider how our student’s brains are now wired. One of the students called me over and whispered “why did he give us laptops if he is going to project it on the screen?”. A valid point! We must remember that the single most important factor in a successful technology lesson is scaffolding.

We must allow the students to be able to move at their own pace. Trying to keep everyone on a laptop “right with you” as you are presenting is counterproductive. The students who “get it” need to move on so as not to get frustrated. The students that need extra time should be allowed to review at their own pace.

Therefore, a technology lesson in the bandroom looks very different from a traditional lesson or rehearsal. To the untrained eye, it will look like the students are playing on the computer- seemingly going in every direction at once. By putting them in cooperative groups (Kagan) and allowing them to collaborate, they will be able to learn the material all by themselves, and our role becomes more of a “guide”.

We are inviting classroom management problems when we try to keep everyone at the same pace using computers! I urge you all to really think about what the lesson will look like and to partner with a technology person as you plan. Another suggestion would be to videotape the lesson and review. The seasoned teacher will immediately see the problem.

I’m about 30 minutes away from debriefing my colleague and I am nervous. He is many times my senior and has had a brilliant career already as a band director. I will choose my words very carefully and respectfully.

itunes and bridging the jazz gap

August 13, 2006

Let’s face it- most of our students are not jazz afficianados.  Case in point, my second jazz band (I have two in my program) consisting of 4 saxes, 2 trombones, 2 trumpets, 4 guitarists, 3 bass players, and 3 drummers (Memo to guidance…I can’t accomodate all of the garage band wannabes in my Jazz program!).  Even though I am thrilled to have such an interest in the jazz rhythm section, it should not come as a shock that none of them can read music.  Further, most of them play by ear.  But ALL of them are in a band outside of school, and according to all accounts are going to be the next great rock star.

I took the first class meeting to liken learning jazz to learning a foreign language.  I began by opening the itunes music store and asking them what they listened to.  I got quite a diverse sampling of today’s styles, along with a smattering of classic rock.  All of the music was the typical “electric band” guitars, bass, drums, keyboard.  There was one kid who listened to ska style- I actually liked that style and added it to my music list- that came closest to the style I was looking for.

Then I played some Freddie Green style for them.  I told them that this was the language I was going to speak.  If they didn’t understand this language, how could they be expected to learn the concepts associated with it?  We got into a great discussion on what makes great music (no matter what the style) and the importance of being well rounded- especially if you are going to make a living as a musician.

Because I was willing to listen to their language, they were willing to listen to my language.  Itunes was a great way to bridge the gap and build some common ground.  It was great to hear the more advanced students drawing similarities between jazz and what they listened to!

My itunes setup was a Mac powerbook running itunes with a wireless connection to an airport express (which was hooked up to the stereo.  I then used the itunes preview feature by typing in the names of the bands they called out and did a search.  It was great fun to see their faces when they realized that they weren’t the only ones who knew how to do that.  Granted, itunes is not a master’s level technology skill, but the students appreciate technology on any level.

Do we assume too much?

August 7, 2006

Today was the first day of School at North Port High School, a small city of about 50,000 mostly middle class people on Florida’s west coast.  I had prepared a powerpoint with my opening day information and procedures as I had done in the past, but this time included a link to the website, blog, and podcast pages that I had set up for my class.

When I asked my students who had a blog or had heard of blogging, I was stunned to see only about 10% of the hands go up.  It was only about 5% for podcasts.  I think that the “digital divide” may be bigger at my school than I had previously thought.

Perhaps we are too quick to assume that students know everything about computers.  Granted, there are some students with impressive skills, but how many of them actually use the computer for anything other than email and myspace?  By the way, fully 70% of my students had a myspace account.  I told them that was basically a blog.  Blank stares.

ActivBoard in the Bandroom

August 2, 2006

I am taking part in a high school reform initiative called “NeXt Generation Learning” that is being implemented in our county.  As part of this initiative, we are given technology to implement in our classrooms.  If you have been reading my blog, you know that I am a big proponent of integrating more technology in the music curriculum.

One of the tools that I was given is called an ActivBoard, an interactive whiteboard from Promethean Technologies.  After playing with it for several days and taking some professional development courses over the summer (all NeXt Gen teachers are required to do three weeks of training over the Summer) I came up with the idea of using it to explain how to read a marching chart.

In the past, I would just hold up a chart and point to it and explain what everything means.  I’d also use the markerboard to render a badly drawn, cartoonish marching chart to detail what everything was.  Of course, there is nothing wrong with this, and I did get the information across, but I was not prepared for what adding technology could do for this mundane task.

First, I used the ActivBoard camera tool to capture a blank chart.  I was then able to use this as the background on my flipchart.  I could then add text as needed of course, and annotate sort of like a PowerPoint presentation, BUT I could also annotate OVER the background using the included pen.  Now, this is not a new concept, but what makes the ActivBoard different is the fact that you control your computer in real time while you are doing your presentation, and can change elements on the fly.

I was able to explain, very patiently, over and over (by using the “clear annotations” “windex” tool) so that I started with a clean, fresh background each time without erasing the background chart.  Once the explanation was over, I flipped over to a background of the ACTUAL FIRST AND SECOND PAGES of our drill, which I imported using the camera tool.  I was then able to mark that up and draw attention to the information that they just learned APPLIED TO THEIR ACTUAL DRILL (rigor and relevance!).

As an added treat, I inserted an action item that, when clicked, opened my Pyware 3D Java player and animated the drill right on the ActivBoard!  Of course, I could have annotated over it while it was in motion (think teleprompter and John Madden!) Needless to say, my students’ collective jaws hit the floor when it animated (WITH music by the way).

I spent a total of about 15 minutes coming up with the flipchart, mostly because I’m still learning all of the features, but what I got was an interactive tool that I could absolutely WOW my students with.  I got a standing ovation when I finished my presentation.  When was the last time YOU got a standing ovation after explaning your drill?

Well, that’s all for now- I’ve got to finish my sandwich here at Panera Bread (taking advantage of free wireless).  As always, I welcome your questions and comments.