First, I have to again thank Deborah Blair and Oakland University Music Theatre and Dance department for letting us borrow ten of their iPads for the year. They have provided my students with many experiences that they would not have been able to have otherwise.
I’m a tech guy. I like to use tech in my personal and professional life, but I’m constantly reexamining the tech I’m using to make sure it’s really making my life and student outcomes better than analog alternatives. I expected to walk away from a year with ten iPads thinking “That was cool, but do we really need them?” I was wrong… My students need them. Our schools need them.
It’s their world; we’re just living in it
I recently read that about 70% of the jobs that we are setting our kids up for are jobs that take creativity to do; jobs that do not have a prescribed process of steps, which end in the same outcome each time. To me that gives me an obvious mandate as an educator. Create learning experiences that take creativity to complete. Assignments that are not prescribed steps, which end in the same outcome each time. I’m lucky enough to work in two buildings that belong to a district that understands what I do in my classroom. My students are lucky enough to have instruments to play. They have a room big enough to work in. We’re allowed to be LOUD. My students have been composing music and learning this way for my entire career, until now there has been a huge but. “My students have been composing and learning this way my entire career, BUT not the music that they were hearing in their head.” My students don’t go home and listen to music composed on Orff xylophones. They don’t go home and listen to music on a piano. They go home and listen to pop music. Music with synthesizers, and drum kits, and bass! To purchase all of these things for our classroom would cost tens of thousands of dollars, or we can emulate most of them in the iPad for $5 through GarageBand. They can make music that sounds very similar to what they hear in their head while being helped along by instruments that do a little bit of the work for them.
Through these projects I have been able to set insanely high goals for my students. The examples I show them look and sound professional. In fact, I have had some of the music I created in GarageBand featured in commercials (for very small companies). I say with no reservations, on a weekly basis my students come up with things that are WAY cooler than anything I’ve come up with.
With these high goals comes struggle. The standard in my room is revision. I heard a group walk over to another group and say “Our piece isn’t working, can you listen?” Instead of saying “This is an epic fail” which is what I used to hear, they know that this failure is only their first step to success. Editing music recorded digitally is like editing an essay written in pencil. You can erase just a piece of it. Before this, everything we recorded was in pen. One little mistake meant a crumpled composition in the garbage, or an ugly little scribble on the paper. I wish I understood grit the way my third graders do when I was in college. When I struggled with things my setbacks were huge and they didn’t need to be.
Before the iPads I was always stressed out about differentiating projects to meet the needs of every student. I was worried about finding projects that all of my students could learn from but didn’t set limits that were easily attained for some. Now every student in my room tailors the project to fit their needs as learners. They may need more or less support than the group next to them, but they know where to find the support they need in the iPad. The less they let the iPad do the more they have control over their music so they are always striving to take the next step. Sometimes they choose to use the iPad, and sometimes it doesn’t fit their needs so they use acoustic instruments. They have learned that technology is a tool and you need to choose the right tool for the job. I’d say that students choose to use iPads a little better than half of the time. They understand that it’s not always the best tool for what they need and it’s not a “magic box” that does all the work for you.
We often use the desktop version of GarageBand as well. This would be the equivalent of twenty-something students crowded around a board writing an essay together. It’s a great way to model how to do something. Before the iPads that was often our last step. Now students break in to groups and have much more autonomy over the things they create. In my dream world every student would have their own device but 1:1 is a dream for us right now. 3:1 works pretty well.
Thanks again to Deborah Blair for teaching me how important having this technology in the classroom every day is. When iPads are in a cart they never lose the “cool new toy” feeling. When that goes away and students learn that technology is a tool for the learning, that’s when the magic happens. It’s about time we catch up to the world around us. After all it’s our student’s world; we’re just living in it.