Sunday, April 28, 2013

Forget career planning - Do something big now

Update 5/22/2013: Here's a motivational song and lyric video for the classroom I created based on the idea in this blog post. It comes after a year of putting these thoughts into practice.

I was very excited this week to talk to our middle school Digital Media class. I don't regularly teach in that classroom, but I am considered to be a teacher in my district.  That means I end up as sort of a guest speaker in various classrooms K - 12 and I especially love it when I get to address this particular group.

I tell them why I think Digital Media is the best class we offer.

This year as I prepared my talk I realized how insane it is to talk to these kids, ages 11-14 about the career they'll have someday. When I taught high school math I would always talk about the world of work as a motivation for learning, but I’m done with that approach.  It wasn’t terribly effective five years ago when I taught math and it feels even less so now, especially as I see more apathy in grades 4 - 8.

Now I try to motivate them with what gets me excited.  I am pumped (honestly, I lost sleep over this) when I can tell them about the powerful tools that allow them to connect like never before so they can realize their dreams.

Never in the history of the world have we had tools that made it so easy to start on those dreams right away. It makes no sense to me to try to motivate students with the promise of a good job in 8 to 10 years when a tidal wave of fascinating entertainment will hit them seconds after we let them turn their phones back on.

So I gave my talk and I saw that glimmer of hope in some of their eyes. I told them about the books, movies, songs, games and other great gifts that I know are in their minds waiting to get free to the world. I believe it completely and I look forward to encouraging them more as I continue to work with their teacher.

I summed all this (and more) up this way in my presentation:

It has never been easier to start something big RIGHT NOW.  
And it has never been easier to just play.  
Choose wisely.

On the way to work that morning I saw the sunrise (we haven’t seen a lot of the sun recently here in Michigan) and I grabbed a picture.  I combined the two here:

But after the talk I got thinking, what exactly can they start?  Our culture bombards our kids with so much to do that some don't know how to begin anything original.  I made a list of goals they can start on not in weeks, months or years, but right now. I will use and develop the list as I continue working with learners of all ages.

First, the basic rules:

  • Start a blog.
  • Copy nothing.  You must make all elements from scratch.
  • If you succeed in a goal, blog about it and include pictures. 
  • If you fail, blog about it and include pictures. 

Some goals you can starting working toward right now:

  • Make something digital that your parents will be so proud of they’ll share it on Facebook.
  • Make a video and get X views in week on YouTube video.  Keep increasing X each time.
  • Whatever your teacher assigns, ask if you can do a different project.  If the teacher says no, do it anyway (along with the real assignment!).  Show the teacher your work.
  • Make a digital lesson for a younger sibling or family member.  Pick a topic he or she will study in the future so they will already know it when they get to it.
  • What type of entertainment do you usually turn to in your freetime?  Instead of sucking up someone else’s idea, start making your own. 
  • Make a gift for someone's birthday or a holiday on CafePress or some other site where you can create and order products. 
  • Pick your favorite charity or cause. Make something online and sell it.  Donate whatever you make to your charity or cause.  

I'm confident that seriously working toward any of these goals will help our students acquire at least as many career skills as our other efforts have.

What are some other great goals students can start on right away?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

How to Inspire Creativity and Teach Content - Music video projects in under 3 hours

I've been doing more music in school the past two months and I'm finding it very encouraging. Obviously many students have a passion for it. Several of them are talented in that area and technology is making it easier than ever to create music even without a lot of skill.

For almost a year I have been testing and tweaking a process of creating simple songs and music videos based on classroom content. (Here's the post where I compiled all my music resources.)  The videos below highlight my latest attempt to present the basic idea.

I created a song and recorded it in UJam in about an hour. I finished a couple short videos in one to two more hours of total work time.  That time wasn't all in one setting, but I'm confident that with some focus and solid deadlines a group of students could make an original song and video in around three class periods.

This first video explains the process and contains all examples. Here's the breakdown of the video:

  • Quick tips 0:38
  • Writing the lyrics  0:54
  • Recording the melody using GarageBand   1:21
  • **Using UJam to make the music 2:33 - UJam is amazing!  Definitely watch this part if nothing else.  
  • Recording the video with Video Star  4:53
  • Editing the video in VideoStudio  5:54
  • The example videos I created are at the end of the video, but also you can find them separately below.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Music Creation for the Classroom - Some compiled resources

So much of my blog has been about creativity games, but I realized this week music has shown up now and then.  It has always been a huge part of my personal life and recently I have seen how it can motivate students in school.

When it comes to infusing passion into a lesson, not much can compare to the effect music has on many students.  Some of those who are hardest to reach are also deeply interested in music or musically inclined.

Technology has made it easier that ever for anyone to create something along the lines of a song or music video.

Here are a few thoughts and resources that I have posted previously.

The basics:
  • This post sums up a method I use to create original songs and videos in about three hours at the most.
  • The main idea behind these projects is to encourage learners to make something that involves passion and creative expression, publish it and learn from it so they can do better next time.  
  • It's easy to spend a fortune on good equipment, but in all my efforts with recording I keep it simple.  Even a mediocre musician like me can get a lot of mileage out of free online resources, Audacity for recording and Gsnap for pitch correction.  You'll probably need a mic and headphones too, depending on how you plan to perform and record.
  • GarageBand for the iPad is amazing.  For several months I thought of it as just a tool for sketching song ideas.  Lately I have been using it to record short songs like some of those shown below.  I use the iRig Mic Cast microphone and iRig guitar interface with it for recording.
From other posts:
  • An overall plan for creating music in the classroom - This was written in the summer when I had some untested ideas.  It still serves as the outline for the projects I have done with students.
  • My latest music video with students - Two middle school students wrote this song.  I helped them record it and I edited the video using mostly video and pictures taken under their direction.
  • My example of a math music video - When I told students about my ideas, some were afraid to sing or perform on video.  I made this video as an example to encourage them to take the step.
  • Scientific Method Rap - This is one example from my first effort to assign a music video project.  The post is the best example here of what worked from start to finish in the classroom.  I did about eight hours of work on this after the students finished, just to see what was possible and how much work it would take.  
  • Another rap - This example also came out of the class project above, but without my additional editing.  
  • Kevin Honeycutt - Since I first came across Kevin's conference session in 2011 he has been an inspiration to me.  I love how he inspires students to be creative and get their ideas out there.
  • Music Video for Tech PD - This is a song we had some fun with for a PD session.  I was encouraging teachers to put some passion in their work and to do something new.  This song was a result.  It also serves as an example of what can be done using just the iPad for recording.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Middle School Music Video Project - The Scientific Method Rap

I worked with Andrea Thelen and her class this past marking period.  The class is called SETS - Students Engaged in Technology and Science.  This is a video project we assigned at the end of the course.  The hope was to follow a process like I outlined in this post from last year about music creation in the classroom.

As it turned out, we almost ran out of time.  I worked with the group of students to create the lyrics and we recorded a rough version in the very last days of the class.  I took some time on spring break to spice it up on my own.  Details of the process are below, but here's the final result.  

It is not perfect, so I pose this as a challenge for other groups.  Do something better!

Here's the Project Process:
First I had the students do this assignment to research and review the scientific method.

I didn't show them any examples of existing videos.  Instead, I just asked them to write the lyrics for a rap after they did the above assignment.  This group featured above turned in some great work, but I was disheartened to find a very similar version online!  We had a talk about using online content in acceptable ways and how to give credit where it's due.

I then worked with them to write the lyrics shown in this final version.

Using my iPad with an iRig Mic Cast microphone, I recorded the students while they rapped.  I made one simple track using the Smart Drums and then recorded their vocal part on a few other tracks as we accumulated takes.  This took longer than I expected, but it was a great learning process for them as we had to tweak their lyrics to fit the beat.  After class I took time to put the good takes in order.

The students then took the iPad while I worked  on the same process with a second group.  They used the free Video Star app to record their lip sync performance.  They came back with one rough take.  I told them to go do a few more.  In the end they had four videos.

I should note that Video Star is a great, fun app for adding effects to a lip sync performance.  But I was glad that three of the four takes that these students gave me did not use the video effects.  Instead, they just used the app as a means of syncing their performance with the song.  I suggest that because it's better for a polished video to add the best effects during post-production.

The videos that the students made at that point were acceptable for purposes of the class.  We were out of time anyway, so I did not have a chance to take them through the editing process.

Since it is spring break, though, I had a lot of time to play around with it on my own.  I did the following:

  • I created a few background tracks using options using UJam.  That site makes it easy to try the options, download an mp3 and then try another version.  I made two that I liked based on their hip hop styles. One important point to note is that UJam was a great seller for this project.  The students liked how it immediately spruced up a vocal track.  I was disappointed we didn't have more time to use this in class, so I hope to start the project earlier in the marking period next time.
  • I combined, rearranged and mixed the vocals and UJam track using my old version of Music Creator. While I did put in some effects from that program, mostly I choose it over Audacity only because it lets me easily cut the tracks right at the measures.  This makes it extremely easy to move parts around and repeat them.
  • I then combined the parts from their video performances with my audio track using Corel VideoStudio.  I love the program, but see the details I wrote about the good and the one big negative I had.  I really enjoy video editing, so I had fun with this.  I have to admit it took several hours just to make this short video, though, and it is not realistic that our students would have created something this complex within the usual time limits of our classes.  I hope to get them there someday though!
Doing this project with this group was my dream project this marking period.  I was hoping to give them something to make the class very memorable.  Since it was rushed and we worked around other distractions, I'm not sure I achieved it.  I did build a couple important relationships, though, and I set the groundwork to do much better the next time around.  

I have always said that nothing provides an option for more content and important skills at a variety of levels like a good video project.  Though it can complicate an already complex process, I'll go further and say that a good music video project adds several other advantages to the mix.  Not the least of which is that the students who are hardest to hook often have a love and talent for music.