Saturday, November 16, 2013

Starting the Smart Jams Project

Crystal and I started the Smart Jams music video project with the fifth graders this week.  With so many other things going in the district and so much riding on this project I was more nervous that morning than I have been in years.  The first sessions have gone very well, though.

The Smart Jams project requires students to make original, simple songs and videos about classroom content.  In our case, we are focusing on math.  I have been using a process to make the songs and videos in a reasonable amount of time.  The work here was funded by a MACUL grant and it is my first attempt to do this with so many students at once.

Explaining the problem (students with low math scores) and showing them the sample videos we will make to address it, I introduced the project to the four different classes.  I told them we have three goals:
  • Practice math during music
  • Practice creativity
  • Learn new technology
There was a lot of enthusiasm from the students when they realized the will be writing their own songs and recording them.  They liked the examples we made and Crystal received a round of applause in a couple classes for her performance in our sample Perimeter and Area song.

I told them we'll put the final products on YouTube.  It is so clear that students are inspired into action and ideas flow when they know their work will reach a larger audience.  

Each of the classes progressed at a different rate, but the general flow of the lesson so far has been:
  • Introduce the project - I let them know I need their help.  I have to present about this at the MACUL conference in March, so I'm hoping for good things!
  • Talk about to write songs - We brainstormed some things that should be in a song about our school.  In some classes we had students work in pairs to practice writing two or more lines for the song.
  • Take pre-tests - Two of the four classes were given a pre-test so we can determine if the extra time spent on math helped them.
  • Demonstrate the recording process - I wrote a version of a song using the ideas we gained in brainstorming.  Crystal also wrote her version.  We recorded her performing as a rap.  I uploaded it to so students could hear the music it generates and the different styles we can choose from.  I then exported it as an mp3 and pulled it into the Video Star app on my iPad.  We used that to make a video of the students dancing or generally having a great time to the music.  We were done with that process within 20 minutes.
  • Group Warm-Up - Crystal and I assigned students to groups based on their math skills and other factors that she felt would make a good mix.  To help students relate well to each other, I had them fill out a half-sheet paper as warm-up activity.  It asked them questions about their musical interests and abilities.
It has been great seeing some students get so excited about performing.  I look forward to starting the songwriting about math next week and we will record some groups singing or rapping by the end of the week.

Crystal and I both agreed the hardest part of them will be writing lyrics that rhyme and explain how to do the math.  Most likely we will have them write drafts and we'll be putting a lot of time into polishing them up.

For now, here's a short clip of us playing the Area and Perimeter Song live as Crystal taught them the motions.

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