Garageband: A New Adventure Begins

Innovative, rigorous, and engaging are words that immediately come to mind when describing Mrs. Mary Scaggs' music class. Calling Mrs. Scaggs' space a "class" though, may be somewhat of an understatement. It would be more accurate to call it a learning community: A community where everyone gets to be a learner and everyone a teacher.

A few weeks ago, I was extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to hang out at Moyer Elementary School and learn with a group of Mrs. Scaggs' fifth graders.

Entering her 31st year in education, with 18 years in Fort Thomas Schools, Scaggs has found herself in an entirely new situation with our 1:1 iPad digital conversion. It would be important to know that, as Scaggs mentions, "I am not giving up my old way of teaching.  We are still singing songs, playing instruments, performing shows, just as I have always done in my classrooms.  There are days I don't even use technology.  But with this implementation of 1:1 in the classroom, I am finding it beneficial in ways I didn't plan. For example, I have purchased the rights to perform songs for a show, so instead of handing out the actual music, I type the lyrics and airdrop the songs to the students.  This saves resources and also my time in filing away of music."  Scaggs has also been learning ways to share documents and communication with students through our learning management system, Schoology, and is constantly exploring new resources and strategies for sharing information.

The 1:1 Adventure Begins

Scaggs did not take our adoption of 1:1 iPads, lightly.  She confronted the challenge head on as a learner and reached out to others in the music education community.  "This summer I traveled to Louisville and Lexington to speak to two music professionals that are experts in the field of music and technology.  I also worked with two local music teachers specifically to learn Garageband concepts.  I also did a lot of tutorials on the internet and played with the concepts on my own." 

Through this experience, Scaggs shared that "I was worried at first to try this new adventure of 1:1 IPads, but I soon realized that there are so many people that are willing to help me and so many resources to access.  My administration has been wonderful in allowing all of us teachers to try things.  If something doesn't work the way I planned, then they understand that this is a learning process.  I just try again."

From Learning to Implementation 

It is clear from participating in Scaggs' class that the time she invested this summer paid off. During the 5th grade class that I attended I witnessed intentional use of technology that ranged in complexity from the SAMR teacher-directed Substitution all the way to student-led Redefinition.

Students responding to a 1 question quiz
Mrs. Scaggs shared with me that she is "also using technology to help assess the students." She goes on to say that  "I have always had trouble with how to assess so many students in such a short amount of time.  Every day I am getting an assessment from the students on a concept and the technology records it and puts it in my gradebook for me.  It is a huge time saver, it is effective and is helping me  to assess the students more accurately.  (This only takes 3-5 minutes of each class."  

Scaggs begins her classes with formative assessment using the augmented reality assessment app Plickers. By their fourth visit to music, her students understand procedure, know where to store their iPads when not in use, and how to find and use their Plickers cards appropriately.   

In app features help Scaggs keep track of student progress on the assessments, and she can tell immediately when she needs to reteach a concept.  She plans to use the results to determine an overall quiz grade.  By investing the time to load class lists into the app, Scaggs will ultimately save herself time each week in tracking student progress.  Plickers, a teacher-led tool, is a great way to quickly assess student understanding without the need of a student device.  For a class like music, that doesn't always require the use of technology on the part of students, this is an excellent strategy.

Even with new assessments, Mrs. Scaggs has not abandoned those technologies that have worked for her in the past.  She uses PowerPoint and the Smartboard to effectively lead students in an opening song and provides students with immediate, real life feedback about their performance before transitioning into lessons that require students to use technology on their own.

Redefining the Classroom Experience

Inspired by the work of Katie Wardrobe, 4th and 5th graders in Mrs. Scaggs' classes at Moyer will be learning to produce their own music with Garageband.  They will address the overall I can statement: "I can identify, analyze and perform music in various genres" . As Scaggs explained, "We are working to familiarize ourselves with the different components of Garage Band.  Fourth grade will be turning in a final project where they have to create an "animal" piece.  They will record sounds of animals and mix these with components from a genre in Garage Band.  The fifth grade will do this project, but will also do an extension project, where they will be creating a family name piece (from Katie Wardrobe's project)."

See a small piece of her lesson here:

As I sat down to learn with her class, I started to make a list of the music terms Scaggs, was covering.  In roughly five minutes of instruction she mentioned: timbre, tempo, decrescendo, pan, loop, measure...I actually gave up writing a list because I couldn't keep up!  The amazing part was that as she was speaking these terms, the kids were nodding their heads in total understanding. When I asked her about it, Scaggs explained "I have a list of approximately 40 terms (music elements, music concepts, technology concepts, etc) that we will be reinforcing in this unit.  The students will be analyzing, creating, performing music using these concept." 

Beginning with "Rock" under "Live Loops", 5th graders are learning to apply music terms to use, work with pre-recorded loops and create their own.  As Mrs. Scaggs points out, "The benefit for the students is monumental.  My lessons are so much richer in content and higher level thinking.  I have always discussed the music elements and experienced them in a variety of ways,  but with the iPads, the students are taking these concepts and applying them in a new and innovative way."

As the lesson progressed, students were given the opportunity to review skills they learned last week and practice with new skills.  They spread out around the room, and applied and discussed their work with each other.  

Scaggs used specific instructions like: "When you're finished take your headphones off so I know you're ready" and "headphones off, eyes on me" to quickly manage class time. 

Throughout the class, Scaggs demonstrated new skills in context of the lesson, using those important music related vocabulary words and activating student prior knowledge to make it real for them.

Handing Learning Off to the Students

Mrs. Scaggs is able to connect and redefine the role of learning in her classroom with the use of the iPads.  In her class, everyone is a teacher and everyone is a learner. "I am also so impressed with the students.  They are constantly showing me things that I didn't know.  I then turn this into a teachable moment and allow that student to become the teacher and teach the class/me the process."

Check out how this student became a teacher:

Close to the end of the lesson, Scaggs showed her students how they could create their own loops and mix those in with pre-recorded work.  This allowed students to redefine their own learning and connect with the material in ways that would have been previously very difficult. 

Scaggs points out that "The students that I teach have never known a world without technology.  This technology is so comfortable to the students; and because of this, the application of music concepts with technology is a natural fit for them.  Suddenly I am taking musical concepts and putting them into their world of technology.  The engagement of the students to the lessons is amazing to watch. Suddenly there are quiet/shy students that are blossoming because of this comfort level.  Students are helping others to understand something.  They are excited and energized."

The level of engagement that Scaggs describes is certainly contagious.  Students demonstrated pride in their work, were engaging in real discussions about music and were learning from each other.

Hear some student work:

Students in Mrs. Scaggs' fifth grade classes are just beginning their adventure with Garageband.  By the end of this semester they will have created their own music and will have successfully reinforced music concepts that they have been learning since kindergarten.  In a few short weeks, it was clear that they were connecting with the material in sincere and deep ways, and I can't wait to see where this new beginning leads them as a learning community.


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