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Are you being asked to include an activity for the Hour of Code™ during the week of December 5-11 in your elementary general music classes? This can feel like a daunting task because of many reasonable circumstances such as preparing for an upcoming concert or having minimal technology in your music class. In addition, you might feel that this topic should be addressed in other classes besides music. I can empathize with all of these feelings. However, I do participate in the Hour of Code™ because it is another way to relate to and reach my students. Many of my students play games on their parents’ smart devices. Many of the students love to create music using websites such as incredibox, soundtrap, noteflight, and more. When I teach one lesson involving coding, it shows the students that they could one day, create an app/website that future young students can use to successfully create music on their own.
What is the Hour of Code™?
“The Hour of Code started as a one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify “code”, to show that anybody can learn the basics, and to broaden participation in the field of computer science. It has since become a worldwide effort to celebrate computer science, starting with 1-hour coding activities but expanding to all sorts of community efforts.”
“The ‘Hour of Code™’ is a nationwide initiative by Computer Science Education Week and Code.org to introduce millions of students to one hour of computer science and computer programming.” (https://hourofcode.com/us#)
Coding has been around for decades. My father used to teach me coding back in the 1970s when he knew that I wanted to use his computer to play games. Steve Jobs, Apple’s co-founder once said, “I think everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think.” In 2013, President Obama kicked off the Hour of Coding by reminding the students to “Don’t just download the latest app, design it. Don’t just play on your phone, program it.” He reminded students that computers will play a big part in their futures. In Kyle Pearce’s article titled, “Why You Should Learn To Code (And How To Actually Do It!)”, he stated that “Coding isn’t particularly easy to learn but that’s exactly why it’s so valuable. Even if you have no plans to become a software developer, spend a few weeks or month learning to code and I can guarantee it will sharpen your ability to troubleshoot and solve problems.” When researching this topic, I also found other articles presenting an opposite view, such as coding is not needed as it is a one-trade skill that might not have any use for in the future (Blanda, 2013). And though I can see this side of the argument, coding has been around for decades. It does change with the technology, but the basics of coding still exist. When an alumni of Far Hills Country Day School returned two years ago to talk to the middle schoolers about his experience of being a young entrepreneur, he was asked what should Far Hills be teaching to every student right now. His answer was learning to code because it will open up numerous possibilities for future endeavors.
Ideas for Coding in an Elementary Music Class
- Code a drumset: Scratch is a free educational programming language that was developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Last year at the New York State School of Music Association (NYSSMA) conference, Josh Emanuel (http://joshemanuel.com/) showed a tutorial on how to make a drum set. His version took two steps of code per instrument. I successfully performed this last year with my second grade students, who enjoyed it thoroughly. To read more about this project, click here and scroll down to, “What program is used for coding in the second grade music class?”
- Code a xylophone: When I first went to research coding in the music classroom, I came across the Nebo Music website created by Mr. Michaud. From there, I did successfully create a xylphone from code. To read more about this project, click here.
- Scratch Jr App (iOS, Android, Chrome) – My young daughters have used this app to create stories. I did not teach them how to use the app. They opened it and figured it out on their own at ages five and seven. Your elementary students could create a music story using the characters. They could record themselves singing so that their characters sing to each other using pitches such as sol-mi, or sol-mi-la, or a pentatonic scale. Here is an example, with an added echo effect.
- Code a Recorder: Have your 3rd and 4th graders code their own interactive fingering chart for the recorder. Watch this video to show how. There are interactive recorder charts out there, but by having them learn to code one, you are empowering them to use their music knowledge to make a tool that will help them when they practice at home.
- Dash and Dot – Your school might have purchased some Dash and Dot robots for the purpose of having the students use them for coding. There is a set called Xylo where you can attach a xylophone to the robots. My school purchased one this summer and I had my seven-year old daughter try it.
- I installed the xylo app onto an iPad (iOS, Android, Amazon).
- I connected the xylophone to Dash.
- My daughter took out her xylophone book to find the song, Jingle Bells. The app also comes with sample songs or you can create your own song.
- The app had her orientate Dash so that he was playing the xylophone correctly. You can read the instructions here.
- She used the dots to code the song. She placed them on the bars (which color coordinate with Boomwhacker colors).
- She listened to Dash perform the song. If the dots were not placed accurately on the bars, then the rhythms were off. She would listen and adjust the coding of the dots.
- She would then code dash to move when playing the song.
- Finally, when she felt that the song sounded correct, she took out her xylophone and played along with Dash.
I hope that this helps you with some ideas forThe ‘Hour of Code™!
Blanda, Sean. “You Don’t Need To Learn To Code + Other Truths About the Future of Careers.” 99u. 99U, 16 Dec. 2013. Web. 13 Dec. 2015.
Code.org. “President Obama Asks America to Learn Computer Science.” YouTube. YouTube, 8 Dec. 2013. Web. 13 Dec. 2015.
Pearce, Kyle. “Why You Should Learn To Code (And How To Do It!).”DIY Genius. DIY Genius, 13 Dec. 2013. Web. 13 Dec. 2015.
The Hour of Code FAQ. (n.d.). Retrieved November 25, 2016, from https://hourofcode.com/us
Amy M. Burns is an elementary music educator, clinician, author, and musician. She currently works at Far Hills Country Day School in Far Hills, NJ teaching PreK through Grade 3 general music, grade 5 instrumental music, and grades 4-8 instrumental band. She is the author of Technology Integration in the Elementary Music Classroom, Help! I am an Elementary Music Teacher with a SMART Board, and Help! I am an Elementary Music Teacher with One or more iPads! She is also an author for Online Learning Exchange™ Interactive Music powered by Silver Burdett. She has given numerous presentations on integrating technology into the elementary music classroom as well as being a keynote speaker for music technology conferences in Texas, Indiana, St. Maarten, and Australia. She is the recipient of the 2005 TI:ME Teacher of the Year Award, the 2016 NJ Master Music Teacher Award, the 2016 NJ Governor’s Leader in Arts Education Award, and the 2017 Non-Public School Teacher of the Year Award. You can find out more about Amy at her website: amymburns.com