Top Ten Reasons to Enhance Your Elementary Music Classroom with Technology: #5 Project or Problem-Based Learning (PBL)

As we come to the middle of the countdown to 2019, I am reminded that this list of 10 tech tools that can enhance the elementary general music classroom is meant to be treated like a dessert buffet. You can try a couple of items. Do not eat the entire buffet as it will be too overwhelming.

Credit: Fairmont South Hampton

Enhancing the music classroom with technology is defined as using technology to create or make or do music in a way that traditional methods cannot. When this list is counted down to #1, there will be a free webinar that will follow shortly showcasing these ten tech tools in action.

Project or Problem-Based Learning (PBL)

#5 addresses project or problem-based learning (PBL). Simply defined, it is a student-centered approach to learning where the students acquire a deeper knowledge of the subject by solving real world challenges and problems. Basically, the students take ownership of their learning and therefore, gain a deeper sense of knowledge.

I have used PBL to teach a variety of musical concepts that have also included cross-curricular subjects from empathy to STEAM. In this post, I will describe a project that was influenced by one the best elementary edtech/music teachers: Cherie Herring. This PBL involves green screen technology to enhance PBL in a way that could not have been before edtech.

Using Green Screen Technology to Enhance PBL

Over the past three years, I have been able to coerce my colleagues into creating a “Jimmy Fallon Classroom Instrument Style” snow say video to announce when we have snow days. It has been very successful because I work with some of the best colleagues out there.

Last year, with so many things going on, I did not stop long enough to create a snow day video with my colleagues. Therefore, I thought about how I could create a PBL unit for my PreK-grade 4 music classes to create a snow day video for the school. I wanted the project to contain elements of cross curricular connections (writing and science to name a few), along with it being based around musical elements (creating lyrics, performing the song, recording the song, and more). Here is how the PBL was laid out:

Introducing the Unit

Students’ thinking map for a snow day.

When the students returned from winter break, we started class by sharing our favorite winter break stories. I then showed them the past couple of snow day videos, which the students loved seeing their teachers perform on the classroom instruments. I then asked them about what they do when they think there could be a possibility of a snow day. We created this circle map full of ideas that ranged from PreK to grade 4. We also discussed what happens with the weather when there is a snow day that correlated to their studies in science.

Creating Lyrics

From their thinking map, the students then created lyrics for the song. Since the students exclaimed loudly to me that a snow day makes them happy, we used the Pharrell’s “Happy” to recreate the song about what to do to achieve a snow day.

Recording the Song and Creating Instrument Parts

Recording in Soundtrap

Once we had the lyrics written, we recorded the song. I used Soundtrap (check my previous posts in this countdown), to record all of the classes with a background track. I assigned each grade level a different portion of the song. For example, PreK just did the “Happy, happy, happy, happy!’ portion in the bridge section. The older elementary classes sang the verses and the chorus. In addition, I had the 2nd graders create, read, and perform a whole note portion on the tone chimes. The 3rd graders also created, read, and performed a portion on classroom instruments. Once recorded, I mixed the separate recordings into one large recording. If I had more time, I would have had a class of fourth graders do the mixing portion.

Credit: Blue Designs

We used Blue Spark Digital microphones to record the singers, tone chimes, and instruments. I like these microphones because I can easily use these microphones with iOS devices and laptops. Every time I plug them in, Soundtrap and Garageband immediately recognize that they are plugged in and activates them. This is helpful for me in my teaching situation where there are multiple devices and when I want to record something quickly.

Utilizing a Green Screen

Chrome Key

After watching years of elementary music educator Cherie Herring successfully use the green screen and the app to create amazing music projects with her elementary students, I decided to jump in. I was able to obtain a green screen from our drama teacher. However, with Do Ink Green Screen App (iOS) or WeVideo (web-based), you can use the Chrome Key technique to change the background to match the background you are using. For example, if you have a solid white wall, then you can change the background with the Chrome Key to match the white wall. This turns your white wall into a green screen.

We used the Do Ink Green Screen app for iOS, but this can be done on the web-based WeVideo app. Both are paid apps. In addition, WeVideo is subscription-based, but you can try the free version to test it out.

To get us started:

  • I found images online to use for our background such as the school’s logo, the school’s outside, snow-filled mountains, and more.
  • I saved them to the iPad, opened Do Ink Green Screen app, and placed them into the app.
  • When it was time for the students to record, they brought their own snow clothes into the classroom so that they had “costumes” for the video. Some brought snow gear such as snow boards. I loved their creativity! 
  • I airplayed the iPad (using the reflector app) so that all of the students could see the recording on the big screen.
  • The students divided into small groups. We played the soundtrack from our Soundtrap recording while they were creating their video portion.
  • They recorded themselves in front of the green screen, which was projecting one of the images listed above.
  • Do Ink’s Green Screen app will save all videos to your camera roll. From there, you can use iMovie to create the final video which will include the clips and the recording you made in Soundtrap.
  • If you are using WeVideo, then you can do all of your post production with their app.
  • Tip: I had the iPad facing them so they could see what they were recording. The other students who were not recording were watching their classmates on the big screen.
  • Tip: Since I was using a green screen, anyone who wore their ski jackets that were bright green, immediately became these floating heads. Though the students loved this concept, you will want to think about that when working with a green screen.
  • Tip: I did the post production because it saved time. However, it would be a great project to split the video up and have various groups of older elementary to mix the video.
  • Tip: Always check with your school first about using student’s images in a video. In addition, check to see if the school wants to publish anything you create using student’s images and copyrighted music.

Timing of the PBL

PBL takes time. Projects can vary from using one class time to numerous classes. For this project, we did not use the entire class period of 40 minutes. We did this in small portions and it took about a month to produce. Had I devoted entire class periods to this PBL, then it would have taken about two weeks. However, I wanted this PBL to enhance the musical concepts and the “doing of music” that we accomplish each class period. Therefore, this PBL was a culmination of what we do every music class, not the focus of our class time. With that direction, it was not difficult to implement into the class time.

What to Consider When Implementing PBL

I feel that project or problem-based learning is an effective teaching tool. The PBL that I have utilized over the years that I have taught, have been the ones that my students recall and reflect upon often. These are the ones that the students take ownership.  Therefore, they invest a lot of their time, thought, and learning into the process.

When considering a PBL unit, think about the concepts that you already teach. Then think about how PBL can “level up” those concepts. Finally, look at technology as a tool that the students can connect with and use to make that PBL more personal to them.

Credit: yotophoto

My last advice is to start small. My first project with a green screen and PBL was with kindergartners studying instruments from the orchestral families. We projected a trumpet as the background and the students “showed what they know” about the trumpet. It was a great culmination project that took no more than five minutes from class time. We shared it on their Seesaw digital portfolios and the parents loved it and gave them wonderful feedback.

Check back tomorrow for #4 and 3!

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