How To Find Balance With Technology and Making Music in the Elementary Music Classroom

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Recently, a popular music magazine sent out a message that they were changing their platform. They would no longer provide a supplemental music magazine with additional digital resources. They would instead offer a new “online tool that will have a dynamic new digital platform designed for today’s teachers and students.”

This announcement brought about many mixed emotions from numerous elementary music education boards. Many were concerned about the price because after the first year, the price increase was significant. Others were challenged by the description because it implied that the curriculum was meant for a 1:1 elementary music classroom. This means where each student has access to a device during the class. Numerous music educators compared their description to another popular music curriculum that contains digital interactive content. Many who felt that if there was going to be another digital music curriculum, then they would pass because the price was too high and the students receive enough screen time outside of school.

“If we are using technology in our elementary music classrooms, how do we achieve balance?”

This reaction of screen time had me ask that certain question of, “If we are using technology in our elementary music classrooms, how do we achieve balance?” This question can imply that technology is taking away from “doing and making music.” This implication is reasonable. However, when technology is thought of in this way, then it becomes this separate entity in your classroom. One that makes you feel like using technology makes no significant contribution to the classroom. When we think of balance, then we should be thinking of technology to assist in active music making as opposed to passive.

Passive Technology

The term “passive technology” is used to reference technology that has a single function or process. It does not allow the user to interact with it outside some parameters. An example would be a parent giving a toddler a YouTube video on their device to keep the toddler entertained while the parent gets a chore done in the house. The toddler will watch the YouTube video and maybe interact with the device to click on another video.

Passive technology in schools is apparent as it is more of a tool for the teacher to use to help organize the classroom, lessons, assessments, and more. An example of passive technology would be the teacher using Alexa, “Hey Google”, or Siri to bring up music needed for the lesson. Another example would be using a digital planbook, such as planbook.com, to keep the lessons, manipulatives, standards, and such, all organized, accessible, and shareable. Passive technology is also used when teachers show a video of an orchestra performing or the Kindle version of a songtale, so all of the students can see the pictures from wherever they sit in their classroom.

This is helpful for teachers and has been used for decades, dating back to when teachers were using radios or record players in classes to play music. It has become a staple to have this type of technology in the classroom in most schools.

Active Technology

The term, “active technology” is the one I identify with when reading the seven standards for students written by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). The ISTE Standards for Students are designed to empower student voice and ensure that learning is a student-driven process. Over the past 20 years, these standards have evolved from learning to use technology, to transformative learning with technology.

When using active technology in the elementary music classroom, the student will still experience, do, and make music in traditional ways. Technology is used when the traditional way is not the ideal way to help the students achieve the musical goals. For example, the seven ISTE student standards are empowered learner, digital citizen, knowledge constructor, innovative designer, computational thinker, creative communicator, and global collaborator. Though, at first glance, these standards might feel unnatural in the elementary music classroom. However, with more thought, a music educator can realize that musical skills encompass creativity, innovation, citizenship, knowledge, global connections, and empower learning. Many of these skills are enhanced when integrated with technology. Which brings us back to the question of how do we find the balance?

Using Technology When Traditional Methods Have Not Been Reaching the Goals

When you think of technology as a tool to enhance a goal where traditional methods are lacking, then technology has a more intuitive place in the elementary music classroom. Here are some examples where technology can assist students in achieving music goals where traditional methods might not work as well. Or, where technology can assist with “leveling up” the learning experience:

Technology to assist with all students making music

Differentiating instruction has been an approach to teaching for decades. In elementary music class, it takes the form of having all students, no matter what their learning capabilities, to be able music. However, students with special learning needs can experience challenges making music with traditional instruments. From covering holes on a recorder to properly holding mallets, students can feel unsuccessful when trying to make music in the same way as their peers.

Technology is used to help all students successfully create music.

Some examples include:

Technology to assist with creating music

When I performed my Research Capstone Project on how creating music with technology can increase student’s musical knowledge compared to learning the skills without creating music and creating music with traditional methods of composition, I was thrilled to see the results. My second graders at the time were placed in three groups. The control group learned music theory through traditional methods. The experimental group 1 learned music theory through traditional methods, as well as using those skills to compose a melody with traditional methods of pencil and manuscript. The experimental group 2 learned music theory through traditional methods, but used technology to compose a melody. The latter had a significant increase in their musical knowledge from the pre- to post-test.

There are many variables and factors to this; however, the use of technology to compose helped those students feel success and ownership over their compositions. The ease of using a program like Noteflight or Flat to compose, and then pairing that with Soundtrap or GarageBand to create accompaniments, made the students reflect on how much they enjoyed the whole process and loved their end result.

Other music creation platforms that enhance the elementary music classroom are: Incredibox, Chrome Music Lab, Groove Pizza, and Groovy Music through MusicFirst, to name a few.

Technology to help give students the platform to reflect

As I have written many times in the past, Seesaw has been a game changer in my elementary music classroom. Seesaw is a free digital learning student portfolio that can be used on multiple devices. One reason it is a game changer is because the students’ musical creations are easily shared with their parents’ devices. In addition, to level up this, I have students reflect on musical questions about their work or music. Finally, these reflections give me, and their parents, a better understanding into my students’ thought processes.

Seesaw is what we use, but there are other products that are similar. Class Dojo and Bloomz are two that come to mind. In addition, Flipgrid can be used this way as a video tool to communicate and share the students’ musical experiences.

Technology to help showcase and share their musical knowledge with a bigger audience

I hope that these examples give you some pause and help you reflect on what technology can do to assist with learning in the elementary music classroom. As with trying anything new, start small. Find a buddy to assist. Use your social education PLNs to ask questions. Finally, don’t eat the entire dessert buffet. Take a little bite and see what happens. Remember that technology requires as much patience as your students and can enhance the classroom in ways that were not thought possible.

Resources

Bochert, J. (2013). “Passive vs. active technologies in the classroom.” Thesis and Dissertations. 450. https://rdw.rowan.edu/etd/450

Cohen, M. (2016, December 22). Active Versus Passive Technology. Retrieved June 16, 2019, from http://ftp.edtechreview.in/trends-insights/insights/2608-active-passive-technologies

ISTE Standards for Students. (2019). Retrieved June 16, 2019, from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students

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