Musical Composition and Podcasting in the Elementary Classroom
Back in November, our absolutely amazing Elementary music teacher, Vince Bullen, and I led an EARCOS Weekend Workshop on GarageBand. Our goal was to spend two full days exploring GarageBand in a hands-on, project-based environment, tailored to the needs of both music and elementary classroom teachers. Even with this very specific focus, we had 10 international school teachers from around Asia join us in Bangkok for the weekend.
Thankfully, Vince is a complete expert in all things musical, so he started the workshop off with a thorough overview of pretty much everything GarageBand has to offer: from creating your own music, to editing pre-created tracks, to making “magic GarageBand” songs. Within about 1 minute of his introduction I had learned a number of useful tricks:
- How to raise and lower the volume of a specific track (use the little “down arrow” on any track to get the volume for that specific track)
- How to block out background noise and get rid of the “echo” and “reverb” on self-recorded tracks
- How to edit individual notes in any track (including pre-created tracks)
After getting the musical basics, the workshop switched gears to learn about easy ways to integrate music, video, photos and voice recordings to make enhanced podcasts. I started off this session by sharing the absolutely fantastic podcasts our fifth graders here at ISB made at the end of last school year as part of the Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop book club unit (here’s our unit planner), and then went over the basics of recording your voice and adding jingles, images or movies to a podcast. It always amazes me just how easy it is to create a podcast with GarageBand!
Once our participants had the basics, we split into two groups to delve deeper into the ways that teachers can use GarageBand in the classroom. Under Vince’s extremely capable guidance, the music teachers worked together to create their own songs using MIDI instruments and all of the pre-created tracks in Garage Band.
Separately, the classroom teachers worked with me to collaborate on their very first podcast – a multimedia book recommendation they can share with their students in class, which can also be used as a model for student-created podcasts:
One of the things the classroom teachers were most interested in was the process that I use to guide students through a technology-rich project like a podcast, specifically using the MYP Technology Design Cycle. Although it was created for middle years students, I find the design cycle to be an authentic, practical, useful way to tackle technology projects. It’s actually the process you naturally go through when working with technology, but if you don’t break down the steps, you can tend to skip through and end up at the computer before you’re ready.
So we ended up spending quite a bit of time working through the stages of the design cycle, as I would with a class of students. Here’s how I would break down a podcasting project according to the design cycle:
- Explore with the software – some time to play with Garage Band to get to know the basics – what are the strengths and weaknesses of this tool, what can it do, with the goal to generally feel comfortable with the tool towards the beginning of the project.
- Brainstorm a topic for your podcast (even if there is a specific topic, each group/individual will most likely have some individual choice involved. At this stage, it’s important for them to come up with a number of ideas (thought through to a basic level) so they can choose the best one. Have students justify their choice to you.
- Organize resources: take the time to figure out what is needed to complete the project (pictures, books, cameras, special clothing, etc). Make sure they have a list and it’s clear who is going to bring in each item.
- If any research needs to be done, this would be the best time. Begin with a focused research question and organize all relevant information in one central place.
- Write your script (you might want to use a checklist like this with your students)
- Use a storyboard to organize your pictures and audio. (this one is more for digital video, so you may want to change the directions on the boxes).
- This stage should be no longer than the Investigate stage (as long as they have done a good job with the Investigate and the Plan). This should be simply transferring all of the work they’ve already done on paper to their finished podcast.
- Export the finished product into AAC format if you have pictures (without pictures, you can choose .mp3)
- Publish the podcast on iTunes or a podcasting service like Gcast, PodBean, or Podomatic. (Usually the teacher will compile all student podcasts into one account so that the RSS feed includes all student work. As a teacher, you can also embed a widget on your class blog or website so parents and students can listen anytime).
- Create an iTunes channel for your podcast following these steps.
- Listen to their podcast, looking for strengths and weaknesses – what did we do well? what do we need to improve?
- Listen to other group podcasts, looking for similarities and differences, what did we do well? what do we need to improve?
Finally, on the second workshop day, participants had a chance to develop their own GarageBand projects for use in the classroom. Teachers worked on everything from designing a podcasting project from scratch, following the technology design cycle and Understanding by Design curriculum planning process, to creating their own musical compositions, to exploring new ways to integrate technology into classroom practice.
In my opinion, podcasts are a fantastic way to share student learning, allow time for reflection and metacognition and to connect your classroom to other learners around the world. This quick, but engaging, weekend workshop was a great way to get participants excited about this new mode of learning and to put the process of implementing authentic technology projects into practice in a safe environment.
How do you use podcasting in your classroom?