Teaching with SOUND (in any class).

Chapter 1: Even with Sunglasses, the Sun is BRIGHT.

We try to fit the mold of education. Shades on, let it come. Administration making framework and guidelines. Parents having expectations that we can’t quite comprehend. It’s safe to dwell in a tinted land where we always look good and can look safely at the bright sun…yet we won’t take off the shades until we’re home.

What if I told you that by teaching with SOUND we might have to betray the “sunglass method?”

Shades are cool. .but why shield yourself of something that provides so much growth, brightness and light to so many beings? Yes, too much sun is bad for the complexion, and yes, we all need some cloudy overcast times once in a while. We are human, after all. Yet, in order to grow as healthy humans, we need to step out of our comfort zone. Embrace the realness.

Teaching with sound might just help you stretch and grow more than you know. Why is that? Because you grew up listening to music, hearing the sounds of breakfast in the morning, noticing when your dog barked or when your sister was in the bathroom brushing her teeth. Experiencing the verb of the venue at your first concert. Sound is an everyday element of great proportions…for your students. Why not embed it in your teaching?

For the past two years, I have taught digital music and sound art electives to middle school students and taught integrated sound to 1st graders. Out of left field, right? Yet, students thought abstractly and created “Audiobiographies,” music to fit the “mood” of their Main Street and created Foley sound effects to help personify the scene in their video. Students can grasp and understand the impact of sound when given the opportunity.

Here a some project examples created by 6th-graders and 1st-graders (Main Street Music):

6th-grade “Audiobiographies:” Project Overview, Student Examples

6th-grade Electives: Project Examples

1st-grade “Main Street Music” Integrated Social Studies Unit: Finished Project Example; Unit Overview (Detailed)

Chapter 2: I was Born Not a Musician, but an Enthusiast.

You most likely did not start learning an instrument at an early age. If you did, that’s legit. I sure did, and it changed my life (but it’s not the requirement of awesomeness).

How did music or sound effect you as a growing human? Did you have favorite songs, musical styles, bands, friends who liked certain bands? Did you find yourself changing moods when things got noisy…or too quiet? This all paints a picture of how sound fit into our individual mold as we grew.

Even if you never laid hands on a musical instrument, think for a second…HOW did sound transform your life?

Chapter 3: Bringing SOUND to the ADE Table.

I recently was accepted as an Apple Distinguished Educator, Class of 2019. Sweet! I attended the ADE Institute in Bethesda, MD a couple weeks ago and was BLOWN AWAY by the high level of talent and creative thinking all of the other ADE’s brought to the table. I REALLY want to help students connect globally and with empathy via sound. I had the amazing opportunity to present a two minute “pitch” to the 350-person crowd around an idea I’ve had for a while: “How might we develop students’ creative expression with sound and music to build empathy and global connections?” After the pitch, I met with a group of about 50 educators from the Americas to create practical ways of implementing this idea in the classroom. WOW was I amazed by the input/output of ideas.

Chapter 4: Summary of Crazy Cool Idea Formation.

I figure you probably want to see some of the ideas brought to the table. Here you go:

The top five ideas were marked from each group’s idea formation and I am so grateful for this group collaboration. After helping to facilitate this session, I am so glad I was able to bring a new way of thinking to lesson design.

Below is a rough list of many of the big ideas teachers developed. Oh, and by the way, most of these teachers have never taught with sound before. How might YOU use these sound-related ideas in your teaching?:

  • Audio journey of a typical day with sound effects and different voices

  • Share with world

  • Reflect on regional/cultural similarities and differences

  • Audiobiography + Visuals

  • Capturing community voices

    • Dialect

    • Phrases

    • Slang

  • Song collaboration (Carol Ann McGuire)

    • Each school/region adds a song section or instrument layer

  • Music pals (pen pals)

  • Interview musicians from different parts of the world via FaceTime

  • Students identify important songs from different countries

  • Record same phrase in different languages

  • Creating sounds for a story/character

  • How can we design music for people with “exceptionalities?”

  • Sounds/songs to math algorithms

  • Record a favorite book/chapter

  • Accessibility to Sound: visually, tactile, color of sound. “How do people experience sound (non-auditory)”

  • Sound reflections

  • Playlist of sounds organized/shared by creator- based on map locations?

  • Global field recordings

  • eBook of home story/region story

  • Personal theme song

  • Sounds for colors: what sounds do they make?

  • Creating music for film/media

  • Study of multiple cultures/instruments

  • Coding music

  • Family-created songs/soundtracks

  • Collaborative music-making in class

  • Colors + sounds (Mr. Holland’s Opus)

  • Flipgrid exchanges

  • Collection/database of worldwide sounds/music

  • Different tones mean different things: crying babies

  • Silence: how does it effect each of us?

  • Sound/music connects us to different cultures

  • Audio Scavenger Hunt: record sounds at home: what sounds happy/funny/etc.: compile in Keynote or Pages

  • Caption This: creating emotional soundtrack for a video with sound removed

  • UN 17 Goals for Sustainability: creating a “song” for each goal

  • Telling another person’s story through sound/music

  • Look for “anti-empathy” in speeches/new stories/etc.

    • Use a T-chart to look at examples empathy vs. non-empathy

Chapter 5: What’s Next?

This school year, I am planning on teaching the following 6-8th grade electives (subject to change):

  1. Digital Music 

  2. iPad Orchestra

  3. Music for Movies

  4. Digital Storytelling

  5. Accessible Sound

  6. Songwriting

I am also planning on collaborating with Susan Maynor and Erika Moser on a 2nd-grade collaborative project this fall. More to come. Excited to share in the process!

How are YOU using sound in your teaching? Would LOVE to hear about it.

Twitter: @eh48

Insta: @soundteaching, @emmo48

"AudioBiography" Workshop CPE Fall Institute 2018

This post includes the slide deck and links to resources from the “AudioBiography” workshop as part of the Center for Progressive Education Conference 2018 in San Francisco. Follow my posts on Twitter at @eh48 or on Instragram @soundteaching for further insights!


Audio App-titude: Enhancing Learning with Audio (CUE 2018 Resources)

Yesterday, +Christy P. Novack and I presented a session on integrating audio into student projects and your overall teaching.  It was super fun and was great to give teachers new ideas to bring back to their classrooms!  In case you missed it, below is the session description and a link to the presentation slides (with many resources included).

To connect with Hillbrook teachers about audio-integrated projects we have done or are in the process of doing, fill out this form.  We would love to talk to you and provide more information about these projects!

Description from our "Audio App-titude" session at CUE 2018:

"Is music just for music class? Is sound something you hear, but never write about? Incorporating a multi-sensory experience is instrumental in designing a more differentiated learning environment. This session will highlight a few audio apps and tools that can bring a new level of engagement to the (non-music) classroom. "

Wheelbarrows and Music

What do blue jeans, scarves, found objects and wheelbarrows have in common?  At Hillbrook, they are all "tools" used in discovering the connection between soul, mind and body through the creation of music.

Yes, this is intended to be a blog about educational technology, and that is exactly why I am writing this post.  One definition of technology, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is "a capability given by the practical application of knowledge." (mwd 2016)  Through a process of scientific discovery, students at Hillbrook are creating new ideas and processes using "analog" tools, leading to a much larger scope of ideas, connections and creations.  Students are creating new concepts and experiences for themselves, preparing for a life of learning and innovation.


When I was in 1st and 2nd grade, I went to school at a magical place called, "Go Like the Wind Montessori," located in Ann Arbor, MI.  Part of the Montessori philosophy is that "students need activities that help them to understand themselves and to find their place in the world." (amshq 2016) If you are not familiar with the Montessori philosophy, the American Montessori Society describes it as "an approach that values the human spirit and the development of the whole child—physical, social, emotional, cognitive."  (amshq 2016)

Montessori rocked.  Individual attention, independent hands-on exploration, creativity, real growth...my perfect place.  Looking back, I'm so glad I had a taste of it for two years, since the rest of my education would have much less freedom of choice and individualized learning.

Our primary teacher, Ms. Shields, would often play her guitar and sing with us in a circle in the classroom (In Montessori, it is common practice for music teachers to came into the classroom, where pretty much everything takes place, aside from physical education and some special events).
Twice a year, there was a large choir production, and in first grade, we did a mini operetta, called "The Mice of Mozart."  I auditioned for a solo, which was pretty ballsy for a first-grader.  I got a cool part, and had to wear a vintage dress and spray paint my hair a sweet sweet silver.  The 30-second solo was mesmerizing in the moment.  My parents had the best video-taping intentions, but alas, the camcorder battery died right before my solo (face palm).  Great experience, though!

After second grade, my family moved to a neighboring city with a kick-ass public education system (rare).  I loved my teachers and felt supported throughout elementary school, minus the troubling third grade year of math (shudder).  Let's talk music education again.  At Houghton Elementary, we followed an Orff approach with a few twists.  We used kneel and strike technique (floor marimbas) and also sang many songs in one or two parts.  We learned basic song structure, rounds, rhythm sticks, recorder.  We learned square dancing and took a field trip to Green Field Village near Detroit, MI, where we placed ourselves in the shoes of Pioneers.  We could also sing an impressive rendition of "From a Distance" by the entire fifth grade that brought our parents to tears.  We got dance parties on the occasional Friday, where we drew songs from a bucket and got to dance to "Thriller" and Twisted Sister.  

Let's jump ahead a few years: in college at University of Michigan, I majored in Percussion Performance and felt very rhythmically secure.  I felt proficient in piano as well (5 years of Suzuki piano lessons sure helped).  I had so many amazing and humbling opportunities: performing in Carnegie Hall, playing the original score of Star Wars, playing in many world premier performances, learning how to compose and teach percussion methods.  I'm fairly certain my motivation to pursue creativity through music would never have happened if it were not for an education rooted in discovery and hands-on learning.  

Here is a video from my Senior Recital at UofM.
Jump ahead again: I currently work at an independent school in CA called Hillbrook, focusing on educational technology and tech support.  I had received a Masters in Digital Media and Learning from the University of San Francisco, which led me to this awesome school.  Hillbrook's 3rd grade music curriculum includes a new and pretty ground-breaking annual project: the "Hillbrook Sound Project."  Through this project, co-teachers Kristin Engineer and Jenny Jones (lower school music teacher and lower school science teacher respectively) choose a primary object to use as the theme.  Last year it was bicycles, and this year, wheelbarrows.  

Sound Projects from 2014, based on wooden chairs.
This year's Sound Project in the process of creation, using wheelbarrows and found objects.
The main goal for students is this: using a wheelbarrow as a base, design a musical instrument as a small group, with found implements, that can be used in a performance incorporating the sentiments of emotion, art and music (in so many words).  

Leading up to this project, Ms. Jones guides students through the discovery of natural sound and how sound is essentially created, exploring sound waves and how a pitch is created using wine glasses.  Simultaneously, students are learning to use blue jeans as an instrument, adding a performance element of self-expression and creating their own musical forms.  Through working with these concepts of sound source, interaction with materials, and the emotions involved in music-making, students are, in a sense, creating their own technologies.

Exploring the creation of pitch using wine glasses.

Check out these videos:
  • Wine Glasses and Pitch: "Wine glass pitch explorations in D major and D minor scales (this was in science but they had to create a composition with the pitches) It was magical and meditative!" --K. Engineer, LS Music Teacher
  • Blue Jean Jive: (Blue Jeans compositions, based on Andrew Huang and his "Music with 1000 Pairs of Jeans" video)
  • Music, Emotion and Art: "Vasilly Kandinsky art project (collaboration with the art teachers), creating abstract art to jazz of the 1920's in order to express their emotion...through color." --K. Engineer
Wow!  Even through a Montessori-hybrid-public-elementary-school education, my teachers would have never introduced this.  Self expression through found objects bolted together and painted, fusing art, science and music?  Mind blown!     
There is so much to be said for freedom of expression, let alone the ability to fuse together several implements and sounds, fostering the growth of the power of listening, tuning the ear inwards toward emotional response, playing as a group, feeling the feels that can only come from playing and striking something that is a non-traditional classroom instrument.  Something that could break and it would be ok.  Let educational freedom RING!
I'm writing this to show that there is nothing wrong with what has been done in the past, since educational methods have varied widely and transformed in many ways over time.  Isn't there a similar history with technology?  Knowledge and tools are built upon by others, creating stronger innovation, but that BASE never goes away.  Those that think independent schools are only for the wealthy, this is a PRIME example of a RICH music education whose cost is that of what is provided in the home, nothing more, nothing less.  
At an elementary age, let's allow students to embrace these found objects of rhythm, space and emotional equity, leaving behind the notions of delegated instruments and parts.  Although structure leads to healthy discipline, a good wheelbarrow can lead to a MOUND of possibilities.