Is Technology Like Music?

We had a great tech team meeting yesterday (the OES tech coordinators, Net Admin, etc.). We discussed a range of topics, and at one point I asked a simple question: “Should the K-12 Technology Department become more like the K-12 Music Department?”

We’ve been working on technology integration for a long time, and it is paying off. Routine uses of technology are common throughout the school, and it becomes difficult to meet demand during peak production periods. This “pull” for technology was a motivating element of the Middle School laptop program.

At the same time, however, we wish there were more opportunities for students to do independent work with technology that is outside of the core curriculum. We have computer classes for kids in many grades that are becoming less about learning skills and more about exploring possibilities, but they don’t have enough time to really enable students to choose tools or do extended work on collaborative projects.

That’s when I thought about the remarkably successful Music program at OES, and how it has a high percentage of students in all three divisions coming in for “zero periods” and after school sessions to learn instruments of their choosing, practice and then perform with others. I could see something similar happening with unique software tools that students are interested in, but often don’t gain traction with if students just play with them on their own at home. In a guided, collaborative group with consistent meeting times, some fascinating project work and discoveries could take place. As in music, nearly all of the work could be project-based learning.

StellariumLike musical instruments, however, advanced software like Maya and Mathematica and AutoCad can be quite expensive (even in student versions). That was when we started talking more about open source “clone” software like Terragen, Blender, Gimp, and Stellarium. I showed off Stellarium, and we discussed adding it (and Gimp, and others) to the Middle School laptops next year. We also outlined a survey of US students to determine which open source software they would recommend for the US computer labs next year.

It became clear at that point that we could support “open source” clubs after school, that could enable students to share ideas and examples of their achievements with each other, and possibly even do collaborative projects using open source software. The value of this is that students could choose their tools and do much of their own learning, and we could support it fully since they would have legal copies of the software of their choosing (for personal, non-commercial work) on their own computers at home.

Our end goal is to create more opportunity to choose technology-enhanced independent project work in their core classes, but the clubs and after school opportunities could enable a more student-directed and dynamically productive environment. With an ongoing development of confidence and mastery, students could create examples that serve as models for project-based work in the departments.


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