Thursday, November 29, 2007

PVC Instruments

What should learning look like in the 21st Century? I have endeavored to answer this question this school year by turning my classroom into a laboratory to test the ideas that I have read about and listened to over the past year. Build Your Own Instrument: Blue Man Group Style, a culminating project for a unit on sound, was my latest attempt to define my concept of learning in the 21st Century.

This project required my students to create an instrument out of PVC pipes, the same sort of pipes that you'll find in your house's plumbing. I was inspired by the Blue Man Group, a "rock group" that most of my kids are familiar with and a few have seen live. This trio can make pretty amazing music from instruments constructed with PVC. I knew that once my students had seen them perform (check out this video from YouTube), they would be eager to build their own instruments. And just as I thought, my students tackled the project with a gusto from the design stage through construction.

So what how do I define 21st Century learning? Here are the competencies that I feel the project included/developed:
  • Collaboration - My students worked cooperatively in groups of 3 - 5 on this project.
  • Creativity/Innovation - Sir Ken Robinson has defined creativity as "the process of having original ideas that have value." I'm not sure of the value of these instruments yet, but it was obvious from the multitude of different designs that each one was truly original.
  • Problem-Solving/Critical Thinking - It was common for a group to put their finished design together, only to find out that their design was flawed. One group found that they need would need more than screws and pipe strap to hold their instrument together and had to find a new way to do it. Students tinkered with their designs throughout the construction phase.
  • Right-Brain Competencies (see Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind):
    • Play - The instruments that the BMG play are of the percussion variety. I knew that this type of instrument would appeal to my kids; what kid doesn't like to bang on things. Aren't we always telling our boys to stop using their pencils as drums? The project was meant to act as an assessment, but I purposely planned an activity that would make it an enjoyable one.
    • Design - No need to elaborate.
    • Symphony - Students created instruments that had a minimum of three notes. They accomplished this by using either a slide or changing the length of different pipes (see photo above). This required them to synthesize what they had learned about sound, particularly frequency and pitch.
So where is the technology? It permeates the project, but I can't say that what I or my students did with it was real innovative. Here's a list of the technology that was used:
  • Google Video - To get the video of the BMG to spark interest.
  • - I linked to Home Depot and another site so that students could create their budgets.
  • Digital Cameras - each group took photos of their instruments throughout the construction phase.
  • Microsoft Word - Students typed up the project summaries using this. They also inserted photos into their documents.
  • Wireless Laptop Lab - Students completed the work on Apple computers.
The project has me thinking though--is this really learning for the 21st Century? Before 21st Century skills were invented, I (and many other teachers) had my students creating products in groups using technology. Don't most teachers make an effort to develop these abilities in their students through their teaching?

Technorati Tags: , ,

Check out: | Digital Cameras in the Classroom | Alphabet Geometry