As a music teacher, I've always struggled to give students ownership over their learning. Many teachers build classrooms using the Constructivist model, allowing students to explore topics that interest them at a speed that's appropriate for them, deriving meaning from the intersection of their experiences and ideas. Interacting with new material with a curious mindset opens the door for lasting, meaningful knowledge.
Imagine 20 guitar students in one room "learning at their own pace" and you'll understand my dilemma.
I've always approached classroom guitar instruction with a "me, us, you" model, wherein I demonstrate a new skill for students, they perform the skill with me, and then they demonstrate that they can do it independently. The bulk of our class time is spent in the "us" portion, where we work together to build our skills. This works well from a classroom management perspective, but it's intimidating for students who struggle to keep up and need more time and it becomes boring for students who can quickly master the technique. The Jamstik has eliminated the alienation of these two groups of students.
I first started with a single Jamstik MIDI guitar to assist in my classroom guitar instruction. Students had their acoustic guitars and Ihad my Jamstik connected wirelessly to an iPad that I displayed on a projector for students to see. They could easily see where my fingers were on the fretboard and I could hand it to individuals to try new chords and get immediate feedback from the app. It was a fantastic resource, but I yearned to do more with the technology.
As a part of Zivix's campaign to launch the Jamstik+, bluetooth-enabled wireless MIDI guitar controller, they made a pledge on their Kickstarter page to donate Jamstik MIDI guitars to schools and other non-profit organizations as they gained backers. It was a huge success, meeting its funding goal in less than four hours, and they donated a set of 20 Jamstik MIDI guitars to the MacPhail Center for Music. I quickly got them up and running, installing the JamTutor app on my school's classroom set of iPads. My students were thrilled!
The first thing we did in our nine-session guitar class was learn how to connect to the app. I took a few steps to make connecting easier for every student: I assigned a matching iPad and Jamstik number, I wrote the Wi-Fi code of each Jamstik on the outside of the instrument, and I arranged them in an easily transportable cart so students could quickly get going. We started them up and the kids played around, bewildered by the possibilities the app afforded! The next few weeks featured students working through the expertly designed lessons and benchmarks, testing their skills in real-time performance settings not unlike some popular guitar emulating video games. Students worked individually with me to come up with goals that made sense for them based on their comfort, experience,and ambition. The gains the students made were impressive!
One eighth grade student in particular had an experience I'd like to share. In fifth grade, she started playing the saxophone and was quickly discouraged by the struggle to produce a sound. I encouraged her to continue trying, but her family decided maybe playing an instrument wasn't for her. She continued to participate in general music classes, but still appeared intimidated and disheartened by instrumental music. When she tried out the Jamstik, however, she was able to progress at a speed that was perfect for her--and perform silently and make mistakes by herself, a big barrier to classroom instrument learning for all kids! She has moved on to high school and is now taking private guitar lessons through the MacPhail Center for Music, inspired by a love fostered by technology that helped her learn independently.
The Jamstik MIDI guitar unit has since become a favorite at my school (and has even garnered the attention of the Pioneer Press!). Kids can't wait to get their hands on the instruments and learn new skills created by real musicians and educators. Best of all, I get to support students when they need me and truly create a constructivist classroom environment where kids' experiences meet new ideas and create valuable, lasting learning.
- Troy Strand - MacPhail Center for Music
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