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Mark Burke is CEO and founder of Music Within Me. Music Within Me provides foundational online music courses in instrumental and general music for schools, virtual academies and homeschoolers.

Flipping the Switch for Music Technology: Flipped Classroom Model

By Mark T. Burke

I’ll confess, I am a bit of a Techy…yeah, yeah…hard to believe, I know :-)  In 1993, I started my quest to bring music to students through innovation.  At that time, tools like FreeStyle and Mosaic (MOTU software), systems like “email”(remember the early days of email in schools), and instruments that included keyboards without keys, drum pads, wind controllers and MIDI drum sets transformed my music classroom.  During those early days I realized a few important guiding principles that have served me well over the last 18 years.

Class time is WAY too short for me to spend it all lecturing.
Kids don’t have music tech labs at home (really, they don’t :-)
My creativity is dwarfed by the kids.

Educational initiatives come and go as will the phrase “Flipped Classrooms.”  For now though, the phrase provides a brief statement that embodies a ton of principles, including the three I mention above.  The technique of Flipped Classrooms fits so well into Music Classrooms that I feel right at home discussing that fit.

If you missed the first two posts, Part 1:  The Benefits of Flipped Classrooms, and Part 2: Strategies and Educational Focus, go back and review those posts when you have a minute.  Today, I wanted to speak broadly about how Flipped Classrooms and Music Technology (and technology in general) can create amazing learning environments for kids.

In Part 2, I discussed a few examples of how you can Flip a class of one, such as a trumpet, voice or individual piano lesson.  To bring you up to speed quickly, Flipped Classrooms involve the transposition of what is typically done during class with what is typically done as homework. Content is therefore conveyed at home and hands-on work is done during class.  So, let’s dive in.  First, we have to talk about how all of the amazing wisdom you impart on kids will be delivered in a much more efficient way than doing so during your limited, and incredibly valuable class time.

Content Delivery

Video:  It may seem obvious to think video is the answer to delivering content to students at home.  However, I don’t believe making a simple video of yourself lecturing makes the grade.  Why do I feel this way? I have witnessed students who are “forced” to watch lecture style videos at home click PLAY and walk away.  Talking heads as they are called in the industry, are boring.  Kids find them boring, adults find them boring…they are boring!  So please, AVOID the temptation to think that all you need to do is setup a video camera and record hour after hour of you talking about the musical content.

Written Words: Written content is general king when it comes to delivering information in bulk.  Textbook companies count on that.  However, getting the majority of content from a book means you are turning over your instruction to a publisher.  In the end, why do kids need you if all they need to do is read a book or read page after page online?  Like video though, text is a must have delivery option for many learners.

Good delivery is additive….Include video, include text….and….(read on)

Interactivity:  Interactivity for students at home used to be limited to completing homework and bringing it to your class the next day.  The interaction occurred when you reviewed the student’s work either as a class or individually. Interactivity is often left off the plan for creating content to be delivered at home because we are all trained to think in terms of the old homework model.  New delivery tools have significantly changed interactive options when delivering content. Keep interaction in mind as you plan how you will provide content for student outside of school.  Interactive elements can include on screen manipulatives, animations, scripted videos, more. 

Check for Understanding:  Checking for understanding is an important classroom activity.  Small quizzes embedded into content delivered to students at home can help them quickly assess what content they have mastered and what content they need to review.  Providing quizzes that are automatically graded means you don’t have to grade them and ensures efficiency in a Flipped Classroom.

Pulling It All Together:  To successfully deliver quality instruction while students are at home, some type of learning management system is very helpful, not a requirement, but helpful.  By pulling all of the items mentioned above into some type of system, students have access to content as you want them to and delivered in the way you believe best.  Another option is to seek the help of an online curriculum provider (such as viaAcademies).  Our courses provide everything mentioned above and more. Discussing learning management systems is out of scope for this article as are tools to help you create interactive elements along with your written content.  The important take away is…when building content that students will access at home, it must convey meaning in a variety of modes.  Video is a great tool, but does not work for all kids.  Written content can be boring.  Content with no opportunities to check for understanding can get ignored and students can become discouraged.  To build great Flipped Classrooms, time and energy must be spent development great content. 

Classroom Activity Example

Let’s look at a very practical scenario.  Mr. Brown is teaching the concept of dynamics to his 8th grade music class.  Just this past year, a 25 station computer lab was added to his room with Mixcraft installed on every computer.  Mr. Brown wants to maximize the time students have to use the equipment. However, he typically takes entire classes lecturing about topics.  He would normally would explain the concept of dynamics to the students, have them listen to several examples during class and eventually identify certain dynamic characteristics during a quiz or test. Although he started the year teaching the same way he had, he quickly realized this technique would not maximize the time students had to use the equipment.   

Mr. Brown decided to assign a section of course content covering dynamics for homework (he secured the content from an experienced content developer).  The students would log into the school website, access the class section and review the content that included all of the various types of instructional elements listed above. Student would review the class materials at home, at the library, during study halls, or come in after or before school.  To ensure students were covering the materials, the small quizzes helped Mr. Brown track their progress.

When students came into his class, Mr. Brown would assign a project (typically considered homework in his old method of teaching).  Using class time, Mr. Brown would circulate, helping students through issues as they needed his help.  From time to time, he would ask the class to respond to a question or two to check their understanding.  Before the end of the class, students were teamed up and given the opportunity to share their compositions.

This is a very simple example of how a Flipped Classroom could be managed.  It may not seem so far off the path from your existing music courses.  However, the key is, we can not forget that quality content must be provided to students for consumption away from the class.  Students can use their time as researchers and content consumers rather than struggling to apply their knowledge at home with little or no support and without the proper tools available to them in the music lab guided by Mr. Brown.

Summary:  Following the practices of a Flipped Classrooom, what age old struggles do you believe you can address?  Do you believe students will build musical knowledge to a higher degree in Flipped Classrooms than in standard classrooms?  Do you agree that students MUST develop skills around content acquisition and self directed learning in order to be successful?  Flipped Classrooms place the emphasis during teacher led sessions on guided, experiential learning.  Lectures are replaced with application activities.  Homework is replaced with research and content interactive activities.  More importantly, Flipped Classrooms give us an entirely different perspective on how to address weak areas of performance for students, often experienced over years and years of our own teaching.  We now have a fabulous tool to help us get past long held instructional challenges.

Whether you use available courses such as viaAcademies curriculum or decide to build elements yourself, consider getting in touch with viaAcademies.  We can help you develop materials for your Flipped Classroom.  Contact us today to discuss your unique classroom needs. 

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