Tag Archives: STEM

Using Tech to Hook Students: Makey Makey + Scratch = Human Drum Machine

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Using Tech to Hook Students: Makey Makey + Scratch = Human Drum Machine

Want to get kids excited to be in your middle school music class? Then turn them into a human drum machine and beat box!

As you can see, this is great fun for your students – and even teachers!

The human beat box was actually where we ended – we started with a drum machine.

You can see the students have pieces of foil they are tapping on to create a sound. You can use all kinds of things with the Makey Makey to create sound – foil, clay, bananas, and as you already saw, humans!  Since we did this at the beginning of the school year, my students took a piece of foil and turned it into something that represented them.  We had everything from baseballs to ballet slippers to initials.

So how did we do this?  Believe it or not it wasn’t too hard.  All you need is a Makey Makey and a computer to access the website Scratch.

I started out creating a free account on Scratch.  This is a great website that teaches kids (and teachers) to code.  There are countless things you can create – as you’ll see from the examples on the site – but I stuck with the music.  When you first start creating on Scratch there is a helpful tutorial that will show you the basics.

After I got the hang of telling the computer what I wanted it to do, I was able to create a drum machine. I chose the “Sprite” I wanted  – in this case, a percussion instrument.

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Once you choose an instrument you’ll be able to choose from several sounds it can make.

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Then you simply choose the language to tell them computer what you want it to do and when.  In this case I dragged the Event, “When space key pressed” and the Sound “Play sound low tom.”  Each time you add another sound, you assign it to a different key on the keyboard.  To use the Makey Makey at it’s simplest, you’ll want to stick with the space key and left, right, up, down arrow keys.

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I continued adding “Sprites” (instruments), choosing sounds, and the event that would make them happen until I had everything I wanted.

Now to add the Makey Makey…

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This looks complicated at first, but it really isn’t – I promise! The Makey Makey directions and website will walk you through the set up, but here’s the basics – each color cord clips into a hole that corresponds with a key on the keyboard. For instance the orange cord is clipped into the down arrow key hole, so whatever I told the Scratch program to play when I hit the down arrow will happen when I touch the orange clip.

img_0080There is one cord (in this case the white one) that is the grounding cord. Nothing happens
unless the grounding cord is being touched. We made the cord the “Drummer’s Cord” – whoever holds that is the drummer. S/He gets to use the other students as drums by tapping their hand as they hold one of the colored cords.

Obviously, there are many instruments to choose from when creating your Scratch code. There are even pitched instruments like the piano where you can create a separate Sprint for different pitches so you can play a melody.

 

To create the beatbox I used the microphone and created a Sprite for each different sound.

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img_0084As you can see from the videos I started with, everyone loved this!  Even greater is that this can be used with every level of students. Our special needs kids even had a blast trying out all the sounds!

I plan to use this again in my classes and have students create the Scratch codes so they can learn coding basics and test out their creative music making abilities using technology.

Have you used a Makey Makey or Scratch before? Let us know what you’ve tried so we can learn from each other!

 

 

 

Build An Instrument: Part 4 – Compose & Perform

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Build An Instrument: Part 4 – Compose & Perform

Whew! Here we are at part 4 of the Build An Instrument unit posts! 20150910_120232-1

Let’s look back at what we’ve done so far …

Part 1 – Introduction

Part 2 – The Science of Sound

Part 3 – Building

and finally Part 4 – Compose and Perform!


Our principal came in when we were in the midst of composing and asked, “How do you teach a kid to compose?”  Luckily, I had an answer, but the truth is I taught many years before I figured out an approach. When I was in my undergrad theory classes and had to compose, the only guidance I remember is knowing some traditional chord progressions – and I wasn’t very successful.  I’ve found the key to teaching students to compose is starting with a very limited structure – the fewer choices the better.

For our middle school students, this meant composing in a modified Rondo form (ABACA) with 8 beats in each phrase.  Every student wrote a solo following this form.  They used traditional or non-traditional notation to indicate rhythm and where each note was to be played on their instrument.  Since we had a wide variety of instruments there were a lot of different sounds.  Another challenge was that most instruments didn’t play consistent pitches – so students notated pitches by labeling strings or making “fret” marks on their instruments and notating them in their music.

Once students wrote their solo, they teamed up in groups of 2, 3, or 4.  The group “sampled” their solos to create a new piece for their group.  This new piece also followed the Rondo form by adding “D” and “E” sections for the groups of 3 and 4.  Everyone agreed on a phrase for the group to play together for each recurring “A” phrase.  Then, each student chose their favorite composed phrase to play as a solo in each alternating section.  In the end, it looked something like this….

A – group

B – student 1 solo

A – group

C – student 2 solo

A – group

After a day of practicing with their group to perfect their piece, we celebrated with a day of performances!  Here’s an example …

Overall, the results of this unit were outstanding.  Students applied the science of sound to the instruments they built and more importantly, learned from trial and error.  Most students did not end up with the exact instrument they first conceived – but many of the results were even better.  Composing and performing was new for most kids, but many had very successful first attempts!  We’re looking forward to see what else they can accomplish throughout the semester!

Create An Instrument: Part 3 – Building

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Create An Instrument: Part 3 – Building
Building!

Building!

Create An Instrument: Part 3 – Building

Let’s face it – this is the fun part!

Everything we’ve done so far led up to this – build your instrument!

We gave students a day to research what they wanted to build and how to build it.  (We’re lucky enough to have Chromebook sets so each student could do their own research.)  Most students went to a search engine or youTube and searched for things like “build your own instrument”, “diy instrument”, or “homemade instrument”.  Once they chose what they wanted to build, they found instructions or videos giving specific directions.

Students had a Engineering Design log to guide them through the process.  Ours was based on this Engineering Notebook (p. 6). Each student’s instrument had to be sketched and labeled with all needed supplies before they could start building.


Supplies – this is probably the biggest challenge to this entire project.  Luckily, our STEM teacher had been collecting cardboard since the start of school so we had an enormous supply.  That said, we went through an enormous amount!      

Tip: the most useful types of cardboard were computer keyboard and ukulele boxes.

Hard at work

Hard at work

Here are some of the supplies we our amazing STEM teacher provided:

  • masking tape
  • small rubber bands
  • large rubber bands
  • duct tape
  • paper clips
  • fishing line
  • construction paper
  • beads
  • straws
  • toothpicks
  • string
  • popsicle sticks

We also had various workshop tools, hot glue guns, box cutters, and exacto knives. Obviously, we used these or supervised student use.

We also encouraged students to bring in supplies from home.  In the end, we had a few students who built their instruments at home and brought them in.  These were mostly students who wanted to use wood or other materials to build and had all the supplies and tools at home.


Note to teachers: Storage quickly became an issue with this project – especially when you combine classes! Make sure you think about where you can keep work in progress!

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The results…

Were pretty amazing!! Students with about 3 days to build.  Some would have gone longer but we eventually had to put an official end to building.  Just like adults we definitely had some “tinkerers” who enjoyed making adjustment after adjustment.  Scroll down to see some proud kids and their instruments!

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Next up – can we actually make music with these instruments??