Technology: Plug Into Student-Centered Success!

Mike Lawson • • December 11, 2015

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Picture this: five focused students with headphones rehearsing on instruments plugged into JamHub, collaborating, critiquing, recording; taking charge of their own learning and success. This picture is real and hundreds like it are entering music rooms across the country. Students are organically using technology to build a framework for cooperative learning, which is the heart of the modern classroom.

Music directors are using the JamHub system so students can independently rehearse and record themselves so their performance can be shared with the teacher and admiring friends. The JamHub system provides open-ended architecture and multi-level learning within the traditional music program.

Nicole Christensen, a music teacher at John Paul Stevens High School in San Antonio, Texas likes the positive impact JamHub has had on student accountability in her string program. She says, “Using the JamHub in a classroom setting allows the students to work in a cooperative learning environment and take an active role in their progress and development as an ensemble member. Integrating JamHub into classroom use has added another level of motivation for each ensemble to work together because they can listen to the recording and evaluate themselves along with the other members of the ensemble.”

Across the country, JamHub stations are facilitating guitar and percussion ensembles, piano labs, songwriting stations, full electric ensembles, and iPads. Yes, iPads! Take those iPads and plug them into a JamHub studio to let your students hear their new instrument with inspiring clarity and volume and hear their friends while they play.

In classrooms as early as the 2nd grade, iPads are being used as musical instruments, giving students instant success in music appreciation, application, and composition by removing the barriers of traditional instruments. Students can pick up an iPad with GarageBand to explore a myriad of sounds and instruments on their own, but the real magic starts when you introduce collaboration.

Elementary music teacher Dan Beal from the Lawrenceville Elementary School in Lawrenceville, NJ has built an excellent example of a forward-thinking classroom where students are encouraged to learn a dynamic range of lessons that foster creative thinking.

“By the time you graduate from the third grade in our school, you are a composer,” says Beal. “I feel like I have empowered these kids to write music. That’s a really unique thing.” Beal was inspired to introduce technology into his classroom after attending a seminar by author/clinician Amy Burns. The concept was simple: give your kids the tools and the freedom to create music while the teacher provides structure and inspiration, and watch the magic happen. Beal’s program has enjoyed exponential growth, not to mention accolades and recognition from excited parents, proud administrators, and education gurus. His classroom has been a model for his district, as well as for teachers with similar ambitions.

Here is a look at how Beal transformed his classroom into a place where his students willingly skip recess to make music.

Beal uses iPads as the primary creative tool to get his students excited, and he uses JamHub studios as a classroom management tool. JamHub studios are a unique headphone mixer that allows up to six musicians to plug in and play without noisy speakers. Headphones help isolate students, keeping them focused on the task of learning while allowing them to hear the notes and sounds they’re making.

Setting Your Classroom Setup

In a classroom like Beal’s, you’ll find a table with a JamHub studio; five iPads with apps such as GarageBand, ThumbJam, and LaunchPad; five connection cables; and five sets of headphones. Beal started with a single station, and is now growing his program and adding more.

Funding Your Vision

Most school districts have to carefully prioritize their arts budget, and new technology doesn’t always fit in. However, resourceful teachers have found success turning to local and national foundations to partially, if not fully, fund well planned programs with clear benefits to a wide selection of students. For example, Beal worked with a local school advocacy group to write a grant proposal, which would eventually fund his ambitions. There may be similar local groups in your region, or look to national STEAM organizations dedicated to incorporating technology in your classroom.

If your district already has a 1-1 program or a technology cart with iPads, tablets, or laptops, you can start making music and teaching your students to create art on a collaborative level immediately. And it’s not limited to iPads either. Many community donation programs can readily deliver old electric instruments, such as keyboards, to use in your classroom. Most modern instruments have headphone jacks, making it easy to connect them to a JamHub studio so your students can make all the noise they want without soundproofing.

Getting to Know Your Equipment

Before Beal sat down with his first class, he had the help and support of the JamHub team and spent time with online tutorials for the apps that he planned to use. Knowing your setup and how to quickly troubleshoot it can be the difference between excitement and frustration. The JamHub studio’s streamlined interface is color coded and numbered, so it doesn’t require a degree in computer science to operate. Take some time to get to know your particular setup before your students show up, and be sure to reach out to the communities and manufacturers for tech support should the need arise! Have a dedicated space for your technology to live, whether it’s in a closet or on a cart. Enlisting a few trustworthy students in your class as “helpers” for setup and teardown will build a sense of ownership.

Setting Your Goals

When Beal started his classes, all he wanted was for the students to understand the power of technology, play in an ensemble, and have fun. From there, he built a series of smaller goals, like talking about songwriting and the elements of music, to grow his lesson plans. By the end of the year, his students were able to talk about things like key, tempo, major and minor tonality, and actually composed music using loops and sounds they had recorded. But the learning was demonstrably deeper. These students had harnessed technology to learn in a new and exciting way resulting in being self-directed, confident, and applicable in every classroom.

Sample Lesson Outline

Here is a sample lesson that focuses on learning the role of modern rock band instruments. Through ensemble playing with iPads and a JamHub studio, apps like GarageBand can teach rhythm, notation, and tonality in a variety of settings. Keep in mind, the “station” setup in a classroom means that lessons can be as long or short as you and your students can handle.

Lesson 1: The Drums

Teacher – Talk about the drumset, its role in a modern rock band how it provides rhythm for the other musicians. Be sure to focus on the hi-hat, snare drum and bass drum, as these will be the most used in the activity.

Using GarageBand, open the drum set instrument and have the students choose their virtual drum set. Identify the hi hat, snare drum and bass drum. Let the students experiment with the sounds. When they’re ready, try the following exercise:

Activity 1.1 – Play and Count

Count: 1 2 3 4 Line 1 – Hi-Hat x x x x Line 2 – Snare Drum o o Line 3 – Bass Drum b b b b

*Have all group play and count line 1

*Have all group play and count line 2

*Have all group play and count line 3

*Divide into 3 groups and assign a line per group to play and count

Advancing the Lesson

To keep the lesson moving forward, try:

• Changing the pattern to incorporate more complex rhythms

• Writing down each pattern using standard notation

• Having students play all 3 parts by themselves

• Playing the patterns on different sound sources in the room (chairs, desks, clapping, foot stomps, etc…)

• Introducing the concepts of tempo and dynamics

• Playing simple patterns on acoustic or electric drum sets

• Assigning students to experiment with, write or record new beats and patterns at home and demonstrate them in class


Performing – Select varied musical works to present based on interest, knowledge, technical skill, and context.

MU:Pr4.1.E.5a – Select varied repertoire to study based on interest, music reading skills (where appropriate), an understanding of the structure of the music, context, and the technical skill of the individual or ensemble.

Analyze: Analyzing creators’ context and how they manipulate elements of music provides insight into their intent and informs performance.

MU:Pr4.2.1b – When analyzing selected music, read and perform rhythmic patterns using iconic or standard notation.

Defining Success

By engaging students with dynamic technology in collaborative learning experiences, we can impart foundational lessons in creativity that will carry our students into a future that has no boundaries. There has never been a better time to be a music teacher. Not only do we have the unique opportunity to innovate in our field and hone our craft with new technology and renewed public enthusiasm, we get to follow our students as they redefine what it means to learn and what it means to express yourself in the 21st century.

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