Thursday, 22 August 2013

Week four - the probe

Over the past week, the children have continued shifted from inquiry into the shark to more focussed work on their designs for the tank environment - with only two weeks to go we are on a tight deadline!

Andy made use of the black hat so that children could "Skype" Wiremu and check a couple of details. For example, they double checked the dimensions of the tank, which allowed them to calculate the volume of water required, and begin to think about water currents and flow. Andy also used drama to consolidate the imagined trip to Wellington, asking children to create freeze frame "photo album pictures" of key moments from the trip.

Also during the week, the children received an email notifying them that a deep sea probe had been sent out to gather samples from the sea bed where the Dumb Golper Shark lives - and these would be delivered as soon as possible. This set us up for the Tuesday session.

This session depended on a great deal of preparation from Gavin and the other student teachers and required a fair bit of negotiation with Andy. Everyone did a great job and for my part it felt great to hand over the leadership and observe Gavin working in role for most of the session.

So, Tuesday began with the same meeting convention as in previous weeks. I put the Agenda on the whiteboard, and we held a general conversation to bring the "trainees" up to speed on what had been happening. One difference was that I took more of a back seat, asking D to call the company to attention and read out the agenda items. He became more interested in keeping the time - keeping a buzzer close to hand so he could let us know when we had used our time allocations. He also took notes on the whiteboard. J was close at hand too - once the meeting was underway, he jumped up to provide security and "guard" the whiteboard.

After apologies, correspondence and a quiet update in small groups, we moved to the visit from Bruce, the probe guy. We spent a bit of time thinking about how we would welcome this visitor to the company - I asked where the meeting should take place and what sort of protocols should be followed. Children had lots of ideas including making coffee (this was mimed), welcoming him formally by name, shaking hands, clearing the nicest chair, gathering around and taking notes. I noticed P took leadership here, gently asking people to clear the space and checking everyone was ready before Bruce arrived.
Coffee, lunch and a polite welcome are prepared for the visitor

Bruce arrived (Student teacher Gavin in role) - entering through the classroom door. No need to verbally signal this time as children are becoming used to the Teacher in role strategy and were expecting this. Bruce was welcomed, shown to his chair and, after some social banter and a bit of an introduction, he started telling us about the probe.

Student engagement is high as 'Bruce' starts to tell us about the probe

Bruce informed the company that the probe had successfully visited the ocean floor and brought back samples of sludge, water and sound (students asked whether future probes could also be arranged for samples of fish and visual images as well). However, he revealed that there was a problem with the sound file as there was a lot of "interference" - sound from the probe itself and from non-natural sounds in the environment. He asked the company whether they could help listen to the sound file and isolate out the different sounds.

A few minor technical issues (ably sorted by J and J - the self-identified 'technical guys' from the company) and we were able to listen to the file. This was a task in active listening. In planning the session we had identified a learning intention from the Music-Sound Arts curriculum to do with being able to describe the qualities of sound. So, Gavin took time to encourage students to find words to describe the sounds they were hearing. There was a lot of peer and whole group discussion about which were the natural sounds and which unnatural. Children took notes on the board.

Then we asked the company for ideas about how we might help Bruce with this problem. Fortunately (by a cunning stroke of fortune - aka teacher planning) the colleagues had received 'professional development' the day before on how to use Garage Band software on the class ipads. One of the children was quick to suggest that this might be the way forward... We could attempt to reproduce the soundtrack without the interference.

There was some debate over whether it was better to work with the existing sound track and try to eliminate the sounds, or whether we should start again and try to mimic the natural sounds from other sources. This was the direction Gavin "led" the children towards, as this was the activity we knew they had the resources to complete successfully.

An important point was raised here by one of the children (K?) who quietly spoke up and pointed out the fact that perhaps, if these artificial noises had been occurring for a long time in the area where the shark had been captured, then they were in fact FAMILIAR to the shark and so should be INCLUDED in the sound track. A lovely example of what Boud (in Problematising practice-based teaching, 2012) calls "Emergence" in teaching - 'the fact that not all worthwhile things can be planned for or specified in advance'.  A little further discussion and it was suggested that perhaps what we needed was the natural soundtrack with the unnatural sounds on separate tracks so that they could be introduced if necessary.

One of the children (A) suggested that when we finish the sound track we should run an experimental session with the shark - playing the natural sound track first and then adding the other sounds. Then 'if we see some kind of negative reaction - we can change it back'. Good thinking!

At this point, children headed off into the space with Ipads (this is a fortunate class, they have a set of ipads sufficient for one between 2 or 3 students). We had made the decision NOT to form the groups but to let children self-select. This was interesting. A number wanted to work alone but had to negotiate how to work alongside someone else. I also noticed different, unexpected pairings emerging (for example J volunteering to work with L - the new immigrant taiwanese student - as shown in this short clip). J remembered an online game that made 'bubbling' sounds... so he played it while L made a recording. Then they overlaid the sounds of a shaken water bottle... Great to see J so engaged,,,

The rest of the session was self-directed exploratory sound making using Garage Band software. Children tended to start out with instruments, but quickly moved into recording when they realised they could generate interesting natural sounds from the environment. Below you will see some photos of the children engaged in experimentation, recording, discussing and sharing the sounds.

The session concluded with a brief round table discussion of work in progress. I asked the children to close the ipads and put them down, so that I could challenge them to TALK about the sounds they had found (trying to promote that use of music - related terminology related to duration, pitch, timbre etc). This is something Andy will continue to deepen over the next few days.

Children experiment with sampling live sounds to recreate the qualities of the 'lost' audio...
Does stroking the grass make a sound anything like water?

What about if I slosh the water in my water bottle - does that sound useful?

Are there any 'built in' sounds on Garageband that sound right?

Here, two children (E and T0 talk about their attempt to replicate the sound qualities of the ocean in their 'found sound' recordings.... Will they convince the shark???

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