Three computer whiz kids in Year 8 are acting as technology mentors for the entire Preparatory School student body, and even quite a few teachers. Caleb, Cameron and Mitchell run twice weekly Fountain of Knowledge technology training sessions, with students able to book appointments on a sophisticated website set up by Caleb. “I took over the project from its founder Ward (now Year 10) when I was in Year 6. We have seven mentors including the three of us, and are training up some Year 6 students so they can run the sessions next year,” says Caleb.
The students help with everything from setting up the internet on laptops, phones and tablets, to installing anti-virus software, and helping students to get the most out of OneNote. They also teach students how to use the cameras and other equipment in the TV studio. Their teacher Ms Melissa Rennell says she sometimes has teachers knocking on her door seeking technical help from one of the boys, or asking for assistance with their Activboards. “They often go to these students first before the ICT Department.” Caleb has even rebuilt an old laptop from the Preparatory School and connected it up to an active board on which students can share their projects.
As they get ready to hand over the Fountain of Knowledge at the end of the year, Caleb, Cameron and Mitchell are thinking about which equally enthusiastic young technology experts they will pick as its new leaders, and are already training Year 6 student Nicholas. “We’re proud of the programme and have had a lot of support from Mr Dekkers, who will be the teacher in charge of it again next year,” says Caleb.
Cameron says he enjoys technology but isn’t planning on a career in the field at this stage. However Caleb and Mitchell hope to one day own their own technology companies, “like Apple, or Google”.
Note: this is quite a lengthy and, at times, technical post about configuring and deploying Minecraft in a school when choosing not to use the new Microsoft Education Edition. The following is the structure of the blog if you want to jump to a particular point of interest:
The Background Situation: existing Minecraft usage and identified problems.
The Opportunity: what we felt we needed to deliver to run our own Minecraft server securely and easily.
The Technical Setup:
Client Installation & Deployment
Where To From Here:
Minecraft, the hugely popular game with students of all ages, is described as:
A game about placing blocks and going on adventures. Explore randomly generated worlds and build amazing things from the simplest of homes to the grandest of castles.
Despite this initial success there has always been some problems with administering Minecraft, particularly around easily and securely allowing student interaction and collaboration in these virtual worlds. To date, teachers have had to rely on students using the Minecraft Personal Edition meaning it was essentially single player mode only, removing the ability to collectively work on a project together. To promote greater student engagement and allow the key competencies to be fully utilized in learning through Minecraft, alternatives needed to be identified.
In late September 2014, Microsoft purchased Minecraft for $2.5billion which held out the possibility of a deeper integration into Office365 and Microsoft’s wider Education strategies. It took just under two years before Minecraft Education version was released, during which time an alternative Minecraft Edu was essentially shut down and absorbed into Microsoft’s new Education version. This was a shame as the Edu version was very good, allowing the use of numerous custom mods (modifications to improve/customise the game play) and it could be run on a hosted server, not just on the student’s personal device.
There was no ability to host the game on a stand alone server – now it would be installed and hosted via the teacher’s laptop computer (this raised significant security concerns for us and ultimately was a show stopper).
There was no custom mod support whatsoever. Over time, it was the ability to modify and customise the game play that had contributed to the enduring appeal of Minecraft and without this, the default game play was less appealing.
The upside, however, was that licensing was incredibly easy to manage and, if you were prepared to overlook security concerns, deployment for a teacher in a basic network would also be simplified.
An example of students using Minecraft Pocket Edition in previous years
After the initial disappointment of realising we would not deploy Minecraft Education as soon it was released, Mr Wilj Dekkers engaged in a number of discussions with myself and Mr Joshua Harrison from the St Andrew’s College ICT Services Team to explore how we might progress forward with Minecraft. Very quickly, some key features were identified:
Teacher Control: teachers would need the ability to easily manage students within the game. Without this, the chances of students running amok and getting into mischief was very real. This would require third party mods to achieve and a strategic plan around how Digital Citizenship teaching could be included into the Minecraft worlds.
The Minecraft server needed to be hosted centrally so that it could be controlled by the ICT services team, whilst still allowing the delegation of in-game management to teachers and to those students identified as leaders who could be student administrators.
Teacher/Student administrators needed the ability to maintain / deploy approved mods and perform low level administration work e.g. restarting worlds, creating/deploying new worlds.
Finally, the issue of how to deploy a pre-configured client onto student BYOD devices in a quick and simple manner, without disrupting any existing installations of Minecraft they may have already installed.
The above list of requirements needed addressing if we were going to be able to build a sustainable environment for integrating Minecraft into the eLearning strategies at the College. Joshua decided he would explore various options based on his prior knowledge administering various Minecraft servers in his own time and see if there could be some suitable solutions to use at St Andrew’s.
For the proof of concept, we decided to use an existing HP Compaq 6000 that was spare. The specifications of this machine were pretty light weight, having only a Core2 Duo CPU and 4GB of RAM. It remains to be seen if this will be sufficient and we anticipate needing to increase the resources of this machine as more users and worlds join.
After exploring various different versions of Minecraft, Joshua settled on 1.7.10 1.10.2 (this version is required to be compatible with Sponge. The earlier version was needed for supporting Bukkit which we are no longer using – see below). To support the deployment of these mods, two frameworks were necessary:
Bukkit This has been replaced with Sponge due to a potential copyright issue; this has resulted in dropping KCauldron as well.
These are essentially APIs that allow other mods to run on the Minecraft server and normally a Minecraft administrator would use only one or the other of Forge or Bukkit. However, as will be seen, it was necessary to use both and to achieve this an additional third party tool called KCauldron was necessary to enable the use of different mods on the same platform to work nicely together. With the use of Sponge, there is no need for third party tools like KCauldron, as Sponge integrates directly into Forge.
Minecraft Server Dashboard
Another important tool was MC Dashboard which allowed Joshua to use a graphical user interface (GUI) rather than a traditional command line interface (CLI) to administer the Minecraft server. This tool provides easy oversight into server resource usage, connected users and other important information.
As mentioned earlier, it is really the mods that create the key appeal of Minecraft in schools, as it allows for customisation of the worlds and gameplay and, sadly, was something that Microsoft chose to remove from their Education edition. It’s easy to see why, however, because mods are also one of the trickier components and can easily lead to problems of version compatibility and contribute to a poor user experience. There are three key mods that Joshua has deployed for the StAC Minecraft server:
Multiverse: Project Worlds:(Project Worlds replaces Multiverse due to the changes above relating to Bukkit – everything following remains the same) This is a key one as it allows us to run parallel worlds on the same server, whilst enabling teachers and/or students to jump between worlds at will. Put practically, a teacher could create a world for a collaborative social studies project where students need to work towards an assessment or project, whilst having a separate world for “free play” and experimentation. Without Multiverse, projects would need to be separated spatially within the same world which would inevitably lead to problems, such as having to walk a long way to go from one project to another – it all takes time!
PermissionsEX:PermissionManager:(PermissionManager replaces PermissionsEX due to the changes above relating to Bukkit – everything following remains the same) This mod allows for differing levels of user permissions groups, and the following four were setup for school usage:
Student – a basic user who can only do the default game play such as build/place etc
Student Administrator – have slightly elevated controls such as the ability to move other student users around, freeze them and do other temporary modifications. These permissions are designed to support a Digital Citizenship component where students can be educated and entrusted to self-manage as much as possible within the game. The assigned permissions here were carefully selected by Joshua to prevent a student who had prior knowledge of how Minecraft administration works from being able to execute any command.
Teacher – has access to most of the Minecraft server administration, can create new worlds, can kill off users, teleport users between worlds and other main administration functions.
Administrator – aimed at superusers and, at this stage, reserved for ICT staff to support the server installation as necessary.
ICY Admin:The Minecraft Macro/Keybind Mod(This was used to replace ICY Admin due to the version change of Minecraft) This is the key mod to bring the above together into a user-friendly GUI allowing for in-game administration from a graphical menu for the above user groups. The available menu options in ICY Admin The Minecraft Macro/Keybind Mod have been built from scratch by Joshua and are controlled by a config file on the Minecraft server itself. Users access the menu system during game play by hitting the tilde key (~) and this replaces the need to execute console / CLI commands within the game. This makes it significantly easier for new users to engage with the game and reduces the barrier-to-entry for teachers who may wish to administrate but know none of the commands.
Some of the controls available via ICY Admin The Minecraft Macro/Keybind Mod include things such as “freeze” a user/all users in place (useful if you effectively want to pause the game for a break), teleportation of a single user / all users to a shared starting point or, for example, if you wanted them all to be in the same place to work on the same project. Additionally, environmental settings can be controlled in this way e.g. make it rain or snow, or set it to always be night time.
The control interface for teachers and student-admins when using The Minecraft Macro/Keybind Mod (which replaced ICY Admin)
These three core mods are what allows the overall setup and administration and, through conversations with Mr Dekkers, are probably sufficient to enable most scenarios of how Minecraft might be used at this stage. Two in-game mods specifically requested by Mr Dekkers were IndustrialCraft and ComputerCraft both of which allow for significant learning opportunities. IndustrialCraft supports things like electricity generation and storage through batteries and transferring into different parts of the game, whilst ComputerCraft is essentially a full programming language accessible by computers in the game.
Client Installation & Deployment:
Windows installation batch script
With the setup of the Minecraft server achieved, the final part of the solution was how to easily deploy this to the individual student BYOD laptops. St Andrew’s College has a choice within parameters for BYOD, meaning students can bring either a Windows 10 laptop or an Apple MacBook running OS X.
It was important that there was an easy, stress-free way for teachers and students to install this version of Minecraft onto laptops that did not necessarily need to involve the ICT Services helpdesk team at the College. Joshua was pretty confident he would be able to write some batch scripts for Windows and I suggested he check out OS X’s Automator as a way of scripting installation for the MacBooks. Interestingly, he found that he was able to script the installation on MacBooks with Automator in about half the time it took to write a batch file for Windows.
The tasks in the Automator script to install onto a MacBook running OS X
The key to making this happen was Minecraft MultiMC, an open source launcher for Minecraft that allows users to run completely separate installations of Minecraft with ease, meaning that we could confidently encourage students to install this version without affecting any other installation of Minecraft they may already have on their laptop.
Essentially, a student is provided with a USB key that has an installer launcher that copies MultiMC and a Java installation into a new folder, whilst setting up short cuts in their Applications folder so they can run the game.
Interestingly, Joshua opted to not include a copy of the Minecraft client application itself within this installer file, instead relying on students having to enter their own Minecraft credentials (linked with their personal paid licensed copy) which would then trigger the download of the client application of Minecraft. This way, we are not distributing any commercial software illegally and the download only adds 1-2minutes to the overall installation process. The key benefit, however, was that MultiMC is already configured to point the installation to the College’s on-premise Minecraft server meaning there was no additional configuration required for students. Additionally, Joshua set this up to run on a non-standard port so that if other students were using Minecraft at school they could not accidentally connect to the school’s Minecraft server and become a nuisance.
All up, it takes less than 5 minutes for a student to install this version of Minecraft from a USB key provided by the teacher.
Where To From Here?
I am always really happy when members of the ICT Services Team have an opportunity to use their prior experience or personal interests to contribute to the teaching and learning at the College in ways like this. It is one of the unique things about delivering ICT in schools compared to other environments and the ability to be involved in this way is enjoyed by the staff. Talking with Joshua he admitted to being a bit worried about how to deliver what needed to be a very simple solution that could be managed by students and teachers whilst still being secure and stable:
I had a huge sense of personal satisfaction with the finished solution because I was a bit worried about how I would be able to deliver all of this at the start, or even if it was possible. Ultimately, it was ICY Admin that made it all possible and this was something I found only through researching for this project. It’s nice to know that the hundreds of hours I’ve spent administering Minecraft servers in my own time have paid off and could be used in an educational context.
Mr Joshua Harrison
For me, it is pleasing to know that we have a secure, robust and extensible platform which teachers will be able to use relatively painlessly thanks to the efforts of Joshua in this area. It remains to be seen what interesting curriculum uses arise from this and I’ll certainly be posting a followup blog highlighting this.
Of course, as Microsoft continue to develop their Augmented Reality HoloLens solutions, then perhaps the future of Minecraft will be 3D as this video shows:
Recently I caught up with Finn Perring, Anna Bennetto and Grace Dephoff who are part of a wider group of students that make up the band Souldrop. Anna leads the vocals, Finn plays bass guitar and Fin Gilzean (St Thomas of Canterbury College) plays lead guitar whilst Elliot Millar (Burnside High School) is on the drums. Formed in April 2016, their first single Mill Bay was released in August with an accompanying music video shot and edited by Grace Dephoff and their 5 track EP will be available from the 9th September 2016.
UPDATE 25/9/16 The band’s self-titled EP is now available and embedded below via Spotify:
I was particularly interested in the technology the band used to record the track as well as edit the video, however to understand all of this it was important to learn of the various musical influences on the band.
Elliot is a jazz and big band drummer, representing Burnside High School in various musical competitions.
Fin learnt blues and classic rock guitar, mostly from his father
Anna has been performing for over ten years in musical theatre shows, as a jazz singer in various bands as well as one soul band.
Finn is a classically trained guitarist who plays Spanish flamenco guitar, but bass for Souldrop.
Recording & mastering the audio track:
Most of the audio track was recorded in the St Andrew’s College recording studio with the vocals, drums and bass all being laid down in this environment. The lead guitar parts, however, were recorded in Fin’s bedroom using Apple’s Garageband. Once finished, these guitar recordings were sent to the other Finn (Perring) to add to the other instruments and mix the recording in Apple’s Logic Pro X. To this end, the band never played the entire song together in the same room during the recording process, instead relying on the use of over-dubbing to achieve the best sound.
From a non-musicians perspective, I found this a fascinating way to craft a complete song, through the selective and judicious extracting of various takes of the song and merging them all together in an order that produces the best quality song. Additionally, the song was a very collaborative effort with the idea of the song first coming in a formative stage to Finn Perring around two years ago, before drummer Elliot and lead singer Anna co-wrote the lyrics for the song.
Recording & editing the music video:
Grace Dephoff filmed all of the footage for the video in a single afternoon using a Canon 70D camera with the 16-24mm lens and a 50mm lens borrowed from Mr Dave Jensen who works in the TV studio at St Andrew’s College. There was a limited script for the recording of the music video, instead a desire to keep it as natural as possible for the band members. One of the most clever features of the music video is the fact it is in slow motion, whilst keeping the music and singing in real time.
Grace Dephoff filming the band
This was achieved by having the band perform the song at 1.5x normal speed from speakers that they could hear to help them keep time, whilst Grace filmed at 50fps so that it could be later slowed down to 67% normal speed and still look smooth after this editing had taken place. The end effect makes it look like the band are in time to the song, even though they are in slow motion. Grace had learnt of this technique from a former guitar teacher she and the whole band were thrilled with the end result and how it looked.
To edit the hours of video footage, Grace used Apple’s Final Cut Pro, a tool she was largely self-taught in after graduating from using Apple iMovie for a number of years, including winning numerous prizes at the annual St Andrew’s College Film Fest. All up, she spent around 10 hours editing the footage and another 6 hours completing the colour grading in the video.
Distributing and Promoting the single:
The band are using a combination of word of mouth and social media to get exposure for the first single Mill Bay, combining messages on Facebook, Instagram and, of course, the YouTube channel itself. They have added a number of live performances as well, including lunchtime shows in the St Andrew’s College Quad, an assembly at Burnside High School and a performance at St Thomas of Canterbury College as well. There is a planned interview on 98RDU radio station as well on 14th September.
The song has been released through TuneCore which is a digital media distribution company which automatically publishes the song to the main digital music platforms including Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Shazaam and the YouTube channel the band have created as well. Anna and Finn’s focus at this stage is getting the song out to as wide an audience as possible and any revenue that is generated from the track being played is a bonus. TuneCore will send the band monthly statistics around the performance of the song on the various platforms.
In terms of copyright and protecting the song, the band have chosen to use the Creative Commons licensing platform. They recognise that this license might not stop another band from being able to sample their work, but they will be required to acknowledge Souldrop as the source of the original content for the sample.
The band are keen to keep gigging and playing as many live performances as possible to increase their exposure and improve as a unit. They are also thinking about recording another music video for one of the other tracks on the soon to be released EP.
I have been super impressed with the members of the band that I have met so far, both in terms of their musical ability but also their technical skills to be able to produce such high quality recordings and videos. It is always pleasing to see that skills that have been taught and learnt at St Andrew’s College are finding a creative outlet in the areas of student’s own interests such as being part of a band.
The wider Souldrop crew including Anna Bennetto (back row, second from right), Finn Perring (back row, far right) and Grace Dephoff (from row, first on the left)
This song and video highlight how technology has enabled students to create high quality, professional looking videos and promote them digitally to an international audience. When I pointed this out to Finn, Anna and Grace their reaction was a mixture of pride and nonchalance in the work they had created, highlighting to me just how natural the use of this technology is to students these days. Importantly, they had thought about using Creative Commons to copyright their work demonstrating an inherent understanding of the value of their music and video.
Finally, there is opportunities for this work to be credited against various NCEA internal Achievement Standards in some subjects (mainly English/Music) which would be a serendipitous outcome of what is essentially a passion project for these students. This is, perhaps, one of the biggest outcomes and reasons to pause for thought from this. If schools were able to recognise the creative output of students in areas of their interests perhaps we would finally see the flexibility of NCEA that is often talked about, yet rarely achieved.
Inquiry | Creativity | Collaboration – The role of technology in modern learning
Developing teacher understanding and encouraging implementation of collaborative and digital learning methods
Integrating and encouraging digital technology adoption in curriculum and classroom
The new narrative: IT training and computational thinking
Building technology into the curriculum – lessons, challenges and what we’ve learnt along the way
Collaboration at the forefront of today’s teaching environment
When preparing what I wanted to share at the 40 minute session I had been given, I decided on using the Key Competencies from the New Zealand Curriculum to explain why some examples of eLearning from four St Andrew’s College teachers had been successful. Additionally, I wanted to use authentic student voice to highlight this – fortunately, having been blogging on this site for over two years now there was plenty of examples I could draw on.
Thinking: is about using creative, critical, and metacognitive processes to make sense of information, experiences, and ideas … Intellectual curiosity is at the heart of this competency … [Students] reflect on their own learning, draw on personal knowledge and intuitions, ask questions, and challenge the basis of assumptions and perceptions.
Using Language, Symbols and Texts: Using language, symbols, and texts is about working with and making meaning of the codes in which knowledge is expressed … Students who are competent users … can interpret and use words, number, images, … and technologies in a range of contexts … They confidently use ICT to access and provide information and to communicate with others
Managing Self: This competency is associated with self-motivation, a “can-do” attitude, and with students seeing themselves as capable learners … It is integral to self-assessment.
Relating To Others: Students who relate well to others are open to new learning and able to take different roles in different situations … By working effectively together, they can come up with new approaches, ideas, and ways of thinking.
Participating & Contributing: This competency is about being actively involved in communities … They may be local, national, or global. This competency includes a capacity … to make connections with others, and to create opportunities for others in the group.
I started the session off by highlighting the fact that often ICT is talked about in terms of risk. This can come from security breaches, budget blow-outs and ICT project cost overruns, not to mention distracted and off-task behaviour when using technology. I then posed the following questions:
I wanted to highlight how some of the best examples of effective eLearning from teachers at St Andrew’s College was firmly rooted in Key Competencies. I chose examples from the following four teachers:
Combining OneNote & MineCraft To Create Pick-A-Path Stories:
to produce interactive pick-a-path adventure stories
KC: Using Languages, Symbols & Text
to work collaboratively online to produce an end product
KC: Relating To Others
to create stories to share online with a wider audience
KC: Participating & Contributing
As mentioned above, I wanted to use authentic student voice as much as possible so I included an abbreviated version of the following video so that the audience could hear students articulating their learning and the impact that technology had made:
An insightful quote from the student called Harry was:
The goal was not to just make something pretty in Minecraft, it was actually to improve the quality of your writing … after writing the story, the idea was to look back in Minecraft and see how you could improve the writing you had already completed.
To assist teachers at St Andrew’s College with integration of technology into their teaching and learning, we have adopted the SAMR taxonomy that you can see on the left.
This is a really useful way for teachers to conceptualise how technology might assist the learning outcomes for their students as well as provide them some aspirational goals for extended use of technology. Tom Adams, our eLearning Integrator, has recently written in detail about effective use of the SAMR model which is definitely worth reading if you are new to it. During the presentation, I introduced the audience to a relatively new product from Microsoft called Pulse. This enables the audience to provide real time feedback on a session as well as allowing the presenter to push out questions for quick polls. I asked the audience “What level of SAMR do you feel the Minecraft/OneNote example was operating at?” and below is their response:
Using Microsoft Pulse for instant feedback from the audience
Inspiring Creative Writing Through Constructing Digital Worlds:
The next example I shared was again around creative writing, this time from the High School instead of a Year 6 class. The full reflection can be found here, however the high level overview of the task was as follows (with Key Competencies inserted):
Learning Tasks For This Unit:
Write a short story of ~600 words with a theme of “conflict”
KC: Using Languages, Symbols & Text
Students Must produce at least 4 “drafts”
Drafts must be shared with peers for feedback/feed-forward & act on appropriate advice
KC: Participating & Contributing
What was different about this activity is that students had to build their digital world before they started their writing and use it as a source of inspiration and planning, not just as a reflective tool for editing. Settings were constructed in Sketchup, Paint, Minecraft and the source engine of the game Counter-Strike. Here is a student Ralph talking about his world which I again shared with the conference audience:
Again, I find the language used by the student here informative, with some of his comments being:
“I wanted readers to grasp that the bombs had come from the bank itself”
Clearly, the reader’s experience is at the forefront of his thinking when he is designing his digital world.
He blended his natural enjoyment of the game Counter Strike with his school work and learning – a win/win situation!
Ralph talks about adding a backstory to the real events of the London Bombings, demonstrating a wider awareness of global communities
“As I was designing the level I was constantly thinking of ways I could make the story more interesting.”
This was not just technology for the sake of it – it was clearly shaping and informing his understanding of the creative writing task that was the key learning outcome here.
This was manifested through his drafting process where he removed a lot of the dialogue to improve the narrative flow and added more descriptive text such as the sound of the gunfire
This impressive learning came on the back of an earlier, easier task where the students in the class had leveraged an existing digital world (Google Earth) rather than having to create their own. Through the lens of the SAMR scale this makes perfect sense – the students build their knowledge and experience of digital toolsets in the lower levels of SAMR and once mastered they can progress to more difficult tasks. Here is a write up of the earlier task where students had to explain the significance of setting in a film, and this is a student talking about their comprehension.
Again, it’s important to pick up on the student’s language – the technology is integrally linked to the learning outcomes, it is not merely there for entertainment or distraction. By requiring students to record their personal reflections in this way, students are using a number of Key Competencies.
Communicate Musical Intention By Composing An Original Piece of Music Inspired By Art:
The final example I shared with the audience came from Level 3 Year 13 Music. On the first day of the conference I had been asked to be part of a Q&A Panel about integrating technology into schools and one question from the audience was essentially around what are real world examples of great technology usage in NCEA subjects. The heart of the question was around the challenge of adapting existing assessments to be technology rich and I answered it by a brief description of this example from Mr Duncan Ferguson our Head of Music.
Using AS.91419 (3.4)
KC: Using Languages, Symbols & Texts
Students are required to reflect on their composition and explain the connection with the art that inspired them
These are largely independent projects that the students need to work on themselves
KC: Managing Self
Here is the video of the student reflecting on their learning:
Students were required to watch the instructional videos and then attempt the practice questions
Students needed to regularly complete check lists indicating their progress
KC: Managing Self
Here is an example video made by Mr Hilliam:
What I most liked about this example is that students were not left on their own to just work through it, the teacher is still involved through the process, despite the availability of the instructional videos. The following screenshot is from a OneNote Class Notebook showing how the student has completed their progress reports and the teacher has provided feedback:
I used MS Pulse to ask the audience whether they personally felt that using a “flipped classroom” genuinely created more opportunities for differentiated and personalised learning during class time. Their response was overwhelmingly “yes!”
An alternative way to show poll results from MS Pulse
I concluded my session with the following thoughts:
Mr Ferguson is one of five New Zealanders to be selected to attend the Apple Distinguished Educators conference in Berlin, Germany.
Attending an ADE Institute provides powerful opportunities for collaboration and ongoing professional growth for ADE alumni members. This 4-day intensive professional learning experience, will bring 400 ADEs together to collaborate, share, and learn. By collaborating directly with peers from across the world, ADEs will return home with a shared sense of purpose as they develop content and promote powerful ideas for improving teaching and learning worldwide.
To see the iBook about Collaborative Composition that Mr Ferguson wrote as a result of the 2015 ADE Institute in Singapore please visit:
As a result of this study I have produced a document called The Music Educators Technology Survival Guide. This is a free download and takes you through recommended equipment required to setup up a music technology programme in your high school. It also provides an overview of the requirements for the NZQA Unit Standards, which you may use to assess your students’ music technology skills.
However, it’s one thing to have all the gear for teaching music technology but I’ve found the physical makeup of your studio/recording/mixing spaces, are critical to student success.
Of course, the quality of the acoustics in your recording space(s) is one of the most important factors but unless you’re involved in a new build of your department there may not be a huge amount you can do (whatever you do, don’t put egg cartons on your walls, they will only make things worse!).
But if you are lucky enough to plan a new setup this is what I recommend you aim for when you’re trying to record a rock band.
Some important things to note:
All the musicians (apart from the singer) are recording in the same room at the same time but the only instrument that is actually mic’ed up in the recording room is the drum kit.
The guitar signal is recorded via a DI box, which is then outputted to an amplifier in a separate ‘amp’ room (using a specialized reamp device). The guitar amp is mic’ed up with one or two mics and those signals are then returned to the recording system. The guitar amp signal is then fed back to the musicians via headphones.
The bass player is recorded via a DI box with the signal returned to the musicians headphones. The bass track usually sounds great if you have a good quality DI (like a Radial JDI) but if you need to reamp it later and/or overdub this is also an option.
The singer is recorded in the mixing (or other) room with their signal coming back to the musicians’ headphones. If the quality of the singer’s track is not good enough they can be overdubbed later.
Why does this setup work so well?
Generally high schools students are not going to be good enough to record to a click track and retain a good feel, and they’re also not great at overdubbing instruments one by one. So this setup allows them to play all together as they would in a normal rehearsal room, hopefully creating a great groove.
But with our multi-room setup (i.e. having an amp room) we are able to record each instrument on to isolated tracks in our DAW so if one musician makes a minor mistake you don’t have to stop the take as you would if you had the amps in the same rooms as the drum microphones. Any minor mistakes can be cut out and re-recorded (or inserted from another take) just by the musician that made the mistake, without forcing the whole band to do another take.
Having all instruments on isolated tracks (without any ‘bleed’ from the other instruments in their tracks) allows us to fix timing and pitch issues with software like Celemony Melodyne.
On a recent session the bass player had huge trouble locking in with the drums. If the band had recorded to a click track it would be easy to ‘quantize’ the bass audio to the grid but as I said before, most high school bands aren’t good enough to be able to record to click well.
But using the new version of Melodyne 4 you are easily able to generate a ‘tempo map’ of the performance (most likely using the drum kit as your timing reference) which you can then quantize the bass to, making the two musicians perfectly in time with each other (even though they didn’t record to a click). I’ll do a full review of this software and walk through this process in a future blog.
If you want hands on, practical help with understanding how to create a recording setup like this I’m running workshops for teachers – Learning Ideas Teacher Training.
Today Mr Wilj Dekkers and Year 6 student Toby Skyped with Hannes Nel from Microsoft New Zealand about a game called “The Adventures of Mr Dot” that Toby had built in Scratch.
It was a great chat aimed to help Toby identify some next steps for his game development and when Hannes asked what his plans for it were, Toby’s answer was simple:
I want it to go on an app store so that it can make lots of money!
Toby’s game is called “The Adventures of Mr Dot” and is based on a traditional platform style game, revolving around moving a “dot” from one side of the screen to the other, progressing past increasingly difficult obstacles.
Toby demonstrates how to play “The Adventures of Mr Dot”
Super Mario Bros screenshot that Hannes likened Toby’s game to.
Hannes, who has assisted in development of apps for Trademe and TVNZ, likened playing the game to the Super Mario Brothers games he played as a child. He went on to explain to Toby that there are three different stores that his game could theoretically be published to:
The Windows Store
Apple’s App Store
Google’s Play Store
The challenge was going to be migrating the game from Scratch to a platform that could be published to these online app stores. Hannes made the suggestion that using Construct 2 would allow for this and that since most app developers were gaining success through publishing to apps for smart phones, Toby might want to think about allowing a touch interface to control “Mr Dot”.
A screenshot taken from Toby’s Surface Pro 3 showing some of the coding he has done in Scratch to build his game.
Toby, who has spent significant time over the last month developing his game, was immediately up for the challenge and considering how he could convert the keyboard controls to a touch interface. Other students in the Year 6 class with Mr Dekkers have been informal “beta testers” playing many of the existing levels, finding it a fun and addictive game to play. Toby aims to write 100 levels for the game that would result in significant gameplay.
I’ll keep an eye on the development of this app and hopefully we can see it make it through to completion and publication on the various app stores.
Microsoft kindly gifted Toby a backpack with some tech gifts to encourage him to keep up the programming (this did not include the Surface Pro 3 which is Toby’s personal device)
Entrance to the Preparatory School Library celebrating Book Week 2015
The St Andrew’s College Library Manager, Mrs Cathy Kennedy, runs an annual Book Week for students across the College to engage in. Each year this week includes many competitions and prizes, with at least one activity having a ‘tech focus’ for students. 2015 was no different with the students encouraged to create “Auras” for books that would link to video content or book review trailers through the use of Aurasma Software.
Aimed at our Preparatory School students, the challenge for them was to promote some of their favourite books by creating interactive posters which contained a “trigger” for media content to display over the book cover. To achieve this, a smart phone running the free Aurasma app could be held up in front of the book cover or poster, and then the video content would start to display.
Sound confusing? Here are some screenshots of what it looks like:
The rectangular content “overlaid” on the book is the augmented reality video clip used by students and displayed via Aurasma
The winning poster submissions and a number of books with Auras waiting to be scanned. Note the Aurasma bookmarks indicating books that have an Aura
Helpfully, Mr Wilj Dekkers had introduced his Year 6 class to using Aurasma earlier in the year, so Mrs Kennedy had some students familiar with the technology. To assist the others, she:
Sparked interest by creating an example Aurasma interactive poster in the library (that linked through to this Animoto Video)
Ran a lunchtime tutorial for those wanting some hands on assistance
With two year group categories for judging the winners, students in Years 4-6 and 7-8, created around 40 Auras which was excellent. A key learning experience for Mrs Kennedy and the students was understanding that students and staff that wanted to see the Auras needed to be following the “standrewslibrary” Aurasma account before scanning an Aura worked correctly. As Mrs Kennedy explained:
Aurasma works a bit like Twitter – just like you need to be following a Twitter user to see see their Tweets, you need to be following an Aurasma user to see their Auras.
With this cleared up, students could happily see what their classmates had created. By using a shared Aurasma account to create the various Aura (to ensure they were collated under one user and therefore easier to find), opportunities for reinforcing good Digital Citizenship practices emerged. Among these were:
Students could not edit/remove the Aura of another student
Students had to still clearly name their Aura so they were identifiable
Pleasingly, the students were very good at the above and this created a positive culture of creating and sharing Auras that promoted a wide range of books.
The back wall of the library was beautifully themed to celebrate book week and contained a poster celebrating the start of Book Week that doubled as an Aura that students could scan:
Reflecting on this activity, Mrs Kennedy noted that the task was actually quite complex and required a fair amount of work and persistence from the students, therefore it was pleasing there were so many submissions. Whilst a paid account with Aurasma is quite expensive, it is something that she would consider in the future since it would open up a wider range of sources to link to, such as website links and YouTube videos (the free account only allows linking to content uploaded to Aurasma).
The winning student posters promoting a book with an Aura are:
St Andrew’s College is an Office365 school, making extensive use of the Microsoft OneNote application in particular and we are also compulsory BYOD from Year 9 (we still allow choice of Windows / Apple). Over the last two years we have seen increasing amounts of Apple laptops coming to school with the students and one of the frustrations has been the old Office 2011 available for Macs.
The new Office 2016 is distinctively “Mac” in design and brings the feature set much closer to the Windows 2013 version (although, frustratingly, some of the best features of OneNote are not there still). Here’s hoping that updates will improve this so that both Windows and Apple users have comparable functionality.
This guest post today comes from Mr Duncan Ferguson, Head of Department of Music here at St Andrew’s College. Previous posts have featured his work integrating technology in his practice that you can read here and here. Today’s post looks at his Project Based Learning (PBL) with his Year 10 Music Options class. You can read the original blog post here.
Over the last five weeks I’ve been trying a new way of running collaborative composition in my year 10 Option Music class.
This year I’ve been blessed to have a large class of highly motivated and talented students, so they were the perfect class to take a risk and jump into what is for me a new way of teaching composition.
The basic summary of what we did is that I divided the class into five groups. In the first week each group had to start writing and recording a song (in a rough demo format). In the 2nd week the groups swapped songs and continued on with what another group had started the previous week. We did this for five weeks so that in the end, every group had been involved in the composition process on each of the five songs.
Initially the students were very nervous about this process as I’d done very little in terms of how to actually write songs. However, that didn’t worry me as within each group of five members I knew that there were people with various strengths that when combined would make the process go smoothly.
Prior to this we had done a little work on what makes a good chord progression (mainly analysing four chord songs) and an effective melody but within the context of their own personal compositions, which they recorded/sequenced in either Garageband or Studio One Free. It wasn’t much, but it proved to be enough to get the students on the way with the process. What was critical to the process though (which I didn’t realise until we got a few weeks into the process) was that a strong knowledge of how to use technology and specifically MIDI keyboards/guitars with software sequencers made all the difference to the success of students being able to pass on their work to the next group (only a few students in the class had strong notation/theory skills so technology bridged the gap very effectively).
Here is a little video where I show one of the songs and how each group contributed towards it week by week:
And here some of the songs created by the students (please keep in mind that these are only supposed to be at ‘demo’ quality… we still intend to record them properly at a later date):
This whole process has been an incredibly empowering experience for the students and is a great demonstration of the high end of the SAMR model:
Software like Garageband and Studio One has enabled students to achieved a huge amount in a very short time and made it possible for this separate group collaborative thing to happen. Students that recorded audio onto iPhones or wrote down music with traditional notation were no where near as effective in the sharing of their music with others. By far the best way for this process to succeed was for students to compose using MIDI for the instruments and microphones/audio for the vocals… all along with a click so the music could be easily edited and rearranged by different groups.
Here are a couple of short videos watching students in action as they were creating their songs:
For other teachers who are wanting to run this sort of unit I’ve found that the following will make the process go very well:
Ensure that each group has at least one person who plays the following instruments: piano, guitar, drums, voice. Often drummers don’t have a huge amount to do in the first week or two but as the weeks went by I discovered they were increasingly taking charge of the projects… running the technology (i.e. the computer DAW/sequencer)… which was critical when it came to restructuring ideas previous groups had come up with into coherent song structure of intros, verses, choruses, etc
Try and have a computer with a MIDI keyboard and a microphone setup in each room. If you are using student laptops instead make sure you have a dedicated USB drive that holds the files that they work off… minimise copying of files between computers. We ended up a losing a complete work from one room that students were working in as they mistakingly copied the wrong files then deleted the proper one. The most successful songs were those that came out of rooms that had dedicated computers that students used each week.
Use the note pad facilities of your DAW (like Garageband or Logic) for writing down chord progressions, lyrics, ideas, etc Don’t have things on scraps of paper as they may get lost. Keeping everything with the DAW file is an elegant solution for keeping everything in the same place.
Don’t record piano/guitar ideas as audio… try to record them as MIDI. This will enable successive groups to edit what was recorded. If it’s audio, they’re stuck with it and are unable to improve upon it.
For me this process has been such an eye opener. The students surprised themselves with what they could come up with. The loved the process (they always arrived early from lunch so they could start as quickly as they could) and they grew so much as the weeks went by.
I will be making sure that this way of composing will be incorporated to NCEA composition at our school. It will grow the numbers of students taking music and will help to break down the perception that you must be an orchestral musician who has been learning since you’re seven years old to be able to succeed in NCEA (even after five years at my school I’m still trying to destroy this myth!).
But overall… it was a heck of a lot of fun. And that is what teaching and learning should be… shouldn’t it?