Experimental Instruments: Chance Performance

Our culminating event for our experimental instruments unit was a mixed arts chance performance in the vein of composer John Cage. The entire 4th grade was split into four groups: Music, Dance, Costume Art, and Science/Technology. Each group prepared and rehearsed their own contribution to what was to be our cumulative chance performance. Basically, this means that the composition structure and elements were decided randomly (dice rolls) and that performers also can improvise when they are conducted to contribute.

In terms of my Technology class, this unit served as a vehicle to integrate computer science and programming into the larger curriculum. In order to make our various experimental musical instruments actually work, all 4th grade students had to grapple with common computational thinking concepts (loops, conditionals, variables, etc.) and practices (iteration, debugging, etc.) while designing their instruments. We also dove into physical computing concepts with the integration of sensors (distance, touch, loudness & motion) into our instrument designs.

Enjoy a short clip of our young technologists performing with their DIY instruments and links to sample musical programs that drive them.

Experimental, electronic instruments (coded in Scratch):

Students are calibrating an array of experimental instruments including a pencil-drawn drum kit, a distance-sensor theremin, a musical dance floor button, and a volume-sensitive animation for the LCD projector.


LEGO WeDo Sensor Instruments

4th graders continue their exploration of computer programming through music this week. In the video below they are crafting experimental musical instruments that utilize a distance sensor from the LEGO WeDo kit. Sounds and sensors are coded with Scratch. We watched a video of a theremin to get inspiration and gain some context. Examine a Scratch project online to see sample code.

Tinkering in a Digital Sandbox

At the NEIT Conference I got the chance to tinker with the Digital Sandbox, a new micro controller from Sparkfun Industries. Helpful for teaching programming and physical computing to students, learners can program it’s sensors and outputs with Arduino or graphic drag-and-drop code to control it. At my workshop, I learned how to use the Ardublock language to make a sound sensitive VU meter. There is also a digital experiment guide for teaching with the Digital Sandbox with 17 experiments available.

Scratch Day NYC

Students from my “Creative Coding” after school class presented their workshop called Make a Flappy Bird Game at Scratch Day NYC 2014. I was so proud as they each took turns sharing how to build the code and graphics that this game requires. They stood tall and taught a full room of other students and a number of adults!

Give it a shot here:
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Scratch Day 2014

Our team poses for a workshop wrap-up photo!