Preparing Tomorrow’s Leaders

February 23, 2016

I’ll admit it, I am not an early adopter of new technology. I didn’t line up to get the latest iPhone, and it’s embarrassing how often I ask my niece or nephew what so-and-so app does, and if they can show me how to use it.

This got me thinking about how different my learning experience was compared to young people’s learning experiences today. In my day, computer time was cherished and it was earned through good behaviour. Today’s learners have computers in their pockets, in their backpacks, and often on their desks.

Life-skills are now developed through the use of technology. For example, some of the most popular video games require judicious risk-taking, strategy formulation and execution, and even pose complex moral and ethical problems.

In today’s classrooms, are we teaching kids what they want to learn? Maybe an even more important question is: are we teaching how they want to learn?

Read on to see why Natalie Marsh, education manager at the National Music Centre (NMC), and Julie Barton, fine arts off-campus specialist for the Calgary Board of Education (CBE), believe in supporting 21st century learning and how your donations are helping to prepare tomorrow’s leaders today.



Pamela Matijon: Hi Natalie and Julie. Thanks for taking time to answer some of my questions. Let’s start at the beginning. What’s so important about integrating technology into the classroom? Aren’t kids already too “plugged-in”?

Natalie Marsh: Integrating technology into the classroom has to be a balance of high and low-tech experiences. In our programs at Studio Bell, we integrate technology into the programs as a tool—not a replacement—for other types of learning, including play, hands-on exploration, and creation. However, we can’t ignore technology’s permeation into our world, and in order to prepare students for the future, educators have a responsibility to prepare our students for a world that uses technology daily.

NMC’s Natalie Marsh integrating technology into the classroom. Credit: Kate Schutz. 

Julie Barton: I agree with Natalie in that technology is one of many tools. It can provide students with impacting encounters with music, musicians, and music-making that might not otherwise be possible, and it encourages relationships, collaboration, and networking that may not be otherwise possible. It’s also a great way to practice, experiment, and get personalized feedback, which in the past may not have been possible due to the high costs of lessons and musical instrumentation. Technology enables all of us to know music and be musicians (if we choose), which wasn’t always true.

PM: I can understand how technology goes hand-in-hand with certain curriculum topics, like science, but tell me about some of the best ways you’ve seen technology support curriculum topics, like language arts or social studies.

NM: In the ATB Financial Alberta Stories Roadcase, we have integrated storytelling, exhibition development, and technology into one project. Through this Roadcase, students are encouraged to share personal stories with NMC about music and sound in their community. Using iPads, audio recorders, and video editing software, students are documentarians, filmmakers, and storytellers all at once. This is a great connection to social studies, language arts, and the ICT curriculum.

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Alberta Stories Roadcase students experimenting with technology and storytelling. Credit: Natalie Marsh.

JB: There are so many things I could say. Music helps us emotionally engage with the curriculum. It helps us interpret a time and place, and it helps us understand perspective as we embody the music. Imagine trying to watch a film about the renaissance without hearing a harpsichord or a horror film without a terrifying musical score. Imagine trying to learn about our Indigenous cultures without knowing the beat of a drum. Recent studies have shown that collaborative music-making, like drumming, for instance, can increase empathy in young people. Musical memories such as these are among the most visceral and vivid. Musicians must learn how to connect with people on an emotional level—empathy or emotional intelligence is an essential aspect of understanding language arts and social studies and music most definitely needs to be an integral part of that learning if we as educators are to do a good job of it. If needed, we can tap into technology to provide those experiences and opportunities.

PM: Wow, you certainly paint a clear picture of why learning with music is so critical. It really does connect us to our past, present, and even future experiences. Where does music fit in with NMC’s programs?

NM: Music is the lens we use to view all of our programs. For example, in our Sound Sampling program, a musician educator guides students on how to sample and create their own compositions while sharing the basic history of recorded music and technology. Students are encouraged to experiment using iPods and iPads. The focus isn’t on the technology, it’s on the music creation and, at the same time, students are introduced to the same tools used by Drake or David Foster.

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Students participating in NMC’s Sound Sampling program. Kate Schutz.

PM: Whether curriculum-based or learning life-lessons, was it the use of music as a teaching tool that resonates with the CBE (pardon the pun)?

JB: Absolutely, learning in, through and about music is expected. At this time, music and art are mandatory programs of study until Grade Six. After that, music is only for those who choose it, and it is usually studied and practiced as a discipline. Many educators now recognize that music needs to be part of the learning for all students K-12, and are trying to do that. Recent research has affirmed that music isn’t just a nice to have. Participating in music improves language abilities, increases emotional resilience, increases empathy, increases attention spans and self-confidence. Knowing now that music students tend to be more engaged and motivated in their studies and can academically outperform those who are not involved is a bit of a wake-up call—yes, it resonates.

PM: Help me understand how pairing education with technology prepares students for surviving and thriving beyond the classroom. How does this prepare them to be better citizens?

NM: We just cannot predict how technology will shape our world. But, by using technology in a positive and deliberate way by encouraging problem-solving, creativity, and skill development, we are fostering a student’s digital literacy. This means a student will be able to choose appropriate technologies when necessary, troubleshoot issues, and be mindful of his or her online engagement.

JB: Digital literacy is very much an essential way of knowing. We want all our students to have access to the best technology. Like Natalie has mentioned, there are so many competencies that are required of us in order to be successful learners. We don’t want our students just to survive, we want them to thrive. We want them to know themselves and their passions. CBE has developed technologies that encourage students to develop and share their self-understanding, create learning goals, and explore strategies that will allow them to be successful in their learning. Technology is another tool, which allows us to make teaching and learning visible—and by making it visible, greater feedback and assessment is possible not only in music, but throughout the curriculum.

PM: If you could build a makerspace full of technology and music, with an unlimited budget, what would be top on your list? Why?
NMC Education Program Leader Evan Rothery creating a makerspace out of a pegboard. 

NM: I see NMC as a community collaboration space, and have a long-term vision of NMC being the leader in music education. If I had an unlimited budget, I would bring in people from all over Canada to contribute to the building and implementation of a makerspace by bringing many creative minds into one space! But I wouldn’t want NMC to only benefit from these resources. Using technology as a tool for communication, we would also develop a plan to share this information with the rest of Canada (or the world) in an online environment. At Studio Bell, we have the capabilities of delivering programs across the globe using distance learning and video-conferencing. We have a comprehensive plan to share collections via online exhibitions. We have a flexible platform to develop websites. All of the possibilities are there, but the challenges of time, money, and resources are there, too.

PM: Anything to add to that list Julie?

JB: I would very much like to have an incubator, maker, mash-up collaborative space that would bring all arts disciplines together. I’d love to see technology encourage the arts disciplines to converge and create work that has never been heard, seen, or experienced before; a creative hub that would be very experimental, inspiring, and feed into the creative industries. Alberta has such huge potential to become a real go-to place where arts thrive.

PM: What are you most looking forward to when Studio Bell opens and the National Music Centre launches their education programs?

NM: The reactions from students, teachers, and parents when they enter the building! It will be rewarding to see our years of hard work put into building a home for music in Canada, and to see the programs, exhibitions, and other activations contribute to the love, sharing, and understanding of music to students.

JB: Of course I want all of that and I want Calgary’s artists and musicians to be recognized and known. I look forward to NMC attracting great composers and musicians to our city, who will work with and alongside our teachers and students, and build our capacity. It will be such a gift.

PM: Is there anything else you’d like to add that I haven’t ask you?

NM: Make sure you come visit us this summer when we open the doors OF Studio Bell to the public. It’s going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

JB: Look for me and all of our students crowding the place. We’ll be the ones swept up in all the excitement!

PM: I can’t believe we’re only a few months away from the first group of students experiencing minds-on, hand-on, ears-on learning in Studio Bell. Brace yourselves education team! Thanks for your time ladies.

Click here to learn more about NMC’s education programs.

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