Interdisciplinary Unit and RCampus

So thanks to Dr. Jay Dorfman’s (while he was still at Kent)class this past summer, I created an interdisciplinary unit on the Trail of Tears to enrich my ensemble’s studying of two pieces of music, “The Trail of Tears” by James Barnes and “Etowah” by Brian Balmages.  For those of you unfamiliar with the piece by Barnes, I highly recommend it.  It is not incredibly difficult music – but it is uplifting, dramatic, great music that has been crafted by one of the greatest band writers of the past 50 years.  Etowah is a new piece from FJH this year about the Hightower Trail that once connected Cherokee and Creek lands in the south.

Our eventual performance on March 12th by all the ensembles was superb.  It was probably the best concert I have put together in my 14 years of teaching.  Other program selections included Wagon Trail by Julie Giroux (excellent work), Cumberland Cross by Carl Strommen, and Cajun Folk Songs 2 by Frank Ticheli.  I am so proud of what they accomplished in the rehearsal hall, the auditorium, and now, as I begin to review the submissions for the interdisciplinary unit, in the computer lab.

The one main goal of the class last summer was to explore ways in which we as educators can help students make more authentic connections between the music we study and other subjects like art, music, history, and poetry.  The National Standards for Music make it pretty clear that we should be teaching students to understand disciplines outside the arts.  My view of the profession of band directors is that it must include becoming heritage bearers of the American Wind Band.  When that is translated into every day teaching, we must seek ways to help our students make more authentic connections with the music performed by the large ensemble.  It is no longer enough to just get music ready for the concert and adjudication or festival (Though noble goals they are).  We must find ways to engage them beyond the notes on the page so that their memories not only include the wonderful music they performed and studied but how that connects to their everyday lives and the culture in which they are living.

You can visit the website that I prepared by clicking here.  It was my first experience using iWeb, and the ease of use the software provided was appreciated since I am – as the commercial says – “PC”.  I am especially appreciative of Tracy Sevin, the technology coach in the building where I work, who provided me with a very easy way to collect the assignments from the students.  All the students are submitting their work digitally via Rcampus.  Within 15 minutes, I had registered myself as a teacher, set up 3 sections of classes, and provided links to the website and the learning activities.  The students are currently preparing their work in a Word Document, and then using a simple attachment option can send me the file electronically.  While we have used several of our rehearsal periods for the ensembles to access the computer lab, the beauty of this entire assignment is that it can be accessed and completed outside of school time.

Though very new to Rcampus, I am very impressed with their ease of use for both students and teachers.  A regular classroom teacher who creates projects for their students would be able to utilize Rcampus on a more regular basis.  It would provide a way for students to submit recordings for a playing exam or audition material, but there are issues of accessibility outside of school (several of my students do not have the internet), a student having the ability to record a sound file, and integrity of the person making the recording.  None of my students will be printing out any work – everything is handled through digital submission.

The student feedback so far has been very good.  Many of the upperclassmen have commented that the break from playing once every couple of weeks since January has made them refocus the next time a rehearsal begins.  I am planning on doing a post project survey to gauge their perspectives, and the open response section should provide some very interesting results.  The possibilities for future interdisciplinary projects are really endless, but it does take research outside our realm to bring authentic connections to the students.  I hope this sparks some interest and curiosity amongst our profession as move our 20th century ensembles into a 21st century educational setting.

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2 Comments

  1. Thanks for blogging about RCampus, especially about its ease-of-use. When you get a chance, please checkout our ePortfolios for even more authentic connection with students and iRubric for alignment with the national standards. This is a great testimonial. Thanks again.

    Cheers,
    Ramesh Sabetiashraf
    Founder and End-User of RCampus

  2. Travis,

    What a great idea! The concept of the interdisciplinary unit you’ve just completed is great, and your integration of technology and the use of Rcampus is also fantastic! At UM, we use BlackBoard, which is a similar website allowing teachers to administer quizzes and collect assignments online. Blackboard even has a plagiarism checker; it will check a paper a student has submitted against all the other papers submitted in this class and in others before and send a report to the teacher noting any suspicious passages.

    At any rate, congratulations on a successful concert and on creating a great learning experience for your students!

    -Andy

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