A grade 10 unit shifted down to grade 8.

I’ve just gotten an email asking what Criterion B assessments I use for my grade 8 movie soundtracks unit. I’m really proud of this unit because it’s a great blend of performance and composition, and the kids seem to really enjoy it. So basically, I have the luxury of time and so we do two creative cycles.

Creative Cycle 1: Symphonic Concert
This is just something I made up out of my head, to be honest. I don’t know if it’s actually “a thing.” I had a friend who went to see Dr. Who In Concert, and loved it. I started doing research and saw that there’s Bugs Bunny in Concert, Back to the Future In Concert, Les Miz In Concert, etc. People love the soundtracks so much that they want to see them performed live. So why not do this in class? I called them Symphonic Concerts… though now that I type this, I think the name is all wrong… hrm… a reflection for next semester…

Anyhow, the kids have to pick a movie clip they like and decide which emotions they want to represent on screen. Then they need to get into small ensembles and perform a piece that would match the screen. Next, they go into a movie editing software, such as iMovie or Final Cut, and they place their recorded performance as a Picture-in-Picture against the movie clip. 

The kids love this task, and there are such interesting interpretations. Here’s some examples…
– a serious group – they took a sad movie trailer and added very depressing music to it. Very effective.
– the silly group – they took the Jaws attack from the movie and played “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid.
– another silly group – they did a screen capture of someone playing “Plants vs. Zombies,” but they wanted the audience to identify with the zombies instead. While the zombies were fighting the plants, the group played O Fortuna from Carmina Burana; when the zombies won and ate the brains, the group played, “Happy” by Farrell Williams. 

Creative Cycle 2: Composition
Thank you Aardman Productions! Several years ago, they posted four wonderful videos to the BBC Teachers website. These videos were stripped down to only voices. No foley effects or music. The purpose was for students to create their own soundtracks. The teacher package came with storyboards, as well.  Thus, creative cycle 2 is composing music using GarageBand.

Step 1: I have the kids go to www.bensound.com and download royalty free music in five different genres. They pick their favourite of the video clips and use GarageBand to export the videos using each the different genres. Then they do a reflection on how the different pieces manipulated the emotions of what what shown on screen. Basically, “What would this clip feel like with scary music? Or sad music? Or happy music?” Once they know what style of music they want, then it’s time to learn GarageBand.

Step 2: MIDI Controllers, musical typing, or www.noteflight.com.  How the kids compose is completely up to them. Kids with a lot of advanced knowledge and skills will often go to Finale or www.noteflight.com and will compose using notation. This is good, but it does mean that the music doesn’t always fit with what is on the screen. Once it is exported to a MIDI file, the kids have to manipulate it a bit to fit what is on the screen. Kids who have medium skills in music will often use the musical typing feature in GarageBand. This is a computer keyboard that corresponds to MIDI pitches in GarageBand. For the absolute beginners, they use MIDI Controllers. I have one boy, this year, who was absolutely panicked about composing. While he is a wiz at ukulele, he doesn’t know notation. I gave him a MIDI controller. On his own, he went to YouTube and started watching video tutorials on how to compose EDM (electronic dance music) in GarageBand. His first attempt was great!

Step 3: Feedback. I normally give the kids a class or two to experiment and fiddle in GarageBand. Then I start having interviews and uploading their feedback to Veracross.

* Showing proof of using the creative cycle. *

This is really easy when the kids are performing on instruments. I love Seesaw (www.seesaw.me) and use it all the time. The kids and parents love it, too. Basically, it’s like a closed version of Facebook in which you can post audio, videos, images, etc. As the kids are discussing their ensembles and making plans, I’m taking sneaky videos. I also video their progress. Then, immediately (and I mean, within seconds), they can log onto their mobile devices and see what they did in class. They have immediate evidence of Criterion C ii and iii. Their playing gives them evidence of Criterion B.

How do you collect evidence when composing? I’m having the kids take screen captures every 15 – 20 minutes, and to also ‘Share file to disk,’ from Garageband. Then I’m having them annotate their screen captures. Nice and quick, just, “Here I was experimenting with using trumpets. I decided against them because they don’t match well with the bassoon.” And an audio file.

It’s always fun doing a unit that both the kids and the teacher enjoys! This one is great.