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Design Thinking with Social Economics and Music

by Felipe Calderon,  High School Music Teacher, Colegio Franklin Delano Roosevelt, cross posted to Teaching Journal Blog.

Lessons learned from the 8hour-challenge project:


In doing this project I learned about the creative output of students and how the word ‘challenge’ makes a huge impact on projects in and out of class. The first thing I realized when we finished, apart from the fact that we hadn’t actually finished, was that I had just gone through interesting processes that involved design (empathy), economics and lots of musicking. The fact that we didn’t finish all the challenges meant that this idea could be done as a whole unit with good inter-disciplinary opportunities.

By asking the community to set challenges, students had to turn the empathy switch to 11. When people don’t know much about music but they still want something to sound a certain way it becomes hard to describe. We had to think of ways to get as much information as possible so that the final product would be what they had in mind. This happens a lot in the world of music and media when directors or producers communicate with film composers. In many cases they know what they want but they lack the vocabulary to express it. In a recent digital film scoring course I took ‘empathy’ was part of every module as: ‘understanding briefs’. To strengthen empathy we asked the people who set challenges to give detailed feedback if they needed to make changes, an example:

‘Wicked awesome. Love the duet. Works well together. Minor edits on lyrics, can we change it to, “the world we want is ours to MAKE” instead of “take” -more constructive. In the bit where it talks about the sun coming out again…we might want to scrap it as with climate change…the sun coming out and the global temp rising it is not a good thing. I would love to see the phrase, “Change Wisely” in there somewhere. Needs a bit if tightening from about 3:00 min on. Overall very impressive and this will be something I am proud to showcase. I think you have started a beautiful tradition here and this is a phenom use of student creativity and talent.’ (Global Citizenship Program Coordinator Allana Rumble.)

Here’s the full recording. This took about 1 hour to make:

The economic side was very interesting to observe. Students were negotiating ‘worth’ and ‘time’ with a mindset on helping others.  There were benefits for everyone and the investment was social. Working with Sínfonia por el Perú was great because music is their tool to alleviate poverty. By making them the cause it became a symbiotic relationship. Common questions about economics were:

– How much is a challenge worth? – How does time influence money? How long vs How much. – Should highest bidders get priority in terms of time spent on a challenge? – How to negotiate a challenge that seems ‘unfair’? – How do we encourage participation in the community? – How much do we want to raise?

Musically it was also interesting to see and be able to work with students in aspects of composition. This would be a great idea to use on music lessons to teach composition. Some of the challenges required non-traditional combination of instruments, for example a cowbell and a Ukelele for the ‘science song’, here’s the brief:

‘An original song/composition titled “Science saves the world”; about 3 minutes in duration include the lyrics “Science is awesome” Must include Cowbell Must include Ukulele connect it to Science @FDR Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy (include quotes)’

By breaking down the brief we could discuss aspects of music that could match the required effect. We discussed rhythmic patterns because there is a cowbell specified and in some cultures the cowbell is a rhythmic element, a time keeper. A ukelele also has limitations that we had to consider plus adding an atmosphere of science! This is what they achieved in about 20 minutes:

The element of collaboration was also touched at the start of the 8 hours. I am always inspired by actors and their approach to improvisation: say yes if you want things to move on. By saying no you create a block through which it becomes difficult to act. This can be applied to working in music as well, especially if you are improvising and making music very quickly like the students had to do in the challenges. Some students had not worked together before so it was very important to set expectations for how they were going to collaborate. Students were flowing from one group to the next. The more experienced took on big challenges (musically speaking) and other students were brought in according to their instrument or skill strength. Sometimes students got frustrated or ran out ideas, they had to deal with this too. We spoke about the meaning of breaks and what they are really for. We discussed breathing or standing up on their heads which can help creativity and improve concentration.

This project is definitely happening again! I would use it as a unit in music class or even design. It can be assessed on music criteria or design criteria both if time allows. The logistics of delivering this project could be looked at in more detail as well in the sense of having less things on your desktop, documents, spreadsheet etc. Kickstarter and other similar avenues offer this kind of platforms. I would make this a requirement in the project.

Below the recordings so far…

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