Songs from the stadium

Pupils are developing their composing with help of Everton FC. Dorothy Walker reports

Pupils from Walton St Mary Primary School in Liverpool have great memories of the time they played at Goodison Park, home of Everton Football Club.

The 10-year-olds were playing their own music, composed on computers at the famous ground. They performed their collection of songs in a recording session that marked the final stage of a high-tech course in music production. Now the children have a compilation CD featuring all their tracks, and some valuable insights into the benefits of teamwork.

The Year 5 pupils made their hits in Extra Time, a study centre where children can learn about digital photography, filmmaking, animation and music production. It was established as part of Playing for Success, a DfES initiative to motivate young people at key stages 2 and 3 by giving them the chance to learn at sports grounds. In the five years since it opened, the centre has played host to pupils from more than 200 schools.

"We are only a 15-minute walk away, so Extra Time is like an extra ICT suite for us," says Dave Jones, Year 5 teacher at Walton St Mary. His class of 34 took the 10-week music production course in the spring term, working at the stadium for an afternoon a week. Their goal was to compose songs about friendship.

The project kicked off with an introduction to GarageBand, the music creation software that forms part of Apple's iLife package. Dave Jones uses GarageBand to compose music at home, and he showed the children how they could experiment with the pre-recorded sound loops supplied with the software, finding something they liked, adding other sounds such as drums and bass, and tweaking the music on screen to create their own composition.

Dave says: "When you look at the files displayed on the screen you can see the music so clearly, even if you can't read music." The pupils wrote their own lyrics and worked in teams to perform and record their work. They also designed a cover for the CD that features all the tracks. Songs range from "Disco Diva" to an anthem dedicated to the 1930s football star, Dixie Dean, the work of a trio of boys who usually shy away from writing.

"The class spans a very wide range of abilities, and everyone was really engaged," says Dave. "Our school is quite musical - we have a strong choir, in class we do traditional music-making with triangles, drums and tambourines, and children can take guitar and recorder lessons. But there is no opportunity to compose music electronically."

With the help of Extra Time, he hopes to borrow a set of Apple laptops and form an after-school music production club. "We have only scratched the surface of GarageBand, and it would be great to spend more time helping children to understand how to structure music."

He says one of the thrills of going to Goodison Park is the possibility of meeting Everton players - several have been known to drop by to challenge pupils to a game of table football and the computers bear their signatures.

But Extra Time holds excitement even for those who don't follow the game.

"The suite is big, plush and very high-tech - there is a real feel-good factor," he says.

Abigail Williams, Extra Time study support centre manager, says: "We use football as a motivational tool to engage, enthuse and inspire learners - some boys and girls aren't at all interested in the game, so we encourage them to develop their own interests. Playing for Success is a voluntary programme, and offers children the chance to do this.

"We meet as many Liverpool as Everton supporters. Before we opened the centre, some families who follow Liverpool might not have wanted their children to come to Goodison Park. But they realise it's a wonderful opportunity to learn about new technology. "

The music production programme is tailored to suit the needs of each group - composition themes have ranged from football songs to family pets - and some children go on to make music videos. There are also plans to help pupils air their work via the podcasting service at Everton's website. This season a group of young reporters will go along to matches to conduct behind-the-scenes interviews, recording them on iPods. Abigail says: "We can download the interviews into GarageBand and create a podcast in seconds."

She says the stadium acts as a perfect backdrop for photography and filming - "it's inspiring". And children often find inspiration from working in a new setting. "We give them access to the grounds, so they can interview in the interview room, or compose songs in the changing room."

Only in the past year have digital creativity courses been offered at the centre, following a change of equipment to Apple Mac machines. Abigail says: "Projects used to involve word-processing, creating presentations and designing websites in a very long-winded way. Some of the secondary students were dropping out of their courses, uninspired. Many who come here are demotivated, and we have to offer exciting activities they can't do elsewhere.

"In spring 2005, 80 per cent of students were staying for their entire course. In spring this year the figure rose to 94 per cent. The Macs offer an easy way to create something professional in a short space of time. And the software allows us to adapt our programmes to any level. We could use iLife software to make music with reception children and with gifted and talented pupils in Year 10.

"The most dramatic change is that children now have the opportunity to work collaboratively, negotiating and solving problems as part of a team. "

* Apple's iLife '06 software (pound;55 or free with new Apple computers) includes iPhoto for photo editing, iMovie HD for moviemaking, GarageBand for producing music and podcasts, iDVD for making DVDs and iWeb for creating websites and blogs

Tel: 0800 039 1010

Everton FC

Playing For Success

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