Music to their ears

30th May 2003 at 01:00
Jack Kenny describes how one college adds a touch of creativity to teaching ICT at key stage 3 - through music

It was midnight and the streets were deserted. The rain was falling heavily and thunder rolled in the distance. Speeding cars splashed through the pools of water in the road.

Suddenly, a lorry pulled out of a side road. There was the sound of car horns and squealing brakes followed by a loud crash as the lorry smashed into a wall. The driver quickly got out and ran down an alleyway, stopping to hide behind some dustbins.

Two cars pulled up behind the lorry and the alley was filled with men carrying guns. The men were grouped around the leader who was giving them instructions in a low voice. They used a heavy iron crowbar and forced open the back door - it thudded against the side of the lorry. The back of the lorry was empty. There was a shout of anger, then silence as the men looked at their leader.

The lorry driver started to crawl away. His foot hit an empty bottle which rolled slowly down the alley. He panicked and started to run.

This is "Murder in the Metropolis", a Year 7 project done in a music lesson - or was it an ICT lesson? It can be hard to tell at Eggbuckland Community College in Plymouth.

Trying to make ICT as a subject seem relevant and exciting is not always easy. Eggbuckland teacher Toby Barnes finds it effortless. Inspired by Kevin Osborne, head of music at Cannock Chase High School, Toby, who was a sound engineer with a background in music and technology, emphasises the creative part of ICT: "Because I have been working with music, engineering people started asking me if I could take some classes working with synthesizers and computers. That is how I got into teaching."

ICT and music go naturally together for Toby, and that applies to the students. Toby soon saw that many of the techniques were the same for both.

In fact, he found he could cover many parts of the key stage 3 ICT curriculum without the students even realising that they were "doing" ICT.

They just enjoyed themselves.

"My brief was to find creative ways to get music and ICT across the school," he says. "There was a natural progression from that to linking in the software. I would think, 'here's a piece of software, how can we link that into music?' We have PowerPoint so we looked at that and I said, 'let's create a very simple story with images and sounds'. Going on from that we started to use PowerPoint as an animation package. We looked at how we could animate, how we could acquire the images, and that involved using the internet for research."

All the students at Eggbuckland have email addresses. Toby starts by emailing them all the story they are going to create in PowerPoint, and from that they create a storyboard. There are five or six story outlines so the pupils do not all have to work on the same idea. He has also set up a database with the resources they can use: sound files, mp3s, midi, graphic images and video, and animations. This is useful because of shortage of time - those who are weak on skills will not have to spend too much time searching.

When they arrive in Year 7, the pupils are at different levels. Toby tries to create the right balance between the imaginative and the technical. "In the technical ones the imagination has not always been developed and in the imaginative ones the technical side has not been built up. We have to try to help them all. I say to the kids that the most important skill of all is how you get your ideas across. How do you get past obstacles to creativity? How do you say what is in your head? I am trying to give them different ideas and methods to overcome the obstacles. We discuss how the story will progress. What sounds, what pictures, what words will move the story forward? It is important for each pupil to decide what their idea will look like, how it will sound."

In the first part of the first term, Year 7 pupils learn to use search engines to find what they will need. Toby wants them to realise how much time can be wasted on the net if they are not working efficiently. They also learn how to work with images: cutting, changing formats, cropping.

Eventually they work quickly to accumulate the images, sounds and backgrounds for their PowerPoint stories.

Their resource collection is stored on the network. They also have to learn to use PowerPoint and Word Art (in Word) and how to insert images and movies. "Eventually and slowly we introduce animation," explains Toby. "Can we start things moving on to the screen? Can we get them to leave the screen? It is a natural progression. We talk a great deal about the audience that will view their work. I insist that they use little text; they have to find the right image to tell the story."

It is so easy to make ICT sterile with what can seem like the acquisition of skills for their own sake. This does not happen with Toby, because the students are picking up skills as they need them to finish their projects and, Toby insists, they do not stray far from the QCA guidelines.

The resulting projects are a vindication of Toby's ideas - PowerPoint presentations that look like small, animated movies, presented by children who have recognised their relevance, learned and enjoyed so much, and are delighted with their achievements.


Pupils acquire and apply knowledge of:

* the quality and reliability of information and how to access and combine it;

* a range of increasingly complex tasks using a variety of ICT tools;

* how ICT can help their work in other subjects;

* the use of ICT in the outside world.

These are acquired through four aspects of ICT:

* finding things out;

* developing ideas and making things happen;

* exchanging and sharing information;

* reviewing, modifying and evaluating work as it progresses.

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