Music and 21st Century Learning Inspire Education Reflection

Musical crowdsourcing engages educators, students and parents and could lead to professional development through the arts.

by / July 23, 2014 0
A room full of 21st century resource teachers plugs away on their laptops with earbuds in. Nearby, the superintendent of student success sits, wondering what interesting ideas the teachers will come up with next.
In a push to bring innovation and 21st century learning into schools, the resource teachers are trying to spark different approaches to teaching and learning in the Toronto Catholic District School Board, a publically-funded board that serves 90,000 students in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. One of the ways they're doing that is with Project Pitch.
"Part of what our thinking is, is how do we get other educators and students and their parents engaged in learning?" asked Patrick Keyes, the superintendent of student success. "I'm pretty sure it's not by a 20-page document." 
Five arts and 21st century resource teachers  — Liane Paixão, Sandra Mustacato, Anthony Perrotta, Maria Tavares and Leda DiMaria Miles — worked together to put on a music video competition called Project Pitch that Keyes supported and funded this past school year. They asked students to create a music video to go along with a song that Paixão wrote outside of work as part of her dream to see professional development for teachers happen through the arts.
"The arts I find is a special way of touching people's hearts and minds in a very non-intrusive way," said Paixão, who is taking a small step toward her dream by composing and recording songs about teachers' approaches to education with the help of a former student's dad, music producer Peter Willis. By January, she plans to finish producing the album, which she hopes will encourage people to reflect on their teaching processes. Once the album is finished, she would like to bring together teachers, students and community members to create a proposal on professional development through the arts for the superintendents to consider. 
One of her first songs, Is This for Real?, deals with a disconnect between school and the real world from students' perspectives.
"We wait 12 years, and then we just throw them out there and say, 'Here we go, now you solve poverty, you deal with viruses,'"  Paixão said.
At first, teachers might just hear the music and start humming it. But as they listen to it more, they'll start thinking about the words, which Paixão hopes will spark reflection and dialogue.

But for now, the songs have sparked a student competition that will continue in a different form this coming school year. During Project Pitch, students worked together to pitch a music video idea for Is This for Real? Expert judges from the movie and arts industry judged their plans, gave feedback and sent them off to produce the video. Because this was an extracurricular project, students mostly worked on it outside of school.
For the five chosen videos, each school's Communication and Technology Department received $250, and the most popular video based on the number of "likes" garnered that department an extra $200. 
Through this project, Paixão and the other four resource teachers who were involved wanted students and teachers to reflect, understand the message, collaborate and receive feedback on their work. Because of the popular vote, the project also engaged the public in reflecting on education. 
This upcoming year, project organizers are thinking about organizing a music competition with Project Pitch instead of a music video competition. Students would create their own songs reflecting on what it means to be a 21st century student and how they need to learn so they can meet the board's graduate expectations:
  1. Discerning believer
  2. Effective communicator
  3. Reflective, creative and holistic thinker
  4. Self-directed, responsible, lifelong learner
  5. Collaborative contributor
  6. Caring family member
  7. Responsible citizen

Students' songs would go before a judging panel again, but once the initial round was chosen, they would receive ongoing feedback from an assigned coach on a blog. Then their final performance would be judged.

By incorporating more feedback from community members throughout this musical project, Paixão hopes to strengthen partnerships with the community and encourage students to become self-directed, responsible and life-long learners.

Here are some of the lyrics for Is This for Real?
We’re the so called leaders of the future
And we’ll be put to the test
to come out and solve all the world’s problems
After twelve years of confinement to a desk

How do you conquer bias and oppression
by memorizing dates and facts?
I can mix chemicals in a tube
But, poverty? How do I react to that?

There’s more that we can do beyond the classroom walls
You got the wisdom and I do believe that
I can change it all
So, before you give me a task, you send me on a mission (Ask yourselves)
Is this for real? Is this for real? Is this for real?

There’s a big shift in the wind’s direction
Pushing you to let me go
to explore all my dreams and my passions
Then, bring me back and challenge me to save the world


Tanya Roscorla Former Managing Editor

Tanya Roscorla covered ed tech from 2009-2017.