Sound Explorations: Creating, Expressing, and Improving Communities
Sound Explorations addresses two pressing issues across music learning and teaching: 1) A need for support in expanding the types of musical engagement and learning that occur in K-12 and after school settings and 2) A need to address youth’s unequal access to quality formal and informal music learning across the United States. To address these two issues, Sound Explorations provides rich musical contexts in the form of Music Learning Playlists that connect formal (middle and high school music programs) non-formal (community or after-school music programs), and informal (homes or libraries) settings. The Music Learning Playlists that make up Sound Explorations foster musical inquiry and creativity, deepen musical skills and understandings, and strengthen participants’ sense of selves as musical people who make a difference in their communities and society.
Acknowledging the role of educators and mentors, our set of Music Learning Playlists are designed as exploratory resources and learning opportunities for youth to engage with at their own pace. We worked with musicians and educators to develop a set of Music Learning Playlists to help young people “get started” 1) coding and programming music; 2) connecting music and culture; 3) creating instruments or interfaces; 4) jamming; 5) making beats; and 6) producing music. The playlists are primarily designed for young people who are interested in the themes of the playlists but who may not otherwise have access to resources or structured contexts to develop their understanding and skills related to the themes.
Each learning opportunity in a playlist includes essential questions, invitations for young people to practice musical inquiry, and active musical engagement. Each Music Learning Playlist culminates in a digital badge corresponding to creative musical expressions, careers, or connecting music to their lives and communities. A theme of creative engagement and self-expression, (making music) encourages youth to broaden and deepen musical interests and develop as creative and musical people. A theme of social engagement, (making a difference), fosters young people’s development as leaders by applying musical engagement to positively impact local and global communities.
Findings and Impact
We negotiated the challenge of supporting youth to engage in inquiry and project-based learning with selections from the Music Learning Playlists in their varied settings. Through our work with educators who playtested the XPs, we found that learners largely skipped generative questions and much of the text to get right to playing around with the web-based apps and musical experiences we provided or suggested. We embraced this ethic of play and exploration but also continued to explore issues around scaffolding engagement and learning with and without an educator or mentor present when youth engage with online learning opportunities.
We also learned about varied ways to navigate through the learning playlists, particularly in relation to the size and depth of each learning opportunity or playlist. From the outset of the project, we proposed designing individual learning opportunities and playlists that could be experienced in a non-linear manner and reconfigured according to learners’ interests and desires to explore some areas more than others or experienced in a linear manner that is more sequential in nature to develop particular understanding and skills.
In addition to developing our understanding and capacity to design online learning experiences, the grant resulted in a published set of Music Learning Playlists as exploratory contexts for young people to "get started" 1) coding and programming music; 2) connecting music and culture; 3) creating instruments or interfaces; 4) jamming; 5) making beats; and 6) producing music available on the Sound Explorations Website. We are working on further iterating and developing online music learning playlists around these and similar forms of music engagement.