A Digital Doorway to the World

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A determined elementary teacher orchestrates a collaborative project that links students worldwide with an iBook and the GarageBand music-authoring application.

WELCOME TO our new monthly Mac Educator department, coming to you each issue via a collaboration with The Software MacKiev Co. (http://www.mackiev.com), committed to demonstrating its vision of students and teachers using Macintosh technology to communicate, collaborate, and learn in the classroom. If you have a related story you’d like to share, please e-mail us at editorial@thejournal.com. Herewith, our first installment,from Mac Educator enthusiast Larry Anderson.

How does a “non-techie” teacher harness the massive power of modern technology in such a way that student learning comes to exceed the teacher’s understanding? And how can this be accomplished in an elementary school classroom? Finally, how does the teacher guarantee that her efforts and experience will include a personal, authentic global component as encouraged by a 1992 US Department of Labor report from the Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS; http://wdr.doleta.gov/SCANS)? To make matters even more difficult, what if the teacher’s students are all blind or visually impaired? While this sounds like an impossible challenge, it was met with flair and great success by one visionary instructor, with a big assist from the Macintosh (http://www.apple.com) iBook.

When Carol Anne McGuire, a teacher of blind and visually impaired students at Imperial Elementary School in Anaheim, CA, received her new iBook in 2002, she quickly surveyed the installed software. Although she admits to being wary of high tech devices and never imagined that one of “those things” would ever invade her classroom, there it was. An accomplished vocal musician, McGuire quickly discovered the music-authoring application, GarageBand, as she made her survey. Immediately, she had an idea, and imagined the possibilities the software held for her students. This new Mac would give them access—an iPassport, you might say—to a world they would likely never see without it. Using Garage- Band, her students could link up with other students worldwide to create musical compositions that would reflect each other’s sensibilities, talents, and cultures. The educational prospects were profound.

Unfortunately, McGuire realized just as quickly that she was incapable of pulling off her new brainstorm alone. Granted, the notion of giving her students a digital doorway to the entire world was cool and innovative; however, she possessed absolutely none of the technical skills to even understand what she needed to do, much less actually make it happen. So, she set out to acquire two things: 1) a working knowledge of GarageBand, and 2) access to students in classrooms around the world.

As she toyed with her iBook and began watching her students take to it naturally, she envisioned this project coming to life from right inside her classroom—if only she could figure out how to connect her students with those in other nations.

Gathering Support
Music is a universal, international language— a common denominator among youth, regardlessof the barriers set between them. Students demonstrate amazing talent at creating music because it is so much a part of their lives. Recognizing this,McGuire decided that music would be the means for building bridges between students in multiple nations. She realized too, that all the necessary software tools had been delivered inside the little white iBook. When she proposed the idea to her students, they were ecstatic. Now all she had to do was locate other students who would join with her own, to create music that would form a “learning bridge” that could be crossed together.

An Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE), McGuire sought out expertise from within her network of ADE friends who attended Camp Apple at California State University-Monterey in July 2004. She explained that she needed volunteer teachers who could provide technical assistance to help her get a new project off the ground—a project that would link her students with students in other countries. The virtual hands started going up. Soon, she had recruited teachers from eight classrooms on six continents, and had all the tech support she needed.

The only thing remaining was a project name, which was settled on shortly. Thus began the hugely successful undertaking of “Rock Our World.” The software was GarageBand. The connection was iChat AV using iSight cameras. The focus was students. The vehicle was music.

The Making of a Global Soundtrack
Each of the eight classes of students created one track of music using GarageBand. Then, every Friday, each class e-mailed its track to another team in the project. Students received the file, then added their new track (a new instrument each week) to the file, and then sent the file along to the next class. GarageBand tracks literally circled the globe each week. When they made the full circle and returned to their home schools, the students heard how their original track had inspired students in other nations to build upon what they had composed. Interestingly, all the original songs posted on the Rock Our World Web site (http://www.rockourworld.org) have different sounds, even though the same students worked on all the songs. This was a genuine global collaboration.

Using iSight cameras, the students chatted with one another during the project and learned about culture, education, finance, and their impressions of each other’s tracks. This was a phenomenal learning exercise for all classes involved. Upon conclusion of the project, McGuire held a series of live presentations in which participating schools came online and discussed their experiences.

Rock Our World was such an achievement that it has gone through two more iterations. It also was selected as the focus of an Emmy-nominated TV production by a local PBS member station that was broadcast worldwide to more than 10 million homes. This success prompted McGuire to ask, “How’s that for inspiration for teachers who allow their students to learn in their own language?”

The project’s continuing success is owed to the presence of a few vital ingredients: a collection of powerful technology tools in the iBook, willing educators around the globe, and a teacher who did not allow her lack of technical skills to prevent her students from using the Macintosh to open global vistas of learning.

“Thanks to the power of the Macintosh, the global Internet, and imaginative teachers and students around the world,” McGuire says, “I will never teach the same way again.”

To view examples of Carol Anne McGuire’s projects, visit http://homepage.mac.com/carolannemcguire. For more details on the Rock Our World program, visit http://homepage.mac.com/carolannemcguire/iMovieTheater8.html.

Larry S. Anderson is the founder and director of the National Center for Technology Planning in Tupelo, MS.

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.

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