“Songsmith and similar technologies are definitely changing the way that I teach. I now spend a lot less time on ‘chalk and talk’ and a lot more time conferencing with students.”
Stephen Pinel, Teacher, Proserpine State High School, Queensland
Established in 1963, Proserpine State High School (Proserpine SHS) in rural North Queensland has around 800 students spread across years 8 to 12. In 2009, the school was one of three in Queensland to be selected to take part in Microsoft’s Innovative Schools program. This provided the school with access to experimental learning-related technology. Proserpine SHS now uses Microsoft Research’s Songsmith, to create and record songs about material that would otherwise be taught using rote learning techniques. Foreign language students use Songsmith to help learn grammar and vocabulary, others write songs about scientific concepts and equations. Teachers at Proserpine SHS find Songsmith to be a great way to stimulate enthusiasm for abstract concepts. It has also helped staff focus their energies towards teaching learning skills as well as content.
||“This was a unique opportunity to be part of a global program that enables schools in all countries to explore and embrace the reforms that makes education more relevant to 21st century economic and social needs.”
Established in 1963, Proserpine State High School (Proserpine SHS) is a regional school in North Queensland. It has around 800 students spread across years 8 to 12. The majority of students are drawn from a wide surrounding area that encompasses cattle and cane farms, as well as the nearby Whitsunday Islands.
This extensive catchment area has encouraged school officials to pioneer innovative technologies, both inside and outside the classroom. In 2009, the school developed a new concept of ‘anytime, anywhere’ learning which sought to make teaching programs available to students who are not on school premises.
In 2009, Proserpine SHS was selected as one of three schools in Queensland to take part in Microsoft’s Innovative Schools Program. This is part of Microsoft’s global Partners in Learning initiative and Proserpine SHS was chosen in recognition of its commitment to integrating technology into education.
“This was a unique opportunity to be part of a global program,” says Chris Roff, Principal, Proserpine SHS. “It is helping schools in all countries to explore what will make education more relevant to the economic and social needs of the 21st century.
“We’re a fairly spread out population and our school is fairly remote. The closest high school to us is 65 kilometres away, so we don’t get a lot of contact with other schools to see what they’re doing.
For us, the chance to meet with other innovative schools and teachers who are leaders in their fields from across the country is a unique opportunity.”
One area where Proserpine SHS thought technology could be useful was subjects such as science and foreign languages where students had to commit abstract facts or words to memory.
“For example, our Japanese language students are generally fairly creative, but some lack the study skills and discipline required to memorise a large vocabulary,” says Michael Doherty, Japanese Language Teacher, Proserpine SHS.
“Instead of using traditional rote learning techniques, we thought about deploying an entirely different approach, specifically for foreign languages and science syllabus content.”
Developed by Microsoft Research in Redmond, Songsmith generates musical accompaniment to match a singer's voice. Individuals choose a musical style, sing into a PC’s microphone and Songsmith can create backing music automatically. The songs that are created can then be easily shared with others or posted online.
Songsmith uses signal processing techniques to sample a user’s voice and automatically select appropriate chords. Available as a complimentary download, Songsmith was designed to be entertaining and easy enough for young children to master.
Teachers at Proserpine SHS were introduced to the Songsmith tool through the Innovative Schools Program. Teachers suspected that students would find certain material easy to remember if it could be turned into lyrics and set to music.
Songsmith was easy to use and no special lessons or class time had to be set aside for instructing students on how to use it. A brief demonstration was all it took before the program was up and running and the students began creating their own tunes.
The school’s regular Japanese classroom was already networked and so became the pilot for the Songsmith tool. Hardware requirements were minimal; seven netbooks were typically shared between 14 students.
Students were asked to select a topic and use Songsmith to create a short song as a memory tool. Examples chosen include counting, common adjectives and important phrases. Songs were then shared among all students in the class.
Teachers at Proserpine SHS have found Songsmith to be a great way to encourage creative learning. Applications of the technology at the school range from students writing songs about scientific concepts to children who use Songsmith to help memorise their multiplication tables.
||“Students can find their own content and produce their own projects, and this improves their overall learning ability.”
Songsmith has been most effective in circumstances where the traditional teaching method was rote memorisation.
“Songsmith works well where kids must remember key facts, because it lets them learn in a way that’s fun. It offers them an alternative to having to sit down and hit the books,” says Stephen Pinel, a teacher at the school who is also a member of the school’s ‘Smarter Classrooms’ committee and one of three contact points for the Microsoft Partners in Learning initiative.
Pinel says Songsmith also proved to be effective as a study aid for Year 8 physics students, who used the program to create songs about scientific concepts.
“The students made up songs about gravity and friction and other concepts, and they had an absolute ball doing it,” he says.
More flexible teaching
Pinel is now running similar programs with similar technologies in Year 10 and Year 12 Physics classes. The benefits are readily apparent in the way students are learning – and when.
“I’m now having very few issues with students being off-task,” Pinel says. “Plus, students can access learning technology 24 hours a day – not just at school, but also at home and on weekends. This is tremendously helpful at a school like ours, where many students travel to school from rural and remote areas.”
Less lecturing, more practical learning
For Pinel, one of the more interesting results is how Songsmith has driven teaching methods to evolve, allowing him to change the focus of his energies.
“Songsmith and similar technologies are definitely changing the way that I teach,” Pinel says. “I now spend a lot less time on ‘chalk and talk’ and a lot more time conferencing with students.”
“Rather than delivering content in front of the blackboard, I’m now delivering skills. The point is that students can find their own content and produce their own projects, and this improves their overall learning ability.”
Partners in Learning
Partners in Learning is a global initiative that is dedicated to enabling access to technology, supporting leadership and building community in Australian schools. Since its inception in 2003,* Partners in Learning has furthered the interests of more than 192 million students and over 8.5 million teachers and policymakers in 114 countries, with a total worldwide investment of US$500 million. In Australia, we have already reached over 142,000 students, teachers and leaders and will invest A$15 million in cash and resources by 2013.
Innovative Schools Program
The Innovative Schools Program is a collaborative partnership between Microsoft Australia, Australian state governments and Australian schools
that explores how innovative schools can empower innovative learning. The program helps schools transform their learning in meaningful ways, by focusing on pedagogy, leadership, vision and culture. By supplementing the transformation with cutting-edge technologies, the program helps prepare the next generation to become innovative thinkers, effective problem solvers and more proficient contributors to a global society.
* All statistics correct as of February 2011
For More Information
For more information about Microsoft education products and services,
please visit our website at: www.microsoft.com.au/education