Make music, not noise

“Make music, not noise” has become a popular motto in my classroom. A simple, yet powerful incentive for demonstrating good behavior and active participation during the learning experiences has been “free music time.” A selection of unique or special instruments are displayed and students are “free” to explore for a specific duration of time. “Free music time” had to be explicitly taught – as in behaviors and norms, and we have worked tirelessly to gradually build our time from one minute to what seems like ages – ten minutes. Nonetheless, it’s a favorite incentive for my students. At times I even add iPads to the mix in which students explore music games such as Rhythm Cat or Piano Dust Buster.

The students are simply enjoying their free music time, and be that as it may, there ARE some magical moments. It all starts with hanging out with friends and playing instruments, to messing around with particular sounds and techniques, and then turns to geeking out by asking stronger musicians in the class or even me for expertise and advice. Hmm, it seems like Mizuko Ito‘s concepts are at play. . .

Which begs the question, do I dare shift the incentive of free music time into an actual structured learning experience?

Reading Greg Toppo’s article Digital library aims to expand kids’ media literacy in USA Today further ignited my curiosity. The article discusses how we should no longer view a “library as a repository [but] a community center […] where things actually happen.” Thus, YOUmedia – a Digital Library Space for Teens – was born. It houses the latest digital media – laptop computers, music keyboards, recording equipment, video cameras and gaming consoles. Then, add teenagers, invite them to consume and produce media, and watch what happens.

The digital library has become so popular and influential that the Harold Washington Library Center in Chicago plans to replicate it citywide. One thing to notice in the digital library is that it’s loud; but “[i]t’s a constructive loud,” says poet and lead mentor Mike Hawkins, a frequent visitor of the digital library. Ito speculates that the success of the digital library is due to the fact that it’s based “not on what adults think students should be doing, but on ‘what kids actually do and how they engage with media and one another.'”


I recently attending a meeting regarding the building of our new school in Al Wakra, Qatar. My school is part of a large district under the education division of Qatar Foundation. The meeting discussed the specs of the building, classrooms, play spaces, recreation center  and so on. I was immediately drawn to the library design. From what I’ve gathered, the library will be placed on the top floor where it can span across the entire elementary school. While bookshelves and thousands of books will occupy the majority of the space, the designers have considered work spaces and digital media spaces as well. Is this the beginning of a digital library that I will have access to?! Eek! I am already giddy with excitement at the notion that I, too, will have the opportunity to apply my theories into practice. Perhaps I can convince the designers to etch our motto into this new space. . ?

But alas, for now, I shall experiment with “free music time” in my classroom and record some observations and outcomes. By the time we move into our new building, I could be a “sound board” for the digital music space. Sound board. See what I did there?

Have a great week!