Monthly Archives: June 2014

Media Arts Camp: Independence Public Library

As our second Media Arts Camp of the summer is drawing to a close, it strikes me how much the group has grown in the past week. We began the camp with multiple examples of stop- motion, and throughout the week students who had formally never heard of this form of animation are now bringing in their own examples and making multiple other short stop- motion videos at home. Their sets were creative, ideas lively and thriving, and the final films edited with care. We will be celebrating their achievements with an animation fest, during which they will screen their final products for the class and for their parents and explain their process. This will require using elements of professionalism and presentation skills, which myself, Wayne, and Leigh(co- teachers and fellow PAA members) have been embedding in the lessons throughout the week. Here are their finished animations and websites!

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Media Arts Camp: Middleburg Heights Public Library

The first media arts camp brought about some extraordinary animations from the Middleburg students. I was very impressed with their focus and team work, particularly when it came to the editing, final touches, and pulling all the elements together as a group(or “studio”). I was also impressed with how eager they were to share their processes and ideas with the class. Towards the end of the week, students who were ahead or finished with their animations were assisting other groups and teaching them about software they themselves had only just learned about.

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I certainly learned a great deal about how unique each group dynamic can be; something I may do differently in the future is have the students group up with those they “link” with in the beginning. We played a game called linked in which we said our names, and a fact about ourselves, and if a person shared that fact they would stand next to their link until everyone was linked together in a circle. Instead of choosing groups randomly with a count-off, it may be better to have them work with people they feel a connection with, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant that connection may seem. Another thing I will be tweaking in our next camp is the types of programs used, in order to make the editing process a bit smoother. While using iPads and iStop- Motion was a huge success, We will be using iMovie to do the bulk of the editing instead of pushing Adobe Flash. Although the websites are up and running, we will also include a lesson on professionalism when we teach the program iWeb.

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One thing that worked out excellently was the inclusion of the parents in our final Animation Fest. The students really enjoyed showcasing their work, and the parents enjoyed the fest as well.

The final animations and websites can be viewed here!

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Percussion and Found Sound Workshop: Lakewood Public Library

Kindergarteners, grade- schoolers, and a bunch of buckets and sticks- they loved it!

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For this workshop, I was assisting a PAA artist/musician in teaching about percussion instruments and sound. Percussion is derived from a Latin word meaning “to strike”, and the children certainly took this to heart as they went on to create and strike their own drums and shakers from recycled objects such as buckets, pans, cardboard, beans, water bottles, glass jars, and many other random recycled items.

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I learned that there is a balance for teaching a workshop like this for such a young age group, a balance between total freedom and structure. Total freedom is excellent for creativity, fostering it and helping it thrive. Indeed, the children loved the full hour they had to try and fail, and try and succeed in getting just the sound they wanted. In the end, the drums and shakers and unnamed percussion instruments were all unique both in look and sound. However, after all that freedom they required structure, in order to learn a subject that is very structured: music. Following the burst of creativity was an hour of learning about beats and note structures. They were learning in two different ways without even realizing it.

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I loved jamming with the kids on the drums, and I’m looking forward to helping with more workshops and learning more about lesson structure and learning patterns.

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Designing the ULTIMATE Marble Roller Coasters

This past week of camps and teaching has been a whirlwind for us, as we raced between three separate camps all across the Cleveland area to help teach and assist students in a variety of mediums. Our main camp has been our week- long Media Arts Camp, in which students at the Middleburg Heights Public Library are creating stop- motion animations(soon to be uploaded).

More on that to come, but for now I’d like to focus on our Design Challenge workshop at Orange Recreation Center. This hour and a half long workshop took 30 4th and 5th graders, broke them into groups of five, and challenged each group to create their own ultimate marble roller coasters. The groups were challenged to keep in mind a few basics of physics such as gravity, and kinetic and potential energy.

Design Challege: Making Roller Coasters

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 We kept our intro short and sweet so as to give the groups a full hour to create their coasters. To create the groups, we did a count off so that the groups would be more random. We only gave the teams two rules in creating their coasters: 1.) Each coaster must carry a marble both UP and DOWN at least one hill. 2.) Each team must incorporate at least ONE ITEM from the “Mystery Bag”. The mystery bag was simply a bag compiled with a random selection of items thought to add an additional challenge to the coaster creation process. Many teams chose to use more than one item to spice up their rides. Originally we had planned to hold a race, with prizes for the winners, but the coasters were immovable and a race was impossible to do without compromising the structural integrity of the coasters. If we were to do a race in the future, an added rule would be that each coaster would have to be free standing.
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We gave each team a selection of cardboard(both boxes and flat boards), multiple toilet paper and paper towel roles, a yardstick, duck tape and masking tape, scissors, and a “Mystery Bag” item. More cardboard, tape, scissors, tape, and mystery items were available upon request. The mystery items were very random, ranging from cellophane to paint stirrers to carpet squares to pieces of pool noodles. PAA member Marcus ran a cutting station with cutting mats and utility knives, in order to assist the students with any heavy- duty cutting.

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After an hour of racing creativity and successes and failures, Kenny and I called time and went around to each group, asking them to demonstrate their coaster. We gave the teams as many tries as needed to get their marble from beginning to end of the tracks. Several of the coasters contained pinball- like qualities that also indirectly referenced the Rube Goldberg process. Other coasters relied on heavily gravity to carry their marble over the cardboard.

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After each group showcased their work, we asked them to reflect on the challenges they faced as a group when construction their  coasters. Many involved getting the marble to have enough kinetic energy to run through the entire course. Some were more material- related issues, such as the marble getting stuck on tape. All of the teams proudly showcased their creations, and were eager to share their success.
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As far as prizes go in the future, Kenny and I have discussed having medals prepared for each team. One team can be named “Most Creative”, another “Fastest Coaster”, another “Best Design”, and so forth. Monetary prizes for a single winning team may not have the same impact as meaningful awards complimenting an element of every teams coasters and ingenuity. If we were to do it again, we would bring images and a poster prepared with the rules for the introduction, and awards for each team. Kenny and I are continuing to learn from our pupils and hone our teaching styles. Overall, the workshop was a success. I think the students enjoyed themselves, and came up with some really fantastic coasters!

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Reflections on the Music Production and Found Sounds Workshop

The first incarnation of our ‘Found Sounds’ tinkering workshop — 2-days of musical tinkering within PAA’s free 5-day Music Production Camp:
This tinkering workshop engages students aged 11-14 in a creative exploration of materials, sound, and electrical circuits via a series of musical challenges. The workshop was developed and implemented by Allison and I over the course of 3 days, and its realization involved a true PAA team effort! For example: Allison, myself, and Ainsley and Kieran of PAA collaborated to assemble and program the high-resistance-switch instruments pictured below. These Makey-Makey-like devices were built using Arduino Leonardo microcontrollers, solder-less breadboards, jumper wires, resistors, and alligator clips.

The ‘finished’ devices were glued to rectangular strips of corrugated cardboard for easy handling, and their rough appearance invited plenty of questions about the underlying mechanism. Near the beginning of the second day, one student asked, “Hold up… you mean there’s nothing inside of this cardboard?”. I took this as an invitation to explain how we assembled the devices… and as I did, the student had a sudden realization: “So I could make that!”.

The two contact microphones at the bottom of the image above were also custom-built for these students using 1 audio cable (cut in half), 2 piezo transducers, and 2 plastic bottle caps.

Shortly before the workshop began, I put together a simple Flash/Actionscript interface that allows students to choose which sounds (from a small set of options, chosen beforehand by Allison and I) will be triggered when a conductive object connected to certain alligator clip color (e.g. red, green, blue, or white) is connected to the device’s electrical ground. As it stands, there are 625 (i.e. 5^4) possible assignments of sounds to ‘keys’/colors:

 

The bottom half of this interface displays the sound spectrum captured through the computer’s built-in microphone, via a real-time updating graph of sound intensity (dB) as a function of frequency (hz). Although we did not initially explain what the bottom half of the interface represents, students grew increasingly curious about it as the workshop progressed. Once students began asking questions about the real-time sound spectrum graph, we responded by connecting the graph to our earlier remarks on the physics of sound.

The Found Sounds Workshop:

The first day was dedicated to the exploration of sound, vibrations, and the acoustic properties of various materials. After a brief introduction to the concept of recycled instruments (with both live and recorded examples), an explanation of how to build contact mics from cheap/salvaged parts, and an introduction to the physics of sound, students split into two ‘musical groups’, each of which was provided with a large box of found objects (selected beforehand by Allison and I). In addition, each group received one custom-built contact microphone and one amplifier. The students were challenged to create their own unique instruments using the materials at hand, with the goal of combining their sounds the following day to create brief music videos.

At the start of the second day, students were given a brief introduction to electricity and circuits and were then provided with high-resistance-switch instruments. We challenged our students to test the conductivity of various materials, and to create their own switch-based instruments (e.g. using graphite drawings).

Some students quickly took to the idea of creating pencil drawings and then playing them as instruments. Meanwhile, other students embraced the idea of creating wearable instruments. For example, one student created a hat-rim piano, and then excitedly asked me if it would be possible to create a musical suit of armor with the computer, speakers, microcontroller, and breadboard hidden in a backpack, and all of the wiring hidden underneath the armor. Another student created an arm piano out of copper tape, and yet another student dedicated most of the day to creating instruments out of unlikely objects like window curtains, a cheeto, and a library card (this same student frequently joked that he had enjoyed a long career playing music on bananas prior to arriving at our workshop). Alongside this switch instrument activity, we introduced students to the beat-boxing art of performers such as Reggie Watts, and then provided them with sound looper software called Mmmtsss. We encouraged students to use their switch and recycled instruments, in conjunction with their own mouth-sounds, to create loops with Mmmtsss.

Some lessons we’ll carry with us to our upcoming camps and workshops:

– On the first workshop day, our Found Sounds students were highly invested in making sounds and beats with their recycled instruments. However, after we introduced the high-resistance-switch instruments on the second day, most of our students became so fascinated with the new activity that they seemed to lose interest in playing their recycled instruments. Although we had originally hoped to hold a ‘jam session’ toward the end of the second day — where students would create brief music videos using both their switch instruments and their recycled instruments — it was clear by the end of day 2 that most students were only interested in continuing to tinker with the high-resistance-switch devices. We decided to alter our original plan and let them tinker for the remainder of the day. It might have been best to hold a recycled instrument ‘jam session’ at the end of the first day, when our students were still strongly involved in recycled-instrument-related activities.

– A few students wanted to know how we made the Flash/Actionscript interface that they were using with their switch instruments. I told them that it involved programming in a language called Actionscript, and that they could make something similar themselves with MIT’s Scratch language. After uttering these words the first time, I couldn’t help but wonder why I hadn’t programmed the interface (or at least parts of it) in Scratch. Whenever possible, I plan to do so in the future, so that I can respond to similar questions by ‘opening up’ and dissecting the application in question.

– We allowed students to organize themselves into groups during this workshop, and noticed that the students tended to segregate themselves by gender. To avoid this sort of situation, we’ve already begun to assume a more active role in grouping students (e.g. grouping students by shared interests, or by counting off students modulo [the total number of students divided by the desired number of groups] ).

Above: A view of PAA’s Maker Corps office in the days leading up to the workshop.

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Music Production: Creating Music with Recycled Instruments and Conductive Materials

Kenny and I have spent the past few days exploring music, creating our own beats and instruments using both electronics and found objects. We’ve been using our own custom-built versions of the Makey Makey (as seen here) to experiment with creating sound using conductive materials, such as bananas and play-dough. We’ve also been collecting various found objects, combining their sounds with custom-built contact microphones, and researching the recycled instruments movement. This exploration has led to designing and teaching a 2-day program within PAA’s Music Media camp at the Maple Heights Library to students ages 11-18.

It was our first time teaching for PAA and Maker Corps, and we both felt very natural instructing and assisting the students! We began our two days by splitting the students into two groups and giving both groups a curated box of found objects such as cardboard, fishing line, styrofoam, rubber bands, packing tape, and PVC pipes. The students were challenged to create at least one instrument that created interesting sounds when played with a contact mic, and at least one instrument that created interesting sounds when played through the air.

On the second day, those instruments were used along with the Makey Makeys to create beats and compositions. The best part of the second day was the tinkering and experimenting that went on! It was so exciting to see the students light up as they played sounds on fruits, play-dough, graphite drawings, and wearable conductive elements. Some students experimented with materials quite a bit. One student even played a Cheeto! Since our custom-built Makeys were made using solder-less breadboards, jumper wires occasionally came loose and alligator wires occasionally broke (beneath the insulation). These ‘debugging’/troubleshooting moments turned out to be great learning opportunities, and at least two students learned how to rewire the Makeys themselves!

We will be uploading more videos and pictures shortly to show off their unique inventions, and to showcase their instruments and their tinkering process.

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5 years in the making, our masterpiece is finally finished..

Just kidding, it only took us a few hours – about the same amount of time our Media Arts Camp students will have to produce their animations! We used alligator clips, a breadboard, an iPad, a little editing, and wallahhh! Our masterpiece. This stop motion will serve as a simple animation example for our students, and will be presented alongside more complex stop motion animations. A stop motion animation is a series of still images (frames) presented in sequence at a given speed (frame rate) to produce an ‘illusion’ of movement for human viewers. Through this process, it is possible to bring either everyday objects or custom-made characters to life. We can’t wait to see what kind of crazy creative projects our students create!

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Exploring the Possibilities!

Allison: For our first week at Progressive Arts Alliance, Kenny and I have been focusing on exploring our Possibility boxes generously provided by the Maker Education Initiative. In the upcoming months, we will be creating kinetic sculptures and stop motion videos with students, along with other multi-media explorations.  I know that I will be learning along with the students as we explore the world of circuits and kinetics, realms of creativity which have remained relatively unknown to me. With some ingenuity and creative thought process, an integrated science and arts educational process will be underway. We’re ready to begin!

Kenny: Allison and I have been tinkering and planning our summer workshops all throughout our first week at PAA. On the tinkering side of things: we’ve begun experimenting with various materials and mechanisms — setting ourselves up for repeated failures and occasional successes. This process of exploration, discovery, and troubleshooting is an essential part of our preparation for our kinetic sculptures camps, which will be held next month. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be involved in PAA’s Music Production and Multi-media Arts camps, among other programs. Be sure to check back for updates as we document various stages of our making, learning, and teaching process!

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What we’re looking at

 

We’ll be updating this post throughout the summer with links, videos, text, and images that inspire us and inspire our programs!

Music Media Arts

Stop-Motion Animation

Kinetic Art

Transformed Spaces

Fine Art Inspiration

Education

 

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