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Sam the Man: Thomson Elementary Students Get Unique Music Education

Sam the Man: Thomson Elementary Students Get Unique Music Education
Posted on 02/26/2018
Music teacher Sam Goodman leads his students through an exercise involving beats and rests at Thomson Elementary.Sam Goodman was getting his class warmed up at Thomson Elementary. The day’s music lesson: chords and backbeats. Color-coded cups helped keep everyone focused. Bright blue for beats; white for rests. A headphone-wearing chimp looked down on their progress. It’s one of the many little touches that makes Sam’s room fun and inviting. The “Staff Wars” chart, complete with Death Stars, is another. So too is the classroom entryway, decorated with music albums of all kinds.

“My overall approach is just to expose these kids to as much music as possible and to provide them with successful opportunities for them just to be able to decide if they want to include music in the rest of their lives when they leave Thomson,” said Goodman.

Thomson was Goodman’s first stop after college graduation and a quick turn as a substitute teacher. That was five years ago. From that day, until this, he’s tried a wide range of approaches. Goodman says he’s on something of a mission, to make sure that the music education that his students get at Thomson is not like the one he had.

“I wasn’t done justice when I was growing up with music education. I wanted to play violin when I was younger, and then through music classes in school I just wasn’t very engaged in it,” Goodman explained. “Getting those negative experiences through music education it’s shown me what I envision and what I try to do, what I wish I had that in school.”

That wish list includes a lot of technology that can often make Goodman’s music room strangely quiet. Under those headphones, his students were using a combination of computers, keyboards, and Ableton Push technology – basically digital audio devices – to learn, practice, and create. Just two months ago, Goodman’s classroom was very different, as students were just beginning to learn this technology.

“Even learning how to plug in headphones and press ‘Okay, headphones are acknowledged,’ it takes a long time. These students have so much grit in their attitude is focused on this,” said Goodman.

Once they learned these basics, Goodman’s students were hooked.

“The engagement level is so high; it just kind of takes cares of itself honestly. I was very scared at the beginning of this year when I started to implement it, how that was going to go. But I think the fact that it’s so engaging. There’s noise in there, but most of that noise is kids getting very excited about something and saying ‘here, listen to this’ and taking their headphones off.”

Goodman thinks Thomson may be the only elementary school in the world to be using Push. He was able to secure grants to get the entire tech. For some students, they adapt easily as digital natives, but because Thomson is a Title I school, others, who have little to no exposure to devices at home, are getting their first taste.

“I think this is a great tool for getting them used to computer literacy with the program that we’re using. That’s what sets this apart from teachers that are maybe using Garage Band on an iPad. Not to say that’s not an excellent step because I love that people are doing that,” explained Goodman. “But even just computer literacy, moving around a mouse, fine motor skills, control s to save something, control z to undo something, those are things that will be forever.”

This blend of traditional and electronic music learning feeds into one goal for Goodman.

“Copying something, transforming something, combining something – the creative process. The jobs that are going to be available for these students when they’re older are going to require that critical thinking and that creativity. I’m trying to push that, rather than play the correct notes, ‘play these correct notes,’” said Goodman. “I don’t think I lit up once in music class when I was growing up. Just to see that, that’s success in my book.”

See the JPS-TV version of this story here.
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