Ames High band: Modeling innovation, risk-taking, and feedback

I’m pretty impressed with the Ames High School band directors. Not only are Chris Ewan and Andrew Buttermore facilitating a great band program musically (250+ students who give amazing performances), they also are modeling instructional innovation and risk-taking with technology. When our district provided laptops for students, for example, they immediately jumped on the opportunity for band students to record themselves and then submit their digital files for review. Many students are using SmartMusic to help them practice and – even cooler – marching band participants now can see what they’re trying to accomplish on the field because they’ve been sent a Pyware video that shows them what it looks like from the perspective of those of us in the stands. [Next up, Ohio State!]

But I think the most enthralling thing they’ve done to date was a video that they showed us during Parent Night last week (feel free to pause at any time to get the full effect):

How do you help a group of incoming 9th graders realize what it looks like when they’re out of step? Put a video camera on the track at foot level, of course!


Imagine you’re a brand new band student… You’ve only been marching for a few days. You’re juggling learning new music with learning how to step in time. It’s difficult to see what everyone else is doing. Your opportunities for feedback are relatively limited in the large group. And so on. It’s easy to feel like maybe you’re doing better than you really are. Heck, you didn’t hit the student next to you today with your tuba, right? But the video doesn’t lie… “Wait, those are MY feet! And I’m not there yet.” And that other video from up in the stands that shows that our lines need work too? Also useful for helping me see where I fit into the overall picture…

Why do I like this video so much? Because it models creative ways to give kids feedback and because it uses technology to help students learn how to get better. As Chris Anderson noted in his TED talk, video often allows us to innovate more rapidly. Want your 9th graders to ramp up their marching band footwork as fast as possible? Show them – don’t just tell them – what it looks like…

How is your school using technology to help kids SEE how they can get better? (and, no, I’m not talking about ‘adaptive’ multiple choice software)

5 Responses to “Ames High band: Modeling innovation, risk-taking, and feedback”

  1. Scott,
    This is great information. Our high school just went to using Chrome books last year and we are all working to become technology oriented. We have one of the best bands in the state and our students travel the world. This information will be used by our fabulous band director, Mr. Harley.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. It’s always best to show students the behavior you want them to model. Way back in the day, meaning the 1990s, I would take photos of students doing it the right way (whatever it might be) and post them in the room. One year I had a student teacher who was very much into video so he set up the big old camera on a tripod and videotaped sales presentations so the students could see how they did.

    Look how far we’ve come in just a short time. Now that iPhone can make the video and display it all within seconds. Sure wish I had that last century.

  3. I think that thing video helps show how technology is evolving with the way kids learn today. This helps give the kids a new perspective on how to learn. It shows what you do wrong and right and how to critique yourself. The kids can see if they are out of step with everyone else. This is a great way of showing how SMALL technology can be a BIG part in learning. I am more of a visual learner so this is something that would help me if I was in this situation and I think it could help many others that are visual learners.

  4. This is lovely. Must be fun and the marching bands probably will improve more quickly and that will be a great boon to society because… because…. Because?

    Am I totally wrong to think that, in a world in which we have to make harsh budgeting choices, laptops and video software for the band is a frill masquerading as some sort of “cool” and juicy innovation?

    This is the thing about the technology-as-the-savior-of-public education meme – you get a lot of cute little stories like this one, supposedly adding up to a revolution in learning.

    Real life: my kids’ teachers all got new Smart Boards a couple years ago. Exactly not-one-thing changed in the quality of their education. The teachers are just about evenly split on whether the boards are an improvement and all agree there are many low-tech things they would gladly trade them for: time for planning and collaboration, classroom assistants, tutors, counselors, smaller class-sizes, bunsen burners that work, enough copies of “Night” so the kids can take them home, extra pencils, a full-time librarian, et cetera, et cetera).

    But laptops and video programs for the marching band. Cool.

    Is this what the revenge of the nerds looks like?

  5. I think that recording kids’ foot steps while they are marching is a great resource for them to learn and improve. If I was a student in this situation, I know the use of these tools would really help me in making sure that I had my footwork and placements down. This goes to show how small technological advancements are playing a part in learning in a big way. I think it is fascinating to think about where technology will lead us in the next 5, 10, 15 years in regards to how we teach and learn.

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