How can interactive instruments and environments support active and creative learning experiences? During the fall, MEDEA’s Living Lab the Stage has in collaboration with Rösträtt, The School of Education and Society, the pre-school Mumindalen in Klågerup and Unsworn Industries done a pilot consisting of two field studies at Mumindalen, three design-oriented workshops, and assignments carried out by the pre-school staff and children.
The aim of the pre-study was to get a good first understanding of the pre-school context, try out some off-the-shelf digital solutions and develop concepts that can be explored in more detail in a longer project. The goal is to make a grant application so that a longer research and development project can be carried out.
The workshops lead to numerous concepts, which can be categorized into three themes: the mobile room, interactive environments, and music sharing.
The mobile room theme consisted of various musical instruments such as The Sound Friend that enables children to collect sounds and singing at home that in turn could facilitate storytelling activities at the pre-school and The Insect Instrument for collecting and composing quiet sounds.
The interactive environment theme consisted of concepts build around collaborative embodied music making. The Star Choir concept suggested for example that collaborative composing could happen through activating sounds; such as the children’s own voices, by beaming light on a light-reactive ceiling. Tone Games is a platform for voice controlled games and exercises where the children can see a screen visualization of how they sing. Through the visualization the children learn to vary their voice and understand the correlation between sound volume and the air volume in the lungs. One game could for example be The Long Tone (see illustration below) where a child’s aim is to make as a long tone as possible. In a collaborative version the children would make long tones through turn-taking as they run out of breath.
The music sharing theme centered on a music service for sharing and listening to popular music that the children enjoy, as well as their own music. Besides being an easily handled jukebox where the children can choose songs, sing-a-long and dance to, perhaps it could also contain remix possibilities or other possibilities that allow the children to build upon the song treasures; for example by singing and recording on top of instrumental recordings or vocal recordings made by other children.
The field study was conducted to get a first good understanding of the life-world of a pre-school and identify qualities that can be built upon.
The field study pointed out that the pre-school context is highly dynamic where the activities shift from informal and constantly shifting activities to more formalized gatherings. Whether informal or more formal activities, the staff works with a holistic pedagogical perspective rather than segmented learning where specific areas such as language skills or math skills are singled out. The pre-school, although it has natural science-profile, combines that perspective with for example aesthetic activities. The field study also pointed out that it can be challenging to arrange activities that the different ages – spanning from a year-and-half to five year-olds – can engage in on equal terms, which is central to holistic learning. Such activities enable the children to learn to from each other, as they need to listen to one another, negotiate and imagine how someone else understands. Central are thus activities that are holistic and that foster participation, intimacy, and fellowship.
It also showed how important it is with learning that involves the whole body, which also relates to holistic learning. The pre-school works with activities where sounds, songs and expressions are amplified by body movement; activities that can make the children’s eyes tinder. For the children, how the sound feels in the body, the corporeal experience of sound, is just as important as hearing the sound and they often play and experiment with how they can change their voice through bodily movements.
The study also pointed out that the children and the staff experiences the pre-school environment differently. The children appreciated certain indoor environments considered unattractive and noisy by the staff. The staff expressed that relaxing indoor environments were lacking and the tolerance for sound was considerably higher when it came to outdoor activities. Access to attractive and/or precious objects is regulated by the staff, partly due to gender issues – boys tend to get first access if not regulated – and partly because certain objects such as electronic equipment and instruments are expensive and sensitive. The placement of activities and the spatial regulation of activities and equipment are thus important aspects to keep in mind when designing for pre-school activities.
Fictionalizing everyday activities was frequent. Defining a space and activity as a journey to a foreign country or as a kitchen makes the activity more exciting and engaging. Similarly, music instruments triggers the children’s’ fantasy. When performing or engaging in musical activities boys and girls draw on different role models from pop culture, both when it comes to dress code and gestural repertoire. The framing of activities is thus important for defining activities, engagement and identities.
During the second fieldwork the children got the opportunity to try out several applications such as Bloom by Brian Eno, Bebot by Normalware, Abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz by Jörg Piringer, TonePad by Loftlab and Ofonini developed by Unsworn Industries. The children quite quickly understood the basic interaction of the applications. They surprisingly used some of these digital instruments more like coloring books as they were at first more fascinated by the colors generated through the touch screen interaction than the music they made. They also found it hard to slow down and shift between making new sounds and listening to the loops. Using them collaboratively was also a challenging as it demanded slowing down and negotiating turn-taking rules.
The assignments included creating quiet instruments and performing a short musical piece with them, letting the children compose and perform their own short jingles, compose movement patterns from environmental sounds and basic musical patterns, and make short movie clips where they children made individual sounds that could be organized into a sound palette or sound grid in the Ipad and Iphone application MadPad. The children and the staff enjoyed trying out the exercises and produced some beautiful pieces.
The pilot gave rich insights into everyday life at a pre-school and specifically how children listen and create sound and music. It has also provided insights into how children engage with existing digital instruments and pointed out some interesting design directions to pursue further. Last, but not least, the pedagogues have expressed that pilot-study has helped them see their pre-school environment differently as they and the children have become more attentive to sound and music.
Happy holidays and thanks and to Rösträtt, The School of Education and Society, Malmö University, Unsworn Industries and Skruttet, Mumindalen for a truly enjoyable collaboration so far!
Read more about this project on The Right to Your Voice: New Musical Instruments, Environments and Creativity
Image credits: All illustrations by Unsworn CC:BY and all photos by Medea CC:BY