At Jigsaw Renaissance, we have been hard at work designing a device which will teach kids that they are capable of creative expression.
Let me tell you how we’re going to pull it off.
We started with a few design constraints. Firstly, the device should be beneficial to students who are being underserved by existing educational institutions. Many students don’t get the attention they need. Other students go to schools which don’t have the funding or faculty to teach subjects that aren’t on a federal watch list, with music and art often being the first to be thrown under a bus. Secondly, we want to loosely target younger students (e.g. ages 6-10) because they are probably less likely to be victims of learned helplessness or social interference, while there is a great potential for long-term benefits if we can make a positive impact on their education today. Lastly, the device should be something which will work for teachers. It should not depend on a lot of technical expertise or on equipment which might not be available, and it should be easy to integrate into the teacher’s curriculum.
Building from there, we did some brainstorming, and came up with a few good ideas which fit our criteria. However, we kept coming back to one idea; that of building a musical instrument which would use electronics to help even a novice have a fulfilling creative experience. Creating this experience would be very empowering as it would teach potentially disenfranchised students to value their ability for individual expression and that they are capable of far more than they imagined.
Current music education—assuming any is actually available—tends to focus on the traditional recorder experience where students are given cheap plastic instruments and made to practice simple tunes. This is not really engaging even for the students who already love music. Our device won’t be great for rehearsing simple tunes, but what it will be awesome for is empowering kids to work together and create improvised music.
How does that work? Well, it’s magic. There are a number of ways you could build it. Many of you are probably already thinking about several options. But for now, let’s just go with magic. The cool story here isn’t how we’re going to build the device, but what it will do for its users. (Come back later if you want to see our initial BOM.)
Here is the basic user experience:
- Students each have a handheld electronic instrument.
- It responds to input such as humming, shaking, or pressing a button.
- The interface is kept very simple and intuitive.
- Students compose music by freely interacting with the device.
- Students cooperate by trading snippets of music together.
- Students explore by sampling sound from their environment.
- The device helps by providing a beat and gently applying simple musical principles.
- Students have a positive and memorable experience.
We will play it in the classrooms; we will play it on the playgrounds. We can play it!