Programming + Music with EarSketch

By Pati Ruiz

The timing of this year’s  STEM For All Video Showcase worked well for me as a teacher. It allowed me to see something right when I was starting to evaluate my curriculum and prepare for next year. During the 2017-18 school year, I will be teaching two high school computer science courses: one is an introductory course for Sophomores and the other is a new (for me) intermediate course for Juniors. Due to time constraints, our school schedule will not allow me to offer the AP Computer Science Principles course. Instead, I am designing a curriculum that’s appropriate for my students. I am excited about the content and hope it will be engaging for them.

As I watched the videos in the showcase, the EarSketch: teaching coding through music video presented by Lea Ikkache and Jason Freeman really captured my attention, or, dare I say it – caught my ear. As I read through the discussion thread, I learned quite a bit from the comments. I learned that there is a community of CS educators who are now using EarSketch, and even a Facebook group where the community can discuss the curriculum and share their materials and tips. The curriculum is aligned with the AP CSP standards currently, and the team is looking to align to CSTA standards in the future! Among other topics, students will learn to use variables, loops, conditionals, and lists appropriately. They will also learn to use functions and write appropriate comments for their code.

Now that it’s August, I find myself planning for next year and really digging deeper into this curriculum. As I work through the modules, I find that the instructions are very clear and well-structured, and the tasks are engaging. Best of all, EarSketch is super easy to use because it’s completely free and works right in your web browser – there’s nothing to download or install. So my students can easily access this programming environment from home or the library. While you can use EarSketch in either Python or JavaScript, I have opted to use the Python version. I am learning a lot, and am even planning to invite our music teacher to our class so she can help us make sense of the music theory elements that we might encounter. I am lucky to teach in a school where the performing and visual arts are emphasized. I will also be encouraging music teachers to check this tool out.

I am still learning about EarSketch, but what I can tell so far is that it will engage some of my students (all young women) who are very involved with music-based extracurricular activities. It is also an application for programming that my students might not be anticipating. Through my dissertation study, I am learning about the importance of designing relevant and interesting examples and assignments for our students. EarSketch is definitely going to provide my students an opportunity to apply and practice programming concepts in a creative context with very appropriate supports in the form of instructions, resources, and examples. There are many links to audio and video files throughout!

I know that the research group is conducting further research to better understand EarSketch and its implementation in schools, specifically as AP CSP classes integrate the curriculum. I will be on the lookout for more publications about EarSketch – here is one about engagement across gender and underrepresented populations. Also, check out this EarSketch video that includes a variety of perspectives of people who have engaged with music and computer science through EarSketch.

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