Friday, June 14, 2013

The Quakers Quaver

*groan* Sorry, I couldn't help the title, since my school's (decidedly non-competitive-sounding) mascot shares all but one letter with my newest supplemental music curriculum for the Lower School.

Just to clear up any misconception, our Upper School Ultimate Frisbee team just won the NC State Championship. Go Quakers!

But I digress. What I actually plan to discuss in this blog entry is Quaver's Marvelous World of Music, a highly entertaining and interactive supplemental music curriculum. It all revolves around this guy:
Meet Graham Hepburn, aka "Quaver." A pianist and flamboyant music educator, Quaver is your students' guide through each Quaver episode and the interactive website.

The Quaver curriculum currently consists of 30 episodes of about 15 minutes each, divided among the following units: music theory, instruments and ensembles, composers and music history, and music styles. The curriculum can be purchased as a box set, or in individual episodes. I have the box set, yay! Each episode has a well-designed lesson planning guide with lots of ideas for activities and an impressive number of supplemental audio tracks, included on the DVD or on the teacher website (more on that in a moment). There are also worksheets, if you like that kind of thing--something for every teaching style, really.
The episodes are the heart of the Quaver curriculum, and they are really quite wonderful. They work for a wide age range--so far I've used them with grades 1-4, but they could go a bit older. The lessons are scaffolded well so that the younger kids get the basics, but the older kids get a bit more (and they get more of the fast-paced jokes, too). Each episode starts out in Quaver's Marvelous music shop, where music comes to life in surprising ways. Before long, though, you'll venture into the music lab (more like a mad scientist's workshop), into the performance hall, even into the past, with humor and pacing reminiscent of Monty Python's Flying Circus. Each episode features guest performers, original songs, and lots of different instruments and musical styles.

The episodes and activities provided in the box set make up a massive supplemental music curriculum by themselves (Quaver Music is clear that this is intended as a supplemental curriculum, not a complete one, though this year they are releasing new materials to create a "full" curriculum. I'll blog about it when I learn more!). However, you're really missing out if you don't take advantage of the online resources. Each episode comes with two years of access to the online classrooms for that episode (renewable after that for an annual fee). The online classrooms contain a plethora of techie-pleasing tools, such as a teacher toolbox of interactive music tools (metronome, piano keyboard, quiz buzzer, etc.) and some really fantastic interactive whiteboard activities. Teachers also have full access to the Quaver music creation apps. These work great on the interactive whiteboard, on individual computers, or simply projected, with the teacher controlling from the computer. Each is easy to learn with basic computer skills, and in addition to teaching important musical concepts, they are a good introduction to more advanced software such as GarageBand or Sibelius/Finale.

My kids LOVED making rhythms in QBackBeat, a simple but flexible drum sequencer:
QComposer is good for students learning to read music:
There are several more, and you can explore them yourself with a free account on the Quaver Music site. Which brings me to the take-home component--the interactive kids' website. Here, kids can explore Quaver's world on their own. They can learn about composers, styles, instruments, and world music, and earn fun outfits and trinkets for their avatar as they explore. They can access the music creation tools shown above and compete and collaborate with other kids from around the world. Due to my maternity leave, I haven't done much to get kids set up with this, but a few did it on their own. My own daughter, who just completed the second grade, has loved the site--though she can spend an hour making a script for the animated busts of Beethoven, Vivaldi, and Debussy and easily miss most of the educational content... heh.
I think the interactive website is great, but this brings me to one of my few complaints about Quaver Music. All the content students "need" to go along with their in-school music lessons is available for free. However, much of the other content, including some of the most appealing things to youngsters, requires purchase with "Quaver Notes," which are not free. Parents can purchase these and put them in their kid's account, so kids won't be charging their parents' credit cards. Teachers are given a lot of Quaver Notes with their school package, but unless you just have a few kids using the site, it won't be nearly enough. Even though I can truthfully tell parents that the site is free for our purposes, I feel very awkward sending them to a freemium site, knowing that their kid is likely to start begging for Quaver Notes very soon.

Despite that issue, I am very happy with my decision to purchase the Quaver box set last Fall. I can't wait to use it more fully in the coming year, and I'm sure I'll have more to say when I do. In the meantime, I'll leave you with a few quotes from my students:

"Are we doing Quaver today? PLEEEEEEEZ?"

"Joanna, I don't think you're keeping a steady beat like Quaver said."

"That tempo is presto presto PRESTO spaghetti!"

"I love Quaver sooooo much!"

And, they did love Quaver soooo much I had to dress up as him for Halloween. I'm right there between my head teacher Taylor Swift and Forest Class teacher Waldo (as in "Where's").

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