March 1998

Project Discovery
Project Discovery

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Art, Words, Music, Creativity
… and Computers

Three teachers launched a project and a program to bring together art, music, creativity, technology, teachers and schools in a team approach to education.

By Sandra Boetto

Take an idea, three teachers, one supportive superintendent and add four co-operative elementary schools. End up with groups of students and teachers working on a theme, then presenting their art, music, computer projects and classroom work to parents and the school community.

In 1993, George Brasovan, Mary Lou Sicoly and Allan Molnar were working in the music department of the Metropolitan Toronto Separate School Board. Each felt the need to develop a new concept for the music and arts program – something to excite teachers and students. Besides wanting to make music and arts education more relevant to the curriculum, the teachers also wanted to incorporate the use of computers.

Brasovan had written an article in 1991 that reflects the group’s rationale. He wrote: "It is almost seven years since I first sat in front of a computer in a half-hearted attempt to see what the fuss was all about. I was teaching instrumental music in a high school, and I wasn’t so sure that computers would ever play a significant role in education. Then the MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) revolution began. Being able to link an electronic keyboard and computer opens up a vast number of applications that greatly improve the way music is taught, learned, performed, composed, arranged and recorded …

"The power of music and its ability to express emotions, create images, and communicate, coupled with the computer’s ability to store, access and manipulate information, can trigger and assist a learning process where sound, visuals, text and the ‘hands-on approach’ could be used to benefit the learner."

Teachers Mary Lou Sicoly, George Brasovan and Allan Molnar came up with the idea to integrate creativity, art, music and technology in a thematic unit.

Superintendent Brian Morris recognized their idea as an opportunity for teachers and students to get excited about learning and making connections. He asked the team to identify a vision and put a plan together.

Project Discovery

The team’s pilot project, called Project Discovery, was based in a computer-assisted keyboard lab at St. Francis de Sales Elementary School. The lab was funded by the four participating elementary schools.

Team member Sicoly, an itinerant performing arts teacher, was responsible for the selection of a team of teachers in each school who planned and implemented a thematic unit of study that incorporated music, drama, visual arts and technology into the classroom core curriculum.

Teachers attended in-service workshops at the lab and left equipped with activities and strategies for their students. They established a lab schedule and the students started work on the theme.

At the end of 10 weeks, the students held a "celebration" of what they had learned about the theme for their parents and school community. The students’ presentation incorporated music, drama and movement and various visual arts such as mask making, puppetry, scenery and props.

A board technician taught student crews how to run a sound board and microphones, and the students operated and stage-managed the entire production. The students also presented the computer projects they developed on the theme and displayed their classroom work, including journals and art.

The report of the 1995 Royal Commission on Learning singled out this pilot project as a success story. It described Project Discovery (A Multimedia Centre) this way: "Teachers in the Metropolitan Toronto Separate School Board have a multimedia resource centre where they can learn about the new technologies; it comprises computers, electronic keyboards, materials, and resources used to promote in-service workshops to teachers in four schools. The workshops are organized during and after school hours; students also have access to the centre. Networking among the teachers has already led to development of integrated theme units incorporating the arts and technology."

Expanding the Project

This thematic unit, project-based model has grown. To maximize its effect, team member Molnar, a music and multimedia teacher, was placed at the secondary school Dante Alighieri as well as at the elementary school Regina Mundi. This elementary and secondary partnership has also provided secondary students as buddies to assist elementary students and teachers in their sessions.

So far, groups of students from 30 elementary schools have incorporated multimedia projects into their thematic units through their weekly visits to the lab.

At each home school, Sicoly is involved in pre-service meetings with teachers, administrators and trustees, outlining the philosophy behind the project as well as the program areas covered in the process.

Meanwhile, at Dante Alighieri Academy, principal Sue Sillery has helped the music department acquire a fully-equipped computer keyboard lab. Enrolment in the school’s music program has tripled over the last three years. As one music student says, "When I became involved in the music program here, I realized what an incredible program it is."

Teachers in other departments value the interdisciplinary possibilities offered by the multimedia program. Parents have also noted the impact of the program. One comments, "The teacher’s objectives have cultivated the students’ interest in music, making it relevant to the present."

School life at Dante has been enriched in many ways and the team’s project-based model, which links into the multimedia lab every week, is flourishing. This is largely due to the team’s focus on the program goals:

• to incorporate arts and technology across the curriculum

• to assist students in establishing curriculum connections

• to provide activities and experiences that will reinforce skills, knowledge and values and help students become critical thinkers and creative problem solvers

• to provide opportunities for students to become more self-directed workers

• to provide professional development for teachers

• to encourage networking among teachers within a school and from one school to another

• to establish accountability through curriculum webs and documenting students’ progress.

Multimedia Approach

Team member Brasovan, now head of music and multimedia at Dante Alighieri, sums up the appeal of a multimedia approach to learning: "The so-called ‘intelligent’ music software slowly started to turn the computer into a more creative tool capable of interacting with the user. Tutorial software attempted to make the process of learning the necessary skills faster, more effective and to put the learner in control of the process ... This ‘Hypermedia’ approach to learning could take a student from sound to image, to language, to story writing, to drama, to movement, to math, physics and computer science....

"I believe that computers and new technology are new tools that should be integrated into our traditional programs. They are here not to replace but to enhance, add and respond to change. A computer can be a musical tool just like a clarinet or trumpet and there is no reason why they can’t co-exist."

In this program they’re doing more than co-existing. They have enjoyed tremendous success, enhancing and reinforcing skills through the use of a variety of tools.

In September 1997 a new member from the computers in education department joined the team. Lori Mazza now follows up computer sessions at Dante Academy back at the elementary schools with on-site workshops for the teachers involved in the program.

This year, in co-operation with these teachers, the process leading up to the celebration is being documented through video, still and digital cameras. The footage will be edited to produce a CD-ROM.

This exciting, hands-on approach to learning has resulted from many hours of diligent work by the thematic unit team members, most of it on their own time. Creative sharing of staff and resources has created optimal results for both students and teachers. It truly has been a model of hard work and co-operation for students and teachers and continues to attract growing interest from other school communities.

Sandra Boetto is head of English at Dante Alighieri Academy. The Project Discovery team can be reached at