Oh Say, Can you See That Sound?

Synesthesia, a biological phenomenon that causes some people to sense objects and experiences in a different way, always fascinated my students. People who associate colors with different numbers or scents with specific sounds might be accused of making up these unusual perceptions, but scientists have proved that this genetic trait does exist. In fact, some famous musical and visual artists may have had the benefit of synesthesia in their creative endeavors.

In this lesson plan from Google Arts and Culture, “Seeing Sound with Kandinsky,” students can learn about the painter Wassily Kandinsky’s relationship with music and its affect on his art. (Slide 8 specifically refers to Kandinsky’s synesthesia and offers links that elaborate on it.)

According to the TED Ed video, “What Color is Tuesday?” around 4% of the population are synesthetes. Students will, of course, want to know if they are possible synesthetes. They can take a quick test like this one, but I always caution them that this is just for fun and not at all scientific. For a simple paper and pencil task, there is a fun example on the Neuroscience for Kids site.

This lesson plan from The Art of Education includes several more activities and links, including one to a site where you can type in your name to find out the color palette one synesthete, Bernadette Sheridan, would visualize. And, way back in 2015, I wrote about a site where you can type in your own message and generate music with the letters. (It still works!)

If you’re interested in literature for children in which characters have synesthesia, here is a good list. One of the choices is The Noisy Paint Box, a book about – you guessed it – Kandinsky as a young boy.

Whether studying neuroscience, art, music, or gifts that make us different, you will find that synesthesia is an intriguing topic for any age level.

Photo by Moose Photos on Pexels.com

Fabulous Flash Mobs

I don’t expect a lot of people will be reading the blog this week, so I thought I would just post some of the inspiring Tweets, videos, and random pics I’ve collected recently Monday through Wednesday. Thursday will be my last Gifts for the Gifted post for 2020.

I absolutely adore this magnificent thread from @CelesteHeadlee that contains some of the best flash mobs ever. Treat yourself to watching these performances from a different time – when we nonchalantly walked through crowds of people and sometimes they broke out into song.

Blob Opera

It’s that time of year when no one feels like concentrating on something serious. So, what better activity can you do in the classroom than study opera? Well, maybe not study it exactly. How about play with it instead? One of the newest Google Arts and Culture experiments is “Blob Opera,” and it’s definitely going to catch your students’ attention if you bring this up on your screen. Your students will entertain themselves to no end as they drag the blobs around to create operatic masterpieces. It feels a bit like you are conducting somewhat refined Muppets. They can even record and share the link of their favorite productions. For those who need a little inspiration, there is a small tree in the bottom right-hand corner so you can switch on to “hear some festive songs.”

For additional artistic adventures, visit the Games page of Google Arts and Culture, where you can solve “Visual Crosswords” or play “Puzzle Party,” or find another amusing diversion!

Gifts for the Gifted – Bare Conductive Touch Board

 A few years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season.  I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually on every Friday in November and December.  These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child.  For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students. You may notice that I missed 2019, but I’m making up for it this year with a post every Thursday in November and December up until Christmas Eve.

Last year, we were able to get a grant in our Maker Space for some Bare Conductive Touch Boards and paint (there are smaller tubes of paint if you prefer). One of the choices for students’ final engineering projects in my class was to create a work of art that integrated the touch board and paint. I just scoured my Google Photos archive and, for some reason, have no video of the final projects in action 🙁 Here are pics of the artwork and the back of their canvases, though.

The black paint that you see in the mariachi and country pictures is conductive. The concept was to attach the sound board to the back and connect the black paint with copper tape to the sound board. But, as you can see in the bottom picture, the copper tape was not being cooperatively sticky enough so one of the students ended up soldering wires to it instead. (Soldering is not mandatory; we just wanted to make it more durable.) We made hinged frames for the canvases to enclose the speakers and touch board but allow us to turn them on/off and change batteries if needed. The mariachi instruments played music based on which instrument you touched, and the countries played their anthems. (That group was fascinated with countries of the Cold War.)

Don’t let the over-complexity of the project scare you off. I tend to imagine projects that leave out a few minor details in in my initial drafts. What’s cool about the Bare Conductive Touch Board is that it is actually easy to use. There is a little Micro SD card for you to add your sounds, and you probably want to attach a cheap speaker (I got these at Target for $3) that has a microphone jack so you can hear it. As you can see, we also gave it a battery, but you can alternatively just attach it to your laptop, depending on your project. Here is a step-by-step intro to the board that shows you how easy it is to get it working. There are also instructions for making a midi piano.

I was first inspired to look into doing a project like this when I saw this video. For those of you who have used or seen the Makey Makey (a past Gifts for the Gifted recommendation), you can see that this takes the potential just a bit further.

If you have a child/student who loves to create art and would be interested in attaching sound to it, this is a unique gift that they would definitely enjoy.

Halloween Music Playlist from Disney

I vividly recall taking out the record album for Disney’s Haunted Mansion and playing it repeatedly for the whole month of October when I was a kid. Unfortunately, I’m guessing that record got thrown away long ago when I moved away from home. So, when I went to the link Disney recently shared for its Halloween music playlist, I was excited to see a track from the Haunted Mansion album, “Grim Grinning Ghosts.” The first five notes brought me back to chilly autumn nights spent imagining the amazing costume I would wear for trick-or-treating that year (conveniently forgetting each year that it was always so cold in New Jersey that I might as well just wear pajamas under my winter coat).

This playlist is available on 11 different music platforms, including YouTube. It includes classic and contemporary songs. There’s a wide variety to appeal to different age groups, and some are less spooky than others.

What can you use this for?

  • Wait time while students are joining class
  • Background music while students are doing independent work
  • Cues for different actions
  • Writing prompts
  • Connecting songs to literature or history
  • Changing the lyrics to fit a different context (My students used to do this with the song, “Superman” by Five for Fighting when we read Tuck Everlasting, and it was powerful!)

I’m sure you can come up with even more ideas!

Image by Peter H from Pixabay

Two Bit Circus

Two Bit Circus is a foundation that describes its mission as follows: “We serve children in all economic situations by creating learning experiences to: inspire entrepreneurship, encourage young inventors, and instill environmental stewardship.”  The organization has aimed to achieve these goals through activities such as summer camps, STEAM Carnivals, and workshops.  Although many of these programs have had to come to a screaming stop during the last few months due to the pandemic, Two Bit Circus has not faltered in its delivery of quality content.  Instead, it has shifted to offering streaming classes during the week on topics that range from creating music to building balloon racers.  You can find the archive, already full of informational project videos they have streamed since March, here.  Note that Caine Monroy (yes – the charming young man from Caine’s Arcade) makes a special appearance in some of them.  He is a member of the foundation’s Junior Advisory Board.  In fact, according to the streaming schedule on the home page, Caine will be hosting another live session this Thursday, May 21st.

It’s clear that Two Bit Circus is making a strong effort to offer distance learning projects that are fun, educational, and mostly reliant on household supplies.  Some other resources you will currently find on their website home page are their STEAM Carnival Playbooks (currently free downloads thanks to Vans), a Bricks Playbook for Parents, and “Power Lab,” a “Print-At-Home Escape/Story Room Experience.”  In addition, parents who are suddenly finding themselves to be educators may learn some helpful advice from the “Teachers for Teachers” series that you can find here.

While the official school year may be winding down for some, the unpredictability of the next few months will probably still leave some gaps in children’s schedules.  With these resources from Two Bit Circus you can make that time fly!

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Image by jacqueline macou from Pixabay