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Without Boundaries

Technology in the arts gives students an open universe to explore and discover their own creative ta

Flying monkeys and the glowing face of a 21st century wizard enliven the stage at Effingham High School in Illinois during a student production of The Wizard of Oz thanks to laptops, software and DVDs.

Elementary students in Portland, Ore., scratch records and track beats using laptops and turntables to create their own hip-hop sounds.

And advanced theater students at Denver School of the Arts write productions and create 10-minute movies using Apple's GarageBand and iMovie software.

Technology use in arts education in K-12 schools is growing and many of the 90,000 public schools have capacity for electronic technologies to create and expand imaginations.

While the purity of artistic expression can be overshadowed with technical gadgets and computers that can virtually create 21st century symphonies or animated cartoons, technology allows students to envision something and then actually create it. Some arts education experts say technology sparks more creativity. And it allows many students who would normally never get a chance to create music, talk to a famous artist, or learn 3D art, to actually tap creative parts of their brains and develop higher order thinking skills.

When asked if technology helps or hurts art programs in schools, Tom Hatfield, executive director of National Arts Education Association responds, "Do you have a position for or against apple pie? It's another tool they can use."

"Technology is not supplanting the purity of the arts but making art even more accessible to the masses," says Leslie Conery, deputy CEO of International Society for Technology in Education, which established in 1992 teacher standards for technology use in education. "It's not an 'either/or' situation, it's 'in addition to.' "

Sacrificial Art

Arts classes and sometimes the technology that goes with them continue to get squeezed in tough budget times, mainly to make room for more teachers or programs in math and reading and soon-to-be NCLB mandates in science.

"Schools have been hard hit with funding issues and a lot of schools have had to cut art during the day," says Charles Lewis, executive director of Ethos, a music education non-profit organization in Portland. "The need for music education is great all around the country."

And many art experts say this is just bad news. "Not to have access to new tools would be a problem for art forms," says Richard Deasy, director of the Arts Education Partnership in Washington, D.C., a national coalition of arts, education and various organizations to promote the arts in learning. "I don't want to use a very broad brush but the arts ought to be treated equitably as other areas and given the tools to achieve its purpose."

Technology also allows the arts to be brought to students, such as via distance learning or the Internet.

It's amazing to sit here and have kids stay until 5p.m. on a Friday or come in on a Saturday to work on projects.

Using satellites through a community television network, the Prince William Network, an award-winning distance learning arm of Prince William County Public Schools, bring to students nationwide performances of the Martha Graham Dance Company and jazz trumpet tempos of the late John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie, for example, thanks to a free program from The Kennedy Center. The Distance Learning Performing Arts Series reaches 4.5 million students in 45 states every year. "We take live performances into classrooms, in areas that don't even have a theater in town," says Rae Bazzarre, center spokeswoman.

With broadband capacity getting cheaper, more schools will receive live performances and artist question-and-answer sessions directly via the Internet, says Darrell Ayers, vp of education at The Kennedy Center.

And what makes the Kennedy Center so special is its study guides and materials for teachers so they can identify curriculum connections. The programs also have educational objectives spelled out as well as Internet resources for follow up.

"The feedback we're getting is that it gets kids excited about learning about new things," Ayers says.

The Internet is a playground for artistic students through the Arts Education Partnership, for example. Students can access images and graphics at the click of a few buttons anywhere before, during or after school, according to Deasy. Students can also access digitalized collections from museums and view paintings that they might never see.

Applications like Virtual Reality Modeling Language and Hot Java allow students to take virtual backstage tours and virtual field trips to gain access to other artifacts related to school. "I would think it's safe to say that all of the arts forms use [technology] to some degree," Deasy says.

This Isn't Band Camp

Tykes in kindergarten and high school seniors alike in Portland are creating throbbing tempos of hip-hop music using computers and video production, and along the way, learning how to appreciate music.

"I've heard from their teachers that they're attending [class] more and being more active," says Joseph Garcia, coordinator of Urban Music Project, which is a part of Ethos. The project services many of Oregon's most underprivileged and neglected communities. "Hip hop is a big influence on the kids these days. This gets them to learn about music and stay in a positive environment."

The technology motivates them because they don't have it at home, Garcia says. With $45,000 worth of Toshiba computers from the Beaumont Foundation of America, Ethos' Urban Music Project students can create their own electronic beats. The Mount Hood Cable Regulatory Commission also gave them a $127,000 grant for other video equipment.

It's a far cry from band camp and, thus, that's the allure. "It's giving more opportunities for kids with the same end goal of understanding music and music theory," Lewis says.

By using computers, "we're bridging the digital divide with music and reaching the same kids who are missing out on music instruction and art instruction due to all the cuts," Lewis says.

In the Urban Music Project, students mainly use Fruity Loops, which is now FL Studio, to create musical masterpieces. They can take Turntable Workshop with little or no dj/turntable experience learning what a real DJ does. Scratching, for instance, is preparing to blend two records playing at once. Students must learn how to count beats of two songs and make sure they're synchronized which is "really technical and really hard," Garcia says.

Along the way, the young musicians learn fractional math, by dividing a measure and the basic four beats to create music.

While the program operates out of tiny headquarters in northeast Portland, it will move to a new academy in two years with 20 new high-tech classrooms with top-of-the-line equipment and digital drum labs. But Garcia makes sure they also ingest the history of music and the original hip-hop masters. "The kids are so excited about it," Garcia says. "Every week, they can't wait. Instead of going home or hanging out in the streets, they get to come after school and have fun and learn at the same time."

Extensive research into music and technology at MIT has opened up another world for students who don't have access to instruments or just won't bother with practice.

Meet Tod Machover, project director and professor of music and media at the MIT Media Lab. To learn how to play an instrument well and to understand music theory and notations takes years of practice, Machover says. And most children are barred due to a lack of talent or money.

Thus, the reason for Machover's masterpiece: The Toy Symphony project is essentially instruments and software that allow students to metamorphose into musical geniuses. Although it's all so new, eventually, more and more students will be exposed to the musical playmates. The BeatBug, which is a handheld percussive instrument with antennas, allows students to create their own rhythms by tapping on it or moving the antennas. Shapers are squeeze-like stuffed balls that students can twist and contort to mold and transform musical material and compositions. The two toys are used at school workshops or in museums, but Machover is looking to expand applications to schools in the future.

Hyperscore, the Toy Symphony's principal composition tool, is software that interprets the gestures of colorful strokes and lines that students draw on a computer screen with a mouse and shapes them into sophisticated music. Hyperscore helps students overlap, interweave and shape musical voices. The blue line in the center of the composing window is the harmony line, which students bend and twist to create harmonic changes, giving the music more nuance. "You might not know anything about harmony but you know what you like," Machover says. "It's the equivalent of training wheels. You have the computer to help you make it sound nice but you have control."

Machover says students can either learn all principles and theories first and then create, or students can create first and then "bootstrap" their way up to knowledge. "I believe in that method and our particular approach," Machover says. "We believe given the right tools some wonderful pieces will come out of this."

Dance, Acting, and Videotape in Middle America

"It's amazing to sit here and have kids stay until 5 p.m. on a Friday evening or come in on Saturday and work all day from 8 to 5 or come in at 6 a.m. on a weekday to work on projects," says Joseph Fatheree, teacher of high school multimedia and film design class at Effingham Community School District 40 in Effingham, Ill.

Fatheree started the multimedia college-credit class, teaching basic animation and multimedia film production, five years ago. Three miles away, Craig Lindvahl, a teacher at Teutopolis Community School District 50, had his own class. Just this year, the two Emmy award winners for outside work, combined classes as well as technology resources and brains.

"I think the students are in an age where all of our academic performance is based on standardized tests," Fatheree says. "There's no room to teach creativity. ... We're so concerned about scores that we don't have creative writing and no chance for [creativity] to flower."

Fatheree says not only can students "flower" in such classroom settings--combining writing, technology and art--but two districts can share resources that might be too expensive for individual districts to afford. Using $500,000 in grants, the program's technology includes G4 Macintosh computers, Apple's Media 100 and Final Cut Pro software to edit camera footage, as well as Canon X01 digital cameras.

"I would encourage all administrators to be as open as possible," Fatheree says. "Otherwise, you will continue to see education stymied."

Last fall, Effingham's theater students rehearsing for the Wizard of Oz asked the multimedia students to create a 3D animated "wizard" for the production.

Students first took a still picture of a person's face to make the model for the wizard. On a computer, they used Animation Master to create the wizard, by building a "wire" around the person's face. It essentially draws lines for the face. Then they used a Digital Juice animated background, in this case, a green animated wormhole, and laid the wizard on top, which is called "blending" in the program. Students sent it out as a Quick Time Movie, compressed it and then used DVD Studio Pro to make DVDs, which were hooked up to a projector. The video projector was hidden in a set on stage, where a student also hid to run the equipment at the appropriate time. They did the same for the production's flying monkeys.

As the actor spoke backstage as the wizard, the computerized glowing wizard's oblong forehead pulsated on the stage's big screen. "It looked really good," Fatheree recalls.

At Denver School of the Arts, theater and video/cinema students also combine projects. Theater students write productions, videotape the cast performance using iMovie, and write their own musical score with GarageBand. They chop the scenes, insert transitions and overdub dialogue. "Through that process they learned a ton about what goes into projecting and presenting yourself in a video format," Howard says. "The technology brought an awareness of real editing and how many different shots they had to take."

Stagecraft and design students learn how to design and build sets on a computer using Vector Works, a 3D CAD architectural software by Nemetschek, to consider how it looks for the director before having to create an entire set, Howard says.

If They Imagine It, They Will Create

Denver School of the Arts, which recently moved to a new state-of-the-arts facility, has enough technology to "get by" but it's so effectively used, Howard says.

"The use of technology in the arts programs at the Denver School of the Arts is a natural outgrowth of the need of art students to have the best possible tools to bring their artistic visions to life," Howard says. "Because of the new worlds of possibilities that exist through the use of technology, students have the opportunity to follow their artistic visions in limitless ways. If they can imagine it, they can create it--in whatever form that may take and with whatever medium is necessary."

In computer graphics/animation class using Macromedia's Flash animation software, Howard is amazed with the students' creativity. The technology "allows students to explore things that would be impossible with any other medium," he says. No boundaries exist as students manipulate visual elements, emotions and energy through the tools, he adds.

The future of technology in the arts is strong, but Howard is wary of technology replacing some of the basics and fundamentals of understanding art, or making things just too easy for students. "I look at technology as something that has potential for being a crutch and you can do [some things] easier than in the past but weighing that against the potential and ability to expand and explore... it's a valuable tool," Howard says. "I find that to be my challenge, to push them further and help them realize that when things become easier the expectation on them is higher because they can do so much more."

Angela Pascopella is features editor.

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