deeper learning through projects - hth 216
jambox! - artist statement
Background & Goals
This project has been developing in the back of my mind for a couple of years now. Music is a great passion of mine and I have always wanted to bring it into one of my projects. One night, I was deep down a Wikipedia wormhole when I came across the term "Jambox". A Jambox is a device that brings strangers together and allows them to create music as one. The really cool aspect of Jamboxes is that they are designed to be accessible to people of all musical abilities. People with absolutely no background in music can interact with the device and create sounds and music that is polished and cohesive. Meanwhile, experienced musicians are able to really explore the capabilities of the device and the array of sound to create beautiful pieces of art. Building a Jambox with my students would allow them to delve deep into the engineering design process while also spreading the joy of music to those who may not have the means to otherwise. The project would also require an understanding of electricity and circuits, topics that I have been eager to explore.
Student Access, Challenge, and Equity
As I was planning this project, one question stuck with me. What common task will all students be responsible for? Initially, I had imagined focus areas where students could work on different aspects of the end product and therefore engage with different content areas. Although this would have allowed a great opportunity for student choice, it would have been inequitable and far too complex to manage. I decided to focus the project around the MIDI controller component. Groups of three students will work together on a single MIDI controller. Each student will be responsible for some component of that controller. They will design it within Solidworks, develop manufacturing drawings and instructions, and physically build the piece. The complexity of the components will depend upon the group’s design for their MIDI controller. No matter what, there will be a range of complexity in each group and therefore a range of access points for all students. The students have the freedom to design components with highly complex geometry and therefore present a challenge to those who seek it. On the other hand, there will be components with relatively basic geometry that struggling students can tackle. For my honors students, I have maintained some aspects of the initial focus area approach to the project. They will still be responsible for a MIDI controller, but will also be working on other tasks such as the main structure, advanced circuitry and lighting, and programming. This will provide a great opportunity for choice with challenge.
From the beginning, I knew that I wanted this project to be my Festival del Sol project. The product is perfectly suited for a large interactive exhibition with large crowds. This gave me about an 8 week window for the project to happen within. My vision for the product was some form of structural art to house the inner workings, several small MIDI controllers, and a computer running Ableton Live with all of the music. Early on in the planning process I listed out all the different tasks to be completed, the skills to be developed, and the resources needed. I quickly came to the realization that this project was getting too big; things needed to be cut. For example, I had initially planned to use arduino processors to connect our MIDI controllers. Students would use programming to convert the arduino inputs into MIDI data. After some research, I realized this would be an enormous task and distract from the main learning goals. I therefore opted to use an existing MIDI brain that would require only minimal programming as well as a challenge option for any student interested in computer engineering.
Prototype and Expert Contact
I had a blast developing the prototype for this project. I have little experience with electrical components, and it was a great learning experience pushing myself to complete the product. I went through the entire process that the students will go through, which allowed me to better solidify the requirements and set my own expectations. During this time, I also contacted a couple engineering friends of mine to get some insight into how to connect this project to the engineering profession. They helped me by supplying examples of professional manufacturing drawings and other resources, as well as volunteering to assist with critique of student work. I have also been seeking expert advice on the music side of the project. I have contacted a couple professional electronic artists who have made their own Jamboxes, yet have not heard back from them. I have seeked help in forums and am in contact with Margaret Noble, a sound production teacher at HTHMA. I am hoping that these resources will provide the expert insight I need.
I am extremely excited for this project. It is something that I have wanted to do for almost two years now. This is the most effort that I have ever put into a project, and I believe that it is going to show. My students are already excited for it and there is a lot of energy around it. My task now is to ensure that all the structures are in place and that I follow through with the execution. I hope that this becomes a project that can be an exemplar; one that I can look back on and be proud of.