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Sparking Creativity in the Music Classroom: Hear From a Current UF Student

March 30, 2022

Connecting with and inspiring students is of the utmost importance for all teachers, and at the core of our online Master of Music in Music Education program. We strive to help PK-12 teachers who enroll in the program develop as musicians and educators by utilizing active learning strategies in courses that deal with contemporary topics; providing a space to network with each other, faculty, and guest speakers; facilitating discussions about common issues and concerns; and sharing ideas about how to creatively engage their own students in classes and rehearsals.

In this blog series, we hear directly from current and former students in the online Master of Music in Music Education program. They share their passion for music education, why they chose to study at UF, and how they are utilizing what they learned in the program.

Meet Andrew Wilfong

Andrew is an elementary school music teacher and a church music director. Andrew has held jobs as a high school music teacher, band camp instructor and private piano teacher (among others). He is currently enrolled in University of Florida’s online Master of Music in Music Education program where he is slated to graduate in Spring 2022.

What is your focus in your current role, and what’s important to you in your work?

Teaching my students music literacy and being an inspiration to them to continue in music are both important. Once they leave elementary school, they’re going to choose to continue in music or not. My goal is to show them enough about music so they can make an educated decision and so they know how expansive music options are. I had so many students think that a career in music meant simply music performance, like playing classical piano or playing in an orchestra. I want to show them the possibilities beyond the classroom. Aside from just being their educator, I try to be an inspiration as a real life musician who has continued to do what they love with music.

Why did you choose UF’s online Master of Music in Music Education program?

The thing that really stuck out about UF’s program is the practicality of all of the courses so far. A lot of the other programs that I looked into were very statistical- and research-based. There is definitely a time and place for that, but seeing the balance between research-based courses and practical courses that I could implement immediately into my current teaching practice was my biggest draw to the program. I began UF’s online Master of Music in Music Education program when the COVID-19 pandemic was starting. Even seeing that the first classes were strategically designed to teach creative music-making or technology in music, I knew that I was learning things that I would be able to use immediately.

I’ve been very impressed with the guest lecturers in the program and all of the different connections we’ve been able to make. In fact, some of the leading researchers in music education have spoken to our class. That has been great, and the diversity of the interviews in terms of topic have been fantastic as well. For example, Christopher Tin, who composes music for video games, was one of our guest lecturers.

I think a lot of people enter a master’s program with the idea of getting the courses done as fast as they can. For instance, a lot of the other programs that I looked at would allow you to take more than one course at a time. UF’s program is designed in a way where you take one course every eight weeks. I think that was a very valuable thing to really slow down and process the information before moving onto the next course.

How has the program helped you to influence creativity in your own classroom?

When I first started teaching elementary school students, I really hadn’t considered much of the possibility of using technology in the classroom. In the Technology Assisted Music Learning course, Dr. Bauer shared a lot of different digital resources, which is where I got the idea to integrate technology into my teaching for younger students. One of my favorites was the Isle of Tune plugin, which we use to create melodies and beats. I also used it to discuss form, timbre and instrumentation. For the older students, I was able to use some of the other programs that were mentioned like BandLab and a scoring app called Noteflight.

The biggest shift in my philosophy of teaching was realizing that my students were able to create something to take home. It’s not just about them playing instruments in the classroom. I also became familiar with the application Flipgrid, which is a resource where students can film themselves and submit it. I realized that recording classroom sessions and music that they’re making allows students to listen to themselves and make revisions. These were all things that UF’s program really laid out well in ways that I could integrate immediately.

Was there a project that you worked on with your students that stood out from a creativity standpoint?

My favorite project this year involved an application called drumbit which allowed students to make their own drum beats. I was teaching a lesson on rap music to my fifth grade students. We listened to different drum hooks and lyrics, and we talked about different forms and structures. Both my fourth and fifth graders wrote their own rap songs, and the fifth graders arranged the music as well. For the first stage of the project, students created their own rap beats in the lab. They used a variety of children’s literature books, like nursery rhymes and Dr. Seuss books to compose the lyrics. For the culminating project, I divided students into groups. They used the beats that they created, arranged the text and created their own rhythms to make a rap song. We finished the project just in time for Dr. Seuss Day. They were able to perform, record and share their songs with other classes in the school. The students were really excited to be able to rap through different books.

Has your perspective on influencing creativity shifted from your time in the program?

I definitely think that it has. The biggest pitfall I had faced in teaching elementary music was feeling like I had to hold their hand through every little moment. In UF’s Creative Thinking in Music and Instructional Design in Music Education courses, we talked about design frameworks and preparing units with that end in mind. I learned that if I properly equip students in the beginning, then they can foster their own creativity. The program really helped me shift my mindset towards more student-centered learning.

What are some other things you learned in UF’s Creative Thinking in Music class, and what have you been able to incorporate into your own teaching?

There were multiple applied projects in that course where we focused on honing our own skills as musicians, which is something I didn’t anticipate. I was expecting a lot of the courses to be solely on pedagogical practices. But there was a project designed for composition and a project for arranging. There was also one for improvisation.

I think that focusing on honing our own skills as musicians really helped when I was designing units for students because I had to think about how l learned something, even as an adult and teacher. How did I have to think differently to compose, improvise, arrange and record? Putting the educator in the shoes of their students helps prepare you to expect the unexpected from students. It also helps you figure out what groundwork you may need to lay before asking students to complete a particular assignment.

About the University of Florida’s Online Master of Music in Music Education

The University of Florida’s online Master of Music in Music Education program is designed to help music educators enhance their abilities as musicians, teachers and passionate students of one of humanity’s most dynamic modes of creative expression. Exploring both practical and theoretical perspectives, the program, designed and taught by experts in the field, is perfect for current music educators looking to enhance their ability to encourage student engagement with music.

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