Interdisciplinary computational thinking with music and programming: a case study on algorithmic music composition with Sonic Pi
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Education
Digital technologies are changing the skills young people need in the future. To prepare school students for these anticipated changes, a metacognitive skill called Computational Thinking (CT) has been integrated into new and revised Digital Technologies content (DTC) in the Technology learning area of the New Zealand Curriculum (NZC). Interdisciplinary approaches to develop CT may be a partial solution to growing concerns about teacher capability on delivering the DTC in an already overcrowded school timetable. For example, Sonic Pi is a relatively new programming platform (based on Ruby) that is designed to help beginners at a school level, which can combine both music composition and programming into one activity. Sonic Pi may promote more positive attitudes towards programming because it enables a creative introduction to this skill with music making. However, there is a lack of research on how to effectively teach and assess both CT and Sonic Pi due to a paucity of case study research at a school level.
This research examined how interdisciplinary CT supports learning outcomes in music and programming with the Sonic Pi platform. Additionally, it investigated the extent to which the creative activity of music composition with the Sonic Pi platform could potentially promote more positive attitudes towards programming. A mixed- method case study with a designed unit of work by the researcher was conducted. Action research framed the methodology of the unit of work, which was trailed in a music classroom and led by the researcher with 22 Year 8 participants and their regular classroom music teacher (taking on a support teacher role).
Overall, the findings illuminated many successes and challenges not reported in the literature on how CT can support learning outcomes in music and programming. It is recommended educators seriously consider the identified challenges on integrating the CT concepts of conditions and operators as well as the CT practice of abstracting and modularising. However, the findings also highlighted pedagogical benefits unique to programming in Sonic Pi, which supported overlapping learning outcomes in music and programming. For example, the CT programming concepts of parallelism and sequences in Sonic Pi overlapped in a way that was beneficial to emphasise the importance of silence (or time) between sounds in music. On measuring pre and post attitudes, the findings were especially encouraging because they suggested the unit of work promoted an increased sense of programming self-confidence and that programming is an important skill to learn for both the student participants and the participant music teacher. The major implication of these findings suggest educators can use Sonic Pi and the designed unit of work to: (a) teach interdisciplinary CT to meet many learning outcomes in music and programming; and (b) to potentially promote more positive attitudes towards programming for those students interested in music composition.
Thus, Sonic Pi is recommended as a unique and creative way to introduce both programming and music composition to school students in Year 8. The overall contributions for both research questions indicate the designed unit of work and the Sonic Pi platform may aid the successful integration of the DTC in NZ. Moreover, this case study expands the literature on both interdisciplinary CT and the Sonic Pi platform.