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Learning the Google way

LOHS band students spend 20 percent of class on music projects of their choice
by: VERN UYETAKE Senior Hannah Cutts created a number of instruments for her project.

Lake Oswego High School band teacher Dave Matthys knew learning could be enhanced by technology, but he was unprepared for the surprising outcomes resulting from students' Google projects in the fall.

A teaching colleague of Matthys' had attended a workshop sponsored by the popular Internet and software corporation Google and learned about the company's 80/20 model. Under the 80/20 rule, Google employees, who rank among the nation's highest in job satisfaction, spend 80 percent of their work time on Google assignments.

'The other 20 percent they can work on what they choose; it just has to help themselves, the company and utilize Google products,' Matthys said. 'I thought it would be a great idea for students to get to focus on something musical on their own. I presented the idea last spring and everyone lit up.'

In the fall, students in the wind ensemble and symphonic band classes came up with ideas for their 'Google projects.' They worked on those projects in class about one day every two weeks - 20 percent of their class time. They were required to blog about their progress and make presentations before winter break.

'There were some very surprising outcomes,' Matthys said. 'There were some real jewels of musicianship and self motivation. I felt very much the proud father watching the presentations.'

The projects covered a wide range of interests:

* Freshman Alena Madin wrote a song for the bassoon reed - not the complete instrument, just the reed. It has a range of just five notes.

* Junior Courtney Curtis taught another student to play the flute.

'It's surprisingly hard to get started,' she said. 'But once they got the basics down they made quick progress. For me, the project sparked an interest in teaching, and I got to know my instrument better.

'It made me fall even more in love with music.'

* Senior Josh Jamison created a mock radio station and reviewed band concerts and made a music video. He would like to pursue a career in music management or work for a record label.

* Senior Michael Mott, who plays in both the wind ensemble and the symphonic band, had two projects to complete. For one, he chose to learn to play the piano. He already plays saxophone, French horn, ukulele, guitar and mandolin.

'It is hard to read two lines of music and play with two hands,' he said.

For his second project, he formed a ukulele band with two other students. They held 'street performances' for audiences around the school.

'I overcame my fear of performing for random folks,' Mott said. 'It really opened my eyes. I have a lot more respect for street performers and pianists than before.'

* Twins Alex and Christian Smith, juniors, formed a band with their friend Connor Regan. They wrote original melodies and lyrics and then performed their songs.

'I learned that writing songs is more difficult than it looks,' said Alex Smith, who plays the guitar. 'Do you begin with the words or the music?'

Because there was limited time, the boys speed-wrote their music.

'We learned to use time more efficiently,' Christian Smith said.

The project opened doors for the brothers' band. They have a gig pending for April.

'It's been a lot of fun,' Alex Smith said. 'We sang Christmas carols door-to-door. The project definitely generated excitement.'

Perhaps one of the more unusual projects was that of Hannah Cutts, who created a playable clarinet out of a carrot.

'She hollowed out a carrot and calculated the spacing of the holes so that her 'clarrotnet' actually played,' Matthys said.

On the days they worked on their projects in class, the students would scatter themselves around the band room.

'It was amazing. … There was music happening in every corner of the room,' Matthys said. 'Christian would be writing lyrics, and you'd hear these amazing guitar riffs playing.'

Considered a success by all involved, the 80/20 program will come back to Matthys' classroom. He also plans to share his experience with his peers this weekend, when he addresses the Oregon Music Educators Association conference in Eugene.

To read students' blogs or watch videos of their performances, visit http://LOHSband.blogspot.com.