I created a free visualiser this morning.

Visualisers are highly useful in classrooms. They turn something small, like a page of a book, or a piece of children’s work, into something big so that everyone can see it.

So when I did my banjo assembly this morning, I wanted to be able to show all 240 children the book I was using from. My point was, you see, that you only need 2 things to learn something new: practice and a good teacher, and I wanted to show that my ‘Teach Yourself Banjo’ book was a reasonable-to-moderate teacher.

Unfortunately I have no visualisers in my school, nor would a fixed visualiser in a classroom be of much use in the assembly hall.

So I logged the hall laptop into my school Google+ account and then used my personal Google+ account on my phone to video call (Google Hangout) with my school account.

The year 6 children who operate the equipment clicked ‘join this call’ when the call showed up, which meant I could sit still in ‘banjo posture’ whilst showing all the children in the Hall some of what was in my book. There was a bit of a lag in the sound, which was slightly off-putting for me, but the children could all see the music in the book, which meant I didn’t have to waste any time scanning images into slides, nor did I have to present the information to them ‘in tiny’ by holding it up in front of them.

It also only took 30 seconds from the logging in to the showing the images to the children.

So there you go: an almost-instant, kind-of-free visualiser. All you need is 2 Google+ accounts, a helpful Year 6 child, 1 laptop, 1 phone, 1 projector, 1 huge screen and an internet filter that allows Google+ and hangouts to work. No Problem.

Learning the Banjo #1

I am pleased to announce a new category on my blog: Banjo.

Yes.

And I know thousands of people will be delighted to hear that I received a banjo for Christmas. I am intending to dedicate at least one post a week to my progress on learning the banjo. I know if you’ve read some of my education posts you might be thinking that I’m about to use a banjo as some kind of metaphor for the state of education in the UK. But no. It’s just a banjo. And I’m learning to play it.

Playing the Banjo
Me. Concentrating. On some banjo music.

So as I already play guitar, you may argue it’s a bit of a cheat to be learning the banjo: it’s already a stringed instrument, I’m hardly learning it from scratch.

Fair comment. But a banjo is a different beast. It has 5 strings rather than 6, and one of them is bizarrely high-pitched. In the book I’m learning from, I don’t even know what it’s for yet, and I’ve been practising for 2 weeks. And while I can strum a guitar competently, I’m hardly finger-pickin’ good; from what I’ve seen a banjo requires a large amount of finger-pickin’.

So the book I have introduced me to the banjo, got me to tune it (for which I downloaded the Android App PitchLab onto my phone) and then got me learning to play ‘G’.

Strumming a banjo is really quite a different job from strumming a guitar. I soon learned that the standard song for banjos is in 3/4, rather than 4/4 (4/4 is all a bit too pop). And I soon learned that the standard strum begins with a pluck of a single string, rather than strumming all of them. Pick first, strum later. Whereas with guitar it’s more strum first, pick later. Here’s me trying to strum ‘Clementine’ last night (as in ‘Oh my darling…’).

Oh My Darling Clementine version 1

Then of course there’s the whole, actually picking out a tune thing. I’ve never even tried on a guitar, but it seems to be more expected on a banjo. So here’s me having a go at ‘Yankee Doodle’

Yankee Doodle

Tomorrow, I am looking forward to bringing my banjo into my school. I haven’t done show and tell for about 35 years, so it’s going to be fun to stand in front of the assembly, show the children how far I’ve got in two weeks and get them to challenge me to learn more. I might even challenge them to see what they will learn this year.