Now Available in the iTunes Store

Steward students partner with local app developer to launch a visual music app for iPad.

By: Tom Gallo, Upper School physics and Innovation Studies teacher and Steward’s constructivist for design and engagement, and Steve Van Dam, founder and CEO of Light the Music

Mini-xylophones, bongo drums, tambourines, and a tiny pair of maracas spread out on a piano key carpet. Students gathered and ready to perform: musicians, artists…computer coders? Suddenly, this is not the typical image of a Lower School music classroom, but that was the scene this past November at the Fine Arts Hackathon.

Fast forward to six months later, and ideas that started during that November Hackathon are now a reality. Presenting, the first of its kind, the “ORO Steward” app—now available in the iTunes App Store.

Working in partnership with local app developer Light the Music, a group of Steward students created this app. Like Light the Music’s original ORO Visual Music app (which has been downloaded thousands of times from the iTunes store), ORO Steward combines visual animations and sounds on a touchscreen canvas. Users compose their own music with a synesthetic tie to the accompanying graphics. This time, however, the “instruments” weren’t created by professionalsthey were created by our students.

Developing Modern Knowledge

By participating in this project, students at The Steward School were given the opportunity to learn with technology in a way that will help prepare them for their future. At Steward, we regularly integrate technology education with lessons about other academic subjects to help students understand its real-world applications. The perpetual growth of technology and the significant need for qualified software developers mean that authentic student experiences are more valuable than ever.1

With the help of Steve Van Dam, founder and CEO of Light the Music, this ORO Steward app development project has engaged our students in computer programming, digital production, entrepreneurship, problem solving, collaborative work, and design thinking. These are essential modern knowledge skills that will help our students stand out and thrive in their lives today and in the workplace of tomorrow.

The ORO Steward app project began last fall, when a group of juniors in my Innovation Studies Seminar met with local entrepreneurs and design thinking experts to develop a vision for the first-ever Steward Fine Arts Hackathon. Their goal was to create their own version of the ORO Visual Music app, which would merge the typically creative student skills of musical and visual arts with the analytical skill of coding. These students formed a “Hackathon Leadership Team,” which met regularly. Students became specialists with interests in project management, creative and technical direction, and musical production. This student team would ultimately lead a project that took nearly 50 students and faculty on a journey well outside the traditional classroom.

Tangible Results from Constructivist Methods

At the Fine Arts Hackathon in November, third- through twelfth-grade students participated in the four-hour event, which included Agile-style “sprints” that challenged student teams to create digital instruments with sounds and visuals. Students were organized into diverse teams of artists, musicians, and coders—merging individual creativity with collaborative design just like startups do in the real world.

Following the November Hackathon, a small team of dedicated students gathered to finish the work of the entire ORO Steward team. Seventh-grade student Claire Patterson acted as our art director. With her meticulous graphic design skills and unerring eye for visuals, she managed all visual selections within the app. Junior Xzavier Caldwell maintained his executive role as music director from start to finish, creating the futuristic sounds of this app from creative direction through final mix. Finally, fifth-grade student Ryan Copeland acted as our technical director. With his unquenchable thirst for code, he got up to his elbows in Apple’s Xcode, the very bones of the ORO app. Then, once the app was built, he hardcoded the app’s website in HTML, ‘just for fun.’

Mr. Van Dam sees the ORO Steward app as a shining example of student creativity, ingenuity, and countless hours of what start-ups call ‘sweat equity’: “This is STEAM. And innovation. On a touchscreen. This is not practice, or a mock-up. This is the real app the Steward students built. And not just built—concepted, designed, played, recorded, hacked, drew, painted, organized, collaborated, photographed, harmonized, troubleshooted, edited, graphic AND sound designed, and yes, even coded. It has become a learning tool, a working, worldwide distributed toolkit to be deconstructed and re-imaginedfrom the business models to the intricacies of the text-based code. Individual students with a passion for technology got real-world experience in the processes by which an idea becomes a product. Whether this ORO Steward app that we made sees hundreds of downloads, or millions, the skills learned and the growth that occurred inside the students are undeniable.”

Making Change through Innovation and Inspiration

The future of education and our children’s path through life will be characterized by an integrated view of collaborative creativity. Success in our vocational lives requires teamwork, empathy, and breadth of understanding. We all realize the need for combining our own various talents with the diverse skills of our peers. So inevitably, the silos of education must break down as we align the way we teach with the way our students will need to work as adults. Instead of focusing only on traditional knowledge, “students should be encouraged to consider distinctions, systems, relationships, and perspectives.Those of us in education may need to embrace disruptive methodology proven in business, while technology leaders may become innovators in the world of fashion. Musicians, artists, and even computer coders can (and will) work together to innovate in ways we can’t yet predict. Our job, as a community of educators, is to give our students opportunities to practice.

Click here to read more about the creation of the ORO Steward app, and to learn about a contest hosted by the app development team! 

Steve Van Dam is a lean music expert, drawing on his 25-year career as a music business entrepreneur. Whether playing hit songs on stages around the world, producing and composing tracks with millions of performances, or creating ORO Visual Music apps, he loves to connect people with musical experiences. He has a BFA in music composition from James Madison University.

Tom Gallo is an Upper School physics and Innovation Studies teacher, and Steward’s constructivist for design and engagement. As part of the coding, blended learning, and entrepreneurship teams, he maintains the belief that the future of education is student-centered. He believes in the power of student creativity as a tool to support traditional knowledge while empowering students to take ownership of their learning.

Follow LTM on: Facebook
Twitter: @LightTheMusic
Instagram: Light_the_Music

“Economic and Employment Projections.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 8 Dec. 2015, Accessed 19 May 2017.

Fadel, Bailik, & Trilling. Four-Dimensional Education. 2015. p98-99.





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