Learning to Code via EarSketch (Part 1)

When I graduated from college ten years ago, I never pictured myself learning how to code. I definitely didn’t picture teaching seventh and eighth graders how to code. But for the next few weeks in my seventh and eighth grade digital media class, we are doing just that – teaching and learning from each other as we code.

A colleague, Matt Neylon, shared an awesome program with me: EarSketch. Created by Georgia Tech, this web-based platform teaches you how to code in either Python or Javascript through writing music. I’ve attempted to learn coding before, through reputable programs like Codecademy and Khan Academy, but I felt that those programs lacked any sort of gratification, immediate or otherwise, that showed me as a learner what my code was actually doing. In EarSketch, I can immediately see (or hear) the effects of my code. This has motivated me to push through the challenges I’ve faced when trying to learn a new language.

Here’s some of my earliest work, using Python:

Screen Shot 2017-08-30 at 8.26.42 PM

Here is some of my later work, once I learned how to write variables:

Screen Shot 2017-09-03 at 10.09.22 PM

Next, I want to learn how to change the volume of certain tracks using the setEffect feature. I’m also interested in learning more about how to optimally combine the sounds that EarSketch provides in order to make a robust piece of music without too much happening at one time.

At first, this program took some getting used to. I really didn’t understand what I was doing, and I felt like I was learning painfully slowly. I was anxious to use EarSketch with my students, afraid that they too might find it frustrating and turn away from it before it became enjoyable. But, after hours playing around with it, I finally broke through a barrier and became more comfortable with the program and with the Python language in general. By no means am I an expert, but I can at least anticipate some hurdles that my students might encounter as they learn the ropes, and I can point them to resources to help overcome those challenges.

(On the resource front, the built-in curriculum (visible in my second screenshot, on the right) is pretty helpful, and I’ve also found some great videos on Coursera and YouTube.)

I’ll share more about students’ perceptions of EarSketch, along with the music I’ve created using Python, in future posts.



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