Friday, August 02, 2013

Aural Spaces: How the iPod Saved My Vacation

I have a love/hate relationship when it comes to traveling.  I love seeing other places, experiencing different cultures, and meeting new people.  But there are a number of things that make traveling (and life) difficult for me: crowds, heat, and noise. 

So a couple of weeks ago, when I'm walking around the streets of Paris and there seem to be about 4 million people with me, and it is crazy hot (at least for me who likes it around 22 degrees C), and it is busy and noisy, I don't handle it very well.  I get grumpy.  With the time difference, my intestines think it is about 9 hours earlier or later (they can't decide).  I try to get my system in synch and bring my energy level up to meet the hustle of Paris by drinking lots of coffee.  It works for about an hour and then my wife tells me that I turn into an even moodier zombie as I come down from my caffeine buzz. 

With no solution to my travel woes in sight, we go on this boat cruise down the Seine.  The actual cruise was really nice (you know except for the crowd, heat and noise), but the part that affects me the most is on the way back in over the boat's PA they play "La Vie en Rose" by Edith Piaf.  I know, I know, it is probably the height of cheese because it is so obvious, so cliched (like playing "It's a Small World" at Disneyland).  As it is playing, and we pass Notre Dame, this weird tightness spreads across the lower part of my face, and I realize that I am smiling.  This is the Paris experience I came for.  My mom used to play "La Vie en Rose" around the house when I was a kid, so I guess I conjured a fantasy of Paris and cafes and bittersweet feelings and the French mystique by listening to this song.  The song is like a soundtrack to that memory, to my Parisienne experience.

The next day, it is even hotter, even more crowded.  I am still grumpy but I feel better.  This time I took my iPod with me.  When I feel overwhelmed, I can plug it in and my in-ear headphones cancel out 90% of the noise.  When I am walking with my family, I only have one ear phone plugged in, but it's enough.  The music that plays gives me just enough of a buffer that the crowds, heat, and noise, don't seem to have as much of an effect on me.  It is like I am walking through a music video.

And what am I listening to?  Luckily, I had "La Vie en Rose" on my iPod already.  I also had some gypsy jazz that fit really well.  The country music from the 40s that I downloaded for my dad seems hilariously incongruous walking down the Champs Elysee.  There are a bunch of rock tunes that keep me occupied. 

The tunes that really make me smile are the songs I recorded with my band.  We have this little band that gets together at school every Thursday.  We have a fun time and it is a nice release after teaching.  We'd play for our school once in a while, but we are really playing for our own enjoyment.  We also get together and play at each other's houses every so often.  That's when I record us.  So when I was walking through Paris or Prague, it was a treat to see these amazing places and listen to our band playing in the background.  It was like taking them along with me, blending the old fond memories of us playing with the new interesting memories being created. 

What Does This Have to Do with Classroom Environments?

As I walked around Europe, I thought to myself about how much the iPod helped me settle myself down to lessen my tension and enjoy the experience around me.  I then wondered if creating aural learning spaces would help students as well.

In previous posts, I've talked a lot about creating different kinds of spaces for different kinds of learners and different kinds of learning.  One thing I always had a problem with was the Cave.  It is easy to create large and small group learning spaces (Campfire and Watering Hole) because in a classroom, you can make spaces where we can all get together or section off for small group work.  And yes, you can designate Cave areas in your classroom for individuals, but do they really work?

Students can use a corner of the room, go under a table, use a study carrel, or work at their own desks, but is that really a private space?  Physically it is, but they still get all the noise and hubbub from the rest of the room.   You can let students go out in the hall, but then you don't have that level of contact and supervision you might want. 

As an introvert myself, I understand the need to have an isolated place for me and my own thoughts.  Music through headphones helps me create such a space, even in the midst of a chaotic foreign city.  Such an aural space would help a person like me create a personal, private space much more than a gauze curtain or room divider would. 
So how about letting students use earbuds to create their own Caves?

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