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Hillsborough Elementary music teacher develops app to assess progress and teach music theory

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Hillsborough Elementary music teacher Adam Canosa developed an educational music app that helps his students learn their instruments inside and outside of the classroom. Photo Courtesy of Adam Canosa.

Adam Canosa, the music teacher at Hillsborough Elementary School, developed a game-based educational music app during the COVID-19 pandemic. Songcraft provides a supplement for students to learn their instruments both inside and outside of the classroom.

He said when his students use the app individually, they play backing tracks and the game will give them live feedback based on the timing of their performance.

“It supplies them with the sheet music that we're working on together in class onto the screen, and then they're gradually learning an increasing number of pitches and increasingly complex music theory,” Canosa said.

Generally, if students practice an instrument alone, it’s an isolating experience, Canosa said — they may not know whether they’re having problems.

“You really do kind of need the instructor to listen to it,” Canosa said. “That is an issue because instructors like me have very little instructional time, so giving kids adequate one-on-one time is not going to happen."

Canosa said he developed Songcraft because he wanted a tool that would allow students to have a guide that would prompt them based on their individual challenges.

Canosa is this year’s Teacher of the Year at Hillsborough Elementary. Jessica Nagy, principal at Hillsborough Elementary, said a large part of why Canosa was voted Teacher of the Year was because he created Songcraft.

“It's something that allowed teachers to take what students have learned in the music classroom and bring it into either their instructional day or indoor recess and to use it, sometimes, to motivate students, because they really love it,” Nagy said.

She also said that she would love Songcraft to be implemented in other schools in the district and to be more accessible to a larger audience.

Todd Cherner, the director of UNC's Master’s of Arts in Educational Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship program, currently teaches Canosa. Canosa started his second year in the program this fall.

“He’s done phenomenal,” Cherner said. “The first year, he had to take up a variety of courses in business and technology, and then I know that he started to develop his platform Songcraft while he was teaching during COVID, and then he carried on with it afterward.”

Canosa said teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic was emotionally draining and frustrating for him — he said students had to sit separately and were not allowed to play most of their instruments. He said he went home over winter break in 2021 and was committed to spending as much time as possible to come up with a solution before returning to school.

“So, I built the first iteration of Songcraft, and my kids were able to play it for that third quarter of the year,” he said. “I kind of took the data from their playing and reiterated on it over the following spring break and produced what is pretty much the current version of it.”

Canosa is currently trying to update the current version of Songcraft into a more stable platform. 

In May 2023, Canosa was awarded a $10,000 MICRO grant from the NC IDEA foundation. He was then awarded $20,000 from the National Science Foundation, and is still in the grant process to earn up to $50,000. He said he is currently using the money to build out the program prototype.

Canosa originally thought he would have to send fifth graders off to middle school without the proper preparation to continue their music studies.

But, he said most of his students not only overcame their learning loss, but by the end of year, they were playing songs and demonstrating an understanding of music theory above their grade level.

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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