Do you remember your preschool days when you sang all those songs about shapes, colors, numbers and, of course, the alphabet? There's a reason why your teachers didn't just plainly discuss triangles and rainbows in prose, and would instead do it in song.
JoomaJam! combined these musical experiences with technology by creating an app with culturally relevant and original, bilingual content.
As an experienced educator myself, I found these projects very intriguing, and so I spoke to Peryodiko frontman, human rights lawyer and JoomaJam! CEO, Vin Dancel about using music as a teaching tool, working with contemporary Filipino musicians to create songs for kids and bringing the JoomaJam! experience offline.
Who are the people behind JoomaJam! and how did this idea come about?
It started when one of my co-founders, Carisse Escueta (a pre-school teacher and sister of Rivermaya's Mark Escueta) approached me and a bunch of her friends saying she wanted to make music for kids.
Coming from a developmental background (Saligan - same as VP elect, Leni Robredo - I was a human rights lawyer. Well, I still am. Haha.) where we trained farmer paralegals in 21 provinces using fun games and music (it was a very successful program and our only requirements were that the farmer paralegals knew how to read and write), I thought there was more to it than just making music for kids.
The idea evolved into what it is.
We started with a social mission (our CSR now) which is to train public school teachers on how to integrate music, creativity and play-based methods into their day to day lesson plans. Ultimately, kids in public schools and marginalized areas will benefit from this. The goal is to develop lifelong learners -- kids who understand the value of education and who have fun learning. Because for as long as kids have fun learning, the learning doesn't stop. We'd like kids to understand that if they want to better their lives, they have to arm themselves with the necessary skills and knowledge they need.
The key is integrating JoomaJam! into K-12. We developed a curriculum that can easily be integrated with K-12, rooted in the 5 learning domains; then created content -- and from the topics we created bilingual music that we developed with mainstream and indie artists.
For the enterprise side, to help make the social mission sustainable, we translate our lessons into tech apps that we make available to middle to upper class kids and their families. The current app has songs in English and Tagalog, and we're working on Mandarin and Bahasa Indonesia to reach out to a regional audience (Colors already has foreign translations).
Who are the artists you've worked with so far and what was the songwriting process like for songs for children? Who would you like to work with next?
We've worked with the following artists:
- Colors: Barbie Almalbis and Julianne Tarroja
- Saving Money: The Dawn
- Books: Rivermaya and Jolina Magdangal
- Numbers: Brigada
- Legs: Coffeebreak Island
- The Right To Play: Gary Valenciano and Salamin
- Making Friends: The Itchyworms
- Good Food: Jorel Corpuz
- Hospitals: DJ Benjo Marquez and Lougee Basabas
It was great working with them. We sat with them to do a mini-workshop and discuss their topics; gave them parameters (i.e. should be in the key of C so it's singable for kids; has to be at least 120bpm which is the normal heart rate of a child; song has to be no longer than 2:30 etc); and talked about the key words and key lessons that each of the songs need to impart. We also said that they shouldn't dumb down or "kinderfy" their music because we should let kids appreciate music the way it should. Kids should be given that much credit so far as music appreciation goes.
We have a bunch of artists we've talked to and who have expressed interest in working with JoomaJam! (Ebe Dancel, Lea Salonga, Gloc 9 to name some -- there's a long list) but we'll see first where the first batch of songs take us.
The songs cover a wide range from the standard colors and numbers to the more "unconventional" ones like saving and rights. What was your basis in covering these subject areas? Is there anything else you'd like to add to the current roster?
We worked with our resident education experts from Nest.ph in developing the content and curriculum. Then we picked topics based on that -- topics popular to kids, teachers and parents -- then made songs about those topics with the artists.
We just finished mapping out the next 60 topics we'd like to work on and they vary. But basically they revolve around the main topics of "Me. My Family. My Community."
Technology is such a huge part of our lives today. Even toddlers know how to use a smart phone. As an educator, I believe that it is still important to have natural experiences away from the iPad or computer - are there plans for taking the JoomaJam! experience offline? Possibly incorporating original Filipino music for children and developmentally appropriate activities?
Yes! We have two main challenges so far in terms of developing content and translating them into apps. One, is how to gamify learning. And two, finding that balance between online and offline activities. We don't subscribe to zombifying kids in front of gadgets. But we do recognize how great a resource tech is for learning. The key is finding that balance. It's been a fun roller coaster ride finding that balance. For instance, the app used to have a camera function so kids can hunt down red objects, numbers, books etc -- but the camera function was problematic so we took that out for now.
The CSR side is where we get to fully explore how teachers can use the songs and (yes, developmentally appropriate!) activities in a classroom setting. We go back to basics - papel, lapis, dahon, buhangin, bato in teacher training because tech is not yet available in a lot of public schools (minsan nga wala pang kuryente).
The CSR and Enterprise side of what we do have a symbiotic relationship. We get to validate a lot of our content and curriculum in the CSR side, then have it translated into tech for the enterprise side. Down the road we see a convergence between the two. The dream is to make tech driven/enabled learning that's fun and engaging, available to kids across social classes.
JoomaJam albums are available for purchase on their official bandcamp page.