Refreshing…

I am currently sitting in my hotel room in the world renowned A Hotel in Colorado Springs, CO. The Broadmoor is a 5-star hotel in the gorgeous foothills of the Colorado Rockies and is the annual host of the Colorado Music Educators Association Clinic Conference. Between the pine trees and beneath the “purple mountains majesty,” educators gather to learn strategies, share ideas, and determine the future of a grand profession.

It has been almost three years since my last professional conference. When I attended the Nebraska Music Educators Association Conference in Spring of 2013, I was a super-senior who had just finished my student teaching assignments in Lincoln and York Nebraska, respectively. At the time, my mother was undergoing treatment for an aggressive form of breast cancer back home in Denver, CO. On the last day of the conference, my mother was scheduled to undergo a mastectomy to remove the quickly growing tumor.

Around the time of her surgery, I wandered into the convention hall, where vendors, universities, repair shops, and lots of other groups were set-up. While there, I purchased a Mollard conducting baton that I used throughout the first year and half of my teaching career.

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My CMEA 2016 Baton!

Today, in a similar conference hall, I purchased another Mollard baton. This time a 14″ baton with an oak handle in a tear-drop shape. Between the last baton and the first, so much of my life has changd: professionally and personally.

Three years ago, I was a student at a conservative Christian university finishing a degree in Music Education and Vocal Performance. Today, I am a third year teacher at an urban school teaching Instrumental Music to students from 100 different countries. Three years ago, I had hopes for my professional career as a choral director or vocal performer. Today, I am uncertain of the path that lies ahead. Three years ago, the educator that stood on the street in Lincoln, NE, worried about his mother’s surgery 800 miles away, could not have predicted the subsequent events that would bring me here, to this gorgeous place at another conference.

In my teaching assignment, I am responsible for all instrumental music activities including wind, brass, percussion, and string instruments at a large comprehensive high school serving 2300 students. Our student body is diverse in culture, language, and economic status. While not officially a Title I school, we meet the requirements and are held to similar standards of accountability. Working at a school like this is no easy task. To say I was unprepared for the job does not begin to cover it, but I do not fault my university education or my student teaching mentor teachers.

Nothing can truly prepare you for the first time a student confides in you about being homeless or LGBTQ. I was not prepared to bear the emotional burden of teaching students who rarely have enough to eat, climate-appropriate clothing, or adequate housing. I was not prepared to teach students who knew only a refugee camp in Southeast Asia before moving to the United States in hope of a better life. A better life that may never be accessible to them.

No. I was not prepared. I still don’t feel prepared. But I have everything I need. I have the courage to be vulnerable with my students. To connect with them on a human level through the music we perform and through the bonds we create. I have the compassion to sit with them while they struggle through a break-up. I have the creativity, ingenuity, and drive to create experiences for them that will build their character, excite their hearts, and enrich their minds. edication. They deserve compassionate and dedicated teachers who care about them and their lives. This work matters: for my students, but also for me

Three years ago, I didn’t believe this. In fact, I’m not sure I believed it three months ago. And that’s the main thing I will take down the mountain with me tomorrow afternoon: though the job is certainly difficult and time is fleeting, you can achieve it. I can do it. My student musicians deserve my talent, my work, and my dedication.

On Monday, I will return to my classroom and step on my podium in front of ensembles ranging from beginners to advanced players. I will be a better teacher than the one that left them on Wedesday afternoon. I am refreshed and ready to take on the challenge! I hope you’ll follow along!

Music Ed iPad App Roundup! From a friend to a friend!

One of my very best friends in the whole world will begin her first teaching position at a high school in Green Bay, Wisconsin in a few weeks teaching band and choir as well as teaching at a few K-8 schools in the area. The school has given her an iPad to use in the classroom and she asked me for my favorite music education apps! So here we go!

Apps for Teaching

forScore  $6.99

forScore is a powerful music-reading app that allows musicians to annotate, record, rehearse, and share their scores in performance and rehearsals. It’s a wonderful app that I used throughout student teaching and I think it really helps with managing scores!

unrealbook $4.99

I haven’t used unrealBook, but it offers some features that my current favorite doesn’t that might be of use to you! The biggest one could be very useful in 1-to-1 classrooms where the teacher’s iPad could be established as the host iPad and all of your page turns and annotations are pushed instantly to every students device! What a great way to teach students how to prepare a score for performance!?

APS Tuning Trainer $2.99

This app has some of the most potential for success with students in middle school and high school in promoting careful listening and pitch sensitivity. It plays a note and then another note within a specified range away and you simply tell it whether the note is sharp or flat. The app gives suggestions for a training system to improve your intonation in 4 weeks! I think I’ll start tomorrow!

smart music free with subscription

You know all about Smart Music on the computer, but MakeMusic is working hard to bring our favorite music practice and assessment tool to mobile devices. I for one would have loved to used the mobile version when struggling through the french horn unit of my Brass Techniques class!

garage band $4.99

‘Nuff said!

Apps for the Teacher

While all the above apps are great for teaching and making the most out of student’s access to technology, there are a ton of apps to help teachers better improve the quality of their instruction!

twitter

No. Really. Twitter is my first stop for all things Professional Development. Whether it’s checking in with my favorite education tags  (#musedchat #edchat #ipaded) or looking for the latest news on the Common Arts Standards, Twitter is the best place to go! Currently, I’m using Twitterrific which is currently 50% off in the App Store, but really any twitter client will do! Just make sure to take advantage of the power of tracking tags and building your Personal Learning Network!

Feedly

Sometimes, teachers have a lot more to say than just 140 characters. Find tons of blogs to follow and keep up with them easily using Feedly, a great replacement for the now defunct Google Reader.

Apple TV or Airserver

Not an app, but still a really important part of using the iPad in the classroom. Unless you want to be tethered to the wall (you don’t), you’re going to need a way to let your iPad communicate with the projector. Apple TV works seamlessly, but my favorite is AirServer, which I’ve tried out, but not used on a consistent basis. AirServer provides all of the features of Apple TV (mirroring, audio, video, etc.) and adds some features Apple TV doesn’t include and is perfect for a classroom where you already have a computer hooked up to the projection system.

Finally, if you’re really serious about using the iPad as either a teaching device or in a 1-to-1 setting (I can’t remember which my friend is in…), I’d encourage you to look at the work of Dr. Russel at techinmusiced.com. The work he is doing in converting entire libraries of choral scores to digital formats for dissemination to students is really amazing, and I think he has a lot to offer anyone looking to expand their teaching repertoire using the iPad in meaningful ways.

I hope this list helps, but I am always here to help! Also, if you find another app you think I would love, tell me about it! I love finding new apps to try and think about how they might fit into my classroom workflow!

UbD and the Ensemble: Understanding – More than the method book!

Note: The UbD and the Ensemble series is a sort of guided tour through the book Understanding by Design by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins. In this series, I attempt to connect the work they have done to vocal and instrumental ensembles and the challenges of designing rehearsals with student understanding in mind. Please feel free to comment with your own experience in teaching music for understanding!

Essential Questions: How do I know students understand the music we play? What does it mean to understand a piece of music? what does it mean to understand a musical concept? What understandings do I take for granted when teaching novice students?

Syncopation Without Understanding?

During my student teaching experience, I designed a 5th grade general music lesson on syncopation to teach for one of my supervisor site visits. I identified the enduring understandings and skills I wanted students to take away, I made sure to emphasize sound before sight, and I designed assessments to make sure that each students truly understood syncopation!

I prepped everything, greeted my supervisor, and welcomed the students into the room! We started by practicing some syncopated patterns. The students did great! But when I tried to link that performance to the symbols of music, I received a lot of blank stares. I tried to pull them along for a while, but eventually had to apologize to the students. I hadn’t assessed their understanding before hand. They had been looking at rhythmic patterns for years of classroom music. They knew what a quarter note was. They knew what an eighth note was! They could perform chants that related to rhythmic figures.

But when asked to write a short phrase using these figures in a different format (moving things around to create syncopation), they couldn’t do it! My supervisor was gracious and said I handled the situation well, but I was really bothered by this! How could my carefully constructed lesson plan fail so miserably? I even used UbD principles to guide my design process!

Though the students could perform rhythmic patterns and even identify them, they lacked a meaningful and transferable understanding of rhythm and rhythmic patterns. What’s the deal?

What does it mean to understand?

My mistake with the syncopation lesson is a great example of what McTighe and Wiggins call the Expert Blind Spot. The Expert Blind Spot describes how teachers often gloss over hard-won understandings and unconventional ideas that are assumed to be easy to understand when in fact they are core ideas that need to be uncovered in order for novices to understand them. I assumed that students understood rhythmic patterns because they could perform them (when in fact they were merely mimicking them), I didn’t account for the blind spot in my own understanding! I probably gained a real understanding of rhythmic patterns sometime in middle school or high school and have operated with the expert blind spot ever since.

Understandings represent the core principles of a field. In ensemble study, things like rhythm, communication, dynamics, and even music notation, are all deep understandings that students need to be successful! Unfortunately, we rarely design learning experiences that emphasize transfer of these concepts. Instead, we teach the discreet skills and hope students will begin to apply them to the next exercise in the method book.

Musical understanding must mean more than successfully performing a piece of music. Musical understanding is the constructed whole concept that organizes and guides the use of skills and strategies when confronted with a foreign piece of music or knowledge. When we teach for musical understandings, we encourage students to consider the skills they have learned and make truly musical decisions, just as professional musicians would, and apply those to new music.

I don’t mean to suggest that the performance should not be the end goal. Music educators have been doing the performance task part of UbD since we started teaching others how to make music! But repetition of discrete pieces of music (especially when they are taken from a march through the method book) does not mean that students know what to do when they encounter new musical material!

What concepts do I have to reteach with every new piece?

One way to define understandings is to identify common misunderstandings that students have. What skills aren’t being transferred? What underlying process needs to be understood for students to use their musical skills intelligently? What musical decisions do students need to encounter?

I believe that the musical ensemble is a truly unique opportunity for our students. It is one of the only places where they are allowed to make something beautiful with their peers as part of a whole! If we are to defend this art form in schools, shouldn’t we ensure that students are getting the most out of the opportunities for creativity in every moment of rehearsal? When every interpretation of the notation on the page is defined by the conductor, how can students be creative? By teaching for musical understanding, students are given the cognitive tools to make creative decisions and raise the standard of artistic performance. That might only mean choosing what kind of forte to use, but that is still a musical decision that requires understanding of the musical concept!

Understandings cannot, however, be taught independently from the musical process of performing! They must struggle with the understandings while continuing to play the instrument! The musical decisions and understandings musicians use are executed live in every performance they make. Music educators teaching for understanding will provide opportunities for students to reflect on their performance and identify the musical choices they made. 

Syncopation With Understanding!

What would I do differently? First, I would assess students progress towards understanding of rhythm as a whole. To what extent can the students use, identify, and create new music using rhythm? To what extent do students understand the way length of notes relate to each other, to measures of music, and to whole phrases?

If I had simply done that work, I would have known that the students needed deeper understanding of rhythm as a whole before embarking on the exciting new world of syncopation!

How has the Expert Blind Spot showed up in your own teaching? How do you ensure that students truly understand the musical concepts presented in your curriculum? In what ways do you encourage students to reflect on their musical decision making?

Enduring Understanding: Understanding is more than the discrete facts of music (musical elements, notes on the page, individual pieces). Understanding is the meaningful insight that requires uncovering and transfers to new musical experiences.

From the Stage to the Classroom: Reflection on Patty Oeste’s MEJ Article

I’m not even sure we have one of these in this little college town!

I love getting mail! Unfortunately, 4 times out of 5 my mailbox is filled with credit card offers and flyers from the SuperSaver that got my address when I tried to win a big flat screen TV at their grand opening. Yesterday, though, I was happy to find this quarter’s edition of the Music Educator’s Journal published by NAfME. Usually, I scan through these and read one or two articles and let the rest sit, but this issue is packed full of great material and I’ve been totally absorbed in it for the last two days.

I loved Patty Oeste’s discussion of why she left the stage as a performer and became a music educator.

“Every student who enters my classroom is a story being written, and I am allowed to contribute a page or two. My pages are important, and I do not take this responsibility lightly. … I see the power of music in action every day. My students thrive. They learn to listen, and they learn to be flexible in their thinking. They take risks, and gladly. And what is truly amazing is that many students who enter my classroom don’t always shine in other classrooms. But, we can revel in their many successes in music. We laugh. We talk. We sing. We create.

I would have to say that I am not hear to teach music, but to surround my students with the beauty they may not find elsewhere.”

This description is exactly why I love teaching music! Teaching music is about giving students the chance to experience beauty that is not found elsewhere. We prepare them to encounter the world’s beauty wherever they might find it.

I also loved Ms. Oeste’s description of what leaving the performing stage was like:

“I found that the perfection and discipline demanded on stage is even more important in the classroom setting.”

Riga, Latvia after one of our last collegiate performances ever!

Riga, Latvia after one of our last collegiate performances ever!

The last five years I spent working toward my performance degree was not wasted. It trained me to be disciplined, to seek perfection, and to build an attitude of excellence that I will bring to my future classroom every day.

 

Sugata Mitra: Build a School in the Cloud

Sugata Mitra talks about self-directed learning and students using computers to find information for themselves. He has a lot of very interesting ideas about how schools could be run and the overall purpose of education. I’m not sure I agree with his total goals, but there are certainly concepts that need to be incorporated into traditional education.

How can we better use student motivation and student-led learning in music education? When introducing instruments how much could students learn of the fingering on their own if given the chance? How much music theory could students learn on their own if given the chance? How much music history?

The closest thing I’ve seen in my own teaching experience is with planning learning activities using Understanding by Design.

Anyone have any other ideas about how to design learning experiences like this? I’m still not convinced that this is as hands-off as Sugata Mitra describes, but I’m sure I overestimate how much I really need to do in the classroom!

#etmooc Digital Story Telling Experiment: Animated GIF!

I haven’t ventured into creating my own content for an animated gif just yet (I’m still tossing around ideas), but I thought I’d try making a gif of an awesome video with music by the Zurich Chamber Orchestra.

I love this video because of how perfectly the staff syncs with the music and how the animators chose to highlight the drama of the music with the intensity of the rollercoaster.

If I was an animator as well as an educator, it would be awesome to animate student performances! Maybe make it an after concert project option? So many cool ways to go with this!

Anyway, here’s the gif! I had a really great time making it, and it was very easy!

I followed Jim Groom’s super easy to follow tutorial on making gifs using Open Source Software which can be found here!

Check out my other digital storytelling experiments here and here.

For all my other #etmooc (Educational Technology Massive Open Online Course) postings, check out my ETMOOC category here

Five Card Flickr Story: Many Paths

All of these images reminded me of taking a journey, and all of the new and invigorating experiences that come with that.

 I think it would be interesting to create a specific classroom version of this game. Maybe have students select photos around a certain topic specific theme and compile them into a database and then have students write their own stories based on the pictures they get or choose pictures that best represent a piece of music.

How would you implement this in your classroom to promote storytelling skills within music education?