Switching Your Objective Lens

Tug O WarThinking about a beloved book you have read aloud to your class for years brings many memories of joy and accomplishment. These are memories that are rekindled every time you take out the book a year later or when a former students stops in to say hello and reminds you how much you meant to them. But there comes a time when you say, I have read this book for 27 years and I think I want to try something new. This year, I have accepted a position as an Instructional Technology Integrator. I have the pleasure of supporting teachers in designing learning experiences for primary learners. The third grade team approached me about redesigning their Mr. Popper’s Penguins read.

We began with the end in mind, talking about the learning objectives. The love of a good story was one that came up fairly quickly. As we continued the conversation, I began asking questions trying to uncover the complexities of the text, such as “what makes this a book you continue to read year after year?” and “are there any conflicts in the book that draw the reader in?” These questions helped guide the conversation in new directions. We were landed on the struggle of Mr. Popper keeping his penguins and the financial burdens involved in keeping exotic animals as pets. The more we talked about it, the more the conversation zoomed in to the key plot points of the text. For me, when designing learning experiences for readers, I try to find a way for them to think about a cultural dilemma through which they read the text.  I then suggested using the Tug O War thinking routine to frame their class read. This routine helps readers think about the “tugs” they experience when reading a text that pulls them one way or another of a fairness dilemma. In this case, the question was how was Mr. Popper going to be able to afford his penguins? The lens through which we were looking at the text was zoomed in too close. We needed to zoom out and think about the bigger dilemma.

Through further discussion, we realized that the fairness dilemma was bigger than the words in the text. The dilemma is, are animals better kept in captivity or living in their natural habitats? This moment defined the lens through which we would look through this year’s reading of Mr. Popper’s Penguins. The 3rd grade team set up a Tug O War board in the hallway between their classrooms where the reader’s thinking can become visible throughout their reading. Through a conversation before beginning the book, the readers chose their stance and clipped their name to the rope one either side of the dilemma. Today, they are into the first couple of chapters in the book and some readers have already changed their minds about their stance. They move their names along the continuum between captivity and natural habitat depending on the “tugs” in the text. They are pulling specific examples of what made them change their thinking directly from the book. I borrowed this Evidence Based Terms from a fifth grade teachers room to help support the third grade readers support their thinking moves.


This will help not only help the ways in which they support their thinking, but will also inform their writing in their blogs. Today will be their first entry in their Third Grade Exploring Ideas blog. If you have a moment, I’m sure they will enjoy reading and responding to your comments.

My science colleague got new LCD microscopes for her classroom this week which made me think about the ways our thinking changes when we zoom in and out of ideas. Switching our objective lens enables us to designing learning experiences that support thinking strategies. I continue to think about how to best create a learning culture where thinking is valued, visible, and actively promoted as part of the regular, day-to-day experience of all students.

Seeds of Culture – Overview Part 1

CultureCultureI have pushed myself this year to truly integrate the International Baccalaureate (IB) Units of Inquiry while focusing on individual musicians. In this set of posts, I plan to reflect upon the journey of the fifth grade musicians as well as my own. I would also like to challenge you to think more about the nature of the experience and less on the content area. I am framing this in the context of music, but how might this project look in social studies, science, language arts, or art?

The idea of this project came about after a long conversation with my friend and choir colleague Eve Pierre. Eve is an amazing musician, educator, facilitator, consultant, and friend. She has been my mentor and springboard regarding all things IB and Standards Based Grading.

The unit we are currently exploring is Where we are in place and time: An inquiry into orientation in place and time; personal histories; homes and journeys; the discoveries, explorations and migrations of humankind; the relationships between and the interconnectedness of individuals and civilizations, from local and global perspectives.


We began inquiring about the migration of music and what impact that may have on people in the past, present, and future. This kindled a conversation about aural traditions,  how music has been past down from generation to generation, and cultural contexts of music in different cultures. Through talking to the musicians about music, culture, migration, and bouncing ideas off of Eve, Seeds of Culture began.

Project Overview (Part 1):

  • Musicians choose a song that connects them to their culture (Part 2)
  • Create a short digital presentation of the music’s affects from the past, present, and future
  • Teach the class a portion of your song
  • Create a Seed Rhythm on a looper e.g. Looseque or DM1 (Part 3)
  • Find other musicians that share the same or similar Seed Rhythm
  • Compose and perform the original pieces at an Exhibition style concert (Part 4)

I will write posts as the musicians share each part of their projects. So far, this has been an incredible way to get to know individual learner’s personal histories, cultures and journeys. I am learning so much about their music, but most of all, strengthening relationships.

Why Do I Teach?

I was following the #zetacon hashtag this morning where Kevin Honeycutt was delivering a keynote. He asked “Why do you teach?” We often talk about how we teach at school and district PDs, grade level meetings, EdCamps, and conferences, where we discuss best practices and tech integration. It is important to continue these conversations.

As we start the upcoming school year, I would like to ask you “Why do you teach?” This is a question that really made me stop and think about myself and my practice. Yes, I would like to support expressive, independent musicians, but this is quite content specific. I needed to think deeper and broader.

I ask you to do the same.

I made a short video reflection about why I teach.

Please consider sharing your thoughts in a video response or in the comments below. If you choose to share your video response, please use the #iTeach hashtag on Twitter.

Have a great school year and remember why you became the teacher you are today.


Man, oh man. This has been a day of learning, reflection and connections. Something that had started from a twitter chat grew into a culture of educators all thinking together for the best ways to create the best learning environments for learners. It feels empowering to have education conversations who “get it”. This is the beginning of relationships that will continue throughout the next school year and beyond.

The questions to reflect upon today are:

  1. How will you turn words into action?
  2. How will you help build a culture of learning?
  3. What must you stop doping that reflects compliance?

Please share your thoughts about these questions. We are better together.

#whatifmusiced – Thoughts On Creativity

I am teaching an intensive 1 week Music Technology course at Oakland University, Rochester MI titled Teaching For Musical Understanding with Technology. Our first reading was chapter 2 from Scott Watson’s book Using Technology to Unlock Musical Creativity.



“In order to be creative, you need to be able to view things in new ways or from different perspectives.” (pg. 15) Being creative or innovative is not always creating a brand new idea, sometimes it is reinventing common things MacGyver was a genius! He could create anything with a rubberband, bobby pin, and a piece of chewing gum. Who would a Musical MacGyver be?

How do we design experiences for musicians to create, reinvent, and innovate in our programs? As I read the teachers reflections to this reading, there are recurring themes emerging.

  • There is a tradition of excellence at district and state festival
  • My administrator is basing my teacher evaluation on how well the ensemble performs at contest
  • I was never taught this way
  • I don’t know how

These are going to become the springboards from which the rest of the week’s discussions and projects will launch. This begins with laying groundwork for teachers, administrators, and parents to see other ways, different ways, of being a musician. As one instrumental music teacher in the class wrote, “we must be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater”, the changes need to be small and deliberate. Beginning with relevant and timely music that will engage the learner/musician to become more autonomous when approaching musicianship. Autonomy in learning emerges when musicians are asked to solve musical problems through a project based approach.

“Advantages for me as a teacher of creating musical activities include finding the time spent with students to be more enjoyable, perhaps because my role moves naturally to that of a coach and facilitator. I also enjoy the opportunities for personal artistic expression when modeling musical creativity.” (pg. 19)

 The experiences that you design for musicians to be creative, artistic, expressive will have a longer lasting effect than the piece of music they are reading and performing. The musicians that visit your classroom may not remember the specific piece they played, the concept, or rhythmic passage you were rehearsing, but they will remember how you made them feel as a creating musician.

My frame for tomorrow’s discussion will be a question I will ask. How do we as music educators create relevant experiences for learner/musicians?

“…technology tools have become indispensable to music makers outside the world of education”. (pg. 20)

This is a cry for help. Technology tools that are absolutely necessary to “real world” music makers are often ignored by contemporary music educators. Where does this leave the musicians in our classrooms?

I would like to ask “What if…” What is music education was different?

What are your “What ifs”?



Reflecting to Look Forward

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 6.23.45 PMI have always been a project based learner and design classroom experiences for learners in my classroom to do the same. They have voice and choice of as to how they show their understanding of concepts and processes. The divergence in their pieces are exciting to see and hear. The cycle went something like this: learner/musicians experiences a concept through an anchor or mentor piece of music, conceptualize a way to create a piece to show their understanding, rehearse, perform, and begin framing the next project. It has been awesome, but there was something missing. The more I read about learning and thought about the way I learn,  themes started to emerge. A few that resonated with me were the lack of reflection and revision. In my classroom, we were missing self reflection and time to revise existing music. It was my fault. I was so focused on “covering material” or “getting everything in” that I was missing a big piece of the learners experience. The ways we deepen our understanding is by trying, making mistakes, trying again, and revising. With my new realization, I have worked toward developing a way for musicians to reflect upon their performances during their revision process. I am still working through the details.

Performance “Check-Ins”


In my classroom, we focus on the process of creating and performing music. Throughout a learner/musician’s experience, they (or their group) will do a “check-in” performance for the class. This performance in not their final presentation, rather a glimpse into their composition process. This also provides more of a formal run-through of their musical ideas they have been experimenting with and a time for them to hear what their piece sounds like without all of the sounds from other musicians bleeding in. Read more about Musician’s Workshop here. As musicians are sharing their “check-in” performances, I capture video in the Three Ring mobile app to reflect upon later.

Capturing Video with Three Ring

threering logo

Three Ring  is a hybrid website and app which allows us to build our digital portfolios throughout the year. Three Ring has been an invaluable resource for me as an educator to capture thinking and process, for students to reflect upon their musical process while developing their digital portfolios, and for parents to have a window into my classroom and their children’s musical experiences. I have shared many artifacts and performances with parents which has provided a window into my classroom that has not been open before. As the musicians perform for peers in class, these performances are captured by my mobile device and tagged with their classroom teachers name, musician’s names, and any learning goals. See the “check-in” video below here.

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When learner/musicians present projects such as completed “incomplete” listening maps, their green screen performances are captured for their music portfolios, for reflection, and are then shared with parents. See one here

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After the entire class has performed for one another, given and received verbal feedback, we take the next class period to reflect upon our progress, create personal goals, and plan the revision process.

Reflecting with Socrative

 The tool we use in class is Socrative. Socrative is a student response system that empowers teachers to engage learners in reflective practices via smartphones, laptops, and tablets. This hybrid app can be used to create quizzes and multiple choice question, however, I choose to use it differently. I only create short answer questions that frame the reflection of their performances. After a musician has watched their “check-in” video on Three Ring, they navigate their (or my) mobile device to b.socrative.com and enter my room number.

Screen Shot 2014-05-28 at 3.31.46 PMThey are then prompted to answer the following question:

  1. What are your learning goals for [insert concept here]?
  2. How are you showing your understanding of [the above concept]?
  3. Did your check-in performance meet your expectations? Please explain.
  4. As a musician, what was your biggest accomplishment during the performance? What makes you think that?
  5. As a musician, what was your biggest struggle during the performance? What makes you think that?
  6. What is (are) your personal goal(s) for the next time your group comes together to revise your piece?

The musicians take a bit of time reflecting and typing in their answers.



As the class finishes their reflections, I download the .xls spreadsheet of all the musician’s answers and goals. I use this to inform my mini-lessons and to support the learner/musicians individual needs based on their answers to the above questions.

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When musicians return to their composition groups for revision, they each come with a personal goal which refocuses them individually while revising within their group. This also allows me to meet with individual musicians or pull focus groups to support them toward their personal goals. We have made reflection a part of the regular musical experience.

It has taken me years to realize that reflection is as important in learning as the experience itself. As John Dewey reminded us nearly a century ago, “We do not learn from experience . . . we learn from reflecting on experience.” Why has it taken me this long to figure it out?

What’s On Your iPad? – Creating Music

There are so many music apps out there for iDevices making it may be hard to decide which ones are best. Once you find apps that you may think would work for you and the musicians in your classroom, it is important to decide if it will create opportunities for musicians to do new things in new ways. I would recommend that you download the chosen app yourself and play with it. Create something. The musicians that visit your room will have no issues navigating an app themselves, but I find it useful to know the app well enough to be able to authentically create a musical experience that is relevant to the musicians and to scaffold a musician if needed.

We are not teaching the apps. We are creating experiences for musicians to listen, perform and create music supported by technology. I have had a set of iPads in my classroom for the past 2 years and have gathered some apps that support the ways we experience music. These may or may not work for you and your students. Many have multiple entry points to support musicians with differentiated prior experiences. Some cost more than others, but well worth the cost.

1. GarageBand

mzl.qnlhrbvgFrom the multi-touch instruments to smart instruments, this is a powerhouse music creation app. GarageBand has multiple points of entry to create opportunities for musicians with different experience levels to perform and create together.  The new update supports up to 32 tracks of recorded sound and hosts many internal loops. Starting a Jam Session allows you to play or record live over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth with up to three other musicians. The musician who initiates the Jam Session collects everyone’s recordings so they can be mixed as a song and be shared later.  This is an app that is used by all of the musicians in my classes for many of the projects they create.

2. MadPad HD


Remix your life with MadPad! Turn everyday sounds into an instrument. You can create custom soundboards with the sounds from your surrounding environment and remix them into a musical creation. Record loops and add layers live while recording the piece to share later. You can also share your soundboards on Twitter and FaceBook. This app is great when discovering organized sound, simultaneity, and texture. I also scaffold this app with VidRhythm.

3. iKaossilator

mzl.olokqoatKorg has created an incredible interface using an intuitive X-Y pad to provide expressive musical control. The Pad loads entire scenes and gives control to single tracks of many different electronic genres. From Electro House to Dubstep, musicians manipulate melody, harmony, rhythm, texture, and mix by stroking, tapping, or rubbing the screen with their finger. The built-in loop sequencer lets you layer up to five musical parts on one scene. You can record your performance in real time, or export a completed loop as an audio file and share directly to SoundCloud. My colleague who teaches middle school choir wanted to recreate a dubstep remix of a piece they were performing. The singers asked me if there was an app to add wobble bass to their piece. This was it.

4. Traktor DJ

Traktor-DJ-Logo-on-Mevvy.com_This is a Pro DJ app. Create remixes and mashups quite easily with Traktor DJ with direct access to your iTunes library. The 2 deck interface continues the familiar swipe and pinch gestures. This app gives you complete control of your music beginning with automatic tempo and key matching, a crossfader, 3-band EQ, and filter on each channel. There are built in DJ effects including reverb, delay, and dramatic glitch effects like BeatMasher. My secondary general music class used Traktor DJ for their final project. They put together an Electronic Music Event. Each musician contributed a 5 min. live set mixing music of their choice. It was an incredible evening.

5. ThumbJam 


When performing, this app is awesome for soloing. ThumbJam enables expressive performances by making use of tilt and shake to add vibrato, tremolo, note bends, and volume swells for more realistic results. There are many instruments to choose from and the sounds are very nice. ThumbJam broadcasts tempo, key, and scale to other nearby devices via Bluetooth so many musicians can be in sync live.

As I finish this post, I think I need to create a series of posts for different areas of experiencing music. I will write posts for listening and performing as well. Stay tuned.





Musician’s Workshop – Student Conferences

I received an email from a friend after my first Musician’s Workshop post. He sent me a quote that framed his thinking, and now mine, for how teacher feedback plays a role in the workshop model.

Lucy Calkins (1994) shares “[o]ur decisions must be guided by “what might help this writer” rather than “what might help this writing.” If the piece of writing gets better but the writer has learned nothing that will help him or her another day on another piece, then the conference was a waste of everyones time. It may even have done more harm than good, for such conferences teach students not to trust their own reactions” (p. 228)


Conferences in Musician’s Workshop have many similarities to other workshop models. When I am conferencing with a learner/musician, or a small group of musicians creating together, this is the process:

  1. Ask the learner/musician or group of musicians to perform what they have so far. (Assessing the learner/musician’s performance as they play or sing)
  2. Ask the the learner(s) what their contribution is as a musician to the piece.
  3. Ask the learner/musicians where they feel they need support.
  4. Specifically scaffold one musical dimension (element) at a time, either something the learner/musician contributed, or what you had heard during the initial performance.
  5. Scaffold their playing if needed.
  6. Ask them to describe the ways in which they will use the strategy they just practiced.

The conferences usually take anywhere from 8-10 min depending on how much support is needed or the size of the group. You may only get to 2 or 3 groups in one class period (I see each class for 30 min.) and that is okay. The other learner/musicians need that time to practice independently.

Ask the learner/musician or group of musicians to perform what they have so far. (Assessing the musician’s performance as they play or sing)

As you listen to the piece being performed, try to identify where the learner/musicians are in their process. At what stage are they in composing their piece? For example, if the they are creating a binary piece, are they creating the A, or B, or transitioning between both?

To identify the area of struggle, you may also ask an open ended question. For example, you may ask “How will the listener know when the music has moved to the next section?” The learner/musicians will explain their thinking and may uncover a misconception. If they answer something way off, you may ask a follow up question such as “What makes you say that?” This clarifying question will help guide you in helping the learner/musician move closer toward understanding. Their performance coupled with the learner/musician’s answers and explinations will help you assess the depth of their understanding.

Specifically scaffold one musical dimension (element) at a time, either something the learner/musician contributed, or something you had heard during the initial performance.

To continue with the binary example, If the learner/musician is having difficulty maintaining a steady beat and also composing contrasting sections, choose one and focus on that. I would start with the steady beat first to solidify the groups simultaneity and come back for the contrasting section. Keeping a steady beat and the group together is more important than composing a contrasting section.

Ask them to describe the ways in which they will use the strategy they just practiced.

This is their time to synthesize their plan. Understanding how to implement a new strategy into their process is an important step. I will confer with them about the strategy and through our dialogue, create a plan. The learner/musician makes a plan and begins to put they plan into action. These are intrinsic goals that the learner/musician decides on to make them a better musician, which in turn supports their contribution to the music.

I ask the learner/musicians to reflect upon their experience using tablets and student response systems. This allows me to gather their thinking in one place. The next time they visit my classroom, I have their individual goals on my iPad to better support our conferences.

There have been many teachers and administrators writing about the need to establish relationships before learning may occur. Musician’s Workshop enables relationships to form through individual conferences, open ended questions, valuing the learner/musician’s prior experiences, and focusing on the process. This is a growth mindset model that is differentiated for each musician.

Are you facilitating a Musician’s Workshop in your classroom, yet?

Calkins, L. (1994). The art of teaching writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Musician’s Workshop

I am a middle school music teacher. Well, let me rephrase that, I teach middle school musicians. More and more, I am being asked to describe the “nontraditional” approach to learning music that happens in my room.  I don’t think it is “nontraditional” but I will agree it is not what most music teachers learn in their pre-service experiences.

I have spent a lot of time discussing different workshop models with my colleagues. For three years, I have even taught a summer school reading and writing program where I was able to explore reader’s and writer’s workshop with third grade readers and writers. This experience provided the groundwork I needed to frame the musical experiences learner/musicians are asked to navigate in my classroom. It is Musician’s Workshop.

Musician’s Workshop is what I will describe as a constructivist approach to learning music through problem solving. Not necessarily reading and writing music, but focused more on self-expression, creating and performing, and connecting music to cultural and historical contexts.  This way of experiencing music supports both being musically literate (reading and writing music) and musically competent (creating,  improvising, and playing music by ear). Musicians will critically and analytically listen to music, perform original music, recreate others’ music, and create composed, improvised, or arranged music. There is inherently a performance facet of being a musician, however, Musician’s Workshop focuses on other authentic processes of being a musician.

Structure of Musician’s Workshop:

  • Piece of anchor music
  • Groundwork that enables (musician’s previous experience that supports, or mini-lesson and launch)
  • Musician’s time to solve the musical problem
  • Share
  • Reflect/Revise
  • Share with a broader audience

I will do my best to open a window into my classroom.

I teach in an International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme Middle School where the 5th grade learners are preparing for Exhibition. This year’s overarching idea is How can we positively effect our community?  In the music room, we are considering How do we express ourselves?,  an inquiry into recreating someone else’s music.

Anchor Music :

The melody of the chorus was our connection to this song. We used melody as the doorway in (Wiggins, 2009) to the process of recreating another musician’s music. The key of C lends itself well to the xylophones we play as well.

Groundwork That Enables:

For this problem solving experience to be successful, musicians needed to have had groundwork provided in previous years or class experiences. This should not be the first time they are being asked to play a melody by ear. Focusing on melodic contour and notes moving by steps, skips and leaps will support musicians problem solving the melody.

Problem Solving:

This is the time that seems loud and chaotic. It is loud and chaotic. The volume and cacophony is structured. Each musician is problem solving pitch, rhythm, direction, and melody at the same time. It will get loud. It has to. Sound is our medium. The video below is what my classroom looks and sounds like when musicians are problem solving. Please listen closely to the individual musicians as I zoom in to their playing. There are many different approaches to peer scaffolding. Some play and echo, some play at the same time, some provide vocal support, and some play hand-over-hand. Whatever the support may be, it is what is best for that learner. Time to problem solve is crucial to the growth of the individual musicians. This is their time to experiment, iterate, be scaffolded, learn, and scaffold others. The gradual release to independence is where the learning happens. This is where the individual musician grows toward independent musicianship within a large ensemble.


We have an in-class performance of Home by Phillip Phillips. We then use this recording as a critical listening experience.


We used an app called Skitch, a free, lightweight screen capturing and annotation app for iPad, to support an analytical listening experience. The musicians listened to the anchor music again while annotating over the lyrics. They show the form of the song while adding “what else do you hear?” to each section. This informs the next steps in the process of our class cover. (The video is of another song we did. I didn’t capture a video of the Skitch for Home, but wanted to invite you into the process.)

We then cycle the Musician’s Workshop process again and add the instruments that we added to the Skitch.

Share With a Broader Audience:

This is most exciting part! We share our music on social media platforms such as Twitter (@MrM_MusicRoom) and FaceBook. Growing our PLN broadens our audience and creates a bigger authentic network of learner/musicians who perform and learn from each other.


Creating a network of connected musicians broadens our thinking as we become more globally minded. We are going to perform Home by Phillip Phillips and Care by Kid Rock, ft. Angeleena Presley and T.I. for 5th grade Exhibition. The extension of the whole class cover is for the musicians to split into smaller bands and iterate the process of self expression through recreating another musician’s music. I’m looking forward to watching the process unfold and watching their performances.

Wiggins, J. (2009). Teaching for musical understanding (2nd ed.). Rochester, MI: CARMU.


image from http://www.deviantart.com

image from http://www.deviantart.com

Ok, my anxiety is starting to build. I am not going to MACUL this year. It is not my decision. I made an arrangement with my school district this year and I am holding up my end of the deal. Nonetheless, I have been glued to Twitter since yesterday evening following my friends travels to Grand Rapids and their TweetUps and f2f meetings. These are the people that support and give me gentle nudges to be the best teacher I can be. And yes, today is a snow day, but I would risk driving 35 mph for 3 and a half hours to be with those incredible teachers and learn along side of them. This is my PLN. I am #notatMACUL14 but will learn everything I can by being a connected educator. Next year.