Connected Teachers Make Connected Students

Many people are writing about the power of Twitter and the how it has changed the way they learn. I agree. Twitter has not only changed the way I learn, but also the way I think. Having the constraints of 140 characters, forces me align my thoughts and boil my words to the essence of what I am trying to say. There are times that I struggle with choosing the less criminal grammatical error to commit to stay within the Twitter constraints. It has been well worth the struggle.

I have written about my experience in Nashville, Tennessee with Discovery Education, the Country Music Hall of Fame, and singer/songwriters. Through my connecting with educators through #chats, this has opened a new world of experiences for the musicians in my classrooms. I was tweeting about a Makerspace I am starting at the Middle School where I teach, through which I was connected to Jenna Shaw (@teachbaltshaw) a Middle school language arts teacher @BaltCitySchools. 2012 EdTech Fellow @DHFBaltimore. Lover of beautiful, creative, and innovative ideas. We connected in Google Hangouts to talk about innovative learning environments and how a maker mindset permeates all content areas. This great conversation shifted to learner’s experiences and how we can foster collaborative environment in our classrooms. She is a language arts teacher and I am a music teacher. In Nashville, I learned about a project called “Words & Music” where writers send their words to Nashville musicians who then set those words to music. When the Nashville musician is ready to present the music, they Skype into the classroom and perform the song for the writers.

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Jenna Shaw (@Teachbaltshaw)

I presented the ideas of our students working together similarly to the Words to Music Project. Jenna’s creative writers will compose lyrics to a song (or poem) and the musicians in my classroom will set their words to music. I thought we could take the connectedness one step further and use Google Hangouts through the composition process so the lyricists could be a part of the music taking shape. They could share musical ideas between schools and possibly have distance performing groups. The writers in Maryland could be singers on tracks in Michigan.

We will have to figure out the logistics of the Hangouts. I am thinking about connecting to Jenna’s class at the beginning of the class period and rotating each group, allowing 10 min. to discuss their song and lyrics, while other groups are creating music.

We still have to navigate our way through the flow, but learning is messy and that is okay. It is important to model that adults have the same processes and engage in the same kind of learning as the students. The focus for me is that we create these opportunities for the learners in our classrooms. Being a connected educator provides opportunities for the musicians in my classroom to be connected to other learners as well. Without Twitter and Google Hangouts, this project would not have come together. Are you providing these kind of collaborative opportunities for learners in your classrooms? Please share your stories and projects in the comments.

Making Thinking Audible

Making Thinking Audible

Making Thinking Audible

I have had the honor of hosting Harvard University’s Dr. Ron Ritchhart, principal investigator for the Cultures of Thinking Project and senior research associate for Project Zero in my classroom twice this year. I met Dr, Ritchhart in Clarkston, MI when I was attending the Cultures of Thinking teacher leadership cohort in 2012. Cultures of Thinking (CoT) are places where a group’s collective as well as individual thinking is valued, visible, and actively promoted as part of the regular, day-to-day experience of all group members. Learn more here.

CoT is supported by Making Thinking Visible (MTV), a book written by Dr, Ritchhart. Visible Thinking is a research based approach to teaching learners to become metacognitive. The book offers thinking routines which provide a framework for learners gathering thinking in different ways. These thinking routines are designed to bring the focus to the process of looking closely, thinking deeply, digging deeper, wondering about possibilities, and perspective taking. The thinking routines are not lesson plans, rather they focus on approaches to experiencing the world. I use thinking routines in the music room. It has changed our culture in the way musicians talk about their own thinking, other peoples’ thinking and the way musicians organize sound and silence. This year we are using the Headlines routine when sharing our thinking on our class Twitter account. I have witnessed the changes in learners’ thinking dispositions since supporting our thinking with thinking routines. I have written my own thinking routines that better meet the needs of the musicians who visit my classroom. “What’s Muddled” is a thinking routine I co-created with my previous principal and think partner Kristy Spann (@KristySpann). This routine was written with the revision process in mind. I used Nearpod to gather the musicians thinking. This routine helps focus the musicians’ reflection on their performance and musical decision making on what specifically didn’t come through as clearly as expected. These decisions inform their time revising process before their second iteration of the performance for the class.

Reflecting after performance

Reflecting after performance

The more I continue to think about the authentic processes of being a musician and the shift in culture after beginning Making Thinking Visible, my thinking has changed. This looks (sounds) different in a music room. I consider the musical experience “Making Thinking Audible“. The way that musicians bring the focus to the process of looking closely, thinking deeply, digging deeper and wondering about possibilities is with sound, silence and the way we organize them. I teach Music Workshop. Musicians are listening, performing, creating and reflecting with sound. It gets loud and chaotic at points. That’s okay. There is a structure to the chaos. Learning is messy. In my classroom, learning is loud. There is no other way for musicians to experiment, think, compose, revise, collaborate, and perform without working with sound, loudly.. This can be done digitally with digital instruments, iDevices, JamHubs and headphones, which will quite the room down, but the audible thinking is still there in the headphones.

Create a digital/acoustic hybrid environment

Create a digital/acoustic hybrid environment

When musicians are Making Thinking Audible, they are drawing from their prior experiences while constructing new understandings in-the-moment, reacting to the sounds and making decisions simultaneously. Similarly to CoT and MTV, the thinking needs to be collected, documented and reflected upon. It is generative. Our thinking cannot be written down on a sticky note and posted on an anchor chart. I am not referring to music notation, I am recommending capturing audio and/or video recordings of performances and compositions and reflections. This can be done transparently with an app called Three Ring.

Three Ring

Three Ring

Making Thinking Audible is a way to focus on the authentic processes of being a musician while supporting the way learners think in music. There is a difference thinking about music and thinking in music. When you think in music, you are iterating with sound. This requires marshaling the cultural forces in a way that supports this culture.

  • Provide time for musicians to play (experiment with melody, timbre, orchestration, etc.) This is where I think about depth verse breadth. The more rich the musical experience, the deeper the their connections become.
  • Design opportunities for musicians to listen, perform, and create music alone, in groups, on acoustic and digital instruments. Consider “Informances” where the musical experiences in the classroom can be transferred to the stage. The musicians explain their understanding to the audience and model the process of musicianship. This is an opportunity for parents and administrators to have a doorway into the process. Shifting the focus from product to process.
  • Create routines and structures that are a part of the classroom culture. In my classroom, the musicians have shared understandings that we collaborate with other musicians to perform and create original music. The instruments are chosen by themselves and their ensembles and bands.
  • Choose your language to foster a growth mindset and understanding that we are all on a continuum of understanding. Using language such as “I don’t know what chord to play…yet” or “my thinking has changed because…” or “what makes you say that?” Language can also be music and melody. There are many times where I may demonstrate and model something like improvisation without words. I answer learners verbal questions with melodic answers. Making my thinking audible.
  • Creating a culture where the learners and teacher are co-creating their understandings is essential in a CoT. Interactions and relationships are the scaffolding of this culture. Without a supportive risk-taking environment, the other cultural forces suffer.
  • Create a physical environment where musicians can collaborate and create within the same room comfortably.
  • My expectations for learners is that we are supportive musicians that are furthering our understanding of the dimensions and metadimensions of music. Everyone learns differently and creates music in their own ways. We expect that our thinking is valid and multiple perspectives are honored. Our music has a purpose. We are all on a continuum.
Divergency in the ways musicians show understanding

Divergency in the ways musicians show understanding

Dr. Ritchhart traveled to London, England after he left my classroom. I am looking forward to debriefing with him about his observations. This is quite a reflective time for me as an educator. I would also like to share my thinking about Making Thinking Audible with him.

Does you classroom look/sound like mine? Is that supported by learners, colleagues and administrators? Please share your stories.


ReInvent Music Education Advocacy

I had the pleasure of speaking in Pennsylvania today at the District 7 Professional Development Day. I met and learned with wonderful music educators and met some of my twitter friends f2f. The keynote presenter, Christopher Woodside (@MarylanDChris), opened his talk with his work with National Association of Music Educators (NAfME). Christopher Woodside, NAfME Assistant Executive Director, Center for Advocacy & Public Affairs spoke more about assessment and advocacy. He shared his view of the Common Core and how the Arts are viewed as a support to the core subjects. The point that Christopher was making was one of breaking tradition. People consider the Arts as a supportive experience because that is what they have always been told. We need to relearn advocacy.

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Out of my three sessions, Music and the Common Core was the best attended. Teachers are unsure about how the Common Core State Standards (CCSSs) are going to effect their teaching. I was happy to lead discussions about how uncovering conceptual and process connections are the connective material between the experiences the learners are having in their core classes and the Arts. We are not a support. Music is a unique way of knowing. Musicians have a unique way of experiencing the world.

We do teach the same concepts and processes that the core teachers do. Here are some of the connections that we share.

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Designing conceptual connections provide learners the opportunity to experience concepts like interdependence in multiple ways. In science, they may be learning about pond life, which conceptually, is species and habitat relying on one another, while in music they may be experiencing melody, which is pitch and rhythm relying on one another. Just as the pond would not survive without each unique piece, melody missing pitch or rhythm wouldn’t be melody anymore. They are both interdependent and have a symbiotic relation

Screen Shot 2013-10-14 at 6.29.49 PMIf you would like to initiate conversation with colleagues or administrators, process connections may be a good place to start. There are so many processes we have in common.

After the session, I met Eric Griffith (@ericmgriffith), Vocal Music Director and PMEA District 7 Advocacy Coordinator. We discussed that when music educators look for ways to advocate for their programs, they find many posts and articles about arts being a support for core subjects because that is what we have always talked about and that what is out there. We are hoping music educators looking for ways to advocate for their programs and the learners in their classrooms, they will find this post.

We need to educate the people who don’t understand what we do. We won’t support your math program by teaching the Multiplication Rap. We will support learners to recognize, identify and organize. These processes will help support the thinking that is needed to understand multiplication.

We need to relearn the ways to articulate the connections we are helping learners create. This is our new advocacy.


Stars Creating Stars

Building relationships in an arts based classroom is essential to the success of your students and your program. This year at West Hills, I am team teaching an eighth grade Musical Drama class with Anissa Whetstine (@anissawhetstine) for the first time. Previously, the thespians have created “Me Stars” and decorated them with facts, info, and tidbits about themselves and shared it with the class before auditioning for the big musical. This creates an environment in which auditioning and performing in front of each other is a little less terrifying.


Download the ME Star file

The above file was adapted from Sara Morgan Laminack’s “Me Star” activity from a theatre meeting in Mesquite ISD, Texas.

In previous years, the actors enjoyed creating their stars and sharing with the members of their class. This year, we used Aurasma to augment our “Me Stars” with virtual presentation. Just like in previous years, we hung them in the hallway. Their videos can now be enjoyed by many more people. Parents, friends, administrators and other teachers can now augment the actors stars to enjoy whenever they find time. This also allows time for actors who may have been absent or would like to see their friend’s presentation again, or friends from other classes presentations, they can enjoy them too. The only thing they have to do is download a free app, Aurasma.



Download Aurasma here

To augment your star:

1) Ask actors to create “Me Stars”


2) Record the actors presenting their “Me Stars” which will be the “aura”.


The best way we have found to give ownership to the learners of this project and this process is to break them into small groups and allow them to record and create the auras themselves. We become the facilitators and help desk.

3) Take a picture of the “Me Star” to act as the “trigger image.”


Connecting the “aura” and the “trigger image” is what will bring the analog star to augmented life. This is a tricky process if you want your trigger image to be recognizable by other devices. Create a public channel in Aurasma and save the “aura” into your public channel. After downloading Aurasma, follow the channel to have access to everyone’s “auras”. Our channel is WH Musical Drama.

4) Enjoy the learners’ excitement as they see their creations come to life!


We owe it to the learners in our classrooms to design opportunities for them to be present in the digital world. These are real-world and life-long tools. Create something new today.

DEN Gone Country: Deeper than Professional Development


My path took me to Nashville, Tennessee this weekend. A group of teachers and tech coaches from all over the country sat around a huge round table upstairs in the Country Music Hall of Fame. We were gathered to learn about singer/songwriters, Common Core, and a program called Words to Music. Words to Music is a program where students brainstorm and write poetry and song lyrics, send them to the Country Music Hall of Fame where a Nashville recording artist puts their lyrics to music. The musician then Skypes into the classroom, performs the song and answers questions. Since we song write in my classroom regularly, my takeaway was a bit different.

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Discovery Education Network discussing songwriting and the CCSSs at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, TN
Photo by Tim Childers

The teachers were all Discovery Education Network Star teachers (except for the handful of us new to the DEN, including myself). When meeting and getting to know these teachers, it was clear that being a DEN Star wasn’t a title or a badge, rather a belonging to a group of like-minded teachers who care and support. This group of teachers are a support system for one another when taking risks with classroom experiences, or problem solving new ways of engaging learners in innovative learning strategies. I am so lucky to have been a part of this weekend.

I want to personally thank Tim Childers (@tchilders) and Porter Palmer (@DENPrincess) for creating a weekend of learning and bonding called Discovery Education Network Gone Country (#DENGC). I have made great friends and think partners.

I wrote about driftwood in an earlier post. I will not remember all of the apps and websites we shared with each other (thats what twitter is for), my driftwood is the closing activity on Saturday afternoon. The session was opened with teachers who had been in the DEN for a while and on the leadership council to talk about their experiences. There were tears and laughter. Teachers don’t cry tears of joy when they talk about their professional development. This was more. This was relationships.

The teachers split into grade level / tech integration groups to plan for implementation of our new understanding and appreciation of song writing. I gravitated to a group of Arts an inspired librarian, and tech integration specialists. Within the first few minutes we had all shared how we use music to help our learners make conceptual connection. Kati Searcy (@KatiSearcy), a DEN guru and teacher of talented & gifted students from Georgia suggested that we explore GarageBand. See earlier post here. So I suggested we write our own song. It was awesome.

We recorded a few layers of piano, drums and acoustic finger picking guitar (to stay in the country style), and set off writing lyrics.


We come from near, We come from far, We come from everywhere

Reunite with friend’s we hold so dear, Our purpose is very clear 

Learning, laughing, sharing caring, We need the DEN

Recording here

I would like to thank my friend Gena Price (@GenaPrice) for connecting me to such a wonderful group of people. Your passion and connectedness inspires me to be the best I can be. If you are reading this and are not a member of the Discovery Education Network, get connected!

Tim Childers, a wonderful photographer, documented some of the experience. Enjoy!



Music 2 Save Music Part 3-Creating Magical Moments

Classroom experiences are created to make magical moments for the learners. In music, these magical moments can come from many different experiences. I have had these moments in performance many times, but the most memorable have been from the realization of my own musical ideas, my own compositions. As I think of ways to design these experiences for the musicians that visit my classroom, I try to ensure that they emerge from the individual’s musicianship.

The 4/5 grade musicians at East Hills and West Hills Middle Schools are making their songs for Music 2 Save Music. They are navigating this experience for their first time and I would like to share some of the incredible musical moments we are creating in class. In general, there are a few songwriters in each class. They are the musicians who have a song playing in their minds all day, mostly the recitative of their lives. These songs are much easier to capture with the technology many have in their pocket.


The above picture is my 8 year old recording her song into her iPod touch’s Voice Momos to remember the melody she created to use later. These songwriters may not have the tools and understandings they need to realize their music into “songs” yet. Some do. This is that songwriter’s time to shine, scaffold other musicians in the class, and create those magical musical moments.

I am a cheerleader and fan when I need to be, and a producer or studio musician when needed. The songs emerge from the musicians ideas. Today we started a song from the beginning. Through some dialogue and suggestions from different musicians in the class, we came up with this outline. The big idea of their song is that there are different ways of being rich.

IMG_5932Two verses (verse 1 is about being rich with money, and verse 2 is about being rich in other ways), then chorus and of course a featured artist who will rap. The musicians decided that the verses should of contrasting genre because the lyrics are contrasting as well. Verse 1 will be pop and verse 2 will be acoustic rock, with the chorus being pop plus electric sounds. (Pretty sophisticated plan for their piece.) We began brainstorming lyrics. Please pay close attention to the way the musicians show beat and style through their body language to one another. We haven’t created any of the rhythm, melody, or harmony yet.

The beginning stages took about five minutes. Enough time for the musicians to discuss lyrics and form a few lines that they connected with. We wrote the lyrics down and put them into an order that made sense together. The lyrics are:

We are (rich X3)
In our own ways
Even (onX3) on a bad day
Rich or poor, it doesn’t matter
We are all different in our own way

There was some apprehension about using voice to create an original melody and taking a risk to share any musical thoughts with the class. This is my first year at this school and these musicians. We are building relationships and a community of supportive risk-takers. The apprehension quickly disappeared when a melody was heard from one of the musicians in the class. Everyone really liked it. I quickly realized the vocal melody on the piano and the class sang through the words a few times. As they became more comfortable with the melody, revisions began emerging. The melody was revised a few times including ending the melody with an ascending pattern to transition to the next line.

When this came together, the energy of the room changed. The musicians were sitting on the edge of their chairs asking to sing the verse over and over. They asked to share their musical idea with their classroom teacher as soon as he came to the door. They were excited. These are magical moments for them. Since this class period, earlier today, there have been many musicians from that class that have come to my room between classes and sought me out during lunch to share new ideas they had. These are magical moments for me.

Create these moments for the musicians, they deserve them.

More to come from Music 2 Save Music soon. Until then, please visit and like our Music 2 Save Music Facebook page.

Building Community Through Song Writing

This is my first year as the 4th and 5th grade general music teacher in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. It’s always my goal to extend the musical experience beyond the classroom and into the lives of the musicians that visit my music classroom. I have written an article for the Michigan Music Educators Journal about breaking down the wall between “school” music and “real” music. This is a wall that musicians build in their mind caused by the disconnect from their school musical experiences The music that is the soundtrack of their lives is different. Music 2 Save Music is bridging those  experiences into one “music”. The way the students are talking about their songs and the purpose behind their musical decision making is shifting the culture of my new classroom. The musicians are taking the experiences home. I have only met with the 4/5 grade classes 3 times. The first meeting was a time for community building. I was a new teacher and we needed to begin building relationships right away if we were going to become a supportive community of risk-takers. The first couple of meetings was where Music 2 Save Music emerged as a purpose for our expressive music making.

Last week on Monday, I met with the East Hills Middle School musicians. Mrs. Rowe’s class framed the next few weeks in beginning our whole class composition. We shared our thinking about whether to start with the harmony, melody, rhythm, or vocals first. Understandably, the class was undecided. Every musician begins their creative process differently. The class decided to form collaborative groups that would focus on each and come back together. Class time ended before the musicians were able to realize their parts. On the way out, one of the lyricists asked if she could work on the song at home. Later that evening I got this in me email 



Try to bring me down but I won’t fall. I’m gonna build up a big brick wall.

You know I don’t quit. I’ll never stop trying.

Gonna reach my goal. Forget all the crying.

Cuz, I’ll get to the top. Whatever it takes.

I know what to do and I’ve learned from my mistakes.


You try to bring me down, but I refuse to fall.

I’m gonna stand up, big and tall.

You know how I work. You know how I live.

Shooting for the stars and just dream big.

It was great to be included in the connection this songwriter made with the experience that we shared at school. Mrs. Rowe’s class came to the music room again today. This is the first songwriting experience that most of the musicians have been a part of. We are using Logic Pro X, a M-Audio MIDI keyboard, and a Blue Spark condenser microphone to record our music, which is all new to these musicians as well. The class was excited to engage in the songwriting and recording process, yet reluctant to share their voices to sing the lyrics. As the song came together (lyrical melody supported by harmonic structure), the class began to take more ownership of the music and their singing became more confidant. At the end of today’s class, a different lyricist approached me with a notebook clenched to her body and said, “Mr. M, I have added some lyrics and changed the melody a little bit to the words we already wrote.” I enjoy learning more about the musicians that come see me, and am realizing that there is creativity surfacing. There needs to be a sense of trust reciprocally built in a new music classroom that will support these risks and celebrate accomplishmants. I am excited to be a part of the community that is being built in my new music rooms. I will leave you with the progress that was made today with Mrs. Rowe’s class song.

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Music 2 Save Music Part 2

Family Saturday mornings look like this: wake-up, get the kids together, get skateboard and gear, breakfast in the car, drop Ari, my 6 year old, off at the skatepark, go get coffee, back to the skatepark, farmers market, lunch out, then come home. Today was different. We did the usual routine until the lunch part. My wife took Dahlia, my 8 year old, shopping with her BFF Gloria and I took Ari to the skate shop to get custom graffiti on his new deck. The shop was crowded with parents and kids with their skateboards leaning over a table of artists creating their masterpieces on freshly unwrapped boards. The owner and I have known each other from Saturday morning clinics and he asked me what was up? I started talking about my new position as a middle school music teacher and Music 2 Save Music. A few of the adults within ears distance started asking questions and we had a great conversation about the power of music and how wonderful this outreach program was. When I told them that I had just started the effort, and the 5/6 grade musicians at East and West Hills Middle Schools in Bloomfield Hills were going to lead the project, a buzz started throughout the store. Before I knew it, an artist was already sketching a logo for Music 2 Save Music on the paper covered table. I quickly purchased a skateboard so the logo could be inked onto it.

Left: Michael Medvinsky Right: Evan Guzman, Artist, aka. Xillix

Left: Michael Medvinsky                                                    Right: Evan Guzman, Artist, aka. Xillix

See the process here:

It was exciting to feel the buzz in the room (I wasn’t the only one who took a picture of me holding the Music 2 Save Music board). Another artist, Evan Wojtowicz, who had donated his own art for other fundraisers that support music, offered to come when the musicians plan to perform their original pieces at a concert, and paint live. He would then auction his pieces at the event to support Music 2 Save Music. Awesome! My first post about Music 2 Save Music has been retweeted quite a few times and I have been contacted by some of my tweeps, including my friend Ron Madison (@madison_ron) from Flint Schools, to share the process with their music staff.

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Things are moving fast. Many people asked me about a website or Facebook page. I guess I’d better get moving.



Music 2 Save Music Part 1

I have always designed experiences for learner musicians to create music and perform for their peers. This is an important process of being a musician. Last year, I was inspired to broaden the musician’s audience by creating a YouTube Channel and uploading our songs to NUMU, a community for young people to showcase their music and collaborate. This was my first step to creating a PLN for the musicians in my classroom.

This year, I had the pleasure of meeting Kevin Honeycutt (@kevinhoneycutt) face-to-face. We had been social media friends for a while, and finally met my friend over dinner to talk teaching, learning and creativity.

Kevin Honeycutt

Kevin Honeycutt


Kevin is an amazing person, speaker and story-teller. If you have ever seen him live, he has you laughing and crying while stretching your thinking as a teacher and charge you with nurturing creativity and 21st century learning with your learners. Dinner with Kevin changed the way I will design the purpose of musical experiences. We started talking about the maker movement and inventing to learn. I shared a Drawdio circuit with him and how I am starting a Makerspace with Makey Makey and Raspberry Pi. We had great dialogue about creativity not only being able to create new things, but also to piece things together in a new way. The resources may already be available, but creativity is also how we use them differently. My big take-away from this dinner conversation was creating a larger purpose to the music we create as musicians in my classroom. “Music 2 Save Music” was born that night.

Music 2 Save Music is an effort to support struggling music programs in schools. I was connected with David Dublis (@ddublis), Music Coordinator for Grand Rapids, MI Schools to talk about bringing music back to schools through our music. We connected on Google Hangouts to discuss specifics.

Above: David Dublis  Below: Michael Medvinsky

Above: David Dublis
Below: Michael Medvinsky

Music 2 Save Music will begin today with the 4th and 5th grade musicians at East and West Hills Middle Schools composing original music to express our concern about the loss of music in schools. These songs will be composed, performed recorded, edited, mixed and shared by the student musicians. We will learn about the dimensions and metadimensions of music while creating in the authentic processes of musicianship. The songs will then be uploaded to and published to iTunes. All of the proceeds from our original songs will go toward funding instruments for music classrooms and bring awareness to struggling music programs through music. Our Music. Music 2 Save Music.

This is a small clip of a 5th grade musician playing piano to inspire the music of the classes original song.