Minecraft and the Design Cycle

I had the pleasure of hanging out with our middle school’s Minecraft club after school today. It was awesome the way the kids were entering each other’s worlds and building things together. One 6th grade student asked if I was going to hang out and asked to use one of my MaKey MaKey boards to build a custom controller for Minecraft. And so the design cycle began.

This maker already had a conceptual understanding of the control chair he was about to invent. He also knew the Minecraft interface well and how to hack the keyboard controls. He just needed the right materials. Tinfoil and MaKey MaKey.
He rolled a chair over and began taping foil to either side of the seat. The idea was to control the direction that his character turns by leaning either left or right in his chair.

He understood that their needed to be a closed circuit so he also taped tinfoil to his pants to trigger the left and right controls when he leaned either way.

The other control that the maker wanted was to walk forward. Thinking about how his controller worked, he decided to use his shoes as the trigger to move forward.

His favorite part.


The reflection process is as important as the Imagine and Create processes. In this case, this maker needed to redesign the forward interface. He decided to use a paper clip and tie into the MaKey MaKey’s “w” key.

It is in this process where the maker mindset moves to make the design better. It is in the problems that arise that creates experiences for learners and thinkers to practice this mindset.

It was so cool to watch and be a part of the thinking process. This maker has incredible ideas and a creative mind. Keep you eyes out for a custom chair controller in Kickstarter.

This Is Your Mrain on Busic

This past October, I had the pleasure of meeting Christopher Woodside (@MarylanDChris), Assistant Executive Director at National Association for Music Education (NAfME) and music lobbyist, at the PMEA District 7 Music Conference. He opened the conference with a talk about reinventing music advocacy, which inspired a previous blog post on this.

Me and Chris Woodside at PMEA District 7 Conference. Photo by me.

Me and Christopher Woodside at PMEA District 7                   Photo by me.

Christopher’s National Voice of Music Education talk brought focus to the idea that music educators we are advocating that learners participating in music helps score better on standardized tests. This is what we think that administrators and classroom teachers want to hear and will keep us in our classrooms. This is one way of advocating. NAfME and the Broader Minded movement has another idea.

I share the belief that music positivley impacts academic achievement. I think that it goes beyond that. Understanding the world better is a residual of learners engaging in the authentic processes of creating and expressing musically. Music shapes the way our students understand themselves and the world around them. The Broader Minded Movement asks everyone to think beyond the bubbles of standardized tests and educate the whole student.

Here is the thing, learning is learning and thinking is thinking. Content areas are a way to curate thinking, much like hashtags. Teaching conceptually and through processes makes the learning holistic. There are unique ways of knowing the world through music that beings out expressive qualities in learners. Performing, composing, arranging, remixing, and genre shifting are a few processes in which learners are asked to collaborate, think critically, communicate, create, revise, and make decisions, all within the constraints of an essential question.

The video below shows how music can be a way to model and practice grit. “I wasn’t good when I started playing music, but I kept practicing and worked hard because I loved it, and I got better. I got blisters on my fingers when learning the guitar, but I played through them and it has made all the difference.”

If you think there is more to a music educate than scoring higher on a standardized tests, please consider joining the Broader-Minded: Beyond The Bubbles Movement and Share Your Story Here.

Thank you NAfME and Christopher Woodside for advocating for us. Read the Press Release Here

From NAfME

From NAfME


Musician’s Statements

Fifth grade learners are beginning to plan their Primary Years Program (PYP) Exhibition. The overarching theme is “How are you positively effecting your community?” I have been thinking about how I can connect the musical experiences we are having in my room to other ways of knowing.

Chalk Talk

Outside music room at West Hills Middle School, Michigan

Outside music room at West Hills Middle School, Michigan

Chalk Talk is a Visible Thinking Routine developed by Ron Ritchhart. This particular routine is designed as a written conversation used to uncover prior knowledge and questions. It is an open-ended discussion on paper. This routine ensures all voices are heard and allows individual thinking time. Originally designed as a silent written conversation, I have altered the use for our unique situation. I posted the question “How does music play a role in community?”  outside of my classroom on a large bulletin board. The chalk talk is open to everyone in the school and is attracting students that are not in my classes. We are discussing the effects of music on culture in class and using the chalk talk as a springboard into these conversations.

Musician’s Statements and Technology

Thank you Tricia Fuglestad (@fuglefun)

Thank you Tricia Fuglestad (@fuglefun)

Each musician is going to make a Musician’s Statement, then create and share them using the apps CamWow and Pic Collage. These two apps are free and work in tandem to create the image above. Musicians will make these next week



Step 1: Open CamWow and select the effect you would like to use. I chose the fuzzy b&w to keep the focus on the statement and name of the musician.

Step 2: Take the picture and share the picture to Photo Album.

Taken with CamWow

Taken with CamWow

Step 3: Open PicCollage and Tap to create a new collage



Step 4: Add your photo from Camera Roll and double-tap to edit

Step 5: Choose Clip Photo and draw around your face with your finger and click Done. This step will allow you to clip out the CamWow watermark.

Step 6: Drag your clipped background to the garbage can in the upper right hand corner.

Step 7: Pinch the clipped picture to size and rotate. Be sure to leave room for the statement text and musician’s name.

Step 8: Tap the Layout button on the lower left of the screen and Change Background. I set the background to black to keep the focus on the statement and musician’s name.

Step 9: Tap the Plus button on the bottom of the screen to add text. Type the musician’s statement and name in separate text boxes to ensure separate movement and sizing. I put my statement on top and name on the bottom, but I would suggest to stage the test where it fits best with the picture. In the app, the capital “T” allows you to change the font, the pen changes the text color, the paint bucket changes the background color of the font, and the three dots adjusts the justification and text outline.

Step 10: Tap the share button on the lower right of the screen. I do not post to PicCollage. Save your PicCollage to Library.

Step 11: To collect the images, I have created a DropBox folder. Open DropBox, select your folder, and tap the three dots on the upper right corner of the screen. Choose your image and Upload.

I saw my friend Brandy Carlson, elementary art teacher in Walled Lake, Michigan, today and talked through this statement project. We made her image in 5 min. on the couch.

Brandy Carlson (@carlson_brandy) check her out at http://www.artsonia.com/schools/school.asp?id=59936

Brandy Carlson (@carlson_brandy) check her out at http://www.artsonia.com/schools/school.asp?id=59936

We are creating cover songs, green screen videos, and musician’s statements to prepare for Exhibition. On April 30th, the 5th grade learners will present their PYP projects and I can’t wait to see what they will contribute to their community.


Green Screen in the Music Room


I have been reading about teachers using green screens in their classrooms to create videos with creative backgrounds. Especially Tricia Fugelstad (@fuglefun), a K-5 art teacher from Chicago, who has a wonderful blog. Between reading tweets and blog posts, I decided to purchase a green screen, iPad tripod, and Green Screen app by DoInk. Luckily, I have a friend who is a professional photographer and is digging through his basement for a set of tungsten lights. Green screens can be used for many different videos, 4th grade musicians are sharing their listening maps with videos.

Step 1: First things first. Hang your green screen. There are many ways to do this, best probably being on a truss, but I just hung mine from my rooms drop ceiling. The screen is thin and light enough that the bungee and clip system worked out fine.


Step 2: Download Green Screen by Do Ink – This app allows you to make incredible green screen videos right on your iPad. It is easy to use and creates great results. With this app, learners can share stories, explain their ideas, and express themselves in many different ways.


Step 3: Mount your iPad on a tripod. I purchased a fairly inexpensive tripod and iPad clip. I recommend a stable device to hold your iPad steady, it will make a better video. You can also put your device on a desk or table, but I find the tripod to be easier to maneuver and customize the height and angle.

Screen Shot

Step 4: Create the experience for learners, give time for conceptualizing and designing, and record your video. In 4th grade we are considering texture changes and graphic scores through Listening Maps. Musicians completed their own incomplete listening maps. We are ready to present our maps to one another and had a plan to use Three Ring to record our explanations and share with others. With the addition of the green screen, we have changed our way of showing understanding in the music room.

Two 4th grade musicians shared their maps and recorded their green screen videos today in class. I will use their videos as models to other 4th grade musicians as they consider their own. Today was our first day with a green screen and I think the musicians did great.


Playing in the Digital Sandbox

This year I started a MakerSpace in my middle schools and I have had lost of fun sharing the sandbox with the makers. We meet on Fridays after school for an hour and a half. Even after the first meeting, we all agreed that was not enough time. Makers are constantly making parents wait and breaking their creative flow because we have run out of time. We have met about 10 time now and the group keeps growing. I answer an email a week from parents asking about Makerspace and if it is too late to join. Our numbers are growing.

What is Makerspace?

This is a group of makers, inventors, tinkers and innovators who enjoy experimenting with how the world works. We will design, create, build, rebuild, experiment, and share digitally about the process of creating unique inventions. We will be experimenting with cutting edge technology such as the Makey Makey Arduino board, Raspberry Pi, the Drawdio (piano) circuit and many conductive materials We will learn to code with iPad apps such as Hopscotch and Kodable and also learn MIT’s Scratch. Come invent with us!

Maker Mindset

We started the year off with a global cardboard challenge inspired by Imagination Foundation and Caine’s Arcade. It is important that  the learners understand that being a maker goes beyond electronics and blinky lights. It is a mindset. Gary Stager (@garystager) and Sylvia LibowMartinez (@smartinez) wrote Invent to Learn, an incredible book about the maker movement and design thinking. The design cycle is how the makers approach their projects and designs.


This cycle was apparent when the makers began their cardboard challenge. They designed, built, played, redesigned, played and rebuilt. There were even makers that brought tape and cardboard to our Arcade Night to redesign their games in between people playing them. Parents, friends and administrators came to their Arcade Night and played their games. The makers were quite proud of their inventions.

We have recently started MaKey MaKey projects. Makers are experimenting with conductive materials, peripherals, and Scratch coding language. I have 10 MaKey MaKey boards, alligator clips, play-doh, tin foil, pencils, paperclips, conductive tape, conductive paint, wire, and folders. The makers have these things to use in any way they need. I also find the materials they need that I may not have.


So far, the makers have conceived:

Simon - pitch matching game.

Simon – pitch matching game.

Simon pitch matching game – When you step on the pedal (folder and tin foil) Scratch plays the melody the makers coded. There are other color coded buttons that play single pitches that the player must play in the correct order.


Minecraft Controller

Minecraft Controller

This maker wants to customize his interface with Minecraft. He thought about his most used commands and is designing a temporary build to test his invention with the plans to create a more permanent controller in shop class.

Piano Stairs

Piano Stairs

There have been many iterations of piano stairs. These makers approached the principal about installing a piano staircase going down to their gym. They began their experimentation last week. They worked a bit with the makers of the Simon game to design the stair interface. They needed more than one pedal, so they cut up a folder to make a thin strips for each pedal.

Piano Stairs

Piano Stairs

Makers come up with interesting ways to use alligator clips to wire the MaKey MaKeys. These run to each stair to trigger a note on their piano.

Piano Stairs

Piano Stairs

Off to the stairs to start wiring. These makers went around to other groups to commandeer as many alligator clips as they could. Since then, they have decided to make their own leads with spools of wire. Hannah is logging into her Scratch account on my laptop to launch her piano stairs code.

Piano Stairs

Piano Stairs

By the time they began wiring the stairs, Makerspace was over. All of the others had gone home. These two young ladies asked if I would stay and called home to extend their time with the design cycle. We will continue the process next Friday.

I leave you with a performance of the UofM fight song. The interface is a play-doh piano designed, coded and performed by a fifth grade maker.





Voice and Choice in Music Education

Image from www.freegreatpictures.com

Image from www.freegreatpictures.com

Technology integration is most effective when it provides a transparent scaffold within a musical learning experience. The technology provides a differentiated experience from learner to learner, where music learners can have their voice and choice in deciding which technology best suits their needs and how they choose to use technology to support their musicianship. However, it is important not to concentrate too much on the technology itself. The music must remain the focus of the learners’ experience, with the technology becoming a vehicle for learners’ musicianship. Technology simply provides musicians multiple pathways to express, problem solve and show understanding of learning goals, thus fostering divergent thinking.

I have experienced a shift in the culture of my classroom. I find that learner/musicians engage deeply in experiences that connect to the music that is the soundtrack of their lives. It is relevant, current, and forward-thinking; they see themselves as innovators and creators of new music. It is a new mindset, and technology is at the forefront of this seismic shift.

Digital musicians must find a distinctive musical “voice.” They may build on what has gone before, so they may sidestep existing work. Either way, they become a new kind of musician: one who originates and performs, who creates and produces, and who harnesses the potential of technology in new and exciting ways. (Hugill, 2012)

When music learners are given these choices, they begin to take more ownership of their learning and construct their own understanding within an inquiry-based learning environment. Creating opportunities for musicians to show their understanding of musical concepts in their own way nurtures an environment where they feel valued and honored. This model also fosters divergence in the ways different musicians interpret and create music. While some may choose technology, some may prefer creating music with acoustic instruments, and still others may opt for a cappella. The important idea is that all are acceptable. We, as educators, just need to ensure that all are available. Making music on acoustic instruments has been accepted as a way of being a musician for a long time; it is making music through technology that we must now also consider valid.

While it is tempting to just dabble with technology in the musical classroom, it cannot be simply an extra “add-on.” Learning to use technology as a musician should be one of the core processes in the classroom. Technology should be ubiquitous, transparent, and ever-changing; it must constantly evolve along with learning. Educators should not simply plan “Technology Tuesdays” or tell students, “When you are finished with your work, you may play a game on the iPad.” Because learners are not inherently born with an understanding of how to use technology, they need to engage in experiences that foster their understanding of its appropriate uses. If the only way learners use technology in a classroom is to play games after they are finished with a lesson, they will come away believing that is all music technology can be. Instead, technology must support music learners’ engagement in new musical experiences in new ways.

Twitter Scavenger Hunt…kind of…

I had the pleasure of sharing the power of Twitter with my colleagues today at our afternoon PD. This is the second time I have hosted a social media focused PD this month and there were some teachers that have attended both. The first was a district wide TweetUp during an #EdChat. The teachers who attended the TweetUp all had different prior experiences with Twitter and their reflections were mostly positive with some being overwhelmed with all of the RTs, MTs, IMOs, #s, @, and all of the other Twitter language that some they may have found unfamiliar.

Photo by @EvePierreSings

Photo by @EvePierreSings

My administrator forwarded an email from a colleague that had attended the TweetUp asking if I can make Twitter 101 more fun than explaining the jargon. That got me thinking about peer scaffolding and learning by experiencing. I decided to create an interactive Twitter scavenger hunt unlocking each clue with a QR code reader. It is not a traditional scavenger hunt in the way that you have to find the first clue which then sends you to the second and on to the third. There are eight individual Twitter challenges that may be completed in any order. Each challenge offers an experience with some facet of Twitter. All of our tweets were tagged with #WHpln so we could keep them together and project our hashtag feed with www.twubs.com

Clue 1:

Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 5.37.23 PM











When the QR code is scanned, the linked file (in my public DropBox folder) is revealed. I will only show the unlocked files below, but there were unique QR codes and posters created for each clue.


Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 5.44.59 PM


This tweet is focused on introducing yourself to your growing PLN, while adding a personal touch to your Twitter brand.

“Please tell us something that you think we may not know about you.”

Mine is that I can hum and whistle at the same time. Some of my colleagues tweeted this:

Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 6.02.57 PM

Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 6.16.33 PM











Clue 2:

Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 6.25.54 PMThis tweet is focused on sharing a picture. The challenge is to find your favorite spot in the school to go to alone or take your class and tweet a picture. I included these directions:

When creating the tweet click the camera to take a picture through Twitter or click the landscape in the bottom right-corner of the message to display the option to post a picture you have previously taken.

Teachers shared pictures from their classrooms, playground, other teacher’s offices, the lounge refrigerator, and the stage.




Clue 3:

Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 6.32.32 PMTweet three’s challenge is to shorten URLs.

A complete tweet is only 140 characters. This tweet should contain a shortened web link of a digital resource or article you enjoy and an explanation of why you find this resource appealing. Some web links to can be quite long, using a FREE online service “bit-ly”, you can shorten your web link to only 20 characters.  https://bitly.com






Clue 4:

Tweet 4This tweet’s challenge is to tag an existing Tweeter and recommend them to their growing PLN.

Being a part of a Personal Learning Network (PLN) is about sharing ideas and resources, collaboration, and learning from and with one another. We all share our learning, ideas and expertise in different ways; using different media and tools, but the principle is the same: your PLN is some of the best professional development you will ever participate in – and it is differentiated and works around your schedule.

Please recommend a colleague to follow be composing a tweet mentioning their twitter name (example above: @2GuysShow) and why you think they would be a great addition to your #PLN.


For all things Augmented Reality, Game Changing Apps in Education, and all around swell guys, follow @2GuysShow #WHpln

For Tech Ninja Skills and Flipped Classroom resources, follow @TechNinjaTodd, recent White House Champion of  Change #WHpln

For inspiration on everything education and classroom designer extraordinaire follow @KleinErin #WHpln

Clue 5:

Tweet 5Tweet five was created to provide an opportunity to show understanding of how to compose tweets within constraints. Tweet a photo and quote from someone other than yourself revealing school spirit. This tweet is open for interpretation. How you show school spirit will differ.

140 characters is a small number to create complete and meaningful thoughts. I sometimes find myself debating “what is the least number of grammatical errors  need to commit to keep my thought within the constraints?” Be creative.

Teachers shared pictures of cheer poses in front of our school signs and there was even a clever teacher who posed so that it looked like he was holding a huge school sign over his head.




Clue 6:

Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 6.59.58 PMWe are in book clubs. Tweet six was created to search and connect to the author of our books (if they are on twitter, which most were). We tweeted favorite quotes from the first few chapters of our books and tagged the authors. This may provide opportunities for us to ask the author questions we are discussing in our book talks.








Clue 7:

Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 7.06.04 PMThis is your time to share peoples thinking and writing, articles and blogs that you have enjoyed while giving credit to the tweeter that shared with you. Build your PLN by finding like-minded educators to add to who you follow!  Directions are:

When you see a message that you’d like to retweet, click the message then search for the ReTweet or RT icon usually found under the tweet’s text.
Click on the RT icon and you should discover a pop-up window. Click the RT button to share the exact tweet or click Quote Tweet to add your own words or a hashtag. The message will automatically be visible as your own post but acknowledging the source of the tweet.Please find 2 tweets to RT: one from our #WHpln feed and one from the Twittershere you find worthy of sharing with your #PLN. Please remember to include our #WHpln to your RT. 



Clue 8:

Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 7.10.39 PMTime to test all of your newly found Twitter skills. Our TweetUp a few weeks ago may have overwhelmed some Twitter newbies. Hopefully, these new experiences will provide added confidence for our next #EdChat.

For this Twitter challenge, I have directed teachers to Jerry Blumengarten’s (@cyberaryman1) Twitter chat page for the them to see who is talking about what and when.

They were asked to compose a tweet listing a chat they may be interested in participating in and why this particular chat sounds appealing.





I have written about the power of Twitter and building your PLN before. I am excited that my administrators and colleagues are interested in the possibilities Twitter provides for professional learning. I have been asked to continue the TweetUps that started this month and provide this Twitter Scavenger Hunt PD for other schools in my district. I shared a few of these ideas on Twitter while in the design process and had friends in my PLN that were quite interested in how it would come together. If you find that this may work in your building and district, please borrow and share your stories.

Twitter Has Changed The Way I Think and Learn

Why limit your thoughts to 140 characters? Who is out there tweeting? I don’t have time to tweet. How is this going to benefit the learners in my classroom? These were questions I had a little over a year ago when I learned about the potential of Twitter. Since then I have answered all of these questions myself and it has changed the way I learn and think.


Why limit your thoughts to 140 characters?

I can be longwinded. There are a lot of thoughts swimming around in my head and I like to share. Having the constraints of a micro-blogging platform encourages me to get to the essence of what I really mean and want to say. Being concise focuses my thoughts and helps me notice emerging themes in the process. The longer I engage in Twitter chats, read the feeds and think through the ways I word my tweets, I change the way I think. I make claims in the body of my tweets and often support them with links to articles and blog posts as evidence.

Who is out there tweeting?

I have met the most amazing educators on Twitter, and have had the honor of meeting some of my heroes face-to-face. I have a long list of educators and thought leaders who inspire me. So many educators like Todd Nesloney (@techninjatodd), an amazing resource for flipped classroom, Nicholas Provenzano ‏ (@thenerdyteacher), EdTech guru, Erin Klein (@KleinErin), project based learning expert and Scholastic Top Teacher, Don Wettrick (@DonWettrick), innovation pioneer, are doing amazing things and sharing their stories on Twitter.

I don’t have time to tweet.

Sean Junkins (@sjunkins), digital integration specialist and Twitter’s sense of humor, said it best with an image.


How is this going to benefit the learners in my classroom?

My Personal Learning Network (PLN) inspires me to be the best facilitator and designer everyday. When I have questions, my PLN supports me navigating my way with articles, blog posts, conversations, and connections. This trust and support empowers me to try new approaches in designing learning experiences. I have become a connected educator for my own professional growth, which has positively effected the learners’ experiences. The connections I have made on Twitter have lead to collaborative projects such as Rock Our WorldWords to Music, and Music 2 Save Music that directly benefit the learners experience in my classroom. I continue to grow my PLN and have begun to grow the learners network as well through our class Twitter account (@MrM_MusicRoom).

Bloomfield Hills Schools TweetUp

I would like to share the power of Twitter and the way it has changed my thinking and learning with my colleagues. I am hosting the first Bloomfield Hills School District TweetUp where I will be demonstrating TweetDeck while we engage in an #EdChat on November 19, 2013 at the Booth Center.

Screen Shot 2013-11-13 at 10.29.54 PM


TweetDeck is social media dashboard application for Twitter. The interface consists of a series of customisable columns, which can be set up to display your Twitter timeline, mentions, direct messages, lists, trends, favorites, search results, hashtags or all tweets by or to a single user. This has helped me keep control of the sometimes overwhelming amount of tweets in a stream.

I am inspired to create a Bloomfield Hills Personal Learning Network (#BloomfieldPLN). The TweetUp is an invitation to teachers, administrators, board members, parents, and community members to engage in a night of professional learning and participate in an #EdChat. I will demonstrate TweetDeck and project the chat using separate columns for the #EdChat hashtag, mentions, and moderators timelines. If you are comfortable with Twitter and would like to engage in the chat, great! If you have a Twitter account, but would just like to lurk, great! If you don’t have a Twitter account and would like to see what the hype is all about, awesome!




Rodney Hetherton (@RodneyHetherton), Michele Corbat (@MicheleCorbat), Michael Medvinsky (@mwmedvinsky)

Rodney Hetherton (@RodneyHetherton), Michele Corbat (@MicheleCorbat), Michael Medvinsky (@mwmedvinsky)


I met some of my eduheros at EdCampOU this year. The creators and moderators of the Culture of Learning Chat. This is one of my favorite Twitter chats that happens Monday nights at 9pm EST. The Culture of Learning Chat (#CoLChat) began in Swartz Creek School with Michele Corbat (@MicheleCorbat), Rodney Hetherton (@RodneyHetherton) and Adam Hartley (@adamhartley2013) and has grown to inspire many educators across the United States.


I am inspired by the #CoLChat and would like to create a Twitter chat based on Bloomfield Hills 10 Guiding Principals. I have written about the here.  I will propose the idea at the BHS TweetUp and begin the planning stages. I am excited for the potential this could have. Please visit the website I am building for #10GPChat. It is a work in progress.

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.

Screen Shot 2013-10-09 at 8.39.54 PM

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.