Maker Movement: Step 1

There are many things that excite me about going back to school. This year, I am starting a new chapter in my career at a new school district. New possibilities, colleagues, students, classes, grade levels are just a few of the experiences I am looking forward to. I am also looking forward of introducing the Rock Our World (ROW) project to the administration, staff, and students this year. ROW has been connecting students and teachers to collaborate in composing original music, making movies, and meeting each other in live video chats since 2004. Using Apple’s GarageBand, each country (classroom) creates a 30 second drum beat.  Every Friday, that drum rotates to another country (classroom), where the bass guitar is added.  It keeps getting passed along, from classroom to classroom.  At each stop, one more instrument is added.  When it comes back to its original composer, it has touched students from all over the world. Students at Governors Bay School in New Zealand proposed this season’s topic!  For Season 19, will be creating artwork to decorate the halls of hospitals, senior centers and other facilities that need cheering up.


From left to right: Delaney Martin, Michael Medvinsky, Taylor Lee Shepherd

I am in my third season of Rock Our World an am very excited after the meeting I had today with Artists and Inventors Delaney Martin and Taylor Lee Shephard. The passion that was supporting these Artists vision was addictive. We talked for over an hour and a half, which flew by. Both Taylor and Delany conceptualized and constructed the Dithyrambalina project. The Music Box was Phase I in the Dithyrambalina project. This unique community artwork was built by 25 artists. Once open it was enjoyed, experienced and played by 15,000 visitors, held workshops for 500 students, and hosted 80 world-class musicians for orchestral performances that had audiences lining up around the block. The video below is some footage from the project.

Season 19 of Rock Our World’s Essential Question is “How do we use art to foster a positive environment?” The challenge is to create and install art on your local hospital, retirement community, or any community program to brighten up the environment.

My plan is to fuse these two projects to help create a Maker culture in my classroom. Rock Our World offers opportunities for learners to become members of a global classroom. Delany, Taylor and Dithyrambalina bring the vision of using conventional objects in nonconventional ways. Opening a mindset of possibilities will support student musicians to conceptualize, invent, create, fail, reevaluate, construct, and have an affect on their community.

The plan is to create a structure that people in the community can interact with in a musical way. The conceptualization, invention, construction and implementation will be completely up to the students. We will work with the artists and students in other schools, states and countries through video conferencing throughout.

The possibilities are endless. Create, invent, tinker.

Please read more about Taylor Lee Shepherd’s work here and Delaney Martin’s work here

The Intersection of Creativity and Technology

photo-2I look forward to summer. Not only to spend quality time with my family and friends, I look forward to teaching inservice teachers about the music classroom experience. This summer I taught two classes at Oakland University in Michigan. The first class was called Teaching for Musical Understanding using Technology. This is an introductory class on how to support musicians in the music classroom with various web 2.0 tools and iDevices. The class that I am teaching now is specific to GarageBand and its place in K-12 education, specifically the music classroom. I frame this course at the intersection of creativity and technology. In this post I will be focusing on the GarageBand iPad app.

GarageBand is quite an incredible app, both for the Mac and iDevice. There are many points of entry for musicians at various levels of experience. We discussed GarageBand for iPad as an instrument, recording device and composition tool. We created original pieces and arranged other people’s music as we discussed the ways this technology could support the musician as they engage in authentic processes.

iPad as instrument

There are two approached to playing the iPad as instrument with multiple levels of difficulty. Instruments and “Smart” Instruments. Starting with Instruments. There are drums, keyboards, guitar, bass, strings, a sampler, an audio recorder, a guitar amp where you can plug in your guitar and play through classic amps and stomp boxes that can all be played at various levels of instruments and “smart” instruments. The teachers discussed ways to integrate this technology into their music classrooms. One idea that we explored in both instrument and “smart” instrument was the idea of scales:GB autoplay

What is a scale? Why do some notes fit into a chord progression better than others? How are these notes organized? I created a simple chord progression (C-Am-F-G) using an iPad’s smart guitar and the autoplay knob, which allows you to select a variety of built-in comping patterns.

The teachers used an iPad melodic instrument set to notes to improvise during the chord progression. This required the musicians to use their understanding of whole and half steps while staying in the chord structure. Some teachers chose instruments that they were not familiar with like the guitar fretboard of violin neck. The struggles began. The fretboard is laid out chromatically and in 4ths.IMG_5678

It was difficult for non-gutarists to gain an understanding of the fretboard and the intervals from string to string. I then asked for them to figure out the melody to Heart and Soul (which is supported with the chords I originally recorded). There were a few musicians that were able to problem-solve parts of the melody, and others struggled to understand the fret board.IMG_5677

We then set the scale to major. This limits the notes to the diatonic pitches of the key (in this case C major). When the obstacles are moved and the musicians are able to engage with the sound, all were able to easily perform the melody on the iPads with the accompaniment. This created a doorway in to engaging with the sound first and how those pitches work together. The sound is what makes the scales meaningful. Many student musicians are blocked by the constraints of the # and b to consider the sound that connects to the accidentals.

Below are reflections of the music teachers who were in my MUS609 iPad/GarageBand in General Music at Oakland University in the Summer of 2013.

Kathy Haydon:

Hoping that this was not going to be like the labor intensive Finale workshop that I had attended years ago, I enrolled in Oakland University’s Garage Band class. I knew that I needed more time to fully understand GB and all of the uses it offers a student-centered creative class room. I had hoped to be able to learn how to use this specific application better. I had thought that GB was much more like Finale, which has steps to be done in certain order that can not be changed later. However, I now know that GB can be accessed across the spectrum of educational settings and age groups. GB has many entry points, much more than most applications. Since students are very curious and creative, they need a tool that will not stand between the learner and their understanding of a concept. GB is user friendly. The iPad version even automatically saves the song as the window is shut. I now know, with over 20 years of using computer based tools, if you only have room for one tool … THIS is ONE tool to have.

Robin Barker:

As I think about all of the classes I am taking this summer, this class has been most beneficial.  It has been more beneficial to me because I can implement these techniques right away in the classroom.  I had never heard of a garage band app but upon using it in class have found it to be very useful especially in composing music.  Since I am having my students compose more in my classes the garage band app would certainly take us to another level in this process. The instructor was excellent, the assignments were relevant, and the class was exciting. The instructor was also very accessible and willing to help with assignments and questions both before and after class.  I would definitely  recommend this class to other music educators.

David Permut:

In reflecting back on the iPad and garage band class that I am about to complete, I view the class more about learning ways to teach creativity in music.  The technology is a very helpful tool (one that many of our students are currently more literate than us) in figuring out ways to teach creativity.

Before this class, I had previous experience in using garage band in both the mac computer and the iPad.  I had used the mac version in a previous technology class, but had not used it with my students.  I had used the iPad version to arrange a song with my students (BTW I teach elementary music k-5).  Some of my struggles in figuring out how to move forward and do more with these programs were trying to figure out how to implement the lessons when I do not have the resources for every student.  I think the best way to deal with that would be to think of the iPad as an instrument and be able to have students take turns playing it, just like we do when we are playing non-electronic instruments in class.  Other ways I could work around that limitation would be to have centered-based activities where working on the iPad would be one of the centers.   Partner or group projects would be another way this can be done.

I feel my strength as a teacher this past year was teaching students skills and aspects of music (finding their singing voice, matching pitch, learning to read rhythms, etc.).  I have been very choral based in my approach.  I have seen improvements in many students and I can tell that most of my students are enjoying singing and making music this way.  That being said, there is a percentage of my students that I have not been able to reach this way and I can tell are not enjoying music class.  This coming year, I would like to tweak my approach to a more balanced way of teaching focusing on teaching more creativity through composing and arranging (using the technology that we have been discussing in class).  I do not want to throw out what I have been teaching (I still think those aspects are important to learn to be a well-rounded musician), but I think teaching the creativity will make those aspects more intrinsic for the students to know.  My hope and plan is that by teaching the creative side of music, I will not be taking time away from teaching the more traditional aspects of music, but instead I will be able to implement them in a more meaningful way for the students.

Reading what I just wrote, I noticed that I mentioned technology very little.  I think that was one of the purposes of this class.  I view it not as a technology class, but a class that taught me to think about how I can teach creativity so my students will be the ones pushing for their own education.  I also realize that in order to improve my teaching, I need to be willing to step outside of my own comfort zone in the activities that I implement in my class.  If I do not, I will continue to reach my students that will probably be successful with or without me, but leave behind the students that need a different approach to learn.

Fred Marriott:

Upon reflection of the last 4 days of this class, I have learned how a constructivist  classroom introduces GarageBand for music to use in many creative ways. Musical problems should not be all about the software and the how-to use the software. As one example, we had to show level of understanding using GarageBand to create a Podcast.  It was important to note that we did not get a lesson on GarageBand.  That was on a need to know basis.  When you give us a problem we find out what we need to know in-order to create the podcast. I appreciate that the teacher Mr. M. gave the class a model of what we needed to do. We learned not only how to create a podcast, but we learned about the useful ways to introduce music to your class that nurtures creativity. iPad is a wonderful tool to allow students to experience music in many ways.  When you want to move your finger up that something cool can happen and they are able to make it sound musical and original.  I believe it is a great to grow in making musical choices that previously would not be available to an inexperienced musician. They can create with minimal help.  Georgio Moroder, pointed out that when you are able to free your mind about musical elements such as harmony or having to worry about music being correct, you can do whatever you want. Nobody told him what to do with no preconceptions of what to do. After I heard that I said, we as teachers need to leave the preconceptions out and allow the student to just decide what to do. Isn’t that what people are always telling the kids what to do?   The music environment is the one place that they do not need to be told what to do, but to allow them the freedom to make their choices. I also wanted to say that iPad is a useful  instrument that allows the student to by-pass the difficult aspects of creating music and take a leap in growing creatively.  Prior to taking these last two classes I had no idea the learning potential that is available. I have benefited much.  Thank-You, it was helpful to me.

Here is a word cloud created from our post:


Medvinsky’s First AppStravaganza

Last night was such an incredible night of collaborative learning.

First Medvinsky AppStravaganza

First Medvinsky AppStravaganza

Eight teachers from 6 Oakland County School Districts sat in my living room and prepared for this upcoming school year. The dialogue was especially rich because there were so many disciplines represented. Classroom teachers, ELL teachers, Music and Art teachers from all levels were talking student experiences. These multiple perspectives provided some “ah-ha” moments as well as a common bond.


Since the Art teaches were the first to arrive, We began with exploring the Augmented Reality coloring app called colAR which I wrote about in an earlier post here.

We had a great time coloring and augmenting. The most meaningful take away for me was the conversation about a new way of approaching and interacting with art. It was interesting to hear the art teachers discuss the implications that adding another layer onto existing art would change the way artist could approach the artistic process. The way colAR uses the artists texture and strokes on the overlay. They continued to plan and wondered if there was going to be a way to augment an original piece. For now, they are limited to colAR’s coloring sheets.


This augmented reality app sparked interest in other ways to augment in the classroom. The next app we explored was Aurasma. There are many teachers doing amazing things with this app including @TechBradWaid and @TechMinock at and I just read a great post from @KleinErin’s blog about her idea of augmenting the Bella & Harry books with short supplemental social studies videos from the cover of the books. Brilliant. Read more here.

The AppStravaganza conversation continued with all of the wonderful ideas we had about supporting the learners’ experiences with augmenting book covers, original pieces of art, translating school papers into another language and how this could be used in the music classroom. I have an app idea that would incorporate DAQRI cubes and Aurasma into a music composition experience. More on that later.

The interest of the group flowed to digital portfolios. There were a few teachers using Evernote, Three Ring and Artsonia already, so they shared their experiences.


I plan on using Three Ring in my music room to create a searchable portfolio for each musician. The tagging option allows you to curate by learning goal and by uploading recordings of musicians creating and performing music, this will allow me to show individual student growth over time as they engage in the authentic processes of musicianship. The student tab can also be made available to parents to share in their children’s’ music and growth. I have already been contacted by Three Ring to provide feedback on how I am going to keep track of 800+ students. Looking forward to the challenge.

The end of the evening concluded with how I use Socrative to formatively assess learners understanding.


The feedback was tremendous. Here are comments from one a few teachers.

I’m going to mindfully venture more into utilizing technology more collaboratively in my room with my students. I’m really interested in the portfolio use…

I’m coming away from Mike’s first Appstravaganza with an incredible enthusiasm for integrating technology into my teaching!  It’s all do-able…it’s just a matter of trying to fit it in and manage it. I’m thinking being able to capture the kids thinking, videoing them explaining their thinking would be both realistic and useful.

I loved learning about the Aurasma App and its potential uses for creating video artist statements embedded within student artwork.

Trying one thing at a time. Baby steps.

The was full of collaborative learning and sharing. Most were working and taking notes on their iDevices, but there was one teacher who was working on paper with a pen. How interesting it was that we all support out own thinking on different ways. Here is the result of the low-tech take away.


As we were wrapping the evening up, it was incredible that some of our building principals were following the #AppStravagamza hashtag and learning along with the building teachers.

Screen Shot 2013-07-27 at 3.47.25 PM

As we stood around my dining room table eating a potluck of amazing food and laughing about all things school related, everyone wished that they had had a colleague with them, others enjoyed the idea of the casual style learning, others thought their thinking was pushed because of the multi-discplinary attendance, and others just liked drinking wine with friends. Overall, the decision was made that Medvinsky’s AppStraviganza will become a monthly gathering of innovative teachers thinking and sharing together. Cant wait for next month.

Augmenting the Classroom

There has been a #ARevolution happening lately. Augmented Reality is not a new technology, but has recently made a strong appearance in education. My students have used Aurasma to augment their art and music compositions with videos explaining their thinking and process. (See Here) Educators like Brad Waid (@techbradwaid) and Drew Minock (@techminock), are a couple of teachers from Eastover Elementary in Bloomfield Hills, MI who are on a mission to change the way we learn, teach, and lead by using technology. They are the go-to people for everything Augmented. I have also learned a lot from Charles Cooper (@Trasymachus) and his session on AR. This post was inspired by my children’s reaction to an Augmented Reality Art app called colAR. This app has free downloadable coring pages that can be downloaded from their website.

My son coloring a colAR sheet

My son coloring a colAR sheet


When thinking about technology integration, I have often said, “If you are doing old things in new ways, you are still doing old things”. Well, Ari is coloring, which is an old thing, but it is the ways colAR allows him to interact with his art is a new thing. The app recognizes the outlines of the different coloring sheets and augments them with moving images which take on the colors and strokes of the art on the page. It is quite incredible. A finished drawing looks like this:

photo 1


What I have been most interested in is the heightened engagement when using Augmented Reality. My children love to color. My seven year old daughter aspires to be an artist when she grows up. The reaction of my children from a coloring sheet makes me want to consider other ways of incorporating this technology into my classroom experiences.




The Magic Is Lost When It’s Bought And Sold

It is midnight on Friday and I am on couch tour in Auburn Hills, Michigan as Phish plays their third set at the FirstMerit Bank Pavillion at Northerly Island in Chicago Illinois. I have seen Phish live (in concert, not on a webcast) close to thirty times because I am so fascinated with their improvisatory skills on stage. They are able to segue into and out of any song, key, time signature, mode and melody. As I listen to this concert with lesson designing ears, thinking how I can best use any of their music in the classroom, I am also reflecting upon a post I read today from Matt Gomez (@mattBgomez) titled I Teach Kindergarten and I Don’t Like Teachers Pay Teachers. In this post he is concerned that Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT) is creating a “laminating culture” where units of study are used with one set of learners, and are continually being reused with a different group of learners regardless of their learning styles or interests.

I agree with Matt.

I have had many teachers tell me to sell my music lesson plans on TPT. I have not. Here is the thing, units are simply words on a page. It is a reciprocal relationship between the learner, content, classroom community, and their relationship with the teacher that make those words come alive. There are in the moment changes that effective teachers make to facilitate a closer approximation of understanding happen for individual learners. Questions that are crafted after listening closely to learners’ word choices which may take a lesson in a different direction. Teachers need to be completely comfortable with their content area and the way people learn. Confidant enough to jump into a wormhole with their class because the leaners’ interests have taken a turn and know that they will come out the other end closer to the learning goal. This cannot be written in plans. These things cannot be bought and sold.

The musicians that comprise Phish understand sound and silence completely.  They are able to freely and creatively organize these elements through their individual instruments to communicate their emotions to a group of listeners at their concerts. Their audience follows them from venue to venue to be a part of this collective experience which changes every concert. The venue changes, the atmosphere changes, the audience changes, the vibe changes. This is what being a rockstar is all about.

I have seen the #EduRockStars hashtag on Twitter used to tag educators who are doing amazing things and sharing them with other teachers.

Sometimes sharing units or lesson plans, but mostly sharing big ideas. Changing other educator’s perspectives of the learning experience.

Teachers have to understand the process of learning completely. They have to be able to freely and creatively organize learning environments, through their content area(s), for the individual learners who come to their classroom. The learners come to school to be a part of this collective experience that changes every day.  The experience changes, the atmosphere changes, the learners change (from year to year or class to class), the vibe changes. This is what being a edurockstar is all about.

I also want to share Matt’s disclaimer: First off I do not like black and white statements so please don’t take this post as a claim that I have issues with everything on the site. Also, if you sell products there or buy from the site this is not attack on you personally, I am simply asking you to think and consider my points. 

Please consider using anyone else’s lesson plans as starting points and think about what truly matters.

The individual experiences of the learners in your classroom.

Be prepared to be flexible

When Dunn and Dunn wrote about learning styles in the 1980s they could not have anticipated the way today’s learners would be wielding digital devices.  Musicians have an entire band in their pockets that play in tune and with a precise sense of ensemble. It is easier than ever for amateur artists to realize the music in their inner ear and create an original piece of music that can be shared as an mp3. The musicians at Oakwood Elementary are songwriters, many of who started in Kindergarten.

Stack of song lyrics found on my desk on Monday morning

The picture above is what my desk looked like when I came to school on Monday morning.  All of these songs were written by musicians in their homerooms and wanted to share these songs with me. The previous week’s class period went a little like this…

I had a lesson planned where we were going to show our understanding of the importance of  keeping a steady beat with a group while performing by creating rhythmic accompaniments to acoustic covers of pop songs I found on YouTube. The second grade class came in with a stack of songs that they were quite excited to share with me and the rest of the class. There were a few musicians who asked to perform an a cappella version of their songs for the class, which the class really liked. There was such enthusiasm in the room that I would have been remiss to do anything but follow where the students led. So our plans changed. The class formed bands and began plans for creating the music. They all gathered into groups in the corners of the room as the singers vocalized their melodies to the other band members. There were musicians who asked to use iPads exclusively and others who asked to use acoustic instruments along with electronic.

Preparing a classroom experience for learners who come to be creative and expressive is a challenging task. We need to reflect closely on our prior teaching practices, outcomes of formative assessments, classroom dialogue, and student questions while never loosing sight of the goals and overarching ideas of our content areas. What makes us outstanding and highly effective is being able to see an opportunity to connect to our students’ passions and as an educator, we must understand our content area so well that we can go into this wormhole having the confidence that the other side will definitely bring us closer to the goals that we have set.

Got some more songs!


Punished by Rewards? A Conversation with Alfie Kohn

The principal from my Intermediate School shared an article with her Monday bulletin as a suggested reading for the staff. I have been thinking about the problems that have risen from time to time in my classroom when learners that come from an extrinsically motivated classroom to my room in which there is not behavior manipulation. Punished by Rewards.pdf I totally agree with Alfie about intrinsic motivation and have thought for a while that there is a direct relationship between the level of learner engagement and classroom management. I particularly enjoyed…

“However, [giving rewards] doesn’t give us license to treat kids like pets when the task is uninteresting. Instead, we need to examine the task itself, the content of the curriculum, to see how it can be made more engaging.” Pg. 2

Learners who don’t find their experiences in the classroom life worthy do one of two things. Some will passively and politely comply with classroom rules, while others (like me) will rebel and challenge. Are the experiences we are providing life worthy? I often ask myself while designing music experiences, why is this important? Are the learners engaging in authentic processes of a musician in ways that are problem solving experiences? Is the assessment designed to honor multiple ways of showing understanding?

“Skillful teaching involves facilitating the process by which kids come to grapple with complex ideas—and those ideas, as John Dewey has told us, have to emerge organically from the real-life interests and concerns of the kids.” Pg. 3
Can’t pass up a good quote from Dewey. The passage right after this quote explains it well. It’s not the drill and kill skill set that learners are fired up about, it’s how they can apply those skills contextually into their personal interests. Life worthy.
Alfie talks about content, community and choice being factors for successful learner experiences. This resonates with me and brings Ron Ritchhart’s 8 cultural forces to mind. Expectations, opportunities, time, modeling, language, environment, interactions, and routines. These forces are always present in our classrooms, it’s how we marshal these forces that make a learner’s experience meaningful. Life worthy.
Probably my favorite passage…

“Has the child been given something to do worth learning?” If you ask me what to do about a kid being “off task”—one of our favorite buzzwords—my first response is going to be, “What’s the task?” If you’re giving them garbage to do, yes, you may have to bribe them to do it.” Pg. 6


At the Project Zero Conference in Clarkston, I heard a presenter make the analogy of about being at a conference to being on vacation at the beach. There is so much to take in, sights, sounds, feelings and thoughts. She spoke about not being able to take the entire beach and ocean home with you, rather you find a piece to take home with you. This memento is something special that you connect with to remind you of your experience. A piece of driftwood. Yesterday I experienced another thought provoking day at the Clarkston Administration Building at a Cultures of Thinking conference. I took a few pieces of driftwood with me.
The first is Carol Dweck’s idea of a Growth Mindset. In a growth mindset, people believe that abilities are developed through lived experiences. When developing this disposition, learners realize that having new experiences pushes their thinking and creates deeper understandings. Connecting this to George Lakoff’s writings on Metaphor Theory, supports my thinking that people who possess a growth mindset, reevaluate their understandings through each experience looking for deeper understandings. How can we successfully foster a community in our classrooms which honor a a growth Mindset?
My second piece of driftwood is a quote from Ron Ritchhart’s new book Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform our Schools (2012).
“What will I actually ask students to do with the skills and knowledge that are acquiring that will develop their understanding and push it forward?” (pg. 13)
Thinking about the 8 Cultural Forces in my classroom, brings my focus to opportunities. I reflect upon my lesson planning with a question such as, what problem solving opportunities am I designing for the learners in my classroom to engage in thinking through authentic processes as musicians?
Providing such opportunities allows learners who are at different places on a continuum, multiple entry points and divergent ways of showing understanding. When we look at individual growth, it is through this type of experience that we can assess individual growth.
I will post examples of student work and how these Cultural Forces are marshaled in my music classroom.

Think, Pair, Share

Today was a great day to be in Mrs. Moore’s third grade class at Oakwood Elementary. We focused on some the big idea of “What is music?” We gathered out thoughts using the Think Pair Share thinking routine. The Think Pair Share routine promotes understanding through active reasoning and explanation. Because learners are listening to and sharing ideas, Think Pair Share encourages students to understand multiple perspectives. The dialogue was amazing. Here is some of the thinking shared in class today:

Music is…

  • a way of expressing your feelings
  • the beat and rhythm that makes you dance
  • playing an instrument
  • creating pieces and songs
  • a wonderful tune that everyone listens to
  • makes people dance
  • something you make
  • a way to become your dreams
  • a way to get a message out to people
  • a way to be yourself
  • show yourself to the world

This is a pretty sophisticated list of ideas. As we analyzed our thinking, we  noticed themes that had emerged. Music is something you create to express yourself, music evokes feelings that make you want to dance, and that music has beat and rhythm. There were missing pieces in our prior experiences and I needed to find ways of exploring these missing dimensions. I also needed to begin from somewhere the learners were quite comfortable with. We started discussion about playing instruments and if there were ways of creating music without using instruments. I played a piece called “Spondee” by a group called Matmos.

Click below to play the track

Spondee by: Matmos

There is a distinct point in this song when sound becomes music. The “random” sounds become more organized as a steady beat is introduced. I had some  non-musical items in my room that I brought out for us to use. A cardboard box, a plastic Tupperware container, a jumprope, big pieces of Styrofoam, a plastic milk crate, and a music stand. I invited a few musicians to create a piece of music using non-instruments, those musicians then chose friends to take their places and so on until everyone had created music in a group. In every case, one person started playing a repeating rhythm and before long, the group of 5 musicians were performing music without “instruments”.


There was one group that had difficulties maintaining simultaneity. The rest of the learners were able to audibly diagnose and reason with evidence to offer their solutions. The musicians creating listened to their friends thinking and were able to successfully continue with new understanding of steady beat.

I will begin from the anchor chart bulleted above to create experiences for the learners to push their thinking. We will connect to the ways musicians in Stomp create and extend our thinking through the short film Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers where musicians create music in an apartment using everything they can find. This may open our thinking to questions like “When is music” or  “Is sound that doesn’t have a steady beat music?” or “Is John Cage’s 4’33” music?” Where we go next will depend upon the learners curiosity.

Chalk Talk

I have been reflecting on the conversation I wrote about in my last post in which a third grade class at Oakwood Elementary discussed musicianship. I carried their conversation into a fifth grade class at Brandon Fletcher Intermediate School, where fourth grade learners from three elementary schools come together into one school.  I only teach one of three elementary schools in the district so it is important for me to understand the perspectives of the learners coming from the other two schools. We gathered our thoughts using the Chalk Talk thinking routine last Friday. Chalk Talk is a silent way to reflect, gather your thoughts, generate ideas, problem solve, and generate project ideas. We began gathering our thoughts about what makes a musician to frame the rest of the years experiences.

Group collaboration – Chalk Talk

In their homeroom class they are grouped by tables, so for this routine they stayed in those groups. The learners began to have a conversation on paper. Sharing their ideas and perspectives of what they believed makes a musician. Some thought while others wrote, then they would pass the writing utensil around and the thinkers would add their thoughts, extend someone else’s, politely challenge others thinking, or question peoples thoughts. They would spend 3 minutes at each group’s paper. I used an online stopwatch to maintain consistent think time for each station. I could see each learner’s thinking extend every time they read and added to someone else’s thoughts. These are some examples of their thinking.


Before I collected the thinking routines I asked the learners if they noticed any themes that had emerged from their shared thinking. Many were eager to share that musicians had to play instruments or sing, and had to have talent. Some learners disagreed and we had a rich discussion about musicianship and what the role of musician was. The challenges looked like this:


It is this kind of deep thinking that extends learner’s understanding of the overarching ideas of expression evoking emotion from the listener and in-turn creating an emotion for the performer. In the words of learners in the BFIS music room, “anyone can be a musician, all you have to do is be willing to take big risks”.



This is the environment and community is fostered be the learners in the music room. Throughout the school year, as all musicians have more experiences composing, arranging, listening, performing and thinking, their perspectives of their own musicianship may shift and shape their musical identity, which will carry on well after they have graduated.