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.

Put Learners In The Drivers Seat

I use GarageBand for creating and capturing music almost daily. The interface is clean and I have become quite proficient with editing and manipulating audio. Usually, I am the one behind the computer pushing all of the buttons and making the technology a transparent piece of the music making. I need to be the one “driving” so the musicians can focus on the scenery more than the car controls. This year, after upgrading to Logic Pro X, my thinking has changed. Logic Remote is an iPad app for Logic Pro X on the Mac. Designed to provide new ways to record, mix, and even perform instruments in Logic Pro X from anywhere in the room. Turning your iPad into a keyboard, drum pad, guitar fretboard, mixing board, or transport control.


Download Logic Remote from the App Store here 

 Logic Remote can navigate inside Logic projects, control recording controls remotely, act as a second screen for the Mac, and also remotely trigger Logic Pro X key commands. The app also allows you to customizable buttons. Musicians can play instruments such as a piano keyboard, guitar fretboard, drum pads and drum kit. An awesome new feature is the addition of the Arpeggiator plugin to any instrument. Understanding that there are many ways of being musical has broadened my design of musical experiences. Experiencing audio is a unique way of being musical. I have accentually given the steering wheel (Logic Remote) to the musicians.

The above video is a beginning songwriting experience where a student musician is playing piano while other musicians are figuring out what can go with it. The pianist is playing a MIDI keyboard through Logic Pro X and another student is using the iPad with Logic remote to manipulate the controls. This has had quite an impact on the class culture. They have always taken ownership of their songs, but there has been a shift in the ownership of the craftsmanship. This became apparent to me when I gave the iPad to a student and we continued composing as a class. We stopped and discussed the harmonic progression. The class decided that the chords need to change at a different point in the melody. I asked the “engineer” to erase the track and take it back to the beginning. His reply was “Mr. M, I’m one step ahead of you.” Let them drive. You may find that they get there before you do.


There are devices and apps that scaffold independence. Logic Remote is one of those.

Graphically enhanced “How It Works” Manual 

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 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.


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!