Switching Your Objective Lens

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

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

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


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

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

#whatifmusiced – Thoughts On Creativity

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your “What ifs”?



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.

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.