Thursday, July 21, 2016

Flipping My Music Classroom

Flipped classrooms have gotten a lot of publicity, lately, and for good reason - the ability for students to work at their own pace and have the ability to rewatch videos if they need a refresher is a huge plus!  Being the techie girl that I am, I started wondering about how I could use this in my orchestra class.  I mean, it's orchestra, right?  We rehearse - and that can't be done individually, at home.  Students practice (we hope!), but they all have different abilities and parts, so it's challenging to make videos relevant to all of them.

The thing that finally pushed me over the edge was constantly hearing from parents, "I'm completely un-musical, how can I help my kids?"  I realized that I could do something about this, and help parents engage more in music with their kids - and what music educator doesn't want that?

My biggest fear was wanting to create the perfect videos.  What if I played slightly out of tune?  What if I sounded silly or said something not quite in the way I wanted to?  I can be a perfectionist - and I didn't want to get stuck spending hours and hours creating a single video!  Two things really helped me get over this hump - one, another orchestra teacher in my district began making videos, and watching her, I was encouraged that I could just be myself (if she had a blog to link to, I would give her a shout out here)!  Secondly, I realized that I make mistakes all of the time in my teaching through out the day.  The kids are used to seeing the real me.  I just had to treat it like teaching a class!

I started off with videos for beginners, and ended up with a series of six videos covering the very basic skills, such as how to hold the instrument & bow and play the first few notes.  I experimented a bit in the beginning with recording formats, but found that I got the best sound and video using a video camera and then uploading the videos to my computer.  Some of these first ones have terrible sound!  But you live and you learn!

As time went on, I continued building my library to include all of the major songs we focus on in the first year, as well as some songs from the second year.  I could track video views on my home YouTube page (great for assessing how it was working and data for evaluations), and I also have students fill out a Google Form, telling me what the learned from the video.  I knew I was being successful when my second and third year students started asking for videos of their music!  For my ensemble pieces, I started posting videos of individual parts.

And the best part?  I now have a library of videos that can be used in so many ways!  

Different learning styles and accessibility?  These videos offer both a visual and auditory way of learning that students can come back to over and over again - especially helpful for those who have low vision or who really struggle with reading.  

Parents?  Now, when I get an email about not knowing how to help their students, I can direct parents straight to the videos, and encourage them to watch them with their children.  It inspires conversations about learning and helps them realize how much their children are learning through playing an instrument!

New students?  We always have students who join halfway through the year, or in middle school, or sometime else that is not the "traditional" time when everyone else starts.  While I still try to help these students get started, it is incredibly helpful to be able to ask them to watch these first six videos, either in class (on a Chromebook) or at home, so they have some foundational knowledge and don't feel so lost in class.

Teachers?  This one has surprised me the most, but these videos have been really helpful for collaborating with my colleagues as well!  Last year, I was working with the occupational therapist at my school to figure out how to accommodate a student with a physical disability.  Since we both travel, it was challenging to find time to meet - but I could just send her the video of what the end result needed to be, and she was able to watch it and work with this student to come up with a solution before the first day of class!  I also co-teach some orchestra classes with teachers who are primarily band specialists, and so I have passed on these videos to help them learn what I am looking for and the language I use in my classroom, so they can feel confident helping out in the orchestra room!

Overall, I am so glad I have made these videos and I have seen the benefits in my classroom!  We still spend the majority of our time rehearsing, but students are more likely to go home and figure out where they are having problems on their own, because they have resources to help them.  It was quite a time investment in the beginning, but now, I have almost 100 videos to use, reuse, and share.  If you are thinking about making music videos for your students, I would highly encourage you to do it!  Go for it!  Start small, with just one or two videos, and don't worry about perfection.

What skills might you want to target in making videos/flipping your classroom?  What are some of the barriers, and how could you overcome them?

For a full library of my posted videos, check out my Orchestra Website!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Gamifying My Classroom - Orchestra Karate (Part 2)

For an overview of how I am using Orchestra Karate to gamify my classroom, check out Orchestra Karate (Part 1)!  This post will focus on the materials and organization of my karate belts.

After I had a pretty good idea of the kind of rewards I wanted, my next step was a trip to Hobby Lobby & Michaels to get the necessary supplies!  My requirements were that it could be something that was (1) cheap, (2) easy to prepare, and (3) could be displayed on (and removed from) their case safely (i.e. no stickers for the rental cases).  I came home from my shopping spree with all sorts of fun goodies!  While it sounds like a lot, I ended up only spending about $40 (I already had the rexlace because I've used it for belts in the past), and I am guessing a lot of these supplies will last me for more than one year.  Not a bad investment!  I cut up the ribbons and put beads on some of them to denote higher levels, and sorted out the colors of the different supplies.  Here is what I ended up with:
I apologize for the poor quality of the pictures - my flip phone can only do so much!
  • Video Belts = Bracelet Clips for the rubber band bracelets that are so popular right now!
  • 5th Grade Performance Belts & ML Scale Belts = Rexlace (so  many colors to choose from)
  • ML Coyote Quest Belts = Zip Ties (lots of colors and easy to prepare)
  • 7th/8th Music History Belts = Ribbons with star beads on them (to make them a little more special for my older students)

Armed with my supplies, I went to work on creating a chart to organize all of my belts:

(This screenshot was taken before I added in the Video Belts for 5th graders)

I also started creating a handout for students, detailing the Coyote Quests:

Obviously not finished yet, but it's a start!

And, of course, I had to give myself all of the belts so that I could show them off and generate excitement among the students:

And there you have it, my first steps into the world of gamifying my classroom!  It is important to note that I already have been doing most of these tasks in my classroom, it's just re-structuring it and making it a little more formalized with the belts.  This would be wayyyyyyy to much to implement from scratch!  I hope that students will enjoy the opportunity to show off their learning and earn extra belts that will increase their musical knowledge!

Do students earn "badges" for their learning in your classroom?  What do you think should be "belt-worthy" in an orchestra class?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Gamifying My Classroom - Orchestra Karate (Part 1)

I have been reading the book "Explore Like a Pirate" by Michael Matera this summer, and been alternately REALLY inspired and REALLY overwhelmed with all of the great ideas in the book!  It raises the question, what is it about games (video games in particular) that motivates kids to go back for more, over and over again?  And how is this different from their learning in school?  Both games and schoolwork are (or should be) challenging and require them to constantly learn and grow to improve themselves.  So why will kids spend hours playing video games, but drag their heels on 30 minutes of homework?  And, more importantly, what can we as educators learn from how games motivate kids and apply it to our classrooms to make learning more fun, engaging, and applicable?

In thinking about these questions, I could go off on a bunch of different tangents, but I decided to first stick with something simple, that I know well: Orchestra Karate.  Many music teachers are familiar with this structure (it could be Recorder Karate or Scale Karate or anything else), where students accomplish certain feats of mastery on their instrument and are rewarded with a "belt" of a certain color corresponding to their level of achievement.  These belts, in my classes, are proudly displayed on cases, and fulfill the function of "badges" in a game.

I have used this structure with my 5th grade classes since I started teaching, but always thought it was too "kiddy" for my middle schoolers.  Every year, though, my 6th graders ask me if they can keep earning belts.  I finally decided, why not?  This year, I will try to implement Orchestra Karate with all of my 5th-8th grade classes!

In thinking about how to structure this, I decided there would be five different kinds of karate belts:
  • Video Belts - for students watching the videos I have posted on my website and completing the Google Form to tell me what they learned.
  • 5th grade Performance Belts - this will continue my same structure, where students will have to master a certain song in the book and play it individually to earn a belt.  I am thinking about allowing them to submit a video to earn their belt, to save class time, but I am worried about the extra time it would require me to grade, in addition to the practice videos I assign my middle school students each week - but that's a discussion for another day!
  • Middle Level Scale Belts - students who successfully perform their scales at a certain level will earn the color belt that corresponds to the scale.  They must earn their belt before being eligible to "level up" to a 2-octave scale (and the chance to earn a Free Practice Points coupon)!
  • Middle Level Coyote Quest Belts - these are side quests, demonstrating mastery of certain elements of music besides playing their instruments, such as theory and terms.  I haven't completely figured this out yet, but I plan on requiring a certain score on eMusicTheory drills or Staff Wars for some elements, and making my own Google Quizzes for others.  None of these quests will be required for a grade - but they will be open opportunities for students to earn belts!
  • 7th & 8th Grade Music History Belts - I have been working this summer to develop a series of Digital BreakoutEDU games to teach students the basics of music history.  I haven't fully decided how and when these will be used yet, but I hope to be able to play them in class about once per quarter to break up the monotony of rehearsal during certain times of the year.  If students successfully break out, they will get a special belt for accomplishing that feat!
Next step: Gathering the materials to put this into action!  Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Hello, (Blogging) World!

Well, hello out there!  After going back and forth and starting and stopping a couple of times, I have finally decided to start a blog to document my teaching adventures!

Who am I?
I am a music teacher in Colorado.  I primarily teach orchestra, but have done a bit of general music as well.  My main age group is 5th-8th grade, but again, depending on the year, I have taught from 1st-12th grade.  When you travel around, you never know what the next year will bring!  As it stands now, I will be teaching 5th-8th grade orchestra at four schools for the 2016-2017 year.  As if teaching during the year weren't enough, I also enjoy teaching elementary literacy & science in summer school.

Apart from teaching, I enjoy disc golfing, reading, watching baseball & soccer, swimming, hiking, playing piano and cello, hanging out with friends, and traveling the world!  Of course, I have a lot more time for all of that in the summer, but I try to fit in some fun year-round to keep myself sane!

Why am I blogging?
A few years ago, the entire staff at our school took the StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment, and one of my top five strengths came out as "input".  I had never thought of this before, but reading the description, I felt like it really nailed some parts of my personality!  Specifically, I love following different blogs that inspire me both personally and as an educator, and I have learned so much from reading about what other teachers do in their classroom!  Many times, the thought has crossed my mind that I should share what I'm learning as well, but I am much more comfortable learning from others than adding my voice to the conversation.  I'm finally deciding, though, that I need to take this step, both to pay it forward and help others and to get feedback from the amazing educational community!

What's next?
This has been an amazing summer of professional learning for me, and I am excited to start documenting it as I plan for the next school year!  Current thoughts are revolving around: BreakoutEDU, Explore Like a Pirate, Genius Hour, formative assessment, Google Classroom, my educational leadership classes, and finding out where our students are coming from!  More to come as I organize and get my thoughts written out before the school year starts...

Why do you blog?  What blogs inspire you as an educator?  I'm always looking for new ideas!