Saturday, March 11, 2017 Beginning Orchestra?

Have you ever had one of those days where you are just struggling for inspiration and motivation in your teaching?  

That happened to me this last week.  I looked at what I had planned for one of my beginner classes, and it just felt so "blah".  I couldn't get myself excited about it.  About an hour before the class, though, my mind started rolling...

...a few years ago, I recorded teaching videos of all of the songs we learn in 5th grade for students to watch at home...
...YouTube is open at elementary schools now in my district...
...since our district's IT Open House, I have been wanting to try to Chromecast to a TV to see how it works, and this school has a TV in my teaching space that has that capability...
...knowing the technology at this school, I could probably get ahold of a Chromebook cart during class...
...this is my smallest class, therefore the easiest to "experiment" with... idea was born!

It's amazing how quickly my mind can roll when I get excited about something!  In a matter of minutes, I made sure I had access to the Chromebook cart, asked teachers to have students bring headphones, and set up Chromecast from my device to the TV (with a little help from some teachers).  We were ready to roll!

I first gathered the students in the front of the room and told them not to unpack - yet.  I asked them if they would be willing to embark on an experiment with me, to which they enthusiastically replied, "Yes!"  I shared that I wanted to try using this technology in class, so they could each watch the video and work on the song that they needed the most work on, even if it was different from their neighbor.  I used my Chromebook (Chromecast to the TV) to show them how to access the videos online, and then set them free!

Overall, the students did a fantastic job of using the time well.  They picked which song they needed to work on, clicked on the video, and learned in their own way.  Some bowed along with the piece, while others plucked.  Still others wrote down the notes or just fingered to make sure they knew how to play.  We did run into an issue with the song "Can-Can" being blocked - apparently, since the dance could get a bit risque, the name of the video triggered the filter (even though I promise it's just a video of my showing how to play it on an instrument)!  Other than that, though, this went off without a hitch!

The next step was grabbing a few of my students who were ahead to try recording themselves and sending their recordings to me.  We used Screencastify, since I am the most familiar with it, although I have a couple of other options I want to play around with in the future, too!  I was wondering how well the headphones would work - would they be able to concentrate on their own learning with other people playing different songs around them?  And would the recordings pick up all of the other noise?  It didn't seem to bother them too much, and when I listened to the recordings, I could hear the background noise, but it did not impact my ability to hear the student making the recording so I could provide meaningful feedback.

For the last few minutes of class, I regathered everyone for a quick evaluation of the day.  Their response was overwhelmingly positive!  They liked being able to work at their own pace and in their own way, and they were excited about the idea of recording videos and sending them to me.  We talked about how they could both watch and record videos at home, so they could really extend their learning beyond classtime.  I asked if they would want to do this again - and of course the answer was yes!  We probably won't do it that often, but I can see it being useful for a change of pace, sub plans, or as a catch-up day after we've learned some new music.  It really allows students to differentiate and work on what they need!

As I reflect on a personal level, I am so grateful that my tiredness that day sparked the desire to look for something new - creativity and innovation can come from anywhere!

I would love to recreate this in my other beginning classes, but I will need to figure out the technology piece - larger classes mean they would have to be 2:1 or 3:1 with a device, which makes headphones/sound difficult, which leads to all sorts of other issues.  I'll keep looking for solutions!

Any ideas?  Have you ever tried something like this with beginners?  Leave a comment below - I'd love to learn together!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Find the Force #5 (Genius Hour #5)

It's amazing what happens when you give students a stake in their own education.  That's what our Force Projects are all about (you can read more about our journey at Find the Force #1#2#3, & #4).

As a part of our Force Projects, we are engaging in some blogging and interacting online with each others' blogs.  As time has gone on, however, I noticed that the blog posts and comments have gotten a little more stale.  I wanted to change it up a bit to infuse some energy into our writing!  For the past couple of cycles (see Find the Force #4 for an explanation of our monthly cycle), I have tried something new...

For one of our Blog Post days, I asked students to respond to the question: What skills are you learning from your Force Project that you can apply to everyday life (outside of music)?  I loved reading their responses!  It was great to see them thinking about generalizing skills and thinking meta-cognitively  about their own learning process.  Even though we have written a couple of times since then, you can find these blog posts here (you might just have to scroll down a bit to find them).  
My learning for next year: have each student include a tag if we write about a specific subject, so it is easier to come back to find them all later!

For our Force Connections day, I took all of the blogs and put them into five groups, sorted by general category of what the students were doing.  I didn't, however, let the students know what these categories were!  I asked them to look at the groups and give each one a name, based on the commonalities they saw between their projects.  This was a great way to change things up and get students reading each others' blogs and thinking critically, comparing and contrasting the different groups!  What to give it a try?  Find the groups here!  A copy of the form I asked students to fill out can be found here.

As a follow up, on our Blog Post day, I asked students to respond to the following prompt: What have you learned from someone else's Force Project?  This really forced them to look outside of themselves and think about how these projects benefited not only individuals, but our whole class as well.  Most students wrote about their friends - and that's okay!  I tend to learn better with my friends, too.  The point is, they are still learning from each other and thinking about each other.  Many students commented on the variety of projects we have going in our room and how it helped them see the various possibilities within the subject of music.  These are our most recent blog posts (for now), so they should be right on top (for the time being)!  Here is our blog list.

What could our next Force Connections day look like?  I'm brainstorming right now - if you have any ideas, please comment below!

Find the Force #4 (Genius Hour #4)

It's amazing what happens when you give students a stake in their own education.  That's what our Force Projects are all about (you can read more about our journey at Find the Force #1#2, & #3).

It's amazing how time flies!  I figured it was time for another update on our Force Projects, seeing as it's been nearly five months since the last one...whoops!

We've settled into a nice routine of working on our Force Projects one day per week.  Our cycle goes something like this:
Week 1 - work time
Week 2 - blog post (usually with a specific prompt)
Week 3 - work time
Week 4 - reading/commenting on others' blogs (Force Connections)
This pattern has worked well to give students a good amount of work time, but also meeting the goal of communicating their work with the wider world!  It also has helped with classroom management, I think, because they feel like they have to use their work time well, since they only get it every two weeks.

Some challenges we've faced, complete with some solutions, are:

  • Some students are finishing early, especially if they chose an easier project or one that is narrower in scope.
    Solution: Brainstorm with students about ways to extend their project to go deeper!
  • Some students chose projects that have elements that need to be completed at a different time or place, such as building an instrument with materials they have at their house or teaching kindergartners about music.
    Solution: I have talked with these students individually about using our work time as a study hall to get some of their other homework done to compensate for the outside time they are spending on the Force Projects.  I also have some fun things they have been exploring if they don't have homework to do, like a Sphero and different iPad apps.  They still participate with us on the blog post & Force Connections days.
  • Some students have hit a "roadblock" with their project, where they struggle to know what to do next or where to go.
    Solution: Because everyone is working independently, I have had the chance to conference individually with these students to brainstorm ideas and next steps.  It is so good to help them work through adversity - what a real-life skill!

I've gotten mixed feedback from students about the projects, but it's mostly been positive.  One of the things that made me laugh was, when we didn't have a Force Project day on our first day back from Winter Break, the kids were groaning and asked if we could substitute another day sometime soon!  This showed me the importance of keeping the structures I've set up - students do better when they know what is expected, and deciding to go away from our set structure, even for a day, did not sit well!

I'm excited to see how our projects continue developing and finish up - we are starting presentations after Spring Break.  Any tips for conducting presentations?  Leave a comment below!