Why I teach Musical Futures

Note: this post is more so a personal reflection than an introduction to my musical futures based curriculum, I will no doubt cover that plenty in future posts, but if you would like to know more about what Musical Futures is, please visit the UK based Musical Futures website or the Musical Futures Australia website.

A few years back, 2009 if you want to be specific, I was teaching primary school music in a couple of Area Schools on the Yorke Peninsula and in my random web surfing for ideas for practical tasks I stumbled across the Musical Futures site. As a recent graduate at the time, my head was filled with dreams of grand jazz and classical music programs that would endeavour to produce high quality fine arts performers because my formal, tertiary education had taught me that that’s what schools needed to focus on. Needless to say, being more ‘Popular’ and ‘Alternative’ music inclined personally, as a music teacher I often felt conflicted.

What immediately drew me to research further was the examples of songs schools using the program were performing; Kaiser Cheifs, Greenday, Snow Patrol, Michael Jackson to name a few. But I was in a primary school at the time and I didn’t think any of it could work in that settings (looking back now of course, I know that it would have been awesome). While I did attempt to incorporate some whole class work shopping ideas with upper primary students (we created a class arrangement of Ben Lee’s ‘Catch my disease‘ as a Christmas carol using Orff instruments) I really wanted to try the ‘In the Deep End’ approach with secondary students. At the end of my first year I was offered a position at  a regional catholic school so needless to say, I got my chance, and I am still at the school now, 4 years on.

That first year in a secondary environment was a massive challenge – a mad scrambling, chaos-filled, balancing act if you will. My biggest teething problems came with balancing the requirements of curriculum with what students wanted to do and learn and also what I wanted students to think about and feel when they listened to and performed music, even if it wasn’t styles they wanted play. My Year 10s were my biggest challenge. Everything seemed to be going swimmingly in my year 8 classes where there was a lot of practical music making in classroom work shopping, but for some reason I thought that the year 10s, being senior school students, had to be focused on more traditional aspects of music learning, after all they were possibly going to go on to year 12 music or even tertiary, it was my responsibility to prepare them for that.

The year 10s were mostly all self taught rock stars. Passionate about music, but closed off to anything new. It took me about a term to wake up to reality and realise that this cohort were never going to care about how cool a piece ‘O Fortuna’ from Carl Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana’ was, and they were never going to pick up sheet music with traditional notation to play a piece. Ultimate-guitar.com and YouTube were their best friends, not the notation theory books I gave them. I kept pushing, they pushed back. It was an injustice on my part to not accept that that was the way they wanted to learn and learnt best. I lost some really good students from my future elective classes. I needed to change things and I was not going to let such kids slip by ever again.

The experience of working with those students taught me something particularly important.

What good is knowing all of the theory if you don’t need it play what you want to play?

A music class isn’t a music class when no one is making music and in the context of a remote school and community, I don’t believe there is anything more important than the social connection that comes with creating music and by making this central to each of my classes through musical futures approaches has made a lot of difference. Our musicians have positive reputations in the town, our end of semester concerts are an outstanding array of varying styles, ensembles are always inclusive of all students and their ability levels and parents are happy to see their children happy. Happy children make for a happy future in our town.

What’s the worst that could happen? Web 2.0 tools for SACE Music Individual Study

So, I created this blog around 7 months or so ago and have not done much with it yet. So this Term’s ASME conference ‘InSACEable’ seems like as good a reason as any to finally get this blog off the ground.

This weekend I’m collaborating with Tracy Radbone in presenting resources for South Australian music teachers teaching SACE Music Individual Study. While Tracy is very experienced with helping students achieve highly in this subject, I’m still relatively new to it. Over the last 3 years I’ve taught a total of 4 individual study students, and my 5th student has just begun. Not many I know, but they have all succeeded in obtaining the result they wanted and their projects were meaningful to them and I’m introducing some of the tools in this post for 2013 and, hopefully, beyond as well. I hope teachers reading this will find something useful in it too.

Old School is Becoming New School

The SACE Music Individual Study subject is driven by independent learning and collecting and recording that learning and experiences for assessment. For a long time that has meant students have spent hours in libraries and google, photocopying, printing, highlighting, journaling, making phone calls, dating everything they find as soon as they start reading it and word document journals that only they and their teachers will ever see, stored on USB’s that can easily be damaged or lost. Some of the best Journals for the Folio aspect I’ve seen have had to be toted around in 3 full binders, full of in depth plans and reflections, chunks of highlighted paper stapled together, post its everywhere, colour coded dividers. That’s some awesome dedication right there, but it shouldn’t have to physically weigh a student down, nor are we limited by our own connections as teachers or as schools to begin students on the path to truly independent musical connections with resources of information.

Enter some extremely useful web 2.0 tools that can help life the burden of collating a folio for students.

Blogging Journal Entries.

Just as you are reading this post, consider a student doing likewise. The post is automatically dated, I’m including resources I’ve used and learnt from and making reference to sources using hyperlinks and videos as I go. Pretty straight forward journaling, right? But there’s so much more value to using a blog as a journal! Most important of all is what YOU are doing. YOU are reading it! A blog is made to be shared and because I can share it more easily with others, others can then provide me with feedback without waiting for a teacher to get to mine in the pile – not that post comments would ever really replace a teachers expertise during a year 12 project, but it’s possible for students to share their progress and ask for feedback from others (eg. professionals, like minded musicians, industry specialists) whose opinion they may also personally value. Due to a blog being in a public forum there is also a certain level of accountability for students to make their words count as it all contributes to their digital footprint. There are also many other educational and student blogs out there for students to gauge for themselves how to journal online effectively.

I would highly recommend Edublogs as a great platform for starting a blog. All of the blogs associated with the site are education related and their personal support for users is second to none. Blogger is also a good option as it’s a part of the Google family and can connect with other tools, such as GoogleDocs on and GoogleDrive, relatively easily.

Collecting Resources

Rather than students printing out everything left right and centre, have them experiment using the following tools to collate resources they find online. This is only a sample and certainly not the be all and end all


A great tool for collecting everything left, right and centre. Pictures, documents, emails, social media, recordings, videos – all in one place, can be accessed from multiple devices and everything you collect can be searched and all for free. Well worth checking out. Admittedly, I’m a little inexperienced with it but there are many resources (and Evernote Evangelists) available to help you learn how to use it, especially for educational purposes.


GoogleDocs and GoogleDrive

The Google family of resources and tools is growing exponentially. Not only is Google+ a great tool for social and professional networking but GoogleDocs also enables people to collaborate within documents online. GoogleDocs (just like word or excel) are familiar and easy to use and not to mention, everything is accessible online once it’s saved. Using surveys is often a popular research tool for Individual Study, and while SurveyMonkey looks cool, it requires additional costs in order to analyse results. GoogleForms on the other hand is completely free and if you know how to use a few basic spread sheet tools, you can analyse all the data you want. Adding Teacher comments would also be relatively easy in GoogleDocs with its colour coded comment boxes, but some further enquiry would be needed to figure out its effectiveness in being able to be used for moderation submissions. Again, there’s plenty of online resources available to learn how to use GoogleDocs effectively.



If your students are doing a lot of their research online, Diigo is a very useful tool. Terrific for bookmarking useful links, but you can also add comments to your bookmarks and highlight important information or quotes from pages to refresh your memory later as to why you bookmarked it in the first place.  Accessible from anywhere it’s a good site to come back to when finalising a bibliography or reference list too. See what Diigo can do in the video on their website, or check out a Diigo library I created for a music criticism assignment or a this discussion group around the same topic. Libraries can also be published to blogs and exported to hard disk. (Note: highlighting function only works with the browser add-on).


Underestimated Research Tools

Twitter and Social Media

I am a huge advocate for using Twitter for professional development, in my 4 years of teaching so far, joining Twitter and building a Professional Learning Network (PLN) has been the single most important decision in terms of my personal growth as a learner and educator. I have learnt so much and try to share as much as I can. So, I’m asking my students to consider doing likewise. Post ideas, share links, videos and pictures and ask questions to the twitter-verse (universe) and see what comes back. Twitter is a very useful platform for connecting with others mainly because you don’t have to read paragraph after paragraph (as I’m sure you’re experiencing and loving right now) post are only a couple of sentences maximum. If it doesn’t look important or interesting, read on. Conversations are easy to join using hash tags and by including them in your post identifies your post as something of interest to someone else interested in that topic.

The biggest bonus is that If I need help or have a question, I can post it to twitter and gain responses that I know will be beneficial because the network I have created for myself within twitter is full of other professionals I admire and want to collaborate with.

For a getting started on using and understanding twitter for professional learning, check out my article in the ASME SA Term 4 2012 newsletter or you can have a look at the videos below.

Facebook can be useful too, but it can be more difficult to find groups or discussion pertaining to specific subjects.


A unique bookmarking site that lets you add webpages to a virtual pin board through collecting images and videos. Very handy for remembering where that worksheet or cool info graphic came from, or just being able to see all of your collected images and videos on one themed page. It could be used as a collection tool for the folio for sure, but it’s also an underestimated research tool. For example, check out this pinterest board on luthiery for aspiring instrument makers or this board of ‘Stuff for teaching Music.’


A Quick Note on Tags and Hash-tags

Tags are really just like keywords. They’re the words you associate most with the topic you may be reading or writing about points of interest A number of these resources such as blogs, Diigo, YouTube (although I haven’t touched on the awesomeness of video blogging), Twitter and to an extent, Evernote, use tags to be able to organise collected information, associate posts or entries with a particular subtopic or communicate with others within a discussion thread. Becoming familiar with different tags associated with a topic of interest and incorporating them into online discussions, posts and searches will lead to better curating in the long run.

Hash-tags on the other hand are very social media driven. Mostly found on Twitter and Instagram a hash-tag can reference a topic of conversation thread that others can also follow. For example using #music will add your post to a chronological list of other posts with the same hash-tag. You’d be surprised just what you can find discussions about simply by putting a # in front of a word, and therefor potential to connect with others discussing the same thing.

SACE Considerations PAQ (Possibly Asked Questions)

1) How do we avoid using student names? I suggest students use their SACE registration number as a user name, that way the web address will be easy to submit for moderation. Some sites let you change your user name and thus the web address at any time, which is useful if a student wishes to keep blogging, communicating and learning online after the project is complete. Setting up a generic email address with a SACE registration number would also be handy.

2) How can we submit web 2.0 work to SACE for moderation? Information can be found on the ‘Submission of electronic files’ .pdf document on the SACE website, however, if prefer more tangible folios, both Edublogs and Blogger are able to be downloaded and printed as offline files. Students can also back up their work to a computer if there are concerns about losing their blog should unforeseen circumstances befall the site and make the blog unavailable. See the video below for more info. An important thing to remember with other online storage tools and such is that they should be made public and anything requiring a log-in, a login should be provided.

3) How can I make assessment comments on a blog? Once the project is complete, or along the way, comment yourself using the name ‘Teacher’ and references to the assessment design criteria and performance standards, then print of a final copy including comments. Perhaps ask the student to highlight the teacher comments on the print out.


Final thoughts

None of these resources are the be all and end all of research and journaling tools for students studying within an increasingly digital age. But knowing they exist, or simply acknowledging their educational value, gives independent learners more options and scope as how they store, record, reflect and present their learning in ways which truly reflect the learning nature of today’s students. I think the most exciting thing about engaging individual study students, or any students for that matter, with web 2.0 and social media is the connections that can occur and can be utilised to for learning even the smallest things. Considering so many of our students are already actively connecting online, forming genuine relationships and learning from multiple forms of online media and content, why not allow them to engage with their learning in the same way? The worst that could happen is that they might learn something.

P.S. please feel free to suggest more web resources in the comments below of other tools that would be of use for SACE Music Individual Study or independent research projects.