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.
During one of our weekly staff meetings back in May, staff at our school were privy to presentation by a guest speaker, Professor John Halsey, of Flinders University. It’s not an uncommon thing to have the odd guest speaker take over one of our staff meeting, but going into the session, I had no idea what the topic was. 20 minutes in, following a spiel about the presenter’s history in education, the term ‘rural education’ began to become a theme. I thought, ‘ok cool, so we’re going to talk about how we’re going to support our students taking into consideration the disadvantage of living in a rural area’ which is an idea I deal with on a regular basis. I wasn’t wrong in what I though the presenter was trying to get across, but the conversation did go somewhere else that, I think, struck a nerve with many of the staff.
“At the heart of a rural educators job is an ongoing tension- [are we] focused on:
•teaching & learning for staying? or
•teaching & learning for leaving? or
•teaching & learning for choice?”
If you had asked me these questions 3-4 years ago, after 1-2 years in rural education, straight out of Uni, I certainly would have erred on the side of leaving. What school leaver wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to expand their horizons in the “big smoke” of Adelaide or elsewhere?
In my music classroom I’m always poignantly aware of the disadvantages my students have to those of the city, in particular, the distinct lack of instrumental tuition available to students. I realised very quickly that if my students were going to experience the joy of making music, something would have to change in my approach to curriculum, to ensure that I fostered personal motivation for independent music learning and I continue to do this (and am beginning to bridge the disadvantage on the instrumental tuition front) through the use of technology and my commitment to implementing a Musical Futures program in middle school classes. But those are both points I’ll hopefully expand upon in future posts.
Back to the main idea, are we teaching for students to stay, leave or to have a choice?
I think this struck a chord with other staff in the session because they too see some elements of disadvantage and hope that the future for our students is one where it will be diminished. We’ve grown accustomed to our best and brightest departing our town to continue their education at boarding schools. I’ve had parents (during parent teacher interviews) divulge grand plans to move their families or send their children as boarders, to the city in order to give them a “different” learning experience and it’s hard not to think that the truth behind the decision is the possible belief that their child will receive a “better” education in a city school. There is a sadness felt when a student leaves in these circumstances, we wish them well, we give them our hope and best wishes for a the future, but you can’t help feeling that in your efforts to provide the best education possible for your students, it still wasn’t enough for them to stay.
But how can we educate for students to stay? One way John suggested that rural schools can begin to turn the tables (and I really am paraphrasing here) is that they become “hubs of learning – specialised learning.” He used the example of Tenison Woods College in Mt. Gambier and it’s Jazz Academy; a specialised, jazz focused music program to which over 100 students apply every year. Why not make our school a “hub for specialised learning?” I like the idea and I do think rural schools need to think carefully about how they are retaining students, but it’s an idea for people in higher positions than me to discuss.
My approach, which I feel to supports John’s point of the importance of community, has been to engage students in authentic musical experiences either through school performances where friends and family are invited as audience members or getting them involved with community projects. One recent project, Battle of the Beats, seems to have had a really positive impact and as a result many of our students are now in-demand performers and contributors for other upcoming community events. It’s been an important message to impart to my students to be proud of where they live, to not do or say things that put themselves or our town down (a leaf I take from the book of late departed Mayor, Joy Baluch – a tireless campaigner for the town of Port Augusta). Perhaps it’s of the Adelaidian in me? I’ve had a lot of practice defending why my home town of Adelaide is a great place to live despite the bud of many jokes in the media and comedy arenas.
The idea of teaching and learning for staying in a rural community after completing secondary school is a challenging dream. The growth of “in school” vocational pathways certainly makes it easier to envision how our students will be giving back to the local community post year 12 by learning skills that are in demand locally, they will (hopefully) be able to move swiftly into the workforce or an apprenticeship. It’s a start to promote staying, but I realistically don’t believe it’s enough. After all, most tertiary education options will require a move, or a significant commute. After all, rural communities will need committed doctors, business owners, teachers and other tertiary trained professionals. Unless there is greater investment in tertiary education in rural locations, the best we can hope is that while these future professionals study in the city, they will feel the pull of home and return post graduation to contribute to the community from which they came.
If schools are going to educate for staying, it goes to say that building close connections through community partnerships is integral. Helping students see the meaning in working in the local community, the benefits, the enjoyment, the passion with which experienced, local professionals live their lives; to understand that there is a role and a future for them to live happy lives in a rural town. The raising of this idea of ‘teaching to stay’ poses some very interesting questions about how we are already meeting that need, or what we can all do to improve that community partnership.
But what about teaching for choice?
In an educational climate where there is increased call for variety and global perspectives in our classrooms, it’s difficult for me to see why choice wouldn’t be the best of these 3 scenarios. Ideally, schooling should be a combined approach of local community partnerships and global citizenry. We want our students to reach their potential, to dream big and make a difference in the world. In the end it’ll be up to them where their dreams will take them and we shouldn’t hold it against them if they choose to make a difference somewhere else.
When all was said and done in John Halsey’s presentation, I did have lingering personal questions about how I was approaching these questions in my classroom;
How can I build greater community partnerships?
How do I ensure my students are receiving the best possible music education available, no matter the location?
And how will my students navigate these choices if, after all, it will be left to them to decide?
but the main thing I kept coming back to was how does technology fit into these visions? Developments in technology and online resources has meant that distances between educational institutions is rapidly diminishing. This concept seemed to be absent from the presentation, but I’m sure it has been considered. If the use of information and communication technologies was taken full advantage of in rural schools, would the distance or difference in a rural education compared to a city education be as much of a deciding factor when approaching the question “are we teaching to stay, to leave or for choice?” ICT is bridging the divide in my own classroom and empowering students to take ownership of their own music learning, in and out of the classroom and when they see that learning and meaningful achievement is possible from anywhere and location is no impediment to their success, then hopefully they will see potential in the benefits of staying. If not, at least they will have the choice.
The following post is dedicated in part to Summer Howarth and Tina Photakis who were driving forces for me in sharing my ideas on using music technology to make cross-curriculum connections.
I’ve always believed that students should be able to express themselves according to their talents and teachers are always coming up with more ways to engage them accordingly. It’s great to see teachers creating opportunities for choice in input and output of learning in classrooms, whether based on visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning modes, Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory, or the emergence of blended learning. It’s not uncommon to see the student who’s artistic and loves to draw using his/her talent to demonstrate their learning in science, nor the kid who loves science can express their hypotheses and even see it through to a climactic discovery in creative writing. the output for learning tasks can be so varied, generous lists of options presented to students “paint a picture, create a dance, act out a scene, calculate and count, design, construct, re-organise, etc.”
Everyone catered for, right?
I’m not so sure about that. Typically when trawling through these seemingly generous lists intended to appeal to all learning styles I get to the options for musical or auditory learners and there, we often see the following…
“Write a song about (insert topic here).“
I read that and my heart sinks a little. When someone asks for song they are usually referring to lyrics, with a generalised form, perhaps a verse or chorus, maybe a rap. Either way, it’ll be awesome, right? Because all students with an ounce of musical intelligence are great poets and linguists!
It’s a common mistake by non-arts teachers to think that writing lyrics is being musical, in the same way that drawing a picture or diagram is being visual. Lyric writing is really a language intelligence, what musical learners need is the ability to organise sound, not words, to express meaning and understanding (likewise the act of drawing is a motor as well as visual task, a better way to put it would be to allow visual learners to capture and organise visual stimuli). When it comes down to it, lack of teacher experience in personal creating in these modes means teachers are less confident in providing these experiences for students. This point is a common bugbear for Australian teachers of late as the new National Curriculum for the Arts edges closer and closer to release and implementation, leaving many questions as to who will pick up the slack to ensure Australian kids have access to quality music and arts programs; will it be left to general classroom teachers or will the need for specialised teachers increase? But that’s an argument for another day.
So, I want to use the rest of this post to begin the conversation on how non-music teachers can connect musical idea to their curriculum. I imagine that i’ll be exploring this idea over and over in future posts but for now, I’ll start with one app that’s made a difference for me and I feel confident other teachers will find useful. Like I said, this is just the beginning of much larger conversation.
The app I would recommend most when wanting to introduce music into other curriculum areas for students to begin expressing ideas trhough sound is MadPad by Smule. It’s basically an app (available for iOS and android devices) that stores video snippets recorded by the user on a 4×4 grid; a video pad based on synthesiser pads used by electronic music producers, DJ’s and composers. So, while the idea of sound organised on a grid is not revolutionary, the bonus of being able to include a visual representation of that sound is a very useful tool. Sounds can be used in app individually or looped and recorded with improvisation and exported as a video to the device or straight to YouTube.
The video below is an example I created from a pre-made pad set available in app.
It’s a terrific example of sounds collected within a specified location. Imagine a field trip where students collect sounds and images to recreate a soundscape of their experieces within that environment. A great project for a science or SOSE (studies of society and environment) class.
For english classes, why not use it as a vocabulary building exercise. The MadPad video below was created by a year 8 student with literacy difficulties who saw the potential to catch up on his english tasks by giving his spelling words rhythm, structure and recording his friends reading the words aloud. (Shared with student and parental permission).
For a variation on lyric writing, MadPad makes an interesting alternative to word clouds as well (if you’re unsure of what a word cloud have a look at Wordle). The next MadPad was one I recorded at the beginning of my Madpad for education adventure, at the CEGSA 2012 conference TeachMeet. The idea was to use it as a reflection tool to capture people’s responses to the conference, not just from presenters but participants and those who worked hard behind the scenes too. (It has to be said that I was still getting the hang of different microphone settings in the app so there is a bit of background noise and I did get a little carried away with improvising so it’s a bit long, feel free to stop it once you get the idea).
To wrap things up, here’s a MadPad video recorded by some year 9 students (shared with student and parental permission) for a music task. Drawing inspiration from Mark Ronson‘s ‘Move to the Beat of London’ created for a Coca-Cola campaign for the 2012 Olympics, Mark recorded sounds such as running footsteps, heat beats, vaulting and landing gymnasts, the twang of archery bows and vocal noises heard in taekwondo to create a rhythm using a music pad of these recorded sounds for his song. Students used sporting equipment and sounds from a range of olympic sports to create a song. It was a really fun project that combined musical composition, recording techniques and kinaesthetic movements/sports skills. It was also challenging for students to consider the visual representation of the sound as they were recording the sounds into their set.
MadPad also makes a great sound effects board for drama productions, just record your required sounds into a new MadPad set and plug your device into a stereo or sound/PA system.
Music is a terrific way to engage students creatively. If you’re a teacher who hasn’t tried using music as an option with your students, please, try it out for yourself. The more comfortable teachers are in working outside of their own learning styles and modes, the more confident teachers will be in integrating alternative approaches to how student interact with content and understanding. Most importantly, the next time you ask students to ‘write a song’ be sure that you’re providing them with the resources to be able to complete the task, whether it’s with a device, instruments, bodies or voices, be prepared for noise, and have fun.
I can’t believe it’s been almost a year since I made a personal pledge to begin blogging for my own personal learning and professional development as a teacher. I followed different blogs for a long time and knew it was something I wanted to do it, but it was at a a session called ‘The Connected Educator’ with George Couros through CEGSA that I made the pledge. Needless to say it was still a long time until I took the plunge in February. I used my first post as a discussion and resource base for teachers attending a sessions I was collaboratively presenting from ASME SA, but why why haven’t I continues posting since then? I guess the video below sums up my ‘then’ logic…
Funnily enough, this video was shared with me today at another CEGSA session presented by George Couros called ‘Learning and Leading the way with Digital Portfolios,’ the plan being to get my bum into gear and start blogging more regularly.
So, today, under George’s tutorlage, I’ve worked through making updates to my blog so I’m primed to use it professionally on a more regular basis in order to demonstrate how I am meeting the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. Now, you will see the domains and standards within my posts and menu. Here are the 7 standards and links to the pages providing evidence.
You can expect to see these standards reflected in the categories linked to each post.
Hopefully, this fresh look and a bit more organisation will lead to some better reflecting on my part, but if, as my audience, my and my critic, you see that I’m not keeping up, you have my permission to prod me until I am. This is my new pledge to keep me accountable.
Thanks again to George Couros for presenting today, his guidance has been invaluable and his work inspirational.
NB: Voluntold is a term shared by George today – being told to volunteer – “consider yourself voluntold.”
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.