Thoughts on December!

Happy First of December!

If you’re like me, you’re wondering how 2013 has gone by so fast. And if you’re a teacher like me, chances are you will be busy during the 20 some days in school and not really enjoying the holiday season. Music teachers, you know what I’m talking about :-).

I’m making an effort this year to ready myself for a month-long celebration. I want to be awake and be present hearing the sounds and laughters from the children around me (especially my own), cry with those who are suffering, and living the moments with friends new and old during this month.

I have much to be thankful for!

Here are 3 ways that will help me to celebrate during December:

 1. iTunes Radio – let it work for you.

If iTunes Radio is new to you, you should try it. Although I’m a Spotify user, I use the iTunes Radio in the car because Spotify radio is only for paid users (read about it here). I love the iTunes Radio because

  • It’s free streaming music
  • It plays very few commercials (and most of the commercials are music/music concert related)
  • I can use it in the car
  • And I can look at the history of what I listened to and find new favorites

You can start by listening to featured stations like Guest DJ – Kelly Clarkson who picked her Christmas favorites. It’s fun listening to celebrities’ playlists and commentaries. You can also start a station by clicking on the + sign (see image below).  I’ve loved using the iTunes Radio since October (iOS 7 update) and found many stations that helped me to find new Holiday favorites. Can you tell how I’ve been looking for special holiday songs by looking at my stations? LOL!

iTunes RadioiTunes Radio

The Radio also works like Pandora when you star a song you like – the station will play more songs like the one you starred. Enjoy the season with music!

 2. I read an interesting blog post titled “Kindness Elves: An Alternative to Elf on the Shelf Tradition” this morning. I love this post because the  blogger shares her pursuit of kindness and character-building activities to kids during the Christmas season. I  share her sentiments about Elf on the Shelf being a bit creepy and about the whole behavior modification (or manipulation) through using Santa or Elf-watching. I’m all for wonderment and making magical moments for children. What I don’t like is that many things we do in our culture enable the children to play  the entitlement games. So what struck a chord with me is that her variation  on the Elf on the Shelf is about  Kindness Elves “who love to help and notice kindness in others”. I emailed the post link to my colleagues at my school already and want to see the kindness in my students each day. So here we go! Let’s look for kindness and give help to those who need it!

3.  Give a thought to giving. Anna, the Kindness Elves blogger, said that we give presents because we love those people not because they deserve to get them. I agree. Instead of buying random gift cards, wouldn’t it be great to find a meaningful gift? I know how hard it is to find a great gift, but I found one today. So here I want to share it!

I sure didn’t have to take 5 to fall in love with this amazing product ;-). I learned about Koostik from Kelly Tenkely (@ktenkely) who wrote a post about her dad’s craftsmanship here. I love that Koostik products are handcrafted in America with natural resources, aesthetically uber cool, and are highly functional. I think smaller models will be good for cars without Blue Tooth. I’m hoping to order one in the next day or two for my husband. I just have to make a decision for which device…(I hope he doesn’t read this post).

December 2nd update

The good folks at Koostik and I’ve been tweeting back and forth about some specs so here they are:

The Original is 8.5″ x 3.5″ x 2″ and is approx. 1 pound.

The Pivot is 7.25″ x 3.25″ x 2″ and is less than one pound.

They are super friendly and great with questions and follow-ups. Shhhhh – I ordered mine – you should, too!

So how will you spend your December? If you find meaningful gifts (the ones you make or find), please share them with me in the comments. Also share some good music you may find on the iTunes Radio. And please join me in celebrating the goodness of life with children.

May your December heart be filled with goodness, kindness, and music!

Cheers!

~@Doremigirl

MiM Project: A Review

The thought of summer seems so long ago now that the school is in full swing.
I stop now to think back to the glorious days of summer.

This past summer was full of learning. I read books, blogs and checked out all of the wonderful sites my PLN had shared every day. Each day was packed with great discoveries.

So I started making a list of things I wanted to try this fall.

First project I wanted to start this year with my 8th graders came from @JaworskiMusic (Nick Jaworski) whom I’ve recently gotten to know. He has a fabulous blog about music education and teaching. One particular post, Music as Identity, caught my attention. Intentionally, I didn’t listen to a student project Nicholas had posted, but wanted to adapt this project for my students*. Thanks, Nick, for a great idea! This is how I remixed your lesson (now I can listen to your student’s project). * Nick’s students are High School students and mine are in Middle School.

Neon music sign

Image via Wikipedia

Music in Me Project

Make a 2-3 minute audio collage about the music you like and what you think it says about you.

This was a perfect way for me to learn several things about my students in the beginning of the year:

  • What role does music play in students’ lives?
  • What kind of music affects them or have meaning?
  • How will they express their thoughts in narrative writing?
  • How long were they going to take to edit music and audio recording in GarageBand/Audacity?

So with excitement, I explained the project to my students (given to them as well in the project handout). There were a lot of legit questions from them:

  1. Could we use songs with explicit words? - Answer: Yes, as this was a project about them. I wanted them to own their project and create something they were going to feel good about. Each student were to bring their 4-5 selections of MP3s to upload into school iMacs. We also planned to get rid of explicit songs so that younger students wouldn’t access them.
  2. Do we have to start writing on Google Docs? - Answer: No. But eventually, what you write should be shared with me so that I can give some feedback or assess their progress and for easy access.
  3. Wait, what is an audio collage?Answer: Selections of music pieced together, edited by the students. The narration will either introduce the songs or be playing while the music is playing.
  4. I don’t know how to edit songs. – Answer: You will! Let’s get working so that you will learn.

So for next three weeks, students (we meet twice in 6-day rotation):

  • chose 4-5 songs they love and reflect who they are.
  • created their narratives on Google Docs. This made it so easy for me to instantaneously check their work and make comments and communicate with them.
  • learned to export MP3 files from their personal collections and import them onto school iTunes.
  • learned to use GarageBand to create and edit the project: trimming mp3s, fading in and out, controlling volume, balancing overall volume.
  • recorded their narrative and edit it to lay it over the edited music tracks. I use H2 Zoom recorder in my classroom. It’s the first generation of the Zoom recorders, but I love using it!

What I’m Learning: The Teacher’s View

Students were free to work on any part of the project during the class times so students needed to manage time well. When they started, it was a usual start: the motivated students started brainstorming, writing down ideas feverishly.  And then there was a group of students who sat around, doing very little. The momentum of this project was definitely set by the “busy” guys.

I was helping students recording their narratives and occasionally reminding students to work. Some students ended up not having much done (they wrote a couple of sentences on GoogleDocs) by the end of the first class. Why were they not being creative? Did they have too much freedom to explore and learn?

So much for that thought.

By the second and third class, I began to see something interesting. One by one, those not-much-producing students, began to show me what they were working on. After each class, these students went home and worked on their projects at home on their laptops. [N.B. Our school allows students to bring their own from home for school use.]  Because they didn’t use the class time, these students worked at home. They edited their narrative and recorded it on their own. Exploration went beyond classroom walls and über cool and creative projects ended up coming from these students.

Another interesting discovery was in students’ reflections. I found so much maturity in their voice in expressing the “whys”. Here are some examples of my students’ reflections:

Music reflects a lot about me because it’s what makes my personality. I listen to music whenever I’m on my computer. I listen to music when I am doing homework because it blocks out all other noises and it helps me to concentrate.
I can’t say music defines me, but I can say I love to listen to music.  It helps me concentrate when I do my homework.
Music means a lot to me because my life would be a lot less happier and nicer without it. I love the feeling you get when your favorite song just came on the radio and that rush of needing to belt out the words along with it! Music helps me gain more energy in the morning- it gets me excited for the day. Music makes the world have more pizazz, and is extremely entertaining.
Music is important to me in many ways. It brings me up when I’m down. It pumps me up and makes me feel like I can do anything.    Music is a must have.

It didn’t matter if the student was a girl or boy. For 98% of my students music mattered more than I had expected [one students did not like to listen to music or owned an iPod. We tweaked the project to something he can relate to. I'll be honest - we struggled a long time to find this tweaked version, but in the end, the student did a fabulous job talking about the role of music]. I discovered how deeply my students were connected to music. I especially loved the way they expressed their identity tied to stories of family and friends. I was also surprised to hear playlists that consist extreme genres from classical to punk rock.

Technically speaking, students spent a lot of time editing and learning to use either GarageBand or Audacity. They learned a lot by making mistakes, taking chances, and asking questions. I really liked how many students helped other students when a question was being asked. Needless to say, our two rooms were never quiet (except for recording times).

Listen to some tracks from my students:

Moving Forward  ~>  ~>  ~>  ~>  ~>

Students’ finished mp3s were loaded up to iTunes. Using SoundCloud, I got an embeddable player so that I can embed it onto the class Google Sites page. Students listened to each other’s collage and gave constructive feedback. Since they all took a long time make these projects, I also wanted to give them a personalized feedback and assessment. I filled out this form and gave each of my students a feed back. I wrote everything in detail except the final grade and asked each student what they learned from this project. Their responses included how excited they were to learn to use GarageBand to create their project. A few were annoyed at how hard they had to work using the application. Some were so surprised to hear what different musical tastes everyone had. A handful of students recommended that I should start next year’s 8th grade year with this project because they had so much fun.

I learned  so much about my students. I also learned that I need to encourage them to be creative by creating a creative space and time. I’m learning to be patient!

My students ARE passionate about music and life. Now what?

Here are some questions I’m thinking of answering in a future post:

What am I going to do with this discovery now that I know what huge role music has in their life? How can I channel this passion to help them to learn more about music and guitar (all students learn how to play)? What other ways can I connect with them and learn about what I need to teach them?

Stay tuned!

App Love: NPR Music

I believe that apps were created to make our daily lives efficient and enjoyable. An app should make it easy for me to “do” a task. My criteria for keeping an app or actually buying one is simple: it has to be easy to navigate and use, the content on it has to make me think, and it has to be fun for me to use.

Last month, I saw a tweet from NPR about their new music app. Since I enjoy listening to many NPR podcasts, I thought I would give it a try.

As you open  this app, the front page features Top Stories with these

categories:

Rock/Pop/Folk, Jazz & Blues, Classical, World, Hip Hop/ R&B and Song of the Day.

One of the features I love is that I can read or listen to each story which had been featured on one of the 20 radio shows. I can scroll, touch~> listen, and touch~> stop whenever I want to move onto listening to something else. Most of the times, however, I find myself listening to the entire interview or concert performance because they are fascinating. There are genres and stories I would have never come across on my own! I frequently post these interesting finds for my Music PLN on Twitter using the app’s easy Twitter/Facebook integration. Finding new music and musicians is so easy and accessible.  Today’s Top Stories:

What does it take to find stories on the Canadian Soprano singing Wagner, or listen to School of Seven Bells’ song, or listen to a Raga Chamber Jazz or about women’s role in pop music culture now? Not much, except scrolling and choosing. Now I don’t have to wait for announcement-tweets telling where to look for such interviews or performances. I can just go to my phone and listen!

You can add segments you like onto your playlist to keep it for awhile. I like this feature a lot as I can save them for classroom use or to develop a project idea from a story or performance. Find even more music using live music stream from 75 NPR stations or purchase featured music through your iTunes.

All in all, I would recommend this app to anyone who appreciates music. Busy music teachers, especially, can search here for interesting articles, performances/concerts, or for classroom ideas. No more browsing for me: now I use this music smart music aggregator! It has become one of my favorite apps!

Note: This free app is available only for iPodTouch/ iPhone. I am sure NPR is working on making this great app for other smartphones!

June 22, 2012 Update

I still love this app on my phone AND on the iPad. Since my first post, NPR has released the app for other mobile devices. Enjoy!