See it Grow! Music PLN

Early this morning, I had a chance to go to a local farm. I love this farm for many reasons: It has the sweetest, farm-grown corn and so many fresh farm-grown vegetables, U-Cut flowers for very cheap price, plants for the house, AND the local farmers. Although it was fairly early for a Saturday, the farm was already busy, filled with people.

Usually, when I go to this farm, I fill up both of my reusable bags with fresh veggies. Today, I came home with just one paper bag filled with fresh green beans which were on a “weekend special” at 1/2 peck for $2.00.

While I was looking around this farm for things to buy, I was struck by two people, one man and one woman. These were just 2 farmers I saw in action. Their feet moved at a fast speed, moving crates full of veggies or working on “whatever was necessary” around the farm. Their clothes were soaked with sweat, apparent dirt stains all over their aprons, socks, and hands. They truly had a “farmer’s tan”.

As I walked through veggie stands, I kept looking over at these two people. These farmers resembled a group of people in my life…

I have been thinking about how I’ve been learning many things through my PLN (professional learning network) for the past 10 months. It’s been an amazing experience for me learning from so many teachers who are passionate about learning, sharing, and teaching. I’ve been inspired to think beyond what I have come to know and be comfortable with. These smart people get me to think. Sometimes they challenge my beliefs and why I teach the ways I do. Sometimes, my PLN inspire great lesson ideas or projects. All in all, I’ve been learning daily with wonderfully different, but great teachers around the world. One of the fascinating things that made my learning so fun and interesting is that I get to have conversations with these people via social media.

The two farmers (their appearance, work, and life-style) I mentioned earlier reminded me of my Music PLN. These are pre-service teachers, music teachers, music advocates, musicians and artists who have been making my learning experience so wonderful. You see, like these farmers, I’ve been seeing how this growing community’s been “farming” this summer: thinking through things together, sharing teaching ideas, asking questions, assessing our roles and curriculum, finding ways connect with our students, journaling our experiences in our various blogs, and finding ways to become effective teachers – all of these have been vital in my own learning.

Joe Pisano, a friend and a professor at Grove City College has built a great platform for music educators all over the world. I’ve been very fortunate to have been a part of his launching team. The site, MusicPLN, is truly a great resource-filled place where teachers can converse about just about anything in music or music education. I love reading or adding my thoughts on forums like “Video Games in the Classroom”, “Integrating Technology in Music classroom”, or “Mouthpiece Size, etc.” (a post from the Brass Discussion Group. I don’t know much about brass instruments so I can learn by reading through discussions like this). Many tech-savvy, thoughtful people have contributed much to this forum – you just have check it out!

I am proud to be a member of this network. There will be even greater conversations, collaborations, and teaching ideas from this forum as time passes and we all work together to build on this community. I  hope many of aspiring and seasoned teachers, musicians and music advocates will add their voices here.

Happy Launching Day, MusicPLN! Here’s to learning!

Reflection of Gratefulness

(I wrote this post as a guest blogger for The Inspired Classroom, June 19, 2010.)

I want to first thank Elizabeth for inviting me to share a little bit of my thoughts here. I am so fortunate to have people like her in my network to learn from.

I am on day #4 of my summer vacation. It’s very early – my body is still in school mode. I am enjoying the quietness of the morning and the time to think about my year.
I just finished the 10th year of teaching and it has been the most rewarding year.
I have learned the most.

It all started with working with a new teaching partner. Some adjectives that come to mind that describe him are energetic, passionate, funny, and creative. We worked together every single day, seeing each other teach, being sharpened by one another. It was amazing to watch the joy of music making grow in our school because I had a partner who passionately loved seeing children make music. I had been missing this kind of collaboration for past 5 years. I really appreciate Mr. B.

Thanks to our school’s push on tech integration, I was able to join a committee of teachers from other independent schools to learn about technology in the classroom. One of the best learning experiences happened through Twitter, yes, the micro-blogging social media platform. Through Twitter, I was able to be a part of Professional Learning Network (PLN). Following people, or having people follow me was just strange at first. I was not sure what Twitter was supposed to do for me. So my start was slow. But reading some of the tweets, I knew I had to find my way to be a part of this network: the tweets I’m talking about were of great resources, blog posts, and articles that I would not have come across easily. So my first tweets were questions. I asked questions to Twitter handles I did not know. These handles turned out to be a group of great educators and people who genuinely love sharing their knowledge and resources with tens of thousands of people. Through their generosities of time and knowledge, I learned to network. I learned to use very useful web 2.0 tools with my students. More importantly, I learned that I do live in a big world, but thanks to technology, I get to be in touch with it daily. I enjoy learning from them! I am looking forward to this summer and learning much from my PLN. To this date, I have enjoyed collaborating with teachers from many countries, working on projects online. They have shown me how great learning takes place in this community.

Excited to introduce cool apps and tools I learned from my PLN, I eagerly thought of ways to integrate them into my lessons. During this journey, though, I learned something special: that these tools really served my students and highlighted their strengths. There were many times I was struck by my students’ poignant thoughts as I read their blog posts, responses or listened to VoiceThreads. I am so proud! My students brought their imagination and heart into their projects. Many of the students have also expressed how they liked having the freedom to choose how they were going to use the tool in a project. Many of them experimented in different ways to use the tool and assessed for themselves what worked best. Projects like song-writing or storytelling (slideshow, movies, or book-making) reflected my students’ personalities, their hard work and creativity. Here are some examples:
Movie UP: Discussing life-issues presented in the movie, a study of theme and variations (sound track) and naming a classical piece used in a scene (click to enlarge):

UP Discussion on VoiceThread

UP Discussion using VoiceThread

Students’ reflection and my comment after watching Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir (a YouTube video) on their blogs:

What I learned by using these tools is that blogging or using VoiceThread for discussions provides additional thinking time for students. In a traditional classroom setting, I can throw out a question and expect the usual participating students to answer. In these particular platforms, however, students showed that they took time to reflect and responded thoughtfully. I am very thankful for many great discussions, listening and reflecting time my students and I had this year.

Our year wasn’t all-tech all year around! We sang a lot (I am a choir teacher), played guitars, played games through songs students are learning (fun belongs in the classroom), and discussed our role as responsible stewards of our planet. I am particularly proud of my 3rd graders who co-wrote an original song, Go Green! for our school’s Earth week. I was blown away by the way they brainstormed ideas for us to live by. While they sang, the 5th graders used their homemade vegetable/recycled item instruments. Students were proud of their work. So was I!

Now, I find my heart full of gratefulness. I am learning that when I create a breathable, fun, purposeful learning space, students’ learning experiences exceed my expectation. Learning and teaching isn’t easy. But I am grateful for people and resources that are available to me. The more I learn, I feel like I don’t know much!

I guess I better go and learn some more. :-) I can’t wait for next school year!