I admit it. I was a bit skeptical at first when reading about digital storytelling and how it can be done in a music context. However, like (or unlike) Archimedes in the bath, I might have finally arrived at my eureka moment because digital storytelling could be summative assessment option to an existing unit of inquiry. After all, we’re all about student agency, right?

Image via Pixabay (Erika Wittlieb)

My previous blog discusses visual literacy and imagination. The provocation for this unit of inquiry utilises the power of images to stimulate ideas, feelings and sounds; however, what if it was the other way around? I could begin with a musical excerpt and students will create a narrative based on what they hear. One of my go-to listening samples is The Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns. The possibilities are endless with this particular set of tunes! I’ve even used this resource with my kindergarten students. The students draw what they think is happening in the music.  I ask, “What do you see in your mind when you hear this music?” or “How does this music make you feel?” SURELY if the kinders can come up with a piece of visual artwork upon hearing a piece of music, the older students can not only create a visual but also write a short story.

KG sample student work

Because there are heaps of musical variety in The Carnival of the Animals collection, students are bound to find one they can connect with to create a digital story. In music, we can discuss an assortment of musical elements such as form or mood. Obviously, a link to reading and language arts is evident with their story writing skills or even storyboarding skills. Visual arts also take a role in this assessment if the students were to create a piece of artwork. And of course, the creation of these digital stories would include the technology perspective by discussing photo rights/fair useiMovie skills and so forth.

Now. I challenge you to take 60 seconds from your busy schedule to listen to ONE of the musical excerpts below. I purposefully renamed the tracks so you will not have an image in mind prior to hearing the music sample. If you’re keen to know what they’re called, scroll to the bottom of the blog. Do YOU think you can create a short story based on The Carnival of the Animals? How else can I improve this new summative assessment option? 

Looking forward to your thoughts!

The Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns


Sample 1: Aquarium

Sample 2: Characters with Long Ears

Sample 3: The Swan



Image via Pexels (Kevin Ku)

I may be taking a different approach to week three’s blog, but I’ll have a go. I present everyday. You read that right. Every. Day. My Keynote presentations are part of my PYP learning environment. 

As the students enter the classroom, Mr. Mac, a behavior strategy under the CHAMPS program is displayed on the SMART board to remind students of how we enter the music classroom. The same slide will then be displayed at the end when they exit. We use this routine weekly as I only see my students once a week; it helps them remember the expectations. We go through the following sequence where “Give Me Five!” is shown on the screen. I raise my hand, the students follow, and we, through TPR, go through the meaning of “Give Me Five”. At this point, since I know have the students’ full attention, we go through the lessons for the day. We usually begin with a movement sequence where the slide contains short lyrics and an image of a marching band. For those students who are emerging readers, the text is displayed and they can participate in the chant while incorporating our movement to the steady beat. I know, I know.  I have written everything we say on the screen. I’m pretty sure that is faux pas number one according to Don McMillan’s Life After Death by Powerpoint

But for good reason. The children are now connecting the lyrics that they have learned by rote and assigning letters and words. The lyrics were not provided when I first taught it. It was only a simple image with movements associated with it. But now with the text displayed, they are practicing their English reading skills in the music setting. They LOVE pointing out the words while saying the chant. You can’t fault me for that. In fact, I should get bonus points.

Our class resumes with the introduction of the composer of the month. The slide contains a world map with the composer’s home country highlighted, an image of the composer, title of the piece and (sneakily) embed an audio clip on the slide. Depending on the composer, the activity could be a simple “sit in a circle and listen to the music” (with a focus on musical elements such as dynamics or tempo) or a movement activity with props (i.e. scarves, ribbons, bouncy balls, etc.) I liked Jeff’s idea of adding animation to presentations when appropriate. I speak of animation within the same slide and not transition between slides. Here’s why: when the students see the “typical” COTM slide, they are already programmed with the format of the slide. The world map is shown with a star to locate Qatar. The composer’s home country is highlighted, and I go through this silly, but effective, script that if we were to fly FIFTEEN hours by plane from Qatar, we can visit (insert composer’s name)’s home in (insert composer’s birth country).

Updated slide with animation

An animated arrow, for example, from Qatar to a specific country would add an element of fun – but with a purpose. They are making connections about where they are compared to the rest of the world. This simple learning engagement can trigger their curiosity, and as a result, they inquire about other composers and where they come from. When I initially designed this slide, I thought it would just be a display or a decoration to support the music behind it. Little did I know it would be an integral part of my daily lesson.

Keynote vs. Google Slides 

I’ve been creating these “presentations” for a few years now and I’ve come to realise that there should be a program where Keynote and Google Slides become one. I’m not clever enough to create this, but if anyone out there is, you heard it here first! I love that I can edit Slides from any computer; but Keynote has a more beautiful template to work with. For my context, videos and music embedded onto the slides are essential. Google. Are you listening? I shouldn’t have to put nuclear launch codes JUST to add music to my slides. And I’m not even adding music. I have to convert my MP3s to a YouTube video AND THEN add it to my slide. It’s very distracting. Even though I adjust the size of the YouTube video, it doesn’t look clean. Keynote makes it easy to just drag and drop music onto a slide. And what’s more: it’s invisible in presentation mode. Oooooh! Aaaaah! I can even edit where to start and stop if I only want a short excerpt. As an aside, did you know that there are wireless presentation remotes that do NOT work with Google Slides? Oh yes. I would know. I’ve owned three different versions (this one does NOT work). Because we transition from movement, to listening, to writing, to singing, etc., I don’t have time to waste and walk to the computer and change slides. With the presentation remote in hand, or with a special helper, I have a tightly paced music lesson.

For now, I’ll stick with Keynote for it’s ease and visually appealing slides. And I’ll definitely incorporate some of the design principles that I’ve learned this week for my future presentations. But if anyone wants to create “Key-slides” or “Google-note”, am happy to go 50/50 with you!

Oh happy day!

By the way, if you’re using Keynote and need to convert it to Google Slides, this video is handy. Enjoy!


Imagination extends the ability to think, create, and express ourselves

Image via Pixabay

This is the central idea of my grade two students’ unit of inquiry. As part of their summative assessment, they are to write or rewrite a short story in English class. They will use their imagination by writing an original short story, adding another character to an existing story and so on. In visual arts, they will create sock puppets, and again, using their imagination, they will a character (aka sock puppet), and perform a skit in Arabic. In music, they will perform their short stories (written in English) accompanied by student created soundscapes or musical motifs. 

I’ve always enjoyed this unit because it gives me an opportunity to share the unique instruments in our music room. As part of my provocation, I display an image on the smartboard – it can be any image – and their task is to use their imagination to write a quick narrative of what is taking place in the picture. The  students then decide what instrument, sounds or sound effects to use to support that narrative.

Image via Pixabay

The ocean image is my go-to only because my hope is for the students to choose the ocean drum to provide the sound effect. It seems too easy. Yes, that’s the point. We move on to a number of images, and each one will have a different feel, sound, mood, theme, etc. A woodpecker sitting on a branch can be represented by a woodblock, or an image of a skeleton can be enhanced by a group of claves played simultaneously.

What’s interesting for me is when the students choose an instrument that won’t “naturally” go with a specific image. It gives me insight to how the students perceive a particular image and their musical choices. Furthermore, the best part of this learning experience is that there is no wrong answer. They all seem to have a different perspective, and that’s what makes this unit so unique.

Image via Pixabay

A good image supports my content because it triggers some sort of reaction, an emotion or better yet, a sound. It enhances my lessons in that for the lower primary students, they do not know how to read traditional music notation (yet), but images make an excellent stepping stone. Steady beat is a concept that I can try to explain ad nauseam but simply displaying a beating heart or even a grandfather clock, in addition to, listening to a steady beat, and the concept understood with relative ease. They may not be able to verbalise the concept, but demonstrating with their bodies through movement is a clear indicator.  What’s more, tracing our fingers on a roller coaster image helps introduce the exploration of vocal sounds – high and low. There are countless uses for images in a musical context. Although it can be time consuming, curating images to teach musical conceptual understandings has proven to be successful.

Any other ideas of using images in a music setting?

Happy weekend!

“The difference between style and fashion is quality.” (Giorgio Armani)

During my first year as an elementary music teacher, I scoured the internet for the best resources. I was not prescribed a set curriculum to follow, and so I was left to my own devices (I preferred that, really). And then I came across a website called Mama Lisa’s World. Indeed I entered her world, and my (teaching) life changed! She has organised a collection of songs, rhymes, games and traditions from around the world. Celebrating International Day at school was a breeze because of this website. My lessons on world music and other cultures were such a pleasure to teach. Also, themed concerts and/or presentations were a big hit thanks to this resource (insert praise emoji hands here)! Thanks, Mama Lisa! 

Mama Lisa’s World Homepage

After reading the articles Understanding Visual Hierarchy in Web Design, and Design Better with CRAP, I realized that “Mama Lisa” could learn a trick or two to update and freshen up her website. For instance, I would redesign the homepage where the header would have a simpler font with a neutral color (I have an obsession with shades of grey. No, NOT the book). The light blueish-green background with maroon letters isn’t quite my style. I would fill the homepage an interactive world map. When you hover above a continent, it would glow (or something). Upon clicking on a continent, it would zoom in – Prezi-style – and from there, you can choose the country which then directs you to that country’s page. The page would include historical information, up-to-date photos and a selection links to songs, rhymes, games and traditions. Of course there would be some sort of icon, perhaps a globe or a music note, to take you back to the homepage when desired. I must say the ads littering the current site can be a bit distracting. Is that something she can control as the owner of a website? Hmm, perhaps a question worth pursuing later if I decide to create my own. . .

Rough draft of redesigning the website

After hours of “redesigning her website”, I got to thinking: who am I to criticize her website? Maybe criticize is a strong word. That’s probably just her style! She happens to LIKE light blueish-green and maroon..?! As a new elementary music teacher, the idea NEVER crossed my mind because I was visiting the site to learn – to learn about new songs, games, traditions, dances, etc. I have composed a number of successful student productions and performances based on the content of her website. Now, I ask you: what’s more important? Content or aesthetic?

Okay, okay. One can argue that it CAN be both. I suppose in an ideal world it should be. But for now, Mama Lisa, you do you (insert praise emoji hands here)! Thanks for everything! 

Draft homepage
Draft individual country pages

P.S. Any thoughts or comments about my draft website? Have a great weekend!