Make music, not noise

“Make music, not noise” has become a popular motto in my classroom. A simple, yet powerful incentive for demonstrating good behavior and active participation during the learning experiences has been “free music time.” A selection of unique or special instruments are displayed and students are “free” to explore for a specific duration of time. “Free music time” had to be explicitly taught – as in behaviors and norms, and we have worked tirelessly to gradually build our time from one minute to what seems like ages – ten minutes. Nonetheless, it’s a favorite incentive for my students. At times I even add iPads to the mix in which students explore music games such as Rhythm Cat or Piano Dust Buster.

The students are simply enjoying their free music time, and be that as it may, there ARE some magical moments. It all starts with hanging out with friends and playing instruments, to messing around with particular sounds and techniques, and then turns to geeking out by asking stronger musicians in the class or even me for expertise and advice. Hmm, it seems like Mizuko Ito‘s concepts are at play. . .

Which begs the question, do I dare shift the incentive of free music time into an actual structured learning experience?

Reading Greg Toppo’s article Digital library aims to expand kids’ media literacy in USA Today further ignited my curiosity. The article discusses how we should no longer view a “library as a repository [but] a community center […] where things actually happen.” Thus, YOUmedia – a Digital Library Space for Teens – was born. It houses the latest digital media – laptop computers, music keyboards, recording equipment, video cameras and gaming consoles. Then, add teenagers, invite them to consume and produce media, and watch what happens.

The digital library has become so popular and influential that the Harold Washington Library Center in Chicago plans to replicate it citywide. One thing to notice in the digital library is that it’s loud; but “[i]t’s a constructive loud,” says poet and lead mentor Mike Hawkins, a frequent visitor of the digital library. Ito speculates that the success of the digital library is due to the fact that it’s based “not on what adults think students should be doing, but on ‘what kids actually do and how they engage with media and one another.'”


I recently attending a meeting regarding the building of our new school in Al Wakra, Qatar. My school is part of a large district under the education division of Qatar Foundation. The meeting discussed the specs of the building, classrooms, play spaces, recreation center  and so on. I was immediately drawn to the library design. From what I’ve gathered, the library will be placed on the top floor where it can span across the entire elementary school. While bookshelves and thousands of books will occupy the majority of the space, the designers have considered work spaces and digital media spaces as well. Is this the beginning of a digital library that I will have access to?! Eek! I am already giddy with excitement at the notion that I, too, will have the opportunity to apply my theories into practice. Perhaps I can convince the designers to etch our motto into this new space. . ?

But alas, for now, I shall experiment with “free music time” in my classroom and record some observations and outcomes. By the time we move into our new building, I could be a “sound board” for the digital music space. Sound board. See what I did there?

Have a great week!

A picture is worth ten thousand words

Image from Pexels by Clem Onojeghuo.

I love pictures. I love taking pictures. I also love drawings. I love to draw. I am by no means a photographer or an artist, but I do enjoy the hobby of taking pictures and doodling.

After taking a semester long course called Teaching ESL students in mainstream classrooms: Language in learning across the curriculum, my personal hobby of picture taking and doodling merged onto my professional life. If the text can be enhanced or better understood by the use of a photo or a sketch, it will provide additional support for our English language learners. Okay, then. Google Images here I come! I became almost obsessed with adding photos to my Google Slides/Keynote for my daily lessons, in addition to, the worksheets I created for my students. A colleague also introduced me to the Noun Project – a site where I can search for simple icons to illustrate specific concepts. Module 8 of the ESL course became a particular favorite as we assessed published texts that were used in the classroom to determine whether or not the balance of text and image were appropriate for the age level they were intended for. The module sparked a drive and inspired me to create my own materials that I deemed were more appropriate for my particular clientele.

Then came the video, Everything is a Remix: Fair Use. Hold up. I may not be tech or hip enough (yet) to transform media by re-purposing or by adding new meaning or expression, but I had a funny feeling that my race to find the perfect Google image and/or meme needed to slow down. I needed time to reflect and allow the main ideas of the video to sink in.

Wikipedia defines fair use as, “a doctrine in the law of the United States that permits limited use of copyrighted material without having to first acquire permission from the copyright holder.” Examples of fair use can include, ” commentary, search engines, criticism, parody, news reporting, research, and scholarship.”

Regulations on fair use can be a bit murky; however, when you use media for criticism (making an argument) or commentary (expressing an opinion) AND you can answer “yes” to the three-step test, all is good and well (for the most part) in the land of fair use:

  1. Is the clip you are using illustrating a point? Does it provide an example that supports your argument or demonstrate what you mean? (Side note: you can’t just use it if you like it or it’s entertaining).
  2. Is this point clear to the average user?
  3. Did you use only the amount that was reasonably appropriate to make your point?

Hmm, good to know. I should post the three-step test as a reminder when creating materials and resources for my class. Thanks to sites such as the Noun Project or Pexels, just to name a few, I can still fulfill my need of using images to support my concepts. These images are mostly free for my personal use. Google Images also provides an additional “usage rights” tab to ensure that my search for the perfect image is within the realm of fair use.  This, at the very least, is my understanding. I know I have a long way to go, but this is a good start.

So, for now, instead of racing to find my perfect image, I’ll happily cruise in the slow lane so I can check my gauges (the three-step test) and enjoy the extra clicks and views that the land of fair use has to offer.

It’s all fun and games until. . . Course 1 Final Project


I wanted to build upon a prior unit and focus on the process of creating a musical game by incorporating technology in the classroom. In this unit, the summative assessment task is the creation of an original musical game; however, the learning experiences leading up to it include collaboration, reflection and feedback via Google Classroom in order to introduce the concepts of “geeking out” and networks. Although it’s written in the PYP format, the unit plan shares the same principles and outcomes as UbD (Understanding by Design).

Assessment Task (using RAFTS)

You are the music teacher at Qatar Academy Al Wakra. Create an original game for your lower elementary students. Your game must include a title, form (rules of the game), skills, responsibilities and at least two musical elements of your choice. Be prepared to teach your game to the class in four week’s time. Good luck!

Technology Integration
  1.  Google Classroom will be used as a platform to provide resources (videos of games played in class and videos of children playing games from around the world).
  2. Google Classroom will be used for peer evaluation, reflection and teacher assessment. Not only will the students provide constructive feedback to each other in their own class, but to OTHER classes in the school as well . That will amount to SIXTY other students with whom they can collaborate with and enjoy each other’s games.

I chose this particular unit because it was a UOI that my students truly enjoyed. However, I wanted to take it to the next level. I was intrigued about the concepts of “geeking out” and networking after reading about their positive impact on student learning. In my previous post, Geeking Out: A Beginner’s Guide, I was toying around with the idea of introducing  the concepts in a structured way.  The students will collaborate with each other in class, but my hope is to extend the collaboration to other students as well.  Due to my school’s class structure, the classes, for the most part, stay together. There are limited opportunities for students to work with other students in the same grade. Implementing Google Classroom will break down the classroom walls and offer a wider range of perspectives. The musical games unit will, hopefully, be enhanced by the support of Google Classroom due to its collaborating and networking capabilities.

Unit of Inquiry: Music Games

I got 99 problems and my tech’s still one

I am a “digital nati-grant.”

At least I’d like to think so. Not quite “digital natives” like my students, but not exactly “digital immigrants” like my parents. I think I’m somewhere in between. It’s comfortable because I can move from one spectrum to the next with relative ease. And as an educator, it’s a GREAT position to be in.

Marc Prensky’s article Shaping Tech for the Classroom discusses the typical process of technology adoption in schools. It usually involves:

  1. Dabbling
  2. Doing old things in old ways
  3. Doing old things in new ways
  4. Doing new things in new ways

We started dabbling with technology in schools by having a computer here and there and/or using software created by teachers and other individuals; however, not much is happening. Prensky states that “[…] writing, creating, submitting, and sharing work digitally on the computer via email […] is in the category of doing old things (communicating and exchanging) in old ways (passing stuff around).” We’ve then come a long way by using simulations such as SimCity, Real Lives and School Tycoon to show demonstrations and have student involvement in manipulating whole virtual systems, but in reality it’s still doing old things in new ways. Finally, we’ve arrived at a place where change is needed in our kids’ 21st century lives – doing new things in new ways – an invention.

The changes that we need in the digital age are “[…] new curricula, new organisation, new architecture, new teaching, new student assessments, new parental connections, new administration procedures, and many other elements.” Marc suggests that the first step towards this direction is to consult the young. After all, they are the “digital immigrants.” They are far ahead in terms of taking advantage of the technology that is available. The second step is to combine what they know about technology and what we know and require about education.

If that’s the case, why not start with a digital discourse? It could start at one school in a smaller scale and expand. Students, teachers, parents, administrators, test creators and policy makers would be required to attend. As a “digital nati-grant” we’re in a good position to hear our student’s concerns and needs, and at the same time, we can provide evidence of our students’ achievements to convince administrators, test creators and policy makers to move forward with the prevailing educational landscape. It will be a monumental challenge for us to undertake, but we don’t have a choice. What do we have to lose? Our children’s future. . . ?




It takes a village

The “Conclusions and Implications” section of the Living and Learning with New Media from the MacArthur Foundation summarizes the research findings in relation to implications for learning, education and public participation. What struck me most was the concept that “Peer-based learning has unique properties that suggest alternatives to formal instruction.”

Once more:

“Peer-based learning has unique properties that suggest alternatives to formal instruction.” 

Is that so? We know that our students can spend hours on their technology “hanging-out” in friendship-driven sites such as Facebook and Snapchat. Some, dare I say, take it to the next level and dive into interest-driven groups for collaboration and creation of (insert product/hobby here). Imagine what it would be like if we could harness the same drive and energy from our students into their subjects at school. . .

Peer-based learning is characterized by the idea that:

  • Peers are an important driver of learning
  • There is a context of reciprocity, where participants feel that they can both produce and evaluate knowledge and culture
  • Expert participants provide models and leadership but do not have authority
  • When in a context of public scrutiny, youth are motivated to develop their identities and reputations
  • Youth [are] taking on more “grown-up” roles and ownership of their own self-presentation, learning and evaluation of others

For me, this sounds like an ideal teaching scenario. The teacher would take on the role of an expert participant or what Dilan Mahendran dubs as “co-conspirators.” This adult-youth collaboration is also defined by the work of Chavez and Soep known as the “pedagogy of collegiality.” The expert participant  would help model and guide the learning journey from the beginning of a unit to the summative assessment.

But you just said they don’t have “authority.”

You’re right. In order to “assess” the students’ understanding of the unit, outside forces (i.e. public scrutiny) would obtain that role. Students with a music composition assignment could be assessed by a known composer/songwriter. The invention of a simple machine could be assessed by “tinkers” and inventors. Creative writing projects can be assessed by various authors, writers or even librarians. The possibilities are endless!

Enlisting the help and expertise of the community during a unit of study offers, by and large, an authentic and applicable learning journey for our students. Authentic. Something that is genuine, real, bona fide and true.

As the old adage goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

Funny how this rings true even today. . . Thoughts?

Geeking Out: A Beginner’s Guide

Reading the section “Geeking Out” from the Living and Learning with New Media triggered my curiosity whether or not MY own students can get a taste of what geeking out is all about – albeit in a structured way. Mind you, I teach lower elementary students. The idea of just letting them loose on the world wide web to find a group or network to interact with is ludicrous. But being that this week’s objective is classroom application and building our PLNs, here are my initial thoughts:

Teacher constructs a performance task using RAFT (Role, Audience, Format, Task): You are a composer for an advertising company. Your job is compose a short jingle, a melody, for a tv commercial about children’s toys. Write a melody, perform it on an instrument and video record it for the company’s approval. Good luck!

Naturally, prior to assigning this task, my students and I would have worked on building essential musical elements such as rhythm, pitch, notation, etc. When the students finally receive the task and are on their way to composing and performing, the geeking out phase begins. In the article, “geeking out requires time, space, and resources to experiment and follow interests in a self-directed way.” It also requires “access to specialised communities of expertise.” My PLNs enter the scene. A music teacher in another school has the same performance task. They, too, have been working on building their essential musical elements. And so we combine our powers. Our students are now connected in this semi-controlled network. The students are collaborating by sharing melodies, giving and providing feedback, and experimenting with new and learned techniques. Our students are now engaged in a “mode of learning that is peer-driven [and…] gaining knowledge and expertise in specific areas of interest.”

Although the idea is in its infancy, I feel that it has potential. Connecting our students in this specialised community (through music composition) will allow the students to “hone their craft within groups of like-minded and expert peers.” They gain more than just thinking, communication, and social skills; in addition, they have embodied the very traits of the IB Learner Profile, specifically, inquirers, thinkers, communicators, risk takers, open-minded and reflective students. And of course, they got a taste of what geeking out is all about.

By design, this performance task can be transferred to us as adults. Andragogy, conceived by Malcolm Knowles, is an attempt to develop a theory for adult learning. For example,

  1. As adults, there is a need to explain why specific things are taught (for students who ask why we are learning and for what purpose).
  2. The instruction should be task-oriented instead of memorisation (which should be the case with young learners).
  3. Instruction should take into account the wide range of different backgrounds (hence differentiation in our classrooms).
  4. Since adults are self-directed, instruction should allow learners to discover things for themselves, providing guidance and help when mistakes are made (although it will take time and practice to become independent learners, the same should apply to our students).

Nowadays, I feel that there is a likeness to young and adult learners. Gone are the days of lectured learning and rote memorisation. I know some would argue that some facts should be memorised (i.e. math facts), but the time has come where those facts can take a back seat to practical application and problem solving skills. Besides, that’s what Google is for, right?

What are YOUR thoughts on this method of concept-based instruction for students young and old?


“Someday we’ll find it. . . the rainbow connection”

For anyone familiar with the IB, specifically the PYP, framework, the notion of Connected Learning isn’t too far fetched. Connected Learning? Huh? The jargon might be new, but take a look…

Wikipedia defines Connected Learning as,

“…a type of learning that integrates personal interest, peer relationships, and achievement in academic, civic, or career-relevant areas.”

The Connected Learning model suggests that,

“…youth learn best when: they are interested in what they are learning; they have peers and mentors who share these interests; and their learning is directed toward opportunity and recognition.”

Certain components of the PYP echo the Connected Learning approach. Students are given autonomy to showcase their learning for their summative assessments. During a unit of inquiry, students are often seen in partners or groups for collaboration, feedback, and support . Furthermore, students are given the opportunity to take action – to go beyond the summative assessment – as a result of the learning process. Their action extends the student’s learning or it could have a wider social impact; for example, to benefit the school community.

I’ve color-coded the possible relationships between the two. See what I mean? Obviously there’s more to each framework, but you get the idea. You can read more on the research synthesis report of the Connected Learning Research Network here.

However, if your schedule doesn’t allow you to dive into the 100 page report, Dr. Mimi Ito’s article, Learning That Connects, provides a quick summary of Connected Learning. She discusses its main principles and presents current studies of the shift of education with the youth culture. All was good and well until I came near the end of the article in a section entitled “Offering Opportunity.” Dr. Ito says,

“Helping equip young people to thrive in this environment of abundance, cultivating mindfulness and attentiveness are a new set of capacities for a new kind of landscape that we have to navigate as educators.”

“Educational institutions need to connect young people’s learning to their social lives, their communities, their interests and their careers.”  

I get you, Dr. Ito. We’re in the process of doing just that. But what about everyone else? What about other educators who don’t have access to this research? What about schools who lack the resources to train their teachers? What about Title I schools who can’t afford to study the research, much less the technology to be (and stay) connected? One of the core properties of the Connected Learning experience is that it is production-centered – “digital tools provide opportunities for producing and creating a wide variety of media, knowledge and cultural content in experimental and active ways.” Schools serving low-income students and families sadly have to prioritise their needs.  As much as they would like to provide the tools for the future success of their students, the notion just seems out of reach. I feel that we are missing out on THEIR potential. But how can we reach them? How can we connect? Connectivism and the Connected Learning approach won’t work if we can’t do just that: connect. 



You’re checking Facebook? At work?!

As a specialist in a school, you’re usually “the one” in your department. Two if you’re lucky. I needed more. I needed resources. I needed ideas. I needed someone who has taught in my field for YEARS and could share words of wisdom. I needed a music network.

Thanks to Facebook, I belong to several music education groups. I have written comments on at least three posts, posted a question of my own, and responded to a fellow music teacher to suggest an idea to use in the classroom. Does this elevate my status from “lurker” (as Jeff says) to “semi-lurker”? I should at least receive a sticker or something.

For me, it’s a work in progress to build the courage to be visible in this digital age. Once it’s posted, it’s out there. You can’t undo it. Right..? I read through the first two chapters of Reach, then read it again and again. I wanted to make sure that the ideas formulating in my head as I read the words were making sense. Between mini tutorials on how to create an RSS reader to an avatar, I got the feeling that Jeff was slowly nudging me to embrace the web 2.0. I felt like he was saying, “Look at all the cool things you can do out here, Kehri. You can connect with people outside of your building. They, too, have insecurities and qualms about being ‘out there.’ But look at the possibilities…”

I met with the third grade team for our unit of inquiry on people, culture and the arts. We were challenged by the concept of perspective and how we were to tackle this concept with our students. I needed more time to think about it. I walked back to my room feeling a bit defeated that I couldn’t offer any ideas. Maybe I was too tired to think and needed to de-stress? I logged onto Facebook (gasp!) to see if there were any two-minute puppy videos to get my mind off work. It’s my way of unwinding. Don’t hate. Something on the left side of the screen caught my eye: my Facebook groups. Hmm…I paused my video, clicked on one of my music education groups and started typing. Who am I and why am I posting something for the world to see? Are you mad?! No. Just desperate. I submitted the post, finished my puppy video, filed student work and prepared my instruments for the following day. I was getting ready to pack my things, but then saw that I had notifications. Curious, I logged onto Facebook again and realized that I had gotten responses. So. Many. Responses. Music teachers unite! They shared resources. They shared ideas. They shared their words of wisdom. My heart was full and my brain was on overdrive. I stayed a bit longer to collect these new ideas and excitedly created a plan of action to present to my team.

My music department just got bigger. So yeah, you’re right. I AM checking Facebook. AT WORK.


Be brave.

Blog. Grade sheet. RSS feed (what IS an RSS feed?) Flipboard. CoETaIL + GET?! Wha…?!

What did I get myself into? Fingers point to my lovely colleague/partner in crime, Yasmeen, for cajoling me into taking this program – the program from which I’ve heard so many great and wonderful things. I was, and still am, uncertain because of my limited technology integration knowledge. However, it’s either now or never to take the leap.

“Be brave. Even if you’re not, pretend to be.” (unknown)

Online 9 Cohort, y’all ready? Let’s do this!