Monday, March 8, 2010

"Final Countdown" to Benchmark Project

As yet another class at NLU comes to a close, we've been asked to reflect on our final Benchmark project which was the creation of a webquest or curriculum web. Overall, I have to admit that this class has been one of the most useful and helpful yet that I've taken in regards to actual classroom use. I know that I will continue to use many of the skills gained in this class to continue with the created webquest and to also create a webpage for my beginning band students as well, a task that I've wanted to complete for some time now.

Now to address the actual benchmark project of the webquest. I chose to complete a webquest assignment on finding the most difficult instrument in the beginning band to play. This was not a question that I came up with on my own; it is a question that I am asked literally hundreds of times a school year. I feel that this in itself makes for the beginning of a useful assignment as it is something that students have questioned and examined on a superficial level throughout the year. The challenge for myself soon became how to take this valid question and turn it into a true "inquiry" based lesson, a term I still struggle with defining. But perhaps this is one of the purposes of "inquiry"after all: a term that continues to evolve and develop as our own learning continues to evolve and develop as well.

By using a question that students have developed, the project begins to take on the definition of true inquiry. The webquest also embodies analysis and synthesis in that students have to analyze each individual instrument and synthesize all of this data into choosing their hardest instrument. However, once they've come up with this answer the quest is not done yet. A single answer is not the end as I want this to challenge their current thinking. After their first answer they must then discuss this answer with other classmates using collaboration skills to see if they still want to keep their original answer. After coming up with this answer, students must then present their findings to the band as a whole for further discussion, another area of true inquiry.

After the students complete this webquest, it is hoped that the students will realize that there is no one instrument that is ultimately the "hardest" to play. There are many factors that contribute to making an instrument "hard" to play: students size of their hands and body, sound production, and interest. By looking at these factors, students will gain a better understanding of not only their instrument but how all instruments in the band function as a group, leading to better group participation and playing. Even though a student may not play an instrument from the brass family, they will understand how to play one of these instruments, some of the difficulties these players are challenged with, as well as how to incorporate their sound into that of the whole band. As more and more instruments are introduced into the mix as the students progress from year to year they can develop their own inquiries into what makes those instruments work and produce the sound they do, and whether or not it is a viable option for them to undertake learning one of these instruments or will it be their "hardest" instrument to play.

Overall, I am quite excited about having my students complete this webquest so I can take the issues that occur during the implementation of it to go back and make it even stronger as an inquiry-based learning activity. Here in, though, lies my ultimate problem. If I remember correctly, Craig made mention of this activity taking approximately 150 to 200 minutes to be completed in a class setting. Now, for teachers that may have access to their students on a weekly basis, this is not an issue. However, I only see my band students for 30 minutes once a week. If we were to attempt to complete this webquest with the above time demands, we would possibly be done with the webquest in 5 weeks at the minimum. I know this is a common complaint, but I do not have the time nor the luxury to devote to this. There is a possibility that I could complete this in collaboration with a classroom teacher at their individual schools where the classroom teacher could continue to take them into the lab after I've laid the foundation, but this also comes with complications as they have their own curriculum they need to teach.

All this to say, I have greatly enjoyed creating this instrument webquest, but have serious concerns about the time required to complete it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Blog #7 - Second Life

Where to even begin with my Second Life (SL) experience: after walking into the bottom of the lake outside the NLU building and being guided back in thanks to Matt and Craig, I was beginning to wonder if I was meant to even be allowed into SL. Seriously, I have enough trouble with the first life that this site held little interest to me. I'm still a bit skeptical with using this in a classroom of students (especially at the lower elementary levels), but can see some possibilities if closely monitored.

When looking at the options of where to explore with my field trip partner, we were immediately taken with the "Tombstone"/Adult rated section. If I as a teacher get excited to find out what kind of trouble I can get into with this kind of site, how will students act as well. After discussing options with my partner (and remember my problem at the bottom of the lake), we decided to stay away from Tombstone which was probably a good thing.

What we did do was explore the recreation of the chapel, the tsunami area, as well as NASA. For a classroom to be able to examine the shuttles up close and personal allows them a view of life that a textbook could not; the same being said for the other sites. However, this is where Kathy's blog from last week comes into focus. To trust our students in this type of open world/environment, we must train them before we even get there about proper etiquette and online behavior. Just as we cannot shelter them from all the evils in the world (example from this week - an unknown person trying to pick up children at several bus stops), we can train them how to act and behave (stranger danger). With more and more students spending a vast amount of time in the digital world, these behaviors must also be ingrained in them just as much as "don't talk to strangers". If we do this, we can trust them to behave in an appropriate manner no matter where they go to learn.

SL has great possibilities if used in the appropriate context. Students can meet to experience concerts together or talk with musicians the world over to gain knowledge and expertise that would not be available to them in other forms. They can travel to places that they had only previously heard about making learning come to life. The face of education is constantly changing, and I believe we will see programs like this become much more valuable as technology continues to evolve. Now we must evolve our teaching to prepare our students to engage with these programs.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Education City

As of today, our district just completed a multi-year purchase for Education City, an online site for students, teachers, and parents to work on basic skills in core subjects . Sadly, we only received training on it today and many teachers stated that it would have been nice to have this before ISAT testing as many of the before and after school groups could have benefited from this site.

With Education City, students can access multiple types of games and activities that are at their specific academic level (these levels can be set by the instructor at the beginning of the program when they input their class lists). As students participate with Education City, questions are modified based on previous answers to either become easier if a student misses or progress in difficulty as they advance. This allows for easy differentiation in a classroom between students.

If you spend some time in Education City, it's quickly apparent why students become engaged in the program. The graphics and animation for the games/activities even excite the teachers (as evidenced by the morning's workshop and more time being spent on games than on attention to the presenter). Teachers are also able to access beginning lesson activities and worksheets to use with students. The lessons and worksheets can also be used with SMARTboards to provide for in-class hands on activities. These activities can even be accessed at home (for a price) for students and their families. Another potential benefit is that all scores are kept and student profiles are created with this information. Until now, our psychologist has been keeping track of this data by hand. Sadly, all of this previous data is unable to be included into the program. Lesson plans address all manner of topics including music and p.e., but only in regards to literacy. (Insert personal gripe here - when will their be programs that include specials in with other programs instead of merely using our information for the purpose of teaching other topics instead of finding any inherit worth on their own?)

All this to say, it will be interesting to find out in the months to come and at the beginning of next year if Education City is merely another fad that will quickly fade into the background as teachers become inundated with the demands of the everyday or if this program will indeed help monitor and aid students in their quest for even greater knowledge.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Noteflight + Haiku

Because of some of the responses to last week's post, I wanted to dig deeper into the Noteflight online notation program. This free program allows for students to create compositions online which can be shared and discussed with others or can be listed as private for their eyes only.

After further investigation, as I plan on using this for our end of the year final assessment in beginning band, I found an even more interesting use of the site. By adding on a program called "Haiku: Learning Management System", you can turn the site into your own virtual classroom.

I can use noteflight to create a template for my students' final composition of the year (16 measures in length, Bb key signature, 4/4 time signature, etc) and use Haiku to send this template to every student listed on my roster. They can then use this template to create their own individual composition. Instead of waiting for a student to have completed their assignment before giving feedback, I can log into my Haiku account and post messages in the student's individual composition assignment helping them out with rhythms and music rules they might be having trouble with. This way we can interact together all the way through their project instead of trying to fix the problems only at the end. Students can also post comments about other classmate's work as well; but all the while being within the confines of our own classroom account at Haiku and not visual to the whole outside online world.

I can also use Haiku to create assessments for my students which require them to fill in a musical answer using Noteflight. You also have the possibility to inbed scores into my assessments and lessons for students to listen to and then play on their own. So far, this is sounding like a very good answer for many of the problems faced by the music department in my district. Depending upon the strength of the noteflight and it's ability to handle multiple users simultaneously, I will recommend that my district take a further look into the system.

One thing to note at this point is that there is a cost to purchase Haiku in conjunction with the free Noteflight program. However this should not be an issue for my district I know for a fact that over the past 3 years, we have owned a licensed copy with student copies of a big, brand name note-writing software. The district tried to create a music server to house this tool which crashed. Then the district tried to install it on individual computers at individual schools, which worked for a month until they wiped the computers over the summer and couldn't reinstall the program for various reasons. We had to by the software again and renew our license after never having had true access to the program and now it is for teacher's use only (which is helpful but not what we had envisioned or paid for). All that to say, I am very interested to see how the final project of the year turns out with noteflight and look into the cost saving of purchasing Haiku over the big name music writing software which can only be accessed at school.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Noteflight for Web 2.0

After my blog last week and discussing how there seemed to be few if any music web 2.0 sites purely devoted to the skills used in a general music classroom, I found a site that could be used immediately in many of the music classrooms across our district. Noteflight ( is a music composition tool that is free to use and publish music on. In general music and instrumental classes, students are required to create their own composition showing the skills of meter markings, appropriate note length, and correct question/answer musical statements.

Having just talked with a general music teacher and having her voice her frustration in how unreadable her students work was, this seems to be the perfect solution. As do most of the web 2.0 sites, Noteflight does require a student to have a working email address to sign-up for the site. It may be possible to have the students simply use the teacher's site, depending upon how many computers can be logged into that account at one time (something for further investigation). Some teachers may argue that giving the students a computer instead of staff paper to write their piece does not truly measure their musical ability, but the student must still have a basic skill level to use the computer as well.

Not only will this help with students' penmanship and music creation, but it can also be viewed by others who have access to the site. This is incredibly important as our district has made an effort to ensure that all students across the district regardless of what school they attend should have the same quality type of education. By having students on all corners of the district discuss their musical compositions online, this would not only foster communication and collaboration between "rival" schools, but also help the directors and district make sure that students are attaining the same levels of music proficiency everywhere.

I will preface all of this with the idea that our district's computer network is seriously slow and failed completely when I previously tried to have students use an online web 2.0 tool. I am interested in finding out how this program will handle student traffic at the same time. Overall, I am very excited about this site, but am still working on trying to find a web 2.0 tool purely devoted to teaching the concepts of music.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Web 2.0 Tools

Having completed a project similar to this for our Web 2.0 workshop with Craig, one of the most useful sites I had bookmarked at that point and time was You can choose different tags from the menu on the right to sort and refine your search; and as a visual learner, I highly enjoy the sites' logos as well as being able to mouse over and see a quick description of the site.

In regards to my own interests, many of the music web 2.0 sites are for creating mixes or finding a specific genre of music. Of the "music" web 2.0 sites listed, few if any actually work with classroom concepts you would find in a general music classroom. Even though I still find this a very useful source of web 2.0 information, I also stumbled upon another site that specifically refers to the newest and most popular 2.0 tools available on the web.

This site is also very visual in its format and allows the user to quickly see what has recently been added to the endless possibilities of applications as well as user's feedback on these newest web 2.0 programs. While searching through the apps listed, the most interesting new site I found was:

Now while I fully admit some people may find this site offensive even in the title all by itself, it certainly served to capture my attention. I know we have discussed many of the web 2.0 tools we have signed up for according to the requirements of a particular class, but have never gone back to look at once that class was over. (I know I have new people following my twitter posts weekly, and I have to say they must be waiting for something because I haven't posted on that site in months.) This is the purpose of this site, to quickly and easily delete log-ins.

According to the site itself, "This machine lets you delete all your energy sucking social-networking profiles, kill your fake virtual friends, and completely do away with your Web2.0 alterego." I find it very interesting that people are beginning to realize the overwhelming amount of networking possibilities out there and are providing ways for people to disentangle themselves from other sites.

Now the question may be asked, what exactly does this have to do with education? I think that as future technology coordinators, we need to provide our staff with the necessary means to disentangle themselves from some of these networking sites, especially those that may be open to students or do not contain the privacy filters needed to "protect" teachers. Having worked for a district that has already fired a teacher for their "MySpace" comments, I feel that this is vital for teachers and staff everywhere.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Radio Days: WebQuest

So after researching the many WebQuests for our previous assignment, I found one which I thought did a great job of exemplifying true inquiry. This webquest ( focused on having students learn about the role radio played in the days before television and how the TV shows we watch and enjoy on a nightly basis would have been broadcast only across the radio waves. Because of this, sound effects were added in to help the listener use their imagination to an even greater degree, and commercials were used throughout much as they are today except in purely a listening format. In a way, this presents an even greater challenge to marketers to make their product memorable in the minds of listeners when they cannot see the item.

Not only do I feel that this challenges students' current view points and prior knowledge of about how radio and media works today as compared to the past, but it also has clearly defined roles for each student involved with individual research required as well as group work and analysis to prepare for their own radio broadcast. Each group consists of 3 people (script writer, sound effects editor, and publicity). The webquest gives a basic idea of what each person is going to have to do to complete the task, their own radio broadcast; but the real meat of the project is completely left up to the students. They not only have to create what their person would have done in conjunction with the radio broadcast, but they are required to research what others in these careers have done.

As a drama teacher, we have had our students work on creating commercials in class, but this now seems to be at such a simplified, surface level. This webquest requires a greater deal of "inquiry"on behalf of the students and I believe it truly impacts their worldview and knowledge of media and sales. This is a webquest that I am definitely going to recommend and present to my fellow specialists, and it will be interesting to see the final results and whether or not they make as much of an impact on students as I feel it has the potential to do.