Sitting in Different Places

A reflection on goals from the beginning of my master’s program

As I was sitting at the MACUL (Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning) conference in March 2012 waiting for Steve Dembo to speak, a woman sitting next to me sparked a conversation about the master’s program she completed at Michigan State University (MSU.) On the other side of me sat my mentor teacher, with whom I had been discussing choices for a suitable master’s program for myself. At the time, I was considering everything from choral conducting to school counseling. As much as I enjoyed using technology in my classroom and creating with technology, I had never considered a master’s in technology. It did not take long for the woman next to me to convince me to head downstairs to the exposition to get more information about the Master of Arts in Educational Technology (MAET) program at MSU. By the end of the weekend, I had told my mentor teacher that I had made my decision.

Three months later, I was sitting in Erickson Hall on MSU’s campus as a graduate student, blogging statements such as “I am very excited that I am connecting with experts in Educational Technology and colleagues with the same goal as me– to be able to reach more students through technology. I hope to keep connections open throughout my career with experts in music, music education, and technology to help me be the best teacher I can be” (My Social Presence, June 20, 2012).

The goal to reach more students through technology has been a large part of my MAET experience. The numerous online spaces I have created and understanding of TPACK (the marriage of technology, pedagogy, and content knowledge) are indicators that that goal has been forefront and met in several ways.

Since there is such a focus on creating and maintaining personal learning networks in the MAET program, maintaining contact with my colleagues and instructors has been a central part of my growth. The combination of face-to-face and online time throughout the program enhanced the relationships that I established. Through Facebook, Twitter, and email, I can “phone a friend” any time and get advice and ideas from people whom I consider experts in the field of educational technology.

Looking back on those two main goals I mentioned in my first blog post of the program, I am amazed at how much I did not know I would learn! I did not realize that I would learn how to become a leader in educational technology. Since my goals were centered around my own work in my own classroom, the idea of being sculpted into a leader with doors open to new avenues may not have appealed to me. As a matter of fact, knowing that that would happen may have scared me away! I also did not realize how much focus would be on subjects other than technology. A focus on the understanding of learning shifted my focus from using technology to integrating technology.

In two months, I will be sitting in the Breslin Student Events Center, first as a graduate student and then as an MSU alum and a Master in Educational Technology. In this ever-changing field, though, I know that in order to truly be a Master, I will be making, meeting, and changing goals for the rest of my career.

Dreaming Big

One of our next projects for MSU’s MAET program is called “DreamIT.” It’s a grant-writing project. We need to choose a technology that would work cohesively with our pedagogy and content knowledge in order to tackle a content based problem. In order to do this, we’re working backwards and choosing a content based problem first.

I’ll get to the backwards design in a moment. First, I want to dream… What if I had…

  • a set of iPads in my classroom that students could grab as they came in?
  • a SmartBoard?
  • a stand for my iPad so I could use it as a document camera?
  • better sound equipment for my programs? (This is more of a school issue, and I think my principal’s working on the funding for that.)
  • a video camera with which I could record programs and burn them directly to DVD?

Maybe I can make one of those come true, but I need to make sure that whatever I do choose to “wish for” serves a meaningful purpose in my curriculum.

In order to choose a content based problem, I started thinking about the post-tests I corrected a month ago. Students didn’t do as well as I would have liked them to on the following concepts:

  • Defining opera (3rd grade)
  • Differentiating between melody, harmony, rhythm, and beat (3rd grade)
  • Classifying unpitched instruments as woods, drums, scraper/shakers, and metals (2nd grade)

There are more, but those are too specific. They zoom in too much on one grade level whereas I teach six grade levels!

So here is the brilliant idea that I had (and followed through with!) I opened up my Grade Level Content Expectations and copied and pasted each one that I felt I neglected to cover into a Google Doc. The list was disappointingly long. (Disclaimer: You better believe that what I do cover, I cover well!!!) Then I copied and pasted that list into Wordle. The resulting word cloud brought out a few concepts that I’ve been neglecting across the grade levels.

Wordle: Content Problems

Click to enlarge.

Exploration, Improvisation, Composition, Create. These are important themes in music education! So are performing, singing, analyzing, etc. When it comes down to it, I see my students for a total of 40 hours per school year. The amount of time a person usually spends working in one week is the amount of time I get to teach my students about music in one year! Of course, I feel that everything I teach my students is important. After four years, I’ve weeded out the “fillers.” So… Given 40 hours in a year that already seem to be filled with the other standards that I am covering, my problem is how do I get to these other four extremely important ideas?

I have one idea. One of my favorite lessons I have ever done, I only did once. I felt that it was a “filler” and did not repeat it. It was a center activity. I had five centers…

  1. Students drew on a piece of paper a picture of what music meant to them.
  2. I discussed students’ scores on the previous week’s vocal assessment with them.
  3. Students shared my iPod to take turns playing RhythmCat.
  4. Students played some random musical board game that I printed out of a book.
  5. Students choreographed a dance using QDancer at

Here’s what I loved about that lesson: I was talking to the students one-on-one. I enjoyed talking with each of them about their vocal scores instead of just giving them a number. Now, I wish I could have cut myself in half so I could have walked around to the other centers as well to engage with students there.

Teachers talk about flipping their classrooms. I’m sure there are many ways to flip a music classroom, but that doesn’t seem like the solution here. But a more “center” or “station” approach seems like it would allow so much more freedom and problem-solving on the students’ behalf. I know that Catie Dwinal uses centers in her teaching. What could we call it since it’s not flipping? I wouldn’t be flipping my classroom… Twisting? Spinning? This is something I am definitely interested in. I wonder if I would have to start small, maybe with one grade level…? Remember, I’m in the dreaming stage here.

Now that I have an idea of my content based problem and what I want to do with it, I need to think about what I’d actually need to write a grant for to make it happen! Look out for Part 2 coming your way soon…


Learning Jazz Online

This has been my first week of implementing my online course module from CEP 820 with my 4th grade students. It has been very exciting for me, and I hope it has been for my students, too! I have one class to do the first lesson with and I wish my principal could come in to watch, but she’s got meetings during that time. Hopefully, the other three lessons in the unit will run just as smoothly and I can invite her in then.

I am using to host my module, and I’m loving it. It’s an easy enough URL for the students to type and the interface has proven to be very user-friendly for them. It took quite a bit of time to set up accounts for all of them, but it’s time well spent in my opinion! At the suggestion of my instructor for CEP 820, I did a “test run” of the course with a couple 5th grade students (teachers’ kids) so I was able to fix a lot of bugs at that point– things that didn’t work on the student computers, things that were confusing to the students, etc.

One thing that is a little hard to get used to is understanding that the students are still learning from me even though I’m not in front of them. Since I’m usually front and center leading songs and dances, it’s quite a difference for me to be supervising a computer lab! One thing that really excites me about that opportunity, though, is I believe I’m teaching them technology skills that they wouldn’t learn otherwise. (Unfortunately, our school does not offer any sort of technology or keyboarding special, other than an iPad special for lower elementary students.)  Also, it’s a nice change of pace. It’s fun to see other teachers look at me, the music teacher, with a look like, “What are you doing with students in the computer lab?”

I’m having a little bit of difficulty getting certain websites unblocked for student use in the lab, and as I’m sure many educators do, I feel so guilty asking our “tech guy” to do things for me. I know that on his list of things to do across the district, unblocking a website for my 4th grade students is very low on his priority list. It’s important to me, though, and I know that he’s overworked. At a certain point, I settle for a Plan B and stop bugging him. I dream of a district where there are enough “tech guys” to process all of the teachers’ requests!

As I said before, I’m teaching the first lesson of the unit to one more class tomorrow. Then, on to lesson two! I’ll be spending the next two weeks tweaking it now that I know how the first lesson went. So far, this is a lesson I’ll be keeping for next year!

Growing a Tree: A Reflection on Teaching Students Online

imagination graphic
George Bernard Shaw said, “Imagination is the beginning of creation.” In an image from a blog post at My Modern Met, this quote is illustrated by an apple as the “imagination” with a budding tree growing from the apple core. That image reminds me of the journey that my online course has taken me on throughout its creation and development in CEP 820.

Every apple needs a few things to grow: a seed, water, sunlight, and soil. I suppose my interest in educational technology is the seed, the MAET program at MSU is the soil, the CEP 820 instructors are the sunlight, and the prompts they gave us to challenge ourselves were the water. From those things, my apple of imagination grew. I was going to create an online course for middle- or high-school students that my colleagues at those levels could implement while I continued on with my regular elementary music teaching. Thankfully, my instructor Ann saw that she had given me a little too much water and cut me back. She helped me realize that by creating a course for students who were not my own would be adding to my already heavy workload. Once Anne adjusted the amount of water I was given, my apple was ready to turn into something more– an online course module about jazz music to be taught in a hybrid fashion to 4th grade students.

The first sprout of my online course creation was, the course management system (CMS) I chose for my course. The major factors contributing to my choice were the ability to create different sections within a course and to create learning communities within the CMS space. Once that sprout developed, it continued growing rapidly. I created a different page in my course for each lesson I taught in my face-to-face jazz unit and began developing my “Intro to Jazz” lesson, which was actually my Content Connections project from CEP 811. During the development of that lesson, Anne had to remind me to keep the “P” from “TPACK” in mind– pedagogy. I had several videos and other media examples that used technology to present content knowledge, but served no pedagogical purpose within the lesson. Once those were removed, my first lesson came together and made sense: the first branch on my tree.

The next two lessons came together quickly, beginning to round out my tree, but it was imperative to keep all aspects of TPACK in mind at all times while translating lessons that had previously been taught face-to-face to an online space. I am certain I will run into problems with technology or lack of students’ knowledge of technology during implementation, but I hope to get a feel for what those problems may be by asking a few teachers’ children to stay after school a couple of days to do a “practice run” of the course.

After I completed the three required lessons for my course, we were asked to revisit 3 of the 7 principles of the Universal Design for Learning and make at least one change to our course, implementing one of those principles. I chose to begin work on a new lesson, representing the jazz artist for that lesson in three different ways, giving students choice in their learning. I still have 4 lessons to finish before I implement the course in January and will keep the UDL principles and TPACK in mind when I create those, as well.

Then, in January, my “tree” will begin to grow apples! Getting the students into the Haiku course looks challenging; they each need a username and are assigned a password, which I will have to print out for each of them before we go to the computer lab. Making those apples grow looks like it will be a lot of work, but hopefully once the tree grows apples for its first season, it will be easier to maintain and harvest from then on!

For those of you who are looking to “grow a tree” of your own, let your imagination steer you in the right direction, but keep some guidelines nearby. I would suggest Punya Mishra and Matthew J. Koehler’s writings about TPACK, information from the National Center for Universal Design of Learning, and plenty of time spent with students who can remind you what they can and cannot yet do!

I am excited to take a new step in my journey as a music educator and technology integrator and implement my online course module! It may be a slippery step in this cold winter weather of the Upper Peninsula, but I’m sure it will be a step worth taking!

To see my online course module in its current state, visit If viewing in Firefox or Chrome, click on the shield to the left of your address bar to disable protections and show insecure content. All information should be visible if opened in Internet Explorer or Safari.

Also, if you’d like to see a more detailed “step-by-step” account of my journey from imagination to creation, feel free to read my Developer’s Notebook.

FaceTime in the Music Room

This morning, students across my school district got an enriching musical experience thanks to FaceTime. The high school band director connected the brass section of his band with one of my 4th grade classes to teach them more about brass instruments during our study of instrument families and Peter and the Wolf.

What Went Well?

All of the students, especially the 4th graders, were engaged. We got nice and cozy in our classroom so we were all within my iPad camera’s view. I set up a projection of my iPad screen using Reflector, but it froze when the conversation started, so I had to plug my speakers into the iPad and we all looked at the iPad screen. The 4th grade students were thrilled by the use of technology. As a matter of fact, one student with behavior issues who usually leaves music class five minutes in (if he even comes at all) stayed the whole time! The band director was able to demonstrate the baritone and tuba for the students and answer questions that the 4th grade students had. Throughout the conversation, the 4th graders had a chance to communicate with five different high school students, learn about their instruments, and really see how much fun high school band is.

What Didn’t Go So Well?

We found out that high school students get a little bit “camera happy.” Two of the five students thrived on entertaining the 4th graders instead of actually teaching them. The 4th graders certainly enjoyed it, but perhaps next time we collaborate like this, both groups of students will need some discussion beforehand of making it an educational experience. The band director and I did two test runs of the experience, but for some reason, the Reflector app did not work as it did when we tested it the day prior. Perhaps I should have had it running for a while before the students came in.

The band director and I are both working on our master’s degrees in educational technology, so this was a great experience for both of us as well as all of our students. Unfortunately, he has handed in his resignation effective at the end of this school year, but I hope that our new band director will have the same willingness to connect across the grade levels!


Literacy Best Practices in Music Education

First of all, let me say that as an elementary music teacher, many of the policies, standards, and ideas in the best practices are brand new to me! Of course, I’ve heard of NCLB, Race to the Top, and RTI, but I do not have as many direct experiences with them as the core classroom teacher. My philosophy as a music educator is to enhance what my students are learning in their core subjects through music, so I am excited to be able to connect with the classroom teachers even more on the subject of literacy.
Unfortunately, new policies such as NCLB and Race to the Top place so much emphasis on core subjects that many districts deem it necessary to cut back on the “elective” classes, such as classes in the arts. An example of this is the Michigan Merit Curriculum (, a policy not mentioned in our texts. Since the Michigan Merit Curriculum was implemented in 2005, I have heard many music teachers complain of lower enrollment in their classes. More rigorous requirements in foreign language and core subjects allow less time in the day for students to participate in elective courses, forcing many choral and instrumental practices to be moved to before- or after-school hours. As a music educator, I firmly believe that “music makes you smarter” and is just as important to the curriculum as the “core subjects.”

As the only music teacher in my Junior Kindergarten-5th Grade building, I see 720 students each week. I teach students of all ages and all ability levels every day of every week. I must keep track of 504s and IEPs for students in all 30 classes. Many have vision issues and need to be seated close to me. I have close to no idea which students are “low” or struggling readers. The ability to read lyrics to songs we are learning becomes instrumental in second grade, at which point I work off of the assumption that all students are reading at grade level, which I know is not appropriate. I hope that this class helps me identify struggling readers without getting overwhelmed and provide accommodations at all grade levels.

Out of the ten best practices listed by Gambrell, Malloy, & Mazzoni (2011), I would say that I use multiple texts that build on prior knowledge, link concepts, and expand vocabulary (ain my efforts to extend the students’ knowledge across the curriculum) and build a whole-class context that emphasizes community and collaboration. I also integrate a lot of technology in class. It is difficult for me to imagine using all of the ten best practices in my class, but if I want others to believe that music class is as important as I believe it is, I know I need to be able to teach it with all of the best practices!

Reflections on “Implementing a RTI Model…” (What research has to say, Chapter 4)

RTI Decision Making Process

  • Tier 1 (All students): Prevention, Universal Screening and Progress Monitoring, Assess response (Good response = stay in Tier 1)
  • Tier 2 (20% of students, 3-5 students, 3-5 days/week): Prevention, Progress Monitoring, Assess response. Provided in addition to Tier 1. (Good response = Back to Tier 1, No response = Try Tier 2 again, 2nd negative response = Move on to Tier 3)
  • Tier 3: Intervention, Progress Monitoring, Assess response. Provided instead of Tier 1. (Good response = Back to Tier 1 or 2, No response = Stay in Tier 3)

Regarding measuring words read correctly within one minute, I remember subbing in a 3rd grade class and listening to students practice for this. They were reading so quickly that they were ignoring any sort of punctuation or inflection. Being a theatre girl, I really disagreed with this type of literacy “training.”

Benefits of RTI Implementation

  • Increased Cooperation and Collaboration (among staff)
  • Meeting Student Needs
  • Proactive Use of Data

Difficulties in RTI Implementation

  • Schedule Challenges
  • Assessment Feasibility

Reflections on “Balance in Comprehensive Literacy Instruction” (Best practices in literacy instruction, Chapter 2)

The emphasis of balance in literacy has always been between “breaking the code” and “understanding what we read.”

  • code-emphasis: reading comprehension = decoding x listening comprehension (learn letters and phonics first)
  • meaning-emphasis: teachers provide scaffolding to help students understand text and students thereby learn the code

Another debate: Should instructional focus be based on the growth of each child or the sanctity of the curriculum? How can these be balanced?

Achievement gaps between different cultural groups grow as time goes on. The gap between 12th grade students is MUCH larger than the gap between 8th grade students.

Contextual Continua

  • authenticity- writing for real audiences and purposes, writing to make senses of their lives, and reading to engage in book club or discussions (reminds me of my high school creative writing class)
  • classroom discourse- controlling topics and turns during discussion
  • teachers’ roles- explicit instructing, modeling, scaffolding, facilitating, participating (hand in hand with classroom discourse)
  • curricular control- balance between state mandates and student choices is crucial

Content Continua

  • skill contextualization- balance between predetermined curriculum and teachable moments
  • text genres- self-explanatory (including “new literacies”)
  • text difficulty- teachers must ensure excellent diagnostic decisions and ensure access to age-appropriate texts
  • response to literature- reader-driven vs. text-driven, conventional vs. personal interpretations; balancing tension between connecting the past and preparing for the future
  • subject-matter emphasis- assure a steady source of knowledge, find contexts in which literacy strategies can be applies, ensure integrity of disciplinary knowledge as a goal
  • balance within the language arts- oral, reading, and writing are mutually synergistic
  • balance within reading instruction- code vs. meaning

Four strategies for phonics: sequential decoding, analogy, contextual analysis, sight word recognition

An ecologically balanced curriculum consists of comprehension, composition, literary aspects, and language conventions (grammar, syntax, etc.)

Reflections on “Evidenced-Based Best Practices in Comprehensive Literacy Instruction” (Best practices in literacy instruction, chapter 1)

I am currently reading off of my Kindle and cannot include page numbers in my references. The following reflections are from Chapter 1 of Best practices in literacy by Mandel-Morrow and Gambrell (2011).

Middle income neighborhoods: 13 books/child. Low-income neighborhoods: 1 age-appropriate book/300 children. No wonder there is such a gap in reading achievement between poorer and richer families!
When a student demonstrates a lack of a certain ability, his/her opportunities to learn (or lack thereof) should be considered before assuming an inability to learn.

Response to Intervention (RTI) = “a federally funded program designed to integrate assessment and intervention within a multilevel prevention system to maximize student achievement”

Race to the Top (R2T) = “a federally funded initiative that provides competitive grants to encourage and reward States that develop educational plans and emphasize…”

  • creating conditions for innovation and reform
  • achieving significant improvement in student outcomes
  • making substantial gains in student achievement (what’s the difference between this one and the previous one?)
  • closing achievement gaps
  • improving HS graduation rates
  • ensuring student prep for success in college and careers

Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts = “articulate a vision of what it means to be ‘a literate person in the 21st century.'” In MAET, we learn that literacy is much more complex in the 21st century than it has been in the past. For example, knowing when to click on hyperlinks and how to keep information from several sources organized is a fairly new skill that students need to learn. I’ll be interested to see if the CCSSELA recognize these new forms of literacy.

National Reading Panel (NRP) = encourages focus on phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

The “Moving Forward” section discusses what it means to be literate in the 21st century, including constructing meaning from electronic texts.

Evidence-based best practice- “an instructional practice with a record of success that is both trustworthy and valid.” Data must be objective, valid, reliable, systematic, and refereed.

Comprehensive Literacy Instruction- emphasizes personal, intellectual, and social nature of literacy learning.

Effective teachers are supported, are much like coaches, incorporate higher-level responses to text, and provide access to a variety of books.

Teacher’s ultimate goal: inspiring students to be readers and writers. (This is my goal in music, but also to be enjoyers and performers!)

10 Evidence-Based Best Practices for Comprehensive Literacy Instruction

  1. Create a classroom culture that fosters literacy motivation.
  2. Teach reading for authentic meaning-making purposes: for pleasure, to be informed, and to perform a task. (This sounds like why/how I teach music.)
  3. Provide students with scaffolded instruction in the 5 focus areas of the NRP.
  4. Give students time for self-selected independent reading.
  5. Provide students with high-quality literature across a wide range of genres.
  6. Use multiple texts that build on prior knowledge, link concepts, and expand vocabulary.
  7. Build a whole-class context that emphasizes community and collaboration.
  8. Balance teacher-and student-led discussions of texts.
  9. Integrate technologies that link and expand concepts.
  10. Differentiate instruction using a variety of instructionally relevant assessments.

Teachers must be given freedom to use their professional judgment in what is best for a student’s literacy.

Creative Technology Integration

I opened my lesson plan book two weeks ago and realized I actually had a day with 5th grade where there wasn’t something specific I had to do on that day. My brain flooded with all kinds of ideas… And how could I possibly choose just one? Thanks to one of my new favorite blogs, “Day in the Life of a Backwards Musical Mind,” I found just the ticket! I brought something new into my music room: Stations. The kids LOVED it. If I do it again, I have to develop a system for noise control, but that’s a small price to pay for such a fun, educational day for the students.

I broke the students up into six groups of five and gave each group approximately five minutes at each station.

Station #1: The group choreographed a dance for an animated character on QDancer ( by choosing the style, dance moves, music, costume, scene, and lighting.

Station #2: Each student drew a picture or wrote something to complete the sentence “Music is…” Some of my favorites can be seen on our class website.

Station #3: Students had time to read some of the children’s books I have in the classroom– mostly picture books of songs they may have learned in lower elementary school. While at this station, I met with them one on one about their audition for our select chorus that they all did a week prior. This was a great opportunity to give each one of them feedback on how to become better singers. I embraced this chance to especially encourage the students who were not selected for the group or did not have the desire to join even though their voices are great.

Station #4: Students took turns playing the game “Rhythm Cat” on my personal iPod. Many students struggled. It was an eye opener to see students who attended different schools last year surpass “my” students.

Station #5: I have some cool dice that have rhythm symbols on them. Each student was to choose one die, roll it, and draw the symbol that turned up on the board. After all students had a turn, the group was to clap and say the resulting rhythm. I even saw one group add a repeat sign on either end and do it a few times over!

Station #6: I put together a board game from a book I have, “The Music Teacher’s Almanac,” that has students identify notes in treble clef, ‘name that tune’, and name famous composers.

This activity was a great way to get all of the students using Quaver and RhythmCat without needing a computer or device for each student. Many of them told me that they were going to continue those activities at home. It really wasn’t a lot of preparation, either. I will definitely do this again!!