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I decided to reflect on the meeting in which we chose our group names…

I recall our group was rather indecisive…I think everyone felt that our name had to contain a real essence of meaning and not just the first thing that popped in our heads. Im a big believer in the power of naming something…people, books, even my blog posts for crying out loud! I think the way we chose our name kind of tells us something about who we are as a group and even as individuals. We picked kind of a ‘dumb’ name at first (no, I am not meaning to say we are dumb haha)…Apple, I believe, just so we could have something for the wiki and we figured it gave us a little extra time to think and we could change it later. I wish I could recall who came up with Inquiring heARTS but it doesn’t exactly matter now. The reason we chose this name for our group is because all of us have a very strong desire to reach not just the intellect of our students, but, at the risk of sounding cheesy, their hearts as well. We see art as a way to touch the souls of humanity and as a source of healing as well as expression. And of course, it is through inquiry that we can find better ways of doing this. And what would our group’s name be without a little bit of a nod to the arts within the name? You can thank the two group members who just happen to be art teachers and their last name is Gartley…or as they enjoy writing it: gARTley. Haha….oh yes, we are that corny.

But really, I enjoy the somewhat innocent and idealistic notions of our group as opposed to the griping, negative complaints I so often hear from people in my profession. Sorry, but I, we, actually do believe that we can make our world a better, brighter place…and one of those ways is through artistic expression and discovery, both of oneself and the world around them. Our scope is inner and outer…it must be both. We have a running joke in our group that we all poop rainbows. Slightly crude, but funny and totally true. But I think that there is something great about being that optimistic, hopeful….isn’t that part of the very fuel that landed men’s faces on our currency and glues people to their seats during shows about real life journeys to success be it in sports, music, politics, whatever?

I’m not any of those types, and I probably will never have a book written about me, or a documentary, or even as much as a magazine article. But none of that really tells us whether or not we have influence, value, or have left a mark. Sorry if this is turning into a philosophical blog. I can’t help it really, because to me, art is so deeply rooted in who we are as a race. That’s why I love the name our group chose because it speaks of something more than itself. I think everyone is and has an inquiring heart…and I think it’s important to see problems, ask questions, seek out answers. Imagine, if we use inquiry in our classrooms more….our students will learn how to see problems themselves, not just be told about them…be given a voice to ask questions, not made to be silent and always listen because they could not possibly have anything to bring to the table…and search for the answers, realizing that part of the process is making mistakes and the power we get is learning from them and trying again or making a better way. How valuable are these qualities to the generation that will one day govern our planet? Innovation, imagination, discovery, creativity…what does your heart inquire?

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After my students completed their scenes and chose their instruments, I collaborated with our school’s art teacher, and one of my CIG members, on how they would color their scenes. She chose four different art techniques and had them use each one for their scenes. The techniques were pointillism, monochromatic, all primary or all secondary, and abstract. The next step was for the students to attach card onto each scene of the instruments they used in that scene and what they represented.
They were also to create a title for their story.

It was great to see how most of my students worked very diligently on their projects and were independent in making decisions and solving problems on their own. It was also exciting to watch their creativity flow from themselves and not from me. I gave them all a choice on how they wanted to present their work. They could either present it verbally to their classmates or they could write out a story on paper. All of my students wanted to present to their classmates. I think part of this was due to them wanting to avoid writing, but I think more of it was the fact they were proud of their hard work and wanted to show it off.

Their presentations were quite informal, which is what I wanted…I didn’t want them to feel any pressure but to just simply talk and share about what they did. They used the iPads to play each sound in their scenes and explained why they chose those sounds. I then had a my students vote on which group’s project best represented their class for the Arts Ed Day presentation. I explained to them that they shouldn’t pick their own project simply because it’s theirs, but they should choose based on the quality of workmanship placed in the project. I was really impressed to find that the votes seemed to reflect the projects that I would have chosen as well, knowing how much work and effort each group put into their projects. It seemed that their classmates also had that same sense and I think it made people feel a sense of justice and reward for their hard work.

The best things about this project were that the students were able to make their own choices and decisions about how they wanted to portray their work. I enjoyed letting them create an artistic work by using their understanding and interpretations. I think it allowed them the ability to expand their understanding of instruments, their specific timbres, and the way a composer might think when they are forming a piece of music. The greatest set back I came into contact with during this project was timing. Since this was something I never did with a class before, I didn’t have all the details figured out right away. I started with an idea and took it from their….and in some instances that is good, but in this one, it just made the projects last over too long of a period of time. Since I only see the students once a week…and if that depending on holidays, in-services, etc. it made it difficult to complete in a more appropriate time period. However, I think that since I know exactly how the details of the project work, if I do it again, I have a lot more things figured out and I can tweak the details as needed. But I think that’s how our lessons plans should work…they should be mold able and able to evolve and change according to what our students need.

If there is one thing I’ve learned in my five years of teaching it’s that you can’t make cookie cutter lessons when there are no cookie cutter people. Few things will work all the time, some most of the time, most will work some of the time, and some will completely fail. I think we often learn most from the ones that dont work lie we thought they would. The goal is not perfection, because you may think you habe “the perfect lesson” and then some snotty kid says “this is boring”…then what? The point is to try and use what works, modify if needed, and scrap what doesn’t. Change is as necessary as consistency….and you can have adaption and evolution amid consistency. I’m a firm believer in needing both. You need creativity and structure, you need imagination and logic, you need the arts AND

For one of our Arts Ed meetings, our group went to Uniontown High School to view a presentation on Invisible Children. I had some previous knowledge of the group, but had never seen a show before. Since we are Inquiring Hearts, part of our inquiry is how to use arts to make our world a better place. This was a perfect example because these young people used a video that was very well made to engage the audience in supporting their cause. It was amazing to see how the young people responded by filing out cards with their information and making a pledge to help support the campaign. In case you have never heard of Invisible Children, it is a movement to promote the arrest of a warlord in Africa who kidnaps children and forces them to become soldiers, killing even their own families and people from their villages. Every year, the high school club for Invisible Children brings the group in to present for the student body. After this, students hold an art market and have a concert to raise funds for the cause. It is a really powerful that students can get involved in a great way to support people from across the world that, though they have never met, they value and treasure their lives as human beings. For our CIG, that is what art is all about…supporting and giving hope, as more than just an art form, but as an expression of life.

For my next classroom project, I went with the idea that my students really seemed to enjoy instrumentation. I was inspired over the winter break by the song “Skating” by Vince Guaraldi, which you may know better as the song Snoopy skates to in A Charlie Brown Christmas. I got to thinking how neat it is that a composer can use instruments in a certain way and paint a picture in the listeners mind. And then, bingo! This is something my students could do and I think they would really enjoy!

The way I started the lesson was by talking about how composers sometimes write a piece of music with an idea or theme in mind, example there is tons of music based on themes like holidays, seasons, etc. I then had them listen to “Skating” and asked if they recognized what it was from. Most of my students immediately knew where the song was from, but they had a harder time recalling what part of the movie the song was playing in and what was taking place at that point. After some help they were able to guess, and then I directed them to listen to the music again and describe how the composer used instruments to depict the act of skating. I was very impressed with their response and how they were able to make the connection of the instrumentation to the imagery it suggests. My students seemed really responsive and engaged in the discussion, which was refreshing.

Then I began to describe the project they were going to do. They were to choose their own groups of 3,4 or 5 people and each group would decide on a winter activity that they would create instrumentation to depict. I tried to encourage them to think outside the box when coming up with a winter activity idea. After they had their idea, they were going to create at least four different scenes or things that were going to occur. Next, they would choose instrumentation to depict what is happening in each scene. They did this using an iPad app called Instruments which displays a picture of the instrument, it’s name, how to pronounce the name and a segment of what it sounds like. The students were so involved in doing this, it was amazing! There were a handful of students who were not as interested in the project, but overall the response was great. There were a lot of creative ideas swirling around in regard to what instruments sounded best with the action in the scenes. I was really impressed by how thought-out many of the groups’ ideas were.

We all (not so fondly) know the rest of this saying…try, try again! That basically sums up my first attempt at an inquiry based lesson in my music classes for 5th & 6th grade. Overall, it was not a bad experience…just not as incredible as I had thought. Here is my story:

I have been focusing in my classroom on doing more inquiry-based lessons and learning. I started with an idea I gleaned from one of my CIG members, Bethany, that she had used in her music classroom and found to be very successful with her students. The objective was to have students dissect a piece of music…something that the composer had a theme or idea in mind that he/she wanted to get across to their audience. First, students would listen and describe the instrumentation they heard, then describe the different aspects of the music such as tempo, form, dynamics, texture. This formative assessment then led into a more objective approach. Students listened to the same piece of music, but this time respond to the feeling they received from it. Then, they were asked to imagine a scene this music might portray if it was put into a visual art form such as a movie or picture. Bethany also had taken this idea a step further in her class and had her students think of a character for their scene and form groups with other students, combine their ideas/characters and act out their scene to the music.

I loved this idea! I was so excited to introduce this concept in my classes. I decided to start out with the formative/objective assessments of the music and see how the students responded to this. If the response was positive, I would take it to the next step of acting it out. If it was negative, I would go back to the drawing board. I was so thrilled about this lesson, I had every reason to believe it was going to be a huge hit in my mind.

I used a song called “Rodeo” with my 5th and 6th graders. It has a very suggestive castanet part that sounds like horse hooves. And of course, the name pretty much tells all. I didn’t tell the students the title of the song and I had them write their responses down as a way to legitimize their thoughts. I was surprised to find that they were not as “into” the concept as I had thought. They seemed more involved in discovering what instruments were in the piece than imagining their own scene to go with the music! Don’t get me wrong, the were several who gave very creative and well thought responses, but it wasn’t as captivating as I would have expected.

With this, I decided not to continue with the acting out/character portion of the lesson. But now I had some ammo from my students, knowing that they really enjoyed instrumentation. I decided I would try and assemble a lesson around this theme, and make it something they can be creative with and collaborate with others. Something that would involve inquiry, music, and creative thinking.

I read the article “The Creative  Music Strategy” and overall I thought this article was great and insightful.  I think it is definitely applicable and practical.  The only downfall I saw with this process was that it appears to me that this might be difficult to do all of your lessons around…maybe that is not the expectation.   Maybe it is just ONE way of doing a lesson, and in this case I think it’s perfect.  But to do every lesson from this perspective, I think that could get kind of monotonous.  One of my favorite parts of the article was a list of characteristics of a creative teacher.  I will list them now to make it easier to discuss in this post.  I will put the list in bold and my comments and thoughts in regular font.

1. Respect for children as individuals – I definitely feel I encompass this first one and I feel it is definitely the foundation for any educator.  If you respect your children for who they are personally, you are going to teach them creatively to meet their needs.

2. Ability to relate/establish rapport with children – This is directly linked to the first one.  Children have a very keen sense of knowing when an adult has respect and care for them and when they are just another person taking up a seat in a classroom.  I feel I have a very good relationship and rapport with my students in which they know that I care about them and their learning.

3. Flexibility in adapting to needs of children – this is essential for making learning and content relevant to children.  In my 5 years of teaching I have been at 5 different schools and all 3 levels of eduction (primary, jr. high, and high school).  And I have seen how my lessons have adapted and my approach has changed in each setting and for each individual class,

4. Enthusiam for learning and living – I feel this is such an important component, that isn’t so much what happens in the class room, but what is your life like outside of the classroom?  A teacher who has a life a part from school that is thriving and not simply surviving will promote the same vibe in their own classroom.  I know this is part of the reason why there is enjoyment and motivation in my classes, because my take on life is to discover and experience as much as I can!

5. Leads children to experience the wonder of music through personal discovery – This is necessary, because music, and all the arts for that matter, connect with personal experience and without it, there isn’t a real response.  There must be an organic, personal aspect to music, a way students can discover things themselves, in order for there to be a real experience.

6. Helps children to discover the social relevance of music – I think this is really important, especially with how quickly musical influence changes and evolves.  Students need to see how music relates to history, art, politics, and life in general as well as how it relates to them personally.

7. Recognizes the earmarks of creativity in children – I think it is important to different types of activities so you can see how certain students blossom in some areas and other students do in different ones.

8. Arouses curiosity about music that won’t let go until it is satisfied

9. Possesses confidence and security resulting from adequate preparation and experience

10. Plans wisely for each stage of development

11. Make the study of music exciting

12. Aware of the importance of using community resources

13. Demonstrates insight to appraise children’s work objectively and to provide encouragement for additional experiences

14. Knowledge of materials and instructional procedures

15. Presents appropriate personality and dress

Discussion question: In what ways might inquiry disrupt the traditional idea of teacher as expert and learner as novice?

This has to be my #1 favorite and somewhat fearsome concept regarding the inquiry process in the classroom. Traditional teacher/student relationship stems from the teacher “master of the craft” and the student as “disciple in training”. But with inquiry, I think that things are better placed into perspective because the student in the inquiry process can become the teacher. This is a very liberating concept, which I think can scare a lot of educators back into their closets of direct instruction. It may seem “safer” in there and may enable them to conceal their own shortcomings, but additionally it keeps their students in the dark as well. Inquiry is taking our knowledge as educators and showing students that they are creative, bright, inventive members of society who can change the world around them and have something priceless to offer. This occurs because students in inquiry learn they have a voice, an opinion, and ideas that others, including their teacher, may never have perceived. I think that inquiry takes the much used quote “A mind is a terrible thing to waste” and applies it directly where it belongs…to our students. If we are always TELLING them the answers, how will they learn the skills needed to solve their own problems? If we are always MAKING them learn something, how will they cultivate a hunger and desire to discover for themselves something that is relevant and meaningful? I am no expert at inquiry in the classroom, but I have a strong desire to learn. I have witnessed the impact of inquiry in the classroom and know that though it is unorthodox to some, I believe it is a key to bringing students to a place of ownership and responsibility over themselves, their education, and their world. And if we stop and think for a moment, isn’t that the whole purpose of this establishment known as public education?

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