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For my next inquiry blog, I would like to discuss the whole “star” concept that my colleague, David Dayton, has been using with his 5th and 6th grade band students.

I had been discussing our whole inquiry process with Dave, what our inquiry question was, and what we had hoped to accomplish by the end of this year’s class. Now, Dave and I have been discussing the whole issue of students lack of effort and motivation in our classes for some time now, so really digging into this concept seemed to be the next logical thing to do. Dave has been saying that “maybe if the students reeived some sort of reward it may help” for years. So, we started kicking around some ideas as to what would be an appropriate reward that might get students more motivated to practice their band instruments at home. We discussed extra credit in the gradebook, we discussed special classs privileges, we even discussed a way to give those who practiced a pizza party. None of these really clicked with either one of us. Then Dave said, “what if we just give the students a gold star for every line that they practice in the book; but only if they show by their performance that they have actually worked on it and that they have actually made improvements on it!” This sounded like a great idea to me!!!  So, how was this going to work, anyways??? Dave said, “let me try it with the 5th and 6th grade band students first and see if it works with them. If it does, next year we’ll try it with the 7th and 8th grade band students as well!” So, I asked Dave what exactly would the students have to do in order to earn a star??? He said that each day he was going to allow the students to play certain lines individually for him during class, and again, if they played them well, or could at least demonstrate that they had worked on them and made improvements, that student would be awarded a star. Dave also printed up wallposter-sized charts with all of the students names on them – he printed up a chart with all of his 5th graders names on it, and one with all of his 6th graders names on it. Once he started putting stars on these, students started counting how many stars they had, as well as counting the number of stars that their classmates had earned. Now it had officially become a contest!!! Students became very competitive with each other in seeing who could earn the most stars. So far this concept seems to be getting the students tol practice more outside of the classroom, which in turn is improving their individual playing abilities. Next year, Dave and I will try this with the 7th and 8th grade band students and see if we get the same results!!!

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.

Following the success of our foray into installation art this year, I continued the project with the second 9 weeks students. The students saw the same artist examples and were introduced to installation art concepts via the same power point presentation. But, these groups had already seen what the first 9 weeks groups did. This time, I wanted to really focus on the “interactive” nature of installation art. I stressed this by continually asking student groups how their viewers would potentially interact with the space / piece. I viewed my role as “facilitator.” I tried to guide students towards an answer without giving it to them. At times I provided suggestions. But, mostly, they were self-reliant. This is what I really wanted to study this year. How much freedom do I give them to learn and create in an inquiry environment while getting to a solid conclusion (meeting standards, objectives, and / or goals)?

Now that I’ve taught this lesson multiple times multiple ways, I can say that there is a comfortable (and, of course, I refer to just what’s comfortable to me) balance. I want students to have as much freedom within the lesson as possible to be creative, but it has to provide some critical initial content, structure, and / or restrictions. There also may need to be a point at which the facilitator steps in and kind of “pulls it back together.” The students may need to be reminded of the time constraints, limitation of materials, or (in this example) group management. Are all members of the group participating fully? Has anyone finished their task and are they free to help in other areas? Is the group leader role being fulfilled? When dealing with individual inquiry, it may look like this: “Is the student on task?” “Do they need direction / motivation?” or “Are they reaching the goals?”

2nd period stood out among the rest of the installation art groups because of their approach. They chose to mimic Yayoi Kusama’s style, but put their own twist on it. This group worked well as a team. They covered the walls and floor of a small nook in a high traffic area with white paper. Then, they traced and cut out hundreds of circles in varying sizes and colors. One person was delegated to paint “m” or “s” on the circles. One person painted faces on them. One person created a vote tallying poster for students to interact with. Others covered the walls and floor with the paper cut-out skittles and m&ms. The installation begged to be interacted with. In fact, this group invited that interaction. Everyone who walked through that hallway noticed. Most students voted (Skittles won if you were wondering). And, it lasted the longest out of all the installations due to its location – and maybe its popularity.




Other group ideas included: a space-y mural with hanging stars, a sea curtain – – installed in the same hallway as the “why is the hallway blue?” installation, and a stained glass piece I was also rather fond of.



Some of the key factors for success in this lesson were due to the way it was structured. Students experienced an introduction. Then, they planned their installation by way of a loosely guided worksheet (ex. where will you place your installation, what materials will you need, etc.). And, finally, they learned through inquiry. They were making choices as they went: “Will this work? No? Then we have to find another way to make it work. Do we have this available? Yes? Good. Let’s use that.” They were dependent on the group’s success, but also had a great deal of individual creativity and freedom. Frequently, I noticed students going to the leader and asking for his opinion on things to add, change, or remove. In fact, the leader would often get the group’s attention so they could decide as a team. It definitely had a real-world feel. How would the boss of a company accept ideas from his team? How can you make all members feel valued? And, how can you welcome that input while deciding not all ideas are the best ones?

The 7th grade students who participated in the installation art lesson in my classroom recently went on a tour of the Mattress Factory museum as a part of “The Space I’m In” experience. And, this is really the best part: I have clear evidence of their learning! I heard, first hand, the responses they were giving to the tour guides. I read written responses they provided in sketchbooks they carried around with them. And, I know that what they experienced made an impact on them based on their bus-ride-home conversations.

Last year, I didn’t plan to teach installation art in my classroom as a part of “The Space I’m In.” And, yes, the students had a great time using the materials from the mattress factory. But, I didn’t see that they “got it” like this year’s group of students did. I mean, it was all over their faces!
I want students to EXPERIENCE learning art this way. I want to see how many lessons I can adapt to a similar format. I think that inquiry is possible, relevant, and even crucial to student success. I just need to find my own balance within it. Where’d that tightrope go?

I often go back and  forth as to is there inquiry happening in my classroom. Perhaps I wrestle with what the actual meaning of inquiry is. The term inquiry can be defined as: “a seeking for truth, information, or knowledge.”

In my quest this morning to find what inquiry is google directed me to this site:

The open the article with the quote: “Tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I understand.” According to workshop author Joe Exline, it is this last part that is essential. “Inquiry implies involvement that leads to understanding. Furthermore, involvement in learning implies possessing skills and attitudes that permit you to seek resolutions to questions and issues while you construct new knowledge.”

I have been working with several of my classes using instruments called boomwhackers, which is a chromatic set of plastic tubes that are each given different color assignments according to pitch. If you would like to “see” exactly what I am talking about you can watch this youtube video. (It is just a random video I have found of random people, but it gives you an idea none the less.

Lately I have noticed in my practice I have been struggling with “Am I using/demonstrating correct teaching methods in my classroom?” I know that teaching music at it’s most basic level consists of a lot of echoing activities. So, I have recently started using the boomwhackers with the primaries (grades K-2) and teaching simple accompaniment patters via echoing.

The older students I have taken the simple melodic patterns and echo sang them during warm up (warm-up consists of echo-clapping/speaking rhythms/sounds, echo-solfege and rhythm reading cards) I then put the patterns on the board either as solfege syllables or as written notation. I then split the students into 4 groups and gave each set of groups a set of boomwhackers. I would only use a few pitches (Do, Re, and Mi) and (Do, So and La) and asked the students to work on performing the pattern that I placed on the board.

I figured that this would be a simple task and then all the problems began. The boomwhackers have pitch labels on them, but I was using movable Do and this was confusing the kids to be told the dark green boomwhacker is Do, but yet it is labeled So and the Orange boomwhacker is La, but it is labeled Re. So you can imagine the confusion from this. So as I modified the lessons I found that I started reviewing the idea “The bigger the instrument  the lower the pitch, the smaller the instrument the higher the pitch.” and then I ask the kids what color is the largest boomwhacher? What is our lowest pitch that we are using,” and of course I would ask  the reverse of that question. However, I felt that by giving them this information was too direct and that I was not allowing them to figure it out for themselves.  With the next group I conducted this lesson with, I gave them time in their groups with the boomwhackers and the original mission. (Play the pattern on the board.) I would only offer to each group the input as to whether they were correct or not. After about 10 minutes I asked them to stop. I had each group hold up their boomwhacker so we could see who was labeling them Do, Re and Mi. We then discussed the idea of size and pitch and then as a class played the pattern on the board.

I have found that so far the last way I have conducted this process is so far the best balance for young students. It gave them time to explore and trouble shoot as a team, but the recap at the end allowed me to see that everyone had a clear understanding of the concept.

My CIG group planned on updating each other on our classrooms.  We thought we’d blog about it!  Our inquiry question is as follows: When learning necessary art and music skills, where can the balance between inquiry-based and teacher-directed instruction be found? (or which instructional strategies work best).

With Stop Motion photography, I chose for the balance to happen naturally.  I started with the necessary skills using teacher direct instruction and then learned from my students what their needs were.  This project of stop motion photography is a lesson that the students have been working on for about 8 class periods (two months).  I feel things are going slow because of the limited time I have with my students.  Even though it is coming along slowly, seeing my students learning through their own inquiry is very rewarding.

I felt the need to write things out on notebook paper today.  Check out the pictures to see the process of student inquiry based teaching/learning going on as well as the combination of Teacher-directed.

Students discuss how to end their clip so that it will roll into the next group.

At the suggestion of one of the other members of my CIG, I opened up the concert programming to the students. I was very nervous about that since so many of them generally only want to sing pop songs. So I decided to open up the programming with some parameters. I preselected a variety of pieces that would fit within different genres I wanted to see represented in the concert. I opened the day by saying that we’d end by taking a vote and the simple majority would win. Any of the choices for each section were appropriate and ones that I would find acceptable. Taking one or two genres a day for about a week, we looked at a small segment of the music and listened to the recordings posted on the publishers website. There were some that I was secretly hoping they would pick and they did not.  Pieces that I never thought they would like that they raved about and request to sing each day. Without a doubt it has changed rehearsals for the better. Obviously not every person likes all of the pieces, but the students are starting to recognize why some of them were chosen and seem to be excited about singing. A certain piece really works on our blend and dynamics, another works on more complicated harmonies and diction. Previous they would get to a phase where they were disinterested in singing or bored with the music. Now, they’re complaining that I’m not there because of festivals or other events such as this and they can’t sing. Hopefully this trend will continue as the rest of the year progresses.

When learning necessary art and music skills, where can the balance between inquiry-based and teacher-directed instruction be found? (or: which instructional strategies work best)

I have found that my inquiry has changed as time changes and needs change in my class. I wanted to do stained glass with students but didn’t have the supplies at first. Becuse of this, I had to become creative in getting materials. I created a “business” for my class. We decided to sell our art to buy supplies for our class, which motivated several students that were not motivated for school in general. We decided that the students would supply thegalas for a project and I would supply everything else. We would then talk in a collaborative way on how we would maout our projects and to whom we would sell our work.

To give a better understanding I will attempt to explmanga few of the many changes that took place from inquiry and collaboration in my room.

One student hated being in school but loved art. He would not do assignments on painting because he didn’t feel he was good enough. He actually approached me about stained glass which opened up this entire thought. He had to buy glass since i didn’t have those supplies. I didn’t fee it was right to have him pay for having class so we decided to sell what he made to Supplement getting more glass for more projects.

We decided to do Christmas ornaments and sell them to the school. This raised several questions, such as what will they look like, what will we sell them for and who will we be marketing our product to. We also had to decide how we were going to inform the school that these items will be for sale. I let the student decide how he was going to get the “word out” to the school, and he came up with at first just word of mouth. Then as that progressed, he started to realize that we had a morning announcement session in our school and he could place our items on that which is shown across the televisions in every room of the school. The ornaments were for sale for 15 dollars each, which he thought was a high price and no one would buy. We ended up selling 27 or so, and even to members of his family which were not at our school. The students and teachers would have to place an order deciding what color they wanted and which ornament they would pick. they could also have them engraved with a special message or the year if they decided. They got to choose from two different things.



These items creqated a flury in my class and this student in particular. He started to see that he could make money creating art, and he was actually getting good at it. His excitement gained momentum as he started to get more people asking for other art projects to be made for them. This once again opened up another inquiry process.

We could not fill the orders required if we did not have more students involved doing the work. This student took it on his own to recruit other students to do jobs that he felt they could handle to fill the orders. We stayed for hours after school to finish the orders and made enough money to pay for what he bought and also to buy more materials for future projects to be sold. We then had to decide what the next thing was we were going to try to market. We came up with the fact that Valentines day was the next holiday we could prepair for. The students went back and fort with many ideas and made prototypes of each piece they thought would be good to sell and how they would market these items.

We as a class ended up agreeing on picture frames with a heart on either corner. Which was in itself a great idea, but caused the students to start to think further into the future rather than just on the completion of the project at hand. They decided that the next project should be a picture fame designed just for seniors in the highschool. Which touched on the subjects we were discussion about target audiences for their crafts. They made a prototype of this frame and began marketing it. I will post a picture to follow and then discuss how they decided they were going to get the word out to the school.


The student that did not like school and felt there was nothing in school that was going to help him started to actually come to school more often. His attitude changed in a dramatic way. He was no longer wishing to miss school, and was actually coming to my class every morning and any free time he had throughout the day. He would ask other teachers if he was caught up with his work if he could come to my room and work on his projects. He also stayed for hours after school on many occasions with me and other students to continue his “new job”.

His new way of reaching students was to utilize facebook. He posted a picture of this picture frame and tagged every senior that he had on his list. He asked that they forward it to friends that he might not have on his list and took comments for what they though of it. Which in its own way once again opened up the need for collaboration and inquiry on his, my and other students parts. He had to come up with how much he was willing to wave as to the colors of the frame, special orders and things of that nature. We talked about how it was not practical to buy every color of glass to be able to fill any type of order we may get. So he limited it to specific c0lors and a black or white tossel cap for boys or girls. The year is made with twisted metal wire we had in the class. He has begun orders and has set a deadline for them to be able to make sure he can fulfill the ruquired orders before the end of the year.

Since that he has also embarked on making different stained glass pieces which are not to be sold at the school but rather to community businesses. His biggest work is that of a chess board. NOW. With that being said. He also has spent hours getting community involvement in these projects. He contacted his aunt who owns a wood salvage business “dealing with drift wood and rare findings wood”. She gave him a very special type of wood that is three hundred years old to complete his chess board. He utilized his father who is a contractor to build the base for his work. He also did research on the internet to find cheaper project materials and the actual chess pieces. He is looking to sell this project to Nemacolin Woodlands marketing to a higher social economic demographic.




AND YET ANOTHER CHANGE IN INQUIRY!!!!  Now other students that are not totally on board with stained glass started wondering how they can make their art known to the school as well.  So they decided to start going out into the school to find what was needed.  Some stuck with the ceiling tile and teachers requests and other started other projects.  more to come in the next blog.  Have a great day and comment please.

The installation process for my elementary students was a growing experience that opened itself up for many discussions and learning opportunities.  We spent the beginning of the project sketching and covering the walls of their locker shelf.  Grades 1-3 focused on creating a world with layers.  We learned and reviewed background, middle ground, and foreground and built a new layer each class.  The fourth and fifth grade focused more on creating an emotional response from their viewer so creating layers was not required.  Their projects went more in the direction of dramatics and incorporating elements of surprise.  Many students created a Duchamp effect of creating a wall in front of their shelf, and cutting out two tiny holes for your eyes to look through.  One student wanted to create a scary installation, so she made the looking wall then created a pulley system. When you pulled a string, a monster popped up in front of one of the eye holes.

Overall the project process was very successful.  I found motivation from the students in almost all of the classes.  They were working on these during their recess, at home, during homeroom period etc.  Some teachers were really involved and excited too.  Almost all of the students were enthusiastic and proud to show their installation and share their thoughts of why they created the space the way they did.  I found a pattern with the way art class happened.  The students first started at their desks, working on an initial thought that they had been thinking about. Many students were very focused on their own installation.  You could tell they cared about this.  Once they were ready to install and add something inside of their lockers, they started using each other more.  Towards the end of class a lot of collaboration happened.  Whether it was students freaking out that they didn’t get a lot done and needed friends to help, or they wanted to show off what they had created, the class ended with people’s heads stuck in the lockers, feverishly working.  There was a lot of collaboration that happened every class and students depended on themselves as well as each other to trouble shoot and figure out how to express what they wanted.

January 13, 2012

Perhaps there are others who are spinning plates – – -so many plates. There is the usual e-mail, curriculum writing, graduation projects, concerts, concerts, concerts, orchestra rehearsals for the musical and adapting parts to the level of the players, budget meetings, the arts festival, the usual grade book maintenance and lesson plans, and tech-flex sessions to learn more and more technology applications. Right now I am on a technology/curriculum overload.

So then, I created what I think is more of a platter for my students. We have been using a wiki called the Fox Fiddle File. I asked the students to respond on the discussion page to the question “Why do you play your instrument? I included the responses in the December concert program for the audience to see. I continued to post interesting finds from the internet. One of those was the Copenhagen Symphony playing Ravel’s Bolero in the railroad station and another was a list of essential questions for the students to consider. Students responded with some comments that prompted others to respond. Then the students started to post items of interest and topics for discussion.

Spinning this platter has increased the discussion and sharing by the members of the High School Orchestra, who frequently shrink from in-class discussion. As time has progressed the students have begun to post topics of interest. There have been 277 postings to date to the two dozen topics on the discussion page to date.

My idea for my independent learning project for my Communications class came from:

This article is about creating oral history interviews. I asked my new substitute if he was up to trying to start my project because I hope to be back in the classroom soon.  Being a star, he was excited about my ideas. The first step is to have the students review the results of the survey, see what everyone was interested in doing. Then we need to get the students to choose what they would like to do for the oral history project. They will need to choose a topic, a method of presentation, independently!

Again, I really like the idea of interviews. They can interview kids who lived in other states, different school districts, people who had a bad experience and lived better because of it.  Key is finding someone they feel comfortable interviewing and learning how to ask open-ended questions. Maybe we can find some interviews on YouTube -good and bad. I really wish they would consider older family members-get family histories. Some kids don’t have grandparents. Parents who have been incarcerated would be great!  I’m excited:)

September 2020

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