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I figured that I should wrap things up with a “this is what I learned” post. My CIG has been examining inquiry strategies that may or may not increase motivation and determination in our classrooms. My strategy involved the implementation of a rewards system for my students. Initially the system was a success. The students wanted the reward (band bucks toward school store purchases) and where willing to work for it. As the weeks progressed, however, I saw less and less motivation to do well on the playing tests. At first I determined that this was not a reliable method of motivating students. But recently, something funny happened. I’m seeing more and more kids in my room in the mornings and an increased motivation to play/perform well. I think that it just may have taken more time than I thought it should. And, during several weeks in which there was a lull in student motivation the students were in the middle of PSSA testing. As a result, I am beginning to believe that a rewards system can be a point of motivation to students. But, it can’t be the only thing. Students have to make a personal connection to their art in order to keep them coming back. Things like a reward for hard practice can help move them in the right direction, but ultimately they have to see the value in what they are doing and want to get better.

So I am here trying to get my last blog post together and I feel that I have made a lot of progress since my last post, but I have not been able to completely accomplish the project that I set out to do this year.

After my first attempt at getting students to create and edit their own music was not successful, I re-worked my approach and I have had some successes since!  Students researched song that were either written for protest or historical perspective.  The kids picked quite a variety of songs, from Michael Jackson, Aerosmith, Country Artists, Hip Hop Artists and  Whitney Houston.  The themes the kids focused on were racism, teen violence, child abuse, self image and patriotism.

I then charged the students with the task of making a decision about what they believe in or stand for, or to describe an event in their own perspective.  Students worked in groups and all of them were able to poems, phrases, and lyrics to make their statements.  Today, students were working on recording their statements and manipulating the sound files using Audacity.  Most of the groups were able to really contribute and create something, but one group who really had something to say and share “lost” their work and now I am worried that they will not get it recorded before Friday’s meeting…

This had really been a great year and I feel that this has really touched on our question: “How can we help students discover who they are and their connection to the world?”

Attempt #1 for my student inquiry :

My plan was to introduce kids to the voice recorders and have them make various recordings that they could later edit into pieces.  After some very basic instruction about how to use the recorders, students were able to make a variety of recordings, but I did run into issues.  Students were trying to record very long samples, or they were having difficulty uploading and organizing their samples.  After we were able to get all of the sounds onto the computers and I showed students how to use various filters and editing tools to create their piece of music.  Most of the groups were able to edit and move around sounds within a set form, but none of the groups pieces were really coming together…  I thought about what was going on, and I thought that the challenge was time related because of activities surrounding state testing…  when I realized the real issue was the fact that I had missed critical step in the music making process – I forgot to discuss purpose!  I had assumed that the students would automatically know what they wanted to communicate in their piece…  which didn’t really work.  We lost several class periods to activites and then the quarter changed and the students moved  on to their next class…

So what now?  I stewed about how much of a mess this project turned up to be – and how I felt that I didn’t provide students with closure because we had to basically abandon the projects mid-stream.  A lot of the issues were time related, but now I have had some time to revise, reflex and now I am ready to revisit…  What am I going to change?

Attempt#2 almost ready for lift-off!

Since purpose was such a issue with the last attempt, my plan is to combine this project with the Protest Music unit that I was working on.  I am going to have students research a variety of songs whose purpose was to voice a cause or historical perspective.  Then I am going to ask students to research a cause or historical perspective of their own and create a statement about their cause using a variety of recordings and sound editing techniques…hmmm….  I’ll let you know how it goes 🙂

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.

Tomorrow will mark a first for members of the junior class at Peters Township High School. More than 375 juniors will be appear to present their graduation projects. Until now all students selected one of the many projects they do during their high school years and it served as their official graduation project. This change in process has created apprehension and frustration for the students. It has also created an evolution in the thinking of the team of collaborators who have guided the implementation of this new process. That team of teachers and administrators should be commended for staying strong against great criticism and they are to be praised for their amazing skills at organizing every detail to bring this experience to this first milestone. The entire HS staff has been preparing the juniors for “Tell Your Story” with mentoring sessions, career fairs, career research and a variety of inquiry opportunities. In January, the staff read essays about the students research and graded them using a rubric. We read in committees of the three. I read twenty-eight essays in two after school meetings. Tomorrow, there will be four teachers on each panel and every K-12 teacher and all administrators in the school district will be evaluating the presentations which are to be 10 to 15 minutes in length. A rubric has been created for the event and presentation skills are strongly emphasized. Being big on performance, I am looking forward to hearing about the career inquiries of the students and I am anxious to see how they demonstrate their independence. I know that there will be students who will experience “performance anxiety.” This experience is about individual inquiry and will be all about independence and practice, my CIG’s topics for this year and from last year! Notes to follow after the event…

Next day-following project presentations: We heard 7 presentations today and they were all good. In regard to independence, the students were all well-prepared and some were well rehearsed while others could have used more practice. All adhered to the requirements as outlined in the rubric. Independence based on the depth of understanding of the research that was conducted was definitely evident in one presentation. This student did not use note cards as prompts and unfortunately the powerpoint aid he had planned to use would not open. So he asked for a copy of the rubric and proceeded to reconstruct his presentation. Though visibly a little bit rattled, he moved forward relating his journey and citing supportive data that met the requirements on the rubric. It is interesting to note that this student is a musician who is also active in theater. He definitely demonstrated poise under pressure…poise that reflected a significant level of independence.

Check out Kathy’s  guide to Everything! I’ve copied the page relating to iPads in the classroom, but she really has everything you could possibly need to get started on anything here.

After reading Jenifer Joyce’s post (about doing the survey, planning a great trip, and having most of the kids back out) I was reminded to post about my survey outcome. I did post the survey results and my plans to do a video family interview style to help the kids do some family roots research. Well, after doing some acting games, some fun interviews with the other kids in the class, I was totally unsuccessfut in getting the kids to interview their family. There was NO WAY they were going to videotape their family members! So, back to the drawing board.  My main problem is that I have 4 students in the class that are interested only in disrupting the class any way possible so that they can spend the rest of the day in in-school-suspension. The other students are really worried about going against them in any way. I have a few kids who will go along, but I hate to put the pressure on them. So, I decided to go with their second survey selection – learning how to act. So, since the PSSA test is around the corner, what better practice than reading Shakespeare so that we can do all of those literary elements?  So far, only one of the 4 superstars has maintained that she is not going to participate. We are moving on without her. My goal is to make it look like so much fun that even she will want to join in. Donna mentioned someone who could teach them some fencing – I’m ready! Any other ideas are greatly appreciated.

Today was a catch up, get organized, and get blogging day. We are hard at work making check lists to ensure the Balancing Act is all on the same page. After I caught up on my blogging, I began commenting on my fellow team members posts,( who are busy at work sharing the latest news from their classroom and what they are brainstorming, and trying out). I also have been paying  visits to  both Camille’s and Cory’s blogs so I can learn new ways to spice up my blogs. Incorporating picture helps me to tell my story, I would like to record some videos to show others what is going on in my classroom . 

Because my son knew I was having problems being motivated since my surgery, he bought me the coolest birthday present! He sent me a Fotodiox collapsible Chromakey green and blue background (listed as such on and a new app called Kromath3.

The green screen unfolds from a small circle out to a 5×7 rectangle with tabs on each side to attach. I hung it on the back wall of the classroom. I bought some cheap utility lights at Lowes because shadows make green screen difficult. then.
In social studies, the students are writing biographies on African Americans they admire. I asked them to think of ways they could present this information without reading it. I gave the iPad2 to the students and turned them loose. Below is the first example of a presentation!

This video, Clarence Thomas Green Screen, can be viewed on the wiki space:

Sorry, for some reason, vimeo has put this up-side down 😦

I recently downloaded an app that takes photos and enables you to edit them, draw, or automatically change them into comic strips. This lets the students create stories, presentations, what ever in an artistic way that isn’t very difficult. Try it, Comic Life


August 2020

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