Makerspaces…Makey Makey

Today was my first day in the Makerspaces class I am taking for my Educational Technology Endorsement.

If you want to know more about Makerspaces check out the link…

I liked how we went through No, Low and Hi Tech options today.  I also like how I was able to see where I could use these options in both my choir classes and my new theatre classes.  The possibilities are endless with a lot of imagination.

My favorite from today was Makey Makey.  

I was first introduced to Makey Makey at the UMEA conference a year ago. The presenter was a professor from the local state college.  He showed us what he did with the setup.  It was really cool!

I immediately wanted to have access to this equipment.  I looked up the videos that were recommended and even talked to my principal to get him excited. However, I completely forgot to add it to my Needs/Wants/Wishes List at the end of the school year!

Fast forward to today…I got to play with them! There is a bit of a learning curve but I really could see using them in my specific content area.  My group was, amazingly enough, all from my school and they got to see my excitement!  I’m hoping it was infectious:) One of the teachers was a 7th grade science teacher and we worked together to create different small projects using the Makey Makey board.  The only downfall was the amount of time we were given to play with the setup…only 15 minutes.  So not enough time!

We can only hope I get the set I requested on my Needs/Wants/Wishes list so I can convince that teacher and maybe others to work with me to create more things!  I think integration using Makey Makey would be a really addition to our school culture.  The  exciting thing for me would be getting a lot of teachers from other content areas to understand how we can integrate and work together using this and other tools.  Let’s hope for the best.


Finals follow-up…student reaction

The other day, I talked about the Final and what I was going to do.

I briefly explained what the final was going to be and even included a link to the website I used.

Now…let’s talk about the reaction of the students.

As I mentioned in the previous blog entry, I did have a student ask me in the middle of the “final” why I couldn’t have just given a traditional final.

Yesterday was a different story.  

*Students that had struggled during the first day of exploration with this new concept weren’t struggling as much as did before.  They were even letting loose a little and seemed to enjoy it.

*Students that usually were labelled “not the best students” or “students that didn’t put enough effort into their work” or any other typical complaint of some teachers, were doing better than the traditionally “superb” students. Immediately I thought it was because this was out of the box thinking process that doesn’t always follow students that used to formulaic teaching and learning.

One student, who has struggled in every class she takes, was flying high because she was getting the answers despite her partner being one of those “good” student.  The joy I saw on her face when her thought process or answers were proven right was worth everything!

*Students that were burnt out on school?…HAD FUN!

*Students that usually stayed in the background because they didn’t always feel connected to their peers and/or had interests that didn’t always match their peers, found ways to contribute.  My favorite part of the final for these students usually came when their group was faced with the Minesweeper challenge.  If they were familiar with the game, they aced it right away and helped their group moved forward.  Even if they weren’t familiar, they usually figured out what to do first, which earned them the same result.

So…what happened today? 

Today was an interesting day:)

Today, we arrived at school to find our power out and not knowing if we would be able to get the planned activities done, whether we would hold school the entire day or send them home.  Eventually, it was decided to keep going with school even without power.

The interesting part about holding school when there is no power is what to do with the students that showed up.  See…today was the day the 9th graders went to our local amusement park about an hour after school started leaving the 7th and 8th graders to have shortened class periods so they could have a field day in the later portion of the day.  We already had much fewer students but now we had the added scenario of no power.

This meant, whatever technological idea a teacher might have had, was out the door.  I felt as though I couldn’t just have the kids sit around but I also didn’t want to just put them to work cleaning my classroom.  In the end?  A little of both.  Each class was given a small task to help with end of year preparations.  Once we got to fourth period, I had a few more students and they wanted to do more.  So, together, we got to work on a task I had recently found out about and wasn’t really looking forward to.

What’s the point of this train of thought?

Well, I found it interesting that the students I worked side by side with over the next few hours (many stayed to help rather than go onto their other classes) asked questions and made comments about the final.

I had one student remark over and over again how she really liked our final. This is a good student.  She always puts in the effort she needs to succeed and she seems to do well in all of her classes but I wouldn’t say she was at the top of her class, not that that is really all that important, but she said that the final gave her a chance to use her music skills in a different way.

I know I’ve already said this but “this was everything”.  It was everything I had hoped for.  It was everything I had planned to happen but was unsure if it would.

I even had a student that had been absent for the final, show up just after the power came on so we put her to work on it.  I got her started but since the power was on, I needed to get our auditorium set up for a slide show so I asked one student to supervise her and come get me if there were questions.

This was a student who, again was a good student but not one that some teachers would call great.  The student I asked to assist her was one I knew wouldn’t just give her the answers but would actually help if there was a problem.  Despite not having the opportunity to work with her peers in the days previous, she BREEZED RIGHT THROUGH IT!  She didn’t fly through it but she did it well and rather quickly.  I was asked a couple of times to answer some questions but she took my assistance well and figured it out.

It was pretty cool to peek in and see her progress.

And…she loved the tasks!

Success happened here.  I didn’t get a chance to get student feedback on what they would do differently but I am planning on doing that next year.  It will be fun to see how the Breakouts can be used for different purposes and which purpose fits best for my students.


Finals…are they really necessary?


Why do we have finals? 

Traditionally, a final is given to students as a way to “Show what they know”. Basically, you give a huge test that is usually multiple choice as a way to get students to show their understanding.

When I think of multiple choice tests, especially those used for finals, I think of the concept of memorization and as I put it…regurgitation.  None of which actually shows knowledge of the concepts supposedly learned but rather how well a student can memorize and recall the information.  I personally despise this kind of testing but I realize that since it is one of the easiest forms of testing to create, it is used more often than others.  I would prefer a test that is applicable to the content taught and adheres to the abilities of the students.

This is especially true in the arts.  In choir, we have already had our real final…aka…the concert.  This was truly the final and it was almost two weeks ago.  The process used in getting the students to that final is what is tested. But the students show what they learned in a live performance that is authentic and I think, should count as their final.

So, what do you do when your school mandates a final as a way to encourage attendance during the last week of school?

I did it this way…

Being that I am currently working on my Technology Endorsement, I wanted to incorporate something that would fit both worlds..the world of technology and the world of music.  I am really lucky that one of my student’s mother is in the technology class with me and was willing to help me out.

She showed me this really cool website that allows you to create your own or modify someone else’s Digital Breakout.   Currently the site is only working in Beta form but is extremely easy to use and the should you have an issue as I did today, you get a quick response time.

What is a Breakout?  What about a Digital Breakout?

Check out the links I provided under Breakout and Digital Breakout for more details but basically,

A Breakout is:

The Breakout EDU kit allows for the facilitation of games where players use teamwork and critical thinking to solve a series of challenging puzzles in order to open the locked box. Games are available for all ages and content areas.

and a Digital Breakout is:

Welcome to Breakout EDU Digital. The same game principles from the main Games page apply to these games, but there is no physical component other than an Internet connected device (preferably a laptop/Chromebook/desktop computer.)

The website I used for mine is  Again, this site is in Beta form but I chose it because I felt it was easier for me for this particular final.  The Digital Breakout from above it perfectly wonderful and I even got a chance to use it during one of our technology classes.  I do have to say that my team got finished first:)

For my class Breakout, I didn’t want just another process of memorization being use.  So, I was really grateful that for my first effort, I found a template that I could use as is.  It fit my purposes, in that my students would have to work together (skills used daily in choir), they would do cross-curricular activities (tasks that are often found in choir, sometimes unbeknownst to the students though), and they would be watching/listening/reading music (Wow! another skill taught in choir).

Most of the students have liked the final so far. (our classes are not very long so it will take two days to give them processing time and time to deal with typical technological challenges we face on a regular basis) Although a few have stressed themselves out a bit because it is something new and out of the ordinary.

What blew me away? I even had two or three ask why we weren’t just having a traditional final!  I stared at them in a look that probably resembled the scream mask.  I asked them if they really believed they would prefer a huge number of questions over something they could do together.

Their response?

It’s what they knew.

Oh…the horror!  The shame.

It proved to me once again that often in education all we are doing is asking kids to memorize and regurgitate.  How does that help them prepare for their future?

Sure, the breakout was new.

Sure, it was stressful because the answers weren’t easily found.

You had to look for the clues imbedded in the structure of the site.  You had to work together.

I think at the end of tomorrow, the students will have suggestions for how to make it better.  They may even want to create one for next year’s groups or at least have a say in the musical subject matter.  I have no idea.  We will see.

All I can say is that sure we’ve had problems but overall I think it’s a success.

I can’t wait to see what happens tomorrow. . .

Four School Days and Counting

Today marked 4 school days until our concert.

It always amazes me that no matter how many times I mention the details like the date, the time, etc. when we get to this point, shock is all I see:)

It’s as though REALITY hit them HARD.  We go over the when and where of our concerts weeks and sometimes months before the event, even if only once or twice each week for first while. However, until that ONE WEEK mark comes, the reality of needing to be prepared doesn’t fully translate.

That’s why I love it when we get to this point!

The good thing about that quick reminder is that students want to get to work right away.  And that’s a good thing…it means they are more engaged, it means more will get accomplished, it means students will remember their choreography easier, and it means the short amount of time we have on Fridays (30 minute classes) is well spent.  

Students that have given their all at every rehearsal feel pretty confident about where they are in the process.

Students that might not have given their all now realize they can’t afford not to and still be prepared as well as be part of the team.

The rare student that hasn’t given any effort now feels separate from the team and flounders until they have figured out the routine.

It’s harder on that rare student than any other.

My favorite part?

All of us, but especially the students, rally around that individual and help them out because they understand that the reason for the lack of effort tends to stem from insecurity, worry and even frustration not belligerence or defiance.

They create what is essentially a SUPPORT CIRCLE.

What is a support circle? Well, I pretty described it above.

But let me give you another example.

In one of my choirs, we have a student who is very sick.  We don’t truly know what’s going on but the choir itself is so connected and like a true team that the students miss that student tremendously.

So they decided to do something.  One of the students creates some large posters that said WE MISS YOU! to show how much they miss that student. Then they took a photo with the whole class holding the posters.  The student that made the posters will be sharing the photos with the individual that is now studying at home.

The student will more than likely miss our concert although I know the effort is being made to at least attend.  But a support circle has been created nonetheless. Aren’t students awesome when they realize their great power?

4 School days and counting.

Believe in Yourself

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ERobbPrincipal's avatar


I saw these quotes today and I immediately thought about all of my students that have come to me asking for help or to sit somewhere else or other requests because of what someone else, usually a so-called “friend”, has said about them or to them.

Then I thought how do these apply to our upcoming performance?

So I wrote them on the board and let the students ponder them.

I asked them what they thought of them.

I asked them what they meant to them.

I asked them whether they believe them.

I asked them how the quotes could apply to our concert.

Let’s start with:

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Throughout the day, the students gave many answers and many perplexed looks until the concept was explained to them.  However, my favorite response was:  A student asked me…”Did you run out of one color of marker?” Now, at first I really he was pulling my leg. That was until I looked at his face.  He was dead serious.

I smiled, chuckled inside and said “Of course, I didn’t run out of marker.”  The other students explained to him what the quote meant to them.

“I think it means to be you by believing in yourself.

When asked how it applied to what we were doing to prepare for our concert, the responses were pretty much the same…”Well, you told us that to overcome our fears of performing choreography for the audience, we could pretend we were a character.  How does that help us if you now say be us and believe in ourselves?”

Before I could respond, another student spoke with almost exactly what I would have said.  “Even if you use the persona of a character to help you create the visual and be comfortable, you are still you inside. You can be confident knowing you know the dance, you can do it, and therefore will shine.”

Now, let’s look at the other one. 

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This one was a little harder for some of the students.  They are at an age where everything their peers say and do MATTERS.  It often dictates what they like/dislike and how they interact with other people.

I knew this one wasn’t going to be easy nor would we find a solution today.  My intent was to see if they could relate the quote to our performance even if they couldn’t truly relate it to their lives.

Most of the students really seem to grasp the concept of not letting the audience dictate what they did on stage. We talked about how any feedback they would get from an audience wouldn’t happen until after the performance. Therefore, they shouldn’t let what may or may not happen after the performance dictate how much effort they put into the performance.

It was really fun to see how hard they worked after that discussion.  More students that had experience fear or trepidation about the choreography really got into the act more.  Were they still hesitant?  Absolutely! This was not a quick fix.  This was only another step towards being more comfortable out of their comfort zone.

At the end of the day, much was accomplished. Which, of course, is good. However, the better thing was the understanding that was happening.

Even better?

A student asked if I would be putting up another quote tomorrow.

My response?


Her response.

A resounding “YEAH” (with fist pump included)

Yearly School Talent Show

Today was our yearly student talent show.  

Last year, I was on the committee that auditioned the students and selected the acts to perform at the assembly. It was an interesting experience as it was my first year teaching choir and the first year at my school.  I had spent the entire year getting to know my students and working with them on some basic skills I felt were the most important for our first year together.

But as the talent show auditions approached, I became increasingly frustrated.  Since I was on the committee, I was required to be at the auditions. This meant I couldn’t help my students prepare their pieces for the audition.  I had a number of students, both inside and outside of my class, ask me for help and I had to turn them away.  I felt awful.  The day of the auditions was fun and enjoyable.  However, I kept wishing I could have been a resource for many that auditioned.

Since becoming the Advisor to our school Stage Crew, I wasn’t put on the talent show committee.  It was bittersweet.  I know I had hoped I could be of help to students but I kind of missed being a part of the whole process.

This year, students could ask for my help and get it.  Anyone that came in, I listened to their thoughts, their performances and gave suggestions that would help them.  Unfortunately, they also kept coming to me with logistical questions I couldn’t answer because I wasn’t on the committee anymore. Thankfully, all I had to do what send them to the teacher that was over it.

Although I’ve seen the show from both sides of being an auditioner and coordinator vs being a teacher giving assistance and scheduling stage crew, I’m not sure which one I truly like best.  In some ways I would like to do both but I know that’s completely insane and I wouldn’t be able to help my students prepare.  I think I’m willing to give up much but I wouldn’t trade being there for any student that wants my help.

The really cool thing?  Last year, I had two students from my choirs make it into the talent show.  One played the piano and sang.  The other played the piano so I don’t know if I can really count this one as it wasn’t voice.

This year, I had three singers! I even had one that was in my choirs but she played her cello with a group from her orchestra class.  I was especially pleased that they did so well.  One of the students acts very large in personality but I’ve gotten to know that student really well and can see the insecurities that others can’t see.  That student got up in front of the school and performed a piece that wasn’t easy.  Our school population is quite large in comparison to our building and so we have to do three assemblies so that all of our students can see the show.  Imagine being a student that is clearly prepared but has struggled in such a way they aren’t sure how they will be received.  Imagine knowing you did your best and you made a success of your situation. I can’t wait to see what happens in the future for that student and all the others that strive for excellence.

Quotes for the moment

Today, I saw these two pics during my prep period.  Thanks to   and   for these quotes.

I decided to write them on the whiteboard and see what happened. 

What happened was really interesting…

Initially I had thought I would save the quotes for the next day but I was worried I might forget:) So I decided to write them on the board right then and there.  It might be seen by one class (my prep is 6th period and then I teach one more class before the school bell rings) but I was hopeful.

See…this class had struggled yesterday.  They were feeling tired after the weekend and out of their comfort zone because we were doing “CHOREOGRAPHY”! We had ended the class yesterday with a short, 5 minute, discussion on how the pattern we were seeing each day was making it so we weren’t going to be ready for the concert in 14 school days.  We talked about how to overcome their fears and how each of them was important to the team. I hoped for the best for today.

I said nothing about the quotes on the board as they came in.  I just listened and watched.  Each student had their own response.  Some didn’t notice anything.  Some glanced and kept moving towards their seat.  And then it happened.  I heard this small yet audible gasp.  I looked over to where it came from.  I found the source and loved the look I received.  It was as if a lightbulb had gone off in my student’s head.  She was surprised but seemed excited. She even made a comment which to the effect that she loved the play on words. She had noticed the quote on success and it really resounded with her.  Once she noticed, more students noticed.  Then they noticed the other quote. It was so interesting to continue to watch their responses.  This only took a couple of minutes but I was truly excited for what I was seeing.

I asked them what they thought of the quotes.  This let into a short discussion (again only about 5 minutes as those seem to powerful time spans) into what we each thought.  The amazing thing was in the way that they participated today.  I still had one that was visibly tired and felt sorry and somewhat worried for him but even he still gave a lot.

We started where we last left off. They practice, they worked, they created success.  We were even able to continue to work so well that they finished the piece. This was something that didn’t seem like it was ever going to happen.  It was complete turnaround.  We even reviewed the beginning of another piece and were able to add a new part to that one.  The new part REALLY took them out of the comfort zone but they did it and they did it well.

The things I have learned from my PLN on Twitter has been so ideal that I won’t be stopping my learning any time soon.

I know there are many more quotes I have LIKED so I can have access to them and I know there are many more I will find but I am thankful for the quotes I saw at that moment. It changed everything.


Choral Intent

What is Choral Intent? 

Choral Intent is the process in which a group determines what needs to be done.  

What does that have to do with Choir? 

Well, choir is all about the group.  At least it should be.

I know…you’re saying “Well, my choir (band, orchestra, theater) director was the one always in charge.” He/she dictated what we were going to do or sing, when we were going to do it, and how we were going to do it.  To some extent, you’re right.  The director is very important to the group.  He/she has to have a vast knowledge about music, where it comes from, background knowledge about genres and/or composers, conducting skills, interpretation skills, etc.  However, in reality, a choir director can only direct students.

This is the way I see it:

A director shares what they know and together with the students, they create something new and unique from anyone else.  No group will ever perform that same way.  It might be similar but it won’t be the same.  The same director could work with two different groups and the results will still be different. That’s because the overall group, although it has the same director, is vastly different.  It is inherently unique.

So, what does this have to do with my class (I don’t teach choir)?

I think it’s the same principle.  The teacher is just like a director.  It is your job to share knowledge that you have as it pertains to the subject(s) you teach. However, you can’t stop there.  You need to remember that the students have to take ownership of their learning. The only way to do that is to facilitate their learning by allowing and encouraging creation within the group.  It not only shows students how to work together more efficiently, the product is by far greater than it could be with just you at the helm.

Let me give you an example:

One of my choirs is full of 7th grade girls.  I can’t teach them like I teach the other classes, even the other one that is also full of 7th grade girls. I can’t teach them the same because they aren’t the same.  This group of girls has a large portion of dancers in the class.  These girls spend two, three, four or even five days each week at dance classes.  The days they have dance, they dance from 3:30-9:00pm.  WOW!  I didn’t have to spend that much time when I was doing theater!  We are currently getting ready for our final concert of the school year and we are working on choreography.  Most of the classes prefer to have me choose the basics of the movement with some input from the students.  This class, I knew needed to have some control over what they were going to put out.  It’s just the best way to get them excited about performing.

Let me give you an NON-CHOIR example:

When teaching 6th grade, I was charged with teaching my students about the Solar System.  Now, I could have just taught them the basics about planet, had them notes, etc. etc. Instead, I got them outside and we set up an experiment where the intent was to introduce the students to the solar system.  I didn’t create it myself.  I had already been taught this.  I was just sharing my knowledge.  The students were given a planet, moon or other space object to represent.  Then they were given the distances away from the sun.  Their job was to figure out how far away they would have to stand if one foot equalled x amount of miles.  It was awesome to watch and communicate with the students.  This took time but boy did they learn about distance.  After the activity, they wanted to learn more.  So I asked them to find out about the object they represented.  It was so much fun for them to explore, learn and share what they found out with each other.  I even learned tons more about the Solar System than I had previously known.

What is Choral Intent? 

Choral Intent is the process in which a group determines what needs to be done.  

To me…choral intent is when a group comes together and works together for a purpose.  Sometimes, they have to work on their own for a while in order to prepare for the group purpose but in the end it always makes it better!

Music and Collaboration

If you haven’t already realized I often think and communicate in the form of song, you haven’t read enough of my blog entries;) I don’t go through the day without having had many concourses of songs pass through my mind by the simple expresses of a word or phrase given to me in conversation with students, colleagues or family.

I was just reading an article about how bringing music and song lyrics into the classroom can impact the learning in your classroom.  The author even goes so far as to say:

“It’s amazing how song lyrics dig themselves deep into our minds and stay there our whole lives.

However, when we want to learn something and try to memorize it, it won’t stick as easy as a song will.”

That got me thinking.  

What do you when your WHOLE CLASS is all about music and especially song lyrics? Well, in my case, you try to make sure the lyrics mean something to the students.  You discuss them together, you listen to the student’s thoughts and feelings about the text, you try your best to make them understand why the composer and/or lyricist wrote the lyrics in the way they did.

But this article was about those OTHER CLASSES. 

“Music and lyrics can play powerful roles in the classroom. They can help students remember key content. They can encourage conversations. Plus, there’s great fun in creating music that relates to class content.”

That brought a thought to mind I’ve had many times before:



especially those that teach CHOIR?

The sad reality is…I don’t think we always know or will always know.

I know a lack of collaboration can occur because sometimes there’s a disconnect between “CORE” subjects and “Elective” subjects.

Intentionally or Unintentionally, teachers of so-called “CORE” classes think their class in more important and don’t see benefit in a class where you prepare music, therefore no thought of collaboration happens. But I’ve seen this happens with classes that are deemed “Elective” courses just like music is.

Sometimes, there is an expectation of the music class to work on specific types of music so, in this case, it could the music teacher’s reluctance to collaborate because it might interfere with “their plans” or required competition or even the expectation the community has for the required performances of this class.

I think a lot of times, it’s just not thought of.  Collaboration is often thought of within one’s content structure.  Math teachers collaborate with Math teachers. Science teachers collaborate with Science teachers.  Choir teachers collaborate with Choir teachers.  This goes on and on.  It’s there in excess once you hit the middle/junior high school or high school realm.  Everyone is thinking about what “I” need “my” students to do in “my” class.

I have had a dream for a number of years where the bounds of collaboration are broken.  Where a Math teacher can find ways to work with any other subject and make relevance.  I know this happens often with Elementary school teachers, but that is sometimes because that teacher teaches all subjects (at least they do in Utah). My dream would be that classes cross boundaries.  We get out of the mindset of mine and yours and think “OURS”. When the classrooms become OURS, then I truly believe that learning can be pushed past boundaries, past mandatory testing, past what I keep hearing people saying is wrong with public education today. It also means that our contents become AUTHENTIC, RELEVANT and REAL to our students because they won’t see anything other than a COMMUNITY. 


I don’t know about you, but if I get the opportunity to find a place where that happens, I’m going to grab it and run all the way there.  It won’t matter what it takes for me to be prepared, but prepared I will be and innovation I will see.

Choreographed Progress

Today, most of the choir classes got at least half of a song choreographed.  Some even got all the way through to the end of the song. YAHOO!  Such progress! I am so please that the students are grasping onto the concept of choreography and performance in this way.  The students are beginning to really let go and make it happen.  I can’t even tell you how exciting this is.

What even excites me even more is how open they are to possibilities and how willing they are to make suggestions.  Sometimes I have to tell them their suggestions won’t work or don’t fit the piece. But a lot of times I can use the idea or modify it slightly to make it work.  Another student choice day…what a wonderful thing.

Tomorrow marks three weeks until our final concert for the school year.  If the students keep working as hard as they are, they will be so ready and polished for the performance that it will be a joy to all who witness it.  I am so grateful for their perseverance, tenacity and willingness to do what needs to be done.