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Quotes That Stick

At the beginning of August I changed the pinned Tweet on my personal Twitter account to reflect the road trip move my husband and I made, and today I got to change it back. I’m not one for memorizing quotes, but this is probably one of the few I can still recite from memory. It’s from an article by Mikey Neumann that came out in 2016, and it has been my pinned tweet since the moment I read the article.

Before we continue, I encourage you to take a moment to go read the article for yourself here: http://wilwheaton.net/2016/02/good-enough/

If it isn’t evident after reading it what the quote is, I’ll pull it for you.

Be creative.

Be valuable.

Spread joy for no other reason than to spread it.

Leave the world a better place than the one you woke up into this morning.

Mikey Neumann (February 2016)

I almost put this on one of my bulletin boards in my classrooms! I’m sure my students would love to know I was quoting a videogame-developer-turned-YouTube-professional. At the time I was working in a position that did not allow for a lot of creativity, so I focused on the latter three statements. Once I was able to teach, I focused on all four.

Now that I’m looking for the next step in my career, I’m drawn back to this quote. What position would allow me to be creative and spread joy? How can I be valuable when I want to prioritize keeping myself and my husband healthy? What did I do today to leave the world a better place?

Usually I’d see Mikey next week at PAX, he’d buy pizza for the entire Sheraton lobby, and everyone would stay up far too late (for the first week of school) to learn more about how games make us empathetic and bring us together. Not that we say that explicitly, but it’s how we ended up in that lobby in the first place. Without that lobby this year, we’ll find new ways to make our corner of the world a better place.

Why A Blog?

At first, this started as a simple means to an end: I was required to have a blog to post my coursework for my Master of Arts in Educational Technology program. But as that draws my program draws to a close, I was surprised that I did not want to let the blog go…go with me on this journey here.

I tweet a lot. My husband and I met on Twitter in 2015. I have moved into having separate Twitters for personal and professional life, and learned how to be an ally through the medium. But there’s only so many times you can tweet a day before you start wondering “Okay, so what does this look like to the people who only follow 10-20 people? Who exactly is my audience?” I try to follow 300 people maximum at a time, but I know there are others who follow many more and much less than I do. I don’t want to take over anyone’s feeds. So a blog may help me work through some of my longer form ideas without writing a bunch of Twitter threads.

What will you find here? Lots of things. Musings on my travels, my experiences in education and technology, maybe a music review or two. I can’t promise that it will always be interesting (or continue to perfectly implement APA format now that I don’t have instructors reading my work), but I promise that I will keep writing, and that I won’t be going away when my program ends.

Thanks for reading,
Lindsay

Guilt Trips

I promise I’ll get back to some suggestions for returning to school later this week!

I’ve seen it everywhere lately: don’t forget about self-care. As an ally, as an educator, as a human surviving a pandemic. I know I have taken time to do a few things for myself already. It has looked like this:

  • Playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons (by myself, with friends, with my husband…)
  • Cooking and Baking
  • Catching up on all the Netflix and Disney+ shows I thought I’d never have time for
  • Cross-stitching

But if you look at my pre-COVID-19 self-care it looks more like this:

  • Binging a Netflix/Disney+ show
  • Traveling to see my family

I am so privileged to have a large family I love and enjoy spread out across the country. I’ve lived in five states and visited 33 to see cousins, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. But living in Washington, traveling to visit family during a pandemic just wasn’t possible. Even after moving to Virginia (five hours south of my parents and brothers), it was still very unwieldy. So what do you do?

First test trip was in May. I brought masks, Clorox wipes, and gloves for the car. I learned that I can make it from my apartment to my parents’ on one tank of gas (barely). It was doable, but no self-care routine over the years has made me feel as guilty as this one now. I had prided myself on following all the scientific guidelines, reducing my exposure to others, and then risking it all to see my family in person? Was it worth it even with the guilt? My mental state said yes while I was there and when I returned home, but those frantic hours in the car said otherwise.

The last week has been the biggest guilt trip (pun fully intended): a trip to the Upper Peninsula with my family. We’d planned it in January after my grandmother passed to wrap up her estate and as a farewell to what we call the Little House. When the pandemic hit, I immediately assumed this would get canceled or my aunt would go alone, but as the months went by, plans were finalized, a house was rented, and my family was going. So…was I?

I did go. I thought about flying and then canceled my tickets when I saw the outbreaks from the Atlanta-based Delta flights. I drove.

Fifteen hours. Virginia to the far edge of the Upper Peninsula. Thank goodness I love singing and being a one-woman show in my car! But hotels were now terrifying. Each gas station used up one of my very few gloves. No stopping at favorite restaurants or visiting friends as I stuff snacks in my mouth with a hand on the wheel. Road trips are different now.

I’m writing this on the other end of the trip, in a hotel so I can finish up some graduate work before the due date (I have been, and probably will always be, a procrastinator). The time I spent with my family was some of the most stress-relieving time I have had since March, but I couldn’t tell you if I had to do it over if I would do it all again. I’ll quarantine when I get home and not leave the apartment and I’ll miss every moment I spent in sunshine in a lawnchair, sitting around a campfire, talking in a pavilion.

Maybe I just need a bigger balcony.

We Have Some Questions…

Sorry, I couldn’t help myself to the Hamilton quote title.

Most of the online discourse I have seen in education this week has revolved around the big question: “How do we return to school in the fall?”. Personally, I am moving away from my position in Washington so I’ll need to find something new in Arizona. There are many sides in this debate and a lot of questions that need to be discussed, but I want to share a list posted on Twitter by David Walrod.

What I want to look at is their Top 10 Teacher and Staff Questions about the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) Return to School document. Understandably, many are worried about students returning to school, and I would like to redirect some of that attention to the staff that make sure that students can be in a school with adult supervision. FCPS is the 11th largest district in the U.S. as of 2016 data, but these questions are applicable to districts regardless of size (Digest of Education Statistics, 2018). The question I empathized with most was this one:

6. What protections will be in place for staff members who work with multiple classes per day or work in multiple schools including elementary specialists and resource teachers, middle and high school teachers, staff who are split across multiple schools, and itinerant related service providers? Elementary specialists regularly see over 500 students per week. Itinerant providers can work in 20 or more sites. How will these staff members be protected with this highly elevated risk compared with other staff?

Top 10 Teacher and Staff Questions about the FCPS Return to School, 2020

The past three years I spent as an itinerant and a music specialist. In my district, music itinerants taught classes in at least two schools per week. My second year my schedule looked something like this:

Lindsay’s 2018-2019 Teaching Schedule. Each color denotes a different building.

I saw 15 classes twice a week (with the exception of Class P, the primary music teacher at that building taught them the second time each week…that might be a future topic). Each class had a minimum of 24 students, around 360 students total across three buildings. If we went back to school now this model would be impossible for several reasons:

  1. I could not safely have 24 students in a classroom having students six feet apart for proper social distancing (CDC, 2020).
  2. The amount of exposure I would be risking (on behalf of myself, my husband, colleagues, and students) traveling to three different schools throughout the week.
  3. As the second or third music teacher in these buildings, I do not have a large room or ventilation in most of my spaces. How do we ensure safe airflow for students?
  4. With singing being a dangerous activity, the amount of time and materials necessary to properly sanitize instruments in between uses, what do we teach to students in music?

Now the last question I have been able to find answers to already, and feel comfortable answering as an educator. The others should be handled at the district level or higher. I think the question becomes “Is it worth the risk to have itinerants constantly exposing themselves and others to high-risk situations?”

I believe the answer is no. We will see answers in the coming weeks and months to what itinerant positions will be in the 2020-2021 school year and I truly hope to not be disappointed.

References:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Social Distancing. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/social-distancing.html

National Center for Education Statistics. (2018). Enrollment, poverty, and federal funds for the 120 largest school districts by enrollment size in 2016: 2015-16 and fiscal year 2018. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d18/tables/dt18_215.30.asp?current=yes

Top 10 Teacher and Staff Questions about the FCPS Return to School. Retrieved July 10, 2020, from https://docs.google.com/document/d/11DMvuV2P4TKmdMPuyBGiZ4N5jmhL3Q3I74DyyDv9mwQ/mobilebasic?fbclid=IwAR14QeWyonpEStovJLZUGDusZc-yIpoDddYZ1jEvHTnZMmTxmuHHbfsEYyc

Hello There, and Then Goodbyes

This year of teaching was a heck of a year, but the first thing I teach every year is the welcome song I do with my kindergarten students. Here’s a recorded example I made for a guest teacher in October of this school year:

Hello Song and Intro YouTube video made for guest teacher, 2019.

The world and education has changed drastically since then. More recently, I re-recorded the Hello Song during our first mode of distance learning for students to listen at home:

It’s one song that I know each kindergarten student knows. After October conference week, I start having a student helper sing it with me each class. It can be intimidating to make sure each student gets a turn and it seems fair to them, but I have found a few things that I do to make it easier:

  • Go in alphabetical order by first name, and keep a copy of class lists in this order somewhere
  • If a new student joins the class, they go to the end of the list (so they have time to learn the song and get excited to lead)
  • Write the names of all the helpers on the board before your day starts
  • If the student is absent that day, put a dash next to their name. This reminds you when you’re erasing the names for the day that they weren’t here.
  • RECORD WHAT DAY STUDENTS HAVE TURNS. They will ask you and say they haven’t had a turn yet. Being able to show them exactly when they had a turn usually satisfies them.

I love seeing how each student responds to their turn. Due to distance learning in my district, we weren’t able to have everyone sing in front of the class before we left the classroom. Additionally, students did not have any music work assigned until May 4. Once the classroom teachers added us to their Seesaw classes, the students really enjoyed their specialist activities!

I ended the year with the same song I started the year with: our Hello There song. You can check out my Seesaw activity here. Feel free to browse my other activities I created for my kinders as well!

The videos I got back were adorable. Some students did the hand motions, some did their own introductions, and others just sang Baby Shark. It was a perfect way to end the school year and my time at Kent Valley ELC – seeing my growing singers and being able to tell them that they will make great music in first grade.

It’s a weird time to be leaving a position in the midst of all this, but I’m looking forward to whatever the next step in my career will be. For now I’ll enjoy finally living with my husband and a summer finishing my master’s degree.

Design Thinking Impressions

Let’s Get Some Context.

I was accepted to Michigan State University’s Master’s in Educational Technology program almost exactly three years after I took my first class in user experience design (UXD). I know because I found the original Instagram post I made from a “take a picture of something that makes you happy every day” challenge and it showed up on my “On this day…” feature. Welcome to mood lighting, selfie-taking, long-hair-with-bangs, 2015 subway platform Lindsay.

I’m glad even then I knew this was poor lighting.

You could easily profile me. Young millennial living in Brooklyn, working for a large corporation in New York City, not using her degree from a public university. My job wouldn’t provide any additional training, so I decided to take this class after my dad suggested I might enjoy UXD and that I would make a better living with it. Considering I lived in a small apartment with two roommates, one of which was making pot cookies once a month on MY cookie sheets and dating a man who was almost her boss’s boss, twice her age, and married…but I’m getting off track.

I took the UXD course from General Assembly and made a fleshed out prototype of a Google Docs extension that would help educators assess who of the group members really did the work. It wasn’t real, and I didn’t have the ability to code it, but I made it! It was mine! But not enough to build a portfolio to get a job in the field. Lucky for me at this time, I had decided to move to Seattle in August 2016 and go back to teaching: I was tired of being the one who had to invoice and take money from school districts (even if they were paying for a product, most of them never used it).

Regardless, here’s the three years later equivalent social media post. Meet 2018 optimistic, Twitter-happy, itinerant music teacher Lindsay (who learned her lesson that bangs are way too much upkeep):

This is my personal Twitter account, please only follow if you want to see a lot of Animal Crossing: New Horizons discussion.

I’ve leaned on my design knowledge throughout my Master’s coursework at Michigan State University, and had looked forward to taking a design class again from the moment I put it on my proposed academic schedule. From the moment the class started, I felt right back at home, familiar with the content, proposed technologies, and the process itself. Proof:

Can you tell I have trouble finding things to post on my professional account?

It has not been the easiest few months. My husband’s application to be an Army pilot was denied after preparing for ten years to become one, my grandmother passed away in late January after two months of declining health, and COVID-19. That alone has impacted my job, my safety, where I live, and my plans for the rest of the year. This tweet from earlier today felt so accurate:

You Teach the Same Class How Many Times?

When I took the UXD course in 2015-2016, I remember thinking how much teaching was a lot like designing. I kept constantly making connections back to teaching throughout the course, and one of my biggest takeaways was that design thinking is perfect for teachers. They must do it all the time without thinking as part of their lesson plans. Then I started teaching again, and discovered I was incorrect. I really saw my design thinking this year was in the repetitive music classes I taught since. Over the past two years I have taught 10 kindergarten music classes for 50 minutes twice a week. That’s a lot of numbers, so here’s part of my schedule:

MondayTuesdayThursdayFriday
11:20-12:10Class AClass FClass AClass F
12:30-1:20Class BClass GClass BClass G
1:20-2:10Class CClass HClass CClass H
2:10-3:00Class DClass IClass DClass I
3:00-3:50Class EClass JClass EClass J
Please note the 20 minute break from 12:10-12:30.

This setup meant that for two years, I have taught the same lesson ten times in a row before switching plans. Only as I took this course did I realize that each set of ten classes was an encapsulation of iterative design. 

The content was there to start, and I knew what the students needed to learn, but it was a matter of pacing, delivery, and adjusting the lessons to my students’ needs. My first lesson of each set was always the roughest sketch – barely prepared fifteen minutes prior, sketched on the board so students knew what we were doing, and delivered. You’ll notice that there’s a 20 minute break after my first class. This was invaluable: I could teach the first class and if anything didn’t work, needed different supplies, caused issues, needed more content, I could redesign the lesson and test again with the next class. The next “break” my lessons got was between each set of five classes. After teaching five of the same lesson on Monday, I might discover that these students are not ready to do partner dances or that we never got to our last activity. The next day I would come in, change our schedule, and see how it worked. 

Depending on the needs of the classroom I might change the process as well. One class had a nonverbal student, who would do motions if I had them, but if I didn’t would space out and constantly go to use the bathroom. That class had movements for every single song. My class at the end of the day had more movement in their activities, as I discovered the students were antsy to get home and movement helped them focus.

Framing and Reframing

Design thinking has impacted how I have looked at the world around me as well. My husband and I had a discussion recently that framed how different our thought processes are when it comes to some of society’s biggest problems. It started with this tweet and article while drinking coffee this morning:

I found it originally from a friend, but did not get permission from her to link her tweet publicly.

The ideas discussed in this article and the ideas it created in my mind had me instantly messaging my husband:

Edited for language

After he read it, we had an in-depth discussion of the implications of what redesigning the restaurant industry would be, how many other industries and facets of society had also been living on this razor’s edge, and how COVID-19 would industries and patterns of human life going forward. Design thinking helped me frame these larger questions as problems that needed to be clarified and defined rather than immediately jumping in with the solutions that may be put in place. At first I thought it was the difference between being an idealist and a pragmatist, but I realized it was actually the difference being able to reframe issues in various ways and immediately making solutions based on what you know.

Design thinking has made me even more of an optimist than I already was. Being able to frame a problem, then reframe, define, then redefine, then throw it all out without feeling bad. As the “artsy” one of a friend group who prided themselves in being in the top 5% of our high school class, failing was not a thing I did. Honestly, it’s still not much of what I do. But I’m more comfortable with small failures far more than I ever have been. My cooking and baking has definitely been improved because I am willing to take chances and make substitutions, knowing that if this meal isn’t perfect, I’ll still eat it, and I’ll make even tastier food next time. For example, this fantastic “vegetarian” ramen my husband and I made a few weeks ago:

It’s the 9th picture, as the caption says. This is my husband’s Instagram.

That “homemade vegetable ramen” clearly has eggs in it that were not a part of the recipe. I discovered early that afternoon that it called for dried shiitake mushrooms, not fresh ones, and had to learn how to dry mushrooms quickly. The broth is not vegetarian either; its water base we swapped for equal parts chicken stock and bone broth because I thought it might amp up the flavor. And in these times, those are definitely not fresh ramen noodles. They’re dried packaged “Asian noodles”, whatever that means. The fact that I can recall each of these substitutions 15 days later means that yes, the mistakes still bother me. But I was able to iterate on the original recipe to make something that I would probably enjoy (and did!). A lot of social distancing cooking has involved finding solutions that I would not have been ready for before.

Looking Ahead

 Looking forward, I hope the principles of design thinking help define my style as a leader. I love being in a classroom and singing with students, but the testing of this step of my career has shown me that there is more that I could be doing in other positions. I want to be able help those in struggling positions feel supported, like I tried to do through my problem of practice for this course. I want to be comfortable testing something to see if it works, and trying something else if it doesn’t. I want to be creative with my solutions by defining the problems I encounter properly. Even if it’s as simple as keeping the design model steps on a Post-it on my laptop, I want to ensure that I remember this model.

I hope it keeps me an optimist. Everything is so unstable right now, I’m not even certain what I will be doing Tuesday. But I feel more prepared to tackle problems ahead with the wealth of knowledge that comes from theoretical and practical experience in design.

Supporting Itinerant Music Teachers Through Design Thinking

Introduction

I accepted my first teaching job three years ago as an itinerant music teacher. Our district has gone through a lot of changes in staffing, funding, and schedules over that time. Itinerants teach at different buildings throughout the day, starting in one building, traveling during the work day, and ending at a different building. I spoke with a few of my colleagues about being itinerants at a biweekly meeting. Many of them spoke to me about feeling unsupported in their roles working at two to seven buildings a week with minimal supplies. Some teachers even spoke about not having instruments or space to dance with primary students. They feel they are often the last to find out about news because they do not always have mailboxes and are overloaded with the distribution list emails from each building.

I explored this situation using the Stanford Design Model which has five steps: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test (Plattner, 2018). Through the process, I learned how to create solutions using design thinking and developed a prototype to help my colleagues.

Empathize

Many of these were struggles I have also experienced as a fellow itinerant music teacher and I have wanted to change. As a peer and not an administrator, there are not many ways that I can have a large impact on our funding and scheduling. I would have to find ways to make the most impact that I could for others within my own role, but first I needed a better picture of the demographic I was trying to help. Although we share the same title, itinerant music teachers do not have any group meetings throughout the year so I do not know most of my peers in person. 

Using our email distribution lists, I broke the teachers down into groups by experience, subject, location, and resources. Two distinct types appeared, and I created two character profiles based on these discoveries: Laura and Steve. “Laura” is an instrumental music teacher who has over a decade of teaching experience, and teaches at approximately four schools a day. “Steve” by comparison is new to teaching and teaches general music classes at two or three schools a day in wherever the school can find space to teach. You can find the full profiles below.

These helped me discover that the person that really needs help are those general music teachers who are new to teaching and being an itinerant. Being a first-year teacher is hard enough but learning how to be an itinerant at the same time is very difficult. 

Define

Embarking on this design process, I first needed to settle on what problem could use a solution I could provide. The original statement read as follows:

“I am an itinerant music teacher, one of approximately 30 in my district. We travel between buildings during the school day, and end up teaching in very different rooms. I’ve taught in six schools over three years in: the primary general music room, carpeted cafeteria, tiled cafeteria, music portable, overload portable, and a loft space that was originally the teacher’s lounge. Some of these rooms do not have speakers, instruments, or smartboards. We are contractually given 45 minutes to pack up, drive, and set up at each new building (this year they cut us short).”

(Luft-Dixon L., 2020, p.7)

I originally believed that I should solve for how we could create engaging and useful lessons for students while dealing with the conditions that surround our positions. Working through various exercises to discover the smaller problems along the way helped me see how the overarching issue is that itinerant general music teachers feel unsupported. My perspective of the problem had shifted radically from my original definition after discovering the population that is truly underserved and needs the most help. My problem was redefined as “itinerant general music teachers are feeling unsupported in their transient positions.”

Ideate

Ideation is defined as “…the mode in which you generate radical design alternatives,” (Plattner, 2018, p.iii). In this case, it meant understanding why itinerant teachers felt unsupported. Due to COVID-19 isolation and school closures, I met with my siblings via Discord video chat to discuss the conditions my colleagues and I have experienced. My siblings include:

  1. A 26 year old who works for Donor’s Choose and is intimately familiar with the supply and support deficiencies for modern educators.
  2. A 22 year old music education major who is exploring future job conditions.
  3. A 14 year old freshman in high school familiar with a strong district music program.

We developed a fully fleshed out list that clarified a lot of the areas where itinerant music teachers might feel unsupported. After listing so many reasons they felt unsupported, my brothers and I struggled to find ways to truly make them feel supported within the constraints of my current position. The ideas for possible prototypes developed over the next few days as I did some journaling about my problem whenever a related idea came to mind. 

Prototype

Eventually I settled on one idea that I knew I could implement: a handbook given to all general music itinerants that would provide specific information relevant to the position that they would otherwise assume they do not have or ask a colleague. At first I envisioned this as something given to them during new teacher orientation, but pivoted to a digital version so that it would not be a burden to keep with you while traveling. An important part of this was deciding how to organize the information. I started with a list of topics I felt necessary to include, then organized them into categories based on similar content.

From there I was able to structure the table of contents, lay out basic information and what would be in every section and subsection for a basic prototype. The next important step was to share it with some colleagues to see if they would find it as valuable as I believed it would be.

Test

How I planned to test my prototype changed drastically with the onset of COVID-19. Originally the prototype would be brought to my professional learning community to be workshopped and discussed during our biweekly meeting. Instead I asked four of my colleagues to view and comment on personal digital copies of my handbook. Unfortunately I was unclear in my directions when I should have been explicit and received varied levels of feedback. While I had done well to get varied levels of experience and population to test my prototype, I did not give enough incentive to follow through on participation or provide in-line feedback. Even with those setbacks, I received some important feedback from my testing:

  • Teacher C said they would review but never did.
  • Teacher E reviewed the handbook and replied “This looks GREAT! A perfectly comprehensive overview of what an itinerant music teacher might expect when walking into a new position. Really, I can’t think of anything I would add to or take away from your document.” (S. Erak, personal communication, March 31, 2020) She may have had issues working with technology that was new to her.
  • Teacher M provided comprehensive in-line feedback throughout the handbook, and shared “I edited based on a) ease of reading and b) questions/concerns I’ve heard from teachers I’ve worked with at [school].” (R. Martinicchio, personal communication, April 3, 2020)

In the future for testing, I would set clear expectations and provide an incentive so that all that volunteered would follow through with the proper testing procedures. Based on the limited feedback I did receive, I believe that my prototype would be successful.

Conclusion

Stanford’s Design Model is incredibly helpful in finding possible solutions for explicitly defined problems. I believe that an itinerant general music handbook would help support new and experienced itinerant teachers based on the testing results. I plan to continue fleshing it out and developing the handbook to provide for next year’s itinerants, and will be paid for my efforts through effective education hours. I also plan to update the handbook with a section on how itinerant teaching looks with distance learning.

References

Luft-Dixon, L. (2020). CEP 817 Feedback Notebook – Spring 2020 – LUFT-DIXON. Retrieved from: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1E5y2ikElQR2OgcsQWGTiyJnNzYp37Z45zH6oN16-DLo/edit#

Plattner, H. (2018). design thinking bootleg. Retrieved from: https://lindsayluftcom.files.wordpress.com/2020/04/3265f-dschool_bootleg_deck_2018_final_sm28229.pdf

Testing…now with video!

My specific problem is that itinerant general music teachers are feeling unsupported in their transient positions. Going through the design process, there are several steps: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. This shows my prototype handbook to solve the problem going through the testing phase. 

Due to the testing happening during social isolation for COVID-19, it looked different than originally planned and went suboptimally. I asked for volunteers from a music teacher email distribution list, and received three responses. The three eventually gave me three levels of feedback: in-depth, a brief summary, and no response. I could have followed up to create more in-depth responses, but our school was also not requiring heavy work from us during this period (only email checking once a day during the work week) and may not have produced more responses.

The feedback I did receive helped me decide that I was moving in the right direction and mostly needed minor tweaks to create the most effective handbook. I will spend the next few weeks fleshing this out and creating a useful document for future itinerants.

Testing, 1, 2, 3!

Testing became a more difficult process to implement than I had expected. My original testing plan included bringing copies of the handbook to my PLC: a group of seven teachers of varied experience levels, many who have been an itinerant before. I would give them time to review on their own and then come together to discuss for 15-20 minutes. With the changing policies and school closing, my plan had to shift dramatically. I e-mailed a group of music teachers who I’ve personally worked with to ask if any of them would be interested in providing feedback on the format/layout/information included in my handbook.

Three of my colleagues responded, and I was excited to have a varied experience group: a first-year teacher, a third year, and a veteran teacher. However, these were all teachers who were in one building, not itinerants. This is a helpful viewpoint but not the people this would be helping in the long run.

My plan at this point was to have them comment on a copy of the document, let me know when they finish, so I could plan a videoconference or phone call with them around it. Due to time zones and how long they took to complete the feedback portion, I was unable to complete the verbal feedback portion. The three performed different levels of feedback:

  • First-year: did not respond after I sent them the document, did not make any comments/edits
  • Third-year: thorough reflection throughout, edited, suggested, added more information
  • Veteran: thankful someone was doing this, but provided no in-line feedback.

At the end of this unit, it was clear to me I was not specific enough in my instructions of what I wanted the feedback to look like from my peers. For future revisions, I would rewrite my introductory e-mail, be more specific with my follow-up email on how I would like to see edits, and include in that follow-up email that I would like to plan a call to further discuss their thoughts and opinions for the handbook.

Creating a Prototype

After all the brainstorming, it was time to create something. I decided to go with the option that I knew I would be able to complete in the given time frame (and with my level of ability to effect change in my district): an itinerant elementary music teacher handbook. As a new teacher in my district, you go through lots of new employee orientation sessions, but when it came to music in particular? We were sat in a room, with three books as a sample of what was available, and told there was no district curriculum. This did not prepare me at all for what the future of my position looked like, and I don’t wish that situation on anyone else.

I’ve started a basic outlined prototype with some of the information I’d like to include: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1uJ55uk37w5v19R5-D-06kI8XQdoCvCg3NUcPWVMiuEA/edit?usp=sharing

Sample table of contents from the handbook prototype

I think that this will best be kept digitally so that it is easy to update and distribute. I considered a website format for a while but decided against it because not as many people are comfortable updating a webpage as they are a word document. The end goal is for this to remain accurate and up-to-date, and that won’t happen if there are barriers to change the information.

There are a lot of parallels in creating a document like this and creating informational documents about your duties when you leave a role that isn’t teaching. When I left my previous position as a Client Services Assistant for an educational technology company, I created many documents around my clients, updating SalesForce, using our back-end to renew clients, etc. As I know I will be leaving my itinerant position at the end of this school year (whenever that may be!), this felt very similar.

This document felt difficult to prepare considering the uncertainties of the rest of the school year. Teaching in the Seattle area has been incredibly stressful this month, and even as we are not required to teach during the school closure, I worry about my students and colleagues. Hopefully there will eventually be a return to normalcy and this document will aid future itinerants, improving their experiences as educators.

Connecting All the Dots

I originally wanted to reflect on “things that don’t add up”, focusing on how right now we are told to be healthy we need to stay inside. During this time away from school I’m staying at my husband’s apartment rather than my own so I didn’t have the supplies that I wanted to do this. As I was ideating, I thought about how last night my friends and I played Animal Crossing from five different states. I then switched to the “connected world” theme. 

I wanted to show how in our small apartment, we are still connected to the outside world in so many ways. I decided to focus on “What devices are connected to our wifi?” as the main connector. Turns out there are a lot! Each of the devices I connected helps us connect with others and the world around us, which is why the string ends outdoors.

It didn’t occur to me until I was unwinding the yarn and taking off the tape that I liked the symbolism of how the yarn touched so many other objects along the way. My husband and I have been cooking a lot of recipes we have found online with our opened schedules. We ordered groceries to fill the pantry online. There’s a cleaning schedule I found on Instagram that I printed and put on our fridge to declutter the space. 

It also showed me just how difficult it would be to untangle ourselves from the Internet at large. My husband and I met on Twitter, our friends and family live around the world, and our work is mostly online. I have sympathy for my students right now who are unable to be connected while they are away from school, and hope that we can find a way to help them feel the interconnection of our school’s community in other ways.

Braining up a Storm…

As I continue to think about my problem of practice, I have taken some time over the past week to let my brain run wild on its own, and with some familiar faces. I kept an idea journal of sorts in Google Keep for a few days to help gather some thoughts I have while I teach and struggles related to feeling unsupported as an itinerant.

I wish I was better at journaling my thoughts throughout the day! I keep my own journal at night, but that’s for personal stuff. I use Google Keep to make my grocery lists, to-do lists, bucket lists…so I figured it would be a good way to keep track of my thoughts. I did my best, but it was also a hectic week (as you can tell from the first item).

I also had the opportunity to video chat with three of my brothers around my problem. One is studying to become a music teacher right now, the other works in IT for a local credit union, and the other is a freshman in high school. Getting varying perspectives was really helpful. Additionally, we come from a very strong music program, so having that background knowledge to help develop other good music programs is useful. The freshman helped a lot by asking the two of us questions about how teaching works overall and it dived into places that my college brother and I would’ve taken for granted.

After all of that, I came up with two lists. The first is ideas that I love but are just not feasible for me to accomplish in one way or another:

  • Practicing app to interface with teachers (not in scope)
  • District-scheduled specialist schedules (not school-by-school)
  • Building a bunch of new schools
  • Adding a music-only portable at each building
  • Required lunches each week at different buildings so you can interact with staff in a way that’s more than pick up and drop-off
  • Creating more support at admin level (our director is already stretched thin)
  • Itinerant staff office at each building so that we have a place that is “ours”
  • District-wide curriculum so that everyone is teaching the same stuff
  • Making the primary music teacher at each building the “Music Overseer” on top of teaching (take some classes out of caseload and give to itinerants, give them time to ensure that the itinerants are supported and provided what they need at their building)

These are a few that I might be able to work with and develop:

  • Welcome Itinerant Building Doc that explains procedures, classroom sharing, curriculum requirements, other building-specific knowledge that would take a long time to learn otherwise
  • Microsoft Teams or other platform to encourage communication between itinerants to share materials, classroom management strategies, and develop bonds
  • Attending PD at whatever building you need to at that moment rather than always at your home school
  • District-wide music itinerant PD during a workshop day
  • Itinerant’s first two weeks at a building are shadowing the primary teacher to encourage a continued program K-6 and build rapport with students before working with them on their own.

I’m looking forward to getting started and making something out of all these words!

In a World of Pure Ideation!

Ideation has a lot of wiggle room in it…including taking time for yourself. Sometimes that even helps us produce better ideas! So when it was time to move on to the ideation phase of design, I was looking forward to it. I started with taking some quick notes about how I was thinking about the project currently.

Then you get to take a break! Do something else low stress. I chose to work on my cross-stitch project from CloudsFactory. I finished my February section about the Princess and the Frog.

Pattern available from CloudsFactory, stitching by me

After about an hour of stitching and listening to some music, I went back to my original notes and added a bit more.

I found this process pretty enjoyable! It was encouraging to be told to slow down for a moment and relax. With my pre- notes, I felt myself getting frustrated as I wrote them and that I felt there was not a good answer for me to create. After working on my stitching, I was able to come back with more stable emotions, look at my list and expand upon it rather than continue writing things angrily. This process inspired me enough to do it on a smaller basis through the Pomodoro method. I tried using Pomodoro in college but it didn’t work for me then. Doing my graduate work this week has been much easier since I have given myself the grace to fully focus on the work because I know I will get free time later.

So Here’s the Problem…

My problem of practice that I have been focusing on for design purposes is...

Itinerant music teachers are struggling to teach successful lessons.

Our district is increasing population steadily and requires each class to have two 50-minute music classes a week. With the number of classes in each elementary building, they need more than one dedicated music educator to teach that many classes. This does not create a second full-time position at that building, so the district creates various “itinerant” or traveling music teacher schedules where teachers go to different buildings throughout the week to teach these classes. 

Each building provides a different amount of space (cafeteria, classroom, portable, shared classroom) and equipment (a whiteboard and a projector to a fully stocked music classroom). The teachers in these positions are usually inexperienced and new, which makes the varied teaching and learning situations difficult. There are also discipline and behavior issues due to fluctuating faculty, learning spaces, and inconsistent consequences.

Ideally, the outcome would be that the itinerant music educators feel supported and able to teach engaging lessons despite their environments. Once they feel comfortable in these roles, they will stay, gain experience, develop better lesson plans, and have stronger classroom management skills.

Making Things Up As We Go!

Sniglets
The internet is constantly making new words, especially using portmanteaus. This week I came up with three of my own for phenomena in my life that I don’t have an easy way to explain. I hope you enjoy them!

  • Pristinate (prih-STEE-nayt) – v. To clean as a means of keeping yourself from doing other work that needs to be done.
  • Slup (sluhp) – v. when you trip going up the stairs.
  • Cherakri (chuh-rack-ree) – n. The side of your hand made up of the side of your palm opposite your thumb and your pinky (if you made a fist and put it thumb side up on a surface, your cherakri would be touching the surface).

The musician in me wanted to be fancy with the last one, so it uses the Greek words for edge (ákri) and hand (chéri). Considering I use my cherakri as my eraser for my whiteboard, now I have a way to explain why there’s ink on that part of me to everyone else!

Reframing a Problem
While learning about design it has become clear that not all problems are what they seem – sometimes they need to be looked at in a different way. When we reframe the problem, it creates new viable solutions. Here’s an example from my own life:

I am spending the week with my husband at his apartment in DC, and I’m struggling with being stuck in an apartment by myself with no way of leaving while he is at work. The building requires the same key fob to get in and out whether it’s the garage or the front door. He also drives a manual so I can’t drive him to and from work so that I have a way to leave. The problem, in this case, was me saying “I can’t leave, and I’m just stuck here while you work all week.” It seemed as if I was restless and frustrated that he was unable to take time off while I was visiting.
When I arrived here, we started talking about different things that he hadn’t had time to do (cleaning, organizing, make dinner at night, cross-stitching, videogames that I hadn’t played that he owns) and started making a list. Providing a list of options helped me realize that it was not that I was “stuck”, but that I was worried about feeling bored or that I had nothing to do while he was gone. 
I’m now feeling much better about going into the week, knowing I have so many options and will most likely not get bored.

I really struggled thinking of a problem that I could reframe from my own life. I asked my husband for ideas as well, and he could not think of any. What I discovered about myself is that my “shifts” in thinking feel too fluid to recognize them as reframing or shifting my thought processes around it. I learned that reframing can be simpler than I think, but requires much more explanatory knowledge about the situation. Sometimes that means being really in the situation itself. So far I think this solution will work, but I won’t know until the end of February break! I will try to remember to update this later.

Empathy for Itinerants

In Kent School District, our increasing population has led to complications in elementary music programs. Our buildings all have one full-time music teacher and a few other music teachers who rotate in throughout the week. These teachers are full-time by working at 2-7 buildings a week with few provided supplies. I’m hoping to find a way to support the music educators in these scenarios through learning more about the issues they face. As one of them I can be blind to some of our issues, so I started by creating character profiles.

I put together these profiles after combing through the seniority list cross-referenced with our itinerant e-mail distribution list. What I discovered is that we have two different “users” in this scenario: the experienced band/orchestra educators, and the inexperienced general music educators. I did not realize that the group was so especially divided in terms of experience. On average our ensemble teachers have 18 years of experience, while our general music teachers only four. This wide berth between the two populations shows not only a generation gap, but also that among peers, the general music itinerants do not have experienced role models to observe and imitate.

This experience gap may also demonstrate that this is an unwanted position – low experience may indicate high turnover, and that itinerants leave the role quickly to become full-time in one building or to leave the profession.

Something I also noted was that the ensemble teachers have a biweekly PLC meeting that they are immediately invited to upon starting the school year. If a new general music teacher with no experience is hired, they are part of a first-year teacher mentor program but are not invited to a music-specific PLC unless directly invited by a one-building (primary) music educator.

Another lens I wanted to look at the situation through was the eyes of the one-building (primary) music educators and building administration. One school provided me with a copy of their itinerants’ schedule for the week:

This school has six music teachers, the five listed and one primary. After reading the schedule, it seems that only five teachers would be necessary. How did the schedule end up this way? Did the numbers change that wildly to create the need for another teacher? How do we create a consistent learning environment for students when an educator is only in the building for 50 minutes twice a week?

In a meeting with staff to discuss issues around itinerants, here were a few of the issues brought up by primary music educators:

  • Different curriculum taught, so students are unequally prepared when taught the next year
    • Some curriculum materials provided, but not mandatory
  • Issues with space/co-teaching
    • Where do we put them?
      • Portables
      • Gym
      • Cafeteria
      • Vestibules
      • Informal teaching spaces
  • Inability to do grade level performances since there is no common planning with their colleagues
  • Discipline issues
    • general ed teachers complain to them that their students are having a harder time in music with the itinerants than they had in previous years with the primary music teacher
  • Materials
    • Insufficient supplies
    • I can’t move my xylophones over there twice a week
    • Who has the money for two sets of instruments?
  • Lack of consistency
    • Can’t get subs for itinerants
      • Lack of subs in district pool
    • Not always notified in changes in the itinerant schedule for their school (the impetus is on the itinerant, not the district/administration)
    • Itinerants at each building change from year to year, you’re lucky to have the same one twice in a row
    • Based on enrollment
    • Music leadership has changed 3 times in 3 years

I cannot solve all of these issues but there are a few places that are open for change. Combing through this information has led me to believe that I should focus on finding ways to provide resources and materials to general music itinerants. They seem to be less supported and experienced than the ensemble educators and cause the primary music educators the most concern.

It’s All About Perspective…

I was asked to find a story to retell so I asked my husband, not only because is he the closest person I have but because he keeps the same “night owl” hours I do. I figured he would tell me a story of something that happened at work last week or related to one of his hobbies, but instead he chose a story from his first deployment to Afghanistan. This was a story I had heard before, but never in as much detail as he shared this time. I never push when it comes to stories from his deployments because I don’t want him to feel like I love his career choice over who he is, but also I find it one of the few parts of his life I have trouble empathizing with.

I enjoyed the task of writing from a different perspective but found it more challenging to write concisely. My husband has a way of saying too much when a little will do and I found this translated into how I interpreted his story. I wanted to include a line about how sinus pressure and flying is difficult due to elevation changes because I have felt my ears pop and watched infants struggle with not knowing what to do when pressure happens in their sinuses on planes.

View A: I finally gave in, my sinuses felt like they were bursting. I needed to get antibiotics for whatever this sinus-thing was, and I would have to deal with inflamed sinuses on a flight to get them. I ran to the helipad to catch the helicopter and asked “Is this going to Kandahar?” They nodded, so I jumped in and we took off. We stopped at one outpost, and another…and kept flying. KAF couldn’t have been that far. “How much longer until we get there?” I asked the contractors. They looked at me confused.

“We aren’t going to KAF for another eight hours, we have to finish this loop first,” one of them finally replied. “You’ve got a choice, get off at the next post and wait for us to come back on the return leg or stay on.” I shrugged and stayed, staring out the window for hours at countryside that so few get to see. Maybe one day we’ll actually get to explore them.

View B: We landed to reload for supplies for the next loop at the usual place. It takes about eight hours so we liked to be prepared. While Smith and King were reloading, this specialist comes up shouting “Hey! Is this heading to KAF? I need to get some antibiotics.” I nod, and he says “Great, I’ll be right back,” heads into the building, and appears before King puts the last box in. The specialist settles in to a nap, and we stop at the first place. We’re starting to get behind in our timing, and I wonder if he could help if we woke him up. At our second stop of the loop, he startles awake confused. “Aren’t we at KAF yet?”

“No, we aren’t going to be there for hours,” I shouted over the propeller. Smith over the radio snickered and I shot him a glance before the kid could see. “Look, we’re on a loop. You can get off at the next post if you want and we can grab you on the way back. Or stay on the plane. Your choice I guess.” The specialist sighs and slumps over resigned.

“I’ll stay, thanks for the offer though,” he eventually shouts back. King and Smith both shrug. The hours and stops go by, and I keep catching the specialist looking out the windows. Guess I am too numb to the scenery now because he was fixated on each mountain and field we passed, but the helicopter was getting full. When he finally got off at KAF six hours later, another box was put in his spot.

Passion, Learning, & Technology

I realized this week I am a very passionate person. When I care about something or someone, I care about them deeply and for a long time. For a long time, my main intrinsically motivated passions have been music, learning, and technology. I explore these in the video below.

I was so happy to find a public domain version Tchaikovsky’s Garland Waltz from his Sleeping Beauty ballet to pair with this piece. My passion for music has been a continual driving force in my life, but my passion for learning ebbs and flows. One of my questions to focus on after this class will be “How can I keep my curiosity for learning consistent instead of relying on my intrinsic motivation?”

“The main premise of appreciative inquiry is that positive questions, focusing on strengths and assets, tend to yield more effective results than negative questions focusing on problems or deficits,” Warren Berger shares in A More Beautiful Question. I phrased my question above in a positive manner so hopefully I can use my strengths to create consistent motivation (whether intrinsic or extrinsic) to learn. If I see myself as a learner, my students and I can grow together, fostering a positive learning environment for all of us.

References:

Berger, Warren. (2014). A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas. [Kindle]. http://a.co/fZPVPuf

I Made…

Over the last year I have increased the items that I expect myself to do each day. This last six weeks I added taking a picture each day. At first I was unsure what the theme would be, but as I spent more time making artifacts for my graduate career, I thought more about the word “make”. We use it in so many contexts, and not all of them mean creating a physical object, like a tiny box. I make time for things. I make things happen. I make people feel things. I make assignments and lessons. These all manifest themselves in different ways – time with friends, names on a whiteboard, designing a wedding.

I have been consumed with graduate work, wedding planning, and a full-time teaching position. This has led to a feeling of time passing faster and faster with each day, shown by the decreasing time spent with each scene in the video. With less than 100 days to plan a wedding, 50 days of school, and no time left in this semester’s coursework, time has flown.

This work is dedicated to my friends and family who have supported me through a very rough last month. I am blessed to have people who understand that not every day will be positive, but all time we spend together is valuable.

Wicked Problems Are Never Solved

When I chose to focus on the religious exemptions from general music classes as my Wicked Problem, I knew from the start it would be difficult. Religion is a touchy subject, and honestly I did not know much about the two religions that were affected the most by music being a part of school. Much of my research time was spent learning about Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and how music programs around the world interacted with these faiths.

To learn about Jehovah’s Witness students, I found an article from NAfME titled
Welcoming a Jehovah’s Witness into the Band Room about a secondary band teacher and student who worked together to solve any issues that arose from the curriculum. One of the biggest takeaways for me was that the teacher starts with “Before the school year began, I sat down with Alice and her mother” (Weidner, 2017). It is important to have this discussion with both the student and the parents to get the dialogue started and have a clear picture of what is and is not allowed. This article gave me the basis for both of my Possible Solutions. Meeting with families is important to discuss the actual contents of the course led to my idea of the after-school forum. Finding alternative assignments for Alice led to my idea of an online individualized curriculum.

The last time I learned about Islam before this project was 13 years ago in a World History class my freshman year of high school. This time, with a focus, I found Islam really interesting to learn about. An article titled Music and Islam by Ackfeldt and Otterbeck and clarified Muslim understanding of music for me. Music has long been challenged as a part of the Islamic faith, according to Ackfeldt and Otterbeck: “The words “lahwa-l-hadith” (often translated as idle tales), in connection with those telling tales leading people away from the path of Allah, were very early on interpreted as referring to music,” (Ackfeldt & Otterbeck, 2012). Depending on which Islamic theologians you follow there are many different stances on music, which you can see below in this chart.

Fig. 1
Fig. 1 from Music and Islam by Ackfeldt and Otterbeck (2012).

Although we do not sing any sensuous music in elementary music classes, improvisation and serious metered songs are a necessary part of the curriculum. These items that are in the controversial zone show that while some Muslim families will be okay with the elementary music curriculum, there are many that will want their students removed from elementary music.

Muslim girls at Istiqlal Mosque Jakarta. Photo by Henrik Hansson (2006)

As someone who has considered themselves a musician since I was four, hearing that my students cannot participate in music at all is hard. Music can bring so much joy, love, understanding, and faith to a person’s life and to remove almost all of it seems harsh. I found comfort in Sana, an Islamic Religious Education teacher in a Muslim school in Sweden who uses music to teach about Islam. In an article titled Teaching Islam with music by Jenny Berglund, Sana discusses how she talks about music with the families, works with religious leaders in her area, and because of her faith and background her work is mostly accepted (2008). It is possible for Muslim students to experience music, but it needs to be within their parameters.

My Wicked Problem is still unsolved for now, as I do not have the power at my buildings to implement these ideas yet. I plan on suggesting the forum idea to my schools that are impacted most by students being pulled from music classes. Hopefully this can be done at the beginning of the next school year to set all of our students up for success in elementary music.

References:

Berglund, Jenny. (2008 May 29). Teaching Islam with music. Ethnography and Education. 3, 161-175. https://doi-org.proxy1.cl.msu.edu/10.1080/17457820802062409

Hansson, Henrik. (2006 February 26). Muslim girls at Istiqlal Mosque Jakarta [image]. Retrieved from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Muslim_girls_at_Istiqlal_Mosque_jakarta.png

Otterbeck, J. & Ackfeldt, A. (2012). Music and Islam. Contemporary Islam. 6, 227-233. https://doi-org.proxy2.cl.msu.edu/10.1007/s11562-012-0220-0

Weidner, Brian. (2017 August 18). Welcoming a Jehovah’s Witness Into the Band Room. Retrieved from: https://nafme.org/welcoming-a-jehovahs-witness-into-the-bandroom/

A Classroom Redesign

My classroom is a very odd space. It is the only space on the second floor of the building, no doors, and two annexes: the staff lounge, and the occupational therapist’s office.

My classroom, practicing for a small winter performance. Photo by the author, 2019

Having no doors has its drawbacks. Our school has lots of students who have experienced trauma and those students like to run away when they are upset. Parents have trouble understanding the challenges I have in this space. So when I was asked this week to design my classroom in an online program, I was excited to try it out.

I used a website called floorplanner to lay out my classroom. I struggled with finding substitutes for the objects I use daily, like xylophones, risers, and my square-spot rug. Instead I found objects that were similar in size, shape, or purpose to use. For example, the brown bars next to the TV are representative of my whiteboards and my Smartboard. The piano I use is an upright grand, but the upright piano (half its height) fulfills the same purpose.

You may notice that there is barely any furniture in the room. For kindergarten music the class is constantly moving around, dancing, singing, and playing. If we had chairs or desks it would hinder our ability to move. If I had the opportunity to start from scratch, and design the entire room, I would want to keep this free movement ability, along with providing safe spaces for my students who need it. The Third Teacher provides a list of design principles to follow when creating a classroom space. With my goals and this list in mind, I recreated my space.

Some items that need to be explained: the two carts next to my laptop cart are where I would place my large xylophones. The tool I was using did not have a good representation for xylophones, and I want them on wheels to be easily moved around the classroom as needed. Third Teacher’s #23 idea on their 79 Ways You Can Use Design to Transform Teaching + Learning is “Make classrooms agile” (The Third Teacher, 2010). By having all my big instruments (drums, piano, xylophones) on wheels, my students and I can rearrange the classroom to create the best space for that day’s learning. Instead of our square rug from before, I would love to have a circle rug that students sit around the outside. Learning how to make a circle is a surprisingly large part of kindergarten music and having this shape on our floor would help.

Although I cannot change our fluorescent lighting or lack of windows, I can change the color of the walls and floor. According to Kendra Cherry in her article The Color Psychology of Blue, blue is “often seen as a sign of stability and reliability” and “people are more productive in blue rooms” (Cherry, 2019 March 31). Third Teacher’s #4 idea is “Put safety before study”, and blue helps create this safe feeling for students. I also improved upon my break space with small, comfortable seating, a table, and the wooden bin would contain coloring materials and Think Sheets for students who need to think through their actions. There is also new backpack cubbies for my students so that instead of having belongings on the floor along the wall, they have their own designated space to keep their items safe.

With our own laptop cart for this floor (green cart next to the elevator), we will finally be able to use individual technology in the music classroom. This with our Smartboard and keyboard (to record songs for when I have a guest teacher) provide the basis for technology in our classroom. Not every piece will be used every class but it provides flexibility for my students and me. I may not have this space yet, but I can certainly dream about it!

Resources:

Cherry, Kendra. 2019 March 31. The Color Psychology of Blue. Retrieved from: https://www.verywellmind.com/the-color-psychology-of-blue-2795815

The Third Teacher. 2010. 79 WAYS YOU CAN USE DESIGN TO TRANSFORM TEACHING + LEARNING [pdf file]. Retrieved from: https://lindsayluftcom.files.wordpress.com/2019/04/b3319-79ideasoveralllist.pdf

Preliminary Findings

I have written surveys for work before, but writing one like this to find out information that I was genuinely interested in was a new experience. I sent out my survey last week to the music faculty of my district, along with sharing it on Twitter. Although I have not received many responses as of today (April 14, 2019), there will be more responses when my colleagues and I return from spring break.

I already knew my district was diverse but my survey question on “What religions do your students’ families practice?” reminded me how amazing it is to teach such a varied population. Kent School District is the 11th most diverse district in the country, according to Niche. With my responses so far, this is the religious breakdown of our student population:

Responses to “Please select any religions practiced by families enrolled your school.” Graph by author, 2019

Sikh is not an option I listed in the survey, but two educators listed it in the “Other” category. I created my religion list options from Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Study, with the intent being to cover the most common religions in the United States. Including an “other” option was still important because of the nature of the survey, especially if students who practice an unlisted religion did not participate in musical activities.

Pie chart of grade level taught by educators who filled out the survey. Chart by the author, 2019

I also took some time to look at the demographic results of the music educators who have completed the survey. Five people are elementary teachers, with one middle school and one high school teacher. Music is a required subject for elementary schools in Washington state so I assumed this issue would affect elementary teachers more often than secondary teachers. It was encouraging to find out this is an issue that music educators face K-12. The two secondary educators also would allow students to sit out of any activities that were against their religious beliefs, but give a “No credit” for their grade for that assignment. There is also a wide range of experience in the people surveyed, from second year teachers to faculty who have been teaching for 33 years. I think this will be valuable at how I look at the educators’ responses to “What is your policy when a student or parent says there is a religious exemption for a musical activity? (This can be your personal policy or the school/district policy)”.

That question yielded some interesting results! Only one educator mentioned that they had a district policy, the others explained what they do to accommodate their students. Two educators mentioned parent involvement or discussion of removing the students from an activity. One of the responses the educator said, “The student/s do not participate. Usually there is a heads up from the student or parent.” Is this the most productive thing the student can be doing? How often is this happening? If I had the time to interview individual educators about their situations, I would love to look into this further.

On the other hand, the district policy was very clear. The answer given said “District policy allows them to be exempt from music with permission from the principal. A letter with the reason must be given to the principal. This information must also be given to the music teacher and homeroom teacher to come up with an alternative placement. Then, the student will receive an “N” for “Not Assessed” for music, with the description included with the grade.” I think this is one solution to our larger question, which I laid out in my blog post Deciding on Only One Wicked Problem.

I am hoping for more ideas and options as more educators fill out the survey this week to develop a solution that will work not only for me, but for other educators in the same predicament.

References:

Luft, Lindsay. (2019, April 7). Deciding on Only One Wicked Problem. Retrieved from https://lindsayluft.com/2019/04/07/deciding-on-only-one-wicked-problem/

Niche. (2019). 2019 Most Diverse School Districts in America – Niche [search results]. Retrieved from https://www.niche.com/k12/search/most-diverse-school-districts/

Pew Research Center. (n.d.). Religion in America: U.S. Religious Data, Demographics, and Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/

Feedback & Final Drafts

Writing lesson plans can be difficult, especially for an audience. There are activities or items that you instinctively do and know that the broader educator community may not. Other educators may need different accommodations than your students. In the lesson plan I wrote about in Note Names, Now With Makey Makey, I wrote the lesson with the information I needed, not what another educator might need to pick up and recreate this lesson. Now that I have reviewed some feedback, here is the revised lesson plan for Note Recognition Using Makey Makey.

I am fortunate to have wonderful peers with me in Michigan State University’s MAET (Master of Arts in Educational Technology) program, and two of them reviewed my lesson (I will refer to them as Peer A and Peer B). I really enjoy these reviews because they are not usually music educators and will look at different parts of the lesson than my local colleagues. Peer A looked at my lesson from a Universal Design Learning perspective and was curious if the educator could change the speed of Staff Wars manually. Although this is not currently an option in the software, it does start incredibly slow, which will hopefully give students time to feel comfortable answering. This did not prompt me to change my lesson, but I did change my objective to include details about recognition speed.

Editing changes in lesson plan. Screenshot by the author, 2019.

Peer A and I discussed how to best make groups. In my older classrooms, I have Instrument Families. They are reminiscent of Hogwarts houses; each student is assigned to an instrument family (string, percussion, woodwinds, and brass) and can earn points for their family. Having preset groups means I can spend time on teaching rather than making groups. The University of Waterloo has a page on Implementing Group Work in the Classroom, and this lesson incorporates a lot of their suggestions already, such as “assigning the group tasks that encourage involvement, interdependence, and a fair division of labor,” (n.d.). Since it met some of the criteria for good group work design, I thought I would share some creative way to break the class into groups, one of my own creation, and others suggested by Jordan Catapano in his article 30 Ways to Arrange Students for Group Work (TechHUB.com, n.d.).

Group Making Suggestions edit. Screenshot by the author, 2019

Peer B took on the perspective of a students with an auditory processing disorder (APD). We both learned that APD affects 5% of school-aged children, which theoretically means one student in each of my classes has APD (Morlet, 2014). Peer B thought that the amount of noise the activity would create could be distracting and difficult for a student with APD, and they might need accommodations. There are many ways this lesson could be adapted to prepare for these students! We can have students play on individual laptops with headphones while only a few try out the Makey Makey setup, or they can wear headphones to lessen the sound. I decided to provide a Possible Accommodations section with changes that educators can make to this lesson to adapt to their individual classroom environment.

Possible Accommodations section added. Screenshot by the author, 2019.

There were a few more style and grammatical changes to make to polish this lesson plan. One noticeable change is that I suggest that the educator spend some time playing Staff Wars and using the Makey Makey before setting up the lesson so that they can troubleshoot any issues that may arise during the lesson.

Practicing using the technology changes. Screenshot by the author, 2019.

The overall effect of these changes should provide a lesson that is technology-focused and easy to modify for your classroom. I do not teach any fourth graders this year but I hope to share it with my fourth graders next year! If you give it a shot before I do, please let me know in the comments or on Twitter at @LindsayLuft.

References:

Catapano, Jordan. (n.d.). 30 Ways to Arrange Students for Group Work. Retrieved from https://www.teachhub.com/30-ways-arrange-students-group-work

Morlet, T, PhD. (2014). Auditory Processing Disorder. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/central-auditory.html

University of Waterloo Centre for Teaching Excellence. (n.d.). Implementing Group Work in the Classroom. Retrieved from https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-resources/teaching-tips/alternatives-lecturing/group-work/implementing-group-work-classroom 


Intersectionality

I am a woman.
I am white.
I am Catholic.
I am pursuing a master’s degree in educational technology.
I am in a heterosexual relationship.

These terms and names put me in a bunch of categories, mostly majorities. Intersectionality is how each of these individual identifiers affects your overall experience as a human. Being a part of many majorities has afforded me a lot of opportunities. Other people experience things differently because of their race, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, political ideology, physical ability, and more. Kimberlé Crenshaw does a great job of presenting this topic at TEDWomen 2016. Crenshaw gives a content warning for violence and abuse for the talk, so feel free to skip the below video if needed.

After watching this, I realized a lot of my students fall into many minority categories and it greatly changes their school experiences. My students (for the most part) are various minorities, who are not Catholic like me, who are on free or reduced lunch. Intersectionality will play a huge role in their lives. To remind my colleagues how different our students’ experiences are, I created the poster below.

Intersectionality poster, created by the author (2019).

I felt uncomfortable making this poster because I do not belong to many minority groups and I do not want to display their experiences incorrectly. I hope the impact that this poster has outweighs any misunderstanding I have of their experiences.

References:

TED. (2016, October). The Urgency of Intersectionality [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/kimberle_crenshaw_the_urgency_of_intersectionality?language=en

Deciding on Only One Wicked Problem

According to John C. Camillus, “A wicked problem has innumerable causes, is tough to describe, and doesn’t have a right answer,” (Harvard Business Review, 2008). There are plenty of them in the world, and many in education alone. When I completed my
quickfire activity I discussed in my blog post Asking Questions, I was left with several questions about the music program in my district (Luft, 2019). Most are problems that are actively being discussed, but one did not. Specifically, how do we best support students with religious exemptions to music and/or musical activities?

Students performing Jingle Bells in December 2018. Photo by the author.

I have various students who have told me they cannot perform music or dance for various religious reasons, and I know I am not the only music educator who experiences this. At one building, if the student’s guardians send in a letter stating music is against their beliefs, the student is sent to the library for the 80 minutes a week the rest of their class is in music. Is this the best policy?

This week I created a survey to hear from music educators from around the country to hear what they do in similar scenarios. I am hopeful that if I am able to gather information from various areas I can get a better picture of how this affects music programs and find solutions that may best serve all students.

References:

Camillus, John C. (2008, May). Strategy as a Wicked Problem. Retrieved from: https://hbr.org/2008/05/strategy-as-a-wicked-problem

Luft, Lindsay. (2019, March 24). Asking Questions. Retrieved from: https://lindsayluft.com/2019/03/24/asking-questions/

Note Names, Now With Makey Makey

Over the past few weeks I have been learning a new technology that I may be able to use in the classroom called Makey Makey. My father gave me a set for Christmas about three years ago and I had never opened the box. I have had lots of fun exploring its possibilities, and playing Tetris using some empty soda cans as my arrow keys.

Makey Makey setup for Tetris using soda cans and a tape measure. Photo by the author (2019)

My favorite discovery so far has been turning my tape measure into my “Earth” material. This grounds you so that the soda cans operate as buttons and the current completes its circuit.

I thought the Makey Makey would be really fun in combination with a game called Staff Wars. Staff Wars allows students to practice note recognition on any clef, while slowly increasing speed so that they are forced to identify the note names quickly. I drafted a possible lesson plan called Makey Makey Lesson Plan for now. My biggest personal challenge I will experience with this lesson plan is that my Makey Makey is one of the originals, so remapping the buttons would require editing the Arduino’s code rather than working through Makey Makey’s website. I plan on spending some time this week to figure it out and finding one more alligator clip so I have enough for each note name (the kit comes with seven, I will need eight for this lesson). I look forward to refining my lesson and diving into coding in the next few days!

References:

Luft, Lindsay. (2019 March 31). Makey Makey Lesson Plan [Word Document]. Available from https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ofuKNW7OMZx9ZHNK811cmz_Geq4PFcbwB9yLQW2_8qE/edit

The Music Interactive. (n.d.). Staff Wars (Version 1.8) [Software]. Available from http://themusicinteractive.com/downloads.html

Sketching Out a Video

This week I made a sketchnote style video to explain my thought process around the questions I brainstormed and discussed last week in my post Asking Questions.

Brainstorm Organization sketchnote style video, created by the author. (2019)

This was my first sketchnote video! The hardest problem for me was figuring out my tripod without actually owning one. The first iteration only included my recycling bin and webcam. The problem was that the picture was tilted and my Post-its were very curly. This meant I needed to find a more straight top-down approach. I stared at the monstrosity on my kitchen table for a day or two. In the end I asked for advice from a friend who has streamed building figurines on Twitch how he made his setup, and how I might be able to replicate it at home. My second attempt after his advice added a cardboard arm to add more table space instead of just recycling bin, but the webcam was too heavy to stay on its own. I finally got there on my third iteration with a combination of books, cardboard, tape, webcam, and a recycling bin. I will be the first to admit that it looks a little ridiculous.

Photo of Sketchnote video camera setup post-filming. Photo property of the author.

I think getting a chance to watch my thinking process was incredibly valuable. It gave me time to act on a quote from Robert Burton in Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question, “It can be useful to step back and inquire, Why did I come up with that question?” (p. 92, 201X). Taking the time to organize my thinking and review my questions again spawned more questions.

References:

Berger, Warren. (2014). A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas. [Kindle]. http://a.co/fZPVPuf

Luft, Lindsay. (2019, March 31). Brainstorm Organization [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQy8QpSYonQ&feature=youtu.be

Asking Questions

This week I was able to take some time to read A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger. It was intriguing to read about how much progress has happened because of simple and sometimes naïve questions. Working with my kindergarten students, I get a healthy dose of questions all the time, but also more sarcastic questions from my older students such as “Why are we doing this?” “Why do I need to do this?” “Why is this important?”

With my sixth graders I took these questions to heart to look at my own practice. In my district, if students are in sixth grade general music, it is likely the last music class they will take. Upon realizing this, I knew I needed to change the way I looked at the class. My focus question that I decided upon is “What do I want society to know about music so they can hold a musical conversation intelligently?” My classroom has since shifted from learning classical instruments and music history to understanding genres, how to create music in today’s world, and understanding form. Hopefully my students will be able to confidently explain why they do or do not like a song that they heard other than saying “it’s bad” or “it’s dope”.

Not only did I recently question my sixth grade practice, but as a district we are looking to reorganize our music program. We just had our first music all-staff meeting in 10 years on January 31 to discuss what we could change. When I was asked to think of questions about my practice this week in a quickfire activity, the questions came to mind quickly. If you aren’t familiar with quickfire challenges, check out this blog post by Leigh Graves Wolf (2009).

21 Post-its with various questions about music programs in my district. Photo by the author.

I ask a lot of questions in my head, but I do not always take the time to get them answered, especially when it comes to my schools. Sometimes it’s the unfortunate nature of working at three buildings that I simply do not have the time to find the right people to help me with the questions. However for this quickfire activity, this is something we have been currently doing as a district so I had a lot of questions ready. I even added a few more after my five minutes were up!

After reading the first couple chapters of A More Beautiful Question, I feel like this is a process our director of music is currently going through. Warren Berger (2014) focuses on a sequence of Why/What If/How that I think is very important (p. 32). Our music director started his position in December 2018. So far he has done an amazing job asking “Why” questions about our processes, procedures, and policies to find out why our program works (or doesn’t work) the way that it does. The “What ifs” starting coming out at that first all-staff meeting. Hopefully, over the next few months and years we start seeing “the final, and critical How stage of inquiry–when you’ve asked all the Whys and considered the What Ifs . . . and must now figure out, How do I actually get this done?” (Berger, 2014, p.36). In our case I hope it’s more of a “we” since it is a group of 70 educators.

One of the parts of A More Beautiful Question that really stood out to me so far was the basic formula: “Q (questioning) + A (action) = I (innovation). On the other hand, Q – A = P (philosophy).” (Berger, 2014, p. 31). I started to wonder about how much of the questioning I do in my professional and personal life turns into innovation, or is just philosophy. If I can change something in my professional life after a question, I will, like I did in the earlier sixth grade general music example. Interestingly if it is a personal question, I tend to be sluggish and do not act on the question. It seems my next question may be “Why do I react quickly to self-questions in professional circumstances, but sometimes do not act at all on self-questions in a personal circumstance?”

References:

Berger, Warren. (2014). A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas. [Kindle]. http://a.co/fZPVPuf

Graves Wolf, Leigh. (2009). Quickfires Explained [blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.leighgraveswolf.com/2009/08/19/quickfires-explained

Tag Your Artists

We are so used to seeing sweet and clever images all over Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Do you know who originally created that content? Do you know how to find it? This has been an ongoing problem in the Magic: the Gathering (MtG) community that when new art is released from Wizards of the Coast, the artists are not tagged, and they do not find out that their work has been publicly released. It has started a small campaign among the art lovers in the MtG community to ask people to tag their artists.

@VorthosMike, the spearhead of this movement, asking several accounts to tag the artists when their work is posted on Twitter.

Learning about attribution with Creative Commons this week really emphasized how important it is to credit original creators. If you are using someone else’s content, it’s your responsibility to make sure that you are using it in a way that people consuming your content know where that content came from. To learn more about it, try this video I made out of public domain footage!

Attribution with Creative Commons video, created by the author, 2019.

I hope that everyone will include the original creators of whatever work they use on their social media, blogs, and works. If you choose to use someone else’s content in your own, it should absolutely be within the boundaries that the creator has agreed to through copyright laws or choosing a Creative Commons license. Honestly copyright law still confuses me even after several hours of additional research. I still can’t decide if .gifs are fair use or not. In the meantime I will tag my artists, and hope you will too.

References:

Luft, Lindsay. (2019, March 24). Attribution with Creative Commons [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/bVcCmHa2J7o

Vorthos Mike. [@VorthosMike]. (various). tag your artists @vorthosmike – Twitter Search [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/search?q=tag%20your%20artists%20%40vorthosmike&src=typd

Learning With The Youngest Students

As an educator there is a lot of learning in my day-to-day life. I spend most of my life at an Early Childhood Education (ECE) building. It is filled with preschool and kindergarten classes. We are so fortunate to have this ECE expertise all in one building and it makes it so easy to learn from each other.

Our district builds in professional development time on Wednesdays. Students are dismissed two hours early and it alternates between being individual time and building-directed professional development. This allows for a lot of individual and group learning, and occasional parties.

A recent baby shower with colleagues after building-directed time. Photo taken by the author, 2019

I learned a new tool this week, and I used it to explore my experiences with failure, constructivism, constructionism, and how I am a maker. Thinglink allows you to add pins to add explanations to pictures. I explain each of the topics in my school after the Thinglink.

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Being a Maker

It may not be traditional making but I believe parodies require their own intimate knowledge of the material to transform the work. My favorite thing to do in the classroom is to find a way to transition between activities using the melody of the first song to get them ready for the second. For example we recently learned Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear. The final time I sang it I changed the lyrics to “Teddy Bear, Teddy bear find your square. Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, sit right there.” This gave them time to move and get ready to start learning about lullabies. We also come up with all our own verses for various songs! I let my students choose all sorts of places for “The Bear Went Over the Mountain”. Most of our attempts have been really successful but sometimes we do experience…

Failure

I really struggle thinking about failure. As a gifted child growing up, I did not fail often, and when I failed at something, it was due to my procrastination and not my abilities to do the necessary work. Something I have recently come to terms with is that I decided not to major in music performance because I knew I could not deal with the constant failure that most musicians and performers are subjected to when trying to find work. In my classroom I am the complete opposite. When my students or I make a mistake or fail we all say “Mistakes are okay!” I have cultivated a place where students feel comfortable singing by themselves and know whatever they contribute will be appreciated. A large part of creativity (including music) is failing and finding what works, and we make that a part of our process. I am hoping we are more successful at our big project for the year!

Constructivism & Constructionism

I know my students experience these styles of learning so much more in their home classrooms, and it is something I would love to bring into the music room more. Constructionism allows students to construct their own understanding through authentic experiences. Unknowingly I had brought constructionism into my classroom through projects. My kindergarten students get to pick our songs for our end-of-year concert out of all the songs we have learned so far. This lets them take ownership of what we perform. Wee practice and work together to improve the way the songs sound so that when June comes we are ready to share their talents with their families and friends. My students are learning what they need to do to create a good performance, how to make their singing sound good, and how to make their performances interesting.

Constructivism unfortunately has little time in my own classroom but more in their own. Their home classrooms are filled with toys, play kitchens, and all sorts of items for them to explore ideas and concepts with each other to build their learning. Hopefully when I have a permanent space, I can bring it into my own classroom as well.