Music4Learning #3

“I look into the window of my mind; reflections of the fears I know I’ve left behind. I step out of the ordinary, I can feel my soul ascending, I’m on my way, can’t stop me now and you can do the same, yeah……what have you done today to make me feel proud?” – Heather Small

Music4Learning is all about learning.  It’s the complex connections that we make when we learn something new. Music is such a powerful addition to the process that it reinforces it in so many different ways. The TEDx talk by Jessica Grahn at Western University highlights the proven links between brain activity and music.

The opportunity to use music for reflection is so important in my classroom. I use the Think section in I Can Teach as a powerful tool when considering heavyweight topics such as world poverty, migrants’ struggles, pollution, natural disasters and the list goes on. I might use Reuters Images as a starting point – add the music in the background. It might be Elegy by Lisa Gerrard and Patrick Cassidy or it might be Cahuita by Oystein Sevag and Lakki Patey – both incredibly powerful. How about an assembly or a lesson on James Mollison’s photo series on Where Children Sleep – I used Adagio for Strings in G Minor – Albinoni – alongside these photos. The connections in the brain are stronger and reinforced.

Much of the music in the Think section, contains lyrics designed to provoke thought. So why not use it to do exactly that. Use the lyrics for analysis in English and as a form of expression and theatre in Drama. Use it in Religious Studies to consider compassion and understanding. True Colours by Cindy Lauper is a familiar and well-used classic piece of contemporary music. What do the lyrics mean? How can we make society fairer and more understanding? These are real questions for real learners.

My students show a greater understanding of ‘big issues‘. They can articulate their feelings about homelessness and famine and pollution. They report on issues that affect them. This is not a ‘citizenship’ lesson or ‘personal and social education’. This is real learning and music is integral to their progress. They tackle new challenges with greater confidence because they have better self-esteem and understand their own issues in context with those of others around them. They are better at learning and metacognition and make great progress as a result.

Finally, try this: Ludovico Einaudi – Nuvole Bianche (White Clouds) running alongside ‘The Mountain’ – if you haven’t seen it – it’s worth a look.

Music4Learning #4 will be about using the Wake Up section of I Can Teach. It does exactly what it says.

Music4Learning #2

A gruesome eye dissection in class always grabs most students attention. Even the ones that are covering their own are fascinated and can’t resist a peak. Give a class a set of scalpels and one beady sheep eyeball between two would be opticians and let them go for it. Now the music: I Can See Clearly Now by Jonny Nash.

“I can see clearly now the rain has gone. I can see all obstacles in my way. Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind…..”

I sometimes go for the blindingly obvious. This is an example. Another might beSpeed of Sound by Coldplay during part of a lesson on sound. I used Around the World by Daft Punk with an animation on the Carbon Cycle. Jaws by John Williamscould be used for all sorts of things but I used it whilst studying classification of sharks with an Arkive resource. There’s always a chance to play Celebration by Kool and the Gang, even it’s just for 10 seconds. Sweet Home Alabama by Lynard Skynard at the end of a day is always a good note to leave on. All these pieces of music are powerful and instantly recognisable to most. These are all in the ‘Enjoy‘ section of I Can Teach. They are there to enjoy and have some fun with.

So what’s the link with teaching and learning? Learning is a multi-sensory, cognitive and emotional process – a journey. Memories linked to music are generally more powerful and more detailed. Given the neuroplasticity of the brain and the fact that emotions are tagged in our most primitive limbic system, we naturally learn better when we are engaged, happy and motivated. So if learning is considerably enhanced by the use of music, then teaching using it must be fun too. It draws teachers into creative and collaborative planning (use Google Apps to do this too!) and allows engagement with students on a much more multicellular and organic level.

Two observations here:

  • The choice of music can be down to students or teachers. Choice often brings devolved trust and confidence. If it’s innocuous background then it may not matter.
  • This music is designed to enhance the learning process. There is strong evidence to show that during recall, silence is better.

All our music is licensed. You stream it and use it as you wish. In Music4Learning #3 I will give you some ideas about using powerful and emotive music from the ‘Think‘ section of I Can Teach.


Animations for teachers

Having watched a number of animations over the years that have been of the ‘doodle while I talk’ style, I thought I would share some of the good ones I have seen and the types of site that might help you make your own. My favourites tend to come form the RSA animate series where über eloquence is blended into fast hand drawing on a whiteboard. It’s incredibly engaging and quite mesmerising and you find yourself watching bits again because you were concentrating on the drawing instead of the listening. The first one is Dan Pink – Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us There is much insight into this well thumbed/clicked talk given by Dan Pink. The animation highlights key aspects and pulls it all together nicely. The second one is Sir Ken (Robinson) – brackets because everyone’s heard of Sir Ken haven’t they. He packed out the BETT 2015 Arena in January this year. Standing room only. His talk about Shifting Paradigms is a succinct look at how our current system is fundamentally flawed, needless and economically unsound. The animation is here. The most recent one to cross my twitter feed (@ICanTeach_Uk) was David Marquet (@ldavidmarquet) with a ‘promoted’ look at leadership. His feed showed an animation (again) to accompany an excerpt from a book called Turn the ship around about life on a submarine. It suggested that in highly effective organisations, there are leaders at every level. Worth a look.

So, in response to my own increased and sustained levels of engagement, I thought I would have a crack. First attempt was a look at how Causeway School in Eastbourne could involve all stakeholders in a process of digitalisation – taking the big steps into the 21st Century of digital learning and embedding technology fully into a forward thinking school. Here is the link: The idea of involving students in their creation opens all sorts of possibilities – short snippets of eloquence joined together and animated. Suddenly revision got interesting. Learning times tables gets easier because the visual stimulation multiplies any impact the ears might provide by ten times. Learning pronunciation in Spanish, French or Mandarin switches from monotone to full technicolour. Telling the story of the rise of Hitler or the fall of the Roman Empire can be created, nurtured and retold in a hundred different ways depending on the storyteller and the animator. My favourite site for doing this was VideoScribe There is a basic package and a pretty reasonable subscription pricing scheme for teachers and class groups. There others available but I tried to set them up and the time taken to ‘have a play’ and come up with something half decent was beyond viable certainly in terms of sanity. So try it. You can record a voice of your own or take some else’s using and keeping the audio. You can use songs, speeches, stories and much more. Then animate for your life.

Google Classroom

Google Classroom is the solution to so many classroom issues. Easy to set up and constantly in a beta mode so that everyone can add to its development. The key part is the means by which classes can be allocated either assignments (homework) or posts for information and announcements. It is easy to set a particular task to smaller groups of students and to provide separate copies of tasks to each student. Now, the best bit. They submit their work back to you ( turn it in) and then you can comment on it and allocate a grade. It uses the technology of Google Docs, sheets, slides etc, so you can find yourself commenting on or grading a piece of work in real time. So, the opportunities for quick, useful and meaningful feedback are obvious. The students can improve their work based on your critique and the essence of multiple drafting and redrafting is available. This leads to higher quality work by miles.

So, once the assignments have been set to a particular time and date, you can check progress along the way, offer significant and important feedback and critique and then give a final grade based on a rubric that you have already provided in an easily accessible location within the ‘classroom’. It is also easy to tell who has submitted their work or not. If they are late, I mark them down by 10 points: a grade. Once all the grades are entered, I can download a useful parents evening tool in the form of a spreadsheet, that gives all the grades for all the assignments since the beginning of time. Well, since the beginning of term. Its as powerful as having their books in front of them, as you can pull up evidence of submissions, feedback offered and improvements made. It’s a real time saver and with limited set up it rivals expensive options or iPad apps that need a great deal of time invested in them. The key part for me is the motivation for the learner. They can engage with it from any device at any time from wherever they like. They get feedback quickly and are then able to see specifically what they need to do to improve. From a teacher’s point of view, it’s an extra tool. It’s a good use of time and drastically reduces that time taken looking through books. In my view – well worth a look!

Games in learning

A look at how Kahoot might help you engage your students.

I have spent most of my years teaching trying to engage students. Some tactics have been more successful than others. The element of surprise has always been lurking and is often a winner, particularly as a science teacher. Expect the unexpected! So, best to be prepared then. Crafting a lesson plan is one thing but introducing the flexibility to divert and go with the flow is a tough ask and demands a little more resilience and adaptability. A significant part of my planning would be on assessing progress and demonstrating skills or knowledge that they didn’t have when they came in that day.

Using Kahoot , the game-based classroom response system, which allows students to engage on a completely different level has changed the way I view assessment for learning. On a simple level, it’s a quiz. Everybody loves a quiz. Especially when you know the answers. The questions go up on the board and the students answer. Easy. What makes Kahoot so good is the technology. It’s nothing revolutionary but it makes the application of ‘checking progress’ look like child’s play. You need WiFi and you need a reasonable number of devices, preferably but not essentially handheld. You need to display the option choices. The key part of the game is that students can make their choices without putting their hand up or without shouting out. It’s ok to make a mistake. In fact, they will declare it quite vehemently under the guise of ‘pressing the wrong button….’. The risk of public humiliation is dramatically reduced. That is until the scores are revealed. The quicker the correct response, the more points awarded. The top five scores are displayed but every player knows their position and they know how far behind the next player they are. The teacher can control the pace of the questions, both in setting a time limit for response and manually between questions. This can create a furious-paced five or ten minute plenary or a slightly slower examination of right and wrong answers.

You can easily introduce literacy and numeracy. A key requirement is that students read the question. It’s easy to make the answers phonetically similar or group words of similar spellings. You can also involve students in creating the quizzes. They become researcher, collator, writer and developer in one part of the lesson and quiz master in the next. The metacognition involved in this process and the access to higher order thinking skills is tangible. Kahoot is as versatile as you would want it to be. You can add video clips and images to stimulate responses at the beginning of the quiz or in each question. You can also draw on other users’ quizzes. You might be able to copy and adapt these but also share yours with others either in your school or more widely. Have a look for quizzes on ‘Frozen’ or Logos or chemical symbols. What is undeniable is the sustained interest that is generated in the students. The elements of competition, pace and challenge combine to make this a real winner.

Some top tips for using Kahoot:

  • Keep it relatively short – 20 questions maximum and 10-15 minutes
  • Stick to real names on set up – it avoids subtle name calling
  • Involve students in setting their own quizzes
  • Take some time to add images or a video at the start
  • Make yours public and add some good tags
  • Use a flipped model of learning – set a video to watch first
  • Try with staff – it will transform briefing sessions
  • Use it across all subjects
  • Have fun with it