Making the arts make a difference

In lieu of a faculty meeting today, my Principal has blessed us with a learning opportunity to read and reflect on The Arts Make A Difference by Nick Rabkin and Robin Redmond.

Being significantly behind on my professional blogging, this is also an ideal opportunity to reestablish that invaluable habit.

One observation that I have made about my students is that, like the students in Nick Jaffe’s music engineering classes, ‘“They have a shocking ability to work effectively and listen well amid the cacophony in this open room,”’. Perhaps one consideration we should have is that deep learning is messy and noisy. If we insist on neat, orderly, quiet classrooms, we will have neat, orderly, quiet learning.

I want learning to be loud.

The most important theme of this article is that arts integration shouldn’t necessarily mean the integration of Arts content into or connected to Language and Mathematics. They should be equally balanced, with emphasis being placed on the authentic arts processes and products, supported by language and math skills.

What is needed is for teachers to collaborate to understand the ‘parallel processes in an art form or arts-related activity and a more traditionally academic activity’.

In a truly Constructivist environment, the content is created by the learners with the teachers serving as facilitators, organizers, documentarians, and coaches. Learning expressed through art values the learners’ experiences, values, and emotions. But for curriculum to be arts driven, we must find ways to use content and skills instruction to support learning in a coherent manner. This provokes me to revisit my introduction to the IB Primary Years Program and the document, Toward a Coherent Curriculum by James Beane.

The transdisciplinary nature of the PYP and the ‘socially constructed and largely artificial’ boundaries of school are incompatible.

If we instead think of the learner at the center (rather than content), it is intuitive to imagine that each teacher can have a role, based on their expertise, to uniquely support and inform learning.

Coherence will come from those teachers acting as a collaborative team rather than a group of cooperating individuals isolated within their own disciplines. They should understand how each others’ approaches complement each other from the learners’ perspective and how they can improve their coordination through communication.

To quickly begin to address this need in our school, I recommend that each integrated unit of inquiry be planned on one document and that specialist teachers be responsible for ‘leading’ the planning to identify and define the language and mathematics content and skills that would best support the students’ learning processes and products.

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Wonderful example of action: Band promotion

Returning from a staff meeting which included discussion of our upcoming Year End Show, I found this charming handmade envelope on my desk.


Who is ‘lucky 5’? My first guess was that it was a group of second graders who had invited me to listen to their band in the Performing Arts studio. I enjoyed their music and suggested that they might perform a number on stage at the show. As the school’s Performing Arts Coordinator and producer of shows, it would be easy for me to find a place for them in the program. All they needed was a name…


I’m looking!



And there it is: The power of asking. The power of action. On my class action board, this belong in the category of ‘Conversing’.

However, it got better. They also included a beautiful promotional poster! Well that sealed the deal.


One can only imagine the inspired and authentic collaboration that went into this. It is packed with language, visual arts, and design applications. It is also an ideal artifact of social and emotional learning.

Needless to say, Lucky 5 will perform their single, Bye Bye, at our Year End Show.

Creativity = Motivation + Discipline

All I need to write by Grant Snider


This post started as a quick reflection on my personal journal on Tumblr and why I haven’t felt like posting lately.


But the more thought and consideration I put into it, the more it seemed appropriate to write a more formal article to reflect on and share my creative process. I have always been frustrated with my creative output, and a self study was long overdue.

To begin my analysis, I reflected on my feelings. Sometimes I feel creative. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I feel motivated. Sometimes I don’t. I sketched a graph to represent these poles.



Next, I considered which activities seemed to align with different conditions. When I feel highly creative and highly motivated, it’s difficult to stop myself from creative work. However, when I feel neither creative nor motivated, even simple editing or organizing feels like a significant accomplishment.

But is my creativity at the mercy of my feelings? Do my moods really dictate my output?


That’s when I decided to get really geeky and gather some actual data by creating a Google Form for myself which I keep open in a tab on my smartphone web browser.




Over the past few weeks, I have diligently assessed my activities, resulting in some interesting data.


Mostly, I am curious to analyze these data to discover patterns. Do I follow my feelings logically? Do my activities influence my feelings? Am I wasting my most creative opportunities?

As this self assessment continues, I took some time to explore my creative history…


The muse is not a fairy

My first and most important lesson in creativity came from Jack Grapes, founder of the Los Angeles Poets & Writers Collective. In a writers’ workshop session, he described how it was a mistake to believe that creative inspiration is a phenomenon that ‘happens’ to us.

He instructed us to follow a creative routine: Write at a certain time each day. By doing this, we would train our minds to think during thinking time and write during writing time. Ignore spontaneous inspiration that leads to pulling over to the side of the road to jot down an idea you ‘don’t want to forget’. 


If the idea isn’t good enough to remember, it’s not good enough to drop everything to write down. Trust that the vast complexity of our brains will cooperate.


Connect socially

Jon Caliguiri, an old friend, also an alum of Jack’s writing courses, and long time creative collaborator responded to my post by sharing his Song of the Month Challenge:


‘I agree! Almost 3 years ago, a friend and I committed to writing and recording a song a month each.  We’ve been doing it consistently for that time and I haven’t missed a month aside from the “furlough” months we take off every year to reedit and tweak things.  It’s been the greatest experience and has helped my songwriting and recording immensely. It’s like a book club for rock and roll.’

Connecting with others in my creative work has always been a weak point for me. I don’t accept critique particularly well. I respond to critique terribly. I take great pride in my work, but ironically not enough to share with confidence. Often, my products are not shared until they are finished and my focus and energy have moved on to a new project. 

Perhaps the brilliance of Jon’s project is that it’s a concrete commitment, not a nebulous goal. What he’s making is not necessarily as important as his engagement in the process.


The product flows from the process, and the quality of the songs he has produced is clearly increasing as a result of his commitment.


Jon’s comments reminded me of a quote by Duke Ellington which I also referenced in the post, Exhibition: PBL To The Max!‘I don’t need time. What I need is a deadline.’


Discipline

Arguably, the most important element of creativity is discipline. While I was studying music at The New School, my piano teacher, LeeAnne Ledgerwood, shared an important video which I published and commented on in the post, Bill Evans – Creative Process and Self Teaching. In the video, Bill insists that honesty and commitment are crucial to building creative fluency. An analytical approach that systematically builds skills lays the foundation for creative expression.

The more I reflect, the more the solution is clear. I need to set aside a time to practice creativity. As a teacher, father, and husband, that time can only be five o’clock in the morning. This wouldn’t be the first time to follow such a masochistic schedule, as I described in the post No Sleep November, but the purpose is quite different, more personal, and permanent.

Can I drag myself out of bed that early every day? Or perhaps a better question is ‘how?’ Nobody else is going to do it for me. Optimistic, the short video by CHris Jimenez, provides a succinct guide that is helpful for me.

https://player.vimeo.com/video/80037988


Perhaps if I can focus on going to bed well, I’ll be on my way to meeting the first goal of waking up in a good mood.


There have been two great graphics on creative routines published recently: The Daily Routines of Famous Creative People and When Genius Slept, both based on Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey. Another resource worth exploring further is This Emotional Life guide to Creativity by PBS.


These are all great for entertainment and even inspiration. They may even lead to increased motivation. But they won’t finish a novel or My String Quartet.


The only way to achieve those goals is through discipline to commit to a regular work time and to muster the courage to share my works in progress early and often.

It’s going to hurt, but it will be worth it. 
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2014 – a year of connection, disconnection, and loss

I believe that I learned more in 2014 than in any year of my life since Kindergarten. A close second would have to have been 2001, during which I lived in New York City, studied composition with the great Ludmila Ulehla, and experienced the terror of ‘9/11’, or 1996, when I graduated from high school and spent my first semester of college studying abroad in Nepal.

The past year was the Chinese Zodiac Year of the Horse, and I, being born in the Year of the Horse, sought to make it a year of work. I set my professional goal for the second half of the 2013-2014 school year to learn and practice as much as possible about Project Based Learning, self directed learning, and self determined learning in order to best facilitate my sixth grade class’ culminating Exhibition. To that end, I participated in the Deeper Learning MOOC and Macromedia University Design Thinking MOOC.


With that learning as inspiration, I have been inquiring into and blogging about PBL, project management, and design thinking in education using the label ‘LX Design‘.


Loss

Unfortunately, tragedy struck in September of 2014 when my father died. It happened unexpectedly just two weeks after my family and I returned home to Japan from a trip to my hometown in California to introduce our two year old son to his grandfather and other family and friends.


It was a devastating way to start a school year, and a bitter way to end what was otherwise a sweet summer.

Connections

Visiting California after being away for four years provided many lessons in perspective through reflecting on familiar sights and experiences from a new point of view. It was also a chance to practice using the Visual Supply Co photo editing and sharing tools. I began sharing my attempts at artistic photography there on my VSCO Grid as well as following the feeds professional and highly skilled photographers.

Of course, people have shared bazillions of vacation photographs via social media, but my goal was to find opportunities to create and share meaningful art through my experiences. Finding moments to express myself as a travel, food, landscape, and artistic photographer, however amateur, was fun and enriched my travels by allowing me to enjoy and reflect more deeply.



During the trip, I entertained on the idea of Connected Living as an application or generalization of Connected Learning. One of my desires as a teacher and learner is to obscure the artificial boundaries that exist between formal and informal learning, ‘school’ and ‘real life’. Such distinctions between digital connection and analog, ‘face to face’ connections should also be blurred.

Sometimes, I am discovering, not shooting a picture to share on Instagram is infinitely more profound than doing so.


Relocating the muse

This New Year marks the tenth year in a row that I have resolved to finish a piece of music. At the conclusion of 2013, it was my string quartet. I have the first several measures of dozens of pieces, but they are all merely sketches in a notebook.

It’s not surprising. In the past ten years I have started a family and a career.

However, this year it is an especially solemn resolution to make in the shadow of my father’s death. One of my planned projects for years has been to publish arrangements of ‘Songs My Father Sang’, of which my jazz big band arrangement of Streets of Laredo is technically the first and regrettably the only.

Indeed, wrestling myself away from my smartphone might be just the signal my muse needs to come around to visit me again. I certainly have support from my connected learning friends and especially Brent Bedford, creator of the International Society for Fugues, who has been doing his best to inspire and motivate me to get out behind the woodshed! I hope he knows how much his efforts are appreciated.


2014 was a year of work. 2015 should be a year of fun. That’s my resolution.



How to eat sushi (like a snob)

A long time ago, I submitted my How to eat sushi (like a snob) ‘how to’ video to the Making Learning Connected Make Bank, a fantastic cooperative repository of accomplishment and inspiration. According to Terry Elliot’s post, the Make Bank is a Convivial Tool, and I agree whole-heartedly.

https://bartmiller.makes.org/popcorn/246k_

You may also find this article from The Creativity Post interesting: Seven Life Lessons From Making Sushi contains life and learning lessons from one of Japan’s most renowned sushi chefs, Jiro Ono.

If you’re hungry for more cat sushi pictures, please savor this post from Spoon & Tamago: Nekozushi | an absurd combination of cats and sushi.

Maker Club year 1

One year ago, I started a Maker Club at my school as part of our after school program. While maker spaces for older learners generally focus on robotics and digital creation, I believe that an elementary maker experience should start from concrete, physical creation. Most of our materials were donated by families, but we also frequently raid the school art supplies.

Based on my participation in the Learning Creative Learning MOOC in 2013, the initial guiding principles for our Maker Club were Independence and Social Creativity.

Independence

It’s critical that Maker Club have no assignments. The only requirement is to always be ‘making’. Imagining, researching, designing, sharing, and reflecting are all parts of the making process.

Maker Faire often includes digital production, as well as arts and crafts, engineering and construction, cooking, scientific experiments and demonstrations, and the visual and performing arts. There are no artificial limits.

For the first few meetings, there was a refrain of ‘What should I make?’, ‘What do you want to make?’. This dialog is indicative of empowerment. As young makers realize that they are in control of their learning in their maker space, their creativity is ignited.

In a sense, this is what makes a maker space. Of course, maker tools and materials are important, but most important is fostering an environment in which everyone feels safe to experiment and create.

Every maker must be encouraged to try anything, and indeed, ‘makes’ that fail are not failures at all. Failures are courageous learning experiences and opportunities to safely practice a growth mindset.

Social Creativity

Social Creativity is the notion that creativity is a social activity. Innovation by adapting existing ideas, sharing, cooperating, and collaborating respects the idea that creation is an act of communication.

Every week, we update a Maker Club Projects spreadsheet that both serves to document our activities and as an archive to inspire innovation and collaboration.

The framework for assessment in our Maker Club is from The Tinkering Studio’s Design, Make, Play and consists of the the criteria of Engagement, Intentionality, Innovation, and Solidarity. This rubric emphasizes process over product and social interaction over individual achievement. These principles guide me in my role as facilitator in coaching young makers.


Play, passion, projects, peers

The most recent iteration of the Learning Creative Learning MOOC introduced the ‘4 Ps’ of play, passion, projects, and peers. Mitchell Resnick also introduced the Creative Learning Spiral, which became the inquiry model for our Maker Club.


This model is exceptionally effect for maintaining makers’ momentum.


Gallery

Please enjoy these photos of various works in progress. All photos by Bart Miller (CC BY 4.0).

One ambitious maker, inspired by a Maker Faire video, attempted to convert her bicycle into a cupcake. The project proved to be too complex for the scope of our once per week club, but she did manage to complete a ‘cherry on top’ helmet.


A pair of makers surprised me with an impromptu hand puppet show!


One of my favorite makes was this mixed media artwork. I noticed a maker with a large piece of cardboard and a pile of assorted materials.

I asked, ‘What are you making here?’
She replied, ‘I don’t know, I’m just making it.’

That’s precisely the spirit I love to see in a maker space, and is a glowing example of creative learning in action.


A student asked, ‘Is it ok if I practice piano during Maker Club?’

Yes, it is very ok to make music in Maker Club.


Often, younger makers start with a familiar project, like making a greeting card. The exciting thing is the freedom with which they innovate and iterate. Arts and crafts lessons tend to be more structured, which is of course very effective for developing a particular skill. In Maker Club, we emphasize creativity over specific skill development.


One of the older makers inspired some first graders to decorate plastic bottle caps. Learning from each other and innovating each others’ ideas is an element of social creativity that comes alive in a maker space.


The classroom computers have quick links to various digital maker sites such as Scratch, DIY, and The Hour of Code


Yet another exciting development is makers using our club time to create for projects in their ‘regular’ class. Blurring the boundaries between learning in different settings is one of my driving goals as an educator. In the photo above, a maker begins work on a robot ticket booth for a classroom carnival.

If they start building cardboard ‘robots’, it’s not a huge leap to consider adding mechanical joints, gears, or motors!


Our Maker Club achieved a new level of complexity when a new member resolved to build a guitar. I was hoping that they would inquire into how to make it playable, but they were satisfied with it as is.


Making is messy. That’s part of what makes it fun and what makes the learning that happens in a maker space so authentic and deep. I’ve learned the hard way how important it is to have rather strict clean up procedures.


One rather reluctant maker jumped at the chance to dissect a donated broken DVD player. I suggested to use our camera to take ‘macro’ photos of the innards, and the result was an interesting blend of art and technology.

Starting Year 2

Happily, by adhering to the principles of independence and social creativity, a tremendous amount of positive momentum has accumulated.

Some makers have come and gone, choosing other options for their after school program.

But some have caught maker fever. They need Maker Club.

To express the feeling of this new year of Maker Club, please enjoy this poem:

Maker Fever

Fidget through meetings
sneak to prepare materials
anxious to maximize time.

Don’t ask to ‘use this’ or ‘make that’.
Don’t need permission
in our maker space.

Make things at school,
share them at home.

Make things at home,
share them at school.

Make anywhere;
share everywhere.

Quality increases.

Confidence
Time management
Social interactions
Friendship

Constructed understanding reflected in classwork.

Attention to details
Planning
Resilience
Mindset

We are makers.

We can make anything.

All we need is space, time, and stuff.
(stuff is optional)

We are makers.




SAMR v Smart-Board

In October, the dry-erase whiteboard in my classroom was replaced with a Promethean ActivBoard. The children at school aptly described it as a ‘giant iPad’ as they explored the functions of dragging and dropping with their fingers and writing with the provided styluses.

It was a much anticipated change, and now that I’ve had opportunities to integrate it into my approaches to teaching, this is an ideal opportunity to assess how I’ve utilized it according to the SAMR model of technology integration.

Listening to Richard Wells speak about SAMR on the BAM! Radio podcast, Using the Four Step SAMR Model to Update Your Teaching Practice, was particularly helpful as he emphasizes the SAMR model as a tool for changing one’s mindset toward technology in the classroom.

Substitution

Say goodbye to dry-erase dust!
At first, and with no additional training or time to prepare new activities, I used the ActivBoard as a substitute for a low-tech whiteboard. Although being able to use a myriad of colors and line thicknesses provides more expressive functionality, it could still be accomplished with dry-erase markers, albeit without all the grungy dry-erase dust.

Augmentation

Documentation
After using the ActivBoard as an inkless whiteboard, I realized the potential to save work in a variety of digital formats, including as a ‘flipboard’ that could be opened and edited later or simply as a screenshot for archival purposes. Gone are the days of photographing the whiteboard at the conclusion of a discussion!

Visible thinking
This was particularly useful for KWL charts and other digital visible thinking artifacts. The ActivBoard software can import PDFs to be annotated, a feature we have used effectively for interactively reviewing quizzes. Another interesting application is desktop annotation. During an inquiry into visual literacy, we used this to discuss and make notes on the design and layout of our favorite websites.

Engagement
Thus far, the most noticeable augmentation relates to student engagement. The futuristic appearance of the ActivBoard and its similarity to familiar tablet computers has motivated students to participate more actively in discussions and contribute to visual media created in class.

Modification

Virtual tools
Discovering the capabilities of our ActivBoard revealed many useful features. In particular, the Math Tools enable presentations and demonstrations to be completed with virtual versions of the same tools students are using at their desks.

Digital music
One application that was successful occurred in music class. To introduce a Grade 4 inquiry into digital sequencers, we used the ActivBoard to co-create a piece of music to practice the functions and features of the Online Sequencer.

In the past, I generally introduced new applications by first using a digital projector to make a presentation to outline key features, then providing time for independent or small group exploration. The ActivBoard allowed for a bridge activity between teacher presentation and independent practice that is visually, physically, and socially engaging. It also has a good audio system!

Redefinition

Can the ActivBoard redefine learning?
A common thread running through the discourse on ‘modification’, and my primary goal for technology modification, is student agency. Technology provides unprecedented opportunities to personalize learning and empower learners to take ownership of their learning processes.

To use the ActivBoard to achieve the goal of increasing student agency requires a mindset change with which I am still grappling.

After all, it is still a screen mostly suitable to presentation. Perhaps it can be used to redefine ‘presentation’ into an interactive experience, but that would require an in-depth inquiry into tools beyond the ActivBoard itself. Perhaps those are the exact tools students and I should be learning.

Is there a way to connect learning on the other ubiquitous touch screen devices like iPads with the touch screen ActivBoard? A quick inquiry revealed a post, What Can I Do with an iPad in an ActivBoard Classroom? (Part 1), from the Promethean Planet community blog, and Apple Kills the Interactive Whiteboard with iPad 2.

In both posts, hints of the benefits of iPad/ActivBoard compatibility are mentioned. Evidently, however, those ideas have yet to be realized.

Next steps
My own plans focus on using the ActivBoard to redefine ‘presentation’. As an inquiry teacher, curating and presenting thought-provoking media is critical. Thus far, that seems to be the primary strength of the ActivBoard and the most obvious line of inquiry for me to pursue.