Monday, October 24, 2016

Let’s Create a Composition Revolution in Massachusetts

Young Composers and Improvisers Workshop
www.yciw.net

Teaching composition is no easy task as the majority of pedagogical resources available lack the understanding of the typical classroom anatomy. Many teachers feel uncomfortable teaching this subject as we were not taught such concepts in our college pedagogy courses and may have never really delved into composition in our own role of music maker.  This really puts us out of our comfort zone, and yet the benefits of a successful composition curriculum can become a catalyst for increased meaningful music making for our students.  

A music teacher in New York by the name of Matt McLean set out to debunk the common misconceptions we sometimes envision in classroom music composition.  Matt created the non-profit organization and curriculum called the Young Composers and Improvisers Workshop (YCIW).  He notes that “as a music educator I've seen my students develop their strongest connection to music when they are given the opportunity to create something. I developed the YCIW curriculum to provide a way for every student, regardless of experience, to gain mastery over how music works (melody, harmony, rhythm, form etc.) while engaged in the process of creating and realizing their own musical ideas.”  

Why is YCIW Innovative?
Matt states that “most music composition curricula ask students to first spend time doing tedious, often disconnected tasks before ever having a chance to be creative. We want kids to be able to "play with concepts" in an experiential way while simultaneously using them in a purposeful way -their own composition.”

Matt explains that  “instead of having to first learn how to read music notation, students make creative choices about how they'd like their melody to sound and in doing so build their music reading skills. This kind of experiential learning is embedded in every step of the YCIW curriculum.”  

Another unique aspect of this program is having student compositions performed by professional musicians.  Matt draws a connection in that “we motivate students by having them feel that their efforts are part of the real world. Hearing musicians interpret their music not only makes for a powerful experience but also provides the ultimate feedback on which each student can reflect.”

This past spring was the first live simulcast performance featuring twenty student compositions from five schools across the United States. The compositions were performed by the Grammy-nominated Metropolis Ensemble and included seven student works from Pentucket’s Music Technology course.  The successful student impact was an eye opener as a teacher and I was thankful for how well thought-out the curriculum was and for how successful the students felt.  

How it Works
  1. Teacher signs up through www.yciw.net.  The fee is $5.00 per student.  There are no other fees.
  2. The teacher is given login credentials to his/her own “YCIW Classroom” online learning management system along with student login credentials.  This includes a full gradebook and Noteflight accounts for all of the students.
  3. Students login and complete the self-paced curriculum.  Throughout the process, the teacher and a Composer-Mentor from YCIW will leave assignment/composition feedback for the students.
  4. Student compositions can then be performed for others from peers and some might be selected for professional performance over a live internet broadcast through YCIW.

To learn more about the curriculum and listen to student compositions performance by professional ensembles, visit www.yciw.net.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Concert Band Turned Composer Band


Concert Band Turned Composer Band
Create, Perform, Publish to the World!
www.composinginband.weebly.com


The Why?
Elementary general music curriculum has a strong compositional and improvisational background through various teaching methods.  In addition, music technology electives are popping up in many middle and high schools which usually involve music creation as part of its natural being.  But in concert band, a time and place which has trained instrumentalists ready to perform, we usually leave the creative touch to those students who are in the jazz band.  Students who want to dig deeper into music might take a theory class filled with vocabulary and drill.  What if there was a way to marry the performance ability of concert band students with their untapped creativity by channeling their understanding of music through composition?

My journey and questioning of  how to run a successful rehearsal began a few years ago. At that time I  faced my band’s biggest weakness: poor intonation. To help solve this, I read all the books on the market written for how to run an effective band rehearsal and even posted messages on the Band Director Facebook group to see if there was a consensus around the country. This profound moment in my teaching career helped our rehearsals become more efficient with a solid warm-up routine which included daily singing, breathing exercises, chorales, and guided listening.  I was on cloud nine and thought the only thing that could get us to an even better spot would be having a bassoon and oboe in our ensemble.  Yet, I was wrong. (It’s okay to be wrong sometimes!)

Last year I was part of Pentucket’s District Determined Measures task force, aimed at creating an avenue for teachers to show student growth through project based learning.  When questioned about what activities we do in band to provide personal meaning, I gave the typical “Well, we’re music. Everything we do has personal meaning.” Everyone pretty much agreed with me. However, after looking at the Bloom’s Taxonomy diagram, I realized I was still missing the mark on what brings a higher level of thinking and meaning in music making.  I had to admit that my students did not create music in concert band.  They were able to connect that a note on the music staff meant they could make the intended sound on their instruments but they were not put in charge of deciding the order in which the notes were placed.  It is similar to reading books for years, understanding what is in the books, but never writing down your own sentences for others to read.

During this reflective time period I was leisurely reading Drive: The Surprising Truth of What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink.  Pink was able to bring case studies together to show that students and people in general are more motivated and productive when they have bits of unstructured creation time, or “20% Time” as Google named it for its own workers. He states that “for artists, scientists, inventors, schoolchildren, and the rest of us, intrinsic motivation—the drive do something because it is interesting, challenging, and absorbing—is essential for high levels of creativity.” In my opinion the “20% Time” in concert band is composing.  Based off of feedback from my music technology course, it was pretty clear to me that students enjoy making music to animations and so I created the composition unit below.

The How (resources found at www.composinginband.weebly.com)
The Students will:
  1. listen to composers talking about their compositions and process creating.
  2. complete small compositional tasks and then perform them in front of the class on their own instruments. The tasks include the devices of step, skip, leap, melodic motion, repetition, variation, sequence, motive, augmentation, diminution, retrograde, extension, truncation, and harmonizations via I, IV V chords.
  3. analyze a pop song covering items covered in step 2.
  4. in small groups, students select a short animation to download from www.archive.org which has Creative Commons copyright for sharing and adapting
  5. download the animation and delete the soundtrack on software such as GarageBand or MixCraft.
  6. create a timeline noting changes in moods and sound effects along with time markings
  7. compose music for the animation while referencing the timeline.  Students will interview their peers to learn about proper playing ranges for instruments.
  8. rehearse, perform, revise, and then record music to the short animation.
  9. sync the performance recording with the animation on Garage Band/MixCraft and publish online.
  10. reflect!  
I have since been impressed with a new online curriculum developed by an elementary music teacher in New York called “The Young Composers and Improvisers Workshop” (www.yciw.net) and have purchased subscriptions which include Noteflight Learn accounts for each of my band students at a price of $5 per student. This program is well thought out and digs deeper into form and harmonizing. It uses the Canvas learning management system which includes a gradebook and tutorial videos.  

We started this project last May up until the last day of school in June when student engagement is typically low.  The experience was incredible and composing is now part of the fabric of our concert band curriculum.  We are working on putting together a composer concert, workshops, and having students write music for local businesses via YouTube commercials.  Students who want to dig deeper are now receiving private lessons in composition and can take an independent study during the school day to compose music for credit. Next year we are expanding our offerings to include a film and video game music composition course.  

This change in our program has enhanced the musicianship of our students.  Additionally, they are finding ways to incorporate composing music for projects in English and history courses. Students are composing and arranging on Noteflight at home, extending what they learned from the school day.  Visit www.composinginband.weebly.com to listen to student examples.

Source:
Pink, Daniel H. Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. New York, NY: Riverhead, 2009. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Saturday, August 1, 2015

My Experience at the 2015 I.M.P.A.C.T. Conference


  1. It was IMPORTANT to meet teachers who are just like me (I’m not alone): Over the course of three days I met four teachers who I would also consider future collaborators.  We are all doing similar things which are not typically done in our home states.  We are fighting “the system,” which is what I call old-school music education.  The truth is that 20% of students take band, orchestra, and choir.  The other 80% must have a MEANINGFUL music education.  At one point we discussed why we were teaching music. There was large discussion about cultivating talent vs. teaching music for the joy of music making.  Barbara Freedman summed it up by saying “Teaching music saves lives.”  

  2. Industry Meets Music Education: This is the first conference I have been to which combined teachers, future teachers, and industry leaders in an interactive way. In order for the technology to bridge into real classrooms, there needs to be more of this happening.  Industry needs to hear ideas and feedback from teachers.  If they do not they face the wrath of teachers not wanting to take the time and energy to learn/implement the technology into their classrooms.  At a time with new educator evaluations, transition to common core curriculum/assessments, and new state-mandates left and right, the time a teacher has to engage in new technology and thinking is nil.  Simply worded, new technology for teachers and students needs to be user-friendly and bug-free or teachers won’t use them.


  1. Creating Music Addicts: This was a term New York music teacher Eric Dalio and I came up with in the spare of the moment conversation after Barbara Freedman’s composition session.  We talked about Barbara saying she teaches music to save lives.  Eric brought up the point as well that we want kids to continue making music after grade 12.  In essence, we want to save lives and have everyone continue making music throughout life...hence the term-music addicts. If you are going to have an addiction, let’s make it music.  This might be what gets the student onto the bus, feel self-worth, and have motivation through personal meaning.  I think we need to remind ourselves of these goals every once in a while.  It really brings why we do what we do home.  

    How do we create music addicts?  The curriculum and ideas shared in each session I attended provided those answers:
  • John Churchville discussed how his students compose music:personal meaning
  • Tom Malone shared a hip and relative DJ curriculum
  • Stephania Druga discussed traveling the world to share music making and coding with arduino boards.
  • Kate Stone is re-writing (literally)  how we think of making any object into a musical instrument
  • Jon Stapleton, a very articulate college student, has developed musical tangibles to introduce in elementary schools
  • Jim Frankel showed us the latest version of Practice First which in my view will replace Smart Music


4.  Meeting Barbara Freedman: For those who don’t know, Barabra Freedman is the epitome of pedagogues for K-12 education.  She speaks my language.  She writes books with lesson plans which you can personalize.  In my area (Massachusetts), it seems that music technology is being added to many high schools as an elective class.  There is not a lot of curriculum out there and many teachers have ended up developing their own.  As I’ve stated before, the window of time a teacher has in life nowadays to do things like coming up with awesome lesson plans, is getting littler and littler as we speak.  We need resources like Barbara to share curriculum we know will work and give our students an amazing music creation experience.  Hearing her speak got me more excited to teach music and literally agreed with everything she was saying. I do not understand why NAfME doesn't just hire her to write lesson plans copyright free. I was very concerned last week to see their new composition rubrics and yet when you go to their lesson plan page of their website and click "composition," no lessons appear. There are some deep into the website but they are hard to find.


5.  Soundtrap: A new technology which is going to change everything.  In short, it is an online collaborative recording studio with video conferencing. This video explains it all https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xheoUkbyhE4  The capabilities for the music classroom are humongous.  Additionally, it will encourage students to make music outside of the school day.  Honestly, I need time to wrestle with this program and think how I am going to begin to implement it.  I have too many ideas right now!  


6.  Discussions About Composition: While at the conference I got to speak with Matt McClean of the Young Composers and Improvisers Network.  He has developed an online curriculum for composition, teamed with Noteflight for notation software, and has had professional musicians provide feedback and perform the pieces created by students in New York and beyond.  As I have now switched gears to adding composition as part of our Pentucket concert band curriculum, I am looking to incorporate this curriculum which has clearly worked for his students.  From what I am experiencing, students have a much deeper connection with music when they get to compose and hear it.  This is different then learning how to be an expert performer which is the current model of secondary level music education. We have a real issue with composition in the United States right now.  Firstly, many teachers simply do not have it in their curriculum.  Secondly, we are always trying to make it into a contest..winners and losers.  Composing should instead be considered a part of the fabric of everyone's’ lives.  Lastly, we need a rock star curriculum which finally has arrived through various pedagogues and people like Matt and Barbara Freedman. The Vermont Midi Project has some fantastic templates/lessons on Noteflight as well (click here).

During my session I was able to show some of our composition projects at Pentucket featuring student-created compositions which were aligned to short animations.  Another teacher shared a great idea to have students compose music to NASA videos. This is the start to something special and I think new ideas will occur through new collaborations. We are going to start a new composition club at Pentucket so those who want to can explore this realm after school with an advisor.

It was great to speak with Robinson McClellan from Noteflight. He is an educator and composer himself and like Barbara, speaks my language. I think Noteflight has really changed the course for music creation which I have seen my own students truly benefit from.


7.  The Power Is In The Conversation:  Each day we had a one-hour roundtable discussion focused on a certain aspect of music and media.  There were industry, higher ed, and K-12 educators taking part and everyone had unique backgrounds and equally unique ideas to share.  I think in general, we need a middle-man to organize the communication between industry and music education.  In my eyes, this is Alex Ruthmann.  Myself and a few teachers were asking for this mentoring when he was teaching in Massachusetts and he created monthly music educator meetups (with food)!.  I hear he is doing something similar in New York.  He is “in the know” of everything music technology.  As he is a music educator himself, he is able to express how the technology can be used in the classroom.  Basically, we need more people like Alex Ruthmann to help disseminate music technology into America’s schools.  

Where do we go from here?  I want to use my takeaways from the conference and try them in my classes at Pentucket. I also want to share what I learned with others.  It would be great to stay connected with the attendees of the conference.  This was a truly unique experience and can’t wait for I.M.P.A.C.T. 2016.  

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Introducing the Pentucket Music Conservatory!

The Pentucket Regional School District is now by definition, the most innovative public school system in the state of Massachusetts.  Innovation schools were originally designed for lower level school districts facing state takeover.  Pentucket, considered a higher achieving district, was able to capitalize on the opportunity to add innovation schools when the state department made it possible for any level district to apply.

See the following Boston Globe articles:
1
2

What is the Pentucket Music Conservatory?
This is an innovation school focused on the music education we provide for Pentucket students in grades 7-12.  Over the course of the 2014-2015 school year, a committee made up of faculty, administration, a school committee member, parents, and a student representative dedicated their time to answer the following two initiatives:
1. Create career pathways for music
2. Expand the music education opportunities for students not in our traditional band/chorus/orchestra ensembles

The first step of the committee was to develop a mission statement, vision statement, and prospectus.  A large amount of work went into researching what is available for music curriculum across the country and even outside of the United States.  From there the group made an official plan which went to school committee for final approval.  The final plan is linked here.

In spirit of the definition of an innovation school, the faculty has autonomy in curriculum, scheduling, and budgets.  The truth is that it is a group effort between the faculty, an amazing administration and talented guidance department.

Enhancements for the 2015-2016 School Year: 
1. New Musicianship I and II Courses
Students can apply to have a period or two dedicated to practicing their instruments/voice in preparation for private lessons, district auditions, and college auditions.  An added bonus is that all the students in this course will take an online music theory course through the Eastman School of Music.  Scheduling-wise, students can utilize this opportunity in periods which best fits into their schedules.  Students will work on their overall musicianship which is outlined in our new tiered band karate system (solos, scales, sight-reading, active listening, ear training and composing).

2. New Percussion Technique Class
The school district has a rich history of a percussion ensemble program meeting after school.  An issue with many concert bands is creating an engaging environment for the percussionists as their parts are too simple.  As a result, we will be fostering an idea pioneered at Westford Academy and Chelmsford High School but with a Pentucket twist.  All percussionists will be enrolled in a full-year percussion class instead of concert band and the after-school percussion ensembles.  We will work on technique, percussion ensemble literature, and concert band literature.  This will also be true for the middle school percussionists who will meet in the high school band room during a separate period and will be able to utilize our percussion instruments.  We will have in-school field trips planned to combine the percussionists with the band and orchestra before the concerts.  Now the percussionists will be challenged and our wind players will have even more attention given to them during band class.

3. Transformation of Middle and High School Ensemble Experiences
This past school year our middle school chorus, band and orchestra met everyday for a full block which was wonderful.  When students meet that often and have good practice habits, they will sound fantastic.  This equals out to a positive overall experience and therefore better retention within the ensemble and overall program.  We are ready to take this a step further for the coming school year.  Firstly, our incoming 7th grade wind players will be meeting with one of our band directors for a full month separate from our 8th graders.  In a fun "boot camp" style, the director will catch those students up to speed to the 8th graders.  The 8th graders will be meeting with the high school band during this time and will focus on our warm-up routine and fun literature we play for the football games.  We will also be working on two combined concert band pieces for the upcoming winter concert.

An exciting enhancement will be our new chamber ensemble days.  Every Thursday and Friday will feature grades 7-12 split into flute choir, clarinet choir, saxophone choir, full-brass choir, and rock band (for our guitar, bass, and piano students as they are people too)!

4.  Composition
We started doing this in the late spring semester and it proved to be worthwhile.  One of our students had a piece accepted into the Massachusetts Music Educators All-State Composition Festival.  This same piece was then performed at the All-State Conference during the concert hour by our advanced high school percussion ensemble.  We have seen that when given the tools for composition, our students will soar.  This is in big part thanks to Noteflight which has really helped make the process simple and organized.

5.  Pentucket Radio
Two of our students came up with an idea to get our non-traditional ensemble students involved with our program and highlight their accomplishments from outside the school.  It turns out a lot of our students (secretly) take private lessons on guitar, bass, and drum-set at local studios which then combine to create rock bands.  I was really unaware of this trend until our innovation committee found it in their research.  We put up an announcement on the intercom two weeks before school ended proclaiming a new student-generated radio station.  We ended up with 15 interested students who were able to get everything up and running in just one week (www.prhsradio.weebly.com).  Most impressive, the majority of people involved were our non-ensemble students.  The station has a mix of music you hear on the radio through streaming audio, student-generated music, jingles and podcasts.  We will be collaborating with the school newspaper and journalism program next year for stories and will even be conducting live broadcasting from sporting events.  This will truly transform how music is perceived at Pentucket Regional High School.

6. Rock Band Clinics
The school has offered a battle of the bands competition in the past.  The problem was that it did not match the experience of our ensemble festivals.  The students traditionally performed and then were ranked.  There was no educational opportunities assigned to the event.  For the coming year, we plan on bringing in professionals in the field to conduct workshops with each band based on a pre-contest performance.  The music will also be featured on the school radio station.  We will get local businesses involved for prizes and admission at the door will go towards building up our radio station located in the former school store.

7.  Music is Everywhere: New Cross-Curricular Opportunities
Instead of having students complete projects and papers based on multiple subjects, students can select to use their background from the music innovation school in their non-musical courses.  For example, a new course offered this past year was Topics in Literature, an upper-level English elective.  Here students created their own path of research for the semester approved by the teacher.  The students read multiple books about one subject and wrote formal papers and blog entries about it.  The end result was a more meaningful experience for the student as he/she had autonomy over the content.  As one student stated reflecting on her experience with the various offerings this year, "this seemed to be the first year of schooling in which all my classes actually complemented each other."

Plans for the future:
We want to increase the amount of electives by exploring blended learning environments.  Over the course of the next year we will be developing online electives for music composition, sound recording, music business, music therapy, music education, loop composing, dj skills, and American popular music.  Students would take a course in a period best available for them and then would be required to meet as a class during the school day with the instructor once every few weeks.  We also want to start a new course focused on song writing and incorporating guitar, bass, piano and drum-set.

Lastly, we plan to create a relationship with the local colleges so that students can take music theory, ear training, and music history sequences for early-college credit.  Yes, this means actually leaving the high school campus and traveling to other schools during and after the traditional school day.

Pentucket created a new summer session of traditional and innovate courses.  This enhances the amount of overall courses a student can take and helps free up their schedule so they can fit their autonomous education.  This result is also achieved by offering early-high school credited courses to middle school students.  It is quite an exceptional model.

In the end this is going to be a very special opportunity for Pentucket.  We hope other music programs will follow our lead as we transition to provide a more autonomous and meaningful musical experiences for ALL of our students.






Future Trends in Education

I remember back to when I was in the first grade at the Bagnall School in Groveland, Massachusetts.  Our teacher told us about an exciting new room that no other class had been in.  We would be the first group of students to try out the school's new computer lab!  I remember walking into the room, basically a converted storage room with no windows and about 15 huge Apple computers.  My fondest memories of using technology in elementary school included playing the games "Oregon Trail" and "Where in the World is Carmen San Diego."  As a reflective educator, I also recall learning how to type and having pen pals with dog sled racers in Alaska. 


Fastforward to 2015.  I have been teaching for seven years and have already gone through a full "edtech trend."  I consider an edtech trend something that hits the market and every teacher wants, though they don't know how to use and are not sure on its success for integration into actual lesson plans.  Some trends work and some do not.  One trend that has seemed to make it through the years and has proven itself time and time again is the overhead projector....these days known as an "Elmo."  The teacher can write on a piece of plastic and it will be projected for students to view and interpret. 


Unfortunately, as trends increase, so do their prices.  In my opinion, the Smart Board trend needs to leave fast.  So many schools have invested over $2,000.00 per classroom for something that actually provided real "a-ha" moments for one student at a time.  I used a Smart Board for my first few years of teaching.  I  recognized pretty quickly that it was a glorified white board.  It only provided access for one person to use at a time as it was not multi-touch.  Then I made my own interactive white board using Johnny Chung Lee's software, a wii remote, and infared pen which totaled about $50.00 in price. 


So what is the next big trend?  There are three things which are going to happen in the next few years.  Teachers are going to have a hard time adapting as they are going to happen so quickly, mainly because prices are so cheap.  Smart Board inventory took years for most schools to get into each classroom.  The current trends for new technology are not that expensive and so they will get into classrooms quicker.  A big issue however is that with the recession, many technology integration specialist positions were cut.  Now teachers are on their own to learn about technology...which might be a blessing in disquise. 


So what's hip in education for the next three years:
1. 3D Printers and Maker Spaces
2. 1 to 1 Laptops
3.  Google Classroom


Part A: 3D Printers
I truly believe that this is going to be the most dynamic shift in education since we started using computers.  Students will be able to actually take what they learn and make physical objects.  Some would label this project-based learning.  Some would say this it they type of thing Finland does in every lesson. Both are true.  Are we ready for 3D printers in schools?   


It seems as though we are in a very strange grey area.  There are teachers who want to get 3D printers in their classrooms but do not know how to justify them to administrators for financial approval.  Some adminstrators see the trend and want to jump on but are unsure how teachers would actually use them in a classroom.  After doing some research online, it does seem that 3D printing in school is very new.  After the expense of Smart Boards, many now will question any new technology before purchasing.  Smart Boards by the way, our now being replaced with much cheaper interactive TV's or even just TV's connected to AppleTV or GoogleChromeBox. 


The fascinating thing about 3D printing is that it is part of a whole Maker Movement across the country.  It is in our libraries and maker spaces are opening up charging monthly membership fees.  So this trend is more then a trend-it is real and we as educators should be jumping on board.  We really need to get rid of the notion that a lesson is reading a few paragraphs from a book, answering questions and then getting tested on it at the end of the week.  Students need to be creative and set their own learning agenda.  3D printing will revolutionize every classroom.  We are going to need leaders in the field to quickly get in there and start drawing up amazing lesson plans. 


Part B: 1 to 1 Laptops
It is now common for middle and high schools to have one-to-one laptop programs.  The cost for a Google Chromebook has gone down below $200 and will go down even further.  With PARCC testing occurring online, I give it about four more years before the majority of schools in Massachusetts are one-to-one at the secondary level.  Some schools that are unable to afford it are doing a leasing program and offering free laptops to those on free and reduced lunch.  One snag I realized while administrating the S.A.T.'s last year was that they do not allow laptops for the math portion, only graphing calculators.  I would hope this would change.  I know that Google is coming out with a new usb device which basically turns any monitor with a usb input into a computer.  This will be a great way for schools to keep their current desktop screens, saving lots of money when getting rid of old computers. 


One thing that needs total upgrading for one-to-one programs to work is the internet and bandwidth.  In so many schools it is just too outdated and is unable to handle having so many students online all at once.  This will need to be fixed rather quickly.


Part C: Google Classroom
I am so impressed with how far Google Classroom has come since if first came out this fall.  It is super easy to use for students, teachers and parents.  We are all awaiting for a few upgrades including a better gradebook and unit based organization instead of the "stream" where content is displayed by the date/time it was published.  One of the biggest challenges with any learning management system is exporting out the grades to whatever software program a school uses to report to the state.  In many school districts this might include Aspen X2 or MMS.  Rumors are that some of these companies are working on adapting solutions to integrating with Google Classroom. 


Out of all the different learning management systems out on the market, Google Classroom will be the best mainly because it interacts with its sharing software for docs, presentations, etc.  Other learning management systems don't offer such an easy-to-use collaborative space. 







Tuesday, January 6, 2015

2015: The Best Year for Student Learning!

Google is offering 200 people involved with education to their office in Boston for a day of training.  They have asked anyone interested to apply to attend this event by publishing how 2015 will be the best year for student learning!

For me, this is a year of clarity.  I've been teaching music for seven years and lately have seen a group of teachers in Massachusetts and surrounding states working on new common assessments for music.  I was interested in it at first and then the more I looked into it, found that assessment became the cornerstone of the music class and took over the curriculum, much like what it is doing in other subject areas which have high stakes testing.  I was looking to simplify the expectations, take out the randomness in the assignments I was giving, and provide clear definitions as to why I was teaching what I was teaching.  One day I was on Pinterest and saw the Recorder Karate curriculum...and thought, oh yeah, this works for 3rd and 4th graders why can't I apply that to high school band?  The idea with the karate belt system is that you will not earn the next colored belt until you have mastered all the challenges within a certain belt.  The key word here is "mastered."  Basically it is giving the kids the message that a B is not good enough...you must work hard to get an A if you are going to move up the ladder.  It also really gets it in their head that the curriculum is spiral....you can't really understand part B if you did not grasp part A as they are related.  I think in the past my curriculum could not actually live up to this standard.  The lessons were NOT related, students did not understand WHY they were learning what they were learning, and their musicianship as result did not get as high as their potential.

How does Google play a part in this?  My students will be creating a Google sites portfolio to place all of their recordings, screenshots, reflections for growth of learning and pictures of belts they have earned.  They will be able to see, hear, and live their enhanced musicianship.