NJAIS Recap: “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Learning: Full STEAM Ahead”

This week, most of my friends who are music educators attended the NAfME conference in Nashville, titled The Learning, The Performing: The Inspiring. From the tweets, it looked like it was a successful conference. Next year, NAfME’s conference is titled Empower Creativity with emphases on STEAM and 21st Century Learning Skills. This is very coincidental as this week, I presented at the New Jersey Association for Independent Schools (NJAIS) biennial conference titled “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Learning: Full STEAM Ahead,” which focused on STEAM and 21st Century Learning Skills.

The conference was held at the Liberty Science Center (http://lsc.org/), which is a hands-on learning center bringing the excitement of science to all ages. NJAIS’s keynote speaker was the CEO of Liberty Science Center, Paul Hoffman. His address was inspiring as he referenced famous scientists and reminded us all as educators to ask ourselves if we are teaching for the answers or teaching so our students will ask questions. He reminded us that an important message to give our students is to persevere and question authority. His background in the field of science is extensive and impressive. The current Beyond Rubik’s Cube exhibition that he is the creative director was incredible. 

There were two featured speakers as well: John Hunter (https://www.worldpeacegame.org/the-film/2012-02-16-00-10-25a) and Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair (http://catherinesteineradair.com/). Listening to John speak of the World Peace Game he created and the movie that documented it was the highlight of this conference. Here is an educator who is changing the world for the better. In his address, he spoke about how he reached his students and how he helped them work together to create world peace through a board game. He even told a story where through this board game, his fourth graders learned how to work together to bring down a student who was exhibiting bullying-style leadership behavior. John’s message of making a difference rang true when he spoke of his daily bus duty. He stated that during this duty, he was going to convey to the students that they could achieve greatness. So when he opened the bus doors, he greeted each child with “You have a chance for greatness.” He reminded us of our enormous task of educating children to achieve greatness in a future world. As John spoke, many tweeted to how powerful the movie is and to view his TED Talk, as he is rated one of the top 100 TED Talk speakers. John was inspiring, emotional, amazing, and most importantly, an educator for 40 years until he recently retired so he could publicly speak more.

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Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair is the author of The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age (HarperCollins). I read this book over the summer and it spoke to me as an educator and as a parent. As an educator, it clued me in to how young students are exposed and focused on technology and how that can hinder the development of relationships. As a parent, it made me stop and ask myself how often I check my phone when I am with my girls and how much they notice. I have always limited their tech time, but it made me realize that I had not always limited mine in their presence. As I read her book, I also realized that she was not shunning technology and did state to the many great things it can do in and outside the classroom. The message I took away from reading her book and briefly catching her address (I was presenting at the same time that she spoke) was that technology and family need to find a good balance so that communication and relationships do not suffer.

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NJAIS tried a new platform with their sessions: They had a Share-a-Thon where twelve of us stood at our tables and presented our sessions to those who passed by to listen. It was similar to an expo or exhibit hall. My colleague, Callie Shafto (grade 6-8 Drama Teacher, Spanish Teacher, and 7th Grade Level Coordinator) and I presented about how to integrate other subjects into the arts while keeping the integrity of the arts curriculum intact. I presented activities with 3rd grade science and STEAM, 2nd grade project-based learning (PbL) with empathy and immigration, and kindergarten and 1st grade cross-curricular activities. All of these activities kept the music curriculum intact. Callie presented video creativity involving blooper reels the students made from their musical, Spanish music videos created by the fourth graders, and assessments using Google Voice. My projects of STEAM, PbL, and cross-curricular involved technological tools like Groovy Music and Noteflight. Callie and I had a wonderful session. The hour flew by as we never had a quiet moment at our table. To read more about this presentation, please visit my website and click on “NJAIS Share-a-Thon.”

I thoroughly enjoyed attending this conference. The speakers were excellent and made me think about education and how to improve my teaching. The center was truly amazing and I highly recommend the guitar exhibit on the fourth floor. Though the Share-a-Thon was a bit busy to fully ingest the subject matters, it was worth the effort to try a new platform for presentations. I look forward to attending the conference again in two years. In addition, I look forward to presenting this session with Richard McCready at the upcoming TMEA conference in February and hopefully at next year’s NAfME’s conference.

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Amy M. Burns is an elementary music educator, clinician, author, and musician. She currently works at Far Hills Country Day School in Far Hills, NJ teaching PreK through Grade 3 general music, grade 5 instrumental music, and grades 4-8 instrumental band. She is the author of Technology Integration in the Elementary Music Classroom, Help! I am an Elementary Music Teacher with a SMART Board, and Help! I am an Elementary Music Teacher with One or more iPads! She is also an author for Online Learning Exchange™ Interactive Music powered by Silver Burdett. She has given numerous presentations on integrating technology into the elementary music classroom as well as being a keynote speaker for music technology conferences in Texas and Australia. She is the recipient of the 2005 TI:ME Teacher of the Year Award and the 2016 NJMEA Master Music Teacher Award. TI:ME . You can find out more about Amy at her website: amymburns.com
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