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Building Learning Communities Education Conference 2016 (BLC16)

For yesterday and today, my friend and Spanish teacher, Monica Lluch, and I are attending the preconference for the Building Learning Communities Education Conference 2016 (BLC16). If you are not familiar with the BLC16, this is their 17th year of this conference, which is led by Alan November. The BLC program is selected from among the very best educators, developers, and thinkers in the world. The conference has educators from more than 25 countries that will share in the joy and adventure of exploring practical innovation in learning.

Yesterday, we attended the full-day workshop led by Kathy Cassidy, a 1st-grade teacher in Evernote Camera Roll 20160718 112746Canada that has successfully integrated technology into her classroom. Her students use a variety of technologies effortlessly to enhance their learning of academic skills and creativity. Her session, titled, “Build a World-wide Learning Community in Your Elementary Classroom”, covered a variety of ways to connect your elementary classroom across the globe.

Kathy began her session by showing how Skype and google hangouts can be used in the elementary classroom. When she skyped her daughter into the session, she had her daughter play “Mystery Skype” with us. We had to ask her daughter yes or no questions to identify where she was located (Romania). She then used google hangout to have her other daughter answer questions about students with autism, as she is an expert on that subject. These were very effective ways to show us how we could effectively connect with another classroom across the globe to ask questions and how to bring in an expert.

Kathy then addressed how we could connect with other educators. She had us create an account with https://education.microsoft.com/. We created a profile and then perused the website to find educators that we would like to connect with and experts we might want to skype into our classrooms. She also showed us epals.com, which is another website where we can connect, communicate, and collaborate with other educators.

Why is it advantageous to collaborate outside the classroom? When we collaborate with other music educators across the globe, we expose and remind our students how big the world is and how music is universal. We show the students every aspect of music from a variety of singing qualities to a variety of instruments and performers, and how music is present in almost all of our lives. When we bring in an expert to the music classroom, the students get to ask questions to the expert and find out more about the topic that they are researching. For those who inspire to utilize student-inquiry learning, bringing in an expert via skype, google hangouts, viber, etc, lets the students explore their curiosity and allows them to find answers to their questions.

Twitter in the Classroom

Kathy showed us how to effectively utilize twitter in the classroom by first showing us her classroom’s twitter channel, Mrs Cassidy’s Class. Kathy reminded us that when you have a classroom twitter channel, it is very important to limit who you follow so that your classroom’s twitter feed does not become too busy. Her classroom twitter channel has close to 4000 followers, and the class only follows 9 people. She also stated that her classroom channel is not the same has her personal professional twitter channel. She feels that it is important to keep them separate, which for privacy reasons, is ideal.

Kathy showed us two ways of tweeting. The first way was her writing a tweet with the entire class involved. And example of this was the following: She put forth the challenge of how fast her 1st-grade class could get their snow gear on at the end of the day. It was amazing to see these 6-year-olds focused and determined to beat the clock. She tweeted the video and timing it took to dress themselves. The next day, she had people replying to the tweet by them showing their own classes’ attempts to beat their time of getting on their snow gear. This produced a discussion from her students from what is actually snow gear to the ways those students were dressing themselves. The second way of tweeting was having her students write their own tweets. This involved some rules that included that she must approve all tweets before being published and no pictures of other classmates. She does not correct her 1stCYONthIUQAAMiYo-graders’ spelling or grammar because they are in 1st grade and sounding out words and learning how to write a sentence are all a part of the curriculum. An example she gave was her class tweeting to the author, Elise Gravel, about her book, and Elise tweeting back several times and engaging the students in a wonderful conversation about how to write books.

This got me thinking…How could I use Twitter in my music classroom?

I stopped to think about that entire process. It takes very little effort to set up a twitter account for my classroom, from choosing my email for the account to the two pictures that are associated with the twitter channel. From there, I could use this channel as a way to end the music class. I could assign a “classroom tweeter” who writes an “I can” statement at the end of the class. An example would be the student tweeting, “I can clap this rhythm pattern,” which is followed by a video of the rhythm pattern (no faces in my tweets) with the student performing the pattern. This tweet shows the student writing, the student’s knowledge, and the student’s performance. It will take some time to get some classrooms and people following us, but in the meantime, the engagement of the learning process is one that would be very meaningful to the students. Eventually, having other students tweet us back will encourage the students’ reading and comprehension skills. This inspired me so much that I created my music class’s twitter channel that will be unveiled in the fall.

Blogging in the Classroom

Kathy has a blog that she maintains throughout the school year where she highlights her Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 6.21.39 AMstudents’ learning and works. It is a wonderful blog where educators can see students’ work and find numerous ideas to use and adapt in their own classrooms. Kathy spoke to us about the positive effects of blogging from showing the parents all of the learning going on in your classroom to the therapeutic side of writing about what you are learning from your students.

I have loved blogging and agreed with Kathy on all points. Though I cannot show students’ faces on my blog, she does have the permission forms to allow her to do this. If you cannot show faces, but want to show a video of the students, I highly recommend using iMovie to edit your video by adding the X-Ray special effect to the video. It turns the entire video green and makes it difficult to decipher any faces. Kathy made the point that when she places pictures of the students on her blog, she never accompanies the pictures with the students’ names, which is a great rule of thumb.

Kathy gave us three blogging options:

  1. Edublogs. Kathy uses the paid version of this service as it allows photos and is very inexpensive. The blog is displayed beautifully and organized nicely to make it easy for the reader to find topics.
  2. Seesaw. Our school uses Seesaw and we love it. Seesaw is a digital portfolio. As a teacher, I, or have the students, can add their work from audio recordings, video recordings, drawings, and other musical creations created in other apps to their portfolios. When they do, their parents receive a notification and the parents can check their work from their mobile devices. Parents can only see their own children’s works and parents must be invited and approved by the classroom teacher to follow their children’s portfolios. As a parent, I love that our school uses Seesaw to connect with me. I can see both of my children’s works, videos, accomplishments, learning styles, and so much more. Plus, receiving the notifications on my phone makes it as easy as Facebook to read, like, and if allowed, comment on my child’s works. Seesaw is free for teachers to set up for 10 classes. However, if you want the tools for assessment, teacher notes, and more classes, you will pay $120 per year or have your school subscribe to the service (best option).
  3. Easy Blog. I had not heard of this one. Kathy showed it and it is a wonderful tool for young students to use for blogging. If Seesaw’s $120 price is too much, this is the alternative. It is very similar to Seesaw, but much cheaper from free to $5 a year. If a parent wants to keep their child’s digital portfolio at the end of the school year, the parent pays $10. From what I could research, Easy Blog is a digital portfolio service that puts more of the cost on the parents than on the teacher.

What I Got From All Of This:

Kathy is phenomenal! I knew a lot of what she was showing going into the workshop, but she helped me to see where I could improve in my own music classroom. I loved the classroom twitter idea and feel that I could implement this effectively this school year. Other participants felt that blogging would be ideal. And, I feel that all of us would use the resources to invite more people into our classroom through Skype or Google. Finally, I feel that all of us left knowing that we could connect our classrooms globally and that our students would be better learners with that global experience.

Kathy’s handout from this session and others can be found here. Thank you, Kathy, for an excellent day!


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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