Friday, 21 February 2020

The Best 75 Minutes of My Day.

Music is magic.  It can be intensely personal and it can also be a shared bond between us.  It can make us dance with joy, bring tears to our eyes or bring back a moment in time with just a phrase or a gorgeously arranged group of notes and melodies and rhythms.

This year, as it is every year, my class is a group of amazing and wonderful students.  If you know me, or read this blog regularly, you know that I work in a congregated special education class with students who experience the world through the lens of Autism, Down's Syndrome, Global Developmental Delays and more.  This year's class has a commonality of struggling with communication and expressive language.  But come to our music class, and you would be hard pressed to see that.

Each day, I break out my guitar, the song books and some communication/language aids and we jam for 75 minutes.  We work on social skills; taking a turn, being part of a group and making a choice.  We work on our reading by following along in the song books and choral reading.  We learn how to find the beat in music and clap or dance along.  We learn how some songs are meant to be sung softly like a lullaby, or sung with exuberance like a campfire favourite.  We talk about what we think a song is about and how the music makes us feel.

Songbook Choice Board
Choosing a song

Our songbook is an ever-growing mix of about 200 songs for young children, classic rock favourites, campfire songs, and present day requests from the class.  On any given day we may move from Skinamarink, to Crocodile Rock, to the Backstreet Boys, Garth Brooks, Bon Jovi and Green Day.  If they request it, and I can figure out how to play it (and in some cases, find a clean lyric version), we do it.

The set up is uncomplicated.  I supply the guitar, they supply the energy.

Each day, one student takes a turn as helper and is in charge of taking the choice board around to their classmates.   Each student can pick a song by physically pulling an icon for that song off the choice board.  Some songs have visuals that go with them.  For example, The Wheels on the Bus has a set of visual pieces and each student gets one or two,  so that when that point in the song comes along, they add that piece to the board.  For example, when the lyric says "The babies on the bus go waaa waaa waaa," there is a visual of a baby crying that they stick to the board.  When we sing Alice the Camel, there are detachable visuals of each hump with a number on it that they pull off the camel on the board, as Alice loses her humps.  For Aikendrum, each food-body part is assembled on the board.   When the choice is for the Hokey Pokey, we all get up and do the Hokey Pokey.  During Yellow Submarine, we all become the rhythm section by drumming along.  In Three Green and Speckled Frogs, they click on a frog on the SmartBoard and the Frog disappears.  For I Know and Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, they touch the SmartBoard and the next animal to be eaten floats onto the screen.    If we've got a good rock anthem going, we bring out the instrument set and play along.  During the Cat Came Back, we have a stuffed cat that gets tossed from owner to owner.  Sometimes we simply sway to the soft melody and other times we dance.  And we sing!   Boy, oh boy, do we sing!


Every day, Students who are considered non verbal, hum, clap or vocalize along with the music.  Students who are not usually emotionally expressive laugh, smile and dance with an energy that is contagious.  Students who barely move or participate in Phys Ed class will dance until sweat is running off their faces.   Students who struggle to read written language, follow intently along in the songbooks and those who cannot read, will singalong to a song they love, knowing every word.  I wish I was a better writer, so that these words could truly show you the jubilation that fills our classroom during Music class.

There are all kinds of curriculum and IEP goals that we are working towards in our music class.  But, if I'm being completely honest, it's the pure joy I see and feel from my students that fuels that 75 minute period.  And it's the best 75 minutes of my day.


As always, I welcome your questions and comments below.  I'd love to hear about how you incorporate music in your class and some of the songs that are big hits with your students.

Wednesday, 25 December 2019

3 Identical Ornaments

I've been away from this space for a while.  In June, we lost my friend, Leanne Hanson.  My closest friend's Mom passed away a week later and she was a lady who was so dear, and so kind to me over the years.  My Mom went into palliative care during all of this, the first week of June.  Mom left us in late September, after a ten year battle with Multiple Myeloma.  The silent, invisible storm raging around me and inside me left me with no words.  I've tried to come back to this spot a few times since June, but my words were not ready.  I think they may have finally have come back to me.

Two weeks ago, I was over at my Dad's house.  He's in the midst of a nasty bout of gout and isn't getting around so well right now.  I went over to help him with a few things like laundry and meal prep.  While I was there, I was putting out some Christmas decorations to make the house feel a little more festive and a little less empty.  I went to the linen closet to get out my Mom's favourite poinsettia table runner and as I took it out, I could feel it was heavier and a little bulkier than it should be.

I unwrapped it carefully to find a little white bag.  Inside it were 3 identical Christmas ornaments.  This is not where the Christmas ornaments are kept.  If you knew my Mom, she was a meticulous house keeper.  Everything had it's spot.  For her Christmas ornaments, that spot was in the basement with the Christmas tree - not the linen closet.  As well, for the last 15 years, her own tree has been an Angel ornaments only theme.  So my first thought was, "this is odd."

With my next breath, I thought of my two sisters and of Christmases past.  Every year at Christmas, for as long as I can remember,  Mom would give us each an identical (or close to identical) ornament.  Sometimes they were found on a trip she took, or in a local shop.  But every year, there they were.

3 Identical ornaments.

There was no note with them, no dated receipt, nothing to tell me why they were there.  I asked Dad if he knew where they came from.  He had never seen them before. 

I can only guess that last winter, or in the early spring, before she got so sick, she found these 3 identical ornaments somewhere and bought them with her three girls in mind.  She wrapped them in paper towel, put them in a bag and left them in a safe spot where she would be sure to find them come Christmas time; with her favourite Christmas runner.

I've wrapped them in holiday paper, addressed them to my sisters 'from Mom' and placed them under the tree.  They will be the last ornaments we receive from her.  Our last tangible gift from Mom, after a lifetime of so many intangible gifts given to us.

Merry Christmas

Saturday, 15 June 2019


I think I've talked a lot about how online connections and my online PLN have made me a better teacher, pushed me to think deeper and brought so many new ideas and opportunities to my classroom.  Between Twitter and VoicEd Radio...well the learning has been expanding at an exponential rate.  But it's been more than just learning, it's been the birth of some pretty amazing professional and personal relationships.  I haven't met a lot of these folks in real life...I haven't met hardly any of these people in real life.  But, the bond we've formed is real.  The friendships are real.  These people are my tribe: my biggest supporters, my trusted and honest critics, and in some cases, my kindred spirits.

Leanne Hanson and I met through VoicEd Radio and Twitter.  To say that I had found a soul sister doesn't do our relationship justice.  If my life was a Soap Opera, it would be akin to finding my evil twin.  Except we were both evil twins.  We instantly clicked.  We tweeted, we DM'd, we Google Hangout'd, we guested on each other's podcasts, we #MADPD'd, we shared resources, we told stories from our lives, we sent each other the craziest gifs, we engaged in bizarre, yet loving - social media terrorism attacks on our friends and we made up ridiculous hashtags (She was much better at this than I was).  We talked teaching, music and poetry.  We got silly.  We LOL'd...a lot.

We talked about meeting irl one day.  It would have been great to do that.  I would have loved to see her home and meet her family in Queensland.  I can imagine there would have been a big welcoming hug.  There would have been jokes and laughter and likely a fair bit of whiskey.  But an irl meeting wasn't really necessary to us.  We were able to connect digitally as if we were in the same room.  I didn't think of her as "this teacher on the other side of the planet."  She was simply, my friend, Leanne.

Leanne lost her battle with cancer this week at the age of 45.  My heart goes out to her husband, Grant, and her children Michael and Elizabeth.   

I am flattened by this loss. 

Educator, poet, podcaster, dreamer, friend. 

Links to Leanne Hanson's podcasts, poetry and more:

Leanne as a Guest on the podcasts of her VoicEd family:

Her published poetry volumes:
Odd Verse Effects
Ghost Dreaming

Leanne's Bitmoji - one of my favs from the many she sent me.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Be a part of #BIT19

It hasn't been the most Educator friendly spring in Ontario.  The political climate has changed and that has left a lot of us unsure of where we will be in the fall.  How our schools will look and run this September will absolutely be different.  Professional Development will be...likely a lot different and in some cases, like the OTF webinars and Summer Workshops, gone.  There may be disruptions to how we work and learn in response to these changes in our Province.

But that doesn't have to change our belief in life long learning.  It doesn't have to curtail our learning and sharing.  Maybe now is the time when we lean into the wind a bit more and rely on each other for opportunities to enrich ourselves through our online PLN and through those irl meetings at conferences that make a big difference in our classrooms and in our own need for growth.  In a time when outside forces try to divide and conquer us and beat down our morale, maybe we need these spaces of collegial learning to help build us up and make our bonds even tighter.

The call for proposals for the Bring it Together 2019 Conference is now open.  I know that I have encouraged many to submit their ideas to present.  Some have taken me up on this, many have not.  Some have told me they are worried about a work stoppage or other disruptions this fall.  If that happens, the Conference is prepared to move to a date outside that window of time.  I've had others tell me they are unsure they will be able to get release time to be a part of the Conference.  Perhaps, but it might be easier to get that release time as a Presenter, someone who is eager and willing to share their learning with others.  Some are still unsure of where they will be and what they will be doing in the fall.  There are no easy answers.  But, don't let that stop you from submitting that proposal.  No matter where you are, you will be doing great things, things that you can share and that we all can learn from.

The Bring It Together Conference (#BIT19) is November 6-8 in Niagara Falls. I'm hoping it is a time for us to lean in to the storm that surrounds us, to lean on each other a little, to get together and grow in a season that isn't giving us the best growing conditions.  Maybe it is a bit of a leap of faith, but I hope you will make that leap with us.  Submit your proposal for #BIT19 here.

Sunday, 5 May 2019

#ECOOCamp Owen Sound

Yesterday (Saturday May 5th, 2019) I travelled to Owen Sound to participate in this year's ECOOCamp.  Great Educators from all over travelled to share and learn from each other at Owen Sound District Secondary School.

There were two amazing Keynotes from Peter Skillen and Jen Giffen.  Peter talked to us about the tools being important and remembering to go outside the box to get Students excited about learning and giving them a way in to the curriculum that suites their own learning strengths.  Jen reminded us that every student and staff member is carrying around responsibilities and experiences that we know nothing about, but if we take the time to build relationships with them, we can help them unpack their backpacks.

I was presenting in all 4 sessions, but loved how we were able to share every presentation through the Twitter feed (#ecoocamp) and on Teach Ontario.  I got some great new Chrome add-ons/extensions from Leslie Boerkamp's presentation to add to my arsenal, and I wasn't even in the session.  The smaller number of participants made each session more intimate and more tailored to the needs of the Educators in the room.  Thanks to Fair Chance Learning and InkSmith, I even won a new K8 robot for my classroom.  So excited to share this with my class! 

Making new connections and meeting Educators is always part of what I love about EdCamps and Conferences. I met some awesome folks yesterday!  The opportunity to meet up with folks you only get to see periodically at conferences or even meet for the first time in real life is amazing.  So great to meet Cal Armstrong and Leslie Boerkamp for the first time irl.  Aways great to chat with folks like Jen Giffen, Christy Hopcroft, Lisa Noble, Brenda Sherry, Peter Skillen, and so many more.  While Owen Sound is a bit of a trek for me, it really is a lovely town that I hadn't visited in many years and well worth the drive.

The working relationship between the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario,  the Bluewater Public and Bruce-Grey Catholic School Board was really inspiring to see.  A really great model to show how we learn from each other.  The organizations really worked well together to make a great day for everyone. 

The Educational Computing Organization of Ontario does great work for Educators using EdTech and great pedogogy in their classrooms.  I've linked to their website - but consider becoming a member (membership is free!), attending their Bring It Together Conference in Niagara Falls in November or following them on Twitter @ecooorg

I'll link my presentations here, but they and many others from the day are also shared on Teach Ontario.  Check them out to let the learning go beyond the day!

Getting Snappy with #BookSnaps, #Gratitude Snaps & #REALyouSNaps using Bitmoji and Google Slides.

Connecting Classrooms Through Online #ReadAlouds

Flipping for Flipgrid

Glide into Google Slides

Disclaimer: Ramona Meharg is a Member of the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario and serves on the Board of Directors.  But don't let that stop you from checking them out or becoming a member!

As always, feel free to subscribe by email, or share a comment below.

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Learning from my first Ignite Experience

As I type away, I wonder if I shouldn't have titled this post: "My first Ignite Experience and How I blew it."  But more about that later.

A month or so ago, I got a message from David Carruthers asking me to do an Ignite Talk for #EdCampLdn on April 27, 2019.  That message opened up a can of fear that jumped around in my brain like a mass of angry snakes.  That terror told me one thing.  I needed to do it.  We aren't growing if we aren't stretching ourselves and taking a risk.  I thought to myself: Don't over-think this. Answer before you talk yourself out of it.  So I said I would do it.

My next step was to research Ignite talks: how to write them, how to do them and how to make them meaningful.  A blog post from Scott Berkun was really helpful, as was watching some great Ignite talks on YouTube (there are lots out there).  I also contacted a member of my PLN Noa Daniel, who had just given an Ignite talk of her own for YRDSB's #EdTechCampOnAir.  She suggested I just sit down and write it all out in a stream of consciousness mode and go from there.  She also volunteered to help me develop it by reading my drafts and watching a practise or two via Google Hangout.  (Gotta love your PLN - they are always there for you and willing to help!).

I had a topic in mind.  It was an idea for a blog post that had been floating around in my head, but hadn't quite gotten to the written stage yet.  So, I sat down and wrote it all out.  I wanted to talk about how Special Education isn't just for kids with high needs, it's for all of our students.  How every student has needs we need to reach and how every teacher can help them.  I sat down and let it all just pour out of me.  The result: 15-20 minutes of unorganised zeal about the topic.  Much too long for the 5 minute Ignite parameters.  Over the next two weeks, I edited, revamped and tightened it up. Then I shared the draft with my friend and coach, Noa.  She gave me some really helpful comments and constructive criticism which I used to make my message clearer and more concise.

Then the slides.  In an Ignite you have 5 minutes and 20 slides that auto advance every 15 seconds.  Timing is very important.   So I blocked out the written document and practised speaking it, looking at what I needed on each slide to reinforce that 15 second segment.  I shared the slides with Noa, and with her help, refined those as well.

Then it was time to practise, practise, practise.  I went over it again and again and again.  Every time a little different, every time a little better.  I was practising in my car, in my house, making my husband and my sister listen, and as the date approached, performing it in a Google Hangout with Noa.  I wanted it to be perfect.

Throughout this time period, the other 5 Ignite speakers scheduled that day, kept up a Twitter DM stream encouraging each other.  There were a lot of silly gifs, some advice, but mostly just supporting each other.  Bless these fine ladies.  We were all in the same boat and all a little scared. So a shout out to them for helping me!  Heidi Solway, Dawn Telfer, Kiersten Wrona, Lesley Robertson, and Dr. ParshatiPatel you are the Spice Girls of the Ignite Experience!  It was also liberating to learn that the Astrophysicist among us, was just as nervous about giving her ignite as we were!

Dr. Patel, myself, Lesleym Kiersten, Heidi and Dawn - Ignite Speakers 2019

So the big day arrives.  The big moment arrives.  I'm up first.  I'm glad, because I really didn't want to have to follow the Astrophysicist, even if she was just as nervous as I was.  To add to our load, we were being live streamed through the Sir Arthur Currie PS Twitter feed, and being broadcasted live on by Stephen Hurley.  No pressure.

I decide to leave my phone (with my speech content prompts) on the podium, step away from the podium and just go with it.  Besides, there was a hand held mic.  I couldn't hold the mic, talk with my hands and hold my phone.  In hindsight, perhaps, I should have held on the the phone and not talked with my hands.  But hindsight is 20/20.

I begin.  And I'm off and everything is going great.  But then, and I honestly cannot tell you what went wrong or got me to lose my focus, but about halfway in, I lost my train of thought.

What I should have done is taken a breath, looked back at my slide and just carried on.

Instead.  Sheer panic.

Walked back to the podium to grab my Phone.  As I got there, I glanced up at my slides.

Then it came back to me.  I turned around, got right back into it and carried on to the end.

It was only about 5-10 seconds in real time, but it felt like 30 minutes to me.  If only I could have those 5-10 seconds back.  If only, if only....

I sat down.  My fellow igniters gave me some brief encouragement, and then they were up to share their passions.  I listened and watched in awe at their brilliance.  Which was difficult, because I felt like a complete and utter failure.

Coach Noa also sent me a text of support.  In low times, what would we do without our friends?

I gave myself a quick pep talk.  "It's not the end of the world.  You will learn from this.  Pull yourself together because this is just the start of the day and you are one of the organisers of this event.  There is work to be done and much to be shared. "  And I did.

The day went on and it was awesome.  Our numbers were up from last year and the sessions, from what I experienced myself, and from the Twitter stream, were great.  Over lunch (and through the Twitter stream), I got some favourable feedback about my message. When I voiced my distress over messing up, I was reminded that I'm the only one who will remember that and that I should focus on the power of the message, and not my little bobble.  Good advice.  At the end of the day, I was  feeling the adrenaline high of a great day. #EdCampLdn was a success and in our debrief session, my fellow organisers and I were already talking about next year.

But I still have a little sadness in me about what I wanted that Ignite to be.  So, I'm blogging about it, so I can reflect on and to learn from it, and maybe exorcise that little demon voice in my head.  I'm thinking about what my students feel when they take a risk and it doesn't go exactly as planned.  Thanks to this experience, maybe I can help them see that even if the leap they made doesn't land smoothly, they still made the leap.   Success isn't always going to be a perfect 10.0 landing.  Sometimes success is just making the leap.

As always, I welcome your comments below.  Have you done an Ignite?  How did it go?  What is the definition of success? Is it different in every situation?

If you want to see the mess I made of my Ignite here is the link to the Twitter live stream.
And I screen-casted one of my final run-through sessions.  So if you want to see how I hoped it would go, I've embedded it here:

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Canada Beats: Learning about Canada through music

For the last little while, my class has been learning about Canada, but we haven't been doing all of our learning about our Country in traditional ways.  I wanted my Students to be thinking beyond those facts that they can Google about Capital Cities, population and geographic landmarks.  And I wanted them to look a bit at history, but not by using a textbook or a timeline. They are also music lovers and will ask to turn the radio on, or be allowed to use their headsets to listen to music on their iPads every day.  I wanted to leverage some of that interest.  So, we've been using Canadian song writers and performers to look at our Country.

I had been talking to Noa Daniel about her BOB (Building Outside the Blocks) activity called Harmony Through History Beats, where she has students taking a song and deconstructing it to find the history within it.  I wondered if it was something I could use as part of our unit on Canada and give it a Canadian theme.  Noa was very supportive of my amending her idea, and even helped me find some songs and songwriters to add to a shared Google Doc to give my students a place to start.  And so, Canada Beats was born.

I work with students with some fairly high needs, so I knew I would need to help scaffold this project for them.  The shared Google Doc was a place they could find a list of songs that had a Canadian theme or historical background.  They didn't have to pick one of these songs - I was very open to a song or performer they might choose, as long as it had some ties to Canadian history, identity or geography.

Next we decided as a class what our Google Slide Shows needed to have in them and created a template to help everyone understand what information we would need to research.  They were welcome to include more than this, but these were sort of the starting points.  I told them I would create one as well and share it with them and be our first presenter.  Mine was a Stompin' Tom classic.  I gave them some class time to work on it, but many of them used time at home to work on it as well.  One of my students liked the activity so much, she finished hers in record time and decided to do a second one as well.

The hardest part for them was deciding on a song.  Many of the songs they had never heard before because they were released before they were born (some of them even before I was born).  Some of them wanted a more modern song, and spent a good deal of time looking for one.  YouTube got a bit of a workout those first few days.  Some had to do additional research to find out more about a specific historical event, or places mentioned in a song.  With a bit of help from each other, the E.A.s and myself, this was accomplished.

While apps like Vokki and Tellagami, or iMovie were options for presenting, they all decided they wanted to present in a more traditional fashion - just them and their slide show.  All good.  With just one presentation left this week, I have to say, it was a successful activity for them.  The slide shows were good (link to them here), but their presentations really blew me away.  Normally very shy, they really came out of their shells and shared why they picked a song, what they learned from it and even gave additional details about the historical event, place or the band that they learned as part of the research process.

Can they instantly tell me what the capital of New Brunswick is?  Probably not.  Luckily, we have Google for that. (By the way, it's Fredericton - a gorgeous city on the St. John river.)

As always, I welcome your questions or comments below.  Do you think I should be drilling and grilling the provincial capitals?  Is a deeper understanding of some historical events better than a general understanding of a longer historical timeline? Is using music this way problematic?