And just like that…Wham!

This is going to be a quick update on how my major learning project is going. My fingers on my left hand are started to build up callouses from the strings on my ukulele. I am starting to be able to switch from chord to chord without looking at my fingers, so I have introduce a few new chords, new strumming pattern and songs into my repertoire. At school, the students and I are still using the app off my phone to play the ukulele. We are playing at least a half an hour a day and are having so much fun!

This week I have added in Em and Dm chords and the Old Faithful strumming pattern. I also started to look at some Christmas songs that my students will start to work on in the next coming weeks. I have continued to work on “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones, and learned how to play “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz, “Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley, “Jingle Bells” and “Last Christmas” by Wham!.

“Last Christmas” has a new strumming pattern for me. At first I was really struggling with the new strumming pattern. One thing that I really like about the app that I am using is the tutorials on how to do the strumming pattern. Using the tutorial, I was able to handle the strumming pattern using one chord, but switching from chord to chord while keeping the strumming patter going, proved to be a little more difficult. The following video shows me playing “Last Christmas” first with the simple strumming pattern, using the tutorial for the strumming pattern and then doing the strumming pattern with the chords changes in the song. By the end, I was able to work through all four of chords in the song without messing up!

The next couple of weeks my students and I are going to work on learning some Christmas songs. I am still hoping to be able to record them to share with the school, but it is taking a lot of convincing.

Stuck in the grey?

I am not going to lie, I really struggle with the idea of social activism.  Sometimes I feel like I am stuck in between different generations (this would be the point where my students would say “OK Boomer”). Now, I am definitely not a baby boomer, but I feel like I have a lot of my mom and dad’s beliefs, thoughts and opinions indoctrinated within me. Growing up my parents taught us that if we wanted something, we had to work hard to get it. My dad still doesn’t have any social media accounts and often volunteers his opinions on some of the social activism that has gained global attention over the last couple of years. I had never used Twitter and, to be honest, only signed up for it because it was part of this course. I still struggle to understand what hashtags are and why they get used so much. However, there is a shift happening with my opinions and beliefs. This is not the first time that this has happened within my life, or teacher career either. When I started teaching I remember having staff meetings that would solely consists of discussion on whether or not students should be able to bring their cell phones in to the classroom, and I was 100% against it. Up until very recently, I was still under the belief that Wikipedia wasn’t a good site for students to use. Now, my opinions about cell phones in the classroom and Wikipedia have changed, and slowly I think my belief about social activism is changing too. Now, just because my opinion might be changing, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have concerns about getting involved in social activism personally, and professionally.

Wikipedia defines activism as efforts to promote, impede, direct, or intervene in social, political, economic, or environmental reform with the desire to make changes in society. Social activism is using social media as the platform for bringing about the changes in society. I found a blog post by Anna Fitzgerald that lists some benefits and cons of social activism.

Benefits of Social Activism:

  • Spreading awareness about a cause or event
  • Allowing students to engage and participate in school activities
  • Networking                                    
  • Fundraising

Cons of Social Activism:

  • Lack of privacy
  • Unreliable information is often shared
  • Likes or Hashtags do not result in change
  • Systemic issues also arise from hashtags

In 2011, Wael Ghonim started the Egyptian Revolution using social media. I watched a wonderful Ted talk that he gave where he discussed the pros and cons of using social media as a platform for bringing about change. I really like how he talked about social media allowed so many people to join together and demand change, but after the change came about, social media became a platform for hatred and shaming. In the video he states that there are five critical challenges facing today’s social media:

  1. We don’t know how to deal with rumors. Rumors that confirm people’s biases are now believed and spread among millions of people.
  2. Second, we create our own echo chambers. We tend to only communicate with people that we agree with, and thanks to social media, we can mute, un-follow and block everybody else.
  3. Online discussions quickly descend into angry mobs. All of us probably know that. It’s as if we forget that the people behind screens are actually real people and not just avatars.
  4. It became really hard to change our opinions. Because of the speed and brevity of social media, we are forced to jump to conclusions and write sharp opinions in 140 characters about complex world affairs. And once we do that, it lives forever on the Internet, and we are less motivated to change these views, even when new evidence arises.
  5. Our social media experiences are designed in a way that favors broadcasting over engagements, posts over discussions, shallow comments over deep conversations. It’s as if we agreed that we are here to talk at each other instead of talking with each other.

These challenges are some of the reasons that I struggle with about joining in social activism, but after reading What Kind of (Digital) Citizen? by Katia Hilderbrandt I am starting to realize that we need to teach our student, and ourselves, how to responsibly use social activism, which starts with teaching about digital citizenship. Katia states that digital citizenship in a way that more closely resembles the way we often think about citizenship in face-to-face contexts, where the idea of being a citizen extends beyond our rights and also includes our responsibility to be active and contributing members of our communities. I spent quite a bit of time this fall teaching my students how to be responsible and contributing citizens in our world, country, province, city and community, but now realize that the lesson on being a good citizen in today’s society should include digital citizenship. I also really like the idea of moving from an “Acceptable Use Policy” to a “Responsible Use Policy”.

When reading Riley’s blog, I really identified with his question of what do I have to risk? Like many other teachers and community members I was horrified, angry and disappointed when the vote about Pride Day celebrations was voted down by the Board Trustees. I had many conversations about the vote with my colleagues and friends but didn’t feel comfortable voicing my feelings on social media. I found myself questioning whether or not RBE employees that expressed their opinions on social media would face backlash? I find myself in this grey area where I am maybe a little afraid to be part of social activism and knowing that my silence is doing nothing as well. I agree with Katia, that “silence speaks just as loudly as words”, but still struggle coming out of that silence. One thing I know is that I am always learning and that my position on certain topics is not rigid, so as I learn more about social activism, my comfort level will also start to increase.

Am I Satisfied???

There has been a ton of improvement in both my student’s ukulele skills, as well as my own. We are all started to be able to move from one chord to another without having to look at our fingers. It is becoming part of our muscle memory, and it is so cool to see! Most of the students in my class are really enjoying this process and are asking to practice on their ukuleles throughout the day. For the most part, they have been very active in the lessons and are complimenting each other on their successes. In the last 2 weeks, we have had 2 new students start in our class and all of my veteran students have been helping them learn the chords and giving them little tips and feedback to help them catch up to where the rest of us are.

Both my teacher partner and I were a little late to realize that there must be an adapter to use to connect our phones to the classroom projector, but as of today we are now the proud owners of said adapter. I am looking forward to using it tomorrow to introduce my students to more songs on the app. The other awesome thing about using the adapter is the option to slow down or speed up the tempo of the songs. This is going to be very useful now that we are learning about different strumming patterns. I really appreciated the option to slow down the tempo as I was working on the strumming patter in “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones. Here is a short clip of me playing the song.

I have been using the app that came with my ukulele a lot to help improve my skills. I was so excited when I was able to receive 2 stars on 2 songs that I played. The app also shows me which chords I am having troubles with. For example, the second picture on the left is how I did after playing “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”, and I clearly need to practice moving to the F chord. The first time that I tried playing any of the songs on this app, I wasn’t even able to get 1 star, so I am happy with my improvement.

For the next couple of weeks, my class is going to work on playing “Jingle Bells”. I would really like to have a recording of them playing the song to use at the Winter concert, so we have around a month to get that done.

Ukulele Rock Stars!!!

Playing a song using the video

I cannot say how much I have loved the Kala app. It was well worth the $5.99 for a month subscription. I have been using it independently and in my classroom. Last post I showed some of the features of the apps, and I think the feature I like the most is the background music that plays during the song. It has really helped me keep time and it makes it sound more like the song since we are just using a simple strumming pattern. My class has absolutely loved playing the songs from the Kala app. We have been spending at least 20-30 minutes a day (sometimes more) playing our ukuleles. The first time we played a song using the video, my students thought it was too fast for them! The beauty of the Kala app is each tutorial video has the option to change the beats per minute. So I recorded a few songs with a slowed down tempo to ease the students into it. By the end of last week, most of my students were saying that the songs were too slow! So, we started to play some songs that have a quicker tempo and they are doing awesome! Here is a short montage of me playing some of the songs.

Unfortunately, this past week was a crappy week for getting anything done outside of school, so I wasn’t able to practice playing songs that use a different strumming pattern. I have been able to practice strumming the “Shoot ‘Em Ups” pattern and feel comfortable with it. The next step will be to start playing different chords while strumming the pattern.

This coming week I am going to make sure I carve out more time to work on my ukulele outside of school. I am also going to look into different apps that may be available on my phone or websites that have songs available on them. So far, I have been relying mostly on the Kala app. I am going to move away from pop music and learn some rock songs! Rolling Stones here I come!

Merlot…a fine wine???

Last week’s class was all about Open Education Resources (OER) and Open Education Practices (OEP). Like I said in my last post, I wasn’t really sure what OER’s were and didn’t have much experience using them. Our group last week mostly looked into Khan Academy during our time together and I have used that website quite a bit for math. So this week, I spent some time looking into Merlot. The MERLOT system provides access to curated online learning and support materials and content creation tools, led by an international community of educators, learners and researchers (taken from Merlot.org). I am not going to lie to you, I picked this particular website because of the name. I was really hoping that the website was going to be like the fine wine I like to drink, and not like the carbonated (although still tasty) wine. After looking through the website a bit, I quickly realized that it is not a resource that it was not going to live up to my hopes. The home screen of the website is neat, organized and user friendly, but once you move past the home screen, there are so many steps to take to find useful resources. I really like Daina’s comparison to the tedious process of shopping at Value Village. It takes a long time to work your way through this website to find a good and valuable resource.

The home screen has many different options for the user to search for resources. SmartSearch allows the user to search for open education resources using keywords, titles, URL of a website, ISBN or author. There is also two different ways to browse for resources on the home screen. Users can use the drop down Browse tab or scroll down and click the Browse by discipline button. This part of the search is easy to do, but I found the next part of the process to be pain staking.

When I started to look into the website, I decided to do a search for resources related to “gender identity”. I chose to look for resources on this topic because it has been a topic in the news a lot lately, and it is also one that is discussed in my classroom quite a bit. I was hoping to find some resources that would help me in my classroom (Quiet Elementary classroom with students in grade 7 and 8). I typed gender identity into the SmartSearch and 82 results popped up. Just for the sake of easiness, I clicked on the first resource on the page. The next page has the details of the material, which includes a description of the resource. To actually get to the resource, you need to click more buttons and warning about a new page opening. It is far too many steps to go through to actually get to the material. Also, like Mateo stated in his post, many of the resources that I clicked on were no longer available or had broken links.

I also agree with Mateo about the rating system on the website. Every time I was directed to a new website, Merlot would ask me to rate the material once going back to the website. I could have rated the material with 5 stars after only reading the title of the material. It makes me question the validity of the ratings.

The last thing that I would like to include in my review is that Merlot is not geared towards elementary schools. The materials that are gathered on Merlot would be useful for secondary and post-secondary teachers and schools. I may use Merlot for my university classes to help find resources that would be useful. I unfortunately did not have time to look into added materials, created materials and the course e-portfolio options on Merlot. I would hope that the process would not involve as many steps and searching for them. Has anyone out there used the other functions?

All About that Ukelele!!!

I am not going to lie, over the last couple of weeks I have been having flashbacks to hearing recorders squeaking in the classroom. Some days learning the ukulele with my students has been a little painful. However, each day we are making progress.

I know my students are starting to get sick of playing Let it Be, but there has been quite a bit of improvement. I hope you can hear how well we are doing too! Next week, after Remembrance Day, we are going to move on to learning a Christmas song. I would love to have my students perform for the school, but I know that would be very difficult for my kiddos. So, I am hoping to at least make a video of our class playing songs that I can share with their families on Seesaw, and maybe at the winter concert.

On my own, I have been using the Kala app to learn more chords, songs and about strumming. I downloaded an app on my phone that let me record myself using the app. Here is a short video showing of the options within the app.

Like I said in the video, when you play along to a song, it kind of feels like you are playing a video game, and I thought that my students would really like to try the app. Using the screen cast app on my phone, I recorded a whole song, and projected it on the whiteboard this morning for my students to try. They really loved it! The app allows you to change the tempo of each of the songs, so I am able to slow the tempo down a bit. As we progress, the tempo of the songs can increase. One of the biggest issues that my students have with reading the chords off of paper is they lose where they are in the song. The app makes it easier for them to follow along and pick up where they are in the song if they make a mistake.

We have picked a few other songs that they would like to try. I had a video of me playing my ukulele last night, but realized when I went to upload it that there was no sound. So, a video of me playing my ukulele is still to come. My goal for the next week is to move from simple strumming to using different strumming patterns within songs. I plan to use the Kala app on my phone and a website that I found. Maybe some day I will be able to throw a dance in there as well.

Better late than never…right??

My thoughts on open education are coming to everyone pretty late, but that cold that is going around really kicked my butt! Before taking this class I didn’t think I knew what open education was, but I realize now that teachers use open education with each other all the time. BC Campus Open Ed defines open education resources as “teaching, learning, and research resources that, through permissions granted by their creator, allow others to use, distribute, keep or make changes to them”. In my 12 years of teaching I have never met a colleague this is unwilling to share their resources. In my opinion, this is one of the best parts of the profession.

When I started in Regina Public I was coming from teaching high school (which is what I specialized in) to teaching a grade 6/7 split. I got hired a week before school started and had no idea how different teaching middle years was from high school. Luckily, teachers are amazing people and are more than willing to help the newbie out. I would not have made it through that first year in the crazy world of middle years without the willingness to share resources.

The short Vimeo video was very good at explaining what open education is and gave quite a few websites for students and teachers to use. One thing that I have noticed is that most of the websites listed on the Vimeo video are geared towards post-secondary education. CK-12 is one of the website that has materials that could be used in elementary school. The site is American and wouldn’t completely correlate to Saskatchewan curriculum, but there are many different subjects that I could use in my classroom, especially in Math. The work is easy to understand and my students would have no problem working through them. I used Screencastify to show an example of one of the grade 7 math questions that is available on CK-12.

Another site that I have used for resources in my classroom is Khan Academy. They have really good videos, especially for Math, that students can watch. Sometimes I struggle with explaining how to do math concepts in a different way than how I was taught. The videos on the Khan Academy website can my students and myself to see how to master a concept.

I agree with Nancy, and really liked Ze Frank’s video My Web Playroom. He is so creative and after watching the video I feel like the possibilities are endless in using open education resources. Sometimes it is so easy to get stuck in a rut and stick with an assignment or lesson that you have done before. I really love a part of Nancy’s blog this week when she stated “This theme of being willing to experiment and try new things.  To remix what exists with something new.  To share with others and have their input on your ideas was the consistent theme in many of the videos from this week’s course materials”. I think that I need to start using more of my students ideas in my classroom. My students are so creative and I think that their input into assignments, lessons, technology and tools would yield amazing results. A couple of years ago when I was teaching a grade 6 classroom I had quite a few students that were very good at math. These students always finished their assignments very quickly and I was always finding “busy work” for them while the rest of the class finished the work. That year I had attended the middle years conference and there was a presentation about using math rotations in the classroom. The presenters used math rotations in their math class and they had the students that completed the work quickly create tutorial videos for each of the outcomes. This was their assignment that showed mastery of the skills and then the teachers had a bank of videos that other students in the classroom to use in case they needed extra help. I tried to implement this into my classroom, but I had issues with where to store the videos after students created them. The students really enjoyed making the videos and was a great way for the students to apply the knowledge that they learned. Has anyone used students to create/use open education resources in their class?