QE Rockstars!!!

I have already said many, many times that my students did amazing learning how to play the ukuleles this fall. They have made so much progress throughout the year. When we first started lessons we did many reps of playing chords over and over and over again. I will admit that during the first couple of weeks I was questioning why I thought learning to play as a class was a good idea. However, slowly I started to see improvement in myself and my students.

We started to learn the chorus of “Let it Be” by the Beatles and the students were doing good, but I could see that they were starting to get a little bored. I bought myself a Kala ukulele and got access to the Kala app with it. At first, I was using the free functions within the app, but quickly realized that all the good stuff was hidden in the “need to buy” part of the app. I decided to pay for a monthly subscription to see if it was going to be a tool that was useful in the classroom and for myself. Well, it has been worth every penny! My students became so much more engaged when we started using the app. We have been able to project the videos on the whiteboard and follow along to so many songs. Here is a little video of how my students sound playing a couple of songs this week.

When we first started to learn “Satisfaction”, we were not doing the strumming pattern and had to slow the tempo way down on the app. Now, we play the song at full tempo with the strumming pattern! I wish I would have had thought to record them playing these songs for the first time, but alas, I didn’t have that much forethought.

Overall, I have met the goals that I set out for myself. I have learned around 8 chords (some I don’t like) and feel like I have mastered two strumming patterns. I am so glad that I decided to do this project with my students. We were able to set aside time each day to play our ukuleles, which was very helpful when time outside of work became very limited. The one struggle that I faced with my students is trying to motivate anyone that didn’t like the ukulele lessons. We still are trying to get a few of the students to fully buy in, but one thing that has helped is allowing the students to pick a song that they would like to learn. I feel like I keep repeating myself, but I have absolutely loved working on the major learning project!

I've Had the Time of my Life…

I am so happy that my teaching partner was open to teaching my students and me how to play the ukulele. It has been so much fun! I have loved watching my students become more comfortable each day and the joy they feel when they have mastered a new chord, new song and new strumming pattern. It has been great working through the learning process with them. Last week we were learning how to play “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree”, which has a new chord in it, and I was having difficulty with it. One of my students said to me “Just keep practicing Ms. B, you’ll get it!” Not only have the students been encouraging me, but they also have encouraged each other, which is the best part of this whole process. I am amazed at how much we have learned in such a small time and look forward to keeping it up in 2020!

I’m not sure how many chords we learned, but it was quite a few. We also learned how to do two different strumming patterns in some songs. On my own this week, I also learned a song (Cecelia by Simon and Garfunkle) that required me to play two different chords within the strumming pattern. There were definitely times that my brain couldn’t keep up with all of the things that my hands had to do, but I am very proud of my success. I have included a video that has a montage of some of the songs that I learned this term.

I forgot to record audio of my students playing some of the songs, so I will add that in tomorrow!

That's All Folks….

Daina and I partnered together for our Summary of Learning. We had many ideas of how we shared what we learned, but in the end we decided to make our own version of a Kid Snippet video. Our Teacher Snippet stars Daina as “The Intern” and myself as “The Veteran Teacher”. I downloaded an app on my phone that allowed us to change our voices into kids voices, and then made a video of us lip syncing the words (some of it may look like a really bad Kung Fu movie). We had a ton of fun making the video and both agree that our “changed” voices are a combination of kids and valley girls. I hope everyone enjoys the video!

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!