The Evolving Educator

Adaptation in a modern teacher

Category: Growth Mindset

Solid State Batteries & the incredible John B. Goodenough

During some late-night YouTube watching, I was introduced to the incredible scientific legacy of John B. Goodenough. His work has earned him an incredible array of awards (see his Wikipedia page), including the 2019 Nobel Prize for his work in inventing the ubiquitous lithium-ion rechargeable battery. It appears that, at 97, this pioneering chemist continues to push the bounds of his discipline! I encourage anyone with an interest in STEM to enjoy this video. It’s both informative and good for a laugh.

I am pretty blown away with Dr. Goodenough & plan to reserve a place of honour for a framed image of him in my future science classroom.

https://d2cbg94ubxgsnp.cloudfront.net/Pictures/480xany/6/3/5/87635_cw0115_feature_goodenough_f1_630m.jpg

Dr. John B. Goodenough

At present, I am designing a unit on Electromagnetism for my Sciences methodology class. This has involved me getting re-acquainted with battery technologies. Prior to this video, I did not know that solid state batteries (SSB) with a solid electrolyte even existed! The implications and potential for world-changing technologies is very exciting. While I could go either way on longer-lasting cell phone & laptop batteries, I am particularly intrigued by this technology for its ability to complement emerging renewable energy technology by enhancing battery storage systems. Breakthroughs like a SSB are needed more than ever as we face the environmental dangers of this uncertain century.

-S

Ten Years of Piano

Perhaps my favourite age-group to teach piano is adults. Currently, my group lessons are completely composed of adult learners and it’s made for a really wonderful learning environment. While mature learners don’t typically pick up the muscle memory or sight-reading with the ease of younger students, they almost always demonstrate a greater appreciation for the music itself. Having spent an entire life being moved by music and accruing meaningful associations between songs and moments, adults tend to be more adept at infusing thought and expression into their play.

One thing I often tell my adult students to motivate them is that I, myself, am an adult learner. I always tell them that it’s never too late to learn. In terms of piano players and teachers, I started unusually late in life. After being rejected for an a cappella group in second-year university because I couldn’t read music, I decided to formally commit. I took my first lesson at the age of 19, on October 28th, 2009. This means that today is the tenth anniversary of the day I began my journey in piano. Since then, not a day has passed where I have not felt immense gratitude for music. It is both a brilliant art & a shrewd science and I can’t help but feel that each hour of practice is another stone in a personal cathedral that I am constructing in my mind. Furthermore, I feel so honoured to be able to teach others and guide them along the path that has made my life so much more full.

Thank you so much to all my teachers, collaborators, friends, students, band-mates, jam-partners and every brother & sister who has joined me in song.

-S

TikTok in The Times

Although I’ve been trying to get out of the relentless cycle of  so-called “breaking news” this fall, I was perusing the NY Times this weekend and saw an article that caught my eye: High Schools to TikTok: We’re Catching Feelings by Taylor Lorenz. The article describes how students at high schools are finding unique ways of creating community using the TikTok platform. Although I’d heard the name before, the article explained that TikTok is a social media app for making and sharing short, often comical videos. The app is surging in popularity, having been downloaded 1.4 billion times to date.

The article talks about how, across the US, students are forming TikTok clubs where they meet to share videos and create their own content, be it songs, skits, dances, etc. I see this as a very interesting and laudable application of the software. Although my current life doesn’t afford me too much time for social media and games, I fondly recall how my years as an adolescent were enhanced by interactions in cyberspace. I spent many evening talking with friends on MSN Messenger. My amateur rap group had a MySpace. I remember the earliest days of Reddit. It seems that these TikTok clubs blend the best of both worlds: giving students a social space to meet and create with peers as well as a digital space to share their creations broadly. I believe that adolescents have enormous potential when they are given agency and are capable of creating things that are very powerful and, often, hilarious. An adviser from West Orange high praised the app for bringing students from diverse backgrounds together, saying: “You see a lot more teamwork and camaraderie and less – I don’t want to say bullying – but focus on individuals.”

I was reflecting on how the EdTech class has been operating on my biases. Prior to this class, I would say that I had a fairly negative perception of the amount of time and energy young people appeared to be spending on tech. Like many teacher candidates, I held a nostalgia for the simple, ‘authentic’ and un-networked past. However, through the resources, speakers and my own investigation, I am starting to change my perspective. I am beginning to understand that it is patronizing to expect students to share my values about tech and their lives. If I doubt the value of the connections they may be making through digital tools, I am minimizing them and their experience. Adolescents are people and, therefore, deserving of their autonomy and self-determination. I would never chastise the social media habits of another member of my PDPP cohort. So, what makes it appropriate to criticize young adults?

So, that’s my $0.02 on my changing perspectives. I am going to continue to interrogate my biases regarding technology and education. Heck, maybe I’ll download TikTok and try it…

Teoria: a web-based theory & ear-training platform

As a teacher, I am always on the hunt for high-quality learning tools to share with my music students. Today, I’d like to write about the excellent, free website Teoria.com.

Teoria home page

Teoria is a platform for learning music theory & improving your ear. The website provides well-designed and thoughtful tutorials on concepts like reading scores, chord construction and harmonic analysis. These tutorials are accompanied by exercises which enable students to gain fluency with each concept. These exercises are highly-dynamic, allowing students to tweak the parameters of an activity to match their particular skill-level, goals and interests.

Though theory has a reputation for being stale and mathematical, I believe that all musicians should make efforts to develop their understanding of this domain. Theory lays bare the fact that music is both a shrewd science and a brilliant art. It elucidates the underlying structures of sound in a way that does not diminish, but rather, augments the art form’s beauty. The idea that music theory ‘limits’ your creativity is something I do not agree with. As the amazing musician Adam Neely reminds us, “Music theory is not prescriptive [i.e. a series of rules that must be followed]… but is a descriptive discipline which is one that describes or seeks to describe music on its own terms as it’s made in the real world, free of aesthetic or artistic judgment.” Theory is a tool for understanding musical phenomena, and, understanding these phenomena means we can emulate, utilize or modify them as we see fit during performance, composition or improvisation.

An example of a lesson

Now, theory aside, I believe that the greatest asset on Teoria is the ear-training exercises. Training your ear without a structured class or study buddy can be very difficult. It is hard to test yourself and rely solely on your ears when you are playing the instrument because you know precisely what notes are being played. Therefore, Teoria is an incredible tool for solo practice. The platform generates essentially endless ear-training exercises to aid you in becoming fluent with identifying intervals and chords as well as taking rhythmic and melodic dictation. The fact that it is browser-based makes it very easy to practice on-the-go or on a public or private computer. For students of mine who are serious about aural skill development, I cannot stress how useful this site is. As educational psychologists have noted, engaging in distributed practice (i.e. 5-10 minutes a day) can have remarkable benefits for learning. This is how I recommend using Teoria, for a few minutes a day while eating breakfast, waiting for the bus or taking a break from the hustle-bustle of life. I have been sharing this tool with students for years and will continue to do so, both in my 1:1 and group piano lessons.

Settings for 7th chord ear exercise

If you’re reading this & wish to try Teoria, please do so and let me know what you think in the comments!

-S

3D Printing Introduction

On Friday, September 27 I attended a workshop at UVic’s Digital Scholarship Commons on 3D Printing. I have never done this before, but am aware that it is an ever-growing domain in manufacturing and design. I took it mainly to become more well-versed in how the technology works, how it may be integrated in my future science lessons and to expand my imagination for what is capable with this tool.

Fused deposition modelling schematic.

Briefly, we learned about Fused Deposition Modelling in which minute layers of plastic are extruded and sliced to construct objects in 3D. The primary material is polylactic acid, a thermoplastic aliphatic polyester which is derived from renewable biomass (corn, sugar beet, etc.). This plastic is quite non-elastic and is prone to shatter and is therefore often reinforced during the printing process and with internal scaffolding called ‘infill’.

In the workshop, I designed two items. A 6-sided die and a keychain. The main platform we used was called TinkerCAD, a browser based computer-aided design program that allows you to easily construct objects and export them in a printable format. Having done some drafting in high school (thanks Mr. Hansen), I found the software to be very intuitive and easy to work with. In addition to this platform, we also accessed free 3D plans from Thingiverse, an online community for sharing schematics with others. The treble clef used in my keychain design posted below was taken from Thingiverse & modified with TinkerCAD.

My 3D Design in TinkerCAD

The final product

The workshop was fun, interesting and definitely got the wheels turning for potential applications in the classroom and at home. To give us a sense of scope, the workshop leader, Dani, told us about some incredible projects that involved using 3D printing including a group which developed a hyper-affordable, $200 3D-printed prosthetic hand for use in developing countries.

Finally, it did not go unnoticed to me that the workshop occurred on the same day as the Global Climate March. I felt a little bit conflicted attending it and felt compelled to investigate the environmental impacts of 3D printing. An article by Megan Nichols weighs the costs and benefits of 3D printing. According to her analysis, 3D printing consume 50-100 times more electricity than equivalent production methods. However, this impact can be offset by the notable benefits of using less material, producing items locally (thus reducing distribution emissions) and using recyclable thermoplastics in the future. I personally see the potential for 3D printing to reduce our environmental impact when used strategically to provide small-batch items when needed and limit unnecessary manufacture.

For any others interested in taking this 3D printing workshop, there are two other dates this fall (October 10th & 28th) and registration is available.

-S

Piano Program Pilot Reflection

Having completed much of the mental leg-work and preparation for the group program, I finally had an opportunity to see it in action! With help from three of my friends – Sam, Alex & Sylvie – I did a live pilot of the piano program. The three learners & I met for 1 hour at a time over a two-week period to see how they were able to learn in this context.

Some footage of the pilot learning environment.

Overwhelmingly, it was a success! I thoroughly enjoyed teaching in this social environment & was always on my toes. The students really enjoyed it as well (as evidenced by their unanimous desire to continue with the program). After we completed our second session, the participants participated in a discussion and debriefing with me. Below, I’ll share some of the strengths and areas for improvement that were revealed in the pilot.

Program strengths:

  • Social – over the two sessions, the participants seemed to bond & get to know one another. They felt comfortable sharing their experiences, discussing challenges and celebrating the group’s successes. Moving forward, I’ll continue to find moments for sharing at the beginning, middle and end of the sessions. For instance, learners shared some of their favourite piano music with the group which was assigned as ‘listening homework’ to broaden everyone’s horizons.
  • Productive – as I hoped, the sessions were highly productive for the students. The individual time to work fostered focus. During circulation, I was able to correct errors and draw attention to aspects like technique, articulation and rhythm. Overall, the students were learning at a rapid rate, having passed through ~30 pages of the Faber Primer book & Adult Beginner Course in only 2 hours. Sight-reading of notes & rhythms was as good or better than what I see at this point in 1:1 students.
  • Challenging – learners reported feeling lots of self-efficacy. I was particularly happy to hear from them about their experiences with performance anxiety! They agreed that working solo was great for learning and polishing. In all the learners, however, they felt the familiar tense sensation of performance anxiety whenever I plugged into their keyboards and began to listen. I see this as a huge benefit – getting exposed to performance anxiety in bite-sized pieces. If I manage to frame these encounters with lots of positive reinforcement, balancing any tips with genuine praise for their progress, I believe we can extinguish or lessen the nerves they feel playing for others. This will make it easier for them to eventually perform their work publicly.
  • Encouraging – the learners also noted that they enjoyed having other beginners around. They could overhear little tips and comments I made to others and be reminded to integrate these practices into their own play. It also made them feel good to hear that others were having trouble with note recognition, rhythm reading and finger independence (issues that plague every musician).
  • Affordable – The director of the studio has agreed to charge only 50% of the typical rate for hour lessons in the group format. This is great for the learners.

Areas for Improvement:

  • Integrating Adequate Theory Practice – the group lessons are designed to ‘first teach the hands, then the head.’ I would prefer that students learn to play before being inundated with cumbersome and discouraging theory. That being said, I would like to find a way to dovetail this work with appropriate theory exercises, perhaps from the Faber series.
  • Tightening Up Explanations – when you have so many learners to inspire and guide in only an hour, it demands that really tighten up your explanations. Instead of having minutes to describe the function of a dotted rhythm, you may have only 30 seconds. I think this is a challenge that will really promote my growth as a musician and teacher by forcing me to truly comprehend the core of a concept in order to explain it effectively and efficiently.
  • Mixed-Experience Groups – while this pilot cohort are all beginners starting at the exact same level, it is conceivable that I will have groups in the future. I want to strongly consider how to have groups of mixed ability levels moving forward but still keep the communication, discussion and ensemble performance features.
  • Rewards System for Young Learners – my years tutoring at Sylvan taught me the potential value of token economies for promoting good habits in students. I envision, especially for <13 learners, implementing a system where students earn ‘quarter notes’ for meritorious behaviour (asking good questions, attention to detail, encouraging groupmates, etc.)
  • Use of Technology – could music-education games like Ningenius and StaffWars be used throughout the lesson to diversify the experience of the learners?

Anyways, overall, I am pleased with how the pilot went. Since my pilot group is going to continue with their lessons, I’ll get lots more opportunity to hone this and consider how this program qualitatively differs from my 1:1 pedagogy.

-S

A Social Model of Piano Pedagogy

This June, I was fortunate to be hired as the new piano instructor at the South Island Studio (SIS). The director of the studio, Lonny Koch, floated the idea during my interview that we could develop a Group Lesson program at SIS.

My initial reaction was confusion and a little bit of dread. Having always enjoyed 1:1 lessons with my teachers, the idea of a group piano lesson seemed to be a pedagogic and logistical mess. How could a teacher effectively instruct more than one student at a time? However, Lonny & I registered for a primer course by a piano instructor named Daniel Patterson which provided us with a basic model for group lessons. We worked through those materials & considered how we could modify the program to match my teaching style, experience and musical worldview. In the end, we developed a system for 3:1 lessons which I will describe in brief below.

In essence, the experience I am trying to address with the group lessons will be familiar to anyone who has taken 1:1 lessons with an expert: the experience of trying to realize a teacher’s suggestion as they watch. For instance, while I was taking lessons in jazz piano this summer, I found myself wishing I could enter into a private practice ‘bubble’ to work through a suggestion from my teacher. He might ask that I perform a passage in a certain way, or practice a lick in twelve keys. Having him watch over me created a sense of performance anxiety and doubt which clouded my thought and slowed my progress. This is what I am trying to address.

If you’re wondering about the format, refer to the diagram I’ve included below. Everyone has their own digital keyboard and is practising with headphones while I circulate to give feedback and guide your progress. Having a private sonic space to work in allows you to hone and develop your music at your own pace & without the anxiety of having a teacher hover over you. Furthermore, it builds self-sufficiency and sight-reading ability by encouraging you to develop your own inner-teacher. Throughout the lesson, we remove our headphones and come together to have discussions, learn new concepts and play aloud as an ensemble.

Schematic diagram of the proposed learning space.

Moving forward, I have four principle goals for the program:

1. To emphasize playing first and foremost. Teaching the hands more than the head, at least initially.
2. To create a supportive, social, fun environment in which to learn piano, collaborate and get excited about the instrument with other beginners.
3. To make it more accessible by charging a significantly lower hourly rate.
4. To build self-efficacy & teach students how to practice.

This section of my website, found under the Inquiry >> Group Piano Lessons Program tab, will document my experience of developing and implementing group piano lessons at SIS.

-S

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