Feed Forward in the Music Classroom

I am so excited to share with you all some work I have been doing with Feed Forward – a new concept (rather than feedback), in my music classroom.  I am so pleased that The Australian Educational Leaders Magazine have picked up my article and printed it.  Enjoy reading this.


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Plickers in the Music Classroom

In our music classrooms today we are under increasing pressure to perform.

We are expected to assess and meet national standards for our students and then when we are stretched to our limits with a myriad of paper work, performances and concerts – yes we are expected to assess again.  In some schools, teachers are expected to do a before-the-unit and after-the-unit test to show growth and improvement in their students’ knowledge and understanding.  This constant barrage of assessing puts its toll on us as educators, stress on our students and ultimately we get a barrage of emails from parents telling us that Johnny is “too stressed” to come to music as there is assessment today.  So what can we do in our classroom to keep it simple and stress free?  The answer –  Plickers.

I had noticed that the classroom teachers were using Plickers for their formative assessment and thought, “I’m sure that I can use them in music too”.  I use it quite often with my year 5 and 6 students as both formative and summative assessment – that’s not to say that you can’t use it in the lower end of the school.   This is a tried and tested resource that is free and doesn’t involve everyone using a device.

What are Plickers?  It’s a quick and easy QR Code based voting system that allows students to answer true/false or multiple choice questions at the turn of a card.  Did I tell you the best part?????  It’s free!!!!!  And your students don’t need a device!!!!!

So how does it work?  How do I get it to work?????

It is especially good to use for all ages throughout the school.  When I want to ask a specific question and see who understands, who doesn’t and not make students sensitive to the fact that they don’t know the answer.  Often children who don’t know the answers will hide in your large classes of 28 and as a teacher you may not pick this up until the end of the term/semester or when it’s too late.  Here I don’t need an aid to help with reading “formative” exam questions as we all work at the same pace, and it doesn’t shame kids for getting it wrong.   The great thing is that you can add graphics/pictures which means that you can do activities like the following:

  1.  There is a rhythm on the question.  Students fairy clap the rhythm or say it in their head.  The teacher claps a rhythm.  Teacher asks:  Did I clap the rhythm correctly?  A – yes, B – no.
  2. Here is a melodic sequence.  Students sing it in their heads.  The teacher plays a melodic sequence on an instrument.  Is this correct?  A – no, B – yes.
  3. Ask students about a music history topic that they have been working on.  eg.  Were the Beatles A – American, B – Canadian, C- Australian, D – English?Plickers in the classroom

These are just three simple ideas to use Plickers.  I am sure that you are capable of coming up with more creative ideas.

Getting started

So what do I need to make this work?

You will need

  • a data projector with any laptop/computer attached (it will need to have an internet connection)
  • a device with internet capability (either Apple App store or Google Play store compatible)
  • The Plickers App downloaded on your device (children don’t need a device)
  • Plickers cards printed and laminated (see instructions below)
  1. Once you have your app on your device go to your laptop/computer and type in .  You will need to register and make a free account.  You will then need to go to the cards section  and make a choice as to what size card you need.  I do 2 per A4 sheet.  I just laminate them (well actually my teacher aid did it) with normal laminating pockets, not matt laminating pockets.  Matt pockets are quite expensive and the shiny ones work just as well.  Print off a set for each class that you have – or want cards for.  My students keep them in their music satchel.  The same cards are used for each class, but when you highlight the class that you want it will read the card as that student.
  2. Click on classes and click on new class.
  3. Fill in the information about your class
  4. If you want to enter in your students names one by one go through the left text box. If you have your students names in a word document already, then copy and paste into the “Add Roster” icon.  This saves a lot of time.
  5. Go to library – this is where you will write the questions you want to ask your class.  You can write questions for different grades/classes at the same time.  Once you have written your questions you can assign the questions to the different classes via the calendar.
  6. By clicking on “Live View”, it will allow the class responses to been seen on a data projector in “real time”.
  7. When you press on your class the questions that you had prepared earlier will appear on the screen.
  8. When your question comes up on your device, it will duplicate on your computer screen.
  9. You can choose between a graph (to see % answers) or students so that you can see who has or has not answered the question.
  10. Press the “scan button” at the bottom of the screen on your device.
  11. Ask students to hold their custom cards up for their response.  They will rotate the card depending on their answer  – as seen on the card below.Plickers Card
  12. Each of their names will come up on your device screen and on the class list. The computer will tick their name off when they have voted – it will not allow them to vote more than once but will allow them to change their answer.
  13. As the students vote a class graph will start to take shape.  This shows the answers that the students have given. The teacher can then press the “reveal answer” button to show the correct response.  The teacher will have access to how each student voted – the students will not have access to this.  This can shape your future teaching or can be used as an assessment task.
  14. You are able to create reports with questions asked and responses given by pressing on the “report” tab at the top of the screen.Running a report
  15. The report will show correct and incorrect answers of each student (as seen above) allowing you to use this as either formative or summative assessment tasks.  It will even assign them a percentage making mark allocation easy.
  16. The great thing is that you are now able to add graphics/pictures into your questions.  You can make rhythmic graphics in word, screen shot them and then add the screen shot as a graphic.Using graphics in Plickers

I hope that you enjoy using Plickers.  I would love to hear how you use them in the classroom.


Till next time.Belinda


Music Technology

To Infinity and Beyond

I have really enjoyed looking at the different models of 21st Century teaching and learning in this MOOC.  Over the past 5 weeks I have done so much reflecting on my own school and my own practice, and I would have to say that I am pretty satisfied about the program that I have put together over the past 12 years.  I have spent the last 5 years really reinventing myself so that I can be an effective teacher in the 21st century.  I have had the opportunity this year to share that with other teachers around the country and New Zealand as I have presented for Music EdNet Daytime conferences.

At my school, we teach the Kodály philosophy of music education. It has taken a long time to implement this into the school, and the results are well worth the hard work that I have put in over the past 12 years.  I really related to the Orff program that Kamaroi is offering.  At the heart of this education are the children.  Both Orff and Kodály have very similar philosophies – “that the child is at the centre of learning”.  Richard Gill – also in his very passionate way, expressed his absolute passion that the child must come first; that you educate the ear and mind, then read notation.  He also said that the voice is the child’s most natural instrument.  I absolutely wholeheartedly agree, but …… we live in the technological age, we are not living in the 19th Century where this was all that Orff and Kodály had.  We must make sure that we relate to what children want.  I’m not saying “throw the baby out with the bath water” (as James put it), but what I am saying is that you need to have a good balance of both and at my school I believe I have done just that.

My school is very proactive in making us look beyond the text book so to speak.  Every year we are to create a “prototype” – something that requires the children in our classes to strive harder, engage more, or think outside the box – and this needs to be backed with solid research. These are some of the things I’ve done:

  1. Created an iBand orchestra. Originally in 2012 I convinced Neil Johnston (England) to teach us the ins and outs of GarageBand.  He created an iBand program where students would learn the song “You Make Me So Electric”.  I did this program with my year 6 students (and still do today).  Once the children learn the song we then employ a sound engineer to record them, this gives them the feeling of what it is like to be a “real” musician.Screen Shot 2017-07-24 at 6.11.41 pm
  2. IMG_2486.JPGDigital Feedforward. I did a study on the influence of live feedforward over a recording of children’s assessment.  The study was really fascinating and it was great to see that due to feedforward 15% of children went from failing to passing.



3.  STEAM Education. I looked at a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and maths) project which involved students looking at a variety of instruments (both orchestral and non-orchestral) and then design and constructing their instruments.  Using the 21st century style of “staff meeting” or teachmeet (invented by educationalist Ewan McIntosh – see students were able to present their findings in a non-threatening environment.IMG_2704.JPG

4.  Student engagement. This year I wanted to get my teaching time back.  In a primary school everything takes a long time.  It takes a long time to hand out books, glue, pencils

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etc.  It takes a long time to put them back too!!!!!  So I wondered how I could get my time back?  I like to do aural skills at the start of every lesson for 5 minutes (in a primary school this can blow out to 10 – 15 mins, yes cause it takes a long time to get books etc.!!!!)  So what did I do?  I wrote an iBook using Book Creator.  I then “app smashed” and used the app Showbie to upload the book.  Here the students are able to edit the book then save the annotations.  I’m then able to mark the students work from my iPad.  Gone are the lugging a mountain full of paper.  It worked so well that I then wrote their exams in Book creator too.  Later I surveyed all the students to see if they liked this style of learning and about 80% of the students enjoyed it.

I absolutely loved the lecture on BL’s.  I think that this is exactly where I am at the moment.  With an impending Masters thesis on STEAM education it makes me think more and more about this buzz word STEAM and is it really just an interdisciplinary PBL in disguise?  When I spoke with STEAM researcher Dr. Danah Henriksen (Assistant Professor of Leadership and Innovation – Arizona State University) I asked her whether STEAM is just a PBL.  She did acknowledge that they are heavily related, but perhaps have differences in their approach.  She thought that PBL was part of STEAM, but PBL could simply be a teaching approach or a way of presenting the content or crossing disciplines in an activity or helping students to think about ideas. It was definitely food for thought.

I’ve shared my critical thinking of my program – so I guess it’s time to share my plan.

Where to next???? 

Firstly, I’m going to gather my research on STEAM education looking at creative and critical thinking.  I’m going to write a fabulous thesis looking at this and share it with the world.

Next, I have purchased 4 Osmo coding kits Image result for osmo jamthat I am going to introduce to my junior kids (Prep – Year 2).  This is a great way to introduce them to the world of coding and composition.  I then intend to share this journey on my blog next year.  It has been lovely to interact and share my ideas with you over the past 5 weeks and I look forward to further reading some of your blogs to be inspired.



My Eyes Are Wide Open

In my past life (some 13 years ago), I was a secondary music teacher.  When I was in that job we purchased a site licence for Sibelius 2, and I had convinced the IT department to give me 4 computers that they were going to get rid of out of their classrooms.  We converted a practice room into a computer room – here we created a mini-lab and a recording studio.  Two of my other music teachers were totally into this technology and it wasn’t that I wasn’t but it began what was to become a very steep learning curve for me as I learnt about midis (DAW), sound recording and notation software.  The kids were so engaged with it they stopped coming into the music room at lunch to jam on guitars.  Instead they started lining up to record themselves and to make DJ mixes on ACID DJ.

I have been lucky enough this year to travel around Australia and New Zealand with the Music Ed Net Daytime series as a presenter.  I have had the privilege to sit in (multiple times) and learn DJ moves with some of the guys from Ableton and other DJ hardware.  I am terrible at it!  I have struggled with aural skills all my life and l learnt very quickly that you need to have fantastic aural skills to be able to beat match, key match etc etc.  So, when I watched the video of Madeon “Annie Mac’s Mini Mix” – Live it brought back so many memories of how much fun it was to create on these devices.  I could absolutely see the appeal and skill that secondary students would be able to develop by using this hardware.

It was really interesting to listen to David Price.  His insight into Open learning was great.  I do believe that this style of learning has “gone open”.  I do a guitar unit with my Year 5 students.  I used to sit at the front and say this is the D chord, put your fingers on this string and that fret, now strum … no you don’t put your fingers like that, it’s like this – there was very little learning actually happening.  I went searching for videos on YouTube for the kids to try to overcome this.  I didn’t want someone like me in the videos, I wanted someone the kids could relate to, so I went searching and found some great videos – and the kids loved it.  Learning really did increase.  I don’t need to teach anymore as the kids plug in and play along.  This is open learning at its best in an elementary setting.

I love project learning and my master’s thesis is on the role of music in a STEAM unit.  I do believe that music needs to stand alone, but, we also need to make sure that the kids are engaged.  I think that by doing integration it makes the project real for the kids – “at the end of this unit I am actually going to have to do this as my family will be coming to watch what I created”.  Does it mean that I water down my course?  No!  It does mean though that I work smart.  I have a dedicated amount of time for aural skills, technology time and then the kids do their PBL.  I think that admin see that us specialist teachers are trying to do what the classroom teachers are doing and for them that ticks the box!!!!!!


MOOC Provocation “The Wikipedia Song”

Attached is a song that I wrote for my Provocation “Technology is moving too fast …”.

I’m not normally a creative person, so for me to write a song is a big deal.  Funny how we expect our kids to do this kind of stuff in class all the time, but it scares the living daylights out of me!!!!

sunshine ukuleleI’m not a great singer – so this was also a big deal for me, and I do apologise in advance for my ukulele – my daughters Sunshine ukulele just wouldn’t stay “in-tune”.

You know that by the end of listening to it you will be singing “you heard it on Wikipedia …”




The information for this song was referenced from the following readings:

Flipped classroom

Gouzouasis and Bakan. The future of music making and music education in a transformative digital world, The University of Melbourne refereed e-journal, Vol 2 (2), 2011.

Prensky, Marc.  Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants MCB University Press. Vol. 9 No. 5, October 2001.

All pictures in the clip were sourced from Google and are not in any way meant to breech copyright.  


The importance of student engagement and connection

When teaching in a Primary School setting does the program require a balance between student centred popular culture and teacher centred traditional musical education?

I believe it does to a degree.  I think that definitely in the middle years of education (years 4 – 6) this is an important thing – that sense of ownership in their education and being able to mix the individuality of the student with the essentials of music education.  I have a 5-minute technology time at the start of my year 5 and 6 classes.  At the moment the children are given time to explore the App “Incredibox”.  I didn’t teach the children how to use the App, they did this through self-exploration and peer teaching.  The student Student playing Incrediboxengagement is 100% and my classroom is silent (because they all have headphones on).  This was for me a really foreign thing at first as my very nature is to help (and that fear of children being up to no good on their iPads).  Reluctantly I have stood back during technology time; become but a facilitator and active listener.  This style of learning is along the same lines as that of Lucy Greens’ research into how popular musicians learn, in that:

  1. They learn by choosing their own music – in this case Incredibox an app that they can create a mix of several different styles, by running a band of beatboxers, then recording their mix, sharing it and competing against others in the world. The children will come up to me ask me to listen to their mixes and then to their delight rejoice in being in the top 10 (of the world) for their mix.  Their sense of accomplishment and student engagement is far greater than I could ever ask for.
  2. They are learning by playing by ear – what sounds good, do my friends like it, do others in the world like it?
  3. They are playing either by themselves or with friends – who are able to trouble shoot any or be support for them.
  4. Learning is very personal – not structured in a progressive way. Often without any expert help.
  5. Integrate the skills of composing, performing and improvising all the way through the learning process.

Though this is only a 5-minute segment of what is otherwise a fairly structured lesson based on the Kodály philosophy and Western Music, the children are more agreeable to the other “more serious work” because they get to spend time doing their own culture, their own music.

In the early years however, it is about so much more.  We need to shape the minds and souls of our young children to love music, to engage them with theme or play based music that involves music making (either singing, playing or both), movement and creative expression.  I think at ages 5 and 6 children do know what they like and don’t like – and what most children like is singing songs through games.  Kathryn Marsh in “The Musical Playground” did a study in Australian, Korean, American, Norwegian and English school yards asking children to come and sing anything to her in the playground.  She found that a lot of the children did versions of Children playing clapping gamesgames that they had learnt in class (or from other children) coupled with music that they learnt in their every-day lives.  So, as a teacher it is up to us to pick repertoire that is tried and tested, fun and engaging that allows children to learn without knowing that they are learning.  It is suggested in the Early Years curriculum that children should use a play-based approach to learning – which I totally agree with.  The Early Childhood of Australia website suggests that “Young children’s play allows them to explore, identify, negotiate, take risks and create meaning”.  And, if we are to listen to author Daniel Pink, he would suggest that these are all skills that will allow children to flourish in the future.  Children who engage in quality play experiences are more likely to have well-developed memory skills, language development, and are able to regulate their behaviour, leading to enhanced school adjustment and academic learning (Bodrova & Leong, 2005).  So are children in my class singing popular songs?  No, in my early year’s classroom the children continually ask for two games (before we even enter the classroom):  Ickle Ockle Blue Bottle (a singing game that builds resilience as the children get out) and Spider and The Fly (a circle game that involves children getting caught and becoming dead flies that are eaten by the 4-child spider).  Are they popular culture songs?  No?  Are they popular with the children?  Yes.  I therefore think that if children can identify and engage with songs they will want to sing or participate in regardless.  The children have therefore created their own set of popular songs and games based on what they perceive to be fun.  Through these fun games and songs music literacy, traditional musical skills and western art forms are actually embraced and sung to their parents, friends and anyone who will listen.



Music Technology

How much technology is too much technology?

I love technology.  When I was growing up my family was one of the first on our block to get a VHS player (yes it had a remote that had a chord 10 meters long – the freedom that that created was amazing), had a colour TV when Black and White was what most people had, and we had a Nintendo game console and handheld devices.  In the late 80’s my parents bought a computer with floppy disc drives and a dot matrix printer.  I was in heaven – no more typewriter for me.  Now days it would be unusual if families didn’t at least have 1 device that was connected to the internet (my family has 10 devices connected to the internet!)

I guess this exposure to “gadgets” has prompted me to have a fascination with technology – what it can do and offer in our every day lives.  So in 2013, my school went to a 1:1 iPad program in the upper Primary years and this again sparked my attention and imagination as to what the children in my music classes could do with them.  It was great, it opened a myriad of doors for my students to experience music making that was not possible before – it created a real connection that my students were craving.  In 2016 my whole school went to 1:1 iPads.  But is this too much?  Have we gone too far with embedding technology into every facet of the childrens’ lives?  I see parents regularly putting their mobile phones in front of their children to “shut them up”.  A sort of technology nanny. Children are bombarded with images, mental stimulation and screen time 24/7.

If you were comparing my school to Northern Beaches Christian College you would say that maybe my students did very little in comparison to their music students and if you were comparing it to Kamaroi Steiner School one would say that the children are screen dependent.  So how do we make sure that we still have a balance between the two?  Kamaroi don’t discredit technology – the Principal actually acknowledges that there is a place for it in their classes for years 6 and 7, but not in the early years.  I do tend to agree here.  Are the early years a time for children to have their heads stuck in a screen, or is it a time for them to explore “play based” education?  In a typical early years class I use technology for only 5 minutes during a 45 minute lesson – where the rest of the lesson is based on the Kodály philosophy of education (play based education) to strike a balance between using technology and playing.  In my years 5 and 6 classes I use technology a lot more.  My class does resemble the more Northern Beaches style of learning where my students use Google Classroom as their platform for all communication, assessment and learning.  We need to strike a balance when educating our young children, some non-screen time will still give them skills for the future.


Technology in Music Education MOOC

Blogging and setting up my own website is something that I have wanted to do for a while but have just lacked the confidence and belief in my own ability to do.  So finding this MOOC is just the push I need to make me step outside of my comfort zone.  I have found this a challenge but I’m always up for a challenge.  In order to be the best version of me I need to challenge and grow with every experience – and I think this MOOC is going to do that.  I really think that in this day and age it is important to have a website, blog and a digital presence in the world.  I really look forward to growing in confidence and sharing my ideas with the world.  Who knows someone might actually read what I have to say and find it helpful/informative and try my ideas in their music classroom.  This is the video that started my journey into music technology.