Mozart Minutes

Genius Hour is an opportunity for students to work on something that interests them, that they are passionate about, or that they want to learn.

Mozart MinutesI started the school year with several goals and changes I wanted to make in my music program. One of them was to incorporate a student-directed, or Genius Hour, type project. I had heard about Genius Hour several years ago, but it wasn’t until I read Amy Rever’s blog, The Noisy Room Down the Hall, that I believed it was possible in music! Amy is now in year three doing Genius Hour with her middle school band students and it’s quite inspiring. Essentially, Genius Hour is an opportunity for students to work on something that interests them, that they are passionate about, or that they want to learn. In school, students are often limited to content the teacher (or standards) dictate. But with Genius Hour, students get to choose their path. If you are not familiar with Genius Hour, I highly recommend John Spencer’s video, “What is Genius Hour?”  It provides an excellent introduction.

Initially, I planned to have 5th-grade students (second-year players) come up with and carry out their own performance opportunity. They would pick the venue or event, choose and prepare the music, and do the performance. In the end, I decided not to go this route. After observing the students this year it didn’t feel right, and I didn’t know how I would manage that type of project for 96 students. So instead I decided to keep it more open-ended and let students design their own projects. I introduced the project we are calling “Mozart Minutes” to the students by first showing another one of John Spencer’s video, “You Get to Have Your Own Genius Hour.”  I told students they would have the opportunity to create their own projects – learn whatever they wanted to learn or do whatever they wanted to do – as long as it related to music. We spent time in class brainstorming, and I asked students to come up with a list of ideas using Lee Araoz’s framework, “Four Pathways to Genius.”  From there, students were asked to narrow down their list to one great idea. The pathways were more helpful to some students than others. Many didn’t understand that the pathways were to help them come up with ideas and that their final plan did not have to incorporate all four categories! I will need to explain that better in the future. Pathways to genius

The students have been given four weeks to work on their projects during band and orchestra lessons (30-minutes each) plus 10-minutes each Friday during chorus to reflect on the week’s progress. They have also had some time to work during vocal music, and of course at home, if they choose. As you would expect, some students have been more successful than others. Some of the projects have been very creative though! Here is a sample of some of their ideas:

  • Composing a song
  • Learning to play new songs
  • Researching the history of an instrument or composer
  • Learning about how instruments are made
  • Creating background music for video games
  • Creating a talk-show about musicians
  • Building an instrument
  • Making tutorial videos to help younger students

I enjoy watching students and their various approaches. For example, some of the composers start with their instruments, while others begin with paper and pencil. Some are digging into research and creating Google Slideshows, while others are drawing or hand-writing what they learn. A few students have reached out (with my help) to various experts, and some even got responses!

The idea of a Genius Hour in music fits into something I’ve become quite passionate about, and that is empowering music students.  Genius Hour fits almost all of the essential qualities! Students have voice and choice, they get to ask questions, they are creating, and they own the learning process. Isn’t this what we want for our students? Next week we will have a gallery walk showcase for students to share what they learned or created. I am very excited to report back the results!


Links for further reading:

Inquiry and Mozart Minutes (a Mozart Minutes recap)

The Qualities of an Empowered Music Student

10 Reasons to Pilot a Genius Hour This Year, by John Spencer

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The Beginning of the Journey

Being able to truly think, reflect, and share is something special

Earlier this summer I had the privilege of being a guest blogger for EdTechTeam as a result of a Twitter post about Trevor Mackenzie’s “Dive Into Inquiry” (you can see the original blog here). Prior to this I never would have considered myself a writer. I enjoyed writing, in fact, I frequently reflect back to grad school and how much I enjoyed researching, writing about, and presenting on various conductors and pieces of music. But it still didn’t click how much I enjoy the writing process until I completed and submitted that blog post. Being able to truly think, reflect, and share is something special! And from that, this blog was born.

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Throughout the summer I spent a significant amount of time learning and reading. I participated in a 12-week Teacher Leadership Certificate program through EdTechTeam that turned my views on education upside down. I read numerous books, also about teaching. What’s incredible is that none of them directly related to music, but I feel each will have a drastic impact on my teaching of music.

This will be my space to write about three things I really enjoy professionally: music, teaching, and technology. While I know I have been continually growing and evolving as an educator, I feel like after this summer a true transformation is on the horizon. Hence the journey!

Here are some of my main takeaways, and my goals for this school year:

Global Connectivity                                                            

In a time where information and communication are right at our fingertips, it’s so important to show students how to become part of a global community. One of my goals for this year is to take my students outside of the four walls of our classroom, to learn from and experience music globally. (I’ll be writing about my Global Collaboration project soon!)

Personalized Learning

Personalized learning is something I have been interested in since the spring, when my county announced they were going to begin piloting some personalized learning initiatives. After researching the topic I’ve decided to jump in with my 5th grade instrumental music students. The idea of giving students a voice and a choice in their learning is really intriguing, especially in my situation where every 4th-5th grader has to play an instrument. For the band and orchestra lessons I outlined the learning targets at the beginning of the year, and the students will be responsible for setting their own goals and moving through at their own pace. Students will also have a choice in how they show mastery of various skills. Lessons will look (and sound!) much different, as the students will be working individually or with a partner while I facilitate and help as needed.

Inquiry Based Learning/Project Based Learning

Going along with the personalized learning, is giving students the opportunity to learn what they want. Students are used to having teachers ask the questions, and they provide the answers. In inquiry based learning the students have to come up with the questions first! In music, especially instrumental music, this might be a bit of a stretch, but I have some ideas on how students can design their own projects and really take ownership of their music making.

“Our job as educators is not to prepare students for something…our job as educators is to help students prepare themselves for anything” ~ A.J. Juliani

Flexible Seating


This is a bit of an experiment. The theory is that students should be comfortable in their learning environment, and should have choice in how/where they learn. In a band or orchestra rehearsal this obviously isn’t possible on a regular basis. While yes, there are days I let the students sit wherever they want, having the tuba player in the front row consistently just won’t work! However, when the students are working independently or with a partner, why not give them more freedom? I purchased four stools from Ikea that I believe will still enable them to have good posture while playing. The stools are small and easy to move, so they can be kept under the counter and out-of-the-way while not being used. I also purchased 4 pillows, and am considering allowing students to sit on the floor. To promote good posture I purchased tablet stands, in hopes the students could put their lesson books or iPads on the stand. We’ll see how it goes!


Talk about a fun tool! According to Flipgrid it is a “video discussion platform,” but really it’s so much more. Students respond to a prompt by adding their video to a grid. From there, students can view and respond to each other’s videos, the teacher can respond and add feedback, a rubric can be added…the list goes on. Flipgrid gives every student a voice. Plus, it can be shared with anyone you want, safely. Parents, community members, other teachers and students, and more. I can see so many potential uses for the music classroom! I am very excited to share Flipgrid with my students.

Thanks so much for accompanying me on this journey; it’s sure to be an adventure!
~ Theresa 🎶