Making Music Matters

The Chinese philosopher Confucius said long ago that “Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.”  Learning to play a musical instrument is great for developing brains. Playing a musical instrument has many benefits and can bring pleasure to those around them.


More qualitative benefits than only listening to music. Passively listening to Mozart, or indeed any other music you enjoy, does not make you smarter. The so-called “Mozart effect” is  now a debunked myth: just listening to certain types of music does not improve intelligence, like you’re not going to become physically fit just by watching sports. It’s important to engage with the music in order to reap the benefits and see changes in your learning. Because it is only through the active generation and manipulation of sound that music can rewire the brain.

Moreover, people with little or no musical training, who represent the vast majority of the listening audience, perceive music in a totally different way than the actual musicians who play or create the music. Each person who hears music is influenced by his or her own individual personality, knowledge, and life experiences that have molded their minds.

This short animation from TED-Ed, written by Anita Collins and animated by Sharon Colman Graham, explains why playing music benefits the brain more than any other activity.

Extract from the video:

When you listen to music, multiple areas of your brain become engaged and active. But when you actually play an instrument, that activity becomes more like a full-body brain workout

Playing a musical instrument engages practically every area of the brain at once, especially the visual, auditory, and motor cortices. As with any other workout, disciplined, structured practice in playing music strengthens those brains functions, allowing us to apply that strengh to other activities.

The most obvious difference between listening to music and playing it is that the latter requires fine motor skills, which are controlled in both hemispheres of the brain. It also combines the linguistic and mathematical precision, in which the left hemisphere is more involved, with the novel and creative content that the right excels in.

– See more at: 

Benefits-playing-an-instrument MerceCardus

Anita Collins

The Two Sides of Music

This Is How Music Can Change Your Brain – TIME

Mozart doesn’t make you clever – NATURE

The sky’s the limit

There is no limit to what someone can achieve. LWL from the research to the ideal school

The Learning Without Limits (LWL) project is based on the idea of transformability and by the concept of learning capacity that is very different from the concept of ability.

Transformability is a firm conviction that there is the potential for change, that things can change and be changed for the better, sometimes even dramatically, as a result of what people do in the present.bookcover1small Learning capacity is transformable because the forces that shape it are, to an extent, within teachers’ control. In contrast with the implied fatalism of ability labels. Teachers who built their pedagogy around ability labels influence negatively in young people’s self-belief, sense of personal competence, attitudes, expectations and hopes for the future. Ability labels explain differences in young people’s learning and attainment due to fixed differences in intellectual endowment. A young student with ‘low ability’ now, in the present, is assumed to have more limited potential than others who are judged to be ‘average’ or ‘more able’ and the expectation is that these differences will persist and be reflected in comparable differences in academic performance in the future: the self-fulfilling prophecy (achieving fulfillment as a result of having been expected or foretold).

bookcover2_smallCreating Learning without Limits (CLwL) builds on the Learning without Limits study by exploring the wider opportunities for enhancing the learning capacity of every child that become possible when the educational community work together to create an environment free from the limiting effects of ability labels and practices.

CLwL was set up to explore the process of whole-school development driven by the core idea of transformability: the conviction that all children (not just some children) can become more powerful, committed, successful learners given distinctive supportive conditions and generous opportunities for learning.

Wroxham classroom

Mr Davy at Wroxham school

CLwL builds on the Learning without Limits study by exploring the wider opportunities for enhancing the learning capacity of every child that become possible when a whole staff group works together to create an environment free from the limiting effects of ability labels and practices.

The Creating Learning without Limits project was based at the University of Cambridge, Faculty of Education, in collaboration with colleagues at The Wroxham School, Hertfordshire. Dame Alison Margaret Peacock is co-author of Creating Learning without Limits, and Executive Headteacher of The Wroxham Teaching School. 


“Dame Alison Peacock” by Lee Allan – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The following short passages are taken from an interview with Dame Alison on The Guardian on March 29th.

The headteacher [Alison Peacock] says she never set out to get rid of ability labelling at the school. It grew from conversations with staff, and when it worked the idea was developed. Pupils are never set tasks by ability. Topics are taught to the whole group and students are then chosen from a range of activities of varying complexity. If they begin a piece of work and think they could try something more difficult, or need something easier, they can change”… “The assumption that you can reliably put a number against what a child is capable of is flawed and dangerous. Potentially, it leads to the individual and the people around them having a very limited set of expectations.” She believes it is detrimental even if the student is given a high grade, pointing to research by Carol Dweck from Stanford University to illustrate this. When two groups of children were given a complex mathematical task, the group that was told they had good problem-solving skills progressed much further than the group that was simply told they were very good at maths…. “If teachers feel constrained, judged and labelled, then they can’t lift the limits on pupils,” she says. Extracts from

Taking inspiration from the book Creating Learning without Limits, the University of Cambridge Primary School (UCPS) is the first primary to open as one of the government’s flagship university training schools and was set up as a free school. The UCPS will be governed by a charitable trust, UTS Cambridge. The school will be a mixed-ability co-educational school for children aged three – 11 and it will be highly inclusive where pupil diversity is welcomed and children will be encouraged and enabled to excel.The school will focus on exemplary teaching, high-quality governance and innovative learning practice. The Trust is delighted that these plans have been approved. They are high-quality, innovative and inclusive, reflecting the planned character of University of Cambridge Primary School.Uni Cambs primary school 01 site plan

The three-form entry primary school will open in phases from September 2015 and will serve the development site and a local catchment.

The information used in this post is excerpted from the following sites with non-commercial purposes:

The controversy about the value of Homework

There is controversy about the value of homework, with critics saying it is either ineffective or potentially harmful if the extra work is so dull that children switch off.

Few years ago, a group of French parents and teachers called for a two-week boycott of homework in schools, saying it is useless, tiring and reinforces inequalities between children. They say homework pushes the responsibility for learning on parents and causes rows between themselves and their children. And they conclude children would be better off reading a book.

This is a representative sample of what the detractors argue against having homework, but we can add others arguments opposed to homework: The school day should be long enough to allow the child to learn and write everything they need to” homework, whether good or bad, takes time and often cuts into each student’s sleep, family dinner, or freedom to follow passions outside of school”. “Not all families have the time or the necessary knowledge to help their offspring”. “Teachers don’t realise the unbelievable pressure they are putting children under”.  (should children have to do homework? comments)

And what the students have to add to this scenario against homework. For too many students, homework is too often about compliance and “not losing points” rather than about learning: “…it’s worksheets and problems at the end of the chapter. Just busywork”, “It doesn’t matter how I get the homework done, just as long as it is done before the teacher checks it. Right?” . “If I haven’t succeeded in doing the exercise at school, I don’t see how I’m going to succeed at home”.

From another standpoint, there’s pressure from external sources to set homework and a lot of teachers see that as if they must be setting homework all the time, even if it’s not necessary. There is also a parents’ common misconception that teachers and schools giving more homework are more challenging and therefore better teachers and schools. This is a false assumption. The amount of homework your son or daughter does each night should not be a source of pride for the quality of a school.

These are not good news for “homework”, but if so why it is so popular and widely applied. Maybe what we need is a new word instead of “homework”, how about “continued learning” or “ongoing growth activities”?

We want children to understand that they are always learners even outside school. So it makes no sense to even advertise a “no homework” policy in a school. It sends the wrong message. The policy should be, “No time-wasting, rote, repetitive tasks will be assigned that lack clear instructional or learning purposes.”

As a teacher, we know that by assigning homework, the teacher significantly extends the classroom learning time, that a teacher should never assign homework on a topic that has not been practiced first in the classroom. It should be difficult enough to challenge a student, but not so difficult that the student feels overwhelmed. Assignments should be graded and feedback should be provided.

Homework will be extended learning time if the students are inspired enough to want to practice the skills obtained class. Then make homework worth doing so they will want to do it.

What about Blended Learning? In Blended Learning teachers set up learning management accounts (LMS) on places like Moodle. They assigned students work and research projects through the LMS and students did the work at home. When they came to class, the teacher would either review what they had done individually, or step up the learning by providing further opportunities to apply their knowledge in group projects.

Children should be encouraged to read, write, perform arithmetic, better understand the world around them in terms of civics, science, and the arts, and, of course, develop their people skills: their emotional intelligence. This encouragement should be part of everyday family interactions outside of school, and the school should provide developmental guidance to all parents, in the appropriate languages, to help them do this. Experts agree on the value of parents taking an interest in their children’s intellectual and academic life.

Above all, schools should remind parents to never lose sight of modeling for their children the value of close relationships, support, caring, and fun. That is the most important “home work” of all.


Two hours’ homework a night linked to better school results

Homework guidelines scrapped to give headteachers greater freedom


Learning to Think, Thinking to Learn.

Thirty years ago, some theories about teaching and learning were based on training exercises and drills. The idea was that if facts were repeated enough, then students would memorize them, and this was learning. Under this concept learning is shown by a change in behavior as a result of experience, but nothing is mentioned about what students believe, what process they use to solve problems, or their own awareness of their thinking.

This post is based on the idea that teaching means teaching students to think. It assumes that teaching is not just about communicating facts or mechanical skills like Math rules (of course, you must have facts in order to learn), but is a process of coming to understand how you think.

The idea that all students should learn how to think critically is a relatively new one (certainly since the turn of the 20th century) and one for which most schools are not well prepared. The point is how we teach thinking, and how to make students aware of their thinking.
vtVisible Thinking is a flexible approach to integrating the teaching and development of thinking with your content and curriculum. This is a project of Harvard University. The essence of this project is a series of routines for thinking. They are simple and to the point.

The idea of visible thinking helps to make concrete what a thoughtful classroom might look like. At any moment, we can ask, “Is thinking visible here? Are students explaining things to one another? Are students offering creative ideas? Are they, and I as their teacher, using the language of thinking? Is there a brainstorm about alternative interpretations on the wall? Are students debating a plan?”

The central idea of Visible Thinking is very simple: making thinking visibleWe learn best what we can see and hear, although thinking is pretty much invisible. Mostly, thinking happens under the hood, within the marvelous engine of our mind-brain.

Visible Thinking includes a number of ways of making students’ thinking visible to themselves, to their peers, and to the teacher, so they get more engaged by it and come to manage it better for learning and other purposes.

In DEEPdt, visible thinking is a game changer. Thankfully, Harvard's Project Zero has created some pretty awesome routines that can easily be utilized in the DEEPdt process. In trying to visualize ...

Here are some of its key goals (extract from his website

  • Deeper understanding of content
  • Greater motivation for learning
  • Development of learners’ thinking and learning abilities.
  • Development of learners’ attitudes toward thinking and learning and their alertness to opportunities for thinking and learning (the “dispositional” side of thinking).
  •  A shift in classroom culture toward a community of enthusiastically engaged thinkers and learners.

The routines are structured well and only take a single page for each. It covers:

• The thinking routines itself
• Purpose: What kind of thinking does this routine encourage?
• Application: When and where can it be used?
• Launch: What are some tips for starting and using this routine?


Visible Thinking Routines: SEE THINK WONDER

If you go to the Visible Thinking website you can download these in zipped packages of PDF files. I have also upload these and you can get them from here. The Routine cover the following aspects of Thinking:

This visual features a number of key thinking routines together with examples of how to use them with learners:


Resources: 472 KB 544 KB 357 KB 701 KB

AERA06ThinkingRoutines.pdfAERA06ThinkingRoutines.pdf 238 KB

Digital Natives (part 2)

“Everyone talks about leaving a better planet for our children. Why doesn’t anyone try to leave better children for our planet?”

Many of us grew up in a pre-digital era – we made phone calls and wrote letters, while public information was distributed through broadcast media. But now there’s a whole generation at college that has never known a world without the web. They bring with them a new way of engaging with the world, with information, and with each other.

An excellent video to understand how Digital Natives fit technology and open up to a world where anything is possible.

From Google+, Facebook, and Twitter to SMS and corporate messaging, this generation is developing an instinctive set of behaviors and expectations around these tools. They are very savvy in understanding which medium is most appropriate for the message and for the recipient, whether it’s a dinner invitation or asking someone out on a date.  They know they have to find the appropriate interrupt signal, and that different channels send different signals, with numerous subtleties that we are only just starting to understand:  Following Generation Z

In Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology, Allan Collins and Richard Halverson argue that the knowledge revolution has transformed our jobs, our homes, our lives, and therefore must also transform our schools. Much like after the school-reform movement of the industrial revolution, our society is again poised at the edge of radical change. To keep pace with a globalized technological culture, we must rethink how we educate the next generation or we (the Digital Immigrants) will be left behind. This groundbreaking book offers a vision for the future of American education that goes well beyond the walls of the classroom to include online social networks, distance learning with anytime, anywhere access, digital home schooling models, video-game learning environments, and more.

School leaders and teachers need to understand how learning technologies work and how they change the basic interactions of teachers and learners. Technology leaders need to work together with educators as collaborators in creating new opportunities to learn.

Technology is changing what is important to learn in a variety of ways. There are new literacies that are becoming important, such as creating videos, animations, and web sites. Computers can carry out all the algorithms taught through graduate school, and yet mathematical reasoning is more important than ever. Hence we should spend time teaching students to solve sophisticated problems using computers rather than executing algorithms that computers do well. Memorizing information is becoming less important with the web available, but people do need to learn how to find information, recognize when they need more information, and evaluate what they find. People will be changing careers often and transitions are difficult. They need help going back and forth between learning and work.

As technology continues to transform our society, those responsible for our current systems of learning and education are facing overwhelming pressure to adapt. Education technology, connected learning and the rise of the Networked Society is transforming the established concept of learning, teachers’ roles and even the nature of knowledge itself.

The revolution in education will alter not just the lives of students, but the entirety of modern society. As with any revolution, there are will be both gains and losses. Pessimists see people becoming subservient to their technologies and being left behind as technology comes to dominate our lives. Optimists see a golden age of learning opening before us, where people will be able to find resources to pursue any education they may want.




With few exceptions, all the things our children are using to connect and learn outside the classroom — social media, cell phones, Internet connections — are banned inside classrooms. Move from a standardized testing teaching approach to a style that incorporates more creativity and adaptability.

Remaking assessment starts with this: stop asking questions on tests that can be answered by a Google search. Or, if you have to ask them, let kids use their technology to answer them. More often than not, we ask questions that can be easily answered by technology. That is unfortunate. Take a quick look at any of the state standardized tests for graduation, and you’ll see more of those than you can imagine.

Let’s scrap open-book tests, zoom past open-phone tests asking Googleable questions, and advance to open-network tests that measure not just how well kids answer a question, but also how literate they are at discerning good information from bad and tapping into the experts and networks that can inform those answers. This is how they’ll take the real-life information and knowledge tests that come their way, and it would tell us much more about our children’s preparedness for a world of data abundance.

This is an excerpt from Will Richardson’s new TED e-book, Why School?


Encourage two-way intergenerational mentorships and interactions. This would create opportunities for youth adults to learn from each other. Gen Z comes to the workforce a wide set of new technology skills, determination and passion, among many other factors. Older employees can benefit from the connectivity, flexibility and creativity that are unique to this generation. These youth are still young, however, and have a lot to learn from their older mentors that will help better integrate them successfully in the formal working world. As these youth become a larger part of the emerging labor force, business must plan for Gen Z’s entry and the succession of the Baby Boomers as they retire. Mentorship programs not only get youth interested in and prepared for work in new fields, it introduces fresh skills and attitudes that help businesses flourish in a changing economic atmosphere.



These skills are increasingly valuable in the workplace and society more broadly. Greater emphasis should be placed on their development. The ability to manage conflict is probably one of the most important social skills an individual can possess.


According to the Key Competence Framework, the entrepreneurship key competence refers to an individual’s ability to turn ideas into action. It includes creativity, innovation and risk taking, as well as the ability to plan and manage projects in order to achieve objectives. Include business and entrepreneurial skills in school curricula in order to equip students with a background in that area, making entrepreneurship less of an idea and more of a viable possibility for those students.

Entrepreneurship Education at School in Europe. [Eurydice]


Civic engagement is instrumental in building community awareness, teaching tolerance and cultivating socially conscious young people. Service learning should be integrated into K-20 education.


We must teach our youth to look for opportunities and that failure in pursuit of them is a learning opportunity and not a stigma to avoid at all costs. To help our students, we need to directly ask for academic risk-taking behavior (e.g. asking questions, dwelling in uncertainty, and advancing untried hypotheses) and identify it whenever we ask for it, so students know we perceive and value the challenges they face.

Teaching Risk-Taking in the College Classroom