Organ Crawls: The Ultimate School Field Trip

The only bad thing about being an organist is that you can’t take the King of Instruments with you. No cases, gig bags, or covers exist: you must travel to the instrument. That means you are in church a lot to practice, perform, or even to go on organ crawls.

St. Anne Church, Lowell, MA (K. Nollet, 2012)

Hook & Hastings organ at St. Anne Church, Lowell, MA (K. Nollet, 2012)

Organ crawls are tours through the insides of pipe organs to see how they work and to appreciate each instrument’s unique beauty. I learned to play on a tracker (meaning mechanical note action, as opposed to electronic) organ, the kind featured in organ crawls.

Note that organ pedalboards are arranged like keyboards. St. Anne Church, Lowell, MA (K. Nollet, 2012)

Note that organ pedalboards are arranged like keyboards. St. Anne Church, Lowell, MA (K. Nollet, 2012)

Going inside this organ was like going inside a unique house. Built in 1889 by Woodbury and Harris (not pictured), the organ had a huge, old-fashioned bellows that had since been electrified.

One day the power went out during a service, so a tenor ran inside the organ to hand pump the bellows as I played. Otherwise, there’d have been no air and no sound.

Science, technology, engineering, math teachers, unite! Get with the art and music teachers and take your students on an organ crawl—a free field trip that you can walk to if you’re lucky.

Walk and Talk in Nature’s Classroom

Have you tried the “walk and talk” approach to student discussions?

Walk and talk works wherever you are. (Nollet, 2009)

Walk and talk works wherever you are. (Nollet, 2009)

Pair up students to discuss a concept you’re teaching. Take them outdoors—into nature’s classroom—for a brief walk, during which they’ll discuss and analyze the topic, with the mission of increasing their depth of understanding.

Upon return, ask them to write a short piece evaluating what they learned from their partner.

Connecting with fresh air, sky, and earth have a way of tossing around our minds and mixing in a new perspective. When you teach students the benefits of refreshing themselves outdoors—walking, talking, listening, noticing—you introduce them to a new place to think, to reflect, and to be.

Our Boston Marathon

Our Boston Marathon is a glorious celebration every Patriot’s Day in Massachusetts.

Four time Boston  winner and famed American runner  Bill Rodgers (K. Nollet, 2014)

Four time Boston winner and famed American runner Bill Rodgers (K. Nollet, 2014)

Although I’m not a runner, the Boston Marathon has always been a rite of spring. In childhood, my father and I watched runners on Rt. 135, across the street from Tasty Treat in Ashland. I played the national anthem at the start as a member of the Hopkinton High School marching band. My family has hosted runners. Last year my father, a 90-year-old World War II vet, was honored at the starting line.

The Boston Marathon offers a spectacular teaching and learning opportunity for every teacher. You can practically invent a unit on the spot, both high interest and Common Core compliant.

The Boston Marathon includes every runner. (K.Nollet, 2014)

The Boston Marathon includes every runner. (K.Nollet, 2014)

Length, time, world and course records are just the beginning of the mathematics embedded in it. Runners’ compelling stories make excellent writing topics; an entire section of The Boston Globe pulls a unit together with reading articles, graphs, maps, and charts.

Runners arrive from all over the world, an excellent geography lesson. The Marathon’s history is rich in tradition, both Olympic and Boston. However, when we teach history to students, the darker stories are part of an honest picture.

What makes people cheat? In 1980, Rosie Ruiz  jumped in near the finish and was initially claimed the winner.

Why were women excluded from Boston Marathon until 1972? Jock Semple tried to physically push Katherine Switzer out of the race.

Elite runners have a separate start. (K. Nollet, 2014)

Elite runners have a separate start. (K. Nollet, 2014)

Why did the Tsarnaev brothers plant two bombs that killed 3 and injured over 260? This event still feels acutely fresh to us Bostonians, who have been watching the current trial.

A moment of silence occurs at 2:49 p.m. today, “One Boston Day,” observing the second anniversary of that event.

National Library Week

Public libraries have been around since Benjamin Franklin donated over a hundred books to the town of Franklin, MA, about forty minutes away from me.256px-Benjamin-Franklin-U.S.-$100-bill I grew up around libraries, even worked in one, studied in many, and built my classroom library through constant scrounging as well as donations from families.

One of my earliest memories is of my mother taking me to the library, a weekly pilgrimage to a squat brick building downtown. Inside, opaque glass block windows cast a creepy gray-green light that I’ve never forgotten.

Children weren’t allowed in the adult stacks back then, which presented a problem for fluent readers. I wasn’t the only child who reached a no-man’s-land when I finished reading the children’s books. But my mother, who’d been a teacher, spoke to the head librarian, who reluctantly granted permission for me to borrow from the adult collection. My love of reading blossomed from there.

What role have libraries played in your life?

What’s the K in Köchel 331?

In the mid-nineteenth century, Austrian botanist Ludwig von Köchel catalogued all of Mozart’s works, which the composer did not date or number consecutively. K. (Köchel) numbers are similar to Op. (opus) numbers. They help musicians distinguish one piece from another—for example, which Sonata in G is it?—and at what point in Mozart’s life the piece was composed.

Play this selection from Sonata in A, K. 331 for your students today. Many will recognize the melody of Rondo Alla Turca. What better way to start the day for your students than with 4 minutes of Mozart?

Restorative Justice in School

Teenager Jon swore at his teacher, threw a notebook at her, and when told to report to the principal, he bumped his shoulder into hers as he left.

What do you think should happen to Jon? Punitive action, a call home to notify his parents, in-school suspension, out of school expulsion?

ScalesHow about restorative justice? Lots of schools have implemented such programs to hold students accountable for their actions, to show them the harm they’ve inflicted on others, and to make reparations. Restorative justice follows a protocol—no loosey-goosey conversation here—and takes time and commitment to establish.

A student like Jon may have big problems in his life that cause him to act out. It is a school’s (and a family’s) responsibility to teach Jon how to think, to examine his actions, to apologize, and to make reparations.

Research shows that the brain can be rewired well into adulthood.  Every parent, leader, and teacher should lobby their school for restorative justice programs. A teenager’s future is worth it.

I Whistle a Happy Tune

When is the last time you sang or whistled this song? It’s from The King and I, an Oscar and Hammerstein award-winning musical. In it, teacher Mrs. Anna Leonowens sings it to her son, so he won’t feel afraid as they reach the Kingdom of Siam.

Something about whistling puts people in a good mood and boosts confidence.  You can’t argue with “I whistle a happy tune/And ev’ry single time/ The happiness in the tune/Convinces me that I’m not afraid.”

Here’s a karaoke version for you to sing and whistle along with piano accompaniment.  Be sure to use it and share it today.




Thanks to jennahxmai on YouTube.



Hummingbirds Hatch

Lots of people watch hummingbirds at their backyard feeders. But watching their ½” eggs hatch is fascinating.

My local birding store turned me on to Bella and I can’t stop watching. Your students won’t either.

Here’s a science unit that will last a few weeks. Tune in to this site and your students will be immediately engaged.

Have students journal their observations and the questions they discover. That alone will teach them more than any science text could.

The Lowell Goat’s Tale

A good community story engages readers of all ages, especially when it’s about an escaped animal. Our area had one: the Lowell Goat who escaped slaughter by fleeing from its Tewksbury, MA farm. The goat went on the lam.

Photo by Frank Peabody, Lowell Sun, 12/29/14

Photo by Frank Peabody, Lowell Sun, 12/29/14

The Lowell Sun started a hilarious Twitter feed from the goat. No kidding. A Go Fund Me campaign raised money for his life post-capture. A Facebook page appeared on the goat’s behalf and gained around 1,000 followers.

Throughout January, we read of his sightings. Puns and clever turns of phrase posted about the Lowell Goat ranged from “getting your goat” to “you goat what it takes.” Goat jokes, Photoshopped pictures, videos, and clever comments even attracted local CBS affiliate. Police and animal rescue from other towns teased local police about their abilities as goatbusters.

Even the Dorchester Coyote weighed in.

What strikes me is the wonderful humor people display during a story like this. It unites us into a family, a community, a gathering of imaginative souls. People of all ages smile and maintain a balance of concern for the goat (safely captured) and funny observations, which I believe shows the best of humanity.

The Grade of F

Did you ever receive an F on your schoolwork? It meant you failed, utterly. Written in red pen in your teacher’sIMG_3680 impatient hand, it was accompanied by the uneasy message See Me on the top of the paper.

Perhaps your teacher handed the papers back in order of grades from A to F, with the Fs at the bottom of the pile. As if failure wasn’t bad enough, a measure of public shaming came with it.

Teachers today know better. We know moreIMG_3681 about how children learn and that there are many different ways to learn. Teachers don’t use red pens any more because they convey shame. And if your child attends a more progressive school, they aren’t labeled as academic failures. They are “Just Beginning” to grasp a concept.

Just Beginning is far more useful assessment, I think, because it conveys a range of understanding. We know the student will understand with a different approach, continued encouragement, and practice.

Consider it.