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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Gift Giving...

Lessons Learned

Once Upon A Birthday

February birthdays in the Midwest will typically be wrapped in soft white mountains of snow, bone-chilling temperatures, and icicles, all necessitating multiple layers of flannel and wool stuffed under large, toasty, though quite unflattering stadium coats. This year was no different. It was birthday morning and already this teacher’s inbox was filled with lovely, warm words of blessing and friendship and kindness and love; words and happy wishes of deep and precious value, humbling, but making glad this teacher’s heart. A perfect start to a birthday. With coffee in hand, iced snowflakes painting the windows, and slippered feet propped comfortably upon a chair, the birthday teacher followed some early morning reading with a bit of fleece scarf tying. Knowing that a birthday morning meeting would bring this teacher to a downtown neighborhood where countless many would be acutely feeling the effects of the sub-zero temps, the thought of bringing a large pile of fleece scarves to a nearby bus stop seemed the right and perfect birthday gift to give.  With more than two dozen scarves folded and stacked chin high, the birthday teacher entered the bus stop shelter and placed them on the bus waiting bench. A gentleman approached to wait for the bus and the teacher encouraged him to be warm and take a scarf. He didn’t speak, but as the teacher left for the downtown meeting, the gentleman wrapped a fleecy blue plaid scarf around his neck.  The gift of giving is such a precious heart-filling gift. It indeed was a happy birthday.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


Lessons Learned

Teachers Pay Teachers Became An Answer

In 1981, a Master Teacher, who was my cooperating teacher, offered a thought-provoking question and subsequent challenge, that in answering and accepting, completely set the trajectory of my teaching for the next 30 years. She inquired, “What is your passion?” And immediately chased this query with the bold assertion, “Because it will take all you have and are and believe in and will sacrificially pour yourself into to reach these desperately at-risk students.” I love music. I love to write music and play music. “Perfect,” she nodded. “Then music it is. We will teach them to learn by inspiring them with music.” The children helped me write lyrics which became songs, their songs. Their songs contained their words and those words became sight words and gradually but with never-ending zeal, we learned to read their songs. In learning to read their songs, they learned to read. We sang. We learned. We reveled in the wonderment of learning. They taught me the power and the joy of using music to help students engage with content. From then on and for the next 30 years, I have seen over and over and over again, the power and the joy of sharing music to support and enhance all curricular content.  Through the years, my wonderful, courageous students have basked in the blissful and confidence evoking fun of music to learn. Even Bloom and Gardner, I believe, would have smiled broadly upon the highly creative, wildly engaging musical academics occurring day after day. Beautiful! Now, so very many years later, however,  hundreds and hundreds of songs written through all of these years to support learning have remained unscored and consequently un-sharable, inaccessible, and  stashed on a shelf, for in the flurry of  life and living as a teacher and a mom, taking precious time to learn to score music was of lowest priority. The songs remained packed in my memory with lyrics scribbled on loose sheets of paper in tattered, well-worn folders. With retirement last June came a gift of time; time to learn to score music and time to learn to share music. But where? Then came the strong suggestion of Teachers Pay Teachers, a brilliant online marketplace for the buying and selling of excellent and highly creative  educational resources, as well as a fabulous network of support, encouragement, and help for all educators. So last mid-September, Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT) became the home of my new “music to learn” store called, One Arts Infusion Collaborative, and step by step, note by note, I am learning to transcribe those songs that have been swirling and dancing in my mind for an entire career.  TpT has provided a forum, a venue, a storefront, a chance for the previously inaccessible to be shared.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Teachers, Homeschoolers: Here Is An Interesting Learning Application For An MP4 File...

What Do I Do With An mp4 File?
By Darcy Hill of One Arts Infusion Collaborative at Teachers Pay Teachers

One Arts Infusion Collaborative, a Teachers Pay Teachers Store, has received numerous questions about learning applications for an mp4 file. Here is the learning situation that originally necessitated the creation and utilization of specific mp4 files for our school. And following the great success of this experience, we have proceeded to use this method of “sharing is abstentia” over and over and over again with delight and fabulous results.

We wrote a musical play about our city’s history to be rehearsed and performed by 50 4th graders from our school at our city’s grandest, most historic theater. We engaged the support and involvement of 25 local organizations and ethnic dance groups and amateur photographers, encouraged the collaboration of another local school, invited 2,000 local 3rd grade students to this free performance about our city’s history and our shared story, and then raised money to make all of this happen. As we wanted the 2,000 school children guests to be able to join us in singing the grand finale musical number, yet we knew that we could not physically visit each 3rd grade classroom at each school, nor gather all of the schools’ music teachers and teach them, we were encouraged by all involved to make an mp4 file of the song with the lyrics on it for each 3rd grade classroom teacher and permission to share it with students and their families, for each music teacher,  for each of our own performing students, and for all of our collaborating partners. The song traveled through classrooms, through homes, through local organizations, appeared on cell phones, smartboards, ipads, and  in computer labs which allowed for thousands of neighbors to learn it so that during our grand finale, everyone could sing along and feel the powerful esprit de corps of belonging to the community known as home.

It’s so easy. It’s so fun. It’s such a fabulous way to share and learn and be connected.  Since that first experience in our city, we have posted many, many, many mp4’s to share with all sorts of classrooms, on all sorts of topics. This allows technology and music to build bridges of friendship and learning between neighbors both nearby and very far away.  And in our city, one ravaged by a tough economy,  high unemployment, and neighborhood violence, we have needed and longed for hope, trust, friendship, connection, and community self-esteem enhancement. This project helped. Does your community need this?

At my Teachers Pay Teachers store, you may download the FREEBIE mp4 file for “Caterpillar Walked,” a short, sweet song about a caterpillar, a cocoon, and a butterfly. This song is bundled together with this explanation of mp4’s.  It  is beautifully suited for Pre-K, K, 1, and 2, and was written especially to accompany units or lessons about new life.  Please try out “Caterpillar Walked” (as a FREEBIE) with your students. I hope you will find it exciting and fun and that you come back often, then, to peruse other suitable mp4 options to support your curriculum. I can/will, per special request, also custom-write a song to enhance your curricular content. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Only When the Snow Flies...

Lessons Learned

Embrace the Winter

Out the back door of our home in the country was a gigantic hill covered with trees, bushes, and berries of various sorts, and wandering circuitously through them all were paths, some secret and some not as secret. These paths were the routes to countless adventures upon which the children, grandchildren, Labrador Retrievers, and other friends would meanderingly rove throughout all four very distinct seasons of the year. But one particular path contained no winds or bends; it was stick straight. It was the fastest way to the bottom of the hill, and it was the winter season’s path of choice among the crowd of adventurers. It was the toboggan run, this path that was carved straight down through the trees. Upon this path, upon the toboggan, the riding team could quickly gain enough speed to send the forested world whizzing past in a white and chilly blur of excitement. With dogs frolicking and barking, pig-tails and snow wildly flying, raucous laughter rippling among the woods, and several evel knievel cousin toboggan drivers taking turns at the helm, time danced away on the wintery breeze for these rosy-cheeked adventurers on the back of the toboggan. Once through the trees that hugged the steep, straight path, the toboggan would burst out full-steam into the vast open field that rolled in gentle downward waves across twenty acres.  Hanging on to each other  fiercely yet hilariously with woolen-mitted hands, carefully keeping all appendages tucked safely and streamliningly onboard, the esprit-de-corps riders enthusiastically chased the previous riders’ path hoping beyond hope to exceed their distance record. Then together, with all woolly hands on the rope, the rider team, knee deep or more in snow, would lug the beloved toboggan back to the hilltop for another greatly anticipated run by another anxiously awaiting rider team.  Over and over and over and over again we learned to play, to share, to help, to be on a team, to love the outdoors, to take turns and be glad for each other, to drive, to ride, and that laughter and cousins and winter are another perfect recipe for awesomeness.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

19 years ago...

Lessons Learned

Valentine, The Gift of Time Is A True Gift of The Heart

Twenty four hours. In the pediatric unit of a hospital. Any time spent here with your child for a reason other than visiting someone else is equivalent to eternity. RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, was the diagnosis for my nine month old. His breathing was raspy and labored and the discomfort his little body felt from this struggle left him so very restless and irritable. My heart ached watching him fight this insidious enemy as in his hospital crib he attempted to sleep tethered to wires and monitors. With permission, I lifted him from the foreign, strange-feeling crib and cradled him in my arms where rest and a bit of sleep more easily came.  All night long, I prayed over this angel in my arms, as the excellent but stretched-way-too-thin medical staff frantically ran from room to pediatric room tending monitors and needs. Between RSV and the Rotavirus, on that particular night during that particular year, every pediatric bed was filled, and sick, hospitalized children were filling beds in other units. Two children died.  Rocking and praying my son through the night, there was peace in our little room despite the overwhelming  and overarching anxiety  wrapped around a stay such as this. The hospital night in that pediatric unit was noisy with the cries of children whose bodies were in tremendous distress and I wept for them through the night as their painful, fearful cries went on. I asked our nurse why their parents were not allowed to hold these children to calm their little bodies? Their parents were not able to stay the night, for circumstances and reasons that demanded they not stay. These little ones cried and cried alone, and I cried wishing I had more arms and more time to hold and rock and pray over these other precious lives struggling with sickness.  Sometimes there simply is not enough time to do all that we need to do because life is busy and hard and full of choices that frequently leave you feeling that none of the options are really that wonderful. Perhaps this is the place where we need to step in for one another and fill in those gaps with our time. We all have hands and hearts and arms to hold and rock. We all have bits of time here and there that we could offer up to help. All we really need is a desire to do something about the cries filling the hallway.  

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Quiet. Stillness. Peace. Winter.

Lessons Learned

Winter’s Lesson

Winter has arrived here. That wise, celebrity groundhog has proclaimed and affirmed what we all unquestionably know will be the case; another six weeks of wintry weather. It is winter, and our world is frozen, hushed, and cloaked in shimmering whiteness.  The snow is deep and has been swept into impassable drifts along both highways and country roads. The whistling wind sneaks into homes through unseen cracks supremely taxing even the heartiest of furnaces and demanding multiple layers of woolen sweaters and fleecy blankets for all inhabitants. It is winter. Rosy cheeks, piping hot homemade soup, and fireplaces a’blaze are the order of the day, and we smile for each delicate, unique snowflake that lands gently on a tongue.  Although the wintry conditions are certainly extreme and undeniably dangerous, there is a stillness and a peace and a wonder-filled beauty about the snow.  It’s a sparkling, chilly blanket that frosts the landscape like a fluffy dollop of butter cream frosting atop a scrumptious cupcake.  To stand outside in the snow, to walk in it, to traverse it in snowshoes or skis is to understand the stillness of it, which without the experience of it is completely indescribable. The chaos and cacophony of life at its outrageously presto pace, in its constant stereophonic dissonance, with its hyper-stimulation of lights, colors, and images can indeed numb the senses with all of its uber-overdoneness.  How can we be still? How can our children understand peace? How can we learn to quiet our hearts and rest our souls? Beneath a blanket of snow, the earth sleeps for an entire season, animals hibernate, and farmers move indoors and rest their fields.  In the stillness of the winter, the stars in the night sky seem to twinkle with greater intensity, the creaking and humming sounds of the forest are seemingly amplified, and if far enough north, the glory of the northern lights dancing across the heavens in surreal technicolor splendor is beyond breath-taking. In stillness there is infinite room for creativity and imaginative pensivity because those things that crowd and clutter our lives and bring much noise are delightfully absent. When there is stillness or peace around, it feels somehow easier to find a quiet place within. As we warm our hands during the coldness of this winter, may we be reminded to also quiet our hearts, for in the quietness, in the stillness, in the peace there is a longed for and much needed joy, comfort, rest, and restoration.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Each Chapter of Life Has A Learning Curve...

Lessons Learned

Keep Learning

After thirty years as an elementary teacher, the time had come for a change. Changes in family circumstances, changes in perspective, changes in health, changes visible and invisible, changes subtle and changes huge, none of which are particularly comfortable or comforting, all drive the move into a new chapter.  Life is change, really, and each new chapter comes with significant blessings and trials, smooth water and rough through which we must faithfully and fearlessly navigate. I am thankful that I walk with God and that He holds me up, for I know that on my own I would crumble. So one plunges into the deep end of a new chapter, and with that comes most assuredly a restructuring of a daily schedule. Perhaps more available time, perhaps less, but in any event, it is accompanied by a need to re-establish time priorities. In my case, a bit of time became free, and with that acknowledgement came a plethora of choices. As a teacher, one recognizes the critical importance of remaining forever a perpetual learner, because seeking to more fully understand and comprehend in any and all arenas of knowledge, keeps one’s mind sensitive and sharp. Hmmmm, what to do? Well, from the time I was about fifteen years old, I have been writing melodies and filling those melodies with poetry on one topic or another. Hundreds of songs, written on scraps of paper, cafe napkins, inside the back cover of old textbooks, and filling pages of piles of composition notebooks, have spilled from my heart onto paper of one type or another but have never made it to transcription on musical staff paper. Written down lyrics with the melodies locked for forty years in my mind has surely resulted in countless forgotten and lost songs, but what about now? So in some widows of newly available time, with staff paper, a pencil, and many erasers in hand, I have begun the arduous, albeit rewarding, task of attempting to unlock and transcribe melodies, of attempting to learn how. Note by note over endless hours, recalling, playing and re-playing, referring to the formatting of already published music, I learned and practiced simple, very simple transcription and began for the first time to see the music that had only previously swirled in my mind and heart. Page upon page of children’s music, simply written, has emerged. Music that had been specifically written to enhance and support curricular content, to provide opportunities for multi-modal instruction, and to engage higher level questioning and deeper level thinking was now on the paper before me. It is a bit overwhelming, probably not dissimilar to meeting someone for the first time after hearing about that individual for years and years. There is much more learning to occur and much more music to transcribe, but it has begun. Stuffing it in the piano bench upon completion seemed unsuitable and maybe somewhat wasteful, so subsequently, I have opened an online Teachers Pay Teachers Store to sell it, to share it. My store is called One Arts Infusion Collaborative, and gradually I will fill its cyber shelves with scores of children’s educational sheet music forty years in the making.