More Mag, Less Blog: The Art of Music Practising

The Art of Practising

My mag article: The Art of Practising


The Art of Practising

In this blogpost, I would like to give a shout out to International School Parent Magazine who published a second article of mine:  The Art of Music Practising.

(Practising with an “S” is the American spelling)  😉

This magazine article is geared towards students studying music at an intermediate or higher level.  All music students and their parents know that they need to “practise” but what that means is not well understood.

Music practising at the intermediate and upper grades should be vastly different from when you were a beginner.

This magazine article is my way of summarizing all the strategies I’ve picked up about how to practise in my years studying music and also while teaching music.  Have a read and pass it onto a music student that you know!  They’ll find their practice-time a lot more productive and they’ll thank you!


Thanks for the shout-out on the front cover!

Thanks for the shout-out on the front cover!

Caption:  Thanks for the shout-out on the front cover!




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My Mag Article: The Maker Movement is Transforming Education

Made the cover!

Made the cover!


This is my 125th blogpost.  It’s been an incredible experience writing for a public audience in a blogging format.  Despite my affinity for many things “tech-related”, I must say there is nothing that compares to seeing your writing published in print :)

I’m proud to say that my article, “The Maker Movement is Transforming Education” was printed in the Autumn 2015 issue of the International School Parent Magazine.

I also have a second article about Music Education which I hope will appear in their next issue.

Thank you to Nick Gilbert, Editor & Publishing Director of the International School Parent Magazine, for sharing my writing.

ChezVivian MakerEd pg 1


ChezVivian MakerEd pg 2

So, you never know where your blogging journey will take you after the 100th post… :)


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Hack your Play-Doh with Squishy Circuits!

Squishy Circuits ChezVivian1

Christmas Holiday Fun!

During that lovely quiet period between Christmas and New Year’s is a great time to break out the toy kits and the table games.  There’s always a lot of lights twinkling in our home during Christmas and it seemed fitting to open up the Squishy-Circuit kit for a play.  I can’t imagine anything more fun than squishing colourful play-doh through your fingers and then lighting it up!


Micro-Controllers are making appearances in the school curriculum.  Most notably, the United Kingdom is giving each Year 7 child a free micro-controller called the Micro:bit to encourage interest in science and computing.  A micro-controller is a small programmable computer.  You attach it to your project to enable your project to “do work” or to be interactive.

One of the most well known micro-controllers in education currently is the Raspberry Pi:

Raspberry Pi Micro-Controller (small computer)

Raspberry Pi Micro-Controller


An example of a Raspberry Pi project in the classroom could be students building their own weather station to collect data for a science experiment.

Building an Electrical Circuit

So, before children can attach micro-controllers to their projects, they’ll need understanding and skills to build a working electrical circuit as that’s how they’re often attached.

They’ll need an understanding of the different types of circuits (series, parallel) in order to choose the one that works best for their project.

They’ll need a good understanding of how electricity flows (closed circuit) and what disrupts it (open circuit) because they’ll be a lot of trouble-shooting when it doesn’t work (short-circuit)!

Squishy-Circuits is a lovely way for early childhood (and older!) to learn about electrical circuits.

Squishy Circuit Kit ChezVivian

Squishy-Circuits Kit (The dough and alligator clips are mine and not included with the kit)


Et voilà! I found a tweet combining squishy circuits with a micro-controller.  This micro-controller is the Arduino.

Squishy-Circuit Kit

The Squishy-Circuit kit comes with large LEDS (lights) in several colours, a battery pack, two buzzers, and a motor.  Project ideas can be found on their website too.

Under the cover of the box are recipes to make conductive dough and insulating dough in your kitchen. The dough that you see pictured here is stuff I made.   I used Wilton icing colours to colour the conductive dough (allows electricity to pass through).  The colours come out WAY deeper and brighter than regular food colouring.  You also need insulating dough to separate the different pieces of conductive dough in your projects. Otherwise, you’ll get a short-circuit.   My insulating dough is the large beige-coloured ball to the left of the kit.  It has that strange colour as oil is one of the main ingredients.  I used olive oil, thus my dough took on that strange colour.  Water has minerals and electrolytes that increase conductivity, thus I had to limit water in my insulating dough and cooking oil is used instead.

I added alligator clips, regular Play-Doh, and Play-Doh toys to our workspace.  We discovered that regular Play-Doh is conductive, but not quite as conductive as what the recipe produces. (We used a multimeter to measure and compare the strength of the current flowing through the two.)

It was a huge amount of fun.  We just messed about.  It was entirely safe to play with.  The buzzers drove me crazy, but the kids loved it.  We attached a propellor to the motor and watched it whirl.   I wish Kindergarten was like this when I was in school! 😉

Squishy Circuits Workspace ChezVivian

Squishy Butterly ChezVivian

Electrical Circuits 101

Electrical Circuits 101

Take a look at the butterfly above. The electricity travels from the positive (+) side of the battery (in the battery pack) through the red wire and into the purple conductive dough (making it the positive side).  It then passes through the two LEDS, thus lighting them up. Then the electricity passes through to the other purple-side (negative-side) and then through the black wire and back into the battery pack to the negative (-)  side of the battery.  There, you have the closed circular circuit which is a working circuit.

Red is commonly used to denote positive.  Black is for negative.  The positive side is the point of highest electrical potential.  In a battery, that would be the (+) side. Positive is also called “power“.  The negative side is the point of lowest potential.  In a battery, that would be the (-) .  Negative is also called “ground“. Electricity flows from high to low and needs to make a complete circle.

We have the beige-coloured insulating dough in-between the two purple bits.  Insulating means that it doesn’t conduct electricity.   I need the insulating bit in-between the purple bits or otherwise the electricity would jump from the positive purple side (butterfly’s right wing) directly into the negative purple side (butterfly’s left wing).  It would bypass the LEDS and the LEDs would not light up.  Electricity wants to run the path of least resistance, thus it will bypass the longer route through the LEDs.  THAT is why it’s called a SHORT-circuit when it fails.  The electricity took a shorter route than you wanted it to.  :p

Squishy Circuits PlayDoh ChezVivian


Squishy Shark ChezVivian

Playing with variations on the wiring

More Squishy Circuits ChezVivian

More fun than probing your Christmas roast with a meat thermometer!


Police Car: siren, lights, motor (Click the speaker button on the vine to hear the siren.)


As I like to remind people, learning with technology doesn’t have to be staring at computer screens all day.  There are many ways to keep children playing in the sandbox and exploring with their fingers to learn about their world.  If you check out my blogposts tagged #TECHxture, you’ll find more examples.  Embedding programmable micro-controllers, sensors, or (in this case) electricity into children’s learning experiences levels up their learning, and levels up the fun.

Go on, now!  Squish your circuits and hack your play-doh! :)

What was your favourite activity while in Kindergarten?




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Program your holiday sweater!

Results of Code One.Gr

YouTube Preview Image

See my sweater in action in the above youtube clip.

It took a LOT of persevering, but I was finally successful at adding some “sparkle” to my sweater.  This was accomplished by sewing down a programmable micro-controller (an Arduino Floraboard) and LEDS (little light bulbs) using conductive thread to the sweater.  I also attached a motion-sensor.  I programmed the micro-controller to flicker the lights and to change the colours as the motion-sensor sensed changes in movement and direction.

I mentioned the teaching of Electronic Sewing (E Textiles or Soft Circuits) in Maker Education in an article I wrote for the International Student Parent Magazine: “How the Maker Movement is Transforming Education”   I was proud that it was also published in their hard copy magazine this past Autumn. :)


Micro-Controller (large circle) attached to the motion-sensor (small circle)

Micro-Controller (large circle) attached to the Motion-Sensor (small circle)

Conductive Thread

Conductive Threads

Trouble-Shooting with alligator clips and there was a LOT of trouble-shooting!

Trouble-Shooting with alligator clips and there was a LOT of trouble-shooting!

Programming the micro-controller

Programming the micro-controller

The “vine” below shows a test-run of the lights as it scrolls through all the colour possibilities and blink patterns:

I love the tactile sensation of sewing and working with fabric. It is an extraordinary feeling having my two worlds of sewing and technology collide like this.  I feel really chuffed—like I’m on the cutting edge of my art!

I’m looking forward to another year exploring ways to teach computer programming through the Arts and especially through Music and Textiles.

Hoping to add a lot more sparkle to my life and to others!

Happy 2016!


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Design Thinking: Final Thoughts, Looking Ahead



Markers for Design

Final Blogpost Question

Final Blogpost Question


Six weeks have flown by and my Eduro Design Thinking course is winding down.  The question for our last blogpost is

How do you plan to maintain momentum within your classroom/department/school around Design Thinking principles?


One big take-away from this course for me is that Design Thinking is about not having the answer “baked” into the question.  Teachers tend to have a pretty clear idea of what outcomes they want to see and feel that their job is to steer their students to their closest approximation of what they “see”as the best answer.   Design Thinking for the teacher is about “letting go” and letting questions pose themselves to students organically and the “answers” to the questions to be developed by the students in response.

For an example, Design Thinking would not ask students to build a better kitchen tool and work off a rubric to guide their design.  It would be more a question of designing a better cooking experience for people.  You don’t know what the solution looks like at the start.  You don’t even have a clear idea of what the problem is going to be!

The first step would be asking people what they wanted and then going from there.  This brings me to my second big take-away from the course:  Design Thinking is rooted in Empathy and the catalyst that sets the student off to “design” is wanting to help someone.

Sustaining Momentum

I think I will be able to sustain momentum around Design Thinking principles by questioning more why things are they way they are, and being open to big paradigm shifts regarding what solutions might “look like”.  Perhaps I can start my own “Design Thinking” notebook to jot down things I see and to challenge what I see by brainstorming some ideas for change or improvement, and noting them down.  Who knows?  Perhaps one of these might become the seed for real change and improvement in a system somewhere in the school.

The Starbuck Experience

I remember being so stunned and impressed by how Starbucks coffee changed the look of a coffee house.   I was equally amazed when the Chapters Bookstore chain started in Canada and they integrated the “Starbuck” experience into their bookstores.   (They made a bookstore feel like a Starbuck’s coffee house.)

During the Design Thinking course, I came across an account of a school that didn’t have room for a computer lab.  So, the solution was developed (through Design Thinking) to put the computers into the school cafeteria and to re-design the cafeteria to feel more like a Starbuck’s coffee house, where the students ate, but could also work on homework etc.

So, these are all pretty big shifts in look and feel, quite unexpected as compared to what one would usually expect.

I will try to remember that solutions may look really different from what I expect them to look!

Design Thinking Final Project

My final project for this Design Thinking course is a MYP Design & Technology Unit.  It’s a unit to explicitly teach students Design Thinking.  I envision it to be delivered near the beginning of the school year.  Afterwards, we could refer back to this unit as we moved forward throughout the rest of the year. Hopefully as a result, students would start incorporating Design Thinking elements and principles into the rest of their D&T units.

My Design Thinking Unit challenges students to “Build a Better Homeroom Experience”. I’ve been a secondary school homeroom teacher (many years ago) when my homeroom was a collection of students from every grade from Y7 to Y13.   The students stuck to sitting by the one or two classmates that were in their grade.  They ignored the rest as they were in different grades and therefore didn’t know them. You can imagine the huge differences that exist between Y7 and Y13 students!  Homeroom was a boring, tedious routine of attendance-taking and giving out school announcements.  It was an administrative activity and little more.   Once in awhile, teachers were asked to undertake some “team-building” activities but they fell pretty flat, because it felt contrived.  It felt contrived because it was contrived.

I wondered what solutions could be developed to address the disconnect.  Would it be possible to Build a Better Homeroom Experience?    In the unit, I challenge the students to come up with solutions that address as many of the 5 senses as possible:  seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching.

After I had fleshed out this six week Design Thinking unit, the light started to dawn on me what Design Thinking really is.

I’ve come a significant way from my early days in this course when I thought Design Thinking was the familiar Design Cycle that I already knew.

My Definition of Design Thinking

Design Thinking is a human-centred approach to solving problems.  It is rooted in empathy as its focus is helping people.  Solutions are generated after really listening to people. Quick prototypes are built based on our findings in order to get feedback.  We take the feedback and continue to refine the solution. This cycle continues with those we are helping, until we find a personalized solution to their problem.


Looking Ahead

I feel that this course has given me a broader understanding of what problem-solving in design can look like.  It has an obvious place in Design & Technology classes, Maker Education environments,  but it is also a way of looking at life, at people, and at problems that can be applied to a myriad of places.  I’m excited to add it to my growing list of ways to Inquire in the classroom.  It fits in well to the IB framework, as well, because one of the traits in the IB Learner Profile is Caring.   The empathy where Design Thinking is rooted is “caring” definitely.

It’s interesting to look at different frame-works as you see things from a different perspective and from ones that you didn’t even know existed.

I don’t think I’ll look at my environment or problems that I encounter in the same way, ever again.

Building ChezVivian

What is a pressing problem that you have, that you will address by Design Thinking?


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