What’s Your Favorite Music to Listen to While Studying?

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/79/Minor_pentatonic_blues_scale_on_A.pngAlthough my full-time gig is in education, I’m also a musician and music lover who appreciates a wide array of genres: hip hop, blues, new age, rock, jazz & classical, in no particular order. And while I have some bad habits (namely, listening to C-Span in the background while writing and preparing lessons), I know that there’s only a few types of music that I can let play in the background while doing things that are academic in nature. So let me take a second to turn off Brian Lamb (while you turn off Black Sabbath) and I’ll share with you a list of my favorite types of music to play when it’s time to work. Count-off a 1, a 2, a 1, 2, 3, 4!

  1. New Age on Calm Radio

This is a big, expansive genre that ranges from traditional piano music and single instrument showcases to atmospheric & outer space synthesizer sounds. The idea is simplicity; calm and relaxing sounds that just ask that you hear them while focusing on your academic task at hand.  Recommendation: in my humble opinion, George Winston is the greatest living piano player on Earth and can a play a little something for everyone, whether its the Doors, Vince Guaraldi, religious classics or his own originals that attempt to express seasonal themes. Check George Winston out delivering this incredible live performance below.

  1. Classical music on my music library

Go to any public library or Half Priced Books store and you can borrow or buy all the classical music you’ll ever need on a collection of CDs for anywhere between free to a couple bucks a piece. Vinyl collectors can find a slew of great selections for cheap also. Recommendation: While I’d stay away from Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov for the purposes of academics (often very loud and anxious horn orchestrations), Felix Mendelssohn comes to mind as a go-to. I’m also a fan of Franz List, whose piano tracks can be utterly upbeat and motivating.

  1. Blues on TuneIn

You might have noticed at this point that I tend to avoid vocals and lyrics when studying or preparing. Well, this is my exception to the rule. TuneIn provides a lot of great radio stations across the U.S. and the globe, whether terrestrial or internet stations, and blues is one of my favorite offerings. I turn to shows like “Confessing the Blues”, “Blues After Hours” & the “Blues Connection”, especially when I’m working under the moon. The reason I can listen to the genre, as opposed to others with singing and lyrics, is the call and response nature of the music, and because the whole experience of blues cuts deep to my soul, and complements the efforts I’m putting into my work for the benefit of my students. Recommendation: Albert Collins…pure genius!

  1. Gregorian Chant on Calm Radio

I came across this gem of the meditative music world a few years ago while living in the Northern Neck of Virginia. It was also around the time that I had discovered Calm Radio. Its origins trace back to the 9th and 10th centuries in western and central Europe where choirs of men and boys sang sacred songs as part of the ceremonies of the Roman Catholic Church. I find that the songs help me relax, read and write. Take a listen.

Honorable Mention:

Jazz music, with one caveat: like other genres, some of it tends to be distracting, so tread lightly or know the band or musician well. I like the Crusaders, the incredible Bob James and for those looking for a more recent contemporary, check out Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band.

I hope you enjoyed this list. That said, I’d love to add to my repertoire, so please add your suggestions and comments below. Keep reading, and keep listening. Merry Christmas!

Great Websites for Social Studies Teachers

Every teacher has their personal favorites when it comes to websites and resources online that help them hone their craft. As a social studies teacher who is always trying to improve his lessons and courses, I’ve come to rely on a few websites that are definitely worth checking out:

USHistory.org – This is a free collection of online textbooks for social studies. There is a U.S. History, Ancient Civilizations and American Government textbook. I use it mainly for my online courses and tutoring, however, I can also see how this website would be useful in a traditional setting when students go to their school library or use technology in the classroom & do research for a project.

UH – DigitalHistory – This website from the University of Houston provides an extraordinary collection of primary sources, digital stories, public domain images, timelines, lesson plans and more for both teachers and students. There are written historical overviews for every major American historical era since the first Americans (pre-Columbus), and each era contains links to and passages about the documents, events, people, music, film, and images that are related. It’s the motherlode of social studies content!

Quizlet – When I’m short on time, but need to be ready for an upcoming lesson, I use Quizlet and its myriad of both teacher and student created flashcards. It helped me remediate my civics students in Virginia, and it allows students to take the learning into their own hands when you provide iPads in a small group setting.

It contains a pretty intuitive set of activities: learn, flashcards, matching, write, spelling and test. It does contain one hiccup: when using the learn or test activity, student answer choices can become quite obvious, e.g. What’s the distance a Phoenician ship could say in a day? A) 30 miles, B) Carthage, C) King Minos, or D) 60,000? However, that aside, it’s a priceless resource for social studies teachers.

That’s all for now. I’ll continue to update this post as more great resources are added to my repertoire. Have any suggestions? Leave a comment below, and sign up for our free newsletter to receive more social studies teaching tips.

Due Dates For Online Courses: Should They Exist?

Recently I had an online student (unrelated to Beacon Heights Tutoring) who mildly complained when she found out that my course included due dates. In her message, she explained that she had taken other courses online, and with her busy schedule, she loved that she could work at her own pace; so it was a big disappointment when she realized that my course was different. I politely responded to the student’s message by pointing out that, for many years, I allowed students to turn in late work without a penalty or reduction in credit, but that the task of grading the work of students playing “catch up” at the last minute had taken its toll; the policy had become unfair to me and my time. Still, the girl’s point had resonated with me.

I asked my mother-in-law, a retired, veteran teacher, for her take on the issue. Not having due dates “doesn’t teach them a lick of responsibility!” I agreed, but explained how I had taken a college course with a professor whose argument for accepting late work was: the work doesn’t get any easier, so why wouldn’t a teacher accept it?

Let me be clear: I believe that middle school and high school students who take courses online should have some flexibility. Self-paced learning is an effective model. However, my current policy matches that of the organization I work for: keeping assignment submissions open for 2 weeks after they become available. That’s hardly a short amount of time for, at best, a few hours of studying and work. Furthermore, the organization has left the decision of whether or not to accept student work after this window up to the discretion of the teacher; it’s based on the philosophy adopted by the educator.

Honestly, I’m still on the fence when it comes to this issue. Part of me feels that self-paced learning is still in effect in tandem with due dates. After all, students in a regular classroom have to turn in work on time, but they don’t have the liberty of missing live lectures (direct instruction), or pausing a teacher’s presentation until late in the evening. Not to mention, what is a student really learning when they check-in an online class irregularly? Is it not just another version of the late-night-book-report cram?

Whether you are an educator or not, I’m interested in your comments. Please leave them below.