My PLN: A Teacher’s Treasure

My Personal Learning Network is the key to keeping me up-to-date with all the changes that are happening in education and how technology can best support and engage today’s students.

As the current year draws to a close, I wanted to pay tribute to all the students, educators, and friends who have helped me over the years. However, if I were to try to name them all, the list would be lengthy and I would run the very real risk of forgetting to acknowledge someone. Rather, I thought … perhaps I might write about the importance of my PLN and how it has helped me become a better educator. I must admit that when I first heard the acronym PLN, I thought that it might refer to support nurses who had not as yet earned their R.N. degree. However, over time I realized that my Personal Learning Network (or PLN) would become a very important, and key, ingredient in my life-long learning.

As an educator, I have always learned best when preparing a lesson for students or a workshop for teachers. I wondered if there was a way to pay tribute to my PLN through a video remix project that other educators might be able to adapt for use with their students.

I thought that perhaps I might consider writing a song and incorporate it into a music video as a tribute to my PLN. You may recall that I had a brief fling at song-writing when I created my “ICT-rap”, which was shared in my earlier blog post entitled “Reflect, Review and Rap”. After listening to this creation, you can perhaps understand why I’m still an educator as opposed to a celebrity who signs million dollar record contracts.  However the task, at that time, was to illustrate how students might use technology and their creative talents to summarize and review a unit of study through a unique and engaging process.

Over the past year, I have been exposed to two different creative musical videos that have made a dramatic impression on me. Recently, I viewed the powerful and professional song “It Starts With Me” that Ryan Miller and the staff and students from Stevenson School created to promote the Digital We venture. Earlier this year, I also remember being motivated by Dean Shareski’s inspirational musical birthday tribute “Happy Birthday Alec Couros”, where he facilitated a unique collaboration of individuals who thanked Alec “for being a friend”. On reflection, I realize that I was first exposed to both of these remarkable musical celebrations through two different talented educators, who regularly share and are part of my PLN.

Realizing that I do not have the creative, musical talents of Ryan Miller, nor the video expertise that Dean Shareski demonstrates, I felt that I might try to tell a musical story and pay tribute to my PLN in a somewhat different manner.

 YouTube Video: “My PLN – A Teacher’s Treasure
(For those who cannot view YouTube videos,
alternate video files are available for download at the end of this post.)

To help educators adapt this musical video project idea for use with students in their classrooms, I will briefly identify the basic components and then provide additional information to explain each step in more detail.

  1. Pick a theme
  2. Create/find a tune
  3. Compose lyrics to tell your story
  4. Blend lyrics and melody into a song
  5. Select Creative Commons images
  6. Tell your story through technology
  7. Share your creation

1.    Pick a theme
I was motivated to pay tribute to students and teachers, and particularly, those in my PLN. On the other hand, students might decide to create a unit overview or showcase their musical and creative talents in a subject-related project. With the recent enthusiasm generated by Manitoba’s “We Day” and the “Digital We” contest, students may wish to demonstrate how they can make a change in their school, community or the world. I would encourage students to work in teams of two or three to collaborate on creating a song or music video.

2.    Create/find a tune
Admittedly, I am not a musical composer nor am I a great singer. Although I could perhaps create a tune with freeware musical loops, I considered attempting to find a melody that I could remix for my PLN project. With the festive season fast approaching, I wondered if there were any traditional Christmas carols whose tunes were now in the public domain. Melodies that were composed in the 18th or 19th century are no longer protected by copyright as they would now be in the public domain. In fact, I searched for “public domain music” and found the following list of “Public Domain Popular Songs Hits 1900 – 1920“. I was delighted to find that the “Colonel Bogey March” was listed in the public domain. Further research indicated that this popular tune was composed in 1914 by Lieutenant F.J. Ricketts, who as a British army bandmaster, created marches under the pseudonym Kenneth J. Alford. Older readers may remember this tune as it was whistled by British prisoners of war in the 1957 movie entitled “The Bridge on the River Kwai”. Perhaps viewing this movie’s trailer will jog one’s memory.

Teachable Moment: I had decided on this popular melody, which was free of U.S. copyright (or so I thought) because it was first composed before 1922. I found “The Colonel Bogey March“, played by the U.S. Navy Band, and downloaded the tune as an .mp3 file. Now that I had my tune component completed, I started creating lyrics and having fun as I created a story that I planned to share with students and teachers. In fact, I completed my musical video and had it converted to a YouTube format and starting writing this blog post when things started to unravel. First, I learned, upon a more in depth investigation, that Canadian copyright states that if the works were published before 1923, public domain occurs 50 years following the death of the composer. On the other hand, in England and the European Union, the works are protected under copyright for 70 years following the death of the composer. Since F.J. Ricketts passed away in 1945, the copyright in England would still be in effect for another four years and his march would only enter the public domain in 2015. However, what I failed to identify, during my initial brief investigation was that these past stipulations of works created before 1923, with public domain status occurring after 50 or 70 years following the composer’s death, apply only to music, lyrics and sheet music publications. In fact, Public Domain Info states that “there are NO sound recordings in the Public Domain in the USA and all sound recordings will remain under copyright until 2067.

I share my misfortune with students and educators so that you will not make this same mistake that I have in trying to “Find a Tune”. Rather, I urge students to avoid making music videos with popular songs (or even “old” songs that were created before 1923).  Use royalty-free music that can be legally download from sites such as ccMixter or Jamendo or better yet, create your own tunes and demonstrate your creativity.

3.    Compose lyrics to tell your story
Whenever I write poetry, I like to have the words in my verses rhyme appropriately. Likewise, when one uses a known or familiar melody, there is a tendency to want to follow the designated rhyme scheme. Often, I will hum the song to myself as I try a combination of words. Sometimes, I find it is better to play the .wav or .mp3 tune while composing lyrics, so that my words match the proper tempo and beat. For example, when trying to rhyme with the word “share”, I would go through the alphabet in order and list all possible rhyming words such as “bear”, “care”, “dare”, “fair”, etc. This rather time-consuming process was reduced considerably when I found the following two, indispensable rhyming tool web sites:

4.    Blend lyrics and melody into a song
Although Macintosh users will favour GarageBand as a popular music creation tool, I use the Audacity freeware audio editor which is available for Linux, Macintosh and Windows computers. If you are planning to use a previously created melody or a downloaded musical track, I recommend that Windows users set the following Audacity preference. Start Audacity, click on the “Edit” menu, and select “Preferences”. Under the “Audio I/O” tab, make certain to check off the option “Play other tracks while recording new one” and then press the “OK” button. This simple setting will allow users to listen to the background musical tune through earphones, while they sing and record the new lyrics or vocal track. Once the composition is blended, students can exhibit their creativity through remixing and adding a variety of effects to their musical creation. I’d recommend that students who create and share a song, also share the lyrics. An accompanying lyric sheet not only helps all audience members recognize all the words when listening but also helps listeners appreciate the the lyrical message and creativity demonstrated in the song-writing process.

5.    Select Creative Commons images to support your story (as required)
Although some students will be quite satisfied with the creation of a song, there will be others who want to blend images with their song to create the popular “music video”. In fact, pictures add so much interest to the story that I recommend students select Flickr images with Creative Commons licenses to enhance their message. It is recommended that teachers:

For example, to find the picture of the two people at the right, I entered the words “sharing hot dog” (without quotes) in the top search field on the Flickr “Advanced Search” page. I then checked off the “Photos/Videos” media type. Lastly, and most important, I checked off the bottom “Creative Commons” filter by selecting the two qualifiers to “Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content” and to “Find content to modify, adapt, or build upon” since I might possibly alter or remix the selected image.

I realize that student use of Flickr may be blocked by some school divisions. However, I would hope that educators would review, with students, the Creative Commons license types, how to search for such images, and stress that all images included in a video should be properly cited. Students who become engaged in such a project will use computers at home to search for Creative Commons images. Furthermore, if students plan to enter their music video in the “Digital We” contest (which closes March 14, 2012) and share their creativity, it is important that all components of the video be “free of copyright violations”.

A technique that I use whenever I am searching for possible images to include in a story is to use a word-processor to identify both potential images with their corresponding URL addresses. For example, if I think that I might use the above image, I would add it to my image list as “Couple Sharing Hot Dog:”. I can assure you that this process saves a great deal of time, particularly if you have already included a picture in your story and are now trying to find it again in order to provide the address link in the video “Credits”. Better to identify the picture with its source address and not use it, than waste valuable time attempting to locate the credit link later.

6.    Tell your story through technology
Once students have picked a theme and identified the audio and image components, they can then begin the assembly and blending of components to tell their story. Students, today, can tell their story through a variety of applications. Although I used PowerPoint, with specific, timed slide transitions, Alan Levine shares a powerful resource called “50+ Web 2.0 Ways to Tell a Story“. Alan, not only provides an alphabetical list with links to 50+ storytelling applications, he also organizes them by story categories. Teachers and students will find this resource to be very useful.

7.    Share your creation with others
I strongly believe in “leveraged learning”. By this I mean that we all learn and improve, by looking at, and examining, projects or stories that others have created. For example, I decided to include my refrain “1, 2, 3, 4, 5 … Learning everyday helps me survive … ” after I saw Ryan Miller’s video “It Starts With Me”. Ryan’s students chanted “1, 2, 3, 4 … I won’t sit back anymore … ” and I thought that this refrain added impact to their music video, so I adapted this idea. Likewise, students leverage and improve on tasks and projects when they have an opportunity to view similar endeavours. However, the key to facilitating “leveraged learning” is that we must share our creations in order to motivate and encourage others.

In closing, I would ask readers to click on the title of this blog post and then use the feedback comments form at the end to share links to creative songs, stories and/or musical videos that your students have created so that we may all improve.

Thanks for caring and sharing.

–   Flickr – Creative Commons image “Have you hugged your PLN today?”
by Corey Dahl –
–   Flickr – Creative Commons image “5/52 – Sharing a Lord of the Rings Dog
by kimncris –

Freebie Downloads:

Realizing that in some schools, students and teachers are blocked from viewing YouTube videos. To facilitate others viewing my music video tribute, I have provided my story in a variety of other formats.  These file variations are listed below, in order of increasing file size, so that readers may download and view a version which is appropriate for their environment:

Take care & keep smiling 🙂

This entry was posted in Activity, Food for Thought, Professional Development, Project, Reflection and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to My PLN: A Teacher’s Treasure

  1. There is so much “awesome” packed into this post!

    First, thanks for including me in the video. You may not get a multimillion dollar record contract but you, and the stuff you do, is priceless in my book.

    I love the way you not only shared your video (including multiple ways to access it) but also the process behind your creation. I felt like I was learning right along side you. I particularly appreciated the resources you discovered and shared like RhymeZone and Write Rhymes.

    While I know there are more ways to find CC images than you can shake a stick at recently I’ve found myself using compfight a lot. Type in a search term on the home page and click on Creative Commons on the left hand side of the page to filter out all the non-CC images.

    Google Image Search is another good resource if you access the advanced search which, after an initial search, can be found in the top right corner of the screen under the “gear” symbol. (I wish they made this more obvious.)

    It’s interesting to compare the results you get with the same search term (I used “math”; ;-)) with compfight and the Google Images Advanced Search.

    And Brian, you just have to sign up for the next incarnation of ds106 which begins next month. Alan is teaching a section of the course and you were made to be a part of it! My plan is to do at least one assignment in each category. I might use your idea here for my video project. Thanks for that. 😉

    Don’t ever let anybody tell you you’re anything less than awesome buddy.

  2. admin says:

    Darren .. You are an amazing role model! With the wealth of information that you have provided in your Comment, you clearly demonstrate how important it is for readers to peruse not only the post but also the related comments and resulting dialogue.

    Thank you for the positive and constructive comments. I stand in awe of the talent you display when you select “perfect” Creative Commons images to help your audience understand educational concepts in your engaging PD presentations. Having you take the time to provide a Comment “mini-lesson” on the image search comparison process you use, provides exceptional “added value” to my post.

    Furthermore, you undoubtedly have challenged me (and I hope other readers) to sign up for the next FREE ds106 learning opportunity starting in the Spring of 2012. You, indeed, continue to motivate me to become a life-long-learner.

    Thanks for caring and sharing.

    Take care & keep smiling 🙂 Brian

  3. Andy McKiel says:


    You never cease to amaze me 🙂

    I love everything about this post. The video itself is just fantastic, and the process that you’ve laid out so that anyone is able to replicate a project like this is brilliant. Not only that, but the incentive that you provide for others not just to create work, but to share it, is the icing on the cake.

    As always, thanks for sharing 😉

  4. admin says:

    Andy … Your comments on my music video project are very much appreciated! In fact, it is positive, constructive feedback that motivates me to continue to create and share educational ideas and resources. The quote below the above YouTube thumbnail (’cause who you know … is what you know) is so applicable in our case. I am so much richer, in my educational knowledge of how to engage learners using technology, because I know you … and most importantly, you are so willing to share.

    Take care & keep smiling 🙂 Brian

  5. Wow, Brian. I am honoured to be included as an influence with such incredible people as the others in your video. Thank you.
    You have included so much information in this post! Thank you for modeling sharing in such a creative way.
    You are so right that we are better because of the people we follow. I learn and grow daily because of all the people who willingly share what they are doing with me and the rest of the world.

  6. admin says:

    Kathy … Thank you for the kind comments. You are, indeed, an exemplary educator who I refer to whenever I wish to share creative and practical classroom-based resources with other primary educators. Two years ago, when I first started my blog, I wanted to showcase three exemplary educators in my blogroll to represent the three classifications in Canadian education. I linked to Darren Kuropatwa’s “A Difference” for Senior Years; Clarence Fisher’s “Remote Access” for Middle Years; and for Early Years, I linked to “Mrs. Cassidy’s Classroom Blog” to represent innovative technology-infused education at its best! Much later, I added your colleague Dean Shareski’s “Ideas and Thoughts” blog to complete my blogroll entries. Upon reflection, it is no coincidence that the four educators that I selected for my blogroll would become active participants and leaders in the first UnPlug’d Canadian Summit and publish an inspiring, free, book entitled “Why Blank Matters in Education” together with passionate, supporting video stories. We are all better educators and, indirectly, our students are better learners, because innovators like you have chosen to share.

    Thank you for caring and sharing.

    Take care & keep smiling 🙂 Brian

  7. Alan Levine says:

    “Sharing” what a meaningful and musical message you made here…. I have that song well placed in my head (better than the kids version I recall referring to the cleanser ‘Comet’).

    I am glad for the connection made now (via Darren the Connector) and your avid participating in ds106.

    Share the message!

  8. admin says:

    Alan … Your feedback means so much to me! Particularly knowing how busy you must be teaching a section of DS106 students as well as responding to the “free loaders” like me. I can’t thank “Darren the connector” enough for allowing me to participate and share in this DS106 learning community and to be mentored by passionate educators like you and Jim.

    Thanks for caring & sharing.

    Take care & keep smiling 🙂 Brian
    PS I just uploaded my “ReCaptcha” assignment with its interesting “back story” narrative about a leprechaun, a bubble and beer at:

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