Pianos incorporated into blended learning

Along with traditional subjects, Noel Elementary School is giving students a chance to tickle the ivories through blended learning stations.

Blended learning is a teaching model tailored to individual students “where students learn based on their own gifts and gaps. It leverages individual student data and focuses on growth,” the district website says.

Noel Principal Jennie Chavez said they incorporated enrichment labs to give students a chance to find different interests. Music teacher Chris Munoz decided to try pianos out. The 16 instruments arrived in August and he hopes another five will arrive soon from Milam Elementary, the fine arts magnet.

“He’s also incorporated blended learning in music, in his regular music classes,” Chavez said.

There are stations just like in the classrooms and 45-minute blocks to sit at the piano.

“I really give children a different way to learn from all these different stations,” Munoz said.

On a recent Thursday, he was teaching students about the grand staff using different approaches.

“And so we’re talking about the grand staff at each one of these stations, but in different ways, so the hope is that one of those ways is the way the kid really is able to grasp that concept,” Munoz said.

Chavez said Munoz started from the basics such as how to sit at the instrument and where your hands go on the keys.

“I’ve come in at the beginning of the year where he’s starting off with the basics and the foundation of just how to sit correctly and to this date he has a student who can play an entire song,” she added.

Chavez said the program gives students chances they might not get normally.

“Most of the kids have never even seen a piano before,” Munoz said. “I probably had one in the corner in previous years, but actually sitting down and playing at a piano, this is the first time these kids have experienced it and also in our district. Right now, Noel Elementary, besides Milam, is the only campus that has a piano lab … So, it’s a great opportunity for students of Noel Elementary.”

Chavez said parents are excited, as well.

“We’ve posted some pictures on social media with our Facebook and things like that. The kids, of course, go home and talk about it and the parents are really excited; just the comments that they’ve posted, the feedback that we’ve gotten from parents they’re really excited,” Chavez said.

“He (Munoz) was telling me today how students love to come to music. … He felt like he’s always competed against PE; you know how the kids love to go to PE; now they love to come to music, so it’s great,” she added.

Noel has about 436 students in grades three through five.

This is Munoz’s fourth year at the campus.

His previous experience working with professional orchestras gave him the idea to try piano stations.

“… I worked with different piano competitions, the (Van) Cliburn (International Piano) Competition in Fort Worth and just seeing what how the piano is able to spark such an interest, and of course you start looking at SAT grades, things like that and they’re just amazing when the student has played piano in their life,” so he thought it was something that should be added.

“One of my main goals here is that every student, hopefully, will continue in fine arts when they go on to middle school,” Munoz said.

A third-grader who learned the first complete song has been an inspiration to the other students. Now they want extra time to learn pieces.

“Everyone wants to be the second one,” Munoz said.

Chavez said Munoz has a routine for students before they sit down where they sanitize their hands, for example.

“They understand how special it is. I’ve told them that we’re one of the only campuses in Odessa that has this, so they all want to treat the pianos properly. They want to make sure that they’re here for a long, long time for future generations so they’re taking their own pride in that. Every time we’re done, they’re turning off the pianos, they’re closing the lid. … No drinks or anything are allowed in this area. They’re all following the rules,” Munoz said.

Chavez said Munoz has an honor choir, which not all elementary campuses do.

Munoz said he’s hoping to have a full recital something in the spring and bring in a “real piano,” into the cafeteria or gym, like a baby grand. He said students are currently using mini or digital pianos.

They are hoping the COVID numbers come down so the performance can be live, although Munoz has live streamed them.

Chavez said she has noticed the difference blended learning and the pianos have made in academics.

“… They like that personalization, but then they also like that we’ve incorporated enrichment labs and they have that … rotation in their schedule where in the morning they have a turn to come to a different enrichment lab. It’s not the same one. … They know the routine now. They’re going to do the enrichment lab first thing in the morning and they’re going to go to class and they’re going to concentrate on the academic content area, so it has helped them have that release, and (be) more focused,” Chavez added.

She said teachers also want to learn to play the piano.

Chavez said she’s also gotten drawn into the classes during walk-throughs. She has learned about musical notes and musical staffs.

“… Walk-throughs are supposed to be like 5-10 minutes; not even 10 minutes, but I’m distracted in his classroom because you’re learning. I don’t remember learning that much music before. …,” Chavez said.