thank you signage

Thank You, Mrs. Toni Collins-Gosney

I was reading a post in the “Teachers” sub-Reddit last week where a college student asked if it was weird to reach out to a former teacher to tell them what a difference they made in the student’s life. I immediately encouraged the person to find a way to communicate this to the teacher because it has never, ever been weird for me to hear from former students. In fact, it’s the best gift I’ve received over the years.

In the past, I’ve written tributes to some of my own past teachers:

Today I want to publicly thank another high school teacher, my choir teacher, Mrs. Toni Collins-Gosney.

I still remember when I auditioned for choir, belting out “Keep on Singing,” by Helen Reddy. In retrospect, I can’t believe Miss Collins didn’t laugh out loud at my ridiculously earnest performance. Instead, she welcomed me into the choir, and nurtured me throughout the rest of my high school career.

In choir, I learned how to collaborate with a diverse group of students, to compete, and to never give up. There were so many times when we were in singing competitions and things looked hopeless, only to emerge victorious at the last minute. I had never been a “fighter” (perfect example — whenever playing tag, as soon as the person who was IT got close to me, I just stopped in my tracks, put my head down, and let them tag me) but Miss Collins taught me to make improvements and persevere.

She had high standards, but she was close with our group of young women (all-girls school) and never played favorites. One of my favorite memories is traveling with some of them to Mississippi to sing at her wedding.

With encouragement from her, I made the All State Choir. My family didn’t attend what turned out to be a life-changing experience for me, but Miss Collins did. She also often stayed with me, sitting in front of the school at midnight, long after every one else had been picked up, without ever making me feel guilty for my family’s tardiness.

As my senior year rolled around, Miss Collins suggested I go into music, but I never thought I could be as good as she was. I did decide to go into teaching, however, and won a few scholarships to good schools. One of them was in my hometown. Although it covered four years of tuition, room and board was not part of the package. Living at home had become an untenable situation, and Miss Collins offered for me to come live with her and her new husband. Although I didn’t end up taking her up on the offer, her generosity was never forgotten. When I later became a teacher, I often remembered the many times she went above and beyond for me, and tried to extend the same kindness to my students whenever I could.

I ultimately accepted a scholarship to another school, in San Antonio, where I still live. I lost touch with Mrs. Collins-Gosney over time, but when I finally decided to open a Facebook account, I searched for her. To my surprise, she was easy to find and we became friends after over 30 years.

I continued to keep music as an important part of my life, and I imagine that passion is one of several factors, including an inspiring music teacher of her own, that prompted my daughter to participate in her own school choirs from elementary school through high school.

Last year, my daughter began her college studies with the goal of becoming a music teacher, and I think she might just live up to the woman I held in high esteem for decades, both in kindness and skill.

So, I just want to thank you, Mrs. Collins-Gosney, during this Teacher Appreciation Week. You were such a wonderful example to me as a musician, adult, and teacher — and I worked hard to “Pay It Forward” throughout my own career as an educator. I am glad we found each other again so I could express my gratitude, and I hope that anyone who reads this makes an effort to thank a teacher who made a difference.

man holding bottled water
6-12, Anti-Racism, history, Language Arts, Music

PBS NewsHour + Pear Deck Resources for Black History Month

February is Black History Month in the United States, but I have been trying to be inclusive all year by regularly posting Anti-Racism resources in this Wakelet. This week, I want to highlight a collaboration between PBS NewsHour and Pear Deck that was published for Black History Month — but could certainly be used any time of year. The two organizations are offering free interactive Pear Deck slides that integrate media such as Amanda Gorman discussing her famous inauguration poem and Misty Copeland talking about her book, Bunheads, and the stereotypes often found in ballet. The slide decks include discussion questions along with embedded videos, and are designed for middle and high school students. Scroll to the bottom of the page and those of you who are Newsela users will be happy to find a collection of Pear Decks featuring inspirational stories of Black students, sports figures, and others who are changing the world.

These lessons are uplifting and ready-to-go. The perfect package for busy teachers who want to invigorate and engage their students!

3-12, Art, Creative Thinking, Music, Science

Oh Say, Can you See That Sound?

Synesthesia, a biological phenomenon that causes some people to sense objects and experiences in a different way, always fascinated my students. People who associate colors with different numbers or scents with specific sounds might be accused of making up these unusual perceptions, but scientists have proved that this genetic trait does exist. In fact, some famous musical and visual artists may have had the benefit of synesthesia in their creative endeavors.

In this lesson plan from Google Arts and Culture, “Seeing Sound with Kandinsky,” students can learn about the painter Wassily Kandinsky’s relationship with music and its affect on his art. (Slide 8 specifically refers to Kandinsky’s synesthesia and offers links that elaborate on it.)

According to the TED Ed video, “What Color is Tuesday?” around 4% of the population are synesthetes. Students will, of course, want to know if they are possible synesthetes. They can take a quick test like this one, but I always caution them that this is just for fun and not at all scientific. For a simple paper and pencil task, there is a fun example on the Neuroscience for Kids site.

This lesson plan from The Art of Education includes several more activities and links, including one to a site where you can type in your name to find out the color palette one synesthete, Bernadette Sheridan, would visualize. And, way back in 2015, I wrote about a site where you can type in your own message and generate music with the letters. (It still works!)

If you’re interested in literature for children in which characters have synesthesia, here is a good list. One of the choices is The Noisy Paint Box, a book about – you guessed it – Kandinsky as a young boy.

Whether studying neuroscience, art, music, or gifts that make us different, you will find that synesthesia is an intriguing topic for any age level.

Photo by Moose Photos on


Fabulous Flash Mobs

I don’t expect a lot of people will be reading the blog this week, so I thought I would just post some of the inspiring Tweets, videos, and random pics I’ve collected recently Monday through Wednesday. Thursday will be my last Gifts for the Gifted post for 2020.

I absolutely adore this magnificent thread from @CelesteHeadlee that contains some of the best flash mobs ever. Treat yourself to watching these performances from a different time – when we nonchalantly walked through crowds of people and sometimes they broke out into song.

Art, K-12, Music

Blob Opera

It’s that time of year when no one feels like concentrating on something serious. So, what better activity can you do in the classroom than study opera? Well, maybe not study it exactly. How about play with it instead? One of the newest Google Arts and Culture experiments is “Blob Opera,” and it’s definitely going to catch your students’ attention if you bring this up on your screen. Your students will entertain themselves to no end as they drag the blobs around to create operatic masterpieces. It feels a bit like you are conducting somewhat refined Muppets. They can even record and share the link of their favorite productions. For those who need a little inspiration, there is a small tree in the bottom right-hand corner so you can switch on to “hear some festive songs.”

For additional artistic adventures, visit the Games page of Google Arts and Culture, where you can solve “Visual Crosswords” or play “Puzzle Party,” or find another amusing diversion!

3-6, 6-12, Creative Thinking, Music, Student Products

Gifts for the Gifted – Bare Conductive Touch Board

 A few years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season.  I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually on every Friday in November and December.  These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child.  For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students. You may notice that I missed 2019, but I’m making up for it this year with a post every Thursday in November and December up until Christmas Eve.

Last year, we were able to get a grant in our Maker Space for some Bare Conductive Touch Boards and paint (there are smaller tubes of paint if you prefer). One of the choices for students’ final engineering projects in my class was to create a work of art that integrated the touch board and paint. I just scoured my Google Photos archive and, for some reason, have no video of the final projects in action 🙁 Here are pics of the artwork and the back of their canvases, though.

The black paint that you see in the mariachi and country pictures is conductive. The concept was to attach the sound board to the back and connect the black paint with copper tape to the sound board. But, as you can see in the bottom picture, the copper tape was not being cooperatively sticky enough so one of the students ended up soldering wires to it instead. (Soldering is not mandatory; we just wanted to make it more durable.) We made hinged frames for the canvases to enclose the speakers and touch board but allow us to turn them on/off and change batteries if needed. The mariachi instruments played music based on which instrument you touched, and the countries played their anthems. (That group was fascinated with countries of the Cold War.)

Don’t let the over-complexity of the project scare you off. I tend to imagine projects that leave out a few minor details in in my initial drafts. What’s cool about the Bare Conductive Touch Board is that it is actually easy to use. There is a little Micro SD card for you to add your sounds, and you probably want to attach a cheap speaker (I got these at Target for $3) that has a microphone jack so you can hear it. As you can see, we also gave it a battery, but you can alternatively just attach it to your laptop, depending on your project. Here is a step-by-step intro to the board that shows you how easy it is to get it working. There are also instructions for making a midi piano.

I was first inspired to look into doing a project like this when I saw this video. For those of you who have used or seen the Makey Makey (a past Gifts for the Gifted recommendation), you can see that this takes the potential just a bit further.

If you have a child/student who loves to create art and would be interested in attaching sound to it, this is a unique gift that they would definitely enjoy.