Blog Archives

My Other Life Passion

Thomas Music CollageI typically dedicate this site to my musings about education and related topics for this career about which I’m very passionate. For this post, however, I want to use this venue to promote an album that I finally completed and released for free on the Internet, which relates to my other life passion- music.

I have been playing music pretty much my whole life. I started banging on pots and pans when I was two years old; got my first drum set on my 5th birthday (check it out in the photo collage!); took piano lessons not long after that; took drum lessons starting at around 11 years old; played drums in my first band when I was 17 years old; started teaching myself how to play guitar at 17 years old, and switched to playing guitar in bands when I was about 20 years old. I consider myself a multi-instrumentalist since I can also play bass and some keyboards along with drums and guitar. Since then, I’ve recorded dozens of songs in both home and professional studios, released a few proper CDs, and have played gigs in California and China to crowds of a few people to crowds of many hundred. Even though I never “made it” in the music industry to the point of having a career in it, music and making music has never ceased to be one of the greatest joys in my life.

Though weened as a child in the 1970s on my sister’s Cars, Pretenders, Rolling Stones, and Supertramp records, most of my musical influences stem from Alternative, New Wave, Indie-rock, Indie-pop, Brit Pop, and Post-Punk bands from the early 1980s until the present. Bands like The Cure, The Smiths, Cocteau Twins, Echo & The Bunnymen, Depeche Mode, Tears for Fears, The Sundays, Blur, The Cardigans, Stereolab, Beulah, Death Cab for Cutie, Phoenix, Bloc Party, Foals, Two Door Cinema Club and hundreds of others have tickled my musical soul both emotionally and in regards to song writing.

A few weeks ago I finally finished recording an album for a DIY, indie-rock project I have called South to Madrid. I actually recorded all the guitar, bass, and synthesizer parts for the songs on the album back in December 2005 and January 2006. I’ve only ever needed to get the drums recorded since then. Because I’ve lived in apartments over the years, having an acoustic drum set on which to rehearse and record wasn’t an option. I was never really a fan of electronic drums, so I didn’t consider using them for this recording until I moved here to Abu Dhabi and told myself that I needed to get the album done. I bought the Roland V-Lite HD-3 drums from a music store in Dubai and got to writing and rehearsing the drum parts. I then recorded the drums, mixed, and mastered the album. This album has been a long time coming, and I’m very happy to get the songs out to be heard. All the songs are on YouTube and can be listened to here:

Any or all of the songs can be downloaded on SoundCloud, as well.

All South to Madrid songs are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. So, feel free to use, remix, and/or add vocals to any of them!

You can see to what music I’m currently listening by checking out my Last.Fm profile.

You can hear some other songs I’ve recorded in my life along with some other musical detail by checking out my MySpace page.

You can hear additional songs at my SoundCloud site.

You can read biographies and download songs from my other original music bands Turquoise Twice and Allsoulsday.

Check out some songs and videos from one of the cover bands I was in in Beijing- The Friendlies.

I’ve even delved into electronic music under the moniker Benji Tomorrow.

Lastly, you can see some performances of a couple of cover bands I was in while I lived in Beijing, China, by checking out my Likes page on my YouTube Channel.

I would love to hear your feedback on the songs!

South to Madrid album cover3

Using Google’s 20 Percent Time Concept in My Psychology Class

Psychology is a subject area about which most students are very curious. Thus, they generate many questions about the mind and human behavior. This was very apparent in my psychology course when I surveyed the students at the beginning of semester, asking what they want to know and hope to learn. Because this course at ACS is only a semester long, we only have a short time to investigate foundational elements of psychology (I modeled this part of the curriculum after the IB Psychology syllabus by investigating Biological, Cognitive, Sociocultural, and Abnormal Psychology). However, I don’t want students to leave the course without having the opportunity to investigate answers to questions with which they came into the class. In response to this, I developed the Personal Project which incorporates Google’s 20% time concept and builds their sense of curiosity, an important habit of mind in today’s world.

This Personal Project allows the students to investigate a question they have had or pursue an intellectual curiosity related to psychology. I calculate 20% of class time (based on the number of classes we have in the semester) and set whole periods aside (at approximately two week intervals) for the students to work on the project. This semester that’s about eight 82 minute periods. Of course, some home time needs to be dedicated to this project, as well. I do provide structure and have due dates within this process, however. These are the steps I outline for students on the project overview (the project rubric is in that document, as well):

  1. Chose a topic area where you’d like your investigation to focus. (I differentiate this aspect and leave this open for the students to define a topic in which they are interested. I do provide a list of topic areas that I and previous psychology students have found interesting to help students that are stuck).
  2. Generate a research question that will guide your investigation and get it approved by the teacher. (This part of the process is very important and will drive the research the students do. I work closely with them to develop a question that will have them working higher level thinking skills, not just a summary of a topic or question that leads to a simple yes or no response).
  3. Write an annotated bibliography for at least 5 sources relevant to your research question. (I feel this is an important academic process since I can check that they are thinking deeply about the sources they are using. This is a process they will do often in university, so it’s good practice for that, as well. This part of the process is assessed as a formative task).
  4. Chose the type of product you will create to show the findings of your investigation (product possibilities: documentary style video; website, podcast, online magazine style report, VoiceThread, research report, TED talk-like formal presentation) (I differentiate the product, as well. I want the students to push creative abilities and build technology skills in this project, so I guide them to technology-based products that have strong creative elements in them. This is not an exhaustive list of possible products, however. If a student has a different product idea, they can definitely pursue that upon approval. I only allow 3 students to do a traditional research paper style product since this doesn’t really push creative abilities. They must give a good reason for wanting to do a traditional research paper. I provide links to examples of each product type so students can make an informed decision).
  5. Write an outline or storyboard that organizes your content in context of your product. (Organization and planning! This part of the process is assessed as a formative task).
  6. Create a draft of your product for feedback from a class member. (Peer editing and feedback)
  7. Submit your final product and celebrate during a show and tell! (Students that choose to do the TED style formal oral presentation do it on the due date. After those presentations, the other students share their products. Self-assessment and reflection will also occur upon completion of the product).

Students have chosen some very interesting topic areas this semester and are working well through the process so far. They are showing excitement and motivation to work on this since they are in control of what they are learning and creating. My role is as a guide, helping them work through the process, refining their understanding of the topic and related research, providing feedback, and assisting with technicalities relating to their product production.

I plan to implement this concept with my IB Geography Higher Level course in the second year of the class when we are learning the options. Students need to know three options for that course. I will facilitate two of the options, then the students will chose a third option based on their personal interest. I will structure the time and process similarly to how I’m doing it in my psychology class.

If you are using the 20% time concept, I’d love to hear your comments and how you are facilitating the process in your course!

%d bloggers like this: