Author - Sarah Windisch

One-Hit Wonder- A Rock Like a Teacher Series Post

photo credit- https://www.flickr.com/photos/joshuamhoover/9537645705

Gentle readers, most of you have only heard one song by one of my favorite bands. You probably heard that song over and over in 1997 and if you were to hear the opening guitar lick right now, I’d bet that many of you would be able to place it right away. That song was everywhere.

“Zoot Suit Riot.” Cherry Poppin’ Daddies.

Wait! Don’t go!

CPD is a brilliant band with one of the broadest, most genre-defying discographies I’ve encountered. Certainly, they know their way around swing and rockabilly, and therefore relatedly ska and honky-tonk, but also funk, glitter rock, sorrowful ballads, and hard-driving, shouting rants. Sometimes they blend all their influences into one horn-laden musical milkshake and all you want is a thicker straw so you can enjoy more of it all at once.

They’re so much more than a one-hit wonder.

I discovered Cherry Poppin’ Daddies because I heard them on the radio. I was hooked by that hit, but then I dug deeper. I sought out their albums and went to shows. “Zoot Suit Riot” is far from my favorite song, but I wouldn’t know “Hi and Lo” or “Bust Out/Arrancate” without it.

As a teacher, I wouldn’t have learned so much about gamification and how I feel about it if I hadn’t dug into an interesting idea. I wouldn’t be able to know what works for my students from particular methodologies if I had just taken what was given to me and implemented it “with fidelity.” I can’t even imagine how many of the cool things I do in my classroom wouldn’t exist if I’d embraced what is usually expected of an elementary school music teacher rather than gathering ideas from everywhere and exploring the influences of colleagues I trust.

It’s simply not enough to do what is expected of you. It’s essential to find what you love, and what works for you and your classes, deep in the catalog of whatever you’re confronted with.

And consider the legions of fans that confront you daily – your students. You owe it to them to be more than the one thing they surmise. I’m a better teacher because I share my passions with students – I allow myself the freedom to include what brings me joy in my teaching.  As an example of the obscure, the deep cut, I give my students the opportunity to see adults, and teachers specifically,  as human beings. When students see a teacher’s personality and passions aren’t hidden away, only trotted out after 4:00 and on weekends, they reciprocate. That trust takes us everywhere.

Ah, trust.

Come with me: It’s the first time for me to see the Daddies in concert. I’m a fan – I’m confident I know what to expect. Picture a genteel summer festival in a field next to a yacht club. Lead singer Steve Perry incites the crowd, saying, “This is a song about snakes,” and launching into a familiar-to-all song.

Photo: Jim Windisch | @TeacherWithTuba Lyrics: “Brown Flight Jacket” - White Teeth, Black Thoughts - 2013

From Steve Perry of Cherry Poppin’ Daddies and me: “Here’s to your endeavors, Make ‘em big and bold”

“And this is a song about spiders,” he says. The band plays “God is a Spider.”  It does anything but swing. Perry stalks the stage, snarling into the mic. Most of the crowd leaves. The rest of us are treated to an amazing show, complete with split pants and monitors held in with a do-rag.

There are people – students, parents, administrators, peers – who want you to do one thing well. It’s comfortable for them if you do what is expected and correct. They won’t understand experimenting and broadening your interests until they feel the impact of it for themselves. They’ll leave your concert in the middle and tell people that you only have a few good songs. But for everyone who’s confused by your brilliant mess and has no idea where to shelve you, there will be just as many who fervently sing your praises and work hard to make sure people discover your work.

Be grateful to your fans but true to your art. Teaching is a sublime privilege. We all know it’s more than delivering content. We can choose how to reach kids and share the things we love with them. We get to guide students as they form themselves. I dare you to surprise your audience and see what happens. Share more broadly. Let your students dig deeper. Release your entire catalog.


Sarah Windisch is a music teacher in Post Falls, Idaho. When she’s not, you know, teaching, she’s running in the woods or running with scissors. She’s also known for running off at the mouth. Her aim is to be as hilarious as her students some day. Find her on Twitter @slwindisch.

We Didn’t Start The Fire

Shawn Gust | Coeur d’Alene Press

It was always burning

Since the world’s been turning

Meet Alex. He’s a second grader at my school who was born without eyes. He’s funny and smart and he loves music. Really loves music – of all sorts – with an encyclopedic obsession I’ve never seen in a kid before. Naturally, he and I get along.

I’m the music teacher at our school. I’m also the resident Nerd Supreme, whose recent rabbit hole has been physical computing: Raspberry Pi, Arduino, sensors, boxes of electronics, and soldering.

Alex’s parents want him to be more independent. I know Alex loves music. Our principal knows I like to make things and write grants. Ideas started brewing. How can we help Alex?

What if Alex could make a mental audio map of the school? What if the important landmarks around the building – bathroom, lunchroom, classroom – had a trigger that would play a specific song? Then he could figure out how many swipes of his cane it was from song to song, room to room. Using technology and music, this blind student could independently navigate his school.

I wrote a grant and received funding from the Idaho Education Technology Association. My grant was funny and charming and just vague enough to get money to cover supplies for some sort of sensor project. It also contained a Secret Funding Weapon: fourth grade students were going to build these devices.

Oh yes.

At this point, I didn’t know whether we would use PIR motion sensors, (those are the kind that turn the lights on when you walk in the room) IR breakbeam sensors (the ones that trigger a “bing-bong” when you walk into a store) or RFID (think Apple or Android Pay). I didn’t know if we’d need to learn a bunch of Python to accomplish this task. I didn’t know if we’d use Raspberry Pi.

Really, I didn’t know much.  

The thing I did know is that 9 year olds were going to create adaptive technology for a peer.

Check these kids out. This is their reaction to the first trial of their sensor on a breadboard.

Ayrha Ellis | @ayrhae

These students’ joy comes from making a thing that they knew would help someone. Someone they knew personally. That’s galvanizing. Do you see that delight on their faces? Wonder? Hands-in-the-air triumph? This is what happens when students are empowered to make. You read a lot about makerspaces and tinkering and 21st century skills, and as a teacher it’s exciting. “We could use this thing to do this thing! DO ALL THE THINGS!!” There are so many great toys to play with and experience just for the sheer joy of doing so. Yes. Please. Joy in learning. Joy is learning.

Some of you really want to know the nitty gritty about the design process. (Great – get in touch with me. Let’s totally nerd out about this!) For the rest of you – and the sake of space – I did a ton of mental prototyping.  I thought about how we wanted only Alex to trigger the sensor (so no IR sensors – everyone would trigger those), and it needed to be cheap and sturdy (RFID is not those things). I decided to go with supplies from Adafruit – they have a great little sound board, and I adapted a tutorial that used a vibration sensor so that when Alex swiped the device with his cane it would play sound.

Then I made the first protoype– the sensor for the bathroom that plays “We Didn’t Start the Fire” :

Sarah Windisch | @slwindisch

Billy Joel is telling Alex where the bathroom is, just like I’d envisioned. I knew it would work. The kids knew it would work. Even Alex knew it would work. But that very first time it actually worked out in the wild we were all still amazed that it was real. I soldered the prototype down to a permanent board. Yep, demonstrated soldering to children. Set them loose with tools – stripping wires, using a heat gun. I only get to see these kids for 30 minutes once a week, so creating 5 devices took longer than I anticipated, but here’s the payoff:

Sarah Windisch | @slwindisch

And that snazzy red box the sensor is housed in? Your illustrious blog editor [Ed. Note- *waves*] made those for me. I was sharing the project with him and he started peppering me with questions and ideas. I brought up that right now the devices are housed in small Altoids tins, and those tins are flimsy and not ideal. Doug immediately offered to use the Polar3D printer at his school to make sturdier boxes. Through many emails (we live in two different states), much math, and some trial and error Doug printed six boxes that perfectly hold and protect Alex’s sensors.

You and your students have passion – it’s already burning. It has been and it will be. You didn’t light it, just like the song says. But don’t be like Billy. Don’t try to fight it. Go for it. Explore and share with your kids. Look for ways to really make change in the world around you. You never know what you might ignite and who may see by your light.


Sarah Windisch is a music teacher and technology coach at an elementary school in Post Falls, Idaho. When she’s not, you know, teaching, she’s running in the woods or running with scissors. She’s also known for running off at the mouth. Her aim is to be as hilarious as her students some day. Find her on Twitter @slwindisch.

Lyrics: Joel, Billy. We Didn’t Start the Fire. Columbia, 1989.