These are my notes from Marco Torres‘ keynote at ACTEM 2009 in Augusta, Maine, on 16 October 2009. MY COMMENTS AND THOUGHTS ARE IN ALL CAPS. The last time I was able to hear Marco speak and hang out a bit with him was in February 2009. See my post, “Marco Torres Keynote: ITSC 2009 Portland” for those session notes. Also see my podcast “Podcast137: Inspired by Marco Torres – A MACE 2007 Roundtable Discussion” from March 2007. Marco is one of the most passionate teachers and educational leaders I’ve ever met. He is also an amazing creative artist, and inspirational speaker. He is one of my most influential Yodas. It has always a privilege to be able to learn with him.


Algebra seems to be the most hated subject in secondary education

My background is in engineering, so I have a passion for math
– there is a difference between using math and teaching math

The quadratic formula dominates the curriculum in 9th grade
– but we don’t use it again till


You must “stay in the question”
– you are trying to find the solution to something when you need to stay in the question longer
– we seem to be messing that up with Algebra

I have been looking at 4th grade classrooms and what they are doing with math / algebra
– music is a great way to introduce Algebra
– we need to teach music more across the curriculum
– I can now Google “what is a C key”
– if it is a how to question, try to look it up via Google first

I had my 500 GB iTunes hard drive crash last month
– I found online you should put your drive in another enclosure
– found 11 movies how to do this

Use metronome on GarageBand to help students learn to clap on the whole notes, the half notes, and the quarter notes

When it comes to multimedia, lots of people ask about what you do about copyright
– I present this as an opportunity to create your own songs

We have a thing on Tuesday’s called “Lunch Bytes”
– I used to find local restaurants to provide lunch for teachers, and students provided short 20

we found if you stay on the black keys you can’t mess up a song
– I wanted to know the science between this
– music is math, math is music
– the most

keys generate a frequency
– till 1936, there wasn’t agreement about what the key of A or B should sound like
– people just tuned to the lead instrument
– in Europe they agreed it was 440

You can use your SMARTboard for pressing piano keys in GarageBand, if you

Asked Physics teacher for an oscilloscope, but they didn’t have one
– students found an Oscilloscope at Frys, but it cost $3000
– students found several available on iPhone

So you can lock the settings and save/share

started comparing frequencies of black keys, found they were all multiples of each other

Music: you are aware of x axis (timing) and y (pitch) simultaneously
– lots of opportunities here where kids can look at x and y information together
– look at a synthesizer as an example

basic composition in photography: make sure there is contrast in the foreground and background
– that is similar to good composition in language arts as well

So now I am just going to play random black keys…. (can’t mess it up)
– now showing “piano roll” in GarageBand

after playing, can choose “Enhance Timing” to fix note timings as desired

I did have a teacher at my school who didn’t want me teaching music, he thought I would mess it all up for the kids
– he was more interested in instrumentation
– I was interested in making music

now when I listen to a song, I use my iPhone
– your ear can tell the differences in keys a lot faster than your mind can

Orchestral strings are so popular in movies because they have such a wide range
– you don’t have to be an expert in scoring music

Danny Elfman, who scores lots of music, does not know how to read or write musical notation
– Paul Mcartney too

Most recognizable score in a movie only has two notes in it (Jaws)
– how did he get away with it in Steven Spielberg

Those two keys are the saddest and scariest in music
– can I scientifically show why?
– the combination of those two keys are most dissonant, you can see this in the ocilloscope

Now showing the “perfect fourth” in music
– compare octive

amazing how you can tell a story with 2 keys
– I can mathematically show you why this works

For this project it was very important for me to work with a science, math, and music teacher

Now lets add some strings
– building it into Garageband

Next: building in the bass track


Now adding sound affects, Forest Evening

If your students are studying about China, you can take this same song, and change the tracks to Chinese instruments

Now I’ll add some creative aspects
– add music, BeatBox08 loop in Garageband

Now tell the story of China’s great wall…

Now showing an example of original music kids produced for a project about President Obama’s
– could only use the key of A, however (not black keys in this case)
– had to use frequencies that did not step on each other

When I started recording with kids, I realized they thought they had to be louder than others
– actually they just need to choose a different frequency
– kids did this in 2 days

I’ve had about 60 projects like this mailed to me from kids, produce

Thanks to that conversation about algebra, I dug deep and discovered all this

App by Aviary similar to Garageband for Windows users

Marco’s educator, photographer, movie maker, politician, community activist, parent

what does an “educated kid” mean?
– I almost started a
– one answer leads toward schooling, another leads to learning
– sometimes schooling gets in the way of learning

Educated? Successful? Prepare?

the kids who come into our classes are all someone’s child
– being a parent has really changed me

I have 64 first cousins
– I was convinced I was related to anyone with an “s” or “z” at the end of their name
– I teach in a predominantly Latino community

Kids recognize me when I walk through my high school
– I want that to happen at UCLA

In this class I don’t have 50 students, in this classroom I have 51 learners
– that change in perspective, as the lead learner, has really changed the way I teach

Now sharing a video about creativity: “If you’ve never failed, you’ve never lived”
– life – risk
– from

You all here in Maine are my heroes, for what you have done for kids that is right

We haev more kids in LA unified that you have PEOPLE in Maine

Now sharing Michael Wesch video: “A Vision of Students Today”

We can use that video to “stay in the question”

Eric Hoffer quotation:
In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

In the past, lesson plans were created more for their teacher than the kids
– assessment of the teacher has been: how well did you follow that script or plan

why is the planning not part of the learning?

Someone asked me to share this flyer
– example of someone who was a professional making marketing flyers
– student came in and critiqued it
– show popular at the time: Pimp My Ride
– I asked that student to “pimp his flyer”

Kids need the “why,” they know the what’s and the how’s


Education is the only field where you focus on the TOOL
– would we see this on the Food Network: we’re going to focus on the whisk, the oven, etc
– in reality, everyone is focusing on content

I want to see more blogging in math classes, not just in technology classes
– that is why many content area teachers don’t excited about this, they see it as more “stuff”

I started doing movie projects on the “B side” of teachers
– the things teachers do on their own time, things we are passionate about
– short, 2 minute videos
– this gave principals more insight into the skill sets of their staff members
– by getting staff members together to creatively write about (what are you passionate about, what is your “b side”) is a very powerful experience
– I wanted to move away from the boring, straightforward approach
– I put parameters on them: talk about what you’re passionate about without saying it outright
– think and write creatively

Video: “Into the Light” by Perello

It is the attitude I am most interested in – I can build the skill sets

This really helped to build community in the school
– it gives you much more insight into each other
– technology CAN bring people together

Closing: my two boys, have big hopes and dreams
– I never want those dreams to go away

If you trust me with your kids, there are many things I will promise
– kids will have access to everything they need to be successful

“quick victories builds will”

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2 Responses to Marco Torres at ACTEM 09

  1. Tim Hart says:

    Thanks for the run down of the keynote. I was going to do the same thing but wanted to save the battery for the rest of the day. Torres is a great speaker with such an important message. He has a gift to encourage us the cut through the the crap and worry about what matters, learning.

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