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Hopkinton music teacher wins Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical to promote listening

  • From left: fourth graders Ashlee Brehio and Ben Berliner listen to their music teacher Mike Alberici during a lesson on African drumming on Thursday, April 3, 2014 at the Maple Street School in Hopkinton. <br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    From left: fourth graders Ashlee Brehio and Ben Berliner listen to their music teacher Mike Alberici during a lesson on African drumming on Thursday, April 3, 2014 at the Maple Street School in Hopkinton.
    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Mike Alberici directs his fourth grade students while they play their African drums during a lesson at the Maple Street School on Thursday afternoon, April 3, 2014. Alberici was awarded the Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical, a year-long leave of absence for a public school teacher to pursue new ideas for classroom teaching. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Mike Alberici directs his fourth grade students while they play their African drums during a lesson at the Maple Street School on Thursday afternoon, April 3, 2014. Alberici was awarded the Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical, a year-long leave of absence for a public school teacher to pursue new ideas for classroom teaching.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Mike Alberici directs his fourth grade students while they play their African drums during a lesson at the Maple Street School on Thursday afternoon, April 3, 2014. Alberici was awarded the Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical, a year-long leave of absence for a public school teacher to pursue new ideas for classroom teaching. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Mike Alberici directs his fourth grade students while they play their African drums during a lesson at the Maple Street School on Thursday afternoon, April 3, 2014. Alberici was awarded the Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical, a year-long leave of absence for a public school teacher to pursue new ideas for classroom teaching.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • From left: fourth graders Ashlee Brehio and Ben Berliner listen to their music teacher Mike Alberici during a lesson on African drumming on Thursday, April 3, 2014 at the Maple Street School in Hopkinton. <br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Mike Alberici directs his fourth grade students while they play their African drums during a lesson at the Maple Street School on Thursday afternoon, April 3, 2014. Alberici was awarded the Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical, a year-long leave of absence for a public school teacher to pursue new ideas for classroom teaching. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Mike Alberici directs his fourth grade students while they play their African drums during a lesson at the Maple Street School on Thursday afternoon, April 3, 2014. Alberici was awarded the Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical, a year-long leave of absence for a public school teacher to pursue new ideas for classroom teaching. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

For Hopkinton music teacher Mike Alberici, the job is more than exposing kids to the works of Bach and Beethoven. It’s teaching his students how to actively listen in an age when technology, such as texting, is changing the way they interact.

Texting is a great way to communicate, he said, but the art of listening gets lost.

“You miss all the inflections in their voice, the mannerisms in the way they speak . . . something I think is really important,” said Alberici, who has been teaching music at Maple Street School for the past 20 years. “I think it is crucial for us to be better communicators, and I just don’t want kids to lose that. I am starting to see it.”

So, a few years ago Alberici started running experiments in his own classroom and found that his students’ attention spans when they were listening to music were a lot shorter – about 45 seconds per song. In response, he developed exercises to promote active listening and used them in his classroom.

Now, Alberici has won the opportunity to share his solutions with public schools across the state.

This week, the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation awarded him the Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical, a yearlong leave of absence designed to give one public school teacher the opportunity to develop new ideas for classroom teaching.

Throughout the 2014-15 school year, Alberici plans to visit at least 15 elementary schools across the state and host three- or four-day workshops that will focus on the science of sound, active listening and music. “I really hope I can make a difference,” he said.

Alberici, who is also a professional saxophone player and occasionally freelances for the Monitor, is the first music teacher to win the sabbatical in

its 27-year history, said Hilary DeAngelis, the program’s coordinator.

“It’s a really unique proposal . . . not just about music. It really encompassed lots of different classroom and learning opportunities,” she said. “Listening is something you need no matter what you’re learning.”

At each school, Alberici plans to host a “Sound in Focus” program. It will include a schoolwide assembly to show the principles of sound through large-scale science experiments. One of the experiments, called a vortex cannon, demonstrates the force of sound by using smoke to illustrate sound waves.

Also, fourth- and fifth-grade students will break into smaller groups to complete exercises that will help them become better and longer active listeners, Alberici said.

He has already developed some of the activities in his own classroom, including a listening self-awareness quiz and an audio map of the school. For that, Alberici’s students measured volume in different parts of the building and created a map based on the ratings.

He originally designed the exercises after he noticed that his fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade kids were listening differently.

“Something was changing in the way they were listening to music, to adults, even to each other,” he said. “I noticed when they were talking to each other, they were not really listening to what the other person was saying. They were waiting for them to finish, so they could say something.”

Alberici said he hopes his program will inspire other teachers to put a larger focus on listening in the classroom. Now, he is focused on lining up schools to host the “sound in focus” residency.

“He has got an exciting project I think will benefit as many schools as he can reach this year,” DeAngelis said. “If any public school teachers are interested in getting in touch with them, they are encouraged to do so.”

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or at amorris@cmonitor.com.)

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