Friday, September 28, 2012

Dress it Up

As teachers, we all like to motivate, inspire, and even entertain our students. Our classrooms can help us do all three. Creating an inviting environment that children want to enter is an easy way to get them excited about coming to class. Below are some ideas for dressing up a music room.

Hallway Inspiration

Our classrooms are in a wing of the building that was constructed a few years ago. The hallway was sparkling clean, but very bland. I found several adorable printables of inspiring quotes from Shannon at Technology Rocks Seriously. The link to the printables is below.

Our art teachers had a quote they wanted to use, so I created one to blend with the others. I was able to do this because Shannon provided great info on fonts that she likes to use in her prints. I picked up a few mats and black frames from Hobby Lobby, and now we have a wall of inspiration over the water fountains in the hallway. They are the first thing the students see when they enter the hall from the stairwell. The framed prints really brighten the space and give students something to read and think about while they stand in line for water after physical education class.

If you like these printables, you can find these and many more at:

If you would like to create custom printables like these, read Shannon's post:

Make an Entrance

Our rooms are side by side, and we like to create unity by decorating our entrances the same. This year, I wanted to try out an idea I saw on Pinterest. These window treatments were a breeze to make and required no sewing.
Mounted between the doors is our school mission statement. I used the same fonts that are in our Star Student posters, plus a couple more that you will find in Shannon's favorite font list in the post linked above. I think the fonts fit the personality of the mission statement. I printed it on cardstock and taped it to a canvas that I had previously painted for my daughter. Fortunately, she no longer wanted it, and it matched perfectly! Your mission statement or quote could also be printed with a border, such as black with white polka dots, so there would be no need for a painted canvas.
If you are interested in making streamer curtains like these, visit Maggie at Black and White {Side by Side} for directions. For reference, I purchased 1 yard each of 4 lightweight cotton prints, and 1 yard each of 2 colors of tulle. That was enough fabric to create the treatments for 2 doorways. I ripped the cotton fabrics into strips, but had to cut the tulle with scissors. I put the fabric strips on tension rods with the idea of mounting them inside the door frame. However, our door frames are metal, and two heavy duty clip magnets from Office Depot allowed us to mount them a little higher. These could be used for window treatments, as well.

Frame It

These hanging frames were created from a 4x8 sheet of foam insulation (the pinkish purple kind found at home improvement stores). I cut the frames with a jigsaw, but you could use a sharp knife. Next, I painted them with craft paint. Spray paint eats the foam (I learned the hard way), so stick with craft paint. It's cheap and available in a plethora of colors.
These frames were originally made to use as decorations for a tool shower. There were saws, pliers, and such hanging inside. I brought them to school, found instruments to fit in each frame, and put 3 on each side of the screen at the front of the room. A tiny hook in each of the top corners allows them to be hung with picture frame wire that is attached to the frame of the dropped ceiling.

Cute & Functional

Sometimes, Janet and I take our classes out of our rooms. Whether it is next door to meet together, outside to practice recorders, or down to the auditorium for a rehearsal, it is important to let students and teachers know where we are. We used to jot out notes on index cards or Post-it notes before rushing off with our class. Finally, we realized that we could just print and laminate signs for places we consistently go. We picked up some cute cards from an invitation shop and printed the signs and laminated them. Now we keep them on our whiteboards in a clip magnet, ready to pop on the door as we leave. 

Bright & Cheery

A well-placed pop of color or humor can draw a child's attention. My students sit on the floor, so this flower friend is right at their level, smiling at them every day. In addition, I painted this bright flower and added a quote about excellence to inspire students to work hard every day.

Keeping it bright...
I wrote about this table in Make Your Furniture Rock. It provides a fun sitting area that serves as a reward for hardworking students. The cabinet was also a makeover several years ago. It began as an old, battered, army green metal cabinet. I covered it with white contact paper and added vinyl decals. It's still not my favorite, but it will suffice. It provides great storage, and at least it is bright now!
Speaking of room has 9 windows! The back wall is completely filled with windows. Adding these valances really made the space much cozier. I used bulletin board paper to make a pattern with waves that would be opposite when the fabric folded over a tension rod, so the contrasting fabric would peek through. Each window is about 42" wide. 1 yard of fabric and 1 yard of contrasting fabric was used for each window.
These are just a few things that I hope brighten the day for my students, since their smiles brighten mine. :)

Have fun dressing up your space!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Winter Concert Reflection

It's only September, but Janet had a 1st grade student ask when we could start learning our Winter Concert music. It is probably because our students enjoy working hard to accomplish a beautiful choral sound and performing for an audience. We begin working in kindergarten to achieve a nice singing voice, without yelling. As our young students try what we ask them to do in order to sing correctly, they hear what a difference it makes. The result is that they are more than willing to go the extra mile to sound like a million bucks on stage.

All of our K-3 students perform in the winter program. Each grade has approximately 125 students, so each grade level sings separately. Every group sings 3 selections, which include a Hanukkah piece, religious Christmas, and one secular holiday or winter song. We try to pick as much traditional music as possible, so children will be learning songs we feel are important to know. They get so excited when they hear their songs on the radio.

Following the concert, we have all the students think about the performance and complete a Winter Concert reflection sheet. We enjoy learning how they felt while performing, what made them feel successful, what they found difficult, what they thought the audience liked, and something funny that happened. After they complete the sheets, we put them under the document camera to display on the screen for the class to see. Each student shares what they wrote, but they can choose whether to display their picture, or not.

Here is an example of a completed form. One of my favorite parts is that she thinks she is good at dropping her jaw. Even her picture shows her doing that!

If you would like to use this activity with your students, you can download a free PDF of the reflection sheet through the link below. PDF includes a simplied version for K students.

Speaking of concert reflection, I am posting an audio clip of a performance by our 3rd graders from 2009. It is still one of my favorite songs we have included in the winter program. These little guys are now our big 6th graders, so forgive me if I get a bit sentimental!

Are you ready for the holidays? I'm getting closer, thanks to one eager first grader.

Let's get busy!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

PLNs Can Be Very Pinterest-ing

Professional learning networks are vital to teachers. Teachers are always looking for new ideas and insights, and PLNs provide the perfect opportunity for growth. I am so fortunate to work at a school with two music teachers. Janet and I learn so much from each other and push each other to grow in ways that would not happen if we were isolated. Most schools only have one music teacher, however. Individual specials teachers can feel very lonely. Even collaborating with other music teachers in a school district can be challenging, due to scheduling and proximity. Never fear! I have discovered a huge PLN through Pinterest.

I first heard about Pinterest a year ago, when my dental hygienist was describing a way to "pin" recipes. I had no idea what she meant, but she offered to send me an invitation to join. I soon discovered that Pinterest is a virtual pinboard for ideas that you can organize into subjects of your choosing. The pins are visual representations that link to web pages. Is that confusing? Think of the pin as a bookmark with a picture.

After pinning recipes, craft ideas, home decor ideas, and more, I came across some interesting music education pins. There were music games, center ideas, lesson ideas, visuals...the list goes on and on. I started a board for my music classroom. Soon my music board was up to 100 pins. I began to notice the pinners of the pins I liked. I clicked on them and realized I could "follow" them. Now all of their pins would show up in my newsfeed. WOW! More and more cool ideas for the music room to pin on my board. I had to add  more education boards to start organizing the pins.

As I began to pin more music education ideas, I began to gain followers. I typically try to check out my new followers, because they are usually music teachers. Then I can follow them, and so on, and so on. My PLN is really starting to blossom. 

In addition, the pins are taking me to some really exciting music education blogs. I am constantly discovering more resources and learning from more people. Reading other teachers' blogs inspired me to start a blog with ideas we use at Crestline Elementary. Now I have the opportunity to learn and share with people from all over the globe. I started the blog three days ago, and the stats tell me there have already been visitors from Germany, Canada, and Burkina Faso!

You can check out my boards by clicking below. It will take you to my Pinterest page, and you can decide from there if you want to follow any of my boards.

Still aren't sure about Pinterest? Check out this article with ways educators can use it:

I encourage you to join Pinterest and be a part of a global PLN. It's very Pinteresting!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Star Students

At Crestline, Janet and I are in the business of creating stars in our music classes. Okay...not THAT kind of star. The super-duper, cooperative, well-behaved kind of star students we all love to teach.

The first step in maintaining a cooperative class is to make sure the students know the behavior expectations. We have 5 simple guidelines for being a "Star Student" in music. We display the rules on our whiteboards and teach the students a chant with motions to help them remember the expectations.

When a student breaks a rule by doing something like blurting, we simply state the rule with the motion as it is performed during the chant. The student typically grins as if to say, "Oops!" and the behavior improves.

Here is a class performing the Star Student Chant:

These are the Star Student visuals we keep on our whiteboards:

I created the posters with fonts from Kevin & Amanda's blog. The fonts I used are Pea Mystic Caps and Elephants in Cherry Trees. Be sure to check out all the other amazing free fonts on Kevin and Amanda's web page.

I found the clip art by searching Google. The clip art is licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on

If you would like a PDF of our 8 1/2 x 11 visuals, you can download it for free:

If you would like to create your own customized posters, you can use the resources listed above to create similar visuals.

I hope these ideas help you develop star students in your classroom!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Solfege Visuals

Solfege plays a large role in our music classrooms at Crestline. We begin teaching hand signals in kindergarten. Having visuals on display is very beneficial for the students. We each had a set of 8 1/2 x 11 posters that we purchased, but we were excited to find these hand sign printables through Pinterest. They originated from the blog, "Music with Mrs. Dennis." She has two sets available for free download. One set has the syllables printed on them, and the other signs are blank.

We started out with two sets of hand signals: green with syllables, and blue without. We printed them on cardstock, cut them out, and put magnet strips on the back.

We originally placed one set on the left side of the whiteboard, and the other set on the right. Then, one day when students were notating pitches on their small whiteboards and were struggling with lines and spaces, an idea came to life. We alternated the blue and green hand signs, so it was easy to see that if "do" is a line note, so are all the other pitches that are the same color.

Click here to visit Mrs. Dennis' blog post to download your own sets of hand signs. Scroll to the end of her blog post for the download links.

In addition to visuals that are always on display in our classrooms, we have a PowerPoint slide we show on our screens to demonstrate the relationship of the pitches. We call it the musical elevator and pretend to push buttons for the different floors, while we sing the syllables.
If you are not currently using hand signs in your music classroom, I highly recommend it. Start simple: sol and mi, then sol, la, and mi. Sing short patterns for your students to echo while performing the hand signals. You'll notice the benefit quickly.

"Sol" long for now. It's time for "mi" to go...

Recorders Rock!

Our 4th graders are very excited about learning to play recorders. They selected their recorder colors (blue, green, or pink), and have anxiously been waiting for them to arrive. Yesterday was the big day! However, they had to be patient, so we could label the recorders and  place them in their teacher bins. So, the playing actually began today.
We printed a class list, cut the names out, and taped them to the upper, front part of the recorder. We used to write names in permanent marker, but the ink ended up not being so permanent. Names would fade over time. We continue to write names on the plastic cases, because the ink lasts on that surface. 

We keep the recorders for each class in a clear tub labeled with the homeroom teacher's name. The tub travels back and forth to the classroom, so students can take recorders home and return them to the tub during homeroom.

The challenge for new recorder players is learning to get a nice sound. We have a PowerPoint slide with a few pointers that we display on the screen to help students remember a few important tips:

We spend the first class working on soft breath, covering holes, and tonguing. We only play the pitch b, so there is less to think about. I tell the students to blow on the palm of their hand, as if they are blowing out birthday candles. The air is cold and forceful. Next, I ask them to breathe on the palm of their hand, as if they are fogging a mirror. They discover that the breath is now soft and warm, which is different from blowing. I also point out how they raised the soft palate to achieve the soft, warm breath.

When students blow too hard, I remind them to "breathe," not blow. I tell them to think about breathing "warm, stinky breath" on a sibling. They think that is funny, so it is easy to remember.

For students who are struggling with tonguing, I have them hold the recorder in front of them and whisper "tuh, tuh, tuh..." As they continue whispering, they bring the recorder to their lips. Hopefully, the tonguing continues and they hear and feel the difference.

Do you have favorite tips for helping students get a nice sound on the recorder? Try the "stinky breath" technique. You'll be surprised how well it works. :)

Update (March 2016): I have found that these tips seem to help students visualize ways to improve their sound in the following situations:

  • Too much air? Tell them to imagine breathing just enough air on a birthday candle to make the flame flicker, but not go out. 
  • Playing each note too forcefully and separated? Speak or sing a sentence in the same manner. Ex.: "We! Don't! Sing! Like! This! So! Let's! Not! Play! Like! This!"
  • Leaky holes? This is usually from a lack of fine motor skills or an understanding that they should be using pressure. Walk up and take the recorder out of their hands while they are playing. Then giggle and give it back, but tell them to cover holes and hold it tightly enough that you can't get it again. Next time you will merely need to say, 'Don't let me get your recorder!"
Have fun!

Make Your Furniture Rock

If you want your music room to rock, it needs to look cool. I wanted to add a couple of pieces of furniture to my room this year, but the pieces needed a complete overhaul to make them rock-worthy.

Before Pics:

I wasn't kidding!  Look how hideous these pieces of furniture were. The rolling cart had seen better days. The round table was used as a prop on stage in musicals for about 10 years. I decided to give it a face lift and move it to my classroom.

Prep Work:

Both tables required sanding prior to applying paint. The round table also needed a good bit of wood filler. It was in sad shape from years of use.

Base Paint:

I used black spray primer/paint on the lower portions and white primer/paint (brush-on) for the tops. I used a satin finish, but wish I had used flat for the top. More on that later...

Tape & Contrasting Color:

I used painter's tape to tape patterns on the table tops. Then I painted a few coats of green paint. I used acrylic craft paint for the contrasting color. The white satin paint tried to repel the craft paint, so it took a few layers to make it work. I should have used flat paint on the table tops.

Last Steps:

I carefully peeled the tape off. I loved the contrast of the bright green and white. Then I sprayed several clear coats to protect the finish.

Finished Products:

Finally, these tables rock and can live in my classroom!

Do you have ugly furniture that could use a helping hand? Don't be afraid to paint it and make it cute. A little paint, tape, and time is all you need to update your old pieces and make them rock.

Have fun!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Getting to Know You

It's the beginning of a new year, and that means there are new names to learn and old names to review. We spend the first few class sessions playing several different name games to cement names and also work on different music skills.

Sing Me Your Name

This name game is useful for developing pitch matching skills in younger students.

  • Teacher sings: "Sing me, sing me, sing me your name." (S-M-S-M-S-M-R-D) (ta, ta, ta, ta, ta, ti-ti, ta)
  • While singing, teacher makes eye contact with a student and tosses a bean bag to the student at the end of the phrase.
  • Student answers by singing the same melody, but sings his/her name twice, and then, "That is my name."
  • Student tosses bean bag back to teacher.
Before we begin the game, we practice the question/answer several times. Sometimes we insert a silly name for the class to sing as the answer, such as, "Peanut Butter, Peanut Butter, that is my name." We also demonstrate correct answers and incorrect and have students identify whether the answer is right. 

Later, the game can be played to assess pitch matching with new lyrics. Teacher can change the question to "Sing me, sing me, sing me your food." Student answers with favorite food. The possibilities are endless: show, color, animal, etc.

Higglety Wigglety Bumblebee

This poem is good for working on steady beat with K-1 students.
  • Teacher teaches poem by rote (lyrics can also be placed on board/screen for emerging readers).
  • Students speak poem and pat steady beat.
  • When students can speak poem successfully, game begins.
  • Class speaks poem while patting the steady beat, then one student speaks name.
  • Game can be played at different levels as students progress. The first time
    • First student speaks name, then class continues with poem. Play continues with the next student.
    • Later, student speaks name on steady beat and class answers back on the steady beat before continuing with the poem for the next student.
  • Play can also take place with teacher using a bumblebee puppet. 
    • Teacher walks around the circle and taps students on the beat. 
    • The student which the bee taps at the end of the poem speaks his/her name. 
    • Teacher says name, instructs children to say the name, then improvises a way for the class to repeat the name. ex: "Sal-ly. Let's all say it, Sal-ly. Let's all whisper it, Sal-ly." Other ideas: "Let's clap and say it," or "Flap your wings and say it."

Up the Ladder

This fun game was found through Pinterest. You can find the poem, as well as many other fabulous lesson plans in Jeff and Randy's 3rd Grade GamePlan.

We extended the game by letting students play the rhythm of the student introductions. 2nd-6th graders stood in lines behind 6-7 drums. After the poem, students at the drums introduced themselves (rhythmically) and everyone echoed and played the rhythm on the drums. Students waiting in line put the rhythm somewhere on their bodies. Students rotated to the end of the next line during the poem. They loved it!

Here's a video of our extension of Up the Ladder:

Do you have favorite name games? They are a great way to start the year for students and teachers.