Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Two-Toned Tip

I haven't written a post in a while, and things are crazy with preparation for our K-3 winter concert. So I thought I would share a quick idea that I have implemented with my students as they notate music on whiteboards.

First of all, let me share my new setup for whiteboard supplies. There is a little space right outside my door, and I wanted to have the materials in the hallway for students to gather as they entered the room. I also needed a mobile station, because there are times when older grades meet next door with the other music class. 

I found this two-shelf cubby at IKEA, which can be put on casters (sold separately). The shelf unit is from the Expedit collection. I can't find the two-shelf model online, but it was in the store in Atlanta.

Markers and erasers are kept in clear bins. I typically hold the marker bins a few feet in front of the supply station to help with traffic flow.

The eraser bin is placed on top of the wooden crate that holds the boards, so they are close together and easy to pick up quickly. 

A bin of my classroom set of recorder books sits on the lower shelf. 

I am loving my new station! It keeps things neat and organized, and the mobility is a plus. 

Now, back to the tip I promised. Some of my students were struggling with differentiating between line and space notes at the beginning of the year. Also, some students seem to be able to identify B-A-G most of the time, but I found they were unable to transfer music from the board to their whiteboards. 

I decided to have students use two markers: one colored and one black or brown. They use the colored marker for line notes, and the black or brown for space notes. I believe it helps them focus on the precise location of the pitches, and they seem to have better accuracy. I can also assess how well they are doing very quickly.

I keep the markers in two separate bins, so they can pick one out of each bucket on their way into the room.
So, that is my quick and easy tip. Use two different colored markers to notate line and space notes. It's helpful and more fun. Let's face it: two markers are better than one! :)


Monday, October 21, 2013

Veterans Are Heroes

Veterans' Day is around the corner, and I'm really looking forward to it! Each year, our 5th graders present a Veterans' Day program for students, parents, and veterans. We have 4 performances, in order to accommodate our audiences. The veterans attend the final performance. I wrote about our typical program last year, so I won't repeat everything. You can read about it here: Veterans' Day Program post. (The post also includes examples of videos and a performance reflection sheet.)

We use 5th grade writing to supply all of the narration and video portions of our program. In the past, we have simply given a writing prompt and told them to write about that, or they create a poem or write a letter to a veteran. While this method provided plenty of material for the program, it was difficult to organize the students' thoughts in a way to make the program flow.
This year, I decided to provide a 3-page questionnaire for each student to complete during their writing class. The questions were written to help organize the students' writing into topics that we wanted to include in our video presentations. We instructed students that they didn't have to complete every question, and that they should start with the ones they felt the most strongly about. The last page was for a letter to a veteran, which could be to any veteran, or to someone they know.

You can download the PDF here: Veterans' Day Reflections

While we have gotten some good information in the past, this year's writing seems to feel more personal. There is a place for them to tell something about a veteran, and we have learned about sacrifices veterans made, such as grandfathers missing out on their child being born.

My fellow music teacher and I read through all of the papers (approximately 120) to select the writings that will be featured, and we do not want to know whose paper we are reading. We prefer to select solely on the quality of writing. Therefore, students are instructed to only write their name and homeroom teacher on the back of the last page.

This questionnaire doesn't have to be used for a extracting thoughts for a program. The writing assignment has merit on its own. I feel the questions led students to reflect on veterans and their sacrifices and service for our country, which is a good thing. 

One other change we made in our program this year is the addition of the song, "You Are Our Heroes," by Teresa Jennings. It is available through Music K-8. The song was originally intended for the heroes of 9-11, but it works beautifully for Veterans' Day. It is a very poignant song that will be very meaningful when sung directly to the veterans. We tweaked one or two lines to gear it towards veterans. (We also used the free computer program, Audacity, to speed up the tempo of the soundtrack a little.) Here are our lyrics:

Well, the students have completed their writing, and most of the songs are memorized. Now all that's left is to hold auditions for solos (and make selections), videotape students, make a video of their letters and record student voiceovers,  edit  3 videos, type up the program....You know the drill! (Speaking of solo auditions, I'm using my Google online registration form again this year. It works like a charm. You can read about it here.)

Meanwhile, I hope to see you at the national NAfME conference in Nashville next week! I'll be the one editing videos on her MacBook in between sessions. :)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Must Be Halloween

I know it's a little early, but due to some early dismissals for parent conferences next week and the fact that I will be attending the national NAfME conference in Nashville the next week, I am trying to pack in as much Halloween fun as possible.  My kindergarten and 1st grade classes are learning "Must Be Halloween" this week, and they are playing instruments as they sing.

Here's a Halloween PowerPoint slide for the song, which is in Jeff and Randy's GamePlan. See their book for the melody and their complete lesson plans for this song. The song is either in the 1st or 2nd grade curriculum. I don't have my books at home and don't recall at the moment. I'll try to remember to edit my post later. If you don't already have any of their GamePlan books, I recommend purchasing them for well thought-out, high quality lesson plans that the students enjoy.
I also included a slide with a picture of the xylophone with the D and A bars marked:
My kindergarten students have been doing a lot of drumming to work on their steady beat, but this is the first time they have played xylophones. I like to limit the number of students playing at once on their first xylophone experience, so I can assist students as much as they need.

I set up four instruments in a square and let the students line up behind each one. I sat in the center, so I could reach all of the children. They played a steady beat bordun on D and A. After they played, they rotated to the end of the next line. We continued until each student had played all four xylophones. Students in line continued to sing & pat the beat on their thighs.
I gave my first grade classes a little challenge. All students went to instruments to sing and play. I had two rows of barred instruments with triangles interspersed. Students played xylophones on beats 1, 2, & 3, and rested on beat 4. Triangles played on beat 4. It worked great, except for the third line where there was a word to sing on the rest. It may be easier for first graders to only rest on the xylophone and play triangles after "halloween" each time and not worry about the third line.
First grade students rotated through all of the instruments, if time allowed. It's amazing how many times they will sing the same song, just so they can play every xylophone and triangle. Fortunately, my first grade classes are pretty small this year so we only had to perform about 15 times. :)

Looking for more Halloween fun? See some of my other favorites here and here.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Skin and Bones

There are so many fun fall and Halloween songs, that it is impossible to find time to fit them in to my lesson plans. However, there are a few favorites that I absolutely must make sure to include, and "Skin and Bones" is one of them. It is a wonderful opportunity for the children to experience a song in a minor key, and they love the surprise ending. (Another favorite is "What Will You Be for Halloween?" You can read more about it in my previous post by clicking here.

Our textbook series (Silver Burdett Making Music, 2nd Grade) has a good sound track for this song, and sometimes I'll use it for a dramatic, spooky-fun activity that the students beg for year, after year. I typically begin using this activity with my second graders. I turn the lights off and have the students scatter around the room and lie down on their backs with their eyes closed. As the song plays, I hide a vibraslap behind my back and quietly walk around the "graveyard," making sure that I pass near each student. At the end of the song, on "Boo!" I play the vibraslap near an unsuspecting child, and the class erupts in shrieks and giggles. I try to pick a child that I know will not be upset by the loud sound, and so far, it has worked.

I like to extend the song with an instrumental accompaniment. I created the following PowerPoint slides to help them learn their part:
Sometimes we use silly words to help us prepare and remember which bars to play, or when to play the triangles. For instance, in the pattern for this song, we sing, "Eggs & Bacon," "Eggs & Cookies," "Eggs & Bacon," "Ching" (for the triangle part). Since the left hand remains on one bar and the right hand moves to its next door neighbor, it can be a little confusing for students, at first. We practice on our thighs prior to moving to the instruments.

When I notice students struggling at the instruments, I tell them that they can focus on their left hand until they are ready to add the other. They feel so proud when they are able to play it successfully.

We also add triangles on the rests. You can finish with a vibraslap and everyone playing their triangles or any two pitches on the barred instruments on the word, "Boo!"
I'm not sure what took me so long, but I recently had the idea to add a photo of a xylophone with the bars marked in my PowerPoint presentation. Now I can stand and point to the bars on the screen, which is large enough for everyone to see. As a visual learner, I can't believe I just now thought of it. I know a lot of people use visuals of barred instruments to demonstrate, and I've even put glockenspiels under my document camera before, but this is SO much easier. Ha!
If you prefer to do a cross-over bordun, you might prefer this instrumental part:
All of these images are jpeg files directly from a PowerPoint, so you should be able to copy them and paste them right into your own presentation, if you would like to use them.

The clipart and clipart frames are from My Cute Graphics, which has a wealth of adorable clip art appropriate for classroom use.

Have a Spooky Halloween!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

4 Apps 4 Teachers

I am so excited that I recently acquired an iPad to use in my classroom! I immediately began to search for apps to enhance my teaching. Since I only have one iPad, I began by looking for apps that will assist with administrative tasks. In addition to the obvious must-have apps like Dropbox, Splashtop, and Evernote, I have found several other apps that any teacher is sure to love.


Planbook is an awesome app that can be accessed from a computer, as well as other devices like the iPad. Although there is an annual fee of about $12, you can try it free for 30 days. Believe me - after thirty days, you'll want to purchase the annual subscription!

As a music teacher, the trickiest part was deciding how to set up classes and schedule them. I finally decided to set up a couple of grades on each day, so I can see the entire week's plans at a glance. I have several grades twice a week, which is why they are listed on two different days. Here is a sample week, just to show how I arranged my classes:

Not only does it provide a great format for keeping up with lessons plans, it makes it very simple to note standards for each plan. You simply select the source of your standards (it even includes state standards), and then click on the standards addressed in the plan.
There are plenty of useful features, which include extending lessons, bumping lessons, attaching files, and adding notes and events. Use a computer to start your online Planbook today. You can set up your classes and begin planning in minutes. There are video tutorials to help you start. Visit to begin!

Teacher Kit

I LOVE this app, which is totally free! Using Teacher Kit, I can set up classes (with photos of students), arrange their seating chart, track behavior and attendance, enter grades, and set up any additional fields of information I want.

As an elementary music teacher in a school with approximately 800 students, I have a lot of names to learn. After finding this app, I was able to import my class rosters, take pictures of the students, and arrange their "desks" in the exact way they sit on the carpet in my room. I can study classes (especially kindergarten) to make sure I know all of my students' names.

The behavior tracking tool allows me to enter behavior as positive or negative, and also lets me add notes about the specific behavior. It keeps track of the date and behavior for each student.

The trickiest part was importing my student rosters for each class using a CSV file. Refer to the Teacher Kit Support Center for clear directions and answers to other questions you may have. (My first attempt failed, since I didn't use the right headings for the spreadsheet.) If you are a classroom teacher, you can simply enter your students individually. However, with 40+ classes in our school, I needed to utilize the import feature.

Set up classrooms for each class you teach.

Arrange seating charts by touching the desk and dragging it wherever you want. (This is a sample photo from the app store. My students sit in a semi-circle on the floor.

Track behavior and attendance, as well as keep up with grades.

Pick Me!

Although the Pick Me! app doesn't have as many bells and whistles as Teacher Kit, it may suit your needs. You can enter students by classroom, add pictures and other information (like parent e-mail address or other notes you want to add). The main purpose of the app is to randomly select students and keep track of their answers (via a thumbs up/down). You can reset the scores whenever you want to, but the limitation is that there is no way to record what skill has been assessed.

Class Dojo

Class Dojo is a free, fabulous, fun app that allows you to track student behavior using a computer or mobile device. I have been using it for a couple of years, and I highly recommend it. The iPad app (or app for phones) allows mobility while running the program. You can read more about Class Dojo in my previous post, Behavior Boosters.
Several of these apps can be run through a computer, so don't worry if you do not have a mobile device. I hope you'll try some of these teacher tools. I predict that you will find them as useful as I do!

I decided to join Steph's 2/4 Tuesday Linky Party at Stay Tuned, since I had 4 apps to share. Be sure to check out her party for ideas from other music ed bloggers. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Behavior Boosters

We have happy students at our school. They even get excited when they behave. Really! I'm not kidding. Our students enjoy being good (most of the time). In order to encourage positive behavior, Janet and I have several incentives that we use in both of our music classrooms.

1. Fun Friends

I found these fun friends at Dollar Tree last summer:
I picked one up, and it made me smile. I figured if I enjoyed it, then my students would, also. They were available in 6 colors, so I picked up 4 of each. I thought I might be able to use them when forming groups for centers or cooperative projects. I sent Janet a picture, and she wanted some for her room. So, we scoured a couple of stores to come up with one more set of 24.

These squishy friends have become an incentive for students to work hard and behave beautifully. Students love to receive a pal as a reward for excellent work ethic or behavior. When we notice a student exhibiting exemplary behavior or work, we simply walk by and drop a squishy in the child's lap without stopping instruction. As soon as the first one is handed out, the atmosphere in the room changes. Children sit taller, pay closer attention, work harder, and behave better. Students strive to be noticed in a positive manner.

These new friends have provided plenty of excitement in the music room. We have a 6th grader who asks if we are giving out squishy friends every time he comes to class. We have seen an improvement in his behavior and work ethic since the first introduction of these new buddies. Although they work very well, it is important to refrain from overuse, so they will continue to work their magic.

In addition to these friends, we also have a collection of finger puppets, beanie babies, and stuffed animals. Children love all of these, so if you do not have squishy friends, simply substitute something students will like. We find that even our 6th graders really love the stuffed animals. Janet has a big Winnie the Pooh and a big gorilla that makes the rounds during most 6th grade classes. Winnie and the gorilla never lose their charm. Students even keep them close as they work diligently on white boards honing their music notation skills.

2. Special Seating

Find a special seat to use as a reward for students. Janet and I do not have chairs in our rooms, so our classes sit on the carpet. We both have a few special places, such as a bench, a table with swivel stools, an exercise ball, and various stools. Sometimes we let deserving students leave the carpet and sit in a special spot. We also instruct them to watch for other deserving students to take their places after a few minutes. Students work hard to impress their peers. Of course, we typically require girls to pick boys and boys to pick girls to help the students pick based upon work, rather than friendship.

3. Class Dojo

This app is the guro of behavior management. I could go on and on about its magical effects on our 6th graders. It provides a way to award positive and negative points in any category you create. You assign points by simply clicking on the students' avatars, or on the list of names. You can also award points to multiple students, or the entire class. The app can be run from a computer, iPad, or phone. We run the program on a computer that is projected on the screen, but since the computer is in the back of the room, we can assign points from our phones or iPads.
Class Dojo keeps a running total of points for each student and displays the totals on the students' cute cartoon monster avatars. It will also create reports for individual students and classes, and reports can be sent to parents. There is even a way for students and parents to log in at home to check progress. Students can even log into their account and create their own avatar.

We LOVE Class Dojo! It has worked wonders in our 6th grade classes. One problem we had with sixth grade, is that they enter our hallway at the end of the day more like they are in junior high (with backpacks that must be put in lockers, people stopping by the restroom, complete with hustle and bustle and slight commotion. Therefore, I set up a behavior standard for being ready to begin. I stand at the door with the app running on my iPad, with it displayed on the screen. I award points to the first few students to enter and sit quietly in their spots. Then I hit the random button. If the chosen student is seated and quiet, he/she receives a point for being ready to begin. It really encourages the students to enter quickly and calmly.

We even allow 2-3 students to assign points (following our guidelines). We select the students by having students with a certain number of points (who have NOT run Dojo before) stand. For example: "If you have 20 or more points, and have NOT run Dojo, please stand." Then we raise the points until only 2-3 students are still standing.  They observe the class and keep a list on an index card, then they go to the computer to award points.

At this point, we only use the program with 6th grade. We are a K-6 school, and we feel like saving it until their last year keeps it fresher and more exciting. Try out Class Dojo, and let it work its magic on your classes. I guarantee that you will love it as much as we do!

Friday, June 7, 2013

A Few Fun Slides

I love summer! I must admit that sleeping late is one of my favorite things to do. Another joy of summer is that I now have time for fun projects that sometimes slip by during the school year. I need a creative outlet, so I thought I would work on a few PowerPoint lyric slides to some fun traditional songs that I plan to add to our repertoire at school. I have included a link to the PowerPoint file for each, in case you are interested:

I Bought Me a Cat

Shoo Fly

I Fed My Horse

All Around the Buttercup

That's all for now!