Monday, December 30, 2013

First Concert Done!

The school has successfully put on our first concert! I followed the example of a nearby school and split the concert into two assemblies. The first assembly had Kindergarten, 3rd, 5th, and 6th grades. The second assembly had 1st, 2nd, and 4th grades. I liked the way the concert had different elements to it with singing and instrumental music.

The best thing about the concert was that I did not have the students get on and off stage. We don't have permanent seating because it is one of those cafetoriums. Therefore, I had all the students sit in the auditorium. When it was their turn I had them stand and when they were done they sat down. It worked very well not having them get on and off stage. It made the concerts short, so now I know if I do the same thing again we can have more music!

I had a star and night "theme." It was really just an idea in my head that helped me pick songs for the younger kids to sing. Next time I would like to get the grades a bit more integrated as far as a theme goes. I am pondering organizing something around the Great Kapok Tree.

My favorite comment about the concert came from a second grader. She said her favorite part was when her mom clapped after she sang. That is what it's all about!

Friday, December 27, 2013

First Lesson on Dynamics and Following the Conductor - Donor's Choose Instruments

When our instruments from our Donor's Choose project came in, the students were very excited! All of the children love to play the instruments and look forward to any time I announce that we will be playing them.

This lesson is very easy to do and you don't need a special set of instruments. Any set on nonpitched percussion will do, one instrument for every student.

As I pass out instruments I have the students echo me. I say a four beat rhythm or a sing a short melodic phrase. I saw a teacher do this on a video and thought it as brilliant. When I hand out an instrument they know to hold it without making noise.

First we practice not playing the instruments. All students put their instruments in their lap and copy my hand gestures. I teach two gestures before we begin and have them copy with their hands. First is hands open with palms up, an inviting gesture. The second is hands closed into fists with palms down, a closing gesture. I assess visually to make sure that every student has copied my hands.

Then they pick up their instruments and I conduct using the two basic gestures. They love it! And it is a perfect introduction to watching the conductor. I play around with long and short durations of playing and of silence.

With all the students watching I communicate to play softly through body language and keeping my hands low near my belly button. Then of course there is the contrasting loud, also communicated through body language with my hands up near my head. I still occasionally include silence so that they all stay watching.

These gestures are very basic and the students catch on quickly. After I have taught this I have a student come up and conduct the group. They all want to be the conductor!

This whole lesson took about five minutes and I will use it again to practice loud, soft, watching the conductor, and student leadership.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Teaching Through Modeling "I'm Sorry"

As a first year teacher I do things just because others have said it is a good idea to do. Theoretically I know why these things are suggested, but I mostly just blindly follow them. Today I understand why one of those ideas is worth it.

That idea is modeling how to say you are sorry by apologizing to children when you make a mistake. My third or fourth week I raised my voice to speak to a sixth grader. I did not perceive it as yelling because I was simply talking over the crowded band room, but he perceived it as yelling at him. I spoke to him privately in the hall, apologized for hurting his feelings, and went back to class. His attitude was defiant and standoffish for the rest of the period.

During the next few weeks, he was still trying to figure me out. But I pretended not to know what was going on. I treated him kindly, greeted him by name, and kept teaching. I acted as if we were on good terms.

Yesterday, he and a friend were talking in class because neither of them had brought their instruments. I told his friend to move to the back to fill out the alternate assignment and instead of his friend getting up to move, he got up in quite the huff. I explained that it was not him that was to move, but his friend. He started talking back to me angrily, saying that his friend had not done anything and it wasn't fair. We got into a back and forth, but this time all I said was a calm, "Please sit down." I must have repeated it twenty times but it felt like a hundred. In the moment I thought he would not sit down, that he would stand there defiantly forever. But he eventually did sit down and his friend moved to the back.

But that's not really the interesting part. The best part about all of this happened after class when he apologized to me for his behavior. I don't think this would have happened if I hadn't apologize to him. I believe he apologized because I followed the advice of those who have taught before me, and showed him how to say you're sorry for being human once in a while.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

1st Grade -Common Instruments- File Folder Game

I have been enjoying creating visuals and games to use in my classroom. Today I present a file folder game for use in 1st grade. The pdf file for this game is free and available from my TpT store.

It includes five common instruments and one uncommon: guitar, piano, trumpet, drum, violin, and recorder. I included recorder because we play it in 3rd grade at my school.

 The file includes:
- Pictures of each instrument
- Pictures of a person playing each instrument
- Written word for each instrument
- Quarter notes to represent syllables

4 games are playable.
1) Match each instrument to the person playing the instrument.
2) Match the written words to the instruments.
3) Categorize each instrument as one, two, or three syllables.
4) Memory game matching each instrument to the person playing the instrument.

All images are copyright under Creative Commons or Free Use.

Happy Teaching!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Donor's Choose - First Project!

My first project is up on Donor's Choose! I have requested a variety of percussion instruments to use with Kindergarten through third grade students to compose music. It is so wonderful to give children a way to express themselves with music!

Donating is very easy and the students will very much appreciate it! My project has match funding, so every dollar you donate will be doubled!

This website is all about getting teachers what they need. They are a 501(c)3 charity, so all money donated to them is tax deductible!

If you are a teacher and curious about posting a project on Donor's Choose, do it! The process is not that hard, you can save your progress along the way so you can do it in the few spare moments you find, and you never know who out there will see what you're doing and donate to your classroom!

I'm terribly excited!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Dem Bones Lesson Plan - Halloween or Health

The kids love this one, from 1st through 3rd, this one is fun! To introduce the book I sang the chorus using the phrase "dancing bones" instead of the traditional "dry bones. First I "read" the book by singing the song. I love using singable picture books in music class because it helps engage students in music and in reading. One of my classes clapped when the book was finished!

The song "Dem Bones" is a traditional African American spiritual.  I particularly like Bob Barner's book because the skeletons are all playing instruments!

On the second sing through I had the kids touch the place on their body that the song is talking about and invited them to sing with me if they wanted. It is an easy melody and they catch on very quickly.

Then we watched this video and danced along! I like this video because they changed the lyrics "Hear the word of the Lord" to "That's the way it goes" so I can use it in the public school classroom. I modeled doing some bone dances to get the kids thinking about different ways to move their body to the music.

There is nothing that really ties this book to Halloween specifically, so it could also be used when the students are studying the systems of the body. The book has facts about each bone in the song for further discussion and for those students who always want to know more!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Weather Song Lesson Plan - Special Education/ Special Day Class

What's better than music class once a week? Music class twice a week! The students in the Special Day Class at my school receive music instruction during with their classroom teacher and they also come for music as a special day class group. This group of eleven kids ranges in grades from 2nd-6th.

When I was in their special day classroom observing, the teacher was talking about how to know what to wear based on the weather. I thought this weather song would be a good tie in.

The first week I taught them the weather song by rote. I like how this video models teaching the song with the speaking voice first and then adding the melody. Afterwards, I sang and they sang back to me keeping a steady beat on their body.

I showed pictures of each of the types of weather that the song discusses using my iPad. When we were singing about sunny, there was the picture of a sunny day. I asked for which two we should focus on and we sang the ending phrase on just those two.

The second week I reviewed the song using half drawings. I wrote Sunny, Rainy, Cloudy, Snowy, and Windy on pieces of paper. Then I started a drawing of each one. As we reviewed the song, I used these for the new visuals. The students then finished the drawings in pairs, adding something to the picture that had to do with that type of weather.

I finished our review of that song on that day by singing the song again with student volunteers coming up to the board and pointing to the order of the pictures that occurs in the song.

Next week when we review our song, we will talk about how the weather is predicted and what type of clothing we should wear for each type of weather.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Clarinet Troubleshooting and Repair

This week I showed my elementary music teacher colleagues quick fixes for clarinet repair and thought I'd share here too!

Problem: No sound is coming out or the clarinet keeps squeaking.
- Check the reed! Kids are notorious for chewing on, maiming, or destroying reeds. Crooked reeds also won't play.
- Check the ligature! Ligatures that are too loose, too tight, too high, or too low won't be holding the reed on in the right place.
- Check the player's embouchure.

Problem: Some notes play, but others don't
There is probably a pad leaking or missing somewhere. Check everywhere! It might be a pad that isn't used a lot. It could also be a pad that is still attached, but where the membrane has worn off. If the membrane is worn, then air can leak through.
- If the pad is there, put a piece of teflon tape around it to hold the pad in place. If there is no pad, use a piece of silly putty as a makeshift pad and hold in place with teflon tape.

Problem: No ligature
- Rubber bands or hair ties work to get through concert night.

Problem: Loose or wiggling keys.
- There is a screw missing or loose. Screws often just come loose on their own. Invest in a dollar store eyeglass repair kit. The screwdrivers come in a variety of sizes so you can use the one that is the right size for the screw. When putting the screw back in, try your best not to damage the metal.
- A spring has come loose. Compare the none working clarinet to one that is working. There are many small springs that are simple rods. The rods need to be in the right place to apply pressure so that the keys spring back up.

Problem: Joints are too loose.
In older clarinets the corks can become very worn down. Use as much teflon tape as you need to get a secure connection. You will need to take it in to get the cork redone.

Problem: Joints are very hard to get together and apart.
Common in new clarinets. Use a polishing nail file to gently sand some of the cork away. Make sure you don't sand any of the wood, that you sand evenly, and that you only sand a bit off at a time.

Hope this helps!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Power of a Positive Focus

One of the most powerful teaching tools that I have is maintaining a positive focus. I first read about this in one of my favorite books Managing Challenging Children by Gerard Gordon.

The real test of this tool comes on days like today when the classroom does not look anything like what you had planned for. When the 2nd graders came to my room today these are some of the things they were doing during the first five minutes of class: talking over me, shouting instead of speaking our opening chant, laying on the ground and not participating whatsoever, and turning completely around so they were not facing me.

When I first started teaching I did what most people do and talked about what was going wrong that I did not want. However, talking about these behaviors gives attention to the very students who are not doing what you would prefer. And what Gordon points out is what you talk about you get more of.

Today, instead of talking about all the students who were not doing the right thing today, I just started in talking about what they were doing right. Sometimes in those first fifteen minutes there were only five kids doing what I wanted. But I talked about them. I used their names, looked them in the eye, and told them using specific language what they were doing right. Brian is facing me. Sally made the T right after I said, "Time." Nguyen is patting the beat and her hands are moving right when my hands are moving.

It was like a slow magic. The last fifteen minutes of class were productive. Most students were engaged. No one was lying on the floor anymore and no one was talking over me. There is power in maintaining a positive focus. This class showed me that, if I can keep my positive focus even amongst chaos, productive and wonderful learning can take place.

Monday, September 23, 2013

App in Focus: Educreations

Apps in Focus is a series of blog posts that will focus on iPad applications I'm using right now in the classroom. 

First up is Educreations, an app that turns your iPad into a whiteboard.  I decided to try this one because it is FREE and had good reviews.

What it Does
Turns your iPad into a whiteboard. You can draw on it in different colors just like you can on a classroom whiteboard. However, you can also import pictures from just about anywhere. Tired of drawing staff lines? Just import one and then draw whatever you need to on top! 

The app also allows you to record while you teach. I tried it out, and it is very user friendly. You can record review material and post it online for students. You could also record while you are teaching a class so you could reflect later on how the lesson went. Videos can be saved privately or publicly. 

Using this app with the AppleTV in my classroom allows me to teach the whole class while walking around the room. I can check student work while teaching! It also makes whatever is on my iPad screen enormous. Very helpful for teaching bow hold!

If you don't have an AppleTV you could use this app using a document projector. This would have been wonderful in my previous classroom where I had a document projector but no white board!

What It Doesn't
Allow you to edit a lesson after you have saved it. You also can't edit the timeline of a recording. If you mess up while recording, you have to start over. This app is not for recording long lectures that need to be edited. 

The Lowdown
Free user-friendly application that turns your iPad into recordable whiteboard that can upload pictures from just about anywhere. Try it! 

That 4th Grade Class - A Day When Classroom Management Won

Classroom management. It's what principals want to know that you have. It's what makes new teachers quit because there is no worse feeling than a class who is not listening to a word you say and doesn't respect you. Trust me, I know that feeling. However, the best aspect about classroom management is the least discussed, that you can get better at it!

I have two 4th grade classes that I teach. At this age in the district all students learn violin. My first lesson with these two classes was like a study in contrasts. One class accepted me as their teacher and cooperated without any special classroom management needed on my part. The second class was quit different. They talked a lot. They were not respectful to the music stands. No one did anything way out there, but I knew I did not want to spend my year playing tug-o-war with the kids. And I did not want to feel that special feeling of a class out of the range of my influence.

The first thing I decided was that I wasn't going to try to figure out why the two classes were different. It doesn't really matter why. I decided I needed to teach that second group of 4th graders that the music room is a place where certain expectations need to be met. With that I was off and planning. What could I do to raise the expectations for behavior and reinforce that I was serious?

I started our next class meeting outside of the classroom. Two things happened there. I told them that today they would have the opportunity to earn the right to play the violin.  The class could earn a star for doing various things in the classroom. If the class earned 10 stars by the end of the day, then we would play violins at our next class. I also started my expectations outside of the classroom. They were in two lines. They had to enter the room silently. The first line started walked up the ramp. I had them stop at the door. They started talking, so back off the ramp they went. I repeated my expectations and had the second line try. Success!

I kept repeating that to earn this first star they needed to be silent entering the classroom and what that meant. It included not making noise with their mouth, feet, or hands in any way. That meant silent. If I had said no talking, then some of the kids would have made other noises and that's not what I wanted. 

The room was ready for the students when they arrived with chairs and stands. The name tags were out on the stands so I could address students by name. It also meant that I sat them where I wanted them, alternating boy-girl-boy-girl. Each stand also had a pencil. It is really important to have the classroom ready. It showed that I was ready for them, even if they weren't ready for me.

From there I proceeded with a basic staff lesson about the names of the lines and spaces. The first thing I needed to do was get a handout to each student. I explained that I could have had these out on the stands before they came in, but that I wanted to give them an opportunity to earn a star. They could earn this star by not talking while I passed out the handouts. This included not talking even when I was no longer at the front of the room. 

For the entire rest of the class every direction was given as an opportunity to earn a star. I praised them to the skies when we earned one and I told them specifically why they did not earn one as that happened. Any amount of talking would negate earning a star. I focused on specific students who were doing specific things that were helping us earn stars.

It was amazing! They learned I meant it. I was not going to put violins into their hands until they showed me they could be respectful to one another so we could learn. They learned that they could be quiet as a class and get to work. They learned that music class is different. They learned that I have high expectations and that I will teach them how to meet those expectations. They learned what success feels like. 

Because at the end of the 45 minutes they had nine stars. They could earn the last one by exiting the room silently. After they were lined up outside they so wanted to know if they had earned the last one. And they had! For the first time that day my face broke out into a huge smile. They had done it! So many of them smiled too. I raised the expectation for their behavior and they met that expectation. 

I tried something different and it worked. This time. It doesn't always work because every group of kids is different. That's how group dynamics work. But you don't have to accept a class that is not meeting your behavioral expectations. Try some new things. And praise yourself for trying. You've earned it.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

1st Movement Lesson Plan for 1st Grade!

Today I taught my first movement lesson plan. Not hand gestures to go with a song or dance movements to go with a song, but kids listening to music and responding with their body. 

Objectives were for students to hear and respond appropriately to the differences of high/low and fast/slow. In addition, I wanted to set up expectations for behavior during movement activities for the rest of the year. 

I began with the students sitting in a row facing me like we have done for several weeks. The specific parameters I gave them were where they could go in the room, where they couldn't go, and how they would look when they were in scatter spots. I showed them how to appropriately make sure they had enough room. I modeled everything while walking around the room. I also made it clear that once in their spot, they were going to stay there. No locomotor for our first movement lesson. 

The most important instruction was that they should move when they hear the music and they should freeze when the music stops. This helped them focus on the music and on the lesson instead of getting distracted.

I then sang "Find your own space" (d-m-s-d) to release them from the carpet squares. They ran. I had them all walk back to their carpet squares. We reviewed our classroom rule to walk and not run. Then I sang the cue again, we tried again, and were successful. 

I played the piano alternating between low and high. After the first two examples, I gave them the specific direction to make it look different if the sound was high or if it was low. Some wonderful responses came as a result. Then we did fast and slow. I reinforced to stay in one spot, but explore different movements with the body. I periodically commented on any expressive movements that I saw that were really nice or that showed risk-taking.

This simple lesson plan on exploring movement with basic building blocks of music was really successful as a first lesson in listening to and responding to music as well as a first lesson learning about finding our own space in music class. I was blown away by the expressive quality of their movements and can't wait to plan more movement lessons. Yay!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Supporting the Emerging New Teacher

Last February to June was my first teaching position. I had just finished my credential and was hired as a long term substitute. It was my dream position, middle school band, orchestra, and choir. I taught two levels of each subject, a beginning 6th grade and an advanced 7th/8th grade of each.

It was the toughest job I have ever had. Looking back now, I know this was because I had no support. There was no one on campus to talk to, the principal was much too overwhelmed to help me, and I had no mentor who had been through this kind of situation. I eventually found some very kind mentors who were willing to listen to me and offer new suggestions. They are the reasons I didn't quit. I found the support, new ideas, and willpower to keep going through them.

Three weeks ago I started my first full time position as a K-6 music teacher. Many of the other music teachers in the new-to-me district have offered assistance. They ask if I am okay or if I need anything. The teachers at my site have offered the same help. I feel that, if I needed something, anything at all, I have a myriad of people around me who are more than willing to assist.

My school has a simple system of positive feedback that teachers can write to one another. I received two from this last week and both commented on my enthusiasm. It is such a bolster to my self-esteem that others can see how teaching music brings me such joy and that this is valued by the other teachers.

Both an easily created support network and positive feedback are necessary to support a new teacher.  My support network created itself out of the kind teachers who have offered their support without me having to ask. Sometimes it is hard to ask for help, especially in a job that expects you to be amazing at classroom management immediately. Having people who offered their help will make it much easier to ask for help when I need it.

The positive feedback I have received is encouraging and uplifting. I feel like I am on the right track, that others see the hard work I am putting in, and that I am a valued member of the education team at my school.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

If you have iPads but no Orff Xylophones... - 2 great apps for the music room

This is my first year teaching, and consequently my first year at my school. I found one lonely soprano xylophone, but nothing else in the way of Orff instruments in the music room. However, my school does have class sets of iPads available to check out from the tech lab. With these two FREE applications, I plan to introduce my students to playing Orff compositions!

First up is MusicSparkles, an instrument sounds app. The FREE version comes with a one octave glockenspiel graphic and four octaves of sound. Above the glock graphic are four buttons which add the additional octaves. That means there are four available instrument sounds in the one image!

There are two mallet graphics that mimic playing with two mallets. It will sound as many bars as you hit, even all eight bars at the same time. Each bar is a different color. They are not labeled with letters and the bars are not removable.

There are a few things I wish I could change about the app. First, every time you tap a note an eighth note graphic floats out. I think this would be distracting for some children. Second, the sounds are a bit synthetic. However, at the price of nothing, I'll take it!

Second is Marimba byBuzlyLabs. With an octave and a fifth from A to E it has superb sound quality. In contrast with MusicSparkles, the bars are all the same color and are labeled with letter names. No mallet graphics and no kid colors. You also cannot play chords, it only plays one bar at a time. With the low A this would be a great one to use for la pentatonic on C.

With these two apps I will have contrasting metal and wood sounds, the option for dynamics with the volume controls, and the ability to create layers of different sounds. I am very excited to hear what it will sound like with 28 iPads playing!

Monday, September 2, 2013

All subjects are taught in MUSIC!

Saw this on Pinterest and was inspired to make my own!

I first cut out the letters. They came out a bit small so I glued them down to a contrasting color and cut out again, which added a border to the letters and made them bigger. I bought 3" precut black letters and got to work!

I put it on my door and have already received a lot of positive comments from the other teachers!

Friday, August 30, 2013

My first hallway board: "Music Takes Us All Around the World"

My classroom is a bungalow without a display board out front. However, there is a display board that I get to use on the building right next to my room. Yay!

In music class it can take a while to get things to put on a display board. I decided to create something to put up on the board to welcome the students on the first day of school. This helps me not feel so pressured for the kids to produce something.

As an International Baccalaureate school, we do a lot of focus on increasing our students' international mindedness. Music is a wonderful vehicle for this.

The quote "Music Takes Us All Around the World" has a double meaning of the word "all." It can mean all of us people or all the different locations in the world. I used black tempera paint with a regular brush to create the lettering. I cut a corner guide out of card stock and used that as a guide for cutting the rest of the corners.

I used a drum to make a circle and cut it out of blue butcher paper for the planet. I used green tempura paint to add some land. I did the map from memory as it is a good brain exercise.

I'm delighted with the board! Another teacher on campus told me it looked really good. The validation for my efforts feels great.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Note Values and Fractions Display

As a new teacher I am getting my room ready to go from scratch. There is nothing in there, so I get to start out fresh!

I really want to help the students understand how fractions and music note values are related. In preparation for that lesson to come, I created one of these for each value of note that we use in class, whole, half, quarter, and eighth. It has the name of the note, a picture of the note on a five line staff, a graphic representation of a measure, and a short definition.

Notice that I did not include the number of beats each note gets. I think children get confused about how music note value relates to fractions when we get to an eighth note is 1/8 of a measure and 1/2 of a beat. My idea is to start with the first fraction, an eighth note is 1/8 of a measure and it would take 8 eighth notes to fill up a full measure. From there we can start dissecting the beat. 

I thought about the graph at length and am still not entirely satisfied with it. On each page the section that is colored in darker is one of that note. I decided to use a rectangle because measures are rectangular. 

I will probably tweak this around as I go, or I might scrap it all together. We'll see how it goes!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

That musty smell is coming from the music room...

Greetings Internet! I'm Ms. Nelson, the new elementary music teacher for an urban California school.

When I first saw my room it looked so lifeless, sad, and crusty. In years past the music teaching duties were split between different teachers. That meant that nothing has been thrown away for a while and no one spent any time trying to spruce up the place. Clarinet swabs, saxophones necks, and valve oil are in giant tin cans. Oh, and it's a bungalow.

I hate bungalows. In my mind they are not sustainable buildings. Everything has a timeline and temporary buildings have temporary in the title! I think they are wasted money in the long run.

However! My thoughts on money well spent aside, my room is a really good size for a music room. I might think differently as children fill the space. Their elbows always seem to take up more room than I think they will.

I'm in the process of cleaning out the room, taking inventory of the instruments, and giving the walls a much needed spruce up. Oh, and writing a curriculum. I'm teaching K-6, lower grades general music, upper grades instrumental. I see each class only once a week. I just finished my Orff Level 1 training and am excited to use some of what I've learned.

I will use this space to share things I post in the classroom, lessons, stuff that worked, stuff that didn't work, and gratitude.

In a difficult long term sub position last year I started writing down a few good things in my planner at the end of the day that I was grateful for or that made me smile. That way I had written proof of the things that had gone well that week instead of always dwelling on the negative. I hope to continue the practice this year.