Monday, January 27, 2014

App in Focus: Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra

The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra is free application that is a must for any music classroom! It contains an essential introduction to the instruments and players of the orchestra as well as aural quizzes and form games.

At the core of the app is a recording of Benjamin Britten's piece performed by the Royal Northern College of Music Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Sir Mark Elder. The recording can be played with either a scrolling condensed score or with a video of the performers. 

At the left of the score are icons of who is playing which line. Above the score are notes about what is happening and what to listen for. I plan to use this with some guided questions or a graphic organizer for students to follow as they listen and watch. Easily adapted for use across several grade levels.

But the fun doesn't stop there! My next favorite part of this app is the Aural Quiz. It starts out with identifying instruments into their family groups and the difficulty increases as the levels continue. I could see children easily loving this game. With my iPad mirrored to my Apple TV, we could play this game as a class.

There are two games that teach and play with form in the app. Both are very user friendly and make learning about fugue and variation fun. Both also have example recordings with the same kind of extraordinarily helpful explanation text that follows the music as it plays. Children can create their own composition using the variables provided and use musical terminology to explain their choices.

As if that wasn't enough content for a FREE app, there's still more! There are video interviews with the university students who play the music and information about Benjamin Britten's life.

Wonderful app that students and teachers will enjoy! Download it today!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

But what's in it for music teachers?

There is a common perspective among music teachers that professional development has to be music specific if it is to be of any relevance to their teaching. This attitude belies the richness of professional development and the possibilities it brings for music education.

I just got back from a weekend of training at an International Baccalaureate conference. Full of ideas, inspiration, and teachers working towards improving their practice, I found the conference invigorating despite the fact that I didn't run into another music teacher the whole time I was there. The workshop I went to was called "Making the PYP Happen in the Classroom" and was an introduction to the Primary Years Program (PYP) philosophy and practice.

Inquiry is at the heart of the IB program. How can we design experiences for children that allow them to wonder and ask questions? This kind of lesson design results in student directed learning, which increases achievement. It also decreases the amount of teacher talk, since the ideas and questions of the students are used to initiate possible new lines of inquiry. Instead of instruction as monologue, it is instruction as dialogue.

While at the conference my creative teaching mind was inspired! I started thinking about how I could design an inquiry unit for my second grade students about string instruments. 

How could I introduce string instruments in a way where all of the knowledge came from the children and their observations about the instruments? I'm still deciding how this will look, but our first lesson in this unit will be an exploration. The students will describe the look, feel, and sound of string instruments on poster paper. After we have explored several different string instruments we will compare the similarities and differences between the instruments. Then we can come up with a list of common attributes that creates the string instrument category. 

I'm still writing and thinking about this unit and nothing is set in stone except one thing. Professional development is about learning how to be a good teacher, and that applies to all subject areas.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Rap a Tap Tap - Music, Dance and Literacy Lesson Plan

Tap your feet and tip you hat, here comes a lesson for Rap a Tap Tap: Here's Bojangles, Think of That! by Diane Dillon. This lively book tells the story of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, considered by many to be the best tap dancer of all time. 

Integrating books and literature into music lessons increases cross-curricular learning and student engagement. However, being in my first year of teaching, I don't already have a collection of books to use. I am fortunate to work at a school that still has a library and in perusing the shelves I found Rap a Tap Tap.

The book alternates between a line of new text and a repeating phrase, perfect for young music learners. I set the repeating phrase to music, taught the words and rhythm first, and then added the music. While teaching the words we practiced using our different voices, our big bear voice, our little mouse voice, and then we used our singing voice.

We read the book together, all singing the "Rap a tap tap" part together. We talked about dancing, about making sounds with our feet, and how that sound could be music.

I asked the children if they would like to see Mr. Bojangles dance. Of course they said yes!

 For this video I played the introduction and then skipped to the part where Mr. Bojangles dances. I first let the kids just watch the video, and then we all stood up and danced with the video on the second viewing.

This video is very fun as Shirley Temple plays a little girl who doesn't want to go to bed. The children can certainly identify with this!  I also like the video because it shows the children that kids their age can do this type of dancing too.

I did this lesson with kindergarten children, so we just explored moving our legs and arms the way Mr. Bojangles does. They have a blast moving their feet and bodies around to the music. If you have some tap dance background, you could do a similar lesson and teach a few steps with older children.