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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Fermata Friday: July 29, 2016


Welcome to this week's installment of my weekly linky party, Fermata Fridays! This is a chance for music education bloggers to share blog posts with readers and bloggers alike, so we can all mingle and learn from each other. Readers, you are going to love all of the awesome blog posts that are out there- I hope you discover some new blogs to follow and get some new inspiration for your teaching! Bloggers, make sure you read the directions carefully before linking up to make sure we keep the party fun for everyone. Thanks! :)

Here are the rules for the linky party:

1. Add the linky image to your blog post, blog sidebar, linky party roundup, or other similar location on your blog and link it back to the party. Copy and paste the code for this button, or use the image above and link to the label "Fermata Fridays".

<div class="separator" style="clear: both; text-align: center;"><a href="http://caldwellorganizedchaos.blogspot.com/search/label/Fermata%20Fridays"><img border="0" src="http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-8g8YQudJiB8/VaoWoBnpJ3I/AAAAAAAADuU/GeG51-nOB0Q/s1600/fermata%2Bfriday%2Bbutton.jpg" /></a></div><br />





2. Add up to two blog post links to the linky. The posts can be old or new (but no posts that have already been linked up to Fermata Fridays in the past), on any topic related to music teaching, but must not be primarily featuring a product. It's fine to have a link to a relevant product within a post, but that should not be the primary focus of the post. I reserve the right to delete a link that is too product-focused. If you're not sure, just ask! :)

3. Leave a thoughtful comment on at least two other links, including the one right before yours. Add #fermatafridays to your comment so bloggers know where you found them!

4. Pin at least one post to one of your Pinterest boards.

5. Make sure you are following me on Pinterest. I will be pinning every link to the Fermata Fridays board each week.

6. Make sure you are following me on Facebook and check back next Friday- I will be featuring one of the links from the previous week's linky on my Facebook page each Friday!


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Teacher Tuesday: simple ideas for teaching composition in lower elementary

I've been focusing lately on sharing ideas for addressing the area of the new National Core Arts Standards that seems to be producing the most hand-wringing from music teachers: the "Creating" process standards. Teaching improvisation and composition is nothing new, but it is certainly more heavily emphasized and delineated in the new standards, and I've been hearing a lot of concern and confusion from music teachers over how exactly to go about incorporating these skills into their classrooms in meaningful ways. Today I want to share some of my ideas for teaching composition in the lower elementary grades (K-3rd grade-ish). I hope these ideas help spark your own thoughts and ideas to implement in your own teaching in the upcoming school year! If you're looking for more ideas for the creating process standards, be sure to check out links to more posts on the topic at the end of this post.


The number one key to teaching composition in lower elementary is to KEEP IT SIMPLE- composition doesn't have to mean writing out a 16-measure melody in standard notation! Here are some of my tips for keeping it simple while engaging younger students and developing their composition skills in meaningful and effective ways.

1. Keep It Short

There is no reason why, in order to practice or assess a student's ability to create musical ideas using half notes, they need to compose an 8-measure melody and perform it on the xylophone. Focus on the skill you are actually targeting, give them enough context to make something musical (and not just a fragment), and see how short you can make the activity/ assignment. Most of the composition activities I do with my younger students are 4-8 beats! Think about the kinds of "essays" students are writing at this age (and they've probably been working on writing in English a lot longer than they've been working on writing in music!).

One way to make something musical out of a shorter composition is to have students compose an ostinato, or repeated accompaniment pattern. This is probably my most-used composition activity in lower elementary because it's so easy to incorporate into a lesson! After learning a song, whether through singing, playing a game, playing instruments, or listening, I have students compose a 1 or 2 measure pattern using the rhythmic, pitch, or other musical element I am aiming to develop.

2. Develop The Idea

Once they've created something, take some time to have them develop and refine their ideas. I don't do this every time but I do it often, and it takes less time than you might think (and stimulates some wonderful thinking). The example of creating an ostinato accompaniment is a good example of this as well. Obviously the meter will be whatever the meter of the song is that they are accompanying, but this is a great chance to have students "make musical choices and give reasons for their choices", as the new standards stress. I often have them choose a percussion instrument on which to perform their ostinato accompaniment and ask them to choose a timbre that will match the song, or I ask a student to think about how loudly or quietly they should perform it to "match the music".

3. Use Small Groups

I only do a handful of individual composition activities in lower elementary- most of the work is in small groups. I find I learn just as much about their ability to use a musical element in composition through watching their group work as I do through their individual products, and I don't have to tell you that the students learn a lot from being forced to cooperate and work together in a small group! Working in small groups also makes the work less intimidating and shortens the time needed to complete a task (usually!), which means I can incorporate it more often without having it take over the entire lesson.

4. Less Writing, More Making

A lot of people associate composition with writing, but there is, I think, a reason that the National Core Arts standards use the term "creating". Certainly writing in standard notation is another important skill, but just as we need to learn to talk before we write, we need to learn to create music before we write it. A big part of developing skills in composition is helping students be able to improvise as well- you can read about my tips for teaching improvisation in this post- but for now we're sticking to composition.

There are lots of ways to get students "composing" without writing in standard notation. The most effective method I've found is using manipulatives. This is a big topic all on its own- you can read my tips for getting and using manipulatives for lower elementary composition in this post:


Another way to create without writing is to have students plan out, rehearse, and perform their composition without notating it at all! This works especially well in small groups, and I use it the most when I am first introducing a new musical concept (like half notes, or the pitch la, or a new instrument). I think of it like tinkering or playing with the new concept- the students get a chance to try using it without the pressure of knowing and understanding everything about it perfectly, and it helps them become much more comfortable with the concept.

One more way to have students compose without writing is to incorporate technology. Google's Chrome Music Lab, the San Francisco Symphony's SFS Kids website (both the old and the new ones), and the iPad app Loopimal are just a few examples of the many options to get kids creating music with technology.

5. When They Write, Write BIG

This may seem like a small thing, but when you are having them actually write out a composition, make sure they have plenty of room on the page to write large music notes. Think about the space they have both vertically and horizontally, and allow about 50% more room in either direction than you think they will reasonably need. Something about running out of room on the staff or page gives a lot of students anxiety- I don't know what it is but I've seen it happen over and over again! If you want to see the worksheets and templates I use, you'll find them in this Music Composition Worksheet set.

6. Less Time, More Frequency

Have you noticed that a lot of my tips have to do with ways to cut down on the time it takes to complete a task or activity? That's because, as with most any other skill we learn in life, frequency is the key to developing mastery. A lot of people treat composition as a culminating project that you do intensely as an assessment after you've done all the other musicking stuff like singing and playing instruments. But if they only do it once every few months, and then they suddenly have a humongous task thrown at them, students will not only fail but be completely miserable doing it! The key is targeted, short, fun, and frequent opportunities to create their own music.

7. Celebrate Creations

Have you ever noticed that for most of us, the older we get, the harder it is to compose? My daughters are currently 4 years old, and they make their own music all the time (although most of it is improvised and not planned out or recorded for posterity!). Why does it get harder? I'm sure there are a lot of reasons but I think one of the main ones is because we become more and more critical of our creations. Lower elementary is the perfect time to get students composing because they still have some of that ability for uninhibited creation that toddlers and preschoolers have in such abundance, and they can now apply that to COMPOSING REAL STUFF. I make a huge deal about this with my students, and I always am positive about their creations (I'm not always positive about their process if their behavior is off- you know what I'm saying here...). The first time my first graders compose an 4-beat ostinato, notate it on a 1-line staff, and perform it for the class is a BIG DEAL. They seriously feel so cool doing it, and I remind them over and over that THEY MADE THAT!

Those of you who do some sort of "composer of the month" study: have you ever thought of making your students the composer of the month? I've done it in March as a part of our Music In Our Schools Month celebration, and I've also done it at the end of the year, but either way it is a pretty awesome way to help students to think of themselves as following in the footsteps of the great composers they have studied. I have them compose something that expresses who they are- with lower elementary I will have them make a list of their favorite things and rap it, or draw a picture of something they love and use instruments to "play the picture"- and they always are so proud of their creations.

I feel like I have still just barely scratched the surface of composition in lower elementary, but I hope you have found some helpful ideas here! I would love to hear more ideas from you as well. Please leave your favorite ideas in the comments! If you're a blogger, I'd love for you to add your blog posts to the link up below with any ideas relating to teaching the "creating" process (composing and/or improvising), for any grade level. I'll be posting again soon with ideas for upper elementary, and I've already added some of my previous posts on creating below as well. Have fun composing with your students!


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Monday, July 25, 2016

Mommy Monday: an organized art station for preschoolers

After finally getting a proper art station set up in our old apartment, we moved to a new house last November. Ever since then I've been dying to set up a "new and improved" art station for the girls in the basement (which basically is functioning as the playroom now) and just haven't had the time. Well, the project is finally done and I couldn't be happier- not only is it set up again but I've made some small changes to make it even better, I think, for the girls now that they're older. Presenting: the new and improved art station for my little preschoolers! :)


Can you tell I am in full nesting mode this summer? After moving into our new house last November, I didn't really have the time to invest in organizing and settling into the new place until school was out. All of the projects that have been on my list for months are finally getting done and it's awesome!

So first let me remind you of what the previous art station looked like:


(you can click on the picture above to read my post on the previous setup)

Basically I had most of the basic drawing supplies (crayons, pencils, markers etc) in these containers hung on this rail system from IKEA, with the rest of the supplies (paper, coloring books, other craft supplies) in the tub under the table. 

Now here is the art station in our new house:


Many things are similar, but I've made several changes as well.

First of all, I still love the containers and rail system that I used before, so I bought some more. Now that the girls are taller, it's nice that they can reach further up reasonably well so that I have more hanging room! :) I previously bought only white, so this time I bought a few in some different colors. Although the colors aren't my favorites, I do like having some more color to brighten things up a little. 


I also added some of these letter holders to keep paper in. That tub under the table was just a pain and I'm glad to be rid of it!


I also moved some of the other less-used craft items that were previously in the tub to some other storage in the basement- but that is another post for another time ;)

The biggest change, and the one I'm most excited about, is the larger hanging container. It is actually supposed to be a pull-out drawer of some kind, but I found it on clearance next to the other small containers and rail systems so I grabbed it. With a few S-hooks you can hang pretty much anything from the rails, so this fits in just fine!


I added this larger container specifically to hold stationery. The girls have really been enjoying writing letters and cards to send in the mail, and I actually had quite a stash of stationery sets from my middle and high school days. I also ended up stashing their sticker books in the same bin since they fit better there. The girls were the most excited about this new container too, and they immediately made some cards to send off in the mail as soon as they saw it :)

The whole goal behind any children's supply organization project, whether it's at school or at home, is to make it a) easily and safely accessible for the kids that are supposed to be using, b) organized in a system that is easy for the kids to maintain themselves, and c) visually appealing. I'm happy with how well this system meets those goals!

If you have an art station at home (or at school!) I'd love to hear how you've set yours up. How do you organize all of the supplies? Leave a comment!



Thursday, July 21, 2016

Fermata Friday: July 22, 2016


Welcome to this week's installment of my weekly linky party, Fermata Fridays! This is a chance for music education bloggers to share blog posts with readers and bloggers alike, so we can all mingle and learn from each other. Readers, you are going to love all of the awesome blog posts that are out there- I hope you discover some new blogs to follow and get some new inspiration for your teaching! Bloggers, make sure you read the directions carefully before linking up to make sure we keep the party fun for everyone. Thanks! :)

Here are the rules for the linky party:

1. Add the linky image to your blog post, blog sidebar, linky party roundup, or other similar location on your blog and link it back to the party. Copy and paste the code for this button, or use the image above and link to the label "Fermata Fridays".

<div class="separator" style="clear: both; text-align: center;"><a href="http://caldwellorganizedchaos.blogspot.com/search/label/Fermata%20Fridays"><img border="0" src="http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-8g8YQudJiB8/VaoWoBnpJ3I/AAAAAAAADuU/GeG51-nOB0Q/s1600/fermata%2Bfriday%2Bbutton.jpg" /></a></div><br />





2. Add up to two blog post links to the linky. The posts can be old or new (but no posts that have already been linked up to Fermata Fridays in the past), on any topic related to music teaching, but must not be primarily featuring a product. It's fine to have a link to a relevant product within a post, but that should not be the primary focus of the post. I reserve the right to delete a link that is too product-focused. If you're not sure, just ask! :)

3. Leave a thoughtful comment on at least two other links, including the one right before yours. Add #fermatafridays to your comment so bloggers know where you found them!

4. Pin at least one post to one of your Pinterest boards.

5. Make sure you are following me on Pinterest. I will be pinning every link to the Fermata Fridays board each week.

6. Make sure you are following me on Facebook and check back next Friday- I will be featuring one of the links from the previous week's linky on my Facebook page each Friday!


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Teacher Tuesday: composition manipulatives for elementary music

I believe strongly in the importance of composition in elementary music, starting at the youngest ages. Although the thought of having kindergarteners create their own music can seem intimidating, it really doesn't have to be! With the added focus on creating in the new national core arts general music standards, I wanted to share some of my favorite tips for getting young students to create in a meaningful, non-threatening way. Today I'll be talking about one of my favorite composition tools for young students: manipulatives! 


Basically, a music composition manipulative allows young students to physically move objects, rather than writing with a pencil and paper, to create music. The beauty of using manipulatives is that it allows students to "notate" and create music without the hindrances of writing or learning musical notation. While the goal is certainly to get to traditional music notation, using manipulatives allows students to focus on the skill that you actually want to focus on: creating music! Using a variety of manipulatives also keeps the material fresh and interesting, and allows you to connect the composition activity to the students' worlds and interests, or even to a particular song they are learning.

For composition, manipulatives need to be able to represent some kind of musical element. It might be pitch, rhythm, timbre, or sections of music. The idea is to use familiar words and shapes to make the musical concept accessible for young students. For example, you could use different colored manipulatives to represent different pitches, or different shapes to represent each section of a piece. The possibilities are endless! Here are some tips for finding and using manipulatives cheaply and simply in your classroom, along with some examples of manipulatives I use with my students.

Where To Find Manipulatives

I think this is one of those things that we see on Pinterest and think, that is so perfect! If only I had those little hearts to use with my Valentine's song! But we don't ever happen to have them so we don't use them. Of course you can make your own, like my Rhythm Monster Magnets that I made last year or Noodle Notes by Tracy King. You should definitely check both of those ideas out if you have the time to make them. But we teachers are busy! So today I'm focusing on things you can pick up at the store and use right away in your classroom. Although you can find items to use as manipulatives almost anywhere if you look carefully enough and have enough creativity, the two places I have consistently found the most manipulatives for a reasonable price are Dollar Tree and the "dollar spot" section at Target. If you want to try to build up a collection of items for your students, try dropping by those two places every now and then (you'll have the most luck at the beginning of each shopping "season"), and you can usually get a full class set for one to two dollars!

What To Look For

Obviously none of the things I use as composition manipulatives are actually marketed to be used that way! ;) After stumbling across a few great ideas, I've figured out some patterns of the types of items you can look for to use for composition. 

What you want are collections of items (within a certain set or theme) that have the same thing in different colors or sizes, or different shapes that have names of different syllable lengths.

Sets with items in different colors are perfect for pitch. Have students choose 4-8 items in different colors and arrange them in whatever order they want. Tell them all the blue ones are sol and the yellow ones are mi, and practice singing the sol-mi pattern they just created. Ta-da! Colors are also great for timbre. If you have larger items in different colors, you can write rhythms on each one and have students arrange them in different orders and assign a percussion instrument to each color.

Sets with different sizes are great for rhythms, especially if they are proportionate. When students are learning about whole notes, dotted half, or even half notes, they can use the shortest ones as quarter notes, ones that are twice as long for half notes, etc. Think legos, sticks, and other similar items that come in different lengths. You could also use size to show dynamics: have students play or sing louder when the shapes are bigger, and vice versa.


Sets of items with different shapes take a bit more thinking but are very effective when you find a good set. These are perfect for rhythm. For example, I found a set of little plastic woodland animal figurines at Target last fall, with some foxes, bunny rabbits, and racoons. "Fox" was the quarter note, "Racoon" was the two eighth notes, and "Bunny Rabbit" was four sixteenth notes. By having students speak the names of the shapes, with each shape getting one beat, they can easily create rhythmic compositions (and if they are different colors too, you could later assign pitches to those rhythms and make it a melodic composition *gasp*!). I also found some Halloween-themed foam stickers at the Dollar Tree with ghosts, pumpkins, bats, and spider webs. I had the students speak the names of the others with one beat each, and say "ooooo" for 2 beats for the ghosts, to help prepare them for half notes.

When I see a set of themed items like these, my mind immediately starts going through the list of names. Sometimes all I can come up with are 1 or 2 different rhythms for the different items, which won't work (having a set with foxes, deer, and skunks won't do you any good since they all have the same number of syllables). BUT don't immediately dismiss a set if they all have the same syllables on your first attempt- get creative! Change "rabbit" to "bunny rabbit" and you've got sixteenth notes, change "ghost" to "ooooo" and you've got half notes! 

If you follow this basic formula you'll start seeing composition manipulatives everywhere you go, but I've had the most luck (and bang for my buck) with mini erasers, foam shapes, stickers, and small toy sets. I see some of these every season at Target and Dollar Tree, so keep an eye out for those.

I wish I had pictures of the manipulatives I have in my classroom, but my classroom closet is currently barricaded with furniture from other classrooms while they put in new flooring :( So instead here are a few pictures of the types of things I'm talking about:





How To Use Them

OK, so now you've got a bunch of tiny little seasonal thingys to use as composition manipulatives- now what?!? Here is how I use them in my classroom to make sure they aren't just a fun little gimmick but that they truly help students understand the important musical concepts I am trying to convey:

1. Give them time to explore. It has taken me a while to learn this lesson but I have come to the realization that if you are going to give kids a bunch of little fun toys, you need to give them some unstructured time to play with them. After I introduce the items and show them what we are going to do, I intentionally give students a couple of minutes to "mess around" with the items before we get to work. Trust me, the students will be a lot more focused that way, and it gives me time to go around and make sure everyone has what they need.

2. Start small. If you are using colors to represent pitches, for example, don't immediately throw 5 colors at them and tell them to compose a pentatonic melody. Start with 2 colors, then the next time add one color, and keep going until you reach your target variety. It's too much to process otherwise.

3. Sometimes tell them what the musical concepts are in advance, and sometimes don't. If we're doing something with shapes to represent rhythms, sometimes I have them practice speaking each name on the beat, or even discuss what kind of rhythm each shape represents. before they start composing. Other times, I just give them some stuff and tell them to pick 4 and put them in a row without telling them what it is for, then later I tell them what each shape indicates. I've found some students find a pre-emptive explanation helpful and others find it a hindrance, so mixing it up seems to help the most number of students.

4. Transfer to notation..... eventually. If you're using colors to indicate pitches, you can hand them a paper with staff lines and have them place all the blue ones on the bottom line, and all of the red ones on the middle line etc. They could then write out the notes on a separate paper by drawing a notehead to match the spots of the manipulatives. You could also, after introducing a new notated rhythm, remind students of the "bunny rabbit"s and "raccoon"s they were using before and have them use those names to speak the rhythms instead of the usual 1-e-&-a or tika-tika. There are plenty of ways to connect what they do with the manipulatives to traditional notation, but make sure you don't rush into it- they need to understand the concept and be able to work with it before you introduce the notation.

I hope this gives you some ideas for ways to incorporate composition manipulatives in your own classroom! What are some of your favorites to use?

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Monday, July 18, 2016

Mommy Monday: spice up your morning coffee!

In case you didn't know this about me, I am a morning person. As in, I get up at 3:30am every morning and I like it. There are a lot of things that I love about waking up early in the morning, but one of my favorite things to do in those early hours is drink a nice cup of coffee. I love coffee. Last summer I shared some of my favorite summer drinks to make at home, including my basic iced coffee recipe. This summer I've discovered a new trick to really "spice up" my iced coffees, and I'm so excited to share with you!


Although I love my black coffee as much as the next guy, I also enjoy flavored coffees. When I go to a coffee shop, I usually get something super-sweet and flavorful- it's one of my favorite treats :) I tried those flavored creamers for a while, but most of them were disappointing to me, so I stopped trying to add flavors to my coffee for a while. Then a few months ago, on a whim, I decided to add some cinnamon to the coffee grounds in my drip coffee machine.

Guys, it was amazing! Not only did the coffee have a nice flavor to it, but the SMELL.... Oh my goodness. From there I started experimenting with different flavors and have found you can use this technique with so many different flavors!

Some of my favorites spices to add are cinnamon, cardamom, cocoa powder, pumpkin spice, and chai spice (are you drooling yet?). This technique works with other things too- I've done it with coconut (yum) and extracts (hazelnut, vanilla, etc)- and they all seem to work well to get the flavor into the coffee perfectly.

I did have a few mishaps that I have learned lessons from as well, so let me share those with you so you don't have to experience the kitchen messes that I had to clean up...

1. Don't add too much

I, of course, got a little excited after my first experiment with the cinnamon, and the second time I added even more cinnamon to the coffee grounds. Big mistake. The water couldn't drip through well enough and I ended up with wet coffee grounds all over the place. For my machine, I've found about a 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of each spice/flavor to be plenty without wreaking havoc- you'll have to do a little experimenting yourself to see what works for you but start with less. Trust me.

2. Put your spices in the middle of the grounds

I've found I get the best absorption of flavor (and least chance of spillage) when I add the spices about 1/3 of the way down through the grounds. I put 2/3 of the coffee grounds into the basket, add my flavor(s), and then add a little more coffee grounds on top.

3. Don't try to use sugar with this technique

I tried adding sugar in the same way I added the other spices, mixed in with the grounds, and it was NOT GOOD. It had a similar effect that the large quantity of spices had, but the sugar also got gooey and sticky and was hard to clean. I add my sugar to my brewed pot of coffee afterwards and it works just fine :)

There are so many flavors you can make with this simple technique, and it's fast and easy too (even for me)! What are your favorite flavors for coffee? Leave a comment!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Fermata Friday: July 15, 2016


Welcome to this week's installment of my weekly linky party, Fermata Fridays! This is a chance for music education bloggers to share blog posts with readers and bloggers alike, so we can all mingle and learn from each other. Readers, you are going to love all of the awesome blog posts that are out there- I hope you discover some new blogs to follow and get some new inspiration for your teaching! Bloggers, make sure you read the directions carefully before linking up to make sure we keep the party fun for everyone. Thanks! :)

Here are the rules for the linky party:

1. Add the linky image to your blog post, blog sidebar, linky party roundup, or other similar location on your blog and link it back to the party. Copy and paste the code for this button, or use the image above and link to the label "Fermata Fridays".

<div class="separator" style="clear: both; text-align: center;"><a href="http://caldwellorganizedchaos.blogspot.com/search/label/Fermata%20Fridays"><img border="0" src="http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-8g8YQudJiB8/VaoWoBnpJ3I/AAAAAAAADuU/GeG51-nOB0Q/s1600/fermata%2Bfriday%2Bbutton.jpg" /></a></div><br />





2. Add up to two blog post links to the linky. The posts can be old or new (but no posts that have already been linked up to Fermata Fridays in the past), on any topic related to music teaching, but must not be primarily featuring a product. It's fine to have a link to a relevant product within a post, but that should not be the primary focus of the post. I reserve the right to delete a link that is too product-focused. If you're not sure, just ask! :)

3. Leave a thoughtful comment on at least two other links, including the one right before yours. Add #fermatafridays to your comment so bloggers know where you found them!

4. Pin at least one post to one of your Pinterest boards.

5. Make sure you are following me on Pinterest. I will be pinning every link to the Fermata Fridays board each week.

6. Make sure you are following me on Facebook and check back next Friday- I will be featuring one of the links from the previous week's linky on my Facebook page each Friday!


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Blogiversary: Time Management Tips and a Newsletter!

I published my first blog post 2 years ago. It's hard to believe it has been so long! I have published 295 blog posts: 104 Mommy Monday posts, 105 Teacher Tuesday posts, and a few others thrown in for good measure. I started my blog as a way to keep myself occupied with something creative and productive when my daughters started having overnight visits with their dad, and now, two years later, I absolutely love it and have no plans of stopping.

Today I wanted to celebrate this milestone in two ways: by sharing some of my top time management tips for how I "get it all done", and by launching a new and improved way to stay in touch with my newsletter! No party would be complete without friends, so I've got my best blogging buddy Jennifer from The Yellow Brick Road sharing her tips and launching her own newsletter as well! Stay tuned to the end of the post to learn more about the newsletter launch and see Jennifer's post.

But first, let's talk time management!


Find Intrinsic Motivation

The #1 reason I am able to add blogging to the long list of other responsibilities I have in my life is because I love doing it. It gives me a creative outlet, and allows me to reflect on my successes and efforts in all different parts of my life. Being and single parent and an elementary music teacher are both pretty isolating positions- in both cases I am mostly my own team. Having a way to share my thoughts and ideas is so helpful for keeping me motivated at home and at school. And hearing from other people in similar situations, whether through blog comments, emails, or on social media, helps me remember that I'm not alone. Whatever recurring task you are trying to add to your life, it's important to find a motivator whenever you can. If you aren't motivated to do something, you probably will find a way to not do it! Like my motivation to clean my house- can somebody help me out with that one please?

Set a Schedule

One of the best things I ever did for myself when I started blogging was to commit to a weekly schedule of blog posts (my "Mommy Mondays" for home/parenting posts and "Teacher Tuesdays" for music education posts). I work best this way with anything I am trying to add to my tasks- when I realized I was having trouble remembering to clean the toilets, I made a weekly cleaning schedule and assigned a couple of small tasks to each day. Whatever it is that I'm trying to get done, I always do best when I figure out a schedule that is reasonable and try to stick to it. Whatever it is that you're trying to get done, figure out the schedule that works best- for monthly tasks it might be the first Saturday of each month, for weekly tasks it might be every Tuesday- and commit to it!

Make Your Commitment Known

By publically declaring my schedule on my blog and committing to a Mommy Monday and Teacher Tuesday post each week, I made myself accountable to actually following through- it would be a lot less embarrassing to miss a post if I never said when and how often I was going to write. Whatever schedule you decide to set for your tasks, tell others about your plans to help hold yourself accountable. Write your schedule down and post it on the fridge, write about your plans on social media, or just tell your family what your new schedule will be and ask them to follow up with you.

Find Your Rhythm

This may seem a lot like the first one but it's different, I promise. Once I set a schedule for when I was going to have certain posts written by- my deadlines- I needed to find time to actually write the posts- my rhythm. There are a lot of different styles amongst bloggers on this one: some sit down, write a post, and publish it immediately, others work on posts in small increments here and there and publish when they're done. I have found my best routine is to write my posts in one sitting, for the most part, but write them enough in advance to give myself time to edit and generally ponder before I publish. My general "rhythm" for blogging is to write my two main posts on the weekend, and set up any other posts (like the Fermata Fridays linky I've been doing this past year) during the week. During the week I also share my blog posts on social media. I've found this is a manageable routine for me. With any recurring task I need to add to my life, it's important for me to find a manageable way to get it done.

Here's an example of how a typical week goes (during the school year):

Monday/Wednesday/Friday: wake up early to work on social media posts for the day, get the girls ready for school, teach, pick the girls up from school, cook dinner, hang out for a bit, go to bed.
Tuesday/Thursday: same, but the girls go visit their dad after school so I run errands after school. I also schedule any appointments and staff meetings on those afternoon/evenings. pick up the girls after dinner and go straight to bed.
Saturday: if the girls are with their dad, I get the majority of my work on my blog/store. I also try to spend some intentional time with family/friends :) if the girls are with me, I give my full attention to spending quality time with them :)
Sunday: most of my morning is spent at church, then meal planning and grocery shopping in the afternoon, finish any blog posts that aren't done for the following week.

Write It Down

Hopefully it comes as no surprise to my readers that this is one of my top tips for staying organized! My planner helps me make sure I'm not double (or triple) booking myself, and helps me remember from day to day the most important tasks that I need to get done. There is no way to keep track of all this stuff without recording it somewhere! I know some people are able to keep track of everything digitally, but I think for most people physically writing it out is much more effective in helping you remember things and making sure you are recording the information correctly. I can't tell you how many times other people have missed appointments because they accidentally hit the wrong button when they were putting it into their digital calendar, or they put it into their phone and then forgot about it because they didn't look at their calendar! I'm a firm believer in the power of pen and paper :)

I hope you found these tips helpful, whether you're interested in my thoughts on blogging or just time management in general. I've always been hesitant to talk about my life as a blogger on my blog- it feels a bit like explaining how a hotdog is made to someone eating a hot dog (not that my blog is unhealthy for you.... you know what I mean)! If you'd like to hear more about my bloggy self, whether that means practical tips, advice, or general musings and reflections, please let me know in the comments.



Now onto the second part of this celebration: the launch of my newsletter! I am so excited to be starting this today, and I hope you will sign up to be added to my mailing list! Here's what you can expect when you sign up:

*A monthly newsletter sent to your inbox that includes some general musings on life, highlights a few blog and social media posts from the past month, and shares some timely resources from my shop.
*An exclusive free file every month (with each newsletter) with a basic outline of the lessons I will be teaching in my K-6th grade general music classes.
*Alerts of any major news, sales, and promotions (I usually have about 6 in a year- these will mostly be included in the monthly newsletter or sent separately so you don't miss anything!).

Signing up is easy. Once you enter your email address below, you will be prompted to confirm your email address. Make sure to confirm your email address so that you're added to the mailing list! You may want to check your junk mail folder (or your "promotions" inbox in gmail) if you don't receive my newsletter. The first one will be sent out on July 23, and you should receive one each month after that. If it doesn't go to your regular inbox, you may want to adjust your email settings so that you don't miss future mailings!

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I hope you enjoy reading and connecting on a more personal level, and I hope you'll interact with me as well- I really do enjoy hearing from you! You'll find all of my contact information in the newsletter (and you can find that information at the top of the blog as well).

Don't forget to go check out Jennifer's post too- she is also sharing her time management tips as a full-time blogger / teacher author and she's launching her newsletter today too, which I know you'll want to sign up for as well!


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Teacher Tuesday: my favorite pens

As teachers, we spend a lot of time writing. Lesson plans, notes on the whiteboard, nurse passes, IEP's, meeting notes... not to mention all of the things we write at home: grocery lists, birthday cards, bills... There are two things you should know about me before I go any further: 1) I am a stationery lover and always have been and 2) I love lists. And planners. And hand-written notes. I like to write things down. With that said, I wanted to share my favorite pens with you today.


First off, let's talk about the new pens I discovered just a few months ago that have quickly become the new love of my life:


These are the Pilot FriXion Ball Slim Erasable Pen in 0.38mm, and they are nothing short of amazing. Unlike those old erasable pens we used when we were kids, these things actually erase. They come in tons of awesome colors, and they write like a dream. I got the set of 20 colors linked above, but you'll see several smaller sets with fewer colors on Amazon as well if you want to try them out. There are several other kinds of erasable pens from the same company, including gel pens and thicker ballpoint pens, but I like these the best because the writing is nice and fine. I am just so happy to have found these because now I can write anything in my planner in pen and not have to worry about if I need to change something later!

My next set of pens is an oldie but goodie:


I use these Bic Fine Point Permanent Markers more often than I originally thought. I use them to write directly onto CD's (I usually write the track information right on the CD so I don't have to keep track of a CD jacket), label boxes, and even make my own color-coded stickers / labels. You can read more about how I make my own stickers in this post:


Another recent addition to my pen favorites:


These are the Staedtler Triplus Fineliner Pens and they are perfect for everyday use, and especially for writing on stickers. I use them to draw on my DIY planner stickers once I color them, write on top of stickers, and for any other project that needs a regular pen. For smooth writing and great color, it's hard to beat these, and if you are using decent paper these won't show through to the other side of the page either.

Of course I can't forget the basics:


Everyone should have at least one Sharpie Ultra Fine Point Marker. I use mine all the time for writing on stickers, washi tape, and other slick surfaces. These are great for writing on CD's if you have a lot of information to write down. And did you know how useful a wet erase marker can be? I have the Expo Vis-a-Vis Wet Erase Markers. When teachers stopped using overhead projectors and transparencies, it seems like everyone thought there was no more use for the humble little dry erase marker. But they are really awesome! I use them to write things down and check things off on lists that I want to use over and over again, like my monthly cleaning checklist in my planner, without having anything rub off onto another paper or something else. They are also perfect for labeling things with student names in the classroom. As long as you have a slick surface- duct tape, plastic, etc- you can write their name on with wet erase, and wipe it off with a wet wipe when they are done using it so you can give it to another student. So awesome!

You may have wondered why I didn't include any dry erase markers in that last group. That's because I have found a new favorite that I want to try next year:

These things look so cool! They're called the Expo Dry Erase 2-in-1 Markers. I always like to have plenty of colors for my white board, but I obviously use black the most. How much easier would it be to just flip the marker over and start writing in black instead of capping the colored one, putting it down, and picking up a black one? I love it. These come in bigger packs too with tons of colors, but I like that these have black on every marker. So handy.

There are a million ways to use dry erase in the classroom and at home. If you want to see some of the ways I organize with dry erase, check out this post:



Well, that's it for my favorite pens. Which pens do you love for school and home? Share your favorites in the comments below!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Mommy Monday: planner supply storage and organization

I spend a lot of quality time with my planner in the summertime. I first reflect on what pages I used and didn't use in my planner last year, and what pages I wish I had or wish were set up differently to decide what pages I want to include in my planner this year (see a quick tour of my planner for next school year here). Then I print the pages out and get everything set up (see this year's planner setup, with links to everything I use, in this post). Then of course I get to start filling it out! My planner helps me so much in keeping me sane, I think it's only fair for me to show it some love too ;)

This past school year I started getting into using more supplies to use my planner more effectively (and make it prettier / more fun). As a crafter I already had some supplies on hand that I use in my planner, but my collection has definitely grown! I recently re-organized my planner supplies to make it easier for me to find what I need, so I wanted to share those ideas with you today.


After re-organizing my closet, I was able to clear out the 3 drawers in the armoire I have in my bedroom for planner / crafting supplies. The top drawer has all of the supplies I use most often in my planner, including washi tape, sticky notes, stickers, stamps, glue, and scissors:


The biggest organizational challenge was, of course, the washi tape. About a year ago I made myself a washi tape dispenser, which looked like this (click on the picture to see how I made it):


Although it served me well, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who has a decent but not crazy amount of washi tape, I needed a new storage solution for two reasons: 1) I accumulated too much washi tape to fit in the dispenser and 2) I found I often wanted to hold the entire roll in my hand rather than rip a piece off of the roll from the dispenser. So when I started organizing my supplies in my drawers, I decided it was time for a change.


All I did was take an old box I had on hand, cut off the lid, and arranged the tape rolls in rows. In order to keep the rolls from rolling around the box, I cut strips from the lid and stuck them between the rows of tape. As you might have noticed, my tape didn't even all fit in this 8.5x11 box (I know, I *might* have a problem) so I just found another box and did the same thing, except I only needed one row so I just created one "divider" from the lid and use the rest to store stickers:


I arranged my sticky notes and page flags along the back of the drawer, which both allows me to find them easily and also keeps the boxes, which don't quite fill up the length of the drawer, from sliding around. You may notice my re-purposed washi dispenser in the corner- that now holds my other basic supplies, like scissors, glue, and stamping stuff, and I also use it as a caddy if I'm taking my planning to another room- I pull out the washi, stickers, etc that I want to use that week, throw them in the box, and I can easily carry everything wherever I want to go!

The second drawer holds all of the other planner supplies that I use less frequently and/or are too big to fit in the other drawer:


Right now I have extra pens, stamps, and ink pads, white out, my hole punch, paper cutter, and supplies for setting up my planner (which I only need to use once a year) like tabs, pen loops, and pockets.

Below that I have an entire drawer just for my paper pads:


In my defense, this collection has been growing since I was in high school, and I use the paper for all kinds of different projects besides my planner. Paper stacks are an easy and cheap way to decorate all sorts of things!

There is one set of supplies that I keep on my desk instead of my armoire:


To be honest I did this mostly because I had these mason jars left over from a baby shower I hosted a few months back and I didn't know what to do with them! The jars full of brightly colored pens are just as much decorative as they are functional :) It is nice having the pens out and handy though, since I use them more than any other supply on a regular basis.

If you're interested in seeing a round-up of my favorite planner supplies, here's a post I wrote last November:


And if you're wondering what kinds of pens those are in my mason jars, stay tuned for tomorrow: I've recently found some new pens that I absolutely adore so I'll be sharing those in more detail in tomorrow's post :)

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Fermata Friday: July 8, 2016


Welcome to this week's installment of my weekly linky party, Fermata Fridays! This is a chance for music education bloggers to share blog posts with readers and bloggers alike, so we can all mingle and learn from each other. Readers, you are going to love all of the awesome blog posts that are out there- I hope you discover some new blogs to follow and get some new inspiration for your teaching! Bloggers, make sure you read the directions carefully before linking up to make sure we keep the party fun for everyone. Thanks! :)

Here are the rules for the linky party:

1. Add the linky image to your blog post, blog sidebar, linky party roundup, or other similar location on your blog and link it back to the party. Copy and paste the code for this button, or use the image above and link to the label "Fermata Fridays".

<div class="separator" style="clear: both; text-align: center;"><a href="http://caldwellorganizedchaos.blogspot.com/search/label/Fermata%20Fridays"><img border="0" src="http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-8g8YQudJiB8/VaoWoBnpJ3I/AAAAAAAADuU/GeG51-nOB0Q/s1600/fermata%2Bfriday%2Bbutton.jpg" /></a></div><br />





2. Add up to two blog post links to the linky. The posts can be old or new (but no posts that have already been linked up to Fermata Fridays in the past), on any topic related to music teaching, but must not be primarily featuring a product. It's fine to have a link to a relevant product within a post, but that should not be the primary focus of the post. I reserve the right to delete a link that is too product-focused. If you're not sure, just ask! :)

3. Leave a thoughtful comment on at least two other links, including the one right before yours. Add #fermatafridays to your comment so bloggers know where you found them!

4. Pin at least one post to one of your Pinterest boards.

5. Make sure you are following me on Pinterest. I will be pinning every link to the Fermata Fridays board each week.

6. Make sure you are following me on Facebook and check back next Friday- I will be featuring one of the links from the previous week's linky on my Facebook page each Friday!


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Small Goals: July 2016

I can't believe it's already July- seriously! I'm linking up with Jennifer at The Yellow Brick Road again this month to share my small goals for the month. Make sure you head on over to her post to see all of the others who are sharing their goals for the month- it is always motivating to see what others are planning, and I often learn something new about my favorite bloggers in the process! ;)


1. Start posting on Instagram

So last month my goal was to create my Instagram account. I managed to check that off my list but have posted.... zero pictures. Haha! Oh well, baby steps, folks! This month I'm hoping to start actually posting pictures, now that I've got everything set up (and found some awesome people to follow too!). If you want to see my newbie posts, here's my account. Just go easy on me, OK? I'm just figuring this stuff out! :)

2. Put up some decorations on the girls' bedroom walls

I have been hemming and hawing for months trying to figure out how to make my vision for the girls' bedroom come to life without spending an arm and a leg. I think I've finally figured it out... now I just have to make it (because you know, obviously this is going to be a DIY project... if you didn't see that coming then you haven't been reading my blog enough LOL)! I really hope it works, because if it does it's going to be awesome!!!

3. Finish my long range plans for next school year

I can't even begin to describe how excited I am- after plugging away at my long-range plans each summer for almost a decade, I have not one but TWO colleagues who have agreed to work on the plans with me this summer!!! Life goal achieved. I already met with one music teacher from another elementary school in my district a few weeks ago and we made it through kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grade.... in 5 hours. I could go on for days with this stuff though! I'm meeting with another elementary music colleague later this month and we're hoping to finish grades 3-6. We'll see. Either way I would like to get all of them done by the end of this month so that I have time to get everything ready that I need to actually, you know, implement those plans before school starts!

I have a few other goals in mind but I'm gonna go easy on myself and only publicly commit to these three. It is summer, after all! I hope you are all having a wonderful summer, and if you want more inspiration (or just some fun reading), go check out the small goals link-up here. Happy July!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Teacher Tuesday: new ideas for upper elementary lessons

It has been really fun to look back on all of the new ideas I tried this past school year and loved- what a great way to celebrate success and get motivated to try more new ideas next year! I hope you all are reflecting on what worked for you this year as well. Today I'm sharing my favorite new ideas for upper elementary lessons, which for my purposes is talking about grades 4-6. I tried several new things that I loved this year, so I'm excited to share some of these with you!


Keyboard instrument unit

I spent a lot of time last summer re-writing our district's curriculum to align with the new national core arts standards. Most of the curriculum fit well with what I was already doing, but one gaping hole that I needed to fill this year was a requirement for 5th graders to be able to identify some of the basic keyboard instruments (piano, organ, accordion etc). While I have always taught the orchestral instruments and also spend quite a bit of time on instruments from non-Western cultures, I had never actually taught keyboard instruments (other than to mention that a piano could be a string instrument or a percussion instrument, but let's not get into that debate here, shall we?). I also had one of the toughest group of kids I have ever had in 5th grade this past year, so I knew I couldn't just show them some pictures, lecture them for a bit, and expect them to learn anything.

What I ended up with was actually the single most successful unit I taught in 5th grade this year (go figure)! I started by showing them several YouTube videos of different keyboard instruments. I knew they had to be interesting enough to keep this group engaged (and hopefully get them to remember the instruments), so I searched high and low for the most varied examples I could find while still showing what the instruments sound like and how they are played. These are the ones I chose:

Piano:

Electric keyboard:

Pipe organ:


Accordion:


Melodica:

After each one we discussed how each produced sound, and what (if anything) they already knew about each instrument. 

But the real fun began when we pulled out the keyboards to *actually* play them! I've had some pretty old keyboards in my room since I started at the school, and I hadn't pulled them out for anything other than the occasional student that would use one for a talent show or a composition activity, mostly because I only have 4 and on 2 of them half of the keys were stuck and didn't work. These kids did not care one iota about any of that- there is something so LEGIT about playing a keyboard, and they loved it! The first day (after spending most of the time discussing the various instruments) I just let them take turns playing around on the instruments. The second day (after reviewing the instrument names etc) I challenged them to all play C-D-E-F-G-F-E-D-C in "home position" (right hand thumb on C, pinky on G). It was harder than I thought but they LOVED it! Finally I gave them a simple 2-measure phrase using only those 5 notes and challenged them to read it from notation. They all performed in a "piano recital" in front of the class. And you know what? They remembered the names of all those instruments, and they can all tell you how they work, the basic setup of a keyboard, and more! 

Next level clapping games

This was something I stumbled onto at the end of the school year this year. I happened to read Jennifer's awesome post on the singing / clapping game "Four White Horses" (bless her) and remembered how much I love that game, so one day when I had some extra time at the end of class with my 6th graders, I pulled it out. We started first with pairs, then I put them together in groups of 4, then 8, and so on until the whole class was in one big group! They loved it. Then when I was doing a simple clapping game with "Long-Legged Sailor" with 1st grade, I realized that I could do the same sort of process that I used with "Four White Horses" with almost any clapping game to make it more challenging for older students. The next day I tried it- I had my 4th graders do the same clapping game as the 1st graders did, but quickly put them into larger and larger groups until the whole class was clapping together. It was awesome! Besides being fun and engaging, it was a great way to end the school year because the students had to cooperate in order to get it right. 

With a few of my classes I had some extra lessons at the end of the year, so I showed them a few videos like this one:


Then I let them get into small groups and come up with their own "epic patty cake" routines to whatever song they chose. It was a great way to get them creating, working together, and singing!

5/4 meter (Take Five bean bag routine)

I saw this video on Pinterest several years ago and fell in love:


Then I forgot about it and never did it. Do you ever do that with awesome Pinterest finds? Well I finally went back and found it and decided it would be the perfect addition to our focus in 4th grade on time signatures. It went really well- I first had them listen to the music and try to figure out "how many beats are in a group", then we learned just the opening "A section" bean bag pattern together. It really got them to feel and experience 5/4 meter, and the students were fascinated by it!

Composition unit updates

This last one may not qualify is a "new idea" per se, but for me it was a pretty big change and required quite a bit of planning and thinking and preparing on my part. When I started in this school 3 years ago, I learned quickly that my students were under the impression that they loved music, but not "school music". It quickly became my mission to change that mindset, especially for my older students who were obviously the most difficult to convert. I came up with a unit on video game music for my 5th graders, and another unit on movie music for my 6th graders my first year at this school, and both units have been a work in progress ever since.

This year I finally spent some time reflecting on what skills and concepts I really wanted to focus on with the units, and which logistical aspects of the units had gone well / not gone well in the past, and put together a more formalized structure for each one. The results were fabulous- in the past my students would be engaged at the beginning but quickly lose interest when we got to the actual composition part of the unit, but this year the units held their attention all the way through because the end goal was clear from the beginning and the lessons were more streamlined.

For the video game unit, I have students create their own video game concept, create music for it, and then "act it out". This year I created a worksheet to help them organize their thoughts for each section and gave them more guidelines for what their game should look like, and the unit was very successful. Some of the games they came up with were amazing! By the end they were all begging for me to give them websites where they could try to actually "code" some of their games so they could play them!

For the movie music unit, I had students listen to a lot more examples of different sound tracks that create different moods and selecting the best ones for different movie scenes before having them create their own music. Having those clear examples in their heads made it a lot easier for them to envision what they wanted their own music to sound like.

I've been asked by quite a few people to share these two units- they are great for incorporating several of the national standards for these grades in creating, analyzing, and selecting. If you're interested, I've finally added them to my store:



You'll also find most of my online resources, including the videos for all of these and other upper elementary lessons, on my upper elementary Pinterest board.

What are your favorite lesson ideas for upper elementary? I'd love to get some new inspiration for next year!! Leave your ideas in the comments.