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Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Planner Setup 2022-23

There are few things more exciting about back to school season than setting up my planner for the new year- it just reminds me of the fresh opportunities for a new start, and helps me feel so much better prepared to get back into the swing of things! 

I filmed my process of taking out the old pages from last year and putting in the new ones to set my planner up for the school year so you can see how easy it is from year to year once you get your system set up. It really takes very little time or effort, and of course it's easy to tweak things too! 

If you have any questions about anything you see in the video or anything I mentioned please leave me a comment! If you're interested in the specific supplies I use, like the cover, discs, pens etc, here are some of those links below:

Happy Planner Rainbow Expander Metal Discs
Happy Planner Rose Gold Snap-In Cover
Happy Planner Folder Rainbow Heart
Arc Clear Zippered Pocket
Staples Clear Pocket
Rainbow Paper Tabs
Frixion Erasable Pens
Bookmark/ Sticky Note Dashboard DIY tutorial

Blogger Widgets

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

More Favorite Tech Tools for Composition in Elementary Music

One of the best things to come out of this pandemic is the technology infrastructure that we've been forced to put in place. And one of the most powerful ways I've been able to incorporate the new one-to-one devices my students have into my lessons is composition. Over a year ago I shared my top 3 favorite platforms for composition, which you can read about here. Today I want to share my 3 more favorite tools to use for composition in elementary music: all available free online with no accounts to set up, and easy to save and share their compositions.

1. Beepbox

Beepbox is my absolute favorite tool to use with my Video Game Music Project that I do with 5th grade every year. I discovered it a few years ago and started using it with my students, and every year it seems my students find new features I didn't know about that make it even cooler! 

It works very similarly to SongMaker in Chrome Music Lab, but much more sophisticated because you can create multiple layers and loops of sounds, bend pitches, and manipulate the sounds in so many other ways, and there are a huge variety of instrument sounds to choose from. But the concept is the same- click on squares to make them play a note, the higher up on the page the square is, the higher the pitch will be. 

The great thing about this one is there's no multi-step process you have to go through to save/ share your work. All you do is copy/ paste the url. So it's very intuitive for students to remember how to save their work at the end of class. The only trick to point out is that the url changes when you edit the song, so if they edit their work they need to remember to copy the new url. Here's a nice quick tutorial that I've shared with my students before to help them get the basic idea.

3. Groove Pizza

Groove Pizza is great for creating drum tracks/ "beats" to add to student compositions. It's another great way to help students visually see the divisions of the beat, and an excellent starting point for exploring specific genres, because there are pre-loaded tracks in different styles that students can listen to and manipulate. I like to use this one with upper elementary/ middle school to have them add a quick drum part to a melody or chord progression they've made. It's nice for this because it's so easy for students to get started and make something they like, and it's easy to change things like tempo to fit what they need. 

One specific feature that I love using with my 6th grade students is the "swing" tool. I do a unit on jazz music with 6th grade and part of that is learning what it means to swing a rhythm. Just by clicking and dragging the "swing" setting, students can easily hear the difference between straight and swung versions of the same track! 

Saving and sharing is easy in this one as well- they just click the "share" icon, then they can export to soundtrap or noteflight (awesome feature if your students use those!), download, or (as I usually do so they can submit in google classroom) copy the link to their song.

3. Sampulator

This has been one of my favorite tools for a while now but I didn't include it in my first list mostly because it is missing one key feature that I love about all the other platforms: the ability to save and share songs without creating an account. BUT I have figured out work-arounds for this, and it's awesome enough without that feature, that I decided it needed to be on this list.

Although you have to set up an account to save and share songs, Sampulator can be used without an account. It's really fun for students to play around with because it's set up to be used primarily with a computer keyboard, with each key playing a different sound, so students can play it on the keyboard rather than working out how much to space out the squares they click to get the rhythm they want. You can also record multiple layers over each other, so students can end up with some pretty sophisticated tracks.

My work-around for students to be able to share their compositions is to have them record their screen while they play it, using something like Screencastify or Zoom recording, depending on what students can use on their devices. When I was teaching fully on Zoom earlier in the pandemic, I let them share their screen in class and just recorded it myself, but in the classroom obviously they have to record it themselves on their own device and then send it to you. Honestly I use this mostly without having students save their work at all, and just make sure whatever they're using it for is done in one class period, but when I have students who want to share something they've made at home or on their own time I tell them to record their screen.

There are so many great tools for online digital composition- which ones are your favorite? I'd love to hear about how you're using technology for student composition in elementary music in the comments below. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Best Strategies for Teaching Composition

Composition / creating is one of those areas we tend to throw in here and there without really thinking about properly sequencing and scaffolding our instruction for our students the way we do for other skills and concepts, but it's so important to be intentional about developing students' composition skills! When we don't, elementary students can get turned off to composition so easily. Here are my top strategies for teaching composition, including how I sequence the skill through the grades as well as my favorite lesson plans for doing so.

Lower elementary

In the younger grades it's all about keeping it short and simple, using manipulatives more than writing, and having them create frequently! Here's how I approach composition with my K-3 students:

Upper elementary / middle school

For older students I find the most important factors are to limit their options, and give context and meaning to their creations. There are so many fantastic composition projects I absolutely love doing with my 4th-6th graders! Read about how I approach composition in general, and about my favorite specific projects I love to use, in this post:

Using technology

If there's one thing I've learned through the pandemic it's new ways to use technology in my teaching! With our students now having one-to-one devices my students have been able to use some wonderful platforms that make composition fun and engaging, and also helps many students understand concepts so much better! Here are some of my favorite platforms to use with all grade levels:

Using manipulatives

Just like different technology platforms can help with student comprehension and engagement, manipulatives of all kinds have the same effect, and they can be used even if you don't have any devices available! I love using different types of manipulatives for different grade levels based on the concepts they are working on- here are my favorites, how I make them or where I find them, and how I use them with my students:


Creating without notating

Of course creating music doesn't have to include notating it in any way shape or form- it's important for students to have the freedom to focus on creating music without worrying about, or being limited by, the process of notating. Here are my favorite lesson activities and strategies for sequencing instruction across lower and upper elementary grade levels to teach students how to create music:

I hope this helps you teach composition and music creating skills more intentionally, and gives you some new lesson ideas to try! If you want to see the composition worksheet templates I use, you can find those in this set. I've found it makes composing and notating so much more accessible for students because they are intentionally created to scaffold from Kindergarten all the way through high school! If you have any other favorite ideas or questions about teaching composition I'd love to hear them in the comments below.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Summer Renewal: music class reboot

I am at a place in my life right now where I am working towards renewal. For me renewal this summer means getting back to the things I love, the things that bring me joy that I had gotten out of the habit of doing or was forced to let go of. It means taking the fresh ideas I've learned through the pandemic and infusing them into my old best practices, both in my professional and my personal life. It means reclaiming my sense of purpose, and working towards a renewed passion and energy instead of just living in a constant state of triage. In yesterday's post I focused on home life, but today I'm focusing on the ways I'm working towards renewal in my teaching practices.

1. New ideas

Despite all the challenges, there have been many new lesson activities I've found, and new classroom setup, organization, and management ideas I've tried during this pandemic that I'm definitely holding onto and working into my teaching practice going forward- I wrote about the new ideas from this past year I'm excited to keep, and even expand on, in these posts:


2. Student seating arrangements

The last few years due to social distancing requirements and guidelines I've had to completely rearrange my student seating. This past year I moved closer back to how I had them pre-pandemic, but I'm eager to get (mostly) fully back to the seating arrangements I had before. Last year I had to have all of the chairs and floor spots both spread out in a 3'x3' grid, like this: 

But this year (barring a resurgence of covid protocols) I am excited to go back to chairs in rows and, especially, floor spots in a circle, like this:

The small tweaks I'm planning to make going forward are to 1) space the chairs out a little more in each row if I can- I had the chairs touching each other before and I saw the benefits of at least a little personal space during the pandemic and 2) using carpet spots to mark the circle spots instead of tape. Honestly, since I already used duct tape on the carpet pre-pandemic and I'm going back to the same spots for the rows and can put the tape on top of the existing residue (which is minimal but still there), I will probably go back to duct tape for the rows- it's just a lot more durable than the velcro strips, which I had to replace a couple of times throughout the year last year. But the spots are probably even more durable than the tape, and definitely don't leave residue at all, so I'm converted for those!

I know a lot of teachers are actually sticking with the spaced out seating arrangements because it kept students out of each other's business a little more, but I think we're ready for the messiness of learning to work more closely in community again, and it's important for the kids to develop those skills.

3. Team jobs

I was so happy to get back to having color teams, and jobs assigned to those teams, last school year, but I had to replace one of my jobs because of the aforementioned seating arrangement changes: line leader. I'm excited to get back to having the line leader job back in our classroom job rotation, because I love how it teaches students how to get on and off choral risers with the way I have them line up at the end of class in this configuration. You can read the details on how I have them line up in this post, and more importantly if you haven't tried color teams and/or team jobs for elementary music I highly recommend reading this post!

4. Movement

I know I'm not the only one excited to bring back more folk dancing/ movement without having to social distance students! There were so many lessons I had to let go of or modify, like Draw a Bucket of Water and Bickle Bockle, that I can't wait to get back to. 

5. Restorative circles

I did still make restorative conversations a part of my teaching during the pandemic, but because of the reduced class time and the lack of an actual circle to sit in, they were far less frequent, and it showed in student behavior. I'm looking forward to getting back to having restorative circles as a part of my regular class routines- you can read about how I use circles in the elementary music room in this post.

Those are the highlights of ways I'm rebooting my music teaching practices and classroom for the upcoming school year- I'm so excited to get recharged and get back to some of the things I have missed the last couple of years. What are you doing to regain your passion and purpose for the upcoming school year? I'd love to hear new ideas you're putting in place, and old ones you're bringing back, in the comments!