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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Teacher Tuesday: New Year's Resolutions

Yesterday I shared my 5 tips for creating meaningful goals. Today I'm linking up with Aileen Miracle to share my new year's resolutions for 2015! Click on the picture below to go to the linky party and see everyone else's posts.

Personal: Spend at least 2 hours a week with friends
As the girls get older and I adjust to my new town, new home, and new job, I think it is actually feasible for me to achieve this goal. It certainly is something that I need in my life! It may sound strange to plan out "hanging out with friends" time, but I have made a specific action plan to try to make this happen, with a mix of phone calls to old friends, adult time with local/new friends, and play dates together with the girls. I really want to make it a priority to develop and maintain my friendships, old and new, this year!

Professional: Be more involved in district-wide department events and planning
Last year I was "the new girl" in our district's music department, so I tried to listen and follow everyone else's lead when it came to organizing district-wide events and developing the district-wide curriculum (aka I was so swamped with trying to figure everything out in a new job that I used my newbie status to avoid as much extra work as possible). With some experience under my belt in this new job, my goal this year is to pull my weight for the department! We have an all-district honors choir that performs in the spring, so I am going to try to be more involved in the full rehearsals and the logistical planning of the event. I also want to collaborate with my colleagues to work on the district's music curriculum, now that the new national standards are in effect.

Classroom: Implement more "Music In Our Schools Month" advocacy 
I have always made a HUGE deal out of MIOSM in the past- I do lots of events in music class, put up visuals around the school to promote music education, and do some school-wide events as well. But last year, again because I was new to the position, I wasn't able to do everything I wanted. This year I want to pull out all the stops again! There are quite a few homeroom teachers in my building that do not recognize music (or any other subject they don't teach themselves) as an important subject, and I have really been feeling that this year. Increasing emphasis on the new standardized tests certainly doesn't help matters. I really want to focus this year on advocating for the importance of music education through bulletin boards, notices home, and other communication with staff, parents, and other members of the school community. I've already created this bulletin board set that I put up in my hallway to advocate for the importance of music, and I also got these wonderful posters from Lindsay Jervis for the hallway to help people recognize that music is a "serious subject" like any other. The wheels are turning with other ideas to advocate even more during the month of March!

Blog/TpT: Spend at least 1 hour per week on products
I started this blog, and my TpT store, because I needed a creative outlet. And I have enjoyed every minute of the journey so far for that very reason. It has been amazing to connect with other teachers and share ideas, and to see others be able to use ideas in their own classrooms and homes! I really want to make it a goal to set aside a little bit of time each week to working on products- whether that means creating something new or updating an existing product- so that I don't end up with tons of ideas swarming around in my head, begging to get out (which is what has been happening so far!).
P.S. If you've considered starting your own TpT store and/or blog, you may want to check out the teacher entrepreneur planner pages I made to help myself stay organized with all of it- they have been really helpful to me!

Just for me: Get more regular haircuts
I'm a little embarrassed to even admit that this is a goal of mine, but honestly, I really struggle with taking the time to make myself a hair appointment and then go get my hair cut. It's not even like I am getting something really time-consuming, like coloring or a perm, done. I just always think about the 5 other things I could do instead, look at my hair in the mirror, and figure, "one more week won't make that much of a difference...". Except that it does. My hair is so much longer than I want it to be- trust me when I tell you, this is an important goal. My hope is to get it cut at least every 3 months, but I hesitate to commit to that, so I'm just going to say I will get my hair cut more regularly and leave it at that.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Mommy Monday: 5 Tips for Setting Meaningful Goals

Well, Christmas is officially past and New Year's is almost here. Did that go by extra-fast for anyone else?!? Goodness gracious.

This week is winter break for me so I am trying to get my life in order (emphasis on TRYING) before school starts again. One of the first things I did was sit down and think about how I have been using my time this past year, and how I want to improve so that I can focus on the things that matter most to me.

I made these goal-setting worksheets this past summer when I was starting my blog and TpT store, because I wanted to make sure that I wasn't losing sight of my priorities when I made those additional time commitments. Now that I've been at it for a while, I wanted to go back and re-think what I am doing and revisit my goals from the summer. With New Year's coming, I figured the timing couldn't be better anyway! After going through this a few times, here are my tips for meaningful goal-setting:

1. Write it down
I'm sure this is not the first time anyone has heard this idea, but it really does make a difference when I write things down. I used to spend time at the end of each year reflecting on the past year and making goals for the new year, and often I would even share those goals with my friends and family, but I never wrote them down- it just seemed like an unnecessary step. But when I write down ideas I am forced to be more concrete and I can keep the written copy somewhere where I will be reminded of my goals more regularly. 

2. Start with where you are right now
One of the most helpful things I realized, when I was thinking about how best to set goals, was that I needed to start by taking stock of my life as I was currently experiencing it before I could really decide on what changes I wanted to make. The first thing I do is write down every little thing that I spend time doing (on the sheet titled "my commitments"). I write down things mundane things like cooking, non-negotiable's like teaching and grading, and fun things like spending time with friends. I try to think of anything that I spend time on and write it down. I used 3 categories- home, teaching, and online- to help me think of everything. 

3. Choose your priorities
The next step is to look at that list of things I currently do and see if, first of all, anything is missing that I want to add. Then I look through everything and figure out what my top priorities are. I suppose if someone else looked at my list they would see that exercise is missing. Too bad, healthy people. It ain't happenin'. I know that for now, running around with children at work and at home is enough to keep me active, and exercise for its own sake just isn't a priority for me. But I did notice that it was missing and make a conscious choice to continue excluding it from my life :) 

I looked over everything on the first sheet and made a list of my priorities in ranking order (the sheet titled "my priorities"), then decided how much time I wanted to spend on each of those items. It was really telling, the first time I did this, to think about how much time I spend on items that aren't theoretically as much of a priority. I realized that, even though in theory spending time with friends was a higher priority than social media, I was spending more time on the latter because arranging times to be with friends was so difficult. Having moved a couple of years ago, and having twin infants to single-handedly care for, finding ways to just hang out was extremely difficult (and, to be honest, I think that was OK). Since realizing that imbalance last summer (and recognizing that my circumstances have changed enough to make it more realistic/practical), I have been able to be more intentional about making time for friends (and spending less time on social media). 

4. Only set goals that have a clear reason
I think in the past I would set goals because it just seemed like the obvious thing to do (like exercise, spend more time doing devotions etc). Now I force myself to have a clearly-articulated reason for a goal before I commit to it. One of my goals this year is to spend at least 2 hours a week spending time with friends. I want to do this to foster my emotional health, develop budding friendships with people I have met locally, maintain relationships with long-time friends who live elsewhere, and set an example for my girls of a healthy social life. It is easier for me to feel confident that my goals are worthy of my time and energy when I know I have a clear reason or purpose for working on it. If I have a difficult time coming up with a clear purpose for a goal, I set it aside. I know it won't happen if I'm not clear on why I'm doing it.

5. Make a specific action plan
Clearly articulating my reasons made it easier for me to think through the specific logistics of achieving my goal. Since I want to develop both my local and long-distance friendships, I decided to spend some time meeting up with friends locally but also make time to regularly call my long-time friends on the phone or skype. Since I want my girls to see my example of spending time with friends, I am planning to spend some of that time in play dates with friends with children. I also needed to figure out when I could realistically do it. For me that means making a short phone call to a friend or getting together for dinner with another family on week nights, and planning play dates or coffee with a friend on weekends. I also know that I need to make most of these plans in advance and write them in my planner to make them happen. 

So there you have it: my 5 tips for setting meaningful goals. Have you made any resolutions this year? What are they? You don't need anything special to reflect on your goals, but I've found these goal setting worksheets really helpful for clarifying my thinking- download the printables here if you're interested!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Teacher Tuesday: Movement Ideas for Winter

Last week I shared 5 tips for incorporating more movement into elementary general music lessons. Today I am sharing a few of the specific movement activities I have done this winter that have worked really well. Even if you have already finished your Nutcracker and Sleigh Ride lessons for the year, I hope these ideas will spark new ones for you as well!

This first activity is a cup routine to go with "Sleigh Ride" that I did with my kindergartners. I saw a video from another music teacher a while ago with a cup routine to the same piece for middle school age students (which I have since lost track of...) and I decided to make a VERY simple version to do with my kindergarten students, since I am seeing them a few extra times before winter break this year. The students loved it, and it was a great way to introduce the concept of form without really consciously discussing it. I introduced the lesson by teaching them the words to the A section ("just hear those sleigh bells..."), and then having them do the cup pattern for just the A section every time they heard it. We then went back and added the B and C sections and talked about the horse sounds (and what instruments they used).

The next set of movement activities go with the Sugar Plum Fairy, March, and Trepak (Russian) Dances from "The Nutcracker". I used these activities with my second graders, and it was by far their favorite unit so far! For each piece I told them to copy me while I did the movements, then we discussed what we did and figured out the form. I then had the students perform the movements by themselves so they could listen to the music and show the form with their movements. For the March and Trepak, we also transferred the rhythms of the movements to percussion instruments. For the Sugar Plum Fairy, we pretended to be painters. I heard the idea of pretending to be a painter with a different piece from another music teacher recently and when I tried it with this piece it fit perfectly!

P.S. Sorry about my appearance- we had an assembly that day...

I hope you find these ideas useful- they were a huge success in my classroom and I will definitely be using them again next year!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Mommy Monday: Toddler Craft- suncatcher window ornament

As I was coming up with ideas for the girls' Advent calendar activities, I tried to find some easy and fun crafts that we could do together. One of the ideas I came across that I wanted to try was a suncatcher ornament. I saw pictures of lots of different finished products made different ways but couldn't find a good explanation of how to make them, so here is how I ended up making ours. This was a fun and easy craft that was perfect as a Christmas activity, but would be great for any time of year as well.

Doesn't it look so pretty with the light shining through? Here's how we made them:

Materials: clear contact paper, black duct tape, tissue paper, scissors, tape

First I cut out 2 matching rectangles for each child from the contact paper and taped down one of them on the table, sticky side up, for each one to decorate (save the other pieces for later).

I found an assorted set of tissue paper at the dollar store, so I cut a thin strip of each color and cut it into squares or rectangles (depending on how it came out- I folded the strip and cut on the folds).

Then the girls went to town! I explained to them that we wanted the light to be able to shine through so they shouldn't roll or fold the paper. For one of my girls I had to convince her that it was OK if some of the edges overlapped each other. Other than that it was pretty easy!

Once they had used all of their tissue paper, I took the matching piece of contact paper and put it on top to seal the tissue paper inside. Then I cut each piece into smaller shapes. I was thinking of cutting a circle to make it look like a Christmas ornament but the girls both decided they wanted one big rectangle and 2 smaller ones. Then I put some black duct tape around the edges to keep it from coming apart. Since I was doing squares I just cut a piece for each parallel side and cut it in half to make two thinner pieces.

I'm not sure this step is really necessary, especially if you're not planning to keep them for very long, but I like the way it looks with the black edges. I read other posts that said they had used black construction paper for the edges but that seemed like too many extra steps for me! Plus I already had the duct tape.

From there you have two options: attach a string or hook and hang it on the Christmas tree, or tape it to the window. I decided that this year we would put them on the window and maybe next year we will put some of the small ones on the tree. I think it would look really cool in front of the Christmas lights. For now though, we're enjoying having these on our windows:

I put a small piece of double-sided tape on the back and let the girls stick them wherever they wanted. Since they are rectangles we are calling them presents instead of ornaments. It also occurred to me that we could draw Christmas-y pictures on them with a black sharpie. Maybe next year...

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Teacher Tuesday: 5 ways to add more movement to your classroom

With testing and common core-ing, literacy and math blocks, and everything else that (although valuable) take up so much of our students' time and energy, I'm noticing a lot more pent-up energy. Kids are walking into my classroom more and more often completely exhausted and numb, or quite literally bouncing off the walls. When I walk through the halls and glance into their classrooms, I can see the problem right in front of me- those same kids are sitting at desks listening to someone. All of them. All.the.time. And when a holiday approaches? *sigh*

I've always been a big fan of incorporating movement into all learning, and especially in the elementary music classroom. Now I think it's a necessity for survival (the students' and mine)! I've compiled a list below of some of my favorite movement activities that I am using in my classes right now, and I hope all of you other teachers out there will add to the list in the comments here or on my facebook page!

#1: Dance Breaks

This one is the most simple but also can be the most fun! I keep a playlist in my iTunes that is full of upbeat music with a strong pulse. Any time I think the students need it, I announce that we are having a dance contest. This might be when the students first walk into my room, in the middle of my lesson, or even at the end when we have some extra time (or I can just tell their brains have exceeded maximum capacity). I tell them I will be awarding points for creativity and appropriateness, call a small group of students to go to the open area in my room, and start the music. After a minute or two, I call another small group, and I make sure everyone has at least two turns. With the older students, I will switch the music to a different style or genre to see who is able to change their movements to match the music. Although the #1 goal with this activity is purely to get students in a positive mindset, get the wiggles out, and give their brains a little break, it does help teach some important musical skills like developing their movement repertory, distinguishing musical genres and characteristics (as they demonstrate through the appropriateness of their movements), and keeping a steady beat.

#2: Movement with Music Listening Activities

Movement has become my go-to method for teaching musical concepts in listening activities these days. I have found that, at least for my student population, physically "doing" a concept before teaching it makes it clear and simple for almost every student- it's amazing! Here are some examples of how I reinforce various musical concepts:

Form: use a different movement (usually with the beat) for each section. This is especially helpful for music with a repeating section (such as rondo form) because the students remember repeating that motion each time.

Dynamics: crouch down on the floor when it's quiet, and stand up tall when it's loud; tip-toe when it's quiet, and stomp when it's loud; scurry like a mouse when it's quiet, and march like a lion when it's loud (and of course there are gradations of each).

Meter: emphasize the downbeat/strong beats in the time signature with a larger movement. For a fast 3/4, for example, you could take a big step on beat 1 and clap (or take tiny steps) on beats 2 and 3. A simple sway with the whole body or the arms on the downbeat is also effective.

Mood: "act out" feelings portrayed in the piece with facial expressions and body language. This is fantastic if you have a piece that switches modes, especially between major and minor.

Tempo: walk with the beat. Just to state the obvious.

Timbre: pretend to play one of the instruments you hear, or assign an animal to prominent timbres and move like them (e/g/ bird for flute, elephant for tuba).

Articulation: hop for staccato and glide for legato, or point with your fingers for staccato and sway your arms for legato.

Pitch: move low to the ground for low pitch, and stand tall with arms up for high pitch. This is especially good in a song with some big leaps. I also introduce solfege by having students move up and down with the pitches in "Do a Deer", which gets to be pretty funny by the end (do re mi fa sol la ti do, sol, do!).

#3: Use Props

A great way to bring some variety to movement activities is to use a prop with the movement. Props are also really helpful for students who are shy about moving in front of classmates- somehow holding something in their hands makes it feel safer and it gives more structure and purpose to their movements. Here are a few ideas I like to use:

Cups: Ever since the cup song we can't get enough of cup routines! Cups are a great way to show the beat (passing in a circle on the beat), form (do a different routine for each section), and meter (pass on every downbeat) with a recording. I also use them to practice new rhythms. Doing a rhythm in a cup routine can break up the mundane clapping practice! I've also had great success with older students creating their own cup routines. I usually assign a particular rhythm that has to be incorporated into their set, and they will perform them for each other.

Scarves: Nothing beats scarves for "soft and flowy" music! Scarves are a great way to get students (especially boys) to use more graceful movements if you tell them to move their scarf with the music instead of their bodies.

#4: Giant Floor Staff

I have 5 lines permanently taped on my floor, so that I can do a quick round of "letter name relay" whenever the mood strikes. I split the class up into teams, and each team lines up behind the first line of tape. I call a note letter name, and the first person from each team races to get 2 feet on the correct line or space for that letter. You should see how intense the competition gets!

#5: Expressive Conducting

I love to show this video to my students (making sure to emphasize that this is a 3-year-old!):

Then I have the students try to "expressively conduct" a different piece of music. I tell them they have to stay in one spot on the floor- that is the only direction I give. It's amazing to see what they come up with when I challenge them to do better than the toddler!

I hope you find some new ideas here to incorporate into your music classroom. Adding more movement activities can make a huge difference during pre-vacation season, testing season, or any time of year! Please do share your own ideas in the comments here or on facebook!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Mommy Monday: DIY, cheap wrapping paper

Welcome back to Mommy Monday! I hope you all are managing the chaos and enjoying the holiday season. I wanted to come back to one of the activities I am doing with my girls from their advent calendar, which I shared in this post last week- making (sort of) your own wrapping paper.

I was just at the store this past weekend to stock up on some more of my "wrapping paper" and was reminded again of how much cheaper it is. I'm talking about this stuff (not necessarily this brand- anything called "postal wrapping paper" or something similar):

This is actually the only "wrapping paper" I buy year-round now. For adults and quick gifts, it is actually pretty trendy looking all by itself, and is perfectly suited for any occasion- no need panic because you just realized you only have Christmas paper and you're supposed to go to a birthday party in an hour! With "rustic"/"natural" looks being trendy these days, simple brown paper looks like you did it on purpose! Cha-ching!

PLUS you no longer need to buy or make gift tags, or even cards- just write directly on the wrapping paper! You don't have to worry about the tag falling off or the card getting separated from the present on the gift table.

But for those of us with kids, there is an even better reason to use this: we can recoup some of the fortune we spend on our children by putting them to work as decorators! Just look at the amazing results: 

OK, I know. But it actually looks really nice when you wrap presents with this. We just haven't actually wrapped anything yet for me to take pictures- I will try to update this post when I do. And it has.... drumroll please.... sentimental value. Instant cute/heart-warming factor. (Sidenote: the picture above is one we recently did that was on packing paper that was *actually* in a package we got- so it was free! Next time you get a package packed with paper, save it!)

For Christmas I just hand my girls only Christmas colors (if I am feeling especially fancy), or if it is for a specific person's birthday we will just use their favorite color(s). Or we just go to town and do whatever we want.

The best part of this wrapping strategy is not the results, or even the penny-saving though- it's the process. There is something about having a giant piece of paper spread out on the floor that is magical for toddlers (and, well, for adults too). Drawing is not a fine motor activity anymore- it involves the whole body! We trace body parts, do dance moves, run across the paper to make the longest line possible, and draw random pictures everywhere. One tip- if you are using a big piece (which I highly recommend), you will probably want to tape it to the floor. It can get frustrating, especially if you are walking around on it, if the paper is sliding around on the floor.

So, my friends, the next time you go to buy wrapping paper, save yourself some money (and time and angst trying to find the one that everyone will like) and buy some postal paper instead! I bought my last roll at Target but many stores have it, and of course you can buy it at the post office too or even online. Or you can bug put the word out to your friends that you want their packaging paper. Then cut off a big piece, tape it to the floor, pull out the markers, and have some fun! 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Teacher Tuesday: on my desk

For today's Teacher Tuesday I'm linking up with Rachel Tanenblatt at Music With Mrs. Tanenblatt to show you what's on my teacher desk right now. What a great idea for a linky party! It's easy to look at people's blog posts and think, "I'm not like that at all- I could never be that organized, or trendy, or _________". But most blog posts are just snippets of life as a whole, and the whole point of writing a blog post is generally to share something that is successful for you and you think might be useful for readers. 

With that being said, I should make it very clear that I did not adjust anything on my desk when I took this photo. I took it at the end of the day yesterday before I packed up to go home. This is what my desk currently looks like most of the time (you remember my blog is called, "Organized CHAOS", right?!?):

I have my desk facing a wall with cork board, where I hang pictures that students give me, concert programs, and documents I need to reference often (like school schedules). Right in front of the wall, I have (from left to right) a stack of catalogs that I have been collecting as they come in the mail so I have them for orders later, sanitizing wipes, my teacher supply organizer, my recorder, stapler, and hole punch, and my stacking paper sorters (which currently has papers that need to be graded from several classes, forms to pass out to my choir students, forms I need to send in my verify the professional development conference I recently attended, and my 2 iPads, which I have been charging on the paper sorter.

For everything in front of that, I should add the disclaimer that my concert is today. There are a lot of things on my desk right now that aren't normally there! OK so anyway...
I have my coffee and water, my planner (which is currently sitting on top of a stack of things I need to file), index cards with to-do lists (mostly for the concert), and several random things that students have given me (like the rainbow-colored popsicle stick craft- so cute!). Oh, and my lanyard. Because I cannot stand walking around with that thing banging on my chest and jingling all the way.

In the very front I have my clipboard with my seating charts (which is normally on my music stand where I teach but it was there because I was looking at the seating charts for my choir groups that are performing today), my choir folder (with sticky notes with more to-do lists and things to remember for the concert), and my color-group folders. 

Now, if you were looking for my usual genius teacher tips and have been disappointed, never fear: HERE'S MY TIP! ;) I use those folders to have students hand in papers when they are in the middle of working on something and I need to be able to pass them out again quickly. They are color-coded to match my grouping system in my room and I keep them in magazine holders so they can quickly find the folder for their class and find their papers. More on this system another day, but there you go, I have now bestowed some wisdom and you can go back to your lives feeling enriched. :D

And that just about covers my desk! Thank you to Rachel for hosting this linky party- I had a lot of fun! Don't forget to head over to the party to check out everyone else's posts!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Mommy Monday: 24 Christmas activities for 2-3 year old's

Last week I showed off my DIY advent calendar, which has a different activity for my not-quite-3-year-old twins and I to do together each day. Today I want to share those activities with you! Many of the crafts are ideas I got from other places- click on the item in the list below the graphic to go to those links and get a full description. Because I sometimes only see them for the morning get-out-the-door rush and then right before bed, many of the things I planned are ones that can be done in 5 minutes or less. On the days that I know I have more time, I planned more involved outings and activities. So here the are, not at all in the order we will be doing them:

1. Put up the Christmas tree
2. Hang a felt tree (I have one like this)
3. Pinecone Christmas tree craft 
4. Decorate the Christmas tree
5. Hang Christmas lights
6. Make Christmas cards
7. Go see a Christmas lights display
8. Bake sugar cookies
9. Decorate sugar cookies
10. Deliver cookies to friends
11. Gingerbread man craft 
12. Gingerbread houses (found some good tips to keep it simple here)
13. Visit Santa
14. Wrap Christmas presents
15. Call extended family to wish them Merry Christmas
16. Take family pictures
17. Get out the nativity set (I have this one which is great for this age)
18. Scribble on large paper to use to wrap presents
19. Hand print reindeer craft
20. Marshmallow snowmen (something like this picture)
21. Read a new Christmas book
22. Read a new Christmas book (yes, we are doing this twice!)
23. Stained glass ornament craft
24. Play with snow dough

P.S. Did you notice that several items are things that I have on my own to-do list anyway, like putting up decorations and wrapping presents? This way they get to be involved in the process, and it's one less thing for me to worry about. Cha-ching! :)

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Teacher Tuesday: removable score notes

Welcome back to Teacher Tuesday! Today I have a quick tip using one of my favorite tools again: washi tape! I have recently started using it to make notes in my original scores for my choir classes.

I used to make a photocopy of the original score for every song I did with my choirs so that I could write my own notes about things I want to remember to teach, conducting cues I don't want to forget, or changes I make to the original arrangement (usually to simplify for my younger groups). I would use the photocopy with all my notes for rehearsals and then use the original score for performance.

Problem: I sometimes want my notes in the performance too! I will confess, I still get nervous in performances, even after more than 2 decades of performing and almost a decade of teaching and conducting. I need my notes to remember what cues to give, which vocal part to focus on, etc in the performance. I have to use the original score to follow copyright correctly, but I don't want to mark up the originals.

Enter washi tape!

Any time I want to make a note in the score, I just get a piece of washi tape, stick it in, and write over it. When I'm done, or I change my mind, I can take it out without damaging the score. Score! (Sorry, couldn't stop myself from using that pun...) Now I just use my original scores for rehearsals as well. The thicker paper is much easier to use, and I can easily color-code my notes with different color tape (cues in blue, rehearsal notes in yellow etc, or sopranos green, altos red etc), and they are actually easier to read on the tape than they are when I write them straight onto the paper. So many advantages to this system!

P.S. Have you checked out the Cyber Monday deals on teacherspayteachers? 28% off everything in my store is hard to beat! It ends today (December 2nd) so don't forget to empty your cart before midnight and enter the discount code at checkout!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Mommy Monday: muffin tin advent calendar

I'm so excited to share today's Mommy idea with you- an easy DIY advent calendar that is so flexible and cheap! I wish I could take credit for the idea, but I found it on Pinterest. There are lots of people who have done different versions of it but I was first inspired by this picture.

The basic idea is to use a mini-muffin tin (which happens to have 24 cups) as a fillable advent calendar. Just stick something in each cup and cover them up, and it's just like those paper ones that you open up each day to find a little chocolate- EXCEPT IT'S REUSABLE! Genius.

Of course, you know me, I loved the idea but wanted to put my own spin on it. I'm not a huge fan of giving out candy, but I am beyond excited about starting some fun family traditions and really building the excitement this advent season. Last year the girls were approaching 2, so they definitely did understand some of the build-up to Christmas, but they didn't really have the ability to think about something happening the next day, let alone 24 days away, at that age. This year they are about to turn 3 and IT IS GOING TO BE AWESOME. I decided I wanted to try to have some kind of little activity related to advent/Christmas to do each day to really help us focus on family and enjoying time together rather than on gifts or Santa.

I made up a list of things that I want us to do together in December- everything from decorating the tree and baking cookies to reading a new Christmas book and making cards for other family members. I included some simple crafts, some outings, and also several really quick activities (like a book, or a phone call to a distant relative) to take into account their sometimes-busy schedule. Then I went through and figured out when we could do each activity based on our schedule, and made some little notes for each activity with a picture (to give the girls a clue). I just used random clipart and made it in Word:
Then I printed it out and cut out each strip, folded them up, and put them in the corresponding cup in my muffin tin.

Next up was the covers for each cup to show the days. I really wanted to do something that had the characters from the nativity story, since I wanted that to be our focus. I looked at a lot of pre-made templates that others had used for their own muffin tin advent calendars, but couldn't find any that I really liked, so I decided to make my own. I found this cute clipart on Etsy from songinmyheart, added the numbers to show each day, and printed those off as well.

From looking at other templates it seemed like most people had done 12 to a letter-size page, so I figured I would just do the same (aka I was too lazy to measure my muffin tin and figure it out). I wish I had made each one a bit smaller but I figure slightly too big is better than slightly too small?!? Oh well.

After printing them off I stuck them on my handy-dandy adhesive magnet sheets that I have been using for everything and LOVE. Cut out the squares and bam!

I love this calendar so much. I love that I made it, I love that I had an excuse to buy a mini muffin tin, and I love that I can use it for years to come and hopefully keep it as a family tradition. I can't wait for the girls to see it this morning! I will update on facebook with their reaction :)

What holiday traditions do you most treasure in your family? Share your thoughts below!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Cyber Monday Sale!

Yippee! It's time for a sale! TeachersPayTeachers is having a site-wide sale on December 1st and 2nd for Cyber Monday, and you can get 28% off every item in my store with the code TPTCYBER. I've got a couple of things I'm super excited about as both a seller and a buyer:

1. My Japanese lesson set bundle

Have you seen the new bundle in my store? These folk song lessons are a labor of love- all of the songs are my favorites from my childhood in Japan, and each one comes with native speaker recordings, sheet music, slides and printables to add instruments or teach musical concepts from the song, and facts about Japan. They have everything you need to incorporate them into your lessons or do a stand-alone unit on songs from Japan. Each of them is available separately as well, but you get all 3 for 20% off with the bundle, and you will get all my future Japanese song sets for free!

And don't forget about my organizing sheets and planner sets. This is a great time to get organized so that you are ready for January! These planning sheets for the new national music standards have been a great way for me to organize my long-range planning around the new standards.

2. Christmas Freeze Dance and Creative Movement from Tracy King

Christmas Freeze Dance and Creative Movement

I have these in my cart and ready to go- I need something new and fresh for dance breaks in my classes in the lead-up to winter break! My students have been getting more and more antsy as standardized testing takes over their learning. They come to my room ready to move, so we have been doing a lot of dance breaks :) These sets are a great twist on dancing games and also help them expand their movement repertoire. Love it!

3. Emotions - Posters and Writing Worksheet from ARTrageous Fun

EMOTIONS - Posters and Writing Worksheet

With all of the behavior issues we have had at our school the last couple of years, we have been really pushing emotional literacy. One of the concepts I want to emphasize more this year is performing with expression- I really want to help students experience the ways they can express their feelings through music. These visual aids for feelings will be a great way to talk about a range of emotions and use them in my lessons (I'll have to share more about my ideas for this after I've tried it out in my classes... wink wink!). 

I'm also linking up with Amy Abbott on Music a la Abbott- check out the linky party to see more great resources for music teachers to add to your cart for the sale!

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Happy Shopping :)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Teacher Tuesday: organized concert prep

Well, it's that time of year again. While others are starting to get that warm fuzzy feeling as they anticipate the holiday season, music teachers around the world are hunkering down, trying to visualize 500 children walking on and off the stage in various configurations while holding props and percussion instruments without dropping anything, making large noises, or falling off the stage. Concert season!

While there's no way around some amount of pandemonium *cough* I mean flurry of activity, thinking through everything in advance and planning out as much as possible has made a huge difference in my concert season stress level.

Here are some of the things I do to stay organized, and a general timeline for when I do them. I have done everything from "informance"-type presentations of class material, to formal ensemble performances, and full-scale musical productions. The basic ideas for how I prepare have been the same.

1. Date, time, venue, and repertoire
I try to have the dates, times, and venues for all of my performances set and on the calendar before the school year begins. I'd much rather have the other events planned around my concert than the other way around, and it makes the rest of my planning much easier when I know what my timeline is.

I also pick out my repertoire/material/script before the school year begins, or at least before the semester when I will be teaching it begins. Again, having the repertoire picked out ahead of time makes all the rest of my planning so much easier. I have often had to make adjustments to my choices after I start teaching (and either realize the material is too easy or too hard), but it is easier to make changes to a plan than to have no plan at all!

2. Long-range teaching plan
Once I know the date of the concert and the material I need the performers to learn, I can plan backwards to see when I need to start focused rehearsals on the material. Going backwards from the performance, I add a dress rehearsal and 2 more "run-through" rehearsals. That gives me a little buffer to work with, but also gives the students time to make sure everything is memorized and work out the logistics of performing (like bowing and transitioning between groups or songs). From there I plan out each rehearsal backwards to get to that end goal to find my starting point.

3. Logistics planning
This is where the planning depends greatly on the type of performance. When I am planning a full-scale musical, there are a lot of logistics that need to be worked out as close to the start of the school year as possible: costumes, acting rehearsals, set and prop pieces, sound and lighting tech, etc. For ensemble or class performances, the logistics tend to be much simpler and I start planning out the logistics a few weeks after I have started teaching the material- usually 2-3 months before the performance.

No matter what I'm planning for, though, I am a big fan of writing everything down. I organize all of my information into categories and keep it in my planner:

(I've put these performance planning sheets in my TpT store if you are interested!)

Some of the things I make sure to plan include sound and lighting needs, the written program (if there is one), costumes or dress code, publicity, stage setup and flow (transitions are key!), and people to contact. Which brings me to my next point...

4. People to contact
One of the most important things I have learned from experience is that if something goes wrong, it is usually because I did not communicate enough with the right people about the right information. With all the coordinating I am doing myself, it's easy to forget that other people don't have instant access to all the information swirling around in my brain, and it's often hard to keep track of whom I have told what. Add in the complexity that comes with the blessing of various helpers- whether from parents, staff members, or the community- and communication becomes an even greater challenge.

I always include two things in my performance planning to help me keep track of communication: a list of contact information for anyone helping with the performance, and what their role is (costume sewing, sound tech, moving risers out of storage etc), and a checklist of who I need to contact and the basic information I need to communicate. As the performance gets closer, I can go through my checklist every now and then to see if there is anyone I need to email or talk to that week. It has really helped cut down on communication gaps and helped me get more people on board with supporting the program because they feel more connected to the process.

I think that's it! Whew! After all that planning, all that's left to do is ride the wave... :D Best of luck to all my colleagues entering the performance season! Share your tips for staying sane in the comments below!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Mommy Monday: DIY toddler toys- magnet board

With the holidays fast approaching, stores and websites are filled with the best new toys for kids in every age group. Although there are some pretty nifty ones out there, including a few that are on my list to get my girls this Christmas, often the simple things we make end up being the favorites for our children. 

One of those favorites that I made for the girls is a fairly simple one to make: a magnet board.

All you need is some kind of flat piece of metal, adhesive magnet sheets, and a printer. I was planning to use cookie sheets as the boards, but saw these cute ones on clearance at JoAnne's Fabrics and knew they would be perfect! No extra work painting or anything and I have instant cute! :) For the magnets, I tried to think of all the things my girls like the most- favorite animals, food, etc. The result is a pretty random collection of clipart, but they absolutely love having all their favorite things! I also included a picture of each of their faces.

I actually made these to take on a long car ride we had this summer, so I used a couple of my reusable snack bags as pouches to hold each child's magnets. They are the perfect size and it worked well for the car. 

It is such a simple thing but the girls pull their magnet boards out a lot. They love making up silly stories with the different magnets, or even making patterns on the board with the different foods, animals, and other categories. 

The great thing about this toy is that you can add to it over the seasons- I am planning to make magnets of the different characters from the nativity story for them to play with before Christmas. As their interests change, it's easy to add different magnets as well. 

If you missed it, I wrote a post a few weeks ago about another toy I made for my kids- the busy box- which has also been a big hit. Happy playing!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Teacher Tuesday: small percussion storage

Welcome back to Teacher Tuesday! If you saw my classroom tour from the beginning of the school year, you will remember with great rejoicing my wonderful open shelving in my classroom:

While I know most do not have such extensive open shelving in their elementary music classrooms, I want to talk a little bit about some general tips to keep in mind when storing small percussion instruments, which will hopefully be applicable to many teachers in different classroom settings.

So first, let's take a closer look at the shelves in question:

Hmm, not exactly pretty, huh? That's OK. I'll fix that someday with stylish, matching containers. It's on my to-do list (groan). Moving on...

1. Keep larger sets of instruments together in open boxes and baskets.

Keeping sets of instruments, like rhythm sticks and shakers, together is probably common sense. But I think it is important to keep them in open containers, even if you don't have them on open shelves. It's much faster to take out and put away when you're using them in class, students can see what is in each container and how they are stored to put them back, and you can find the right container more quickly too.

2. Keep the instruments used most often by your youngest students at their height.

I used to be more obsessive about sorting instruments by type (metals, woods etc) on my shelves, but I am now a firm believer in organizing things to allow maximum student independence. Think about the instruments that are used most often by your kindergartners (or whatever youngest grade you teach) and put those instruments just below their line of sight where they can easily reach them. I think it is so important to teach students how to take out and put away instruments on their own, so the more you can leave things where they are and have students go get them right from their storage location themselves, the better.

3. Keep those really tempting but less-used instruments out of reach.

This is especially important with open shelving, but no matter where you are keeping your instruments, if you are wanting to foster independence and have students getting out and putting away instruments themselves, you are going to have to protect some of the more fragile instruments. I keep my box of really small percussion, as well as my gong and wind chimes, at the back of the shelf where students can't get to them on their own.

4. Keep everything needed to play the instruments together.

Keep the beaters with the triangles, the sticks with the guiros, and the mallets with the temple blocks. I used to keep all the beaters/unpitched percussion mallets etc together in one container, but that makes the process of getting set up and cleaned up from playing much slower. Keep everything a student needs to play each instrument together so they only have to go to one place to get everything they need.

5. Let students be responsible for their instruments!

Students will never learn how to carefully and properly pick up, carry, and store instruments if they never do it themselves. Encourage independence by storing instruments in view (as space allows) and organize them to streamline the process of helping students find and put back the instruments properly. Yes, it does require more monitoring when idle hands can more easily reach them as well, but it is an important lesson to learn and one that will encourage a community of respect in your classroom as well.

**Update: I've come up with some specific solutions for storing those really pesky but commonly-used instruments that have made a huge difference in my classroom: click here to see my hand drum solution, and click here to see my solution for triangles.**

What are your tips for organizing and storing instruments in the classroom? Leave a comment below! If you want more tips and lesson ideas for other instruments like ukulele, recorder, xylophones, keyboards, and more, head to this post:

Monday, November 17, 2014

Mommy Monday: budget-friendly temporary gallery wall

Gallery walls are a wonderful way to display a collection of photos. I especially love the ones that show family pictures- I think it is a wonderful way to celebrate family. I think it is especially great for children to see pictures of themselves and their family members prominently displayed. It gives a sense of the centrality of those people to their every-day lives.

My problem: I'm a renter. While I normally am a huge fan of command strips as an alternative to nail holes, a gallery wall would take a WHOLE LOT of command strips! So for my small gallery wall I turned to my other go-to: washi tape.

There are so many advantages to sticking your photos directly on the wall with washi tape for a gallery wall effect:

  1. Cheap. You can buy a good roll of washi tape for under $2. I've been using the same 3 rolls of washi tape for a couple of years, on a myriad of projects, and I'm not even close to running out.
  2. Stylish. Because you can mix and match different patterns and colors of washi tape, you can instantly get that eclectic/stylish feel with no effort!
  3. Adjustable. You can peel and stick washi tape many times without losing stickiness (I don't know why. it's the magic of washi.), so if you're not sure what arrangement you will like, just try it and then move things around.
  4. Fast. Just think of how much faster it is to tape a picture to the wall than to put it in the frame and then mount the frame!
  5. Safe. No worries about a kid knocking a frame off the wall!
I recently re-did our gallery wall to include more pictures of extended family. Before I had more pictures of the girls as infants, mostly because I can't get enough of them, but now that the girls can remember their great-grandparents from a visit a month ago it's nice to have those photos to help them remember their relatives and reinforce their importance in our lives.

Have you tried hanging photos with washi tape yet? If you haven't, go do it! Now! ;)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Linkup: Tech Talk Tuesday (DIY Interactive Whiteboard tutorial)

Today I'm linking up with Shelley Tomich at Pitch Hill to share a tech tip with you. I've included the link to the link-up at the bottom of this post, so don't forget to check out all the other fantastic tech tips over there! This tech tip is one that I have shared on this blog before, but is so awesome that is bears repeating: how to make your own interactive whiteboard system for under $50.

Today I'm sharing a tutorial on my biggest school project last year: my DIY interactive whiteboard (aka SmartBoard, Promethean Board etc). I know it sounds crazy to make your own interactive whiteboard, but trust me, it's not nearly as techy and complicated as it sounds, and get this: if you have a projector, this thing will only cost you $50!! That's a lot less than the astronomical amount it would cost you to get a name-brand SmartBoard or other pre-made interactive whiteboard. So it's definitely worth the sweat equity to get it going.

1 Wii Remote (like this one)- around $20
1 Infrared Pen (like this one)- $20-$30 depending on the type you choose
Wiimote Whiteboard software (like this one)- free
Computer with bluetooth capability (or you can get a bluetooth dongle here)
Projector (preferably mounted, but not required)

1. Make sure you have a projector and a space on which to project an image. It can be a regular whiteboard, a projector screen, or even a wall (which is what I used- and actually prefer).

Because my walls are pretty old and yucky, I bought some white contact paper and black painter's tape at Home Depot and put it up on the wall where the projected image goes. It is a nice touch that helps define the space for the students, and it makes it easier to see because you can't see the chipped paint on the wall, but it is definitely not necessary.

If possible, make sure the projector is mounted- and if you can't do that, get it as stable and immovable as possible. The less it moves the better. Connect your computer to your projector.

2. Buy a Wii remote and IR (infrared) pen. Use the links above or you can shop around for your favorite type. There are tons of different pens you can get here, as well as several other online options. You could even make your own pen if you wanted, but no need to dive into that unless you are really up for an adventure! :)

3. Download the correct version of the free software onto your computer to match your operating system. If you want to explore all the software versions available, you can check out this site, but I recommend sticking with the one already mentioned.

4. Open bluetooth on your computer. Open the back of the Wii remote (where you put in the batteries) and push the red button until you see the Wii remote appear under the list of bluetooth items on your computer. Your remote is now connected to your computer.

5. Open the Wiimote software you downloaded. Hold down the 1 and 2 buttons on the front of the Wii remote at the same time. You may see some text scrolling in a new window- this is good. Keep holding the buttons. When you see a blue bar appear towards the top of the Wiimote software window showing the battery level, you are successfully connected and can stop holding the buttons.

6. Turn on your projector. Set your Wii remote up somewhere where the black end can "see" the whole projected image- this is the tricky part. You can tape it to the projector, set it on a table, or use a mic stand to point it towards the image. It needs to be far enough away to get the whole screen but close enough to be able to "see" the IR pen. I used a mic stand for several months and ended up mounting it to the ceiling like this:

If you want to use this setup you will need to buy a mount like this. For me it was worth it because of the way my room is set up (sky lights: great for natural lighting, not so great for projector installation), but most people will probably find it easiest to stick it on to the projector itself. Keep in mind that the Wii remote can "see" about 45 degrees on either side.

*You can check to see how much of the screen the Wii remote is "seeing" by clicking on the IR camera monitor and then making the window full screen. Click around in all corners of the screen to see if a dot shows up when you click.

7. Click "calibrate" in the Wiimote software. You will see a bulls-eye on the left top corner of the screen. Click on the center of the bulls-eye with your IR pen. If your remote is positioned correctly, you will see a green check mark. Yay! Now do the same thing in the new bulls-eye that has now appeared on the top left side. You will then do the two bottom corners. If you get green checks in all 4 corners, you are all set to use your board! It is very important that you are careful to click as close to the center of each bulls-eye as possible. The further off your points are here, the more your calibration will be off when you try to do something on your new interactive whiteboard. Take your time! If it's not working, play around some more with the Wii remote positioning. You also need to make sure you aren't blocking the Wii remote from seeing the IR pen with your body. Make sure you stand to the side while you click.

Extras (I use but aren't necessary):
Contact paper/ painter's tape
Gator mount for ceiling or desktops for Wii remote (like this one)
Rechargeable battery pack for Wii remote (available here for $12.99)
Smart Notebook (available here- they have free trials) or other interactive whiteboard software

Getting your own interactive whiteboard definitely takes some trial and error but it is SO WORTH IT. There are so many benefits to having an interactive system in the elementary music classroom, but so few schools that provide their music rooms with the funds to buy a pre-made one. I hope that I can help inspire more music teachers to give it a shot- please let me know if you need any help along the way!

I hope you enjoyed this post. Now go check out the other awesome tips for technology in the music room (including lots of great tips for iPads!) by heading over to the Tech Talk Tuesday linkup:


Teacher Tuesday: recorder karate part 2- belt storage

Welcome back to Teacher Tuesday! Earlier this year I shared my current system for organizing and storing the students' sheet music for the Recorder Karate program. I've included the link to that post at the end of this one so you can read more about it if you're interested. Today's post is about my new recorder belt storage solution!

Last year I started using loom bands as my "belts" and it was the best.decision.ever. No more cutting little pieces of yarn, no more tying things onto hundreds of recorders, no more running out to the store early in the morning because you didn't know your yellow yarn was almost gone. So much easier. The only tiny problem:

This whole loom band thing happened in the middle of the school year last year, just as I was getting ready to start the program, so I didn't have time to get everything as organized as I would have liked. I went through the whole year last year with the loom bands in the flimsy little plastic bags in which they were packaged, and kept them all corralled in a tissue box with the top cut off (yep.). Not the best way to have quick and easy access to the belt I need when a student completes a test, and not the easiest thing for me to carry around when I am listening to students play for their tests.

Enter the pill box.

Some of you may have seen my Mommy Monday post on how I store my kids' hair elastics:

It wasn't until I wrote that blog post that I made the connection to storing my recorder belt storage- those hair elastics are basically the same thing as the loom bands I use at school! (And this is precisely why I break the "first rule of blogging" and blog about two topics- home and school- because I find so many connections between the two! If nothing else, blogging about both has already helped me come up with great ideas myself!)

At first I was thinking about having 2 of the same round pill boxes that I used for the hair elastics, but I quickly realized that those would also be cumbersome to carry around when I am testing. The next idea I had was to get one of those giant ones with multiple boxes for every day of the week, but I didn't really want something that big. When I was at the drug store, looking for something else, I came across this and realized it was exactly what I needed:

It's so much smaller. It only has 8 compartments, but I really don't need to carry around the white belts because I have my students earn that first belt as a class before I turn them loose on the rest of the belts. Now I have something that fits easily in my pocket, and gives me easy access to whichever color I need:

I'm able to fit about 20 of each color comfortably in this container. I am keeping the rest of the bands in the same tissue box and will replenish in between classes as needed. 

If you want to read about how I organize the sheet music for recorder karate, head on over to this post:

How do you organize your belts for recorder karate? Share your ideas in the comments or head on over to my facebook page to join the conversation there!