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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

New Lesson Ideas I Loved This Year

I won't lie, this school year was so tough in so many ways. But as I look back, I'm pretty surprised at how many new ideas I tried that were a huge success this year! Last week I shared some general ideas from teaching that I plan to continue, and today I'm sharing new lesson ideas I tried this year! These are definitely going into my regular lesson rotation- I highly recommend them all to any teachers looking to refresh your own lesson plans for next year!

1. Science of Sound

I did a couple of quick lessons on the science of sound with 6th grade this year, sortof on a whim because of the way the timing of my other units starting and ending lined up. It went so well, and I found so many cool resources that I couldn't even fit into my short timeframe this year, that I'm hoping to expand it further next year. Right now my thought is to expand it out to include a lesson or two in other grade levels and circle back to it each year, but we'll see what I come up with when I really sit down with my long-range curriculum plans this summer. Here are some of the highlights from my lessons this year:

2. Music of Colombia

I have been teaching music of Bolivia to my 1st graders for years but with the Encanto movie out this year I decided to switch things up and do a unit on Colombia instead. I learned so much through my research and the unit was a huge success, both in engagement and in how well students were able to learn the same musical concepts through the lesson material.  Here are the lesson activities I used this year: 

3. 5/4 Meter

I have always done a couple of brief lessons on 5/4 meter using "Take Five" by Dave Brubeck with 4th grade to expand their understanding of time signatures and meter. But this year they just weren't grasping it as well, and we were ahead of my normal pacing on other concepts, so I expanded it into a whole series of lessons just on 5/4! I personally have always been fascinated by unusual time signatures and I found my students really enjoyed and learned a lot from diving deeper into it this year as well! Here are some of the highlights from those lessons: 

I hope this gives you some new ideas to try next year! I'd love to hear about your successes from this past year as well- what were some new lessons you tried this year that you and your students loved? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

New Ideas I Loved This Year

I won't lie, this school year was so tough in so many ways. But as I look back, I'm pretty surprised at how many new ideas I tried that were a huge success this year! Today I wanted to share some of my favorite new ideas that I'll be taking into my teaching next year- I hope you find some new ideas to try out yourself!

1. Carpet spots

The brand name versions have always been out of my price range and the knockoffs were never quite what I needed, so until this year I only used tape on the floor to mark off spots on my carpet. But thanks to social distancing for in person teaching the options available exploded last year and I am happy to report that the ones I used held up beautifully all year! I didn't have to replace any of them and they looked practically brand new when I pulled them up at the end of the school year. 

2. Sub Plan Setup

For pre-planned absences I will never go back to my old way of doing sub plans! I still kept my old sub tub for emergencies, and used them a few times when I had to be out unexpectedly, but for days when I knew ahead of time I was able to carry on with teaching content way more than I could otherwise by recording myself introducing activities, and embedding those videos in google slides for the substitute to show in class. The students and the substitutes loved this format too, so I will definitely be continuing with this strategy! Read more details about how I did it in this post: 

3. Secret Sticky

So this idea was not entirely new for me this year- I did this once years ago- but I had completely forgotten about the strategy until this year and I did it more thoroughly this year than I did before. The last month or so of school I started writing short notes of affirmation and leaving them on students' desks or chairs in their homeroom for them to find when they came to school in the morning. Sometimes it was music-related, sometimes it was something I appreciate about their character or personality, but I made sure I got to everyone before the last day of school. Besides the students who gave me a hug or told me thank you after finding their note, I had students show me at the end of the year where they had kept their sticky note so they could read it to themselves every day, parents who messaged me to thank me for having such a positive impact on their child's self esteem, and homeroom teachers who reported the squeals of delight and the dramatic change in the students' demeanor after getting a note. Next year I want to start earlier in the year- maybe halfway through when we come back in January- so it's more spread out and more unpredictable when they might get a note, but I'll definitely be doing this again. Here's the post I wrote on that strategy if you want more details on how this fits in with my other "happy notes" etc:

Stay tuned: next week I'll be sharing my favorite new lesson ideas I loved this year and will be putting into my regular rotation! What are some new things you tried this year and loved? I'd love to hear them in the comments!

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

My Favorite Song for Early Childhood

There are so many songs that are so much fun to sing with preschool and Kindergarten but my favorite by far is Miss Julie Ann Johnson. It's just a fun song to sing and because the students get to add their ideas we can sing it over and over again and it never gets old! Here's how I do it (my version is a little different than the ones I see commonly online) and how I use it to reinforce important skills in my early childhood classes.

I've tried over the years to explain my version of the song in writing but it's much easier for me to just demonstrate! Here's a demonstration of the song as I learned it and teach it to my students:

I love pulling this out at the end of the year with my younger students because it is a fun and easy way to get them singing, everyone can get a turn to share an idea (always a winning strategy with early childhood ages), and we can repeat the song every lesson for the last few weeks and it never gets old! 

Besides just being a great way to have fun singing together though, I use it to practice various expressive elements, proper singing voice, and proper singing posture. When I first start teaching the song I have students just sing "oh" after each line so they can hear me sing the words, and I tell them I am looking for people using their best singing voices to decide the next part of the story. I also love bringing the song back at the beginning of 1st grade to reinforce proper singing posture, both singing and standing, by telling students I am looking for the students demonstrating appropriate posture to choose the next verse. 

Once they know it well and can sing the whole thing with me, I'll throw in some expressive elements by asking students to choose a volume level, speed, or emotion to match whatever words the student came up with. I usually look for opportunities when students choose an idea that lends itself to that (for example I've had students suggest "she's never coming back" for the last verse, or say she's going to swim to another country that's far away, etc, which is the perfect time to get students to think about what sort of feeling or message they can convey with their singing). 

I hope you'll try this one out with your younger students- it is definitely one of our favorites and a great one to start or end the school year especially! 

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Teaching Meter in Elementary Music

We spend a lot of time teaching different rhythmic elements, but meter can sometimes get lost in the shuffle. But in terms of music consumption meter is actually an important concept for everyone to understand- perhaps even more so than rhythm! All those jokes about clapping on 1 and 3 come to mind... Here are my favorite ways to teach meter in elementary general music class, including some general strategies as well as several of my favorite specific lesson activities.

General Strategies

The most obvious and frequent strategy I use for exploring and understanding meter is through gross motor movement. I have found Dalcroze techniques are so effective for truly getting the feeling of various meters! I've had students step on the strong beats and clap on the weak beats, or do a vine step for duple and a waltz step for triple- anything that helps students feel and demonstrate the strong and weak beats.

Another similar but less common strategy I use a lot is clapping patterns. I grew up doing clapping games and I love adding them to songs to get even my oldest grades singing with gusto while trying to do some kind of complicated clapping pattern. I usually will either have them clap their own hands or even pat their laps on the downbeat, with other variations of clapping each other's hands on the other beats, to get them to experience the feeling of the meter.

Conducting is another great way to explore meter, and students love getting the chance to really conduct! I first show them the conducting pattern for a specific meter and have them practice conducting with a recording, then I have them conduct with batons to make it feel more authentic. I love showing this video once they've got the basic conducting pattern to get them to explore the expressive elements and conduct with expression!

Specific Lesson Activities

Of course I try to mix in a variety of meters in the songs that we learn in class in general throughout the grade levels, but I always spend some time focusing specifically on triple meter in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade, and focus on other more unusual meters, especially 5/4, starting in 4th grade. Here are my posts my favorite specific lesson activities for each of those:

What are your favorite strategies for teaching the concept of meter and exploring different meters in elementary music class? I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments below!