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Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Organized Instrument Storage

As I was setting up my classroom last week I was reminded of all the little "hacks" that I've come up with over the years for instrument storage that have made my life, and more importantly my students' lives, so much easier! If you're looking to up your classroom organization game and make instruments more accessible for students, I hope these ideas are helpful!

1. Hand drums & Tambourines

My hand drum solution is by far my favorite idea and I've since done the same for my tambourines as well. Click on the photo to read the blog post where I explain what I used to get this set up:

2. Triangles

Another one of those instruments that is always so annoying to store... anyone else used to have triangle beaters falling through the holes in those plastic baskets? No longer. Click on the photo to see what I used to forever detangle my triangles!

3. Boomwhackers

Attaching boomwhackers to the wall with velcro is not an original idea but I do have some strong opinions about my specific arrangement- click on the photo to see the exact velcro I used and read the pedagogical reasons I have them arranged the way they are:

4. Ukuleles

This is also nothing original or terribly unique but I highly recommend, if you have the wall space, hanging the ukuleles with utility hooks like this! It makes it so much easier for students to get the instruments and put them back quickly.

5. Recorders

My students purchase their own recorders rather than having a classroom set, but I have them keep them at school for the first few weeks while I teach them proper playing technique and get them playing their first song before they take it home to practice independently, and this is what I do when they're keeping them in the classroom. This system made the process of students finding their recorders at the beginning of class so much faster! Click the picture to see what I used:

6. Other small percussion

I know not everyone has a giant wall of open shelves like I am blessed to have in my current room, but I've developed several key strategies for how to store other specific instruments, where to place them, and other little tips over the years that have made it possible for even my youngest students to use them much more independently! Click the picture to read about some of my top tips for these:

Which one are you most excited to use in your music classroom? Which ones do you already do? What other cool ideas have you used or come across for instrument storage? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

My Favorite Teacher Discounts

As teachers we're always trying to stretch our budgets, and this time of year I often see ads for teacher discounts floating around that are honestly just not substantial enough to be worth my time, or aren't things I really can use. Here are some of my favorite teacher discounts that I love that you may not be aware of (this post is not sponsored in any way, just sharing information!).

1. Food

My favorite little-known teacher discount is from Thrive Market: they give teachers a free membership for a year! They have good prices on a lot of specialty food items that can be pricey at the grocery store, plus lots of home items from toilet paper to shampoo. And because the membership is free, the cheaper prices are actually cheaper, even if you don't order often! Use the link above to sign up for the teacher membership.

Home Chef gives teachers 50% off the first meal delivery box and 10% off boxes after that. I've tried a few different meal delivery services over the years when things get especially busy and they are definitely a great way to save time and energy.

2. Shoes

Good teacher shoes can be expensive! I've been happy to find several good discounts on shoes that I've had success with: 20% off Keds, and 50% off Reebok, to name a few.

3. Glasses

I know this doesn't apply to everyone but for me this is huge! Lenscrafters has 60% off lenses, and has 60% off lenses and free shipping.

4. Craft supplies

I think these discounts are fairly well-known, but it's worth mentioning that Michaels and Joann both give 15% off for teachers as well.

If you click on any of the links you'll see that the key to many of these discounts (and many others) is signing up with - the first time I used it I got discouraged thinking it would be cumbersome to verify my teacher status but it was actually pretty easy and quick! I highly recommend signing up if you have never done this before.

OK, those are just a few of my favorites that I find useful and I don't think are very widely-known, but I'm sure there are other good ones out there! If you know of other teacher discounts please leave them in the comments so other teachers can use them too :)

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Elementary Music Procedures to Practice

One of the most important things we can do at the beginning of the school year is practice classroom procedures- the less time we have to spend explaining and managing logistics throughout the year, the more time we have for music-making and the smoother our lessons will go in general. Part of creating a "safe space" classroom is making sure students feel confident that they know what to do in common lesson situations, and procedures are the foundation for that. Here are the most important procedures I make sure to make time to practice at the beginning of the year with my elementary general music students.

Before we jump into the list, I want to make it clear that I do not cram in practice of all of these procedures in the first lesson, or even the first week, of the school year. But I do try to introduce them within the first 3 weeks or so. I found if I don't make the time to practice them within the first month, the first time we really encounter the procedure with a particular grade I forget they haven't practiced it and I get impatient when they don't know what to do, which invariably leads to problems. And I definitely do not tell students how to do these things, or even have a class discussion about them or have students model examples- I build the actual activities for which the procedures are needed into my lesson plans so that the students naturally have opportunities to practice them when the need arises. Contextualizing it helps students understand the importance and purpose so much better! If you want an example of how I do that in the first few lessons with each grade level, see my first day of music lesson plan blog post.

1. Entering and exiting the room

Establishing how to enter and exit the room is probably the most important procedure for elementary music because we tend to have such short class periods, and the students spend so much of the rest of their day in one room with one teacher- coming into and leaving a room is not something they do all day like high schoolers and middle schoolers do! My procedure for leaving class has changed very little in my 16 years of teaching: we quickly review what we learned, line up in a very specific order on the line marked on the floor, give compliments, and walk into the hallway. Students know class is almost over when I give the silent signal for them to stand up and walk to the line, and they know exactly where and when to go. Keeping the end of class predictable and highly structured makes the transition out of music class so much smoother! Read all the details of my exit procedures in this post.

Predictability at the beginning of class is key as well, but my procedures have shifted over the years as I've recognized that I need to build in time to address any "baggage" students come into my room with, whether it was an argument on the playground or a test right before class they think they bombed. I've also realized nobody can (or should) be expected to instantly switch into "music class mode" the minute they cross the threshold of my classroom- they need time to transition into the space, some more than others. I started doing student-led warmups at the beginning of class a few years ago and it has been magnificent. I get those going as soon as the first few students are walking in, and everyone knows they need to join in as they get to their seats. Read about the kinds of warmups I do, and how I've made them student-led to free me up for side conversations etc, in this post.

2. Standing, sitting, and sitting up

This isn't always at the top of other teachers' lists but it is on mine- with all the singing, movement, and other transitions I have in my lessons we are rarely in one position for long, and it's important to me that students learn how to sit up properly in chairs for singing or playing wind instruments to give them proper breath support (one of the reasons I am a firm believer in using chairs rather than just sitting on the floor). I've established a silent hand signal for standing, sitting, and sitting up that we practice starting on the very first day- read about those in this post.

3. Redirection

One of the most important procedures I go over with students at the beginning of the year is how to handle themselves when they feel themselves getting out of hand, they're upset and aren't quite ready to resolve the issue yet, or need to share something with me that I can't listen to right away when they need me to hear them. We talk about taking responsibility to take space themselves rather than waiting for me to intervene, and I show them a few different places they can go when they need to remove themselves from a situation. I also have sticky notes and a pencil in a corner where students can write notes to me if they need to tell me something and I either can't listen right away or they want to keep it confidential. And I also try to reinforce with everyone that if I'm asking a student to go sit in one of those spaces or take space away from the group, that's to give them the opportunity to resolve the situation before it escalates, not as a "punishment". 

4. Instruments

The most important expectation I establish with instruments is written on a giant poster on my wall: if you play before I say you'll make the instrument go away. We practice the importance of holding instruments in a way that they won't accidentally make sound when they are waiting to begin playing, and we also practice what happens when they do play out of turn- I make sure they see early on that if they make a mistake it's not a big deal, they put their instrument down for one turn and then they always get another chance to join and try again. 

Besides that though, I also believe it's important for instruments to be visible and available for students, and for them to learn how to safely and appropriately handle them early on. So we practice how to get instruments off the shelves and put them away, and how to hand out instruments or collect them from other students if they are assigned to that team job and we are using small instruments like egg shakers or rhythm sticks. 

5. Movement

I'm lucky enough to have 2 areas in my room: one where chairs are set up, and another with floor spots in a circle. The kindergartners sit on the floor most of the time, but for the older grades we practice how to safely move from one area to the other and back again. Seems self-evident but I learned very early in my teaching career that it definitely is not!

6. Writing

I don't have desks or tables for each student in my room, so when it's time to write or color it is quite an ordeal without procedures in place. I have teams assigned to pass out and collect things, and we practice how to get everyone pencils and paper. For younger grades I just have them use their chairs as desks and sit on the floor to avoid more transitions and logistics, but for older students who tend to find that uncomfortable I have clipboards, lap desks, and some table space that we go over how they can get and use. I keep all of our supplies organized by color team to make it easier to keep track of everything- you can read about that in this post.

7. Bathroom/ tissues/ nurse

To be honest this is the procedure I tend to forget to practice because I'd rather just have everyone stay in music and never have to use the bathroom, blow their nose, or visit the nurse! Of course life doesn't work that way so when I'm on my game, I make sure to show students where the tissues are in my room and where nearest bathroom is and (especially for younger grades) practice walking between the music room and the bathroom, and I tell them my one rule to not have more than one student in the bathroom/ at the tissues at a time (mostly because it's too much for my brain to keep track of, but also to avoid dilly dallying). I have tried to have students use whatever hand signals they have in their homerooms in the past to avoid confusing them, but I'm considering establishing a hand signal for bathroom and tissues this year and putting a poster up in the room for their reference, because I have had too many times when students are trying to signal something to me and I don't know what the signal means! :) Regardless, they're important to review so they don't become disruptions throughout the year.

I know what you're thinking: what about emergency procedures? I honestly don't count that as a separate thing to practice for music class because we go over emergencies in general as a building and discuss various scenarios, including if students are in art, music, the cafeteria, the bathroom, etc. If we didn't do that as a building, I would certainly include that on my list as well! What else is on your list that didn't make mine? What are some ways you've found to help the procedures above go more smoothly in your room? I'd love to hear more ideas in the comments!

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

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.