Thursday, January 31, 2013

Question About After School Groups

This question was posted today and I thought that others might be interested in the novel of an answer I wrote!  :)

I just found your blog and have been clicking through all your older posts. Thanks for your hard work to spread some great teaching ideas!

Just curious- do you get paid for teaching outside of the school day? I noticed in the post that the kids have to pay an activity fee- do you get some of that money? I also run an Orff Ensemble and have rehearsals before school. However, it takes a lot of my time and I am not paid to do it- just expected to. I don't think people realize how much extra work it is when my teaching schedule is totally loaded already. I kind of feel taken advantage of since when classroom teachers work outside of the school day (holding reading nights, curriculum meetings etc) they are frequently paid for their time. What are your thoughts on this?

Even before I started at my first position I felt that it was a bit unfair that there was a universal expectation for elementary music specialists to have before or after school performing groups.  While I do believe there is an enormous amount of value in performance, I never saw why it had to be a group that met outside a teacher’s regular workday.  Like you, the expectations at the schools I’ve worked at have always been that there would be groups like this. 

I do receive a small stipend for one of my after school groups.  There is not another available for my 2nd performing group or for events I host like a Winter Concert or Spring Musical.  Honestly, the amount is so small that it’s definitely not the reason I continue the groups.  I really have grown to love aspects of both groups and would genuinely miss them.  As far as the my activity fees go, they do not supplement my income.  I use that money to purchase a t-shirt for each student, instruments, costumes and anything else we may need for our performances.

Now, I would not recommend making a million drastic changes all in one year but gradually changing the program to fit you and your life style is definitely a must.  There are many ways to give your administration, staff, students and families great performances without it all being dependent upon an after school group.  Here are some of the things I have done to find balance with my after school groups:

We meet on my terms.  That means, days of the week where I feel comfortable sacrificing time at home.  I also decide the length of my rehearsals and the number per year.  I set the concert dates and I pick the time of year when I have them.  This is important because being the expert (by that I mean the only person who has been trained in techniques to teach children musical concepts) at my school, I really am the only person who can decide how much time is reasonable in order to prepare a group to perform.

Cut back!  I turned myself into a tightly wound spring when we first opened our school.  I tried to do it all and nothing was out of the question.  My art teacher friend, Mrs.M, and I have had many conversations about how crazy some of it was.  There are ways to cut back without sacrificing a great enrichment program.  I found that this meant not trying to do 2 musicals a year!  Hello?  What was I thinking?  Instead we do a winter concert with more traditional choral pieces and a musical in the spring. 

Something else I have done to cut back is change my spring concert date from May to March.  Instead of having after school groups from September through May, I will have a portion of the year without these extra groups.  Plus, our concert will be during MIOSM.

Say No.  I’m sure your classroom teachers often come to you asking for help with an after school event or other tasks.  I don’t want to come off the wrong way, I love being a part of the team and helping where I can but there are definitely some instances where the answer has to be no.  The last minute requests, the requests for your planning time.  These are the questions I have learned to say no to.  My planning time is just as limited as theirs and I have a list of to do’s of my own.  I will always help where I can but I’m definitely not going to take on something else that is detrimental to my program.

Come up with a plan.  Before I ever talk to my Principal about changes I want to make to my program, I always make a list of the changes, why they are necessary and how it benefits the kids.  I have found that administrators are much more willing to listen to these changes and react more positively if I have a plan and a way to make it happen. 

I don’t think there are many schools where you can get away with doing absolutely no performances but I’m sure you can reshape your program to fit you.  Think about what your ideal program would be and start thinking of how you could make these changes.  Is it possible to host grade level informances instead of a formal concert?  This really doesn’t require a lot of extra planning because you are sharing music the kids have learned in class.

I hope this helps!  Please let me know if there is anything else I can help with.  

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


In Kindergarten we sing solos during every music class and the fuzzy ball is one of my favorite tools for encouraging kids to sing.  After we sing our hello song, I sing the Question of the Day.  This rotation I am singing "Who is someone that you love?" using SM.  After singing the question I say think of one person and give me a thumbs up when you've got it.  (This step saves me from hearing a million answers shouted at me.)

I have these in several colors.  Oh My Gosh do they get 
excited when we use their favorite color fuzzy ball.

Once I see the majority of thumbs up, I randomly (well it's not completely random, I never start with a shy kid) toss the ball to a kid who sings their answer in a sentence.  I'm not specific about how the sentence is constructed because this gives the kids a chance to improvise.  When they are finished, they toss it back and I go on to the next kid.  The whole activity takes about 3-5 minutes.  I really love having them all sing a solo each time because I end up with more confident 1st, 2nd, ..... grade students.

I find that holding onto the ball is comforting to some kids.  They can squeeze it or stare at it to help give them a bit of extra courage.  I do have 2 little friends in Kindergarten that are Selective Mute and 3 in our school this year.  Here is a bit of the process I've gone through in working towards singing by themselves.

  • Our first solo is singing our name.  For kids who are shy or are unable to sing their name, the class will sing their name.
  • Usually our second solo is our favorite color.  I would have the child point to the color somewhere in the room.  Class sings the solo.
  • Once we get into favorite animal, candy, etc.  They can whisper in a friends ear.  The class sings the solo.
Next time, my friends are going to whisper in my ear (fingers crossed).  I have noticed it helps if I tell them ahead of time what I would like.  It seems to give them some time to process and prepare for the experience.  What I have noticed is now they are volunteering to lead in ways that don't use their voice, which is a big step.  The key is to be patient and take baby steps.

Monday, January 28, 2013


Have you seen this video on Pinterest?

This rotation I am labeling ostinato in 2nd grade.  At the end of our lesson, I have had my kids count the ostinati while watching the video.  After watching we discuss how many we heard.  They love this and are still talking about it.

If you are going to show this video to your kids, I would stop it just past a minute.  I usually stop it when Harry and Snape argue back and forth.  If you're anything like me, you're wary about the word "bomb".

Have you come across any other good examples of ostinato on YouTube?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Mallet Technique

I'm sure you have seen your kids holding their mallets like this with their index finger on top.

I try to keep my kids from doing this by saying "Remember, no sneaky pointers!".  I establish this in K from the very first time we play barred instruments.  It's a quick easy reminder to correct mallet technique.  For some reason my kids think it's really funny and they giggle every time!

And soon enough they are holding the mallets like this!  Or, quietly reminding each other.  It always gets me when I hear one of them using my words like a little teacher.  :)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Paper Xylophone

I know you may have another name for this resource but I call it a paper xylophone.

Mine is made out of a piece of black poster board cut in half and cardstock strips.  I don't remember the original length and width of the strips but I do remember that I cut them a 1/4" shorter as I glued each one onto the poster board.  I love that my xylophone is laminated because it allows me to easily use a dry erase marker to write on flats/sharps and I can use sticky tack and a white strip of paper to cover any bars that we aren't using.

Today we were working on the second portion of our Teddy Bear lesson.  When it came time to play the melody, we discussed how to identify sol/mi on our instruments by first looking at the paper xylophone.  I love asking students to come up and demonstrate what we are going to play and I have found that my classes are much more successful when I use this approach.

You can also check out the visual we used during the lesson.  While I like this visual, I think I will create another version that includes the rhythmic notation.  You can find the visual pictured in the Freebie section.

Recorder Karate Question

This question was posted the other day and I thought it may be something that others were interested in:

I am starting Recorder Karate for the first time and looking for an idea pertaining to the belts that is more cost effective. I see you have yarn. Can you explain how you utilize the yarn as belts and what holds it into place?

I hear you on cost effectiveness. My school started out at just under 600 total population and now we are at around 900. I have always used yarn for belts and honestly, I have not had to buy new yarn in the 6 years I have been doing recorder karate.  When I first purchased the yarn, I stocked up (2 packages per color).

Since I only use this with my 4/5 graders, it takes a while to go through. If you want to go the yarn route, I would buy the larger packages of yarn. JoAnn's/Michaels/Hobby Lobby coupons are great. I took several trips in order to get all the yarn I needed. You can also ask parents for donations. Since this isn't one of the more expensive items, I have had parents donate a package here or there. 

As far as tying the belts on, the kids just double knot them onto the end of their recorder. If they don't have their own, we staple them to their recorder karate packets. Another way that I save on yarn is by being very stern about not replacing lost belts. If they lost their string, they don't have to start back at that belt, they can continue on but I don't just hand out replacement belts. Instead they have to replay the belt for me and time for this is very limited because I always listen to students trying to earn new belts first. This policy seems to cut down on wasted yarn. 

My kids are in charge of cutting the belts but I have to be specific about the process. When we first start RK in 4th grade, I teach them all how to cut them to the right length. I use a bucket in my RK box as a measuring tool. Otherwise, you'll have to listen to "my belts too short"! :)  Another way of doing this is by cutting the yarn ahead of time but I don't have the patience to sit and do that, so having the kids cut the belts works for me.

Do you have any questions about recorder karate?  I'm happy to share how I have made this work at my school.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Prepping for Our Spring Musical

I don't know about you but I'm having a hard time getting my head wrapped around everything.  The flow I had going before the winter break has yet to return.  My counter and desk are piled with "To do" tasks and a million more seem to be floating in my mind.  It may be that we have 3 performances in the next month and a half or maybe just temporary insanity!  :)

Anyways....this spring my chorus and orff groups are going to give a combined performance, a musical.  We will be performing a portion of Randy and Jeff's Gettin' Outta Town.  Originally I had planned on doing the entire production but since we have added two other performances to our calendar there is just no way to learn it all in time.  Honestly, I love that we are going to have more performance time but I'm kind of bummed about the musical.  It calls for shadow puppets in a portion and I was super excited about trying it out.  Oh well, there is always next year!

I am putting together some information on how I get everyone on the same page, auditioned and finally into costume.  Check back for some posts and Freebies soon!

Friday, January 18, 2013

My Poor Rug

The corner of my Wenger rug has come unstitched (I'm sure with the help of some little fingers)!  The rug itself is still in really good condition, it's just this corner that needs to be fixed.  While I am very creative, I'm stumped on this one.  Sewing is not my strength.  I would appreciate any suggestions on how to fix my rug because it is such a great resource and I would hate for the damage to get worse.

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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Popsicle Stick Rhythms

There is a lot I like about Game Plan but Popsicle Stick Rhythms is one of my favorite activities.  It's so easy to do and my 1st graders love manipulating the sticks into a given rhythm.

An adaptation I have made to my sticks are magnets.  I used a bit of magnetic tape on the back so that I would be able to demonstrate how to use them before handing a set off to my students.

I start this activity with reading notation.  I draw 4 beats on the board (I really like to do this because it helps emphasize the space that quarters/eighths take up.) and then explain that I'm going to use my popsicle sticks to write a rhythm pattern.  

I notate a pattern and then ask my students to clap and say the rhythm.  After doing a few, I switch gears into notation.  I remove all of the sticks from the beats and play a rhythm while tracking the beat on the board.  I find that tracking the beat more accurately helps them identify which beat had two sounds.  Eventually I take this away but during the first attempt it seems helpful.

After working together to decode a few patterns on the board, I pass out sets of sticks to every child.  

I have snack size bags with 8 popsicle sticks and they are sorted by color.  Each team gets the color that matches their riser.  Once they have their sticks, I allow them to spread out around the front of the room so that they will have space to notate.

I found my popsicle sticks at Michaels and I want to say they were between $8 and $10 dollars for a ridiculously large package.  !!!WARNING!!!  The first time I used mine, my kids hands turned the color of their sticks, particularly those with extra sweaty palms.  Even after having them wash their hands it did not come right off.  I felt horrible but this effect does wear off.  After the first few classes, hands stopped changing colors.  If this is something you don't want to worry about, you could just buy the natural popsicle sticks.

Friday, January 11, 2013

What to buy?

Recently a colleague of mine ran into a happy problem.  His PTO ran a fundraiser for his program and decided to donate about $250.00 for him to spend however he saw fit.  I can just imagine the drool running down your chin.  :)  While a donation from PTO may not be the source of a little extra cash for your program, there tend to be funds from grants or other sources from time to time.

My colleague asked me what I would purchase if I had these extra funds available, so here is the way I usually break down spending money on my program.

1.  Immediate needs:
What are the immediate needs for your program.  Do you need to repair any of your barred instruments?  Is there a costume, prop or sound effect instrument you need for an upcoming event?  I usually address these needs first.  I don't have to worry about this often because the fees I charge for my performing groups cover the costs of programs but every once in awhile there is a special need like a snare drum.

2.  Additional Instruments
While I have a pretty well stocked music room, there are always odds and ends.  For example, when my school was built, two quality wood blocks and 4 crappy wood blocks were purchased for my classroom.  It always annoys me when we learn how to play the wood block in K and two rows sound good and the other three sound flat and colorless.  This would be something I would purchase the next time I have some extra funds.  I also look at filling in my sound effects baskets with cool sounds.

3.  Supporting Curriculum
All those cool apps, manipulatives, etc. you have been wishing you could have to enhance your program.  If there are items you can purchase to support learning, these would be the next on my list.  If you're able, an itunes gift card would be a great purchase because you can always be on the look out for new apps or sound files.

4.  Children's Books
I L-O-V-E kids books.  While you can find great connections to the curriculum, they are just plain fun and they grab the kids attention.  Now that we have been open for a few years, our Media Center is pretty well stocked but I still prefer having my own copy.

5.  Posters
I don't buy a lot of posters, I prefer to make my own but there are a few that I do purchase.  A timeline with composer pictures, instrument families, or large composer posters.

Things I don't spend money on (at least school funds) are:

Resource books -
I want these to be my own copies so that I can take them with me if I change schools.

Stickers, puppets, stuffed animals -
While all of these can be great for classroom management and curriculum connections, I find that you can get many of them for free.  Ask for donations from parents.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Everybody Make An.....

You may have happened across this absolutely adorable video on Pinterest.

After watching it and thinking how stinking cute those little voices were, I decided I had to try it out with my own Kindergartners.  I always include a solo singing opportunity during my K lessons, so this week instead of doing our Question of the Day, we started playing this game.

Before we learned the song, we took a look at the letters on the board and practiced making them with our rhythm sticks.  I had already listed the letters that are possible on the board so that we would just have to practice making them.  Here are our letters and what they look like with rhythm sticks.

A, F, H

I, K, L

N, T, V

X, Z

If you try this song, you will probably want to preface this activity with a disclaimer about not having all of the parts of the letters but the basic shape.  Otherwise, you are going to here "but what about the middle line in the A", "we could use the line on the rug", "but I don't have a line in front of me!"  It could be earth shattering to a Kindergartner and, yeah, I didn't think about that one the first time through this lesson.  :)  If they really can't get past it, they can use their arm to make the other part of the letter.

After we practiced our letters, we moved, with our rhythm sticks in park, and made a circle around the rug.  Then I asked them to be my echo.  This lesson we only focused on the singing portion, next time we will add the spoken part and discuss the contrasting voices.  After echoing a few letters and making them in front of us, we went around the circle and each child got to be the leader.

They loved this!!!

We finished our lesson by creating a soundscape to go along with Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.  This is a great story to practice playing up/down, high/low sounds.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Freebie - Word Wall Toppers

I have been meaning to add my Word Wall Toppers to my Freebie section but for one reason or another forgot.  You can still right click and save them from this summers post but I have made it easier by saving all of the toppers in one pdf that you can request in the Freebie section.

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear

Happy New Year!  Two weeks off, holiday celebrations, and time with family really helps rejuvenate the soul.  I had an amazing start to my winter break.  At around 11:40pm, Friday Dec. 21st, the last day of school in my district, my beautiful niece was born!  We are so in love with her and are excited about being "Tia y Tio" (Aunt and Uncle) for the first time.  I hope you all had a restful winter break and are refreshed and ready to make more wonderful music with your little ones.

No matter how I prepare before a long break I always come back in a fog.  It takes me half the day before I feel like I'm back in the swing of things.  In my fog, I almost forgot to pull out my Teddy Bear masks!  The song alone is fun but teddy bear masks or masks of any kind always make things better.  :) The mask idea came from a lesson that Sandy and Gretchen shared during my Level I.

1. SM warm-up
2.  Isolate Teddy Bear
3.  Add body percussion - we ususally settle on clap-clap pat, clap-clap pat
4.  S. sing Teddy Bear w/ Body Percussion, T. sings teddy movements and demonstrates
5.  Discuss what Teddy does
6.  S. sing Teddy w/ Body Percussion and perform Teddy movements, T. sings teddy movements
7.  Discuss order of Teddy movements and lead students to discover rhyming words.
8.  S. sing and perform whole song with body percussion and movement
9.  Divide group in two and perform:  half get masks, half get unpitched percussion
10.  Switch

This lesson leads to others where we decode the melody and rhythm of the teddy bear phrase, I'll try and remember to post about them later.

In case you aren't familiar with this song, I found the notation on Beth's Music Notes.  If you haven't checked our her blog, you should.  Click here to visit her site!

These masks were a bit time consuming because I made 10 but they are very durable and so cute!  We are lucky enough to have a cut out machine at our school that I was able to use for the shape of the head.  If you don't have one of these machines, I would suggest making a template out of cardboard first.  You could find an image and trace it onto the poster/cardboard using a projector or draw it free hand.

Once I had the heads, I filled in the gaps using some colored construction paper and cut out little eye wholes.  I found sunglasses in the dollar section at Target but I imagine the dollar store would be another good place to look for them. I used hot glue to attach them to the back.  I had mine laminated at Office Max because they have really nice heavy duty lamination.  I like to use them for all my lamination and color printing needs.  They can be a bit pricey but they have teacher discounts, the staff is usually knowledgeable and the quality of the printing and lamination seems to be a bit better than the other office supply stores.

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