Modern Era Composer Activity

I wanted to share a great, QUIET activity I’m using in class this week. It’s easily adaptable to many music history topics but I am using it specifically to cover a composer from the modern era, Aaron Copland.

My students have already learned about the baroque, classical, and romantic eras in music history.  We used a lot of Quaver material for these topics.  Quaver is the best for music history, in my opinion.  There’s not a lot of Quaver material on modern composers though, so I had to get creative.

I created a section on my portaportal where I could put links for this project.  I linked to the DSO kids websites, Classics for Kids, Worldbook for Kids, as well as the American Masters website (although this is a high reading level for most of my students.) I was especially happy to include Classics for Kids because there is material there my students can listen to, which is great for my low readers.

I went to google forms and created a form with a few basic questions about Copland as well as some open ended questions.  I showed my students how to open two tabs and they worked (with headphones) on finding the answers and filling out the form.  I am able to easily look at all their answers at once and NO PILE OF PAPER!

This activity does require technology.  If you have fewer computers it would be a good partner project. It’s great for these end of the year testing days when we have to be quiet.  My students learned and retained a lot about Copland by seeking out the answers for themselves!

Here’s my Google form if you want to use it for inspiration:



Updated file: Peter and the Wolf Flipchart!

Since I created my original Peter and the Wolf SmartNotebook with the excellent Flash memory game my school system has transitioned to Promethean software.  Promethean software is great for importing SmartNotebook files but sometimes things get a little wonky in the process.

I have updated my Peter and the Wolf file and checked it over to make sure it looks right in ActiveInspire.  I hope this file continues to be useful to you all! This file has been shared with teachers across the country via the wiki I created for sharing interactive whiteboard files.  I am very proud of this file and how it has helped so many teachers and students.

Click below to download the Flipchart. Enjoy!

Peter and the Wolf Flipchart

Free Sheet Music?!?

I have had all sorts of classroom management issues since I switched back to teaching middle school. Mostly they all boil down to me getting used to my new kids and them getting used to me. We all came in with expectations and ideas about each other that have collided and caused friction, but we’re working it out gradually. On good days I remember that I am the adult and my responsibility is to meet them where they are at.

One really tremendous thing about my kids is that most of them really do want to play their instruments. They don’t always have an easy time focusing during rehearsal, but they love to play! As a result one of them introduced me (and several of his classmates) to, which is a resource for free sheet music. I have plans to take many of my students to a solo and ensemble festival in the spring and I think this will be a good resource for them to find material. I was very encouraged that several of my students felt motivated to go to this website and print songs out (even if they do insist upon playing music from the site every single time they have even a second of downtime in rehearsal!)

Blank Fingering Charts for Promethean Board

I searched and searched all over the internet for blank fingering charts that I could either print out and have my students fill in or use along with my Promethean board. If they’re out there, I couldn’t find them, so I made my own using a nice little piece of simple software called Pixie. I did basic fingering charts for flute, clarinet, saxophone and three-valved brass. Not every key is included but you can always have the kids draw in whatever extra ones they need! They are available as a Resource Pack for Active Inspire at the IWB wiki.

In other news my new gig is keeping me extraordinarily busy. I knew teaching band again would be longer hours than teaching preschool music, but I had underestimated the intensity of opening a new school. I am hoping to get the blog back on track and post some lesson-learned type posts about the process but I will have to get out of survival mode first!
Fingering Charts

Soliciting Ideas – Boomwhackers

I have not used Boomwhackers much in the past–frankly I have never much cared for them– but we have two weeks left until Spring Break and we all ran out of patience and attention span sometime last week! I am open to trying anything that gets my children engaged and on task at this point! They are all PreKs, so older 4 yearolds and younger 5 year olds.

I have introduced Boomwhackers for the first time to compliment the study of long/short in their math curriculum. They have been a big success as far as student interest but I am running through a very short list of ways to use them.

We have accompanied ourselves in reading/singing the three little pigs, using high sounds for the pig and low sounds for the wolf.

We have played a game where the students walk around while music plays, then find their partner with a matching boomwhacker and tap them together when the music stops.

Any similar simple ideas for using the Boomwhackers to help us survive the next two weeks? I have found some resources available to buy but this job will not exist next year and I am moving back to middle school instrumental, so it seems like a waste to buy preschool boomwhacker resources!

New Picture Books for Young Children

Ever since I was a young child walking around the block to the library I have gotten a huge amount of enjoyment out of beautiful picture books. My joy persisted through my high school and college years working in a lovely independent bookstore and into my career as a music teacher. There are several picture books I routinely use in my classroom (such as Tom Paxton’s wonderful book Going to the Zoo) and even more that I wish I could work in (such as the beautiful book that goes with John Denver’s beautiful song Sunshine on my Shoulders.)

For those who also live children’s book in the classroom or at home there are several new picture books out recently that illustrate classic children’s songs. Many of them also come with CD’s. The two I am most interested in are the NEW version of The Marvelous Toy by Tom Paxton and Peter Yarrow’s Day is Done, which comes with a CD on which he sings with his daughter.

When you put beautiful words and music together with beautiful pictures the result is magical. These books are assembled with all of the love and care we would expect from men who have put so much passion and energy into their music over such long careers.

Using iPhoto to learn student names

As music teachers we all face the same struggle at the beginning of the year: having to learn ALL of those names.   Knowing the names of your students is very important for building a relationship with your students and classroom management.  Particularly here in the preschool building I have found that saying “John, please sit down” is much much much more effective than “Sweet heart, please sit down!”  It also pleases the students very much to be greeted by name in the morning during arrival.

My favorite trick for learning student names is to create a contact sheet in iPhoto on which photos of all students in one class are shown on one page, with their names underneath.  Most of the teachers I work with are taking head shots of their students for various reasons during the first few days of school anyway, and they are happy to share.  It is a small task to take pictures of the few classrooms that do not have them available.

Once I have the photos on my computer I create an album for each classroom in iPhoto.  I will also use these albums throughout the year to store any photos I take of music classroom activities.

When you create the contact sheet it is helpful for the student name to be displayed directly under the face.  iPhoto will print the name of the file underneath the photo in the contact sheet, so if you change the file name to the student’s name you will have a contact sheet on which names are printed under faces.

To do this click on any photo and then on the small “i” button at the bottom left of the iPhoto screen.  This will display photo information.  If you double click the information printed next to “title” you can enter the student’s name.  If you have friendly helpful teachers or assistants they might take the few minutes to help you with this.  Otherwise I find it a reasonable use of music class time on the first day, considering how much more efficiently I am able to learn names and consequentially conduct class!

Use the Info button to enter student names as the photo title.

Use the Info button to enter student names as the photo title.

Once you have entered all of the student’s names as titles you are ready to create your contact sheet.

Drag and select all of the photos you want to print on one page.

Drag to select all of the photos you want included in the contact sheet.

Drag to select all of the photos you want included in the proof sheet.

Click “File” and then select “Print”

File > Print

File > Print

On the left side of the print screen select “Contact Sheet”

Click Proof Sheet on the left

Click "Proof Sheet" on the left

The iPhoto default is to create a contact sheet with three columns.  For most classrooms that will not be enough to get all students on one page. If you want all students on one page you need to customize the number of columns on your contact sheet.

Underneath the preview area click the “Customize” button.

Click the customize button to add more columns and fit more photos onto a page.

Click the customize button to add more columns and fit more photos onto a page.

On the resulting screen use the slider at the bottom to create more or less columns.  I usually use as may columns as it takes to get all students on one page.

Use the slider to add or subtract columns

Use the slider to add or subtract columns

Click the “Print” button (right next to the slider you were just using) and your contact sheet will arrive at the printer!

These are useful for seating charts as well as learning names.  I hope your school year is off to a great start!

IWB Resources for Music Teachers

Danny Nicholson (@dannynic) recently tweeted about a post to his blog that is packed with great ideas on how ot use an IWB in the music room.  Danny’s Twitter stream always contains a lot of great tips on IWB stuff!

Extra thanks to him for editing his post to include a link to our IWB wiki for music teachers:  A place where many music teachers go to share their IWB lessons, and you can too!

Reset Button for SMART Notebook Pages

This is something I have wished for basically every time i use a SMART Board file in my room. I always try to let as many kids have turns as possible, and I almost always have another class coming to do the same activity right after the last one.  I NEED a button to push that resets my pages back to their original state easily! Closing and reopening the file is just inconvenient, especially if you slip and save changes!

Click here to see a video tutorial on how to add reset buttons to Notebook pages.  Thanks to @jameshollis on Twitter for sharing the page with me!

Make your own boardgames!

So of course teachers have been making their own games for years, it’s nothing new.  They are very useful for review and if you have several different games that are pertinent to your curriculum you can set them up in centers and add some variety to your classroom routine.

I thought it was cool when one of my Twitter pals (@msstewart) shared today that you can self-publish your own boardgame designs at  Obviously this is cool for your own classroom, but if you really have a brilliant, creative idea you can use the Game Crafter website to sell it to others.