Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Cleaning Recorders

Every year clean-up is such a long process!  My last rotation is always centers for all my classes.  It's great review and fun for them, while it allows me to start cleaning instruments to be put away.  I can sit myself by the sink and see everyone while I work.

(Sorry for the dark pic.  My 5th graders rehearsed the song for their ceremony 
this morning and we had a bit of extra time.  Since it wasn't enough to start a game, 
we watched, dare I say it, a video!  While they watched, I cleaned.)

One of the things I make sure to spend a good amount of time cleaning are recorders.  Although I clean them after every use and run them through the dishwasher a couple of times per year, I like to scrub them by hand (I know....Eew!) before putting them away for the summer.  There are a couple of reasons why I do this.

1.  Although the dishwasher does a great job of sanitizing the instruments, it never really gets that icky build up in those tiny grooves on the instrument.  Gross!  I use a brand new sponge with a scrub pad to really get in there.

2.  Greasing the joints.  I take the instrument completely apart, again to get in all the nooks and crannies, and to take the opportunity to grease the joints.  I can't stand it when one of the instruments is twisted and I can't correct it to allow for proper hand technique.  Taking this step saves me time the following year and makes sure that the kids can easily twist joints into the proper alignment.

Here's how I go about doing this:

1.  Fill a bucket with water and lysol.
2.  Place all recorders in the sink.
3.  Take several recorders apart and drop them in the bucket.
4.  Scrub them and set them to dry on the rack (don't reassemble yet).
5.  Allow to dry.
6.  Grease the joints (vaseline will work).
7.  Reassemble and place in container for storage.

I have to repeat these steps several times because my recorders won't fit, disassembled, on the pegs at the same time.

Tip:  If you have stuck recorders, take a couple of foam sheets or sheets of paper towel.  These will help create friction.  I used a combo.  Paper towel in one hand, foam sheet in the other.

It may take a bit of time but it's worth knowing that they are ready for the following year.

I only have 6 more days!!!  I can't wait to soak up some sunshine!!!

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Sunday, May 19, 2013

12 More Days!

Only 12 more days to go and one full rotation of specials.  I'm as antsy as the kids right now!  It will be a bit before I post again, I'm working on gathering pictures and documents to share.  Hope you are enjoying the final days with your students.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Clap it, Play it, Think it!

This time of year is full of reflection.  I often catch myself thinking (mid-lesson mind you) "I need to do this again next year, it's really worked" or "I should have done this before moving on to this lesson".  While I don't want to rush past summer in any way, trust me, I find this reflection inspiring.  I get excited about how much I can improve my program the following year.

While I was teaching my 1st graders today I reflected on how well the simple concept of "Clap it, Play it, Think it" is.  This isn't something that takes long or that I use every lesson but man does it help hit all those different learning styles and help the kids understand the rhythmic concepts they are working on.

Clap it, Play it, Think it:
(I'm not sure who first introduced this to me but I know for sure it is not a new or earth shattering idea!)

Display rhythm cards.
T.  says (in rhythm) Saying only here we go.
S. say the rhythm
T. says Clap and Say here we go.
S. clap and say the rhythm
T. says Clapping only here we go.
S. clap the rhythm.
These 3 steps should be done with the same rhythm before moving on to the next.

As I was reflecting, I realized this is something that I do with my 1st graders often but not the older kids!  I'm not sure why but I definitely need to incorporate it into my lessons with the older kids more often.

Monday, May 6, 2013

3rd Grade Compositions

Every year I like to give each grade level composition experiences.  Whether it is group, centers, or individual experiences with composing, I find that it is so impactful.  You can see students putting everything together.  It's the light bulb moment.

In 3rd grade we have talked a lot about time signature, bar lines, measures, note/rest values, etc.  To wrap up the year, I gave my students a chance to compose within guidelines.

I gave each student a small piece of paper (I use colored copy paper cut into quarters).  We review what a measure is and discuss that they will be composing a measure of music in 4/4 time.  Their paper represents the measure, so they don't need to worry about bar lines (for now anyways!).  Before composing I give them a list of notes/rest they can use.  Here are their choices:

  • Beamed Eighth Notes
  • Quarter Notes
  • Half Notes
  • Quarter Rests
  • Half Rests
Although they already know whole notes/rests I leave these out because they are too easy for a one measure composition.

After composing their measure, I give each student a number (1-4) and ask them to keep it on their fingers.  I use 1-4 because it means ultimately my groups will end with 4-5 kids.  Once every student has their number, I ask them to move to specified locations around my classroom.  After everyone is seated with their group I explain that they will be arranging their measures into a longer composition.

I show them how to place them in 1-4 measure order.  Step 1 is to decide on an arrangement.  They may not pick one until I have seen them playing it together.  Once they have decided, they raise their hands to let me know.  I then tape the composition together and have them move on to Step 2.  In the second step they need to practice in order to play their composition together.  I have them play the entire thing together because I want them to have a longer reading experience.

After completing Step 2, students raise their hands again to let me know they are ready to move on.  Step 3 is picking an instrument to perform on.  Most pick drums but every once in a while some rhythm sticks or boomwhackers sneak their way into a performance.  Step 4 is practicing the composition with instrument.

After everyone has practiced playing their composition with instruments, we perform for each other.

The final step is transferring our composition to traditional notation.  We add the time signature, bar lines and an ending.

This takes a full lesson to complete (45 min.).  In another lesson, we will extend our composition by adding melody and use it as a notation activity with the staff.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Sound Equipment

My school was blessed with a less than adequate sound system when the school was built.  There is a sound system that you can plug microphones into and an audio system but they never put any speakers on the stage!  This equals huge timing issues because there is a delay between the time the audience hears the music and the kids on the stage hear it.

During the first year we were open, I needed a portable system for outdoor events, so my principal purchased me the Yamaha Stagepas 500 Portable PA System.  I love it.  The system is light and easy to use.  After our first grade level performance that year we quickly realized we needed a solution.  The PA system was the easiest and most affordable.  So, since then it has been what we use.  Not ideal but since I don't use recorded music for my performances, it's not anything I have really looked into changing.  Down the road I will definitely look into it but for now it does the job.

Since grade level performances are mainly the responsibility of classroom teachers, I have run into some issues with how our sound equipment has been treated.  At first I was agitated.  How dare they treat my resources this way!  But when I really started to ponder the reasons why things were getting beat up, I realized it was my own fault.  I didn't even know how to use certain audio equipment when I started teaching and I was a musician.  I shouldn't expect my staff to just know!

This year I made some changes to help my staff and keep things a little less crazy for me.
  • I chose one microphone to stay on the stage at all times.  I happened to have one that was of poorer quality that was good for the job.  This saved me from having to set one up for every event imaginable.
  • I created a sound system cheat sheet with tips and rules for handling/using sound equipment and the choral risers.  It explained things like not placing microphones on plastic surfaces that hold static.  Not running over cables with the risers.  Just basic things that I know not to do because I want materials to last.  These are things that a classroom teacher may not realize or think about because they don't use the materials on a regular basis.
  • Requesting resources.  I made a rule about when and how to request my help or resources.  There were many times when teachers would send a student or stop by themselves when I was in the middle of a lesson to ask a question.  This year I told them to give me a weeks notice.  This allowed me to place things on the stage for them (better than having someone not familiar with the equipment doing it) at my leisure.  It also allowed me to make sure that no one else had asked to use a resource for another event.    
  • One Representative per event.  In past years I felt like I was training a whole team of teachers at different times over the course of the year how to use the equipment.  Such a waste of time!  This year, I asked teachers to pick a representative from their team to be responsible for sound and risers.  This meant I only had to train one person per event.
If you are a new teacher, I would suggest getting to know your school sound system ASAP!  I didn't get to know my first school's portable and cafeteria systems soon enough in the year.  I remember being asked the day of an event to set up the system.  I was terrified!  I had never used a sound system in my life.  Make sure you get to know yours because most likely it will become one of your responsibilities.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

12th Street Rag

As I have said before, I LOVE GamePlan.  While I don't use it exclusively to teach my kids, I do enjoy many of the lessons and games.  One I have used this year was from the 3rd Grade Book.  The lesson is playing rhythms along to 12th Street Rag (Rhythmically Moving 5).  My kids have always loved this and it was a great way to reinforce rhythm patterns, especially the whole rest.

This year when I taught the lesson, I added my own twist.

  • Review known notes and rests using people rhythms
  • Look at the form (Randy and Jeff have a nice visual for this in their curriculum.)
  • Review Intro, Interlude, Coda
  • Have a student perform the A section rhythm pattern.
  • Class echoes
  • Repeat with B, C, and D.
  • Perform along with recording of 12th Street Rag (clap patterns)                                              (After performing the first time through, I add my twist.)
  • Divide students up into 4 groups.
  • Assign each group a section of the piece.
  • Groups have 5-7 minutes to create a movement that can be performed using the rhythm from their section.
  • Have each group demonstrate movement.
  • Play music, each group performs during their section.
I have found that this twist on the lesson really helps the kids with playing the rhythms accurately.  They can create and discuss among themselves what works and why.  I find these more independent moments are when the light bulbs go off.  I wish I had video of the lesson in action!  It's interesting to see how the kids discuss and play with the idea of how to interpret a whole note with movement.  I hear them saying things like "What if we bounced our hand four times like this!"  "No, that's more like quarter notes."

Another addition I have made to this lesson is playing instruments.  I didn't include them this time but rhythm sticks are nice.  I like this instrument choice because it isn't a heavy sound, so you can still actually hear the recording and playing whole and half notes are accessible.  When students have one smooth and one bumpy stick, they can scrape the sound of the half/whole notes.  This gives them a feeling of how long the notes last.
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