Tuesday, November 22, 2016

#whyiteachmusic: Great Stories that Motivate

I was part of a blog hop last week where people wrote stories of why they teach music. I was so fun to read the stories on my blog post and the other 7 bloggers. I'd like to share some of my favorite comments. 

Read to the end to see the giveaway winners. 

I choose some of my favorites posts about why people teach music. Read on!

"It was my love of early childhood music that launched me into music education! Seeing how musical little ones are is such an inspiration!"

"I teach music because my music teacher believed in me when I did not believe in myself. I love seeing my students when the lightbulb that goes on in their eyes when they master a new concept. My kiddos feel so proud and accomplished when they do something they could not do before."

"I've had some similar experiences of students refusing to sing in kdgn, graduated to a whisper in my ear in first grade, gradually making progress to singing. A couple of twins that started their journey in kdgn grew to audition and sing beautifully in a 4th grade community children's choir. All the individual journeys create special rewards for me."

That is just a little inspiration we got from our blog post. Be sure to read some the other blogs to read some more inspiration. 

The winner of my Vocal Play Bubble Magic Mike is Jenny Trites. Check your email for a message from me :)

 There were seven other winners too! If you see your name below, check your email (the one you used to enter) for a message about your prize!

Organized Chaos: Michaela Gibbons
O for Tuna Orff: Christy Gibson 
Music with Mrs. Tanenblatt: Dan Leopold 
Sing to Kids: Becca Fiscus
Sing Play Creatively: Brooke Chamberlain 
Music Teaching and Parenting: Blanca InezSuzanne Fleischmann Bishop
Sally's Sea of Songs: Erin Scharman Middelhoven

I hope you enjoyed reading about why we all teach music and got some inspiration to keep you going! 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Why I Teach Music Blog Hop and Giveaway

I'm teaming up with other music education bloggers to spread some positive thoughts this week, and I'd love for you to join with us! Many of us are very stressed right now for many reasons. We want to give you some encouragement and reasons to be optimistic about your job. 

We plan to make it even better by having a giveaway of some fun goodies too! 

I loved playing the French Horn and being in concert and marching band in school. I went into music teaching because of my love of music. 

For many years, after I got my bachelor's degree and master's degree, I taught toddlers and their parents in classes. I loved how I could have such a great influence on those young developing minds by including parents. 

9 years ago, I went to a Kodaly certification course and was so inspired that I began teaching elementary music. I love how I get to teach every child in the school for years and I love seeing them find joy in the music. I especially love when one of my kindergarteners or first graders find their in tune singing voice and the whole class cheers. The delight on their face is priceless. 

I will never forget one of my students who came to my school as a kindergartener and refused to sing. It was a special challenge to get him singing at all, much less on pitch. I remember him singing a solo last year as a 4th grader and us talking about how he had become a songbird. The student and I got a great chuckle about it. 

I have so much fun using my "Magic Mike" bubble microphones (see pictures below) that I am giving a set away in the giveaway. My kids LOVE choosing their favorite color and singing hello back to me. Read more about how I use them and how I get students to sing on pitch HERE

Enter the giveaway and get many chances to win by:

1. Comment on the blog posts that will come out every day this week. (see links in the rafflecopter below)
2. Share your own inspiration about why you teach music on any social media, with the hashtag #whyiteachmusic plus a link to this blog post. Share this link
3. Share new blog posts every day to have more chances. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, September 5, 2016

Ideas For Getting Your Students' Attention

"Buzz Feed" had a fun post about how to get students' attention in class and I wanted to tell you about ways I get my students' attention.

I do the power teaching idea of using "Class Class" with the kids replying "Yes, Yes" but I have them sing it. I vary the way I sing it and they have to copy. Sometimes when they forcefully sing it back to me, I remind them to sound like I sound and we practice. Read more about power teaching (also called whole brain teaching) here.

I use the traditional ch ch sounds in a pattern, such as quarter, eighth-eighth, quarter, quarter. They respond back to me in the same pattern. I also sometimes clap patterns and have them respond.

At times, I use a gong or a little bell to signal quiet. It is good to vary what you do to keep them listening.

Since students start tuning out things when you do the same thing for too long, I have added a new one this year. Every year, I do a new theme in my classroom. This year, I am having fun doing a pirate theme. The librarian and I are both doing this theme. We sing, "Yo ho, yo ho" and they sing back, "A musical life for me". In library, they sing back "A reader's life for me". The kids love it and it is new and fun so it really works.

I plan to do it in solfa (solfege) as well and I think they will love that too. Check out my pirate theme here.

A teacher in my school says, "Freeze" and the kids say, "hands on knees". That one surprised me when they first did that after I said, "freeze".

I love some of the options in the "Buzz Feed" article. My favorites are:

Teachers says, "Shark Bait Students". Students say, "Boo ya ya" (Finding Nemo)
Teacher says. "Winner winner". Students say, "Chicken dinner".

Check out more fun ways to get students' attention on buzz feed here.

Do you have any fun ways to get your students' attention?

Friday, August 12, 2016

Make Your Own Non-Candy (inexpensive) Classroom Incentives

I got this idea a few years ago and have been saving leftover crayons. At the end of last school year, our district came down with a new rule that said we can no longer give out any candy. I suddenly got motivated to put my plan in place.

Any teacher can make these wonderful molded crayons for their classroom. I definitely have my work cut out for me since I am a music teacher and have over 500 students.

Every year, I have a theme of the year and my student of the day sits on my VIP chair and gets special privileges, such as leading games and helping the teacher. They used to get a piece of candy. They will now get one of my molded crayons! Check out my post about my VIP chair.

I also do a raffle for my 5th and 6th grade classes and choose a couple of tickets a day. I am amazed at how much they learn and how many things they will do, such as sing a solo to earn a raffle ticket. They also used to get candy and will now get a molded crayon! Read about and get my superhero raffle system free here.

I have streamlined my molded crayon making system. Hopefully, my trial and error will help you avoid some problems.

STEP ONE: Gather or buy crayons

First, gather crayons from teachers who don't need them anymore, friends in your neighborhood, local restaurants, etc. I have found that Crayola crayons are much easier for getting off the paper. You can also buy crayons. Back-to-school sales are the best. Back-to-school sales are a great time to get new crayons. In the last couple of weeks, I found Crayola boxes of 24 crayons for .50 at Target and Walmart and an off brand for only .25 a box, but the paper is harder to get off.

EDIT: I actually got a donor's choose grant for 250 boxes of crayons this year. 

STEP TWO: Get silicone molds

I have gotten carried away and bought a number of molds. There are tons of them on amazon, ebay, and etsy. 

Here are ones I bought:

Here is where I got molds:

Edit: Since I posted this, some of these items are out of stock, so go to ebay, amazon.com, and etsy and search for silicone molds to find some fun ones. I did buy some really inexpensive ones from china that ended up being super tiny and wouldn't work, so be sure to check the size of the mold in your description. If you have funds, people on etsy sell these molded crayons as well. 

***IMPORTANT- Even if a mold says silicone, be sure to check to see that it will work in an oven. I found two molds that said silicone that melted. When I went back to look at the description, it said not to put them in the oven. 

Lego Molds (affiliate link)
Dinosaur Mold
Skull and Crossbones
Animals (bear, hippos, lion)
Treble Clefs - From ebay but now out of stock
Hearts- I can't remember where I got these. It might have been Walmart or Hobby Lobby. If you look online, you can find them in other places.

STEP THREE: Sort crayons into like colors

I have found that kids love to do this. If you have huge numbers of used crayons, have them sort them into similar colors. Then sort further into more precise colors and put them into ziplock baggies.

STEP FOUR: Take off the paper

This is probably the most challenging step if you have used crayons, but I have some tips for you. First if you put them into very warm water (not too hot or they'll melt all over). If you have new Crayola crayons, most of the papers will just come off and for others, just slide the paper down with your fingers. That will take off the glue. For used crayons, many will come off with warm water but some will be harder. I have been getting the easiest ones and then dumping the water and getting more warm water. It is definitely more challenging. The few ones- usually an off brand of crayons- that are almost impossible, I throw away because I am doing such a high volume, I don't have time. I have a plastic tub to put my depapered crayons in. Then I dry them all and put them back into the ziplock baggie.

I actually invited a few choir students to come and help with this. They had a blast and even had races to see who could do it the fastest!

New Crayon paper quickly comes off in warm water

STEP FIVE: Cut them into small pieces

I first started using scissors, which didn't work well and then tried a large exacto knife. It worked better but my husband found the best way. It is a utility knife we've had forever with a razor blade. I looked online and found a U-Line knife. He just chopped straight down on them using a cutting board and he was able to do it so quickly!

U-Line Utility Knife with Razor Blade 

Crayon pieces ready to put into molds

STEP SIX: Put the crayon pieces in molds

Put the crayon pieces in molds and put them onto a cookie sheet. I put several molds in at a time. I have found that for me since I am making large amounts of these, I put all of the same colors in at a time. At first, I was chopping and putting varied colors in the same mold. It ended up mixing up the colors a little bit. If the pieces are already cut, you could probably do varied colors in one mold and it would work fine. The smaller molds take only 1 crayon. The larger ones, such as the skull and cross bones take 2 crayons if you want to fill them up, but you could definitely do only one and they will just be thinner.

STEP SEVEN: Put the molds in the oven

Preheat your oven to 250 degrees and bake for 15-20 minutes. When you look at the melted crayons, they should be totally liquid. If you see any lumps, leave them in for a little bit longer.

STEP EIGHT: Let cool and remove from mold

Be sure to let them totally cool. If I get impatient, I stick them in the fridge to cool. Be careful getting them out of the molds. Most of them were easy. The guitars were easy to break the neck, but once I figured out how to get them out, it wasn't too hard. I had to be careful with legos to be sure the top pegs don't come off. Again, be sure they are totally cool.

Some fun crayons I made

The newest batch I made tonight

Some Star wars, stars, and fun hats, sunglasses, mustaches, and bow ties

STEP NINE: Clean up the mess

I would immediately clean up your mess of the little bits of crayons that chip off as you are cutting. I didn't clean up right away and we had company coming. My husband used our steamer on the floor and it left small crayon streaks. I just used a Mr Clean "Magic Eraser" to easily get it off. Also, let your molds sit in very warm water for a few minutes and then wash your molds off. Another trick is to put them back into the oven to let the leftover bits melt and then clean them off. I would use a little scrub brush (not too rough) if you have one. You want the mold to be pretty clean before you put another color in it.

EDIT: We have found that getting a box lid, putting parchment paper (newspaper would work too) under the cutting board, and then cutting that makes a big difference to keep the mess down.


I intend to let my students choose a molded crayon, so I put them into a set of drawers I already had in the classroom. I also found a smaller one with drawers that students can choose from.

Small bin from Walmart 

Once you are done, enjoy! I can't wait to give them to the kids!

Edit: I am now a few weeks into school. The kids absolutely LOVE these, even my 6th graders. They treasure them and show them to other students. Other teachers and administrators are telling me how much the kids love them. It is a big hit. I just ordered a Pikachu mold on amazon. Get it here. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Taking My Travels Back to the Students: Canoe Song and Land of the Silver Birch

Land of the Silver Birch

In third grade every year, my district colleagues and I introduce two songs that quickly become school favorites, the “Canoe Song” (Also called My Paddle) and “Land of the Silver Birch”. Once taught, they instantly become favorite songs. We teach “Land of the Silver Birch” first. The students learn how to do the solfa (solfege) and learn about how it is a la pentatonic song.

We also learn about ostinatos and the students enjoy tapping the Hi-ya-ya-hi-ya first while others are singing the melody and then they love the challenge of tapping it while they also sing the melody. They take the challenge seriously. They love playing this ostinato on the drum while the class sings the melody. They come up with new ostinatos, such as “land of the silver birch”, “home of the beaver”, “land where the might moose”, “wanders at will”, “blue lake and rocky shore”, and “I will return once more” repeated over and over while other students sing the melody.

My Paddle (Canoe Song)

Later in the year, we learn another favorite song, “My Paddle”, also known as “the Canoe Song”. It is another wonderful song that we sing ostinato’s to, such as “my paddle’s keen and bright”, “flashing like silver”, and other phrases of the song repeated over and over while other students sing the melody. I start by singing it and see who can tell me what they think the song is about. The students enjoy pretend paddling on the strong beats while singing.

Partner Songs

Finally, after we have learned these two songs very well, we sing them as partner songs and finally, add ostinato’s to each song and then drums. The students own these songs.  Be sure your students know both songs very well and that you get a strong student to conduct each part. Establish the two starting pitches and have the students sing the before you help them get started. If I get a good video of my kids singing the two parts together, I’ll post it.

Canoeing on the Lake

I spent a lot of time in Ohio this summer with my family. My dad had Parkinsons’s disease for over 10 years. I was fortunate to be able to spend 2 weeks in June and we spent a lot of time together. He passed away mid July so we went back to celebrate his life and spend another two weeks with my mom. My brother and sister have a camper that stays in a campground all year around so they can go there for months in spring, summer and fall to relax on the weekend. We enjoy going there to spend quiet time and like canoeing on the lake.

While on the lake, my husband was a very good sport and helped me record both songs so my students can get a better feel for these songs. I teach in a low-income school. Most of my kids will never get a chance to go out on a lake in a canoe, so this will help them visualize what the song is about. Even my students who do things like this enjoy the video.

The first video "Land of the Silver Birch". We recorded it right by a beaver's dam. We didn't get to see the beaver that day. 

The second video is "My Paddle", also known as the "Canoe Song". I sang as my husband paddled on the strong beat, even changing sides at the end of the phrase. He is such a good sport!

My husband and I

I hope you enjoy teaching your students these songs. Be sure to read my post about my travels to Italy and other places in the last few years. There are tons of fun songs you’ll want to teach your students!