28 May, 2014
End of the Year Organization

End of the Year Organization


Today was my last day of school, so I had TONS of organization to do! When I heard Tracy King at Mrs. King's Music Class was hosting a linky party about end of the year organization, I decided I had to link up!


My room was a bit of a mess for most of today. I've been inspired by The Clutter-Free Classroom's Guide to Organizing and Managing your Classroom, so I've been throwing out more than I have in the past. After seeing a tip on Pinterest about organizing manipulatives, and then reading this tip again in the Clutter-Free Classroom, I decided I'd try it for next year. 

So I don't know about you, but every time I go to hand out maniuplatives, pencils, dry erase boards, etc., I have to choose a few volunteers to hand these out, wait for them to be handed out, see who doesn't have one yet, etc. Instead, I'm going to try to divide the students up into 4 or so groups, and assign them each a specific bin to go to every time something is needed, from manipulatives to pencils, and then they get them themselves. No calling on volunteers, no waiting to make sure everyone has one. They are responsible for going to get them, and voila...everyone has one!

So this morning I laid out my huge mess of manipulatives, dry erase boards, markers, scarves, etc. Here's what it looked like:




Scary, right???

I had bought four different cloth bins (which will match my classroom decor this upcoming year...I'm going with an "out of the world" theme...more on that later!) I set up the four bins, then put 7-8 of each item in each bin. Here's what three of the bins look like:

End of the year organization in the music room: Ideas for organizing your physical and digital items!


And here's a close-up of one of the bins.



Inside this bin, I have scarves, dry erase boards, dry erase markers, felt erasers, solfa manipulatives, rhythm manipulatives, bingo chips, and a few more items! At the beginning of the year, I plan on telling students 1-7 they are in the red group, students 8-14 they are in the black group, etc. Then when I tell them what they need, they go to the bin and get it. So excited!!

The other organizational tidbit I'm excited about is organizing all of my PD materials. This is still a work in progress, but I thought I'd share the process I'm using. 

After 15 years of attending conferences and workshops, I have a LOT of workshop materials. For years, I've been trying to organize them into a bin with hanging file folders...but the last few years, this task has just gotten overwhelming. I have too much stuff, and the stuff falls into too many categories. I forget to look at the stuff I have, and it just sits there. The other day I was perusing free apps on my new favorite app, Apps Gone Free (which posts free apps every day), and came across two apps: Scanbot and PDF Cabinet (which is still free as I write this! Download it soon!)

Scanbot allows you to scan items and turn them into PDF's. My copier at school does this as well, but it's nice to have this option for when I'm at home. The PDF cabinet app categorizes PDF's into folders. I bought another app, called PDF Split & Merge, to be able to take bits and pieces of a workshop packet and save them as different files. 

So here's the idea: let's say you have a workshop packet with both info about multicultural music and group work. 

First, I scan the entire packet with Scanbot.

Next, I open it with Split and Merge, and save the entire packet, then the pages about group work, then the songs, which happen to be good for fa. I give four different file names (Drumming and Singing, Group work, Fa, and then the same file with just the songs, I copy and save again as "African songs.")

Then I open up all three with PDF Cabinet. I drag "Drumming and singing" into my "drumming" folder. I drag "group work" into my "group work" folder. I drag "fa" into my melodic folder, and I drag "African songs" into my multicultural music folder.

Here is a view of the PDF Cabinet app; you'll see Jay Broeker's packet listed under "Creativity" (if you ever get a chance to see Jay present, RUN, don't walk, to that workshop! He's amazing!)



Notice the categories on the left hand side? Once I'm done with this project, if I want songs for fa, I can go to that folder. If I want movement activities, I can go to that folder. This has taken me a while to figure out, and I may try to figure out how to videotape a few tutorials this summer, but wanted to share the apps as I way to save files paper-free! I love the idea of opening the app, clicking on a folder, and immediately seeing the material, instead of searching my bin or my bookshelves, mumbling "Where on EARTH did that packet go?"

Do you have any organizational ideas? Feel free to link up, or comment below! Have a great rest of your week!

27 May, 2014
Tips for composing in the music room

Tips for composing in the music room


Recently, I worked with fifth graders to have them compose their own piece based off a haiku they had written in class. It was such a great learning experience....for them AND for me! Here are some thoughts I had after completing the unit:

Tips for composing in the music room: Including ideas for pacing, other activities to help them be prepared for composing, and more!

  • Students need to work at their own pace. Just like anything else, some students will really get it. Some of my students--even though I hadn't told them to--added rhythm and other musical symbols to their compositions (see some examples below.) Many were totally ready to write their own haiku and create another composition. Some of my students pretty much got it, and needed a little assistance here and there. And some students struggled and needed more assistance. The great thing about this set-up is that it allowed me to work with each student where he/she was at, thus allowing me some intervention with those students who were struggling.
  • My students need more stem writing work. As I looked at their compositions, I saw how many of them still weren't comfortable with writing stems down and to the left above the third line of the staff. Ironically, I have materials to practice stem writing, but hadn't done it with those students, and it showed! When I explained to one student how the stems needed to be down and to the left, she did say, "Oh....yeah, yeah," but still, I realized I needed to have more deliberate experiences and activities before this.
  • Having students think both in solfa AND letter names helps them transfer their knowledge. Before I had them try playing their compositions on instruments, I wrote out solfa on the board, showing the steps and skips. I also had them figure out which letter names lined up with which solfa. This seemed to really help students understand the steps and skips, but also to help them check their staff work. It's like thinking in two languages at once!
  • It's good to have rules, but it's also good to let them compose without rules. I set up the composition so they had to have one of every solfa they knew in their compositions, which included the extended do pentatonic scale. I liked doing it this way, because it allowed me to see if they really understood where low la, low sol, and high do were. But my colleague Jenna mentioned that when she had her students compose, they first had to follow the rules, and then if they had extra time, they could compose with no rules! I loved this idea! Here is an example of a composition in which the student added some nice touches (I think he decided to modulate into the key of D for the second section...he just forgot to add the key signature!)

Tips for composing in the music room: Including ideas for pacing, other activities to help them be prepared for composing, and more!

And here's an example of a composition with no rules. This student wrote a second haiku with her small group and then composed another melody:
Tips for composing in the music room: Including ideas for pacing, other activities to help them be prepared for composing, and more!


  • This kind of work is good for them. I think because I haven't been to very many composition-themed workshops and was unsure how to approach composition, in the past I've almost hoped that my students have gotten compositonal skills through osmosis. Being more deliberate about composition has been good for them AND for me! The students really took ownership of their compositions and were proud...and so was I!
What are your thoughts and "a-ha" moments about composition? Please share below, and check out this blog post, also about composing!

13 May, 2014
Twitter Tips for Teachers

Twitter Tips for Teachers



I've been on Pinterest and Facebook for quite a while, and have felt very comfortable with both. Twitter, on the other hand, has been a bit of an enigma to me. The functionality of Twitter is a bit different, and in my circle of friends, there just aren't that many people on Twitter.

Over the last few months, I've schooled myself in the ways of Twitter. I'm going to blog my suggestions about why and how to use Twitter as a teacher.

Twitter tips for teachers: Hashtags to use, chats to join, and more!

First of all, why tweet?

We are all busy people just dealing with everyday life. If you have time, you may like to sit down and relax by looking at your Facebook feed, reading teacher blogs, and/or pinning on Pinterest. Twitter just seems like one more thing to add to our to-do list. Why do it?

This is a question I asked myself for quite a while. Without any answers, I stayed off of Twitter. But out of curiosity, I came back to Twitter (@aileenmiracle), and finally found a few answers.

#1 reason to use Twitter: Entertainment
I'm not necessarily talking about educational tweets here. If you follow your favorite comedians, celebrities, etc., Twitter can be pretty entertaining! I especially love @uberfacts. Where else would I have learned that surgeons who listen to music during surgery perform better than those who don't (not surprising) or that people who blue eyes see better in the dark? It was from uberfacts that I learned how to download YouTube videos.

#2 reason to use Twitter: To keep up with current events
Want to see what people think of the latest news story, TV show, or presidential debate as it is happening? Type # and then the name of that event/show/channel and see what people are saying! Again, not exactly education-related, but interesting anyways!

#3 reason to use Twitter: To read and share interesting articles
If you find the right people to follow, you can find some very interesting educational articles to read and can share some that you have find. The people who follow you may not be people you know, but you can learn a lot from their tweets!

#4 reason to use Twitter: Connect with like-minded individuals
Whether you are connecting with other #kodaly teachers or with people who love the ipad in education at #ipaded, Twitter can be a great way to connect with people who think and teach like you! Along those lines...

#5 reason to use Twitter: Chat with like-minded individuals
There are often educational chats hosted on Twitter. I just joined my first at #musedchat and answered the question "What do you do during the spring/summer to ensure success for the next school year?" Currently, there is a weekly chat every Tuesday night at 9pm Eastern.

Did you notice that I didn't list "marketing" as a reason to use Twitter? That's because I've often read that you shouldn't market your products on Twitter. I'm sure a little here and there is fine (especially if they are freebies!) but check out this article for more advice about this. (And I don't think anyone is dumb for not following this rule--as the title of the article suggests--as I have broken a few of the rules discussed in this very article!)

How to use Twitter:
  • Make sure  to fill out your complete profile. If you are using Twitter as a teacher, put that into your profile so other teachers can follow you.
  • Follow people and companies interesting to you.
  • Find people to follow through friends. For example, I recently looked at the followers of Lindsay Jervis at @kodalyclassroom and Amy Abbott at @amyabbott75 and followed all those who were educators. As a result, many of those people followed me!
  • Use hashtags. This was a foreign concept to me and something I have often forgotten to do. Let's say you tweet about your latest blog post, or about an article you find interesting. At the end, categorize that tweet with a hashtag. For example, if the article is about Orff, put #orff at the end. If it is about educational technology, put #edtech at the end. You can also create hashtags (much like creating a fad!) For example, I recently created a hashtag for myself at #mrsmiraclesmusicroom. (For more educational hashtags, see this document.)
  • Use bitly to shorten links. With Twitter, brevity is key, so use www.bitly.com to shorten the link to save characters.
  • If you find an article online that is interesting, look for the twitter icon to tweet it.
  • Retweet. If you find an interesting article or tweet on Twitter, look for the retweet icon and use it!
I'm sure there is more to Twitter than this (see this article for more advice), but these are my suggestions for the beginner. If you have any more Twitter suggestions, please comment below. Have a great day!


07 May, 2014
Five Favorite Pins of May

Five Favorite Pins of May

Hi everyone! It is time for my five favorite pins of May!


Here are my five favorite pins this month. To see the pin, click each picture.

#1: Plickers!


I recently blogged about this amazing app, which I found out about on Pinterest. Click here to read the blog post! It does take a while to do the first assessment, but after that it gets easier as kids know what to do and how it works!

#2: Techie Tip

Speaking of technology, here is a pin with a very helpful tip, especially if you have ever accidentally closed a tab on your computer!


#3: Reward Jar


This is a great way to reward students while giving them the freedom to choose their reward! I have students spin the dice on the smart board if they are chosen as star student, and I have choices like "1= play the gong, 2= prize box, 3= sit by a friend," so I'm thinking one of the choices could be "reward jar"!

#4: Bottle caps with note names


I really like this idea of having line notes written in blue and space notes written in red. Then students won't ask, "Which E???" This could work really well in centers...have a bunch of bottlecaps and staff paper, and then they have to write a word using bottlecaps!

#5: Center organization

Speaking of centers, I love this sheet for having students decide their centers:


It would take a bit more preparation to have several centers up and running (I usually just do four at a time), but I love the idea of students working at their own pace, choosing which centers they want to do.

Those are my five favorite pins of this month...what are yours? Make sure to read the favorite pins of other bloggers by clicking the pictures below! And for more pins like this, follow me on Pinterest.

01 May, 2014
Living Kodaly's Vision

Living Kodaly's Vision


Hi everyone! Today, I'm blogging about how we as music educators can live Kodaly's vision.


Living Kodaly's vision: Thoughts about how your teaching can fit Kodaly's vision. Blog post includes elementary music songs, ideas, and more!

As Kodály-inspired teachers, we have learned much of Zoltan Kodály’s beliefs about music education. Indeed, many of us can quote Kodály’s ideas about folk music, singing, and the importance of early music education. But as we step into our music classrooms and take on the demands of musical programs, grades, and back-to-back classes, how can we endeavor to live Kodály’s vision? Following are many of Kodály’s often-recited quotes, with sample activities which target each quote.

“If one were to attempt to express the essence of this education in one word, it could only be - singing.” 
In an “older beginner” classroom, in which older students are new to Kodály-inspired teaching, they are often hesitant to sing, and uncomfortable with their own singing voices. But as Kodály said, singing is the foundation. So how do we encourage joyful, in-tune singing with our fourth, fifth, and sixth graders? Music must be age-appropriate, melodically and/or rhythmically interesting, and engaging; singing games should be challenging and fun. I have found the songs “Ye Toop Daram” (Afghanistan) and “Old House” (African-American) wonderful choices for both my older beginners and for students who have had Kodály-inspired education since Kindergarten. “Old House” is an excellent song for encouraging solo singing, and teaching melodic contour, with the “tear it down” responses;  the game for “Ye Toop Daram” is always a favorite. By using these songs and age-appropriate, interesting songs like them, Kodály’s vision of a singing-based curriculum can unfold.





Please note: The text should read "daram," not "doram." I discovered the change after publishing this post.

“We should read music in the same way that an educated adult will read a book:  in silence, but imagining the sound. “  
Inner hearing is vital to a child’s musicianship. Through lots of singing, inner hearing exercises, and sight-reading activities, students can reach Kodály’s goal of reading a piece of music inside their head. For students who are practicing the note “la,” I have found the song “No Robbers Out Today” a great sight-reading example. I have the song written in two phrases on the staff, on the board. Before trying to sight-read, I have students just read the rhythm. Then, we review where sol, mi, and la are on the staff, and we speak through the solfa, in rhythm. Then, I give them a starting pitch, and have them inner hear the song. Finally, we sing the song on solfa together. I make certain to not show them the hand signs—otherwise, they are looking at my hands instead of reading from the staff! I correct any mistakes they’ve made, and we sing again. Then, we add the lyrics underneath, sing with lyrics, and play the game, which is always a favorite!
Game: Students spread out in the room; two students are chosen to be robbers. The students who are robbers hide while all others close their eyes. Then, students open their eyes and sing the song while walking around the room. On a given signal--a hand clap, finger cymbals, etc.--the robbers chase all the students and try to tag one person. A base such as the chalkboard can be chosen, so that all students who are touching the chalkboard are safe. The students who are tagged can also become robbers, and the game is played again.

“And I would advise my young colleagues, the composers of symphonies, to drop in sometimes at the kindergarten, too.  It is there that it is decided whether there will be anybody to understand their works in twenty years' time.”
Feeling steady beat is a huge focus in Kindergarten. To prepare and practice steady beat, I play a game with my Kindergarteners called “Follow the leader.” I play a recording that has a very strong, steady beat, and then improvise different motions to the beat, such as patting my lap, patting my head, moving my arms like a chicken, disco dance, etc. I do each motion for 8 beats, then move onto a different motion. Students copy what I am doing. After I present steady beat, I play the same game, but after I have improvised many motions, I have a student leader improvise motions and the rest of the class follows. Some of my favorites for “Follow the leader” include: “The Nutcracker March” by Tchaikovsky, “Root Beer Rag” by Billy Joel, “Hary Janos Suite” by Kodály, and “Stars and Stripes Forever” by Sousa. John Feierabend’s “Keeping the Beat” CD is an excellent resource for beat preparation and practice. This activity is great not only for steady beat, but to expose students to music of the masters.

"Singing connected with movements and action is a much more ancient, and, at the same time, more complex phenomenon than is a simple song."
One of my favorite songs connected with movements and action is “Long-Legged Sailor.” Students from second grade to fifth grade find the motions challenging; with the older students, you can add more verses and motions. The song is excellent for “re” practice, and so much fun!

“Real art is one of the most powerful forces in the rise of mankind, and he who renders it accessible to as many people as possible is a benefactor of humanity.” 
Teach as many students as you can and share with as many educators as you can. It is through our joy that we can educate, advocate, and make the world a better place through the miracle of music.


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