15 December, 2014
Five tips for Christmas time in the music room

Five tips for Christmas time in the music room

Ah, Christmas time in the music room....kids are CRAZY with excitement and have a hard time focusing and sitting still. I have a hard time focusing too, so I can understand! Over the years, though, I have noticed a few things that have worked well for getting students in grades K-5 still engaged in music lessons. Here are my five tips...

Christmas Time in the Music Room: Great tips for your music lessons in December!

#1: Sing holiday music!
One of the best things about December, in my opinion, is holiday music. I love singing Christmas songs--and so do the kids--and have also found a few Hanukkah songs I absolutely adore. For several years now, I have directed a holiday singalong at my school, in which the entire school comes down half an hour before their holiday parties begin to sing through 10 or so songs. We sing like we are in an assembly and I have the lyrics posted on a screen. Parents are also welcome to sing...and it is a PACKED HOUSE! It's really wonderful to hear the entire school community singing together.
So in the week of and the week before the singalong, I practice all of the songs with the students, which they love. It also gives me a chance to discuss all the December holidays and why we sing during holidays. Just make sure that all of your students are allowed to sing holiday music, as some religions prohibit this; for those students, you may want to have another fun activity they can complete, or you can talk to their classroom teacher about what they do for that student if they have any holiday activities. If you're looking to put together a singalong, I created this singalong set below to help save time:

When I put together the singalong, I have several Christmas songs, a couple Hanukkah songs, and at least one Kwanzaa song. Click here to see one of my all-time favorite Hanukkah songs (thanks to my friend Naomi Cohen for sharing it with me!) As far as Kwanzaa goes, I typically sing an African folk song with students, since Kwanzaa celebrates African culture (I just haven't found a whole lot of accessible songs specifically about Kwanzaa, and love teaching about culture through these new songs.) The resource below is an absolute treasure of Kenyan songs...click the picture to see it on West Music.

The book comes with an incredibly helpful DVD that can be used to teach students a song AND show them a performance of Kenyan students or adults singing. I've decided to do a different song each year for the entire school so by the time they leave 5th grade, they've learned several songs and have watched several of the performances!

#2: Get students moving!
Students are so excited during this season, they need to MOVE! Quick movement activities to holiday music are a great way to keep students engaged and excited during class. I found this fun "Jingle Bells" movement activity on YouTube:

I also love these movement cards by Lindsay Jervis:

#3: Sing to them
Sometimes after moving, students need to just sit and listen to you sing...it can have a beautiful calming effect on them!

Here are some of my favorite picture books for this time of year (just click the picture to see the book on Amazon.)

#4: Assess them...without them knowing it!
I love to make games out of assessments, so that students think they are just playing a game but really, you are also gauging how well they know a particular concept! The holiday season is a perfect time to do this, as for me, it is nearing the end of the marking period, and I need to see how well they know the concepts I'm teaching them. Here is a free ta and ti-ti set I made for Christmas time in the music room:

One of my students' favorite games this year has been "Santa's Stuck"...check out the rhythmic and melodic sets below:

#5: Have them listen!
There are so many wonderful recordings of Christmas and holiday music; this is a great time of year to do some listening activities!

My favorite recording of Feliz Navidad, which I have students listen to with the book above, is by Chino Espinoza.

There are several classical music pieces that are Christmas-related, but of course, no Christmas is complete without the Nutcracker! I love doing a comparison of the standard Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky with Duke Ellington's Nutcracker.

Tracy King at Mrs. King Rocks put together this really helpful blog post with TONS of Nutcracker resources.

Cori Bloom put together this wonderful Christmas listening freebie (make sure to rate it after downloading!)

What are your favorite Christmas/ winter holiday activities? Please comment below, and HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!

04 December, 2014
10 Tips for iPad group work

10 Tips for iPad group work

This year, I was so fortunate to receive a grant from my district for the purchase of eight iPad minis along with the apps GarageBand and MadPad HD.

As you can imagine, I was beside myself in excitement!!! Eight iPads, only for my classroom!??! I have been using only one iPad for the last two years, so having eight iPads was thrilling to ponder!

It has been a fun and exciting journey so far...with some small bumps along the way. I thought I'd share my tips and strategies to help you in case you are also lucky enough to have more than one iPad in your classroom, but not lucky enough to have an iPad for every single student--or if you are hoping to purchase a set of iPads for your classroom. Although I am a music teacher, many of these tips should also work in any grade-level classroom.

Tip #1: Get sturdy cases

Kids are kids, and they will drop expensive things. (Let's be honest, I have dropped more than a few expensive things myself!) So the sturdier, the better. The purchase of the case above came with my grant, so each iPad is protected. I love these cases, because not only are they sturdy, but students can move the handle so the iPad is propped up. Click on the picture above to see the cases on Amazon.

Tip #2: Think about how you will charge the iPads
Some districts require teachers to get a syncing cart for any iPads you have. After purchasing mine with the grant, I realized it doesn't actually sync more than one iPad at a time (not sure why it is called a syncing cart...) but it does charge all the iPads at once. Make sure you look into this detail...you may want to get a portable cart, or you may want one that sits on your counter like mine does.

Tip #3: Decide ahead of time how students will be split into groups
Depending on how your classroom is set up, you may want to always have students in the same groups, or to change up the groups depending on the project. Since I am only having students work on iPads for 10-25 minutes per class--depending on the grade level--for now, I am having students stay in the same group. It did take a bit of time to figure out who was in each group for each class. I strategically put students in groups who I thought could work together well. With 8 iPads and at least 22 students per class, I usually have 3 kids per group, but with some of my larger classes (like 4th grade, where the 5th class is sprinkled in among the other 4 classes) all of my groups have 4 students. I typed up my list for each class and labeled them by group #'s, so I can easily see who is in which group.

Tip #4: Give each group a spot to sit
Before students touched the iPads for the first time, I showed each group where to sit when they were working. I call these their "iPad spots," so when I need them to quickly transition I just say "Please go to your iPad spots!" I like all students to be sitting on or near the carpet--I'll explain why soon!

Tip #5: Give each student in the group a number
After figuring out who was in which group, I also gave students numbers within their group. This way, I could easily give directions and have students rotate. For example, in one lesson, the #1's can come and get the iPads, and in another lesson the #2's can get the iPads. If the #1 student has gotten a chance to explore on the iPad or complete a task, I then ask all groups to hand the iPad to the #2 student, and then to the #3 student. This makes it much easier to rotate and be fair so that each student gets the same amount of time on the iPad. If some groups have 3 and some have 4, the groups with 4 students all individually get a turn, and the groups with 3 students can all play at the same time the last round.

Tip #6: Think about how/if to number the iPads
When I first had students work on iPads, I gave them whichever iPad was closest out of the syncing cart. But then I realized that there were a few reasons I might want to give them the same iPad each time--just in case they did something they weren't supposed to (take pictures, delete apps, etc.), or if I wanted to listen to a recording a group created, I'd know which iPad to check. So at first, I thought I'd use painter's tape and number the tape, as then it would be easy to peel off.
Well, duh, that's the problem, it's too easy to peel off!
OK, onto plan B. I used file folder labels and placed them on the back of the iPad....and then one of those stickers got caught on one of the trays in my syncing cart...hmm...okay, onto plan C!
I found this and decided it was just what I needed:

All of my cases are black, so the silver sharpie showed up perfectly! I flipped each iPad case over and numbered them on the back. Worked much better than tape or labels!

Tip #7: Think about how/ if to project
When I first got my own iPad, I was excited to project it onto my SMART board, and then found out it wasn't as easy I thought (see this blog post about that ordeal...Itools has since quit working, unfortunately!) Since writing that blog post, I found out that an HDMI cable hooked up from my iPad to my TV works well when wanting to show students something on my iPad.
Since working with iPads in small groups, though, I haven't yet tried projecting, but I can see this being helpful, especially when working with GarageBand (since there are some complex steps that are hard to explain.) Now that I have iPads owned by the school, I could try Airserver, I could use my HDMI cable hooked up to my TV, or if I had an elmo I could quickly show students that way. So far this year, though, I've just been showing students with one of the class iPads....but I think in some cases, as stated above, projecting would be a better option.

Tip #8: Let kids experiment and explore
So far this year, my first, second, third, and fourth graders have been working with MadPad HD, and my fifth graders have been working with GarageBand. I love both apps, not only because they can create music with both, but because the sky's the limit with what you can do. At first I thought about giving them very specific tasks with both apps when they were acquainting themselves with each, but then realized...they just need to explore and experiment. I do give them tasks, but the structure is at times a bit loose in order to let students play around and get to know each app...then they will be ready to create!
If you're interested in what I've done with MadPad, I will soon be posting a unit to TpT. For GarageBand, I took several lessons to have students experiment with each of the different instruments (smart strings, smart drums, etc.) I showed them the different things they might do with each but then just let them take turns exploring. Now we are working on ABA compositions using this great set by Music and Technology.

Tip #9: Have a plan for when you need to give directions
The first few times I gave directions while students had iPads in hand, I often heard a car door slamming or a guitar strumming (as these are common MadPad and GarageBand sounds!) So then I came up with an idea: have all groups sit by or on the carpet, so when I say, "Please gently turn your iPad over and place it screen down on the carpet," they can do that and be ready to listen without the temptation of the iPad.
If you have the cases I do, you might want to add "Make sure the iPad is FLAT on the carpet." Take my word for it...otherwise sounds will still happen!

Tip #10: Be prepared to learn from your students
I was a bit nervous about the amount of directions I would have to give first graders to get to a certain part of the app, let alone record themselves then head back into photos to retrieve those videos.
I've had to help out a bit here and there, but I'll be honest--these kids know their iPads! (I should know that, thinking about how incredible my 2-year-old is with my iPad!) They know what they are doing, and can show you a thing or two...and if one child in the group doesn't get how to do something, no worries, another kid in the group can usually figure it out!

My students have really enjoyed creating on iPads so far! I hope yours do too! Have any other tips? Please leave them below.

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