21 December, 2015
In a music room far, far away...

In a music room far, far away...

With all of the excitement lately, I've been seeing lots of great activities for music lessons related to the one of the best movie series of ALL TIME, so I thought I'd put together a list of freebies, products, and activities that could work to get the kids excited AND teach them musical concepts!

In a music room far, far away: Great "Star Wars" themed ideas for your music lessons!

#1: "Imperial March" listening lesson
I put together this free listening lesson to help students practice tim-ka, or dotted eighth/sixteenth. I used it with my 5th graders last year and they LOVED listening to the piece, and it was a great connection from what they learned in music class to music they love. Click the picture to download it.

In a music room far, far away: Great "Star Wars" themed ideas for your music lessons! Includes a freebie for "Imperial March"!

#2: Beat swords
I saw these on Tracy King's blog, and think the idea is just fabulous. Plus, they'd be great to reinforce steady beat! Click the picture below to see Tracy's blog post!

#3: Star Wars Bulletin Board
I found this on Pinterest....so cute!! This is the brainchild at the couple at Music Teachers Rock. Such a cute way to teach about form! If you click the picture, you can see the pin on Pinterest.

#4: YouTube video
This is an awesome video about the role of music in the films!

#5: Rhythm Wars
My friend Amy Abbott created this awesome set which looks like the opening credits, and has students read different rhythm patterns! If you don't want to buy the entire bundle, you can buy the individual sets.

#6: Musical form with a parachute
If you have a parachute, this is an awesome activity by Cherie Herring to practice musical form while listening to the theme! (This makes me want to get a parachute!!)

#7: Jimmy Fallon's rendition of "Star Wars" music
So much could be done with this. I love how the vocal parts are layered, and how they take music that is typically instrumental and make it choral. SO FUN!

I hope that you get a chance to see the movie soon, AND to use some of these activities in your classroom! What are your favorite activities for the movies?

19 December, 2015
Apps for Gradekeeping

Apps for Gradekeeping

Over the years I've tried out several different grade-keeping apps. Below I'm describing my favorites; most of the apps can be used even if you only have one iPad in your classroom!

Apps for gradekeeping: Great apps for keeping track of data! Could work in any classroom!

When I first bought an iPad mini, this is the app I used for grade keeping. It is like the Apple equivalent of Excel, so you can build your grade book like a spreadsheet. Here is a screenshot sample:

In the screenshot (which is on my Mac, but the iPad app is very similar), the default is set at 4, but each cell has a dropdown menu so you can select whatever you need as you grade. It took a little bit of time to figure out how to do a dropdown menu, but once I figured it out, it made grading on the spot so much easier! If you wanted to change from a number to a letter (depending on a grading system), this is easy to do. (See this article about how to create a dropdown menu.)

Simply type in your students' names and then enter their assessments as they happen. As I said, if you need to grade on the spot, you can tap the screen on your iPad to get the dropdown menu to appear.


After I tried out Numbers, I moved onto iDoceo. This app is a pretty powerful app, as it has the ability to detail schedules, assign seats, AND create a grade book!

One of the great features of iDoceo is the ability to not only grade with letters or numbers, but with icons, such as smiley faces! Even better--it has the capability of calculating grades for you! Here is a sample screenshot (with made-up names):

At $10.99 in the app store, it is pricier than a lot of apps out there, but it is a very comprehensive app with lots of features that I didn't even get to explore in the year I used it!


I just started using Powerteacher this year, as my district as a whole is using it. From what I understand, you'd only be able to use it as a grade book if your whole district was using it...but I have to say, I'm pretty excited my district has made the jump, because this app is amazing! With the other two apps above, I had to input all of the students' names by class, but with Powerteacher, it's done for you! Not only do you see the students' names, their pictures are there too! (AND when I have students moving in or moving out, the info is changed by my secretary, so I don't have to worry about deleting or adding!) When I add assessments, I am asked to connect them to standards, so it's great to have so much information in one spot. If your district is looking to revamp its grading system, you'll definitely want to check out Powerteacher. Here is a screenshot; I had to cut off the students' names on the left, for privacy purposes, but that is where you would see their names as well as their pictures.

One note though--I don't have the latest update for Powerteacher, and the reviews don't look great, so my comments are about the previous version. Since my grades are due soon I want to wait until after I've entered them (and hopefully at that point the issues will be fixed!)

The three apps above for tracking individual student assessments in a grade book format. The two apps below are great for documenting assessments, which can then be entered into the grade book format:


I recently found out about this app from my friend Andrea Halverson-Forsberg (read her technology blog here.) The app is free, and can be used to document student learning. There are several ways students can begin their portfolio: video, photograph, drawing, and more! Their work can also be shared with their parents. I'm just beginning to delve into the app, but if you want to read more from someone who has used it more, check out this blog post.


This is one of my favorite apps. You know those response clickers students can use to enter their answers? It's like that...but it's free! I recently used this app to take an assessment for identifying instruments in the strings family for my third graders, and instruments in the woodwind family for my fourth graders. Once students understand how to use it, it goes much quicker, and you have information on how each and every student answered! You can then use this information to input assignments into one of the three grade book apps above! Just a note about the app--it works MUCH better on the iPhone than it does on the iPad. Read more about Plickers here.

If you're looking for more help with data-tracking and grade-keeping, check out this set:

Check out my Pinterest board for music apps:

What are your favorite grade keeping apps? Feel free to comment below, and good luck entering grades!
10 December, 2015
Five Favorite Pins of December

Five Favorite Pins of December

Hi everyone! Since it's December, here is my five favorite pins linky party!

Here are my five favorite pins this month:

#1: Stretchy Band activities

I just bought a stretchy band from Bear Paw Creek, and am SO excited to use it, so was thrilled to find this pin with some great activities! So far, I've only used it to help students remain in a circle for a circle dance (which did totally help!) so I'm looking forward to using the band in other ways.

#2: Christmas version of "Bow Wow Wow"

Such a cute way to weave Christmas music into your lessons, using "Bow Wow Wow" as a melody! You can see another version of this on Amy Abbott's Facebook page.

#3: All through the night

Cool arrangement of "All through the night"! Love seeing kids in action, performing on Orff instruments and recorders!

#4: Sleigh Ride Cup Game

I am SO excited to use this cup game this week and next to help practice form while listening to a GREAT piece of music! 

#5: Composer ThingLink

This is so amazingly awesome....each picture has links to pieces by each composer! What a fun and interactive way to practice listening and learn more about music history!
To see more pins like this, follow me on Pinterest. Make sure to check out the other bloggers who have linked up with their five favorite pins!

Have a wonderful December, and an amazing holiday season!

02 December, 2015
Tips for directing a sing-along

Tips for directing a sing-along

The singalong is an event I first became familiar with my first year in my district. It's an opportunity for the entire student body, parents, family members, and teachers to all get together and sing. We do this in the thirty minutes before the holiday parties, the last day before break, and I have to say, I have really grown to love it! It's so wonderful to get such a big community of people together to sing songs...such a great way to get into the holiday spirit!

So what is a singalong? It is an event to which students, parents, family members, and staff are invited. Everyone sits like we would in an assembly, the lyrics are projected onto a big screen, and we SING!

Here are my tips for putting together your own singalong. Please note that these tips are more directed toward a winter holiday singalong but could work well for any other kind of singalong, like a patriotic music singalong for Veteran's Day.

Tips for directing a singalong: Ideas for putting together a holiday singalong for your school community!

#1: Keep special performances to a minimum
My first year in the district, when I was asked to help direct the singalong with the other music teacher, we made the mistake of having too many performing groups. We had the band play a piece, the orchestra play a piece, and a clarinet trio play, on top of all of the songs the kids were singing. Needless to say, it was too much...too much time needed for transition, and not enough whole group singing. Since then, I'll have small things added into the singalong, like:
  • The choir leading "Deck the Hall" (They sing "Deck the hall with boughs of holly, and the school sings "Fa la la la...")
  • 1st graders playing rhythm bells on "ho ho ho" and wood blocks on "click click click" for "Up on the house top"
  • A grade level leading an echo song (like "Che Che Kolay," to honor Kwanzaa)
  • A grade level singing the introduction to a song (like the intro to "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer")
  • A talented student pianist playing Christmas music as the students enter the gym to sit down
This way, certain groups/ individuals can shine without interrupting the flow of the singalong, and it's mostly focused on the whole group singing.

#2: Save the lyrics file as a PDF
My first year in the district, the other music teacher put together a really nice Powerpoint with fun fonts and backgrounds. Then, she had to transfer the Powerpoint to another computer in order to project the file...and she didn't realize until very shortly before the singalong that all her fonts had not transferred over with her Powerpoint. So if you need to change computers, make sure to save as a PDF, which you can easily do by going to "file," then "save as," then choose "PDF." That way, your fonts and formatting are all saved!

#3: Have a balance
Personally, I like to have a balance of types of accompaniment. Some songs we sing acapella, some songs we sing with student accompaniment (like with wood blocks and rhythm bells for "Up on the housetop,") some we sing with CD accompaniment, and some with piano accompaniment. That way, I'm not stuck behind a piano the whole time, and it gives the singalong some variety.

If you're looking for good recordings for accompaniment, you might check your textbook series for recordings without voice, or karaoke songs on iTunes. You can simply search "Jingle Bell Rock karaoke" or whatever you're looking for, and you should have quite a few to choose from.

Before the singalong, I put together a CD with all the tracks I need, and make sure to have someone to work sound when we need recordings.

#4: Represent all holidays
For our singalong, we sing mostly Christmas songs, but also have a couple Hanukkah songs (click here to see my all-time favorite Hanukkah song!) and a Kwanzaa song. For the Kwanzaa song, we sing an African song to honor African culture. You might also sing a Diwali song. In my mind, it doesn't matter if the whole community is Christian; it's great to teach students, staff, AND parents about different holidays, cultures, and customs through music!

As far as religious music goes, you will have to talk to your administrator about this. Because we are honoring several different cultures and religions through the singalong, we do sing one specifically religious song (this year will be "Silent Night," one of my favorites!) Some administrators and communities may want more than this, and some may want no specifically religious songs.

No matter what your administrator decides, it is wonderful to have a few holidays represented so students can learn about different cultures, if not different religions!

#5: Change it up every year
I like to change a few songs each year, just to keep it fresh and exciting. I usually have 10 songs for the 30-minute assembly, and each year I change a few of those ten. There are some songs I just have to do each year because they are SO much fun (I absolutely LOVE the rendition of "Feliz Navidad" by Chino Espinoza, which we just sing with the recording because I haven't found a karaoke version.) And there are some songs that I don't mind switching out (there are only so many times I can hear "Jingle Bells"!) It's nice to keep some songs standard, as it is that much easier to prepare the students for the singalong each year!

I typically take the two weeks before the singalong to get the students ready. I use the Powerpoint with lyrics I compile, as well as some books found in this blog post.

If you're looking for a good place to start, here is my Christmas singalong set which I'm using to compile my Powerpoint:

Here is an infographic I created with the suggestions:

Tips for directing a Christmas singalong: Easy steps to put together a singalong!

Have you done a singalong? Feel free to comment below with your advice. Happy singing!

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