26 May, 2016
Creating an end-of-the-year slideshow

Creating an end-of-the-year slideshow

Recently, I had to create an end-of-the-year slideshow for my school. It's the second year I've had to do this (because I am the Instructional Technology Chair at my school), and both years, I've had to teach and re-teach myself how to do certain things to create the slideshow. Today, I thought I'd share tips for creating your own slideshow, whether it be for the whole school, for your choir, for a grade-level classroom, or whatever you need!

Creating an end-of-the-year slideshow: Tips for using iMovie to create a slideshow for your class and/or school!

First, a little background about me...I have enjoyed creating slideshows with music for about 12 years---since my oldest was born. I started creating slideshows with my nephew and oldest daughter, then created slideshows for funerals of loved ones, and now create the slideshow for my school. My school's slideshow has at least one picture of every single student in the school, so it can be a bit time-consuming to make sure all the students are covered! I have a section for each grade, each class within the grade, as well as a section I just call "We are Cheshire," which has pictures of school-wide events. We show this at the 5th grade graduation ceremony, which the entire school attends. I try to keep it under 25 minutes so that everyone is focused and enjoying the show!

Back in the day, I just used Powerpoint and inserted music, but realized quickly that only worked if you had the music on your computer, so it wasn't easy to share. I then moved onto Sony Vegas, and then when I bought my Mac, tried using iMovie. I had heard from SO many people how awesome iMovie was, so was surprised that the program was a bit difficult to learn. Today, I'm blogging with some tips that have helped me along the way! Many of the tips are specific to iMovie, but if you are not on a Mac, hopefully you'll still find helpful tips!

Choosing music
For the school-wide slideshow, I like to use music of varying tempi, to keep the audience engaged and the slideshow interesting. Of course, with pop music, you have to be careful to choose songs with appropriate lyrics! I have edited some songs to take out some not-so-appropriate lyrics (more on that in a minute), as long as the overall song has a great message.

Here are the songs that I used for last year's slideshow:
"Somewhere Over the Rainbow" by Israel Kamakawiwo'Ole
"Best Day of my Life" by American Authors
"Take on the world" by Rowan Blanchard and Sabrina Carpenter
"You've got a friend in me" by Randy Newman
"On top of the world" by Imagine Dragons
"Happy" by Pharrell Williams
"We'll be the Stars" by Sabrina Carpenter

And here are the songs I used for this year's slideshow:
"Walking on Sunshine," remake by Aly & AJ
"We are going to be friends" by Jack Johnson
"Best Day of my Life" by American Authors (the kids love this one so much!)
"The Best Song Ever" by One Direction (I edited out the second verse because it was slightly inappropriate...)
"Try Everything" by Shakira
"Count on me" by Bruno Mars
"Best thing I got" by Sabrina Carpenter
"Hall of Fame" by the Script, featuring will.i.am (I edited out the second verse with an inappropriate word)
"My Wish" by Rascal Flatts

Marking music
As a musician, I am a stickler for making sure the music lines up with the switching of the pictures! There is an easy way to do this in iMovie, but I had to do some digging to figure it out. Simply make sure that your audio track is selected, hit the space bar to play, and then hit the "M" key every time you want there to be a marker in your music. It will look like this:

Then, it is really easy to drag the pictures to the markers, so they will switch to the next picture in sync with the music! I typically put a marker at the end of each phrase.

Editing music
Like stated above, sometimes a song had one verse I didn't want in there, or perhaps I needed to make a song slightly longer or shorter to fit all of the pictures I had. To edit, you can stop the music where you want it edited (by hitting the space bar.) Then right click (or control click on a laptop), and choose split clip. Do this again with where you want the music to start again, and then delete the section you don't want. Then drag the second section over to where the first ends. You will want to listen and make sure the edits are exactly how you want them...you may have to edit more to get it perfect.

Theme and Transitions
The transitions iMovie has in the program by default are great, but if you want to change any transition, it will stop all default transitions, so then you have to insert them by hand. This is easy, though...simply drag the transition from the lower right hand corner to the place between pictures. I would suggest using a variety of transitions, but not TOO many, because it'll be more distracting than you want. I tended to use the same 10 or so transitions throughout the entire slideshow.

As far as theme goes, when you create a new project, Imovie will ask you to choose a theme, which will be the same theme throughout the entire slideshow. This is a great feature of the program, as it ties everything together rather nicely! Last year, I used the photo album theme, and this year I used the filmstrip theme.

Fading out
To fade out at the end of the slideshow (which is a much nicer way to end than to simply stop the slideshow), just add the "fade to black" transition after the last picture (it is in the second row in the image below.)

Keep in mind that while you are creating the slideshow, space on your computer may be suddenly limited, especially if you have a Mac! I emptied my trash can a ton, restarted my computer, and even changed my Dropbox settings to make room on my computer. Thankfully, now that I'm done with the slideshow, my computer is back to normal!

Sharing the slideshow
Now that you're done with the slideshow and are happy with it, how do you share it? To watch it with your class or community, you'll want to go to "file," then "share," then "file," and save it as a file that you can open later. After you watch it together (projected onto a LCD projector), you can share the video with your audience so they can watch it later. I did this by putting it into my Google Drive (by going to "new," then "file upload,") and then I right-clicked (or command click on a laptop) and chose "get shareable link." Make sure when you do this that you choose "link sharing on," and that you only have people able to view, not edit. You can do the same in Dropbox, by right-clicking the link, and choosing "Copy Dropbox link," which will allow you to paste the link into an email. People shouldn't need Google Drive or Dropbox for either of the above options--they should be able to click the link and view!

I hope this has been helpful to you, if you are putting together a slideshow. I have found slideshows to be such a beautiful thing to build community and reminisce about the year! If you have anything to share about slideshows and/or iMovie, feel free to comment below. Good luck, and have fun!
14 May, 2016
End-of-the-Year Music Lessons

End-of-the-Year Music Lessons

As I'm writing this, I have one week of school left. This seems a bit crazy to me, as it is only May 13 (and I first taught in Michigan, where we taught until the middle of June!) I recently wrote about surviving the end of the year as a teacher, but today I'm writing specifically about end-of-the-year music lessons.

End of the year music lessons: Games and strategies for the end of the year in your music classroom!

Here are my thoughts and ideas for your music lessons this time of year!

Review Games
At the end of the year, I like to do review games with my students so I can gauge how well they learned what I taught them during the year. Seventeen years ago, when I first began teaching, I did a "Jeopardy" game with my students. Of course, this was way before SMART boards, so I made a game board with index cards, posterboard, and velcro. Funny to think about now! If you go to the SMART Notebook website, you'll find tons of templates. A few years ago, I put together some summer fun review games for first grade, second grade, third grade, and fourth grade. Each game has summer images hyperlinked to questions for that grade level; it's a great way to review what they've learned during the year! Check out the first grade set below:

Choice Day
I've written before about how I keep points during music class, as suggested in this book. Once students fill up their chart, they can have half of the next music class (since I have 50 minute lessons) to choose whatever they want to do. They vote as a class, then we play the top three. You could also do this just because it's the end of the year! It's a great way to see what they've enjoyed doing most during the year...whether it be a fun singing game like "Ye Toop Doram," iPads, or Freeze Dance!

Playing outside
Better yet, when they choose their singing games, take them outside and play! It is SO fun to play "We are dancing" outside! I have a room with no windows, so I love to take the kids outside at the end of the year to play and enjoy the sunshine!

Prepare or present?
At the end of every year, I have to decide if I am going to continue preparing new concepts, or if I am going to go ahead and present to my students. For example, my second graders were ready enough for half note and re this year, so I went ahead and presented both concepts to them, but my first graders weren't quite ready enough for la, so we just prepared that concept, and I'll present it at the beginning of next year. In my mind, you are going to spend some of the time reviewing at the beginning of next year anyway, so if they are pretty much there, I'll present, then practice at the start of the next year. If they are not quite ready, I will prepare lots then prepare a bit at the start of next year, then present. It depends on the grade level and the year!

Try out new things!
I just read this great blog post about wrapping up the year, and Jodi suggested trying out new things at the end of the year, so you know whether or not you want to try them next year. I've been doing that a bit and will blog with some ideas that I love soon! In my last blog post, I suggested adding a "to try next year" board on Pinterest; you could do this but try out some of those ideas now!

What are your ideas for end-of-the-year music lessons? Feel free to comment below, and enjoy your last few weeks (or your last month!) of school!

02 May, 2016
Using Pop Songs in your Music Classroom

Using Pop Songs in your Music Classroom

Today, I'm writing about something somewhat controversial--a topic that five or so years ago, I would have shied away from completely: using pop music in your music classroom.

Using pop songs in the music classroom: Includes specific examples for integrating pop music into your lessons!

There are a few reasons I have shied away from using pop music in the past. Even before I began my Kodály training, my thought was that kids hear pop music ALL THE TIME. Why do they have to hear it in my class too? When I began my Kodály training, I heard the same sentiment: we should be teaching them music of the masters, and folk music that is accessible and part of their heritage.

I still believe that it's very important to use folk music and music of the masters. If you stepped in my classroom on any given day, 95% of the time, that's what you'll hear. However, my thinking shifted a bit after some lively discussions with colleagues and some soul searching. Here's why I've used pop music recently in my classroom (and keep reading until the end of the post for some quick ideas to get started!)

Reasons to use pop music
The most important reason, in my mind, for using pop music at times in the music classroom is to connect music of the past to music of the present. I once had a discussion with my husband about this. He is by no means a fan of typical pop music--he likes all kinds of somewhat obscure bands like Deer Tick and Wilco and My Morning Jacket--but his argument was this: how are they going to connect the music they learn from you to the music they listen to?
I didn't have an answer then, except that they'd have to do it on their own. But why shouldn't I help that connection? Wouldn't it help them see the big idea that the music concepts they learn from me happen in ALL music? And isn't that a powerful big idea?
Many of us were taught that we should only use the best music (a sentiment I completely agree with!)...but why does that mean we shouldn't ever use pop music? I think the elephant in the room is that many people think that all pop music is bad. In my opinion, that's not true. A decent amount of pop music is not the best quality, but there are plenty of good pop songs. You just have to find them!

Yes, we can argue that pop music is like junk food and they get enough on the radio or on their iPods, but to be relevant, shouldn't we have them listen to a little pop music? And I don't mean the Beatles (although they are probably my favorite band of all time!) I recently had my students figure out how to play the first measure of "Best Day of My Life" by the American Authors (which I'll write about later in this post) and although my kids were SUPER excited about it, I had a student mention that the song was two years old, and couldn't we do something more recent? So if the American Authors, after two years, have lost a teeny bit of relevance, the Beatles don't have very much relevance at all!
Of course, I'm not advocating for no Beatles lessons, because like I said, I LOVE the Beatles. I'm just saying that to be relevant to the students' environment and experiences, we should be searching for music that they know and love. I've heard a few people say that pop music is like the folk music of today (but that's a whole other blog post, and probably one that's even more controversial!)

When I have used pop music, the excitement in the room is palpable. Students are jumping up and down with glee. Not that they never jump up and down with glee for other music we do, but seriously, they get pretty excited. My number one goal for my classroom is that it is joyful, so this is a pretty good reason to try it!

Reasons using pop music can be difficult
So after thinking about how to include pop music in my lessons (since my training didn't include it at all), I realized the reason it can be so hard to do is that pop music keeps changing. The #1 hit that everyone loves in 2016 will surely not be #1 in 2017, and in five years it may be somewhat obsolete. So this means we have to change our pop music lessons, at least every few years, so that they remain relevant.
Then, of course, there is the issue of appropriateness. SO many pop songs are just not appropriate. Maybe kids don't realize the true meaning of the song--as was so often the case with music I listened to growing up--but still, there are songs we just can't do, no matter how much the kids love them.

Ideas for using pop music
After considering the reasons why I wanted to include pop music more, and why creating lessons using pop music is tricky, I have come up with a few ideas over the last couple of years that have worked for me and my students. I am truly at the beginning of this journey, so will blog more as more ideas come to me! Here are a few ideas to get started on your journey:

Keeping the beat
If you can find a pop song that has a steady beat, you could play a game called "Follow me." Simply do the same motion for 8 beats and have students mirror you. Then when you change to a different motion, they do too! Halfway through the song, you could have student volunteers lead the beat! This works even better if the students have done this same activity with Beethoven or Brahms or Miles Davis...they they try it with pop music! "On top of the world" by Imagine Dragons is great for this activity!

Playing a song on instruments
I have recently found a couple songs with Orff accompaniment on Pinterest. Here are arrangements to check out:

"Best Day of my Life" by American Authors
"Happy" by Pharrell Williams
"Ho Hey" by the Lumineers

My fifth graders recently learned tika-ti (2 sixteenths/eighth) and they already knew syncopa (eighth/quarter/eighth) so "Best Day of my Life" was PERFECT! I had each kid pair up on a barred instrument with a friend, wrote the first measure on the board with rhythm and note letters, and had them figure out how to play it! So fun!

Pulling rhythm or melody from a song
Just like we might use "Sammy Sackett" for half note or "I got a letter" for low la, so we can figure out which pop songs lend themselves well to which rhythmic or melodic concepts! I haven't done a ton of work with this, but Christopher Roberts has found a couple Taylor Swift songs to use for concepts; read about it in this blog post on our collaborative blog, the Kodály Corner!

Using songs by Lessia at I am Bullyproof Music
After lamenting to myself about how many songs I just couldn't use because of appropriateness, I started listening to music by my friend Lessia at I am Bullyproof Music...and I had a big a-ha moment, that I should be using her music to help make connections! In Lessia's words, she wrote her songs "with kids beside me telling me what they wanted me to express for them - so they could sing that mature wisdom over and over again." The songs have a great message, they are accessible, they are appropriate...and best of all, the kids love them!
So far, I have tried the songs "Miracle" (I kind of HAD to try that one!), "Monkey," "Einstein," and "Gift in this Present," and each has been a big hit with my kids (3rd grade and up.) I even used "Gift in this Present" for my 3rd grade program (read about that here) and "Einstein" for my 4th grade program (read about that here.) I've also used the songs to practice concepts (like 3/4 for "Gift in this Present") and to discuss lyrics and parts of a song, such as verse, chorus, and bridge.
Whether she's writing and singing about fighting self-doubt, or stopping to enjoy the present, Lessia's lyrics are very meaningful...and her music is super catchy! My fourth graders even begged to play Musical Chairs with Einstein on their reward day! If you want to hear more of Lessia's music, I suggest checking out her store and/or her blog. I've also been collaborating with her; we've created sets to help teach "Einstein" and "Gift in this Present," and I also included "Monkey" in my Poetry set. You can see more of each set below:


I have to give a big thank you to my friends Donna Gallo, Frank Gallo, and Lessia Bonn, who were huge influences in opening up my eyes on why and how to use pop music in my classroom.

I'd love to hear your thoughts! What are your favorite songs to use, and why? Are you still struggling with using pop music? Feel free to comment below, and have a great day!

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