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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Small Goals: December 2016

I love setting small goals for myself each month, and this month is a good one to slow down for a minute to get my priorities in order! I'm linking up with Jennifer from The Yellow Brick Road again this month to share my small goals for the month ahead. Click on the picture below to check out her small goals and see what everyone else is up to as well!

First a quick look back at last month's goals:

1. Get some Christmas shopping done
2. Survive report card writing and parent conferences
3. Make an update list for next year's teacher planners

How did I do? Well, I'm pretty much done with my Christmas shopping, so that's a plus :) I have a few more friends to buy a small gift for, but that's about it. Report cards and conferences were not my favorite thing but yes, I did survive, and I did make an update list for next year's planners, thanks to the awesome planner lovers in my Facebook group (here's the link if you want to join- we have lots of fun sharing ideas and answering questions about our planners!). 

Alrighty, on to this month's goals!

1. Enjoy our Advent activities with my daughters
I am having so much fun with our Christmas activities this year! Every year it gets more and more fun as the girls get older :) If you want to see what's on my list for this year (trust me, it's all simple stuff and most of it is stuff I would be doing anyway) here's my blog post on that, and if you want to see what we're up to each day, I've been sharing photos of our goings-on on Instagram :)

2. Have fun with my winter concert
I'm surprisingly feeling really good about my upcoming winter concert. I was really worried at the beginning of the school year that my choirs would not be able to handle the same level of music that I had done in the past, but these groups have surprised me every week and they are SO READY. I really hope the concert goes well, for their sake, because they have worked so hard for it! I'm actually feeling slightly ahead of the game with all of my concert preparations so my goal is to try to relax and just enjoy the music with my kids!

You know, I think I'm going to stop with just 2 goals this month. Better not get ahead of myself- I am a music teacher in the thick of December craziness after all! What are you up to this month? What are you hoping to focus on most this holiday season? I'd love to hear about your plans and thoughts in the comments below!
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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Music Lesson for My Many Colored Days

I love using storybooks to reinforce musical concepts, especially with my younger students, and today I am sharing one of my most treasured lessons that I use with students to reinforce the concept of tone color, or timbre. I use the most un-Seuss-like Dr. Seuss book ever, "My Many Colored Days", to teach this lesson, and I have used it successfully with every grade from kindergarten through 5th grade. Besides being a great way to teach tone color, this book provides a starting point for a very meaningful discussion about emotions to which I have found students respond very positively as well, no matter what their age. If you want a lesson to help foster a more positive classroom environment, this is an excellent place to start.

If you've never read the book before, the premise of the story is summed up in the first line of the book: "Some days are yellow. Some are blue. On different days, I'm different too". The book goes through descriptions of the way we feel on different days, using colors and animals to describe each one (like, "On bright red days how good it feels to be a horse and kick my heels!"). I have found that for many of my more emotionally challenged students, this book is very comforting because it provides validation for their experience of a wide range of emotions, including "negative" ones. Here is how I typically structure my music lessons around this book:

1. Read through and discuss the story

The first step, of course, is to read the book. After reading through it, I ask students to explain the message of the story: Is the author saying we actually change colors on different days, or turn into different animals? What is he really talking about? Once we've established that we're actually talking about emotions, we have a brief discussion about how it's OK and normal to feel different ways on different days (or even within the course of a day), and we give some examples of things that might make us feel sad, lonely, excited, busy, quiet, happy, angry, etc.

2. Use props and/or movement to show the different colors

Depending on the age of the students, I will either split this part up into different steps (for younger students) or combine them into one (for older students). I assign small groups of students to each color in the book, and give them some kind of prop (I like to use colored scarves like these because I have all of the colors, but you could also borrow colored t-shirts or jerseys from the PE teacher, or use other props they can hold like balls, bean bags, or even colored paper) to show their color. When I read their assigned color, I have them stand up and hold their color up, and at the end of the story when it talks about days where all of the colors are mixed up, I have them all hold up their colors at once. Then (or simultaneously for older students), I have each color do a motion or movement to show the feeling and/or animal to go with their color. For younger students I just ask them to move like the page describes the animal (like kicking their heels like the horse for red), but for older students I tell them to try to be creative with expressing the mood of each color with their movements.

3. Assign a timbre to each color

Here's where we really get musical! The movements, colors, and discussions of emotions all lead nicely into a discussion of tone colors, or timbres. Again depending on the age (and what they are studying), I will either limit the sound options to only classroom instruments, or expand to all instruments, use vocal timbres,  found sounds, or all of the above! After spending time thinking about how to convey mood with more concrete things like colors, animals, and movement, it makes it much easier for students to understand how different timbres can convey different moods or "paint different colors" as well (and helps students remember why we call it "tone color", if you use that language with your students). After assigning students to a color, I have each group choose a timbre to perform while I read their color.

4. Discuss dynamics and/or tempo (and/or articulation)

Depending on the age of the students (and how much time you have), this is also a perfect opportunity to bring in a discussion of dynamics and tempo. After having students choose and perform their timbres with the story, ask students to reflect on how they adjusted the volume and speed of their playing (or vocalizing) to further match the mood- I guarantee most of them will have adjusted them both without you ever telling them to or even thinking about it, and if they didn't, they will have noted that it wasn't as effective as the others- and discuss the role that those musical elements play in conveying mood as well. If you're discussing it with older students, you can throw articulation into the mix as well. The possibilities are endless!

5. Put it all together

To make the lesson most effective and memorable, I love putting the whole thing together for a final performance. This would be perfect for a class performance, especially if you can get the homeroom teachers involved by including it as part of their reading lessons: assign some students to move and/or hold the colors, some students to perform the timbres, and even have some students recite the words to the story.

Have you ever used this book in your classroom? I'd love to hear what you've done with it as well- leave a comment below to share your ideas!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Music as a Parenting Tool

I'm sharing one of my favorite tools from my parenting toolbox today: music. It seems fitting, as a music teacher, for me to use music all the time as a parent, but to be honest I don't use it as often as I'd like. I have found music to be a great way to teach time management, deal with tantrums and arguments, ease morning wakeups, and spend quality time together as a family, so today I'm sharing how I use music as a parenting tool in all of these areas!

1. Teach time management

One of the biggest causes of stress and arguments in our house is time management. I am that person who shows up early for everything because I hate to be late, but getting 2 preschoolers to get anywhere on time can be a serious challenge! I often end up standing over them, nagging them to hurry up, which doesn't help them AT ALL.

The other time management issue that often comes up for us is ending a fun activity. When we're at the park, or even doing an especially fun activity at home, telling them that they have 2 minutes left and then they need to stop doesn't always help them emotionally prepare for leaving since they still don't have the best concept of time. The worst time for this? Bed time, of course! No matter how many warnings I give them of their approaching bed time, I am so often met with whining, pleading, and bargaining when bed time arrives.

I have found music so effective for these situations! When we're trying to get ready to go somewhere, I turn on an upbeat song and tell them we have until the end of this song to get dressed. Then instead of us getting frustrated, we are all singing and smiling as we hurry to "beat the song"! The same thing works for ending an activity, including ending play time to go to bed. I turn on a familiar song and tell them that we are done at the end of the song. Now we are literally ending on a good note (ba dum ch!) and the kids can anticipate the ending time better because they know how the song goes and when the end of the song is approaching!

2. Deal with tantrums/ arguments

I think this technique is probably most effective for toddlers, preschoolers, and maybe lower elementary age kids, but could be used with older kids as well depending on their personality. I find music a very effective tool to use when my kids are stuck in a bad mood or have painted themselves into a metaphorical corner with an argument and are feeling trapped. You know, those times when you know the only reason they're saying whatever ridiculous thing they're saying because they are cranky and/or don't want to admit they're wrong, but telling them that just makes it worse? I've heard before about using distraction in these situations, which works with really young toddlers, but the older they get the less likely they are to be happy about me pulling out a favorite toy or talking about an upcoming holiday, and the more likely they are to just dig in their heels even harder!

With my daughters at least, music seems to be a good way to break the mood and give us all a chance to reset. I stop and tell them I am turning on a song. In this case, I usually turn on something calm but positive. Then we just sit and listen to the music. It gives us all a chance to have some space without sending anyone to time out. By the end of the song, usually everyone has had a chance to gather their thoughts so that we can have a more rational conversation about what happened.

3. Ease morning wakeups

I have one daughter who wakes up easily, and one who does not. As a morning person myself, I've had to learn that when I'm waking said daughter up for school in the morning, I can't just expect her to jump out of bed and be immediately chipper. No matter how gently I try to wake her up, it's hard to avoid making her angry for having woken her up!While I still sometimes get an evil glare or two, music has definitely helped with waking her up more smoothly. After nudging her a little bit, I turn on some quiet music and just sit back and wait. I find this is a much more peaceful way to help her gradually wake up, and it puts the blame for waking her up on the music instead of me ;)

4. Spend quality time together

Of course, music is also just a great way to have fun together! It's easy to get caught up in the business of life and realize that we're all just running around completing tasks instead of enjoying each other's company. We sing songs together in the car, play instruments together at home, or have our own dance parties in our living room. Besides just being a good way to have fun in general, making and enjoying music together helps us build up a list of songs that we all know well, which I can then in turn use for other parenting situations I already mentioned!

If you are curious to see which songs I use, especially for upbeat music, here's my kid-friendly dance party playlist ;)

Do you use music as a parenting tool? I know I need to remember to use it more often at home- so often I look back and realize I could have handled a situation so much better if I had just turned on a song! I'd love to hear your ideas for using music as a parent- leave your thoughts in the comments.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

My Favorite Nutcracker Music Lesson Ideas

For many music teachers, December in the music room means The Nutcracker! Today I want to share some of my favorite lesson ideas using The Nutcracker that I love doing with my elementary students, and I'm also including a link-up at the end of the post for other bloggers to share their favorite Nutcracker lessons, so be sure to check those out as well!

1. Movement

I've shared this before but it is still my favorite Nutcracker lesson. I created these movements to go with the March, Trepak (Russian), and Sugar Plum Fairy music a few years ago. Not only are they great because they are active, but they are a great way to reinforce the form in each movement as well as other musical elements like articulation.

2. Play-along

This one is great for reinforcing form as well, but it's also the perfect way to practice steady beat and rhythm and break out those instruments! This play-along video by Denise Gagne shows rhythms and steady beat sections for students to play on instruments to go with the Nutcracker Overture.

3. Arrangements

For upper elementary students, I like to introduce the concept of arranging with these examples of totally different versions of the Sugar Plum Fairy. First we watch each of the videos, and discuss what elements were the same and which were different (what things can you change without changing the song itself?). Afterwards, I have students create an arrangement of a simple song (like Jingle Bells) in small groups to perform for the class. Besides introducing students to the concept of arranging, it's also a great way to review music vocabulary through the discussion of musical elements.

"original" with traditional ballet dancer:

On wine glasses:

Electrohouse/ Dubstep:

a capella:

What are some of your favorite lessons using The Nutcracker? If you're a blogger, please link up your (non-product heavy) posts below, and I'd love to hear everyone's favorite ideas in the comments! 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Leftovers with an Asian Twist

Today I'm sharing some of my favorite ways to give leftovers new life, all in Asian-style food (yes, I know that is a broad category... it's intentionally vague because none of this is exactly "authentic"). If you're looking for some different ways to use up the food in your fridge, you might want to give some of these ideas a try- I always love the results! 

There are two kinds of leftovers that I always end up with in my house: left over prepared meals, and extra meat and produce that I didn't use in my meals. Because it's just me and two preschoolers, it's not uncommon for me to end up with half a bell pepper, half a can of corn, or one extra chicken thigh that we didn't use. and with the unpredictable eating patterns of 4-year-old's, I can often end up with way more left over food than I want to eat in my packed lunches. To avoid wasting all of that food, I often throw everything into one of these recipes for a quick meal that makes the food taste completely different!

1. Instant ramen

I know what you're thinking....... instant ramen?!? Yep. I certainly don't recommend doing this all the time, but for a quick (and cheap) meal it's hard to beat! I get these packages of spicy ramen at my grocery store to keep in my pantry- the red chili flavor is not overwhelmingly spicy but it is enough to give it a little kick. I throw left over (cooked) meat and produce in it and end up with a not-too-unhealthy meal that is really comforting on a cold day- my favorite combination is slaw mix, bell peppers, one scrambled egg, and chicken with a slice of cheese melted on top (I got that from my time in Seoul), but you can honestly put in almost anything. Chop any meat or produce up into small, bite-size pieces and throw it in the pot once the noodles are cooked. 

2. Yakisoba

OK, this one is pretty similar to the first idea but it's worth mentioning. If you've never had it before, yakisoba is basically a Japanese pan-fried noodle dish, and it's another one that you can throw almost anything in. I have found imitation yakisoba at the grocery store, but the best flavor (in my opinion) is this brand from Japan, which I've always been able to find at Asian markets. The cooking directions are the same- throw in any cooked meat and produce you want after the noodles are cooked- the only difference is that the yakisoba won't have any broth (and the seasoning will be different). 

3. Fried rice

Whenever I make rice for dinner, I often make an extra cup of rice to save for fried rice. Fried rice with fresh rice is just.... not the same. This is my favorite way to use up extra meat that is still uncooked, because to make the rice you cook the meat and produce first, but it's also my favorite way to use leftover fish. Cook any meat, then stir fry the vegetables in. Put the leftover rice in with some seasoning- I'm personally fond of this Japanese kind (surprise) but really any kind will do- and cook until well-combined. The last step is to make a hole in the middle of the pan by pushing the rice to the edges of the pan and scramble an egg or two in the middle, then mix it all back together. 

4. Stir fry

Nothing fancy about this idea- just stir fry any combination of meat and/or vegetables together! The key is the sauce. For Japanese flavor, I like this teriyaki sauce, and for spicy / Thai flavor, this red chili garlic sauce is my new favorite (be warned: this stuff is not bland)!

I hope this gives you some new ideas for using up the leftover food in your fridge! How many of these have you tried, and what are your favorite ways to use leftovers?

Sunday, November 27, 2016

November Favorites

The turkey has been eaten, Christmas lights are going up around the neighborhood.... November must be ending! I'm back to chat about some of the things I enjoyed this month, but this month's "favorites" post is special- there's a giveaway involved (and not a lot of time to enter)! Be sure to read to the end for your chance to win some fun stuff, and don't miss one other special announcement...

First let's talk about "a few of my favorite things"!

1. New Christmas planner supplies

I found some super cute Christmas sticky notes and washi tape on sale a couple of weeks ago and was so excited! I can't wait to use them next month (sorry I didn't get a picture of the washi tape- I'll share on Instagram soon!):

2. My 5th and 6th grade chorus

Is it weird to say one of the ensembles I conduct is a "favorite"? I teach 2 choral groups: a 3rd/4th grade chorus and a 5th/6th grade chorus. This year my 5th and 6th grade chorus has been blowing my mind every week and I just can't stand it. I literally thank them at the end of every rehearsal. They're singing in 3-part harmony at one point and I could just cry. I can't wait for the concert in a few weeks (seriously)! I always enjoy my chorus groups but for some reason I have just been amazed with what this group has done this year.

3. Ramen

Yes, ramen. Yes, the "instant" kind. I found these packages of spicy ramen at my grocery store recently and it has been my go-to meal when I'm sick and tired (which has been basically this whole month). Don't judge me- remember I've spent most of my life in East Asia. It's comfort food! If you want to see how I fancy up my ramen, be sure to read my post tomorrow..... :)

4. Blog posts

I found some awesome music education blog posts this month! If you aren't already, follow my page on Facebook. I share my favorite blog posts every Friday. Click on the pictures below to see each post- they really are worth the read!


Taking Care of Your Voice: Elementary Music Edition, Vocal health tips for the music teacher

And now for the giveaway!!!

I'm giving away some of my favorite Christmas sticky notes from Target, some red and green pens, and a $10 TPT gift card! Why the gift card? Because TeachersPayTeachers is having a site-wide sale Monday, November 28th, and Tuesday, November 29th! Everything in my store will be 28% off with the code CYBER2016 !!

This will be a quick giveaway so that the winner can use their gift card in the sale ;) The giveaway will close at midnight EST, Monday the 28th, and I will email the gift card code to the winner on Tuesday morning bright and early. There are a few ways to enter- the more times you enter, the better your chances will be! If you are subscribed to my newsletter, be sure to use your secret code that I sent just for you for an extra entry (and if you're not, make sure you subscribe at the bottom of this post so you don't miss any more goodness)!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

#WhyITeachMusic : Stories to Motivate and Inspire

Last week I shared the things that motivate and inspire me to teach music and invited you to share your #whyiteachmusic stories as well. I absolutely loved reading the responses! I hope you will take the time to read the other blog posts (linked at the bottom of this post), and the comments, sometime this week. It has been the perfect way to get ready for Thanksgiving here in the US.

I've got the giveaway winners to announce at the end of this post, but first I want to share some of my favorite comments shared by all of YOU about why we do what we do:

"Music has been one of the most constant things in my life. When nothing else was going right, music is what I always turned too. Although I never in a million years thought I would teach elementary music, seeing those cute little kids get excited when the instruments are in the front of the room or when I start playing their favorite Christmas songs on the piano keeps me going, despite a very rough and overwhelming schedule." 

"The excitement in their faces when they discover that ANYONE can make music. The relationships that build in the music classroom among peers and teacher-student. When students get to the point when they realize and understand that the music classroom is a safe place for expression, imagination, and creativity" 

"I was motivated to teach music many years ago by a fabulous teacher! She was patient and passionate about music and continues to share that love with so many in her church and community. As a music teacher (this is my second time being the elementary music teacher in my district), I love hearing my students say, "can we do that again?" (I'm not sure, but do you think algebra and chemistry teachers hear that often?--sorry if I offended any of my high school teacher friends...)"

There were so many more wonderful posts- I could go on an on for days- but thank you everyone for sharing your words of inspiration. I am walking around with a bit of a "glow" from reading them all!

On to the winners...

The winner of my Concert and Performance Planner is Michaela Gibbons! 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!
O for Tuna Orff: Christy Gibson 
Music with Mrs. Tanenblatt: Dan Leopold 
Floating Down the River: Jenny Trites
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 have found some fresh energy to keep you motivated this week and through the busy holiday season. I'm so grateful to have this community of music educators to support each other!