Monday, July 21, 2014

Gifts for Teachers-Leadership Symposium 2014

I was privileged to present "Making a Splash with Staff: Make and Take" at the Missouri State Teacher's Association annual Leadership Symposium.  In this session we talked about ways to improve staff morale and help create a joyful work environment.  We talked about special days and activities that local teacher organizations could plan for teachers and staff.  We also made a few little gifts for teachers.  :-)
Merry KISSmas and a CHAPpy New Year-fill with chapstick and chocolate kisses.

Notable Year-music note duct tape makes an ordinary water bottle look cute.  Add a drink mix and a little ribbon for added flair.

O-FISH-al Welcome Back

This is a great way to package up several gifts.

A fun (and healthy) idea for treats in the lounge.  This would be fun to give students too!

For the Love of Duct Tape - Little Classroom Makeovers

I know.  I know.  You may not be thinking of heading back to school yet, but I'm already starting to feel the itch.  What changes will I make this year?  What cool new Pinterest ideas will I use this year?  What will my bulletin boards look like?   Lesson planning seems to happen all year long and I already have a few great ideas to begin the year.  Right now I'm thinking about decorating. 
Last year I dabbled with duct tape to dress up a couple of old file cabinets.  I used a solid color (although the patterns look FABULOUS!).  Each drawer was a different color.  I like the solid colors because they don't show how messy I was applying the tape!
The before and after shot below shows the completed cabinets. I love rainbow colors AND black and white patterns.  I guess you can see that in my color choices.  The rainbow paper is wrapping paper that I found at Wal-Mart.  Since they are metal file cabinets I added a few magnetic clips and used this space to post calendars, announcements, schedules, etc...
Not finished with the duct tape and wanting to keep the same color scheme I transformed an ugly set of metal mailboxes by adding a strip of duct tape horizontally.  I then printed out a list of class names and added them on top of the duct tape with a piece of scotch tape.  Easy to change next year and what an improvement!

This year I have some lovely music note duct tape to play with!  I'm still pondering where it will go.  Maybe a permanent bulletin board border?  I guess we'll see. :-)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Pull up a Plate and Let's Make a Bulletin Board!

So, I have a secret to share with you.  I LOVE PLATES!  I have a large collection of paper plates that I use all the time in my classroom.  We will use them for listening or movement activities, but my favorite way to use them is on a bulletin board.  These plates are called ZooPal plates and are made by Hefty.  Unfortunately they stopped making them!  :-(

Here are a couple of my favorite bulletin boards that I have made using this cute little plates.

Music Touches Lives
For this display the ZooPals are arranged to resemble an orchestra or a choir.  The little speech bubbles near them have quotes about the benefits of music education or quotes from famous musicians and composers.

Making Music Together
This was one of the fastest bulletin boards ever! 

Wild About Music
The background is a tablecloth that I picked up at Walmart.  Around the title, Wild About Music, are things that are associated with music class:  concerts, recorders, reading, writing, boomwhackers, choir, band, etc...

I love making bulletin boards with this playful plates and will miss them.  Has anyone seen them in their stores lately?  Maybe I can ship them in from somewhere!  LOL.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Character Education Bulletin Board Ideas

I like to make bulletin boards. :-)  I wish I had more time because I would adopt several neglected boards in my schools and make them beautiful.  Although I make many music bulletin boards (duh!) I also have made quite a few bulletin boards about character education.  I thought I'd post a few of those ideas here.

A Picture Perfect Year Begins with Good Role Models
This bulletin board features pictures of our teachers and staff.  Pictures were printed to the copier in the workroom to save the expense of having the photos printed at a photo lab.  This was quite an attention grabber!

Perseverance:  Keep Plowing Through
This bulletin board went up in January, a month that often brings snowy days to Southeast Missouri.  On the snowballs are things that are coming up in the semester and things that students need to keep working on: spring concert perfect attendance, test prep, play day, etc...

Respect:  BEE Respectful
There are three beehives on the board.  One says "Respect Yourself."  Another says "Respect Others." The last one says "Respect the Property of All".  Around the beehives are little bumblebees that explain what the hives mean.  For examp around the "Respect Others" beehive the bees say "their ideas", "their space", "their family", "their successes" and so on.

There is No Room in Our SCHOOL for Bullies
This simple bulletin board let every student join in on the anti-bullying message.  The board was covered with blue paper and an aquatic border.  Each student in the school was represented by a fish with their name on it.  It was quite an impressive display and the students loved finding their names and the names of their friends.

Compassion:  Be an Angel
I love Kindergarten art!  This bulletin board contains the definition of compassion (that's what is on the purple sheet in the middle) and paper plate angels made by the Kindergarten class.

Honesty:  Can You Find An Honest Abe at Our School?
 The teachers and staff were such good sports!  For this bulletin board they put on a fake beard and eyebrows to match their Abraham Lincoln hat.  If that wasn't enough, then they had their picture taken!  LOL.  This was great for showing the students that there are great role models around them every day.

Forgiveness:  Don't Go Breakin' My Heart
I think this board went up in February and the theme went well with Valentine's Day.  The little hearts that make the border for this display say things like "So sorry." "It's okay!" "I forgive you!" and "Let's make up!"
Need some more ideas for bulletin boards that teach good character?  Check these out these boards.
You can also download Patch of Politeness for free.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Workin' the Workstations: Tips and Tricks

This is the third blog post in a series to help you make workstations work for you!  See the first post, Getting Organized for ideas about how to plan and organize your supplies and time.  See the second post to learn what you can do in a workstation.  This post contains a HUGE list of ideas.
You’ve organized your classroom for workstations, you’ve planned the activities that you would like to do with your students and now you’re ready to go!  Here are a few ideas to make sure that workstations are working for you.  

Hang on!
If you have never had students work in centers in your classroom don’t plan to be at one of the stations for a few class periods.  Often I plan myself as a station and will work will small groups of students on matching pitch or reading music or vocalizing or a million other things.  Unless you are comfortable with the group that you are working with, I don’t advise doing this until you’ve “trained” them to work in stations and rotate at the appropriate time.

Instead use this time to walk around the room.  Notice which students are natural leaders.  Encourage reluctant participants to be a part of the activities.  Quite the noisy groups.  Praise the hardest working groups.
Track Student Success
Use a simple spreadsheet to record student success.  I use a very basic rubric to mark as I walk around the room while students are working in stations.  I’ve discovered that I can’t mark every student at every station during every class period.  I mark what I observe and draw a line through the centers that I don’t observe.  I suppose if I didn’t stop to interact with students I might be able to make it through everyone during each rotation, I just don’t make that a priority.  Take a look at this simple sheet that can be used to track students during workstations.

Assess the Activities
While walking around your room taking notes on student behavior and achievement don’t forget to evaluate the activities.  Are they easy to complete in the time each group spends at the station?  Is there a learning goal for each station?  There doesn’t need to be, but there should be a purpose.  Even the “just for fun” centers should have a purpose.  For example at the reading station I will let students choose any of the books to read.   What learning is taking place there?  Well…I don’t know.  Not always, anyway.  The learning that takes place here is student led.  Perhaps they are reading about a composer or a musical adventure.  Maybe they are reading a rhyming book and working on pace and rhythm without even knowing it.  The purpose is to give them experience with literature that enhances a music skill or exposes them to a musical concept.

Sometimes one of my stations is Singing Puppets.  I’ll toss a few puppets in the box with some Wee Sing songbooks or lyric sheets and students are instructed to only use their singing voice at this station.  Often this results in students “singing” their conversations while using the puppets.  What’s the point?  Well…it’s fun.  Sometimes fun should be the purpose.  This fun activity though is meant to get students singing!  Silly songs, serious songs, with a friend, on their own…singing!  I’ve watched students that will never, ever sing a hello echo to me blossom with a puppet on their hand.

Music vs. Noise
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve said “Make music, not noise!” I’m sure I could comfortably retire by now!  Sometimes workstations are noisy especially when dealing with an art that is composed of sound!  Encourage students to work as quietly as they can and to use voices that are reasonable for the activity they are completing.  Don’t be surprised when their enthusiasm and excitement drive that sound a little louder.  Just keep reminding them “Music.  Not noise!”

Don’t Give Up
No, seriously.  Don’t give up.  I’ve tried lots of different activities in workstations.  Some of the activities have become favorites and I use them all the time.  Others make me ask “What was I thinking?” and draw little frowny faces in my plan book.  Sometimes an activity that I think is absolutely teacher-of-the-year-brilliant goes as well as a first year teacher trapped in a bathroom with 30 kindergarteners in a tornado on the day after Halloween with the class ferret and a broken jar of fire ants.  It’s just not pretty.

Sometimes I’ll try it with the next group just to make sure that it is horrible.  Sometimes I’ll tweak it just a little bit and see amazing results.  Scrapping it or saving it can’t always be based on the way one group handles the task.  Try putting the idea on a shelf and coming back to another time.

Workstations are an amazing way to add student centered learning to your classroom.  By organizing, planning and experimenting with workstations I know that you’ll be astonished with the results.

Looking for some activities for your music workstations?  Please check out my bundle of music workstation activities.  I think you’ll be pleased with the variety of activities you will find in it.

What tips and tricks can you share?  Link up below to share ways that workstations work in your classroom.  You don’t have to be a music teacher to share your ideas!


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Music Workstations: What Can You Do at a Workstation?

This is the second blog post in a series devoted to Music workstations.  Check out the first blog post about Getting Organized for Music Workstations to learn about planning and setting up your teaching space.

In this post we are going to talk about what students will actually do at each workstation.  Often the activities that I have students complete in centers are ones that we've already done as a whole group.  This gives students confidence and results in less off-task behavior.  Not every activity lends itself to this kind of introduction so I always try to include a task card or directions at each station.

In the lists below you'll find links to blog posts (mine and others) and products (mine and others) that may help you in planning and creating activities for your students.

So...what can students do at a music workstation?


Use puppets and Wee Sing songbooks, lyric sheets from songs you are working on or seasonal songs to get students singing!  I always tell students that the puppets can sing only.  No talking.

Include lyric sheets and have students cover part of the page with sticky notes, poker chips or painters tape and sing through it.  Great for memory work!

Vocalizations-Such a fun way to help students explore their voices.  My kiddos love this one and this one.

Encore-I love this game!

Play Instruments

Print out simple folk songs that are color coded to Boomwhackers or hand bells.
Rhythm Stick Reading  (also try Maraca Rhythm Reading, Triangle Rhythm Reading, Tambourine Rhythm Reading and Rhythm Instrument Reading which uses several instruments.)
Pick a story or poem for students to read.  Have students add sound effects while reading it out loud.
Recorder Composing Station
Xylophone Composing Station

Work on Rhythm


Swat the Rhythm
Noodle Notes
Craft Stick Rhythms
Rhythm Blocks (Mega Blocks)
Play Dough Mats   (get them here)
Musical Yahtzee (Layton Music) 
Use Martha Stanley’s Mighty Music Grid to practice drawing notes, composing simple rhythm songs to clap together and more. 
Rap It, Clap It, Music Match It  (I love this one and this one.  Oooo!  And this one is free!)


Practice Identifying Pitch Names


Treble Clef Twister
Staff Wars on the Smartboard or tablets, kids love this!  (Shhh!  Me too!)
Flashnote Derby
Bottle Cap Staff-Such a fun way to practice placing notes on lines and spaces, identifying pitch names and “spelling” on the staff.
Create an Original Mnemonic Device –Have students brainstorm new sayings to help remember the lines and spaces of the treble clef staff.
Matching Games
Flashcards and Worksheets
Swat the Staff
Caterpillar Rhythms-See them in action here.

Learn About Instruments

Mystery Instruments  A brown paper bag, a classroom instrument and a detective sheet.
Read about instruments. 
Apps to Try:  JazzyABCs, Garage Band, Virtual Drums, Mini Harp, Music Keys, Piano Pals.  Wow...there are so many more amazing apps I could list here, but to save time I'll let you link me up in the comments section.
Instrument Family Punch Cards
Misspelled Instrument Punch Cards
Instrument Coloring Sheets
Watch videos about instruments from YouTube.  I love the ones that show how an instrument is made.


Read Books and Articles about Music and Musicians

Set up a classroom library!  There are many great books about music, instruments and composers that students love to read.  Books that are also songs are great choices as well as books that can be read rhythmically. 

Composer biographies are great for upper elementary.  Check out for free biographies and worksheets.

Composer Coloring Sheet and Bulletin Board –Bulletin Board pieces could be used in a center.


Listen to Great Music

Set up a listening center in your classroom and choose music that coordinates with things you are studying in class.

Add listening sheets to the station to encourage students to listen for specific musical elements.


Color and Write About Music


Color by Symbol
Color by Dynamics
Meet the Composer Coloring Sheets
Composer Writing Prompts
Younger students can write or draw about music.
Musical Writing Prompts


Play Games


Dynamics Dash and Dynamics Tower-from Denise Gagne’s Music Centers Kits 1 and 2
Bop-It and electronic Simon Says -They are great for rhythm, coordination and melodic memory.
Candy Land-convert and use for note differentiation.
Musical Jenga
Amy Abbott from Music al a Abbott has a great selection of music themed games.  Check them out! 


Everything Else

Talk About Tunes- Students pull out a topic and everyone in the group takes a turn answering.

Teacher Time-Be a workstation!  Use your time with each of the groups to assess pitch matching, instrument skills and more!

Whew!  That's quite a list to get you started!  This is really just the tip of the iceberg.  There are so many student centered activities that we can plan as part of our regular curriculum that really let students take the lead in their own education.  They are fun and engaging for students and easy to set-up and assess for teachers.

Do your students work in centers or workstations in your classroom?  What kind of activities do you do?  Share with me in the comments.  I'm always looking for another great idea to get kids singing, reading, playing and moving!

The next post in this series will be filled with tips and tricks for making workstations work in your classroom.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Music Workstations: Getting Organized

Workstations are actually learning stations in your classroom.  Workstations used to be called “centers” and I tend to use the terms interchangeably.  Teachers that use workstations with their classes have more time to teach small groups of students.  Wouldn’t it be nice to sit down for ten minutes with a group for three or four children and listen to the sing, tutor them on recorder or just to connect with them?  As music teachers we have such a limited with our students anyway.  We need every single minute we can get and workstations are a great way to use those minutes to their fullest potential.

When I plan workstations, I usually plan them around a concept or theme that I am teaching.  In third grade we do Star Spangled Banner workstations.  In second grade we do Carnival of the Animals centers and 4th-6th grades use centers to practice pitch names and compose and play in small groups.  Many other teachers use centers to explore elements of music like form, melody, rhythm, dynamics, etc…  You may have to experiment to see what works best for you.

 I love creating musical activities for my students to explore at workstations.  This is the first in a series of three blog posts that I’ll use to share what I do in my classroom.  Be sure to check back soon for the next addition to this series.  Today we’re going to talk about getting organized for workstations.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve never experimented with them or use them every week, in order to be successful you must plan for success!

 First take a look at your classroom.  You don’t need much space to do centers, but you do need to clearly define that space.  For example, four chairs in a circle can be a workstation.  Four clipboards, some pencils and a stack of papers can be a workstation.  Three upside down buckets and a box of Boomwhackers can be a workstation. 
Sketch out your room and tentatively plan 4-6 places that you could use.  I usually do this on a scrap of paper, but once upon a time I sketched out my room in PowerPoint using shapes and now I can use it for all sorts of things.   You could also try Class Architect.  This handy dandy teacher tool lets you rearrange or design your classroom from the comfort of your recliner.

This is the way my classroom is usually setup.  The chairs are set up in such a way that I can be near most students in just three or four steps.  I use chairs most classes with 4th, 5th and 6th grades and the lower grades are usually on the carpet.  Sometimes the chairs are stacked and out of the way for movement or workstations.

No, I don't actually do 8 workstations at a time with most classes.  Usually I do 4-6.  I wanted to have a plan for more than that so that I had options.  Sometimes I want students to be near the Boomwhackers or rhythm instruments, sitting around my bookshelf or on the carpet with iPads.  After sketching it out I found lots of places for stations! 

While you are planning consider these things
1.        We make music.  Sometimes this sounds like noise to the untrained ear.  Sometimes to the undisciplined child it IS making noise.  Plan to separate noisy activities so that it doesn’t become a contest to see which group can be the loudest.
2.       Specify specific areas for each station.  Designate specific spaces for each workstation by turning 4 chairs together, using a student desk to organize supplies, laying down a tablecloth or rug or rearranging classroom furniture.  When I stack my chairs up and push them out of the way for centers I will throw down a tablecloth to designate the area I expect them to stay in.  I use the plastic kind with a flannel backing.  They wash easily and stay in place.
3.       It is likely that students will need supplies like pencils and clipboards in more than one workstation.  How will that work?  Will you put the supplies in each station?  Will there be a central place for students to get supplies?
4.       Not every station needs to be hardcore, higher level thinking, essay writing, sonata composing types of activities.  Plan at least one ridiculously fun station!  Sometimes it DOES cause an incredible amount of higher level thinking, but the kids will just think it is fun.
5.       If you teach multiple grade levels during the day think about how your set-up can be modified to be useful with varying age groups.
6.       Don’t forget to plan how you will store all of your supplies.  I started with just a few folders and 2 Bop-Its.  Now?  Well…I love workstations so much that I have had to expand my storage space and find a way to organize that allows me to quickly find and set-up  5-6 centers in about 5 minutes.

Organize Your Class Time 
·         Plan a series of centers and devote 10-15 minutes each class period.  Students rotate to a new station at the end of each class period.  If you choose this method, be sure to keep track of which activities each group has completed.  This doesn’t work well if you only see your kids for 30 minutes at a time.
·         Create centers to focus on a concept you are working on:  “Star Spangled Banner”, identifying pitch names, musical opposites, etc…  Plan to do these centers for 1 or 2 class periods (45-60 minutes) or 3 to 4 class periods (for 30 minute classes).   When working with this kind of set-up take time to go through each center describing the activity and your expectations before dividing into groups. 
·         Plan centers that focus on a variety of areas like singing, composing, moving, reading music, writing, listening, etc...  These centers could be used with multiple grade levels by slightly altering the activities. 

Picking Groups
·         Do it!  Pick them yourself!  You know who can work together.  Your classroom does not have to be a democracy.
·         Use an app to create groups.  Try Happy Class or Teacher’s Pick.
·         If you plan on keeping the same groups all year, ask students about their preferences before you begin.  On a small slip of paper have them write who they would like to work with and who they would not like to work with.  It still won’t be perfect, but it may make you aware of some relationships to avoid.

Keeping Time
If you are doing multiple centers in one day, introduce the centers first and then divide students into their first rotation.  Once they are in their first center divide the remaining amount of class time by the number of centers you have set up.  This is how many minutes they’ll have at each one.  Plan a couple of extra minutes after the last one for clean-up.

Project these free timers so the class can see how much time they have left at each station:
Classroom Timers
Cool Timer (my favorite!)

Do you use workstations in your music class?  What are some of the ways that you organize for success?  Let me know in the comments section or link me up to pictures or posts on the topic.  I'm always ready to learn more about workin' the workstations.

In my next blog post we'll talk about all of the fabulous things students can do in workstations.  Click here to read it now!

Check out my newest product!  It is a MEGA Bundle of Music Workstations.

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