Friday, August 11, 2017 - Posted by Ms. Mini at 3:00 PM
I'm not exactly sure what it is, but every single one of my teacher friends are in a consensus: this summer flew fast. And faster than other summers. Theories anyone? We were that tired from 2016-2017 that we just needed a few extra weeks/months of vacation?

Well, things in my life are zip-zappin' and bee-boppin' all over the place, but I did spend a significant portion of my summer at school. The good news was that I was doing something I love... painting! I am so fortunate to have administrators who are of the mindset that "color is better". I come to them with an idea and they're like "Mini, make it happen." So I do.

It all started with the nurses' office, who had a personal request for an office sprucing, after seeing my music hallway. From there it progressed to the library, and then we even added on some stained glass windows! I think the kids will be excited when they return next week. 

This will greet the students as they come into the building. 
Our PBIS 3R's of Ready, Responsible and Respectful
(And yes, folks, that's painted on the INSIDE. Backwards lettering anyone?)
And as they come up the hall to go to the cafeteria, or through the doors to go home, 
they will once again be reminded of those 3R's!

 Continuation of the nurses office---even a word search for kids who are waiting!

No--they don't actually point to where the books are, but it looks cool don't it? 

Because every kid loves Captain Underpants...
Our librarian and I had to share the wall and take turns bouncing from character to character.

So there you have it. That was my summer ladies and gentlemen. 

My Music Hallway

Posted by Ms. Mini at 2:59 PM
Evidenced by my classroom, I am a teacher who loves color. In fact, life in general is just better with color, especially when you work in a building with lots of young learners. So I was six months into my first year of teaching and the hallway down to my room was driving me CRRRR-AZY. It was long (it still is) and very bland (which now it is not). 

The entirety of this project took a week to complete, with some amazing help from my administrator (over Christmas break, 2015-2016). We re-coated the whole wall white, I came in a sketched, and then we tag-teamed the painting from a sketch I had submitted to her. Now, the kids are all jazzed up for music. The quote reads, "music is the language everyone speaks", which I thought was appropriate for my school since so many students are bilingual. 

The hanging music notes were a 2016-2017 addition, which make the hallway even more colorful. I asked each grade level one questions about music (what is your favorite song, how music makes you feel, etc.) I recorded each students response on a separate music note and strung them up. 

Form...For Real?

Monday, March 20, 2017 - Posted by Ms. Mini at 4:41 PM
Form. It's definitely a part of music, but to call it "form" seems so...formal, don't you think? Only being in my second year, I am still trying to figure out what different grade levels are capable of handling. I was pleasantly surprised that my first graders were able to grasp the concept of form so quickly. More to my surprise was their enthusiasm about hearing different patterns.

My beginning form lesson with first grade involves teaching them one of my personal favorite songs from Music K-8, "Presto, Largo". I have the kids act out what each animal is doing on the screen--and they love crawling on the ground like the bunny. What works really well about this song is that it has two distinct sections, the presto section (A) and largo section (B). They very quickly understand that our song is ABABA form. Boom! Let's kick it up a notch.

Introducing, the finale from the William Tell Overture. Okay, it's kicked up a whole lot of notches, and even though the kids are overwhelmed at first, when assisting them in breaking it down, they realize the song is more manageable than they think (especially when you add really goofy choreography to the different sections). Then, as I saw multiple examples on Youtube, I was able to add in rhythm sticks to the choreography, of which the kids loved. Here is one of my first grade classes (and life-skills kids included!) taking a crack at the William Tell Overture Finale.

Songs For Black History Month

Tuesday, February 28, 2017 - Posted by Ms. Mini at 4:45 PM
When I put together a booklet of songs for Black History Month, I originally thought to myself "Allright Miss Mini, get ready for some serious classroom management issues...these kids are going to sing for 50 minutes."

Let's talk about a surprise of the century. 

My fourth grade students have never been more engaged in anything! They are eating up this unit on Black History Month songs, fighting and begging to sing solos and asking if they can take the booklets home.
I am fortunate, my school has a decent collection of the Music K-8 songs and magazines so I spent some valuable time with their song index, compiling all the Black History Month songs that I had available to me. These songs included:
Get On Board (Vol 17 No 3)
Yonder Come Day (Vol 25 No 3)
Michael Row The Boat Ashore (Vol 15 No 5)
Down By The Riverside (Vol 15 No 3)
Go Down Moses (Vol 22 No 3)
This Little Light Of Mine (Vol 8 No 3)

For each song, I did a little research and printed up some song histories which I included in the front of each booklet. Before we learn a new song, we spend time reading about it and discussing it as a class. Teaching these six songs took about 4 50-minute classes, of which we would go back and review older songs before learning new ones (and letting different people try the solos). There were some other things that I included as well. With Yonder Come Day, we talked about the Gullah Sea Islands, and showed this documentary clip on Gullah Culture. This Prezi presentation gave us a nice lead-in into that. After we worked our way through Down By The Riverside, I ended class with this clip, as to how this song has made its way around the world [they thought it was the coolest thing].

A fun way to end the unit was talking about gospel choirs, how they are often only SAT instead of SATB, and the use of expression and repetition in gospel songs/gospel choirs. I used this clip for Go Down Moses, and this one for This Little Light Of Mine, which a lot of my students could relate to (as they are familiar with America's Got Talent).

As a teacher, I've learned to never underestimate the power of singing, and how sometimes just simply singing can be "enough." It is rich with history, and things to discuss, and the students have things to share. This will most definately be a unit to repeat next year!

Holidays with Kinders

Thursday, January 12, 2017 - Posted by Ms. Mini at 5:25 PM
Let's be real, the holiday times as a music teacher are simpley crazy. Let's keep the realness going, sometimes you have an idea for a lesson plan, the realize it isn't going to work 5 minutes before the class starts. This is where some of the best improvising happens, and some awesome creativity. Well, thats exactly what happened with a kindergarten lesson this year and let me tell you, it will definitely be a lesson I'll be using for years to come!!

The lesson took a total of 20 minutes. I briefly discussed the concept of a "conductor" with the class and had them demonstrate with their voices following me, their conductor. I'd make them get louder, softer, do weird cut-offs and get them giggling (and paying attention!) I took time to review the following instruments with my students: tambourine, jingle bells, hand drums, woodblock. For each instrument we discussed the correct and incorrect ways to play and laid down the very specific rules of caring for my instruments. I then played The Trepak Dance from The Nutcracker Ballet and demonstrated playing all four instruments. 

I then divided each group of instruments to four different corners and stayed put in the middle of the room as the conductor. The key was all ending at the same time. Then, once we all gently placed the instruments down each group would rotate throughout the room to a different instrument. Oh what joy and what fun the kids had, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself as well!

Sorry fellow teachers--I did not have time to score out all 4 parts, so I thought it would be much easier to demonstrate them all for you. I'm sure you can catch the drift :)

Classroom Management: Stars!

Monday, November 21, 2016 - Posted by Ms. Mini at 2:24 PM
I remember the class very clearly. I was in my second week of teaching and about to lose my mind with these first graders. They were running and screaming and playing tag when they were supposed to be doing the hokey pokey and I was at my wits end. College did not prepare me for this.
"Sit down now or this class is not getting a star!"
Well, it caught their attention. They didn't know what a star was, or what it meant. Nor did their teacher, but I had captivated their attention for a whole second and I wasn't going to let it go to waste. "That's right!" I said "you're going to want to collect those stars for a popcorn and movie party." Improv at it's finest, ladies and gentlemen. Little did I know that those stars would come to be the very foundation of my music classroom management. 

Here we are in year number 2, and the star system is still in full swing. Here is how it works. Each music class recieves a star, every day. Green stars are top stars, then yellow, then red. Since I see each class once a cycle, it shakes out to about one star a week. The goal for the classes is to collect 5 green stars. Once they do, they earn a popcorn and movie party for the class. Now, it's not any old movie, silly. We watch a musical! The breakdown is currently:
Kindergarten: Tarzan/Cinderella [Disney Movies are so short!]
1st Grade: Annie (from the 80's)
2nd Grade: Mary Poppins
3rd Grade: Pete's Dragon
4th Grade: The Wiz

What's beautiful for me is that the majority of my kids have never seen the movie that their grade level watches. They really get into them and I get to see the magic of musicals take over them. Because of they way the classes shake out, it takes about 3 classes to finish the movie, and then for the last "movie/popcorn party" we spend time comparing contrasting various youtube versions of the stage performances, and take time to learn one of the songs from the show. In a way, its really neat for me because I still get to do a "musical theatre unit" with each grade, but it gets spaced out throughout the year.

So how do the stars happen? Well this year I contrived a nifty little scale as to where our star is sitting so it's right out there in the open. The kids leave class, knowing what color star they got that day. If the class is chatty and I ask "I'm ready, are you?" and the chattiness continues, I simply move the star down one letter. Sometimes, if Im nice and the kids are quiet before I get to the board, I let it go. They have gotten really good at holding each other accountable for when the star goes up or down. Oh! Thats another part; the star can move both up and down. Some classes come in straight from lunch or recess and they can quickly knock down their star. When I sense that they're settling in and start working together, I bump their star back up for various things, like keeping their bodies under control.

Of course, this is certainly not the most perfect classroom management system, there are always going to be insividual students who do not earn the party, but for the vast majority of students this is a great motivational tool to get us through what we need to learn. It's easy, fun, and tangible!
I was recently blown away at the level of excitement that stars can bring to classes outside of music. Co-workers tell me it has become a part of morning meeting routine to talk about how many stars they have in music class. 

The Clock Dance

Monday, November 7, 2016 - Posted by Ms. Mini at 4:45 PM
Let's explore today a grade that I haven't talked about yet: FIRST! Oh first grade. So much energy, and very little capacity to read. That leaves me in quite a conundrum. How do I survive the very primary grades? Playlists.

There is a lot of singing that takes place in the younger classes. We have routines with interchangeable songs for our playlists. They usually run us 15 minutes or so, and are a great way for me to get all of the kids having a familiar background with some basics (like Mister Sun, Shoo Fly Don't Bother Me, and other kinds of nursery rhymes). However, another concept that us music teachers try to drill down at the younger grades is that of steady beat.  I found a fabulous way to do this with my first graders and it has been on our playlist for 2 full months. Using Leroy Andersons "The Syncopated Clock", I created a dance that helps us keep the steady beat on different parts of our bodies, and to put some bigger movements together, while still counting the beat. 

The video below is from the first day the students learned the dance in September. Needless to say (now 2 months later) they do all the counting themselves, and only receive a few cues from me. My classroom is full of cheers when the music comes on. Try it out in your classes and see if it is a hit!