Puppets, Props, and Pretty Little Things, Part One: The Bee's Knees: Hula Hoops, Hand Puppets, and Pencil Toppers

For first grade, one of the most common concepts to master is beat competency. Not only, of course, is it the crux for understanding rhythm, but it is a good measure to determine which children might actually have some type of attention issues and are constantly on the move. Initially, I would introduce identification of fast and slow before I would even worry about beat. I rationalized that beat is an ongoing objective that should be re-evaluated throughout the year, and it is. However, this year I changed my way of thinking by concentrating more on beat through various activities, moreso than I did in the past. I believe this is paying off. And I decided to concentrate on a bee theme. Why? Because I already had a bee puppet and hadn't used "Bee, Bee, Bumblebee" for a while!

My student teacher and I started the beat unit with her leading some movement shadowing to a recording of "Flight of the Bumblebee" with Bobby McFerrin and YoYo Ma (with more of a halftime beat to make it doable). Next, the students learned the chant to "Bee, Bee, Bumblebee" by rote:
                    Bee, bee, bumblebee,
                    Stung a man upon his knee
                    Stung a pig upon his snout,
                    Goodness me if you're not out!

I walked around with my handy Folkmanis bee puppet, tapping each child on the head with the beat. The child who was tapped on the word "Out" got to be the new bumblebee. Once the next "Bumblebee" was selected, the previous child performed the beat on rhythm sticks to keep occupied. My student teacher and I assessed both how the children kept a beat while they were the "bee" and when they had sticks, using a 5-1 scale. 5 meant the beat was performed precisely, 4 meant the beat was mostly performed accurately, 3 meant there were several mistakes, 2 means the child was goofing off and not trying. One meant the child was not participating. (I don't want to give full zeros at the elementary level). While the students were performing this activity, I kept the beat on tubano to see if the children could stay with the beat I established.

Since I have my classes for an hour, after this activity, the student teacher led them to a game of keeping beat using hula hoops. We used the same Bumblee chant for this game. The students were to tap a toe outside the hula hoop, then inside the hula hoop on the beat. Again, I played tubano to establish and maintain the beat.  Most did a beautiful job!

Our final step was to use "Bee Beat Sheets" (which will be part of a whole Bee-themed package coming soon from the Orff-fully Good Music Store: Games and More. Using bee pencil toppers, the students tapped on a sheet with bee clip art as the student teacher pointed to the same images on the Smartboard and while I said the chant, playing along with the drum.

By the way, the hula hoop activity was so successful with first grade, we decided to use it with second grade, up a notch. The second graders were introduced to p and f and had to establish they understood loud and soft. My student teacher decided we could incorporate the hula hoop idea by having the students do levels: low level for soft sounds and high level for loud sounds. Here is a sample:

The things you can do with some pencil toppers, a puppet, and hula hoops. I will share more of the props I used for the loud/soft activities with second graders on another post. In the meantime, I need to muster up the courage to leave my Labor Day weekend and get ready for some new fun with my kiddos!

Future postings: Up the Ladder improvisation and creativity with sixth graders, Minecraft rhythm activities with fifth graders, and more on loud/soft with second grade. Take care, everyone!

Love My Room....Again!

Tonight was Open House. In preparations, the teacher candidate who is working with me decided we needed Starbucks, so while she was out getting our fortification, I sat and surveyed my room. I said this last year, but I love my room. I love it even more since I minimized...well, as much as a ratpacker such as myself can minimize.

Fixing the Travails of the Falling  Boomwhackers

I love the look of Boomwhackers on the wall. I do not, however, like the look of a Boomwhacker space or the clunk that it makes when falling.


After musing how to make the Velcro play nicely together, my friend Betsy Carter came up with a brilliant suggestion: hotglue the Velcro that adheres to the Boomwhacker before attaching it to said Boomwhacker.


Colorful walls. And so far, all of the Boomwhackers have stayed up for at least 48 hours. I love this arrangement because I don't use Boomwhackers very much. This way, I have more floor space, and the kids can get the concept of sizes and pitch. I do have extra Boomwhackers that wouldn't fit on the wall, which are stored in magazine racks.

This year I also made a switch. Instead of ending up with messiness with my children's lit, like I had last year:

I moved the children's lit, in white dollar store bins, to the cabinet you see pictured under the Boomwhackers and moved my instruments to the white bookcases in my room. I sent my 18 year old music series to storage at the administration building and used that bookcase and the children's lit bookcase for my instruments, which used to be in the cabinet. Last year, during an observation, I was smacked a little for taking too long for first graders to get the instruments out, something that had always bothered me as well. I eliminated a tall metal cabinet I had, threw a lot away, and stored small manipulatives in the cabinet with the children's literature. I color-coded the children's literature by these categories: concepts, poetry, songs with stories, stories about music, biographies/reference, books that inspire movement, and oversized books. Thanks to the brilliant idea of my friend Tina Morgan, I used a notecard, put a corresponding colored dot on the card, laminated it, then punched a hole in it and looped it through a book ring. I then looped the book ring through the holes of the basket. I had worked to inventory all my books in Excel, so they were color-coded in there as well. AND, this provided more space for me to stack chairs to have greater movement capacity. All the rearranging yielded a room that looks like this:

(Psst! You can purchase this bulletin board set-up!)

(Vocal Football will soon be updated and available at my TPT store.)

And outside my room: my "What is your music superpower?" board.

I asked teachers and staff to write in their music superpower. Not all of the teachers got a chance to, but I loved the result!

If you have pictures of your room you'd like to share, please let me know. I will post them on a future blog.

Have a great year!

What Is Your Music Superpower?

Positive mindset in music

As we look forward to a new school year, there have been some hopefully exciting changes coming from the Federal level that can be good news for music. The bill, at this writing, is in negotiation with the House and the president and is in rewrite stages. If this bill passes, music and art will be considered core classes, listed individually. Could be exciting times!

With this recognition, it might be time to help your colleagues and parents recognize their own music talents. This attitude can be passed on to your students. Broach the subject with these adults in your students' lives. As we well know, an adult with a negative attitude towards music can inadvertently pass that attitude on to children. Nothing is more frustrating during open house than to have a parent of a new child pass on one of these challenging gems:

  • I never liked music in school and I can't sing.
  • Little Junior never liked his other music teacher, and I didn't either.
  • Little Junior doesn't have much music ability. Hope you can help him.
Time to break out the music superhero comments!
  • I'm sorry to hear that. Music has so much more to offer than just singing. It's never too late to discover your own music superpower. What kind of music do you like to listen to? (Leading them to describe details so you can point out that good listening skills are music superpowers).
  • I'm sorry to hear that. We do a wide variety of activities. With active participation, I'm sure there is something Little Junior will discover as his music superpower.
  • You know, we all have a music superpower in us. Listening skills and music appreciation are great musical gifts. I'm sure there is something that Jimmy will excel at.
And what about your teacher colleagues? Consider these dampeners to music superhero attitudes:
  • I'm sorry. Joe Cool needs to miss music this week to catch up on his work.
  • I wish you hadn't taught that song. They won't quit singing it, and it's disruptive.
  • Why do you need a bigger budget (or more money from the parent's group?) You don't see these kids every day.
Superhero comments:
  • Hopefully we will have a new Congressional act to back us up on these. If not, explain to theIn  teacher that the arts are listed as core subjects and provide learning opportunities and outlets that many of these kids who are behind need. Compromise if necessary, but do not consistently cave. If it is an issue, you might ask to have a united meeting with your administrator.
  • Explain to the teacher that the singing may put the students in a good mood. Ask if there is an opportunity to allow them to sing when they are not working. Thank him/her for providing them with a time to enjoy their music.
  • Explain to the teacher that, although you do not see the same students for the entire day, you need (in most cases) the entire student population, often for consecutive years. Remind the teacher that when you purchase supplies and equipment, 100 or more students will benefit.
Often, these adults are uneasy or negative about music because of their experiences. Sad were the days when kids were told to "mouth" the words because "they couldn't carry a tune in a bucket". Sad are the days when the same students get the singing solos, or performance opportunities. Sad when the focus is JUST on worksheets, or JUST on singing from a textbook, or JUST watching videos. But it's not too late to educate these adults that music superpowers do not necessarily have to do with performance.

Listening skills are crucial. We all know those who do not play instruments, but have discerning ears when it comes to listening to their favorite music. We know adults who love to dance and can cut pretty good moves. These are music superpowers just as much as the gifts those who can compose or perform have. These superpowers need to be noted with adults whenever possible. Once they realize that there is more to music than a pretty singing voice, hopefully attitudes can change.

How can you do this? There are several ways:
  • In notes home, ask parents to listen to child-appropriate music with their children and journal what they hear: the instruments, the mood, the tempo, the style.
  • Ask the parents to put on good old oldies and cut a rug with their kids!
  • Ask parents to note positive music experiences with their children. Have the children conduct an interview with their parents, neighbors, family friends about their positive music experiences.
Another way to let your students know about the music superpowers of the adults in their lives? A bulletin board display would be great! The adults can write down their music superpowers to share with the students and anyone who sees the bulletin board.

If you would like a premade kit for this purpose, I have the What Is Your Music Superpower bulletin board kit. This kit includes a template letter outlining to adults what their music superpowers can be, sets with superheros and pre-made music gift "capes" in red, green, and blue, and music symbol clip art to cut out for accent. You can purchase the bulletin board here.

The Perfect Penguin Project....

It's been a LONG time since I've posted. But I wanted to share one class of my first graders and their Perfect Penguin Project (which will be coming out in my new book, in the hands of Plank Road Publishers.....)

Several years ago, I was inspired to create a penguin project when one of my first grade teachers used penguins as a theme and it's sort of created a life of its own. I've used a penguin poem I've written as a springboard for teaching ta and ta-ti, for pentatonic improvised melodies, and for inspiration for ostinati. The steps I took this year are as follows:

  • I displayed my poem on my Smartboard and asked the students to read it.
  • I isolated the first two lines, divided the words in to syllables, and used these words to introduce ta and ta-ti. This also reinforced what they were learning in the general classroom. I had one first grade teaching colleague who was very excited that I was using the word "syllable". 
  • I defined the word "ostinato" ("Ostinato, over and over") and told the kids the proper plural term "ostinati" (not that it's "naughty"!). Using this as a basis, we reviewed what describing words are (and the kids were just learning about adjectives). The students brained stormed words that described penguins. I divided this into syllables, we used the Smartboard to notate the rhythm, and practiced the speech pattern.
  • From here, the students used unpitched percussion to perform the rhythm of the ostinato.
  • When we used barred instruments, I taught the kids to set the bars in C pentatonic. They then improvised their own melodies with the rhythm of the first two lines of the poem, eventually learning to "think" or mouth the words to the poem so they weren't saying it out loud.
  • For a B section, the students not playing on bars played ostinati on woods instruments. 
  • Directing with my hand (one hand was for the barred instruments, one for the woods), the students learned to follow the cues of the conductor. I thought, for one class, I fooled them when I raised both hands, but both groups continued to play, even though a couple weren't sure I wanted them to play simultaneously! 
  • I defined the word "rondo" and showed them a Smartboard "map" that showed how we would perform for a video: Both groups playing together, speech pattern on the ostinati, both groups playing together, doing the movement to Sanna Longden's "Penguin Dance", both groups playing together.
The final result can be viewed here:

Thoughts? Ideas? Please feel free to leave comments and share your own ideas!