Sunday, August 26, 2012

If I Taught Music Part 3: Garage Band and A Full Circle

I used to teach middle school exploratories when I was teaching 5th grade. I love exploratories because it really gives you a chance to try things out and be creative. One of the things I tried was teaching Garage Band. But I tried to go beyond just teaching how to put a song together. It was this experience which led me to think that I'd love to teach music in fourth grade. Here is how I would continue the "Music of our Lives" project:

I'd create my lessons using the following goals:

• Create a Magic Garage Band song
• Create a Garage Band song (not using Magic Garage Band)
• Create a Garage Band song using a sample from a professional song.
• Create a Garage Band song using a voice sample.
• Create a Garage Band song that emulates an animal.

This last idea is important, because it is a huge jump. Luckily there are a lot of examples to draw from. The biggest one is Peter and the Wolf. But that's a little too big, so I use Weird Al Yankovich's "Peter and the Wolf," because on that album there are several animals that have been transformed into music. And I use the Jaws theme song as an example as well. With these examples, kids get a real clear picture in their mind on how to emulate an animal with music, and Garage Band helps them not worry about many of the technical issues that goes with composing music.

This 5th grader created a Garage Band song that duelled a springbok with a lion:

This all leads up to the final piece- turning one of the song titles from the "Music of our Lives" CD into an actual song. It's another level of complexity, and I'm sure it would have mixed results, but how cool would it be to actually think about and compose a piece of music that tells the story of a song title that is about you? Again I can turn to Peter and the Wolf, but I could also turn towards Wynton Marsalis and his Blue Interlude (The Bittersweet Saga of Sugar Cane And Sweetie Pie). 
Only the cover art is slightly inappropriate

I used to listen to this album in high school, but it was only really when I started thinking about teaching music that I realized how great it was and what it was trying to accomplish. I think this would be a great musical journey for upper elementary children. I wish I could teach music.

Two Painless and Fun Ways To Do Writing Pre-Assessments

1) Summer Memories

My sister gave me this first idea.
My first read aloud of the year is Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox.

Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge lives next to a nursing home, and is friends with all the residents. He really likes Miss Nancy Alison Delacourt Cooper because she has four names too. But she's losing her memory. So Wilfred goes on a quest to find out what a memory is. Through many people's opinions he finds that it's something that it's something warm, something from long ago, something that makes you cry, something that makes you laugh, and something as precious as gold.
Then Wildred goes on another quest. This time, to find objects that fit all of those definitions. For example, he finds a football, which to him is as precious as gold, and a war medal that his grandfather gave him which made him sad. He presents all the objects to Miss Nancy, and she remembers her own stories that are connected to each one of Wilfred's objects.

After the story, I tell the kids that they are going to bring in their own memories... their own objects that remind them of a story from this past summer. One year I brought in my puppy's tooth as an example, because it reminded me of a really fun time I was playing with her and a sock. And then I freaked out because I found this tooth, and I thought I had pulled too hard.

The next day the children bring their summer memories.

Now they have a choice. They need to write about the story that is attached to this object, but they can do it in a number of ways:
1) As a personal narrative

2) As a newspaper article

3) As a poem (not to many children pick this option)

4) As a fiction story

After that we set aside a space in the classroom for our Summer Memory Mueseum.

1) Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

My second picture book read aloud is this:

Here's how it starts out:

I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now ther's gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Geez! Right away I can relate to everything he said, and it even reminds me of dumber stuff I did (like accidentally put shaving cream on my toothbrush so I could brush my teeth). We've all had bad moments, so it's a great thing to write about. And if we're not the type to cling on to the bad, we have good moments too. So for the second writing pre-assessment I have the kids pick one moment- horrible or excellent- and write about it.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

If I Taught Music Part 2: The Music Of Our Lives

"The Music Of Our Lives" is one of our first writing projects, and if I taught music I would use it as well. The activity asks the question, "If your life was a music CD, what would be the song titles?" It's an interesting exercise to define your interests and adventures through song titles, and it's a great way to understand children's level of word choice.
First I give my example of my CD cover:

The reason why I chose this title and cover is because I've been teaching overseas since 1998. Travelling has been a big part of my adult life. And I like to do travelling projects with my brother. A few years ago we travelled around South East Asia taking photos of us in a chicken head mask, and then creating a picture story from those photos. So instead of my title being, "I Like Travelling," the title sounds more like an album name: The Continuing Adventures of Chick N. Head.
That's the challenge I give the fourth graders; not only make an album title, but at least 12 song titles that tells about what they're interested in or stories that have happened to them. When they're done, we cut out what they've made and put it in a CD case. 
Here's what's been created this year:
This is only the first step. We'll use photobabble to reflect on the CD titles later to reflect on and share some of the titles in a slideshow.

If I Taught Music Class Part 1: Double Dream Feet

I've never formally taught music in fourth grade. But I have a good idea of how to start if I did.
Before I get to that plan though, I have a small side anecdote. I love this goofy guy:
Double Dream Feet!

Last year I wanted my class to start off our morning dance with him. I wanted this because I hadn't had the idea of a student dance leader yet, and I was hoping he would lead us to morning dance glory.
However, he is extremely embarrassing.
So I turned his introduction into a lesson on bravery. I told them that a big phone company named Sprint put out a challenge: Do your own interpretation of that guy's dance and dance moves, and send it in (true story). Thousands of people sent in their own Double Dream Feet videos, many who were high school and college kids, destined to be brave.
It worked last year. The kids loved the song, and we danced to it in the morning for 2 weeks straight, never once getting embarrassed by the tackiness that is obvious to even upper elementary kids.
It's such a fun dance, I'd love to start this class off with him as well. But every class is different, and overall my group this year is a bit more cautious. But we'll see!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Classroom Spaces For The New Year

I haven't posted in a while because school has started and it's been a busy week. I didn't change my bulletin boards as much as I'd hope. 
In the end I just ran out of time. 
So I stuck with my old machine, and changed it's purpose:

Last year it was a pencil sharpener.

This year it pulls the curtain open to an upside down world.

I'll do something with that, but I'm not exactly sure what yet.

Here are some other wall areas in my classroom.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Rube Goldberg Bulletin Board

Every year I peruse the teacher forums to see the new and old ideas for creating classroom themes and beginning-of-the-year bulletin boards. The two places I check out are and Bulletin Board Ideas (although I got banned from last year for posting a link to this blog... apparently you're not supposed to do that. But I they still let me read their content anonymously). Invariably I see teachers sharing their classroom themes of "Animals" and "Sports" and "Cooking", as well as a bunch of others that didn't seem to have anything to do with the content of the year. They are themes that are generated by self-interest (which is great) or overused puns (which can be both cute and boring). My thought though is that if we're going to create themes that are disconnected to the year's content, then why not think totally out of the box?

Time To Think Out Of The Box

Why not go with a "cyborg dragon" theme, or a "zombies in space" theme? Or even "Cyborg Dragon Zombies In Space" theme?

The past few years, in keeping with the tradition of welcome bulletin board and themes having nothing to do with content, I've been using this Rube Goldberg Cartoon: 

To make this welcome back bulletin board:
The instructions of this machine (on the right side of the board) where hidden with construction paper, and the students worked together in pairs to figure out what this board did, and how each step worked. To get them even more excited about this, I showed them some famous Rube Goldberg machines:

After telling them that a Rube Goldberg machine is a very complicated machine that does one, simple task, I ask them to identify the simple task that each of these machines do.

They're able to figure out the Ok Go machine easily enough (shoot paintball guns), but the Honda machine takes them some time to figure out. Some say, "turn on the radio." Others say, "make the car move." But eventually they get to the actual point of the machine- pulling down the sign.

And then I set them loose with a clipboard and a pencil to  figure out the bulletin board's function as well as each piece of the machine:

This year though I want to try something different. This year I want to try to combine the Rube Goldberg idea (using a different machine) with something that ties into what we actually will be studying. I'll be making it next week, so stay tuned!

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