Recorders: How Not to Lose Your Mind

Teaching beginning recorder can be a joy when the students do most of the work!


It is that time of year when many elementary music teachers bring out that old favorite: the soprano recorder. It’s a great instrument for teaching elements of music such as rhythm and melody as well as beginning instrument techniques such as posture, airflow, and hand position. But as we all know, those messy little squeakers can really get on your nerves! With low-effort cleaning, student helpers, and self-grading, you can keep recorders fun for students and you!

Low-Effort Cleaning

If students borrow recorders from you, you must clean them after they are used. This can be a very time-consuming process. Here are some ideas for a cleaning process that won’t keep you at school until 10:00pm every night.

Idea 1: Keep a (covered) bin of bleach water in your classroom. Take the recorders apart and put them in the bleach water to soak. Let them air dry on towels. Change out the bleach water every seven days or less.

One of these could easily hold enough bleach water to sanitize multiple classes’ recorders.

Idea 2: Have students place their used recorders on a recorder rack. Spray all the mouthpieces with Sani-Mist and let air dry.

A stand-up recorder rack makes it easy to quickly spray and sanitize the mouthpieces.

Idea 3: Run the recorders through the school’s lunchroom dishwasher. (Make sure to turn off the detergent supply; it leaves a residue.) The water temperature alone is enough to sanitize the instruments.

A crate of used recorders waiting to be run through the school dishwasher

Student Helpers

One of the best ways to save time in your classroom is to have student helpers. You could have kids in charge of spraying used recorders, bringing the dirty crate to the dish room, putting clean recorders back together, etc. Here are some ideas for jobs that students could do:

  1. Count and sort clean recorders into piles or buckets with the right number for each classroom.
  2. Put clean recorders back together.
  3. Carry the crate of recorders to and from the dish room.
  4. Spray the mouthpieces with sanitizing spray (teach them how to get every angle, of course!)


Assessment can be dreadful and time-consuming, or it can be a joy and a useful communication tool that helps leads students along the path of improvement and lifelong musicianship. Which would you choose?!? šŸ™‚ I have chosen the latter by having students grade themselves. After filling out the rubric, they bring the rubric to me, I listen to them play, and I either confirm or disagree with what they chose. The grading process is so much faster, students are happier because they know exactly what they need to do to get better, and I am happy because the rubric is clear, easy to understand, and grades students on the exact things I want them to be graded on.

With low-effort cleaning, student helpers, and self-grading, your recorder unit can bring you the same joy it once did when you were in elementary school!

What do you think? Do you agree with these ideas? Which one(s) would you like to try? Any other ideas you’d like to suggest?

Teaching Meter Through Manipulatives

Unifix cubes and toothpicksĀ are a great way to show meter.


Meter is one of those concepts that is difficult to teach because it is abstract and must be felt. You can give your students lots of experience with meter, and they can be pros at finding the steady beat, but if they don’t understand the organization of beats into groups, they just won’t get it.

I’ve been teaching meter using Quaver Music. It’s brilliant how QuaverĀ presents it: beats can be strong or weak, and they are arranged into groups. Meter is how the beats are grouped. Unifix cubes (also called snap cubes) make a great way of taking this abstract concept and making it concrete and tactile for kids.

First, the kids grabbed a handful of cubes and found a place on the floor.
Second, I played a song with an easily identifiable meter. The students had to pat the steady beat, then switch to patting only the strong beats and clapping the weak beats, then count how many beats were in a group (starting with “one” when they patted their legs). This is how they arrived at the number of beats in a group.
Third, the students arranged their cubes in a line, with spaces between each group of beats.


Students create beat groups to show the meter of a piece

Some students even chose two different colors; one color for the strong beats and one color for the weak beats. (Differentiation! Boom!)
Fourth, students placed toothpicks vertically between the beat groups to represent bar lines.
Finally, as the music continued to play, students tapped the cubes with their fingertips in time with the beat. This allowed them to check their answers.


This boyĀ is tapping his cubes in time with the music to check his answers.

The whole process was great for assessment because I could immediately see who was struggling AND what they were struggling with. ItĀ kept the class occupied so I could give individual attention to the students who needed it.

And the best part…? The whole activity took only ten minues. TEN MINUTES! Visual, tactile, kinesthetic, and aural learning, authentic music learning, and formative (and summative if you want) assessment, all in ten minutes. Pull this one out the next time you’re being observed. You’re welcome. šŸ˜‰

What do you think? Have you tried this before? Would you like to try it? How do you see it going over with your students?

Thanks for reading!
-Mallory šŸ™‚

How to Create a “Strong” Password

Lately, many of us have noticed prompts for creating “strong” passwords. As if passwords have muscles. Some of us are even required to change our passwords as frequently as every month!

How’s a busy, cluttered mind supposed to keep it all straight?!?

Easy! Turn your password into a sentence.

This neat little idea is something I learned from my husband, which he learned from his previous job, where he was required to change his password every 30 days…and oh yeah, it had to be “strong.”

First, why would a password need to be strong, anyway? It’s not like they have little password muscles that they flex at their monthly password meetings to see who is the strongest. No, frustrating as it may be, it’s actually to protect your security. There are some pretty advanced computers out there that can randomly string together characters to try to hack into your account (email, banking, cloud drive, etc.). If your password ONLY uses lower-case letters, and it is six letters long, there are approximately 300 million possible combinations of letters. A password-cracking computer could try all 300 million of those combinations in less than one second. Boom. Hacked.

*Math geek warning* So let’s say you add capitals to the mix, you’re now up to 52 possible characters, and let’s say you go up to an eight-character password. That increases your number of possible password combinations to 53 trillion. That password-cracking computer would now take about eight hours to crack your code. Still…boom. hacked.

But adding numbers and special characters to the mix? And increasing the length of your password to 10 characters? Now you’re on to something. It would take a super computer…get this…TEN YEARS to randomly guess your password. (Assuming it doesn’t randomly guess it on the first try! Hah!) Go up to 12 digits and that super computer would have to stick around for 7 MILLION YEARS to randomly guess your password. Starting to see the light?

But yes, it’s frustrating to create a password that’s long and complex. And it’s difficult to remember it. You’re just going to end up writing it down on paper, which makes it that much less secure. So here’s how you remember it: Make it a sentence.

For example: the sentence “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” could be turned into this password: “Tqbfj0tld!” Each character in the password stands for a word from the sentence. The first letter is capitalized, adding to your security, and the sentence ends with an exclamation point, bringing in those special characters IT guys love to hold over your head on password-change days.

Here are some more examples of strong passwords based on sentences. *PLEASE DO NOT use any of these as your actual password. You will anger the password gods.

Ig8ho$en:) = “I get eight hours of sleep every night (smiley face)” — The dollar sign is used to represent the word starting with “S” in the sentence. The smiley face is the self-satisfaction you should feel if you are actually getting eight hours every night.

M1cbi0J1* = “My first child’s birthday is on January 1st (asterisk)”–Family names and dates are great, as long as you don’t make them too obvious (“Mike6/6/09” would be too obvious and the supercomputers would figure me out right away). If you can’t think of a way to include a special character, add an asterisk to the end of your password.

Iw!wak0C = “I wish I were a knight of Camelot”–An exclamation point is substituted for the letter “I” and a zero is substituted for the letter “O”. Use special characters and numbers to stand for words in your sentence.

Now it’s your turn. Take some time to think of 8-12-word sentences, then reflect on how you could use letters, numbers, and special characters to represent those words in a password. Write down your ideas, and by all means, share them with your partner! I can’t imagine the look on my spouse’s face if he were to read all of these crazy passwords I’ve invented…Hah! (By the way, writing down a password is still way more secure than having a weak password. You’re 1,000,000,000x less likely to get hacked from someone breaking into your home or office and randomly finding your password post-it than you are from a supercomputer running your numbers [statistic totally made up, but it sounds legit, right?].)

Thanks for reading! I hope your new strong passwords give the supercomputers the run-around. If you’ve found this helpful, please share! ā¤

Sources/For more reading:

Crayon Jars

How to create your own crayon jars for easy and quick classroom coloring.


Step 1: Drink coffee.
This one is easy. šŸ˜‰

Step 2: Discard lids and wash bottles.
They are dishwasher safe.

Step 3: Remove labels.
Peel the labels off. There will be a residue from the adhesive. Remove it by soaking in Goo Gone and wiping with a soft cloth. Wash again to remove Goo Gone.

Step 4: Fill with crayons.
Each bottle can hold 24 full size crayons. I got the crayon boxes for $1 each at Office Max.

Step 5: Decorate cartons.
I picked up some cute wrapping paper at Staples. Wrap the boxes just like you would with a gift.

Voila! Cute crayon holders that are easy to collect and distribute and easy for students to use!

Leading up to a Strong Finish!

It’s time to think about how we want to end the year.


This is always the time of year where I start to get nervous. I think about all the things I have yet to accomplish with my students and how few times I get to see them between now and June.

It’s time for me to sit down with my Scope and Sequence and figure out what goals are essential for the remaining months of the school year, which ones are desirable, and which ones are okay to miss. There are typically some rhythmic values and pitches that I haven’t yet covered with certain grade levels, so I have to be pretty strict on myself to get them in my lesson plan.

Luckily, there are some easy ways to incorporate music theory into games and fun lessons. You can hit your curricular goals while still having fun teaching. And, if you support one of the awesome teacher-authors on TpT, you can save time doing it, too!

Here are some products I’m looking forward to using this spring:



A, B, Everywhere! …and… A, B, and Then Some!

These are worksheets I designed for my beginning recorder players. I introduce recorder in the spring of 3rd grade. I realized that many kids don’t understand the concept of note placement on the staff (and I promise, I taught it to them!). These worksheets are a great tool for teaching the concept as well as an excellent assessment tool for me. The color-coding allows me to instantly see who doesn’t understand the concept…and what they don’t understand about it. It has saved me so much time by being able to directly address each student’s individual misunderstandings.


Poke Sheets: Music Symbols

The “Poke Sheet” concept struck me one day as I was watching a class of 4th graders finish a pencil-and-paper assessment. Two students had flipped over their papers and were poking holes in the back. I was a little annoyed, but then I thought…why not let them do that on purpose?!? How cool would I be?!! (They did love it but I don’t know if it earned me any extra street cred. šŸ˜‰

I currently have three different Poke Sheets. The music symbol one will be perfect for my 2nd graders, who have to demonstrate knowledge of music symbols by the spring.



This Jeopardy-style game has kids about peeing themselves with excitement when they realize they get to be on “Team Steve” or “Team Creeper” (among about ten other cool options for team names). Sara Bibee, the creator, even went so far as to create an instructional video so you don’t get stuck in front of the class, not knowing what to do. (See it here.)Ā Bonus for teachers: You don’t have to know anything about Minecraft to be able to play the game with your students. My 3rd graders are going to love this addition to our recorder unit!

What resources do you love or want to share?

Mrs. Martin’s Music Room is now on Bloglovin’!

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Exciting news: You can now follow Mrs. Martin’s Music Room on Bloglovin’!

Haven’t tried Bloglovin’ yet? Check it out by clicking the link above!

What I love about Bloglovin’

  • Daily emails of new blog posts from people I follow
  • Recommendations of new blogs to follow based on my interests
  • No logging in required (cuz the daily email) šŸ˜‰
  • If I don’t have time, I can just delete it!

What could be improved about Bloglovin’

  • Blogs have to be verified and claimed…so not every blog is on there
  • Daily emails can get a little long, so set up your preferences carefully

Long story short, my blog has now been claimed and verified. I hope to see you in your email inbox!

Hello 2016

Commitments for the new year and a sale!


Ok, I’ll admit it. I’m a serial New Year’s failure. Every year, I get really excited about New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day and the potential and renewal it represents. I make all these lofty, ambitious resolutions and I am 100% serious that THIS YEAR they will work. I am gung-ho about my new resolutions for about a week, then I am lukewarm about them for a week. By the third week of January, those once precious resolutionsĀ are cast off like the chunks of frozen road slush you kick off the bottom of your car. (For my friendsĀ in warmer climates, I really recommend driving in Minnesota in the winter. It’s quite cathartic to kick those suckers off in the parking lot after a rough day.)


So, this year, I resolve NOT to make far-reachingĀ resolutions. I’ve finally been alive long enough to know that that won’t work for me. This year, my resolutions are going to be a reaffirmation of goals I’m already working on. I know they’re going to continue to be a part of my life after the shiny newness of 2016 has worn off.

Personal Commitment: Not to use my phone while I am with my children.

I realized this summer that I was missing precious moments with my children by looking down at my phone when I should have been playing with them. I made a commitment not to use the phone while I was in their presence. I noticed an immediate improvement in their behavior and my mood. I’ve been slacking a little on this lately and I want to re-dedicate myself to this commitment. Plus, I want my children to know that they are more important to me than my phone.


These little stinkers = way more important than a silly phone.

Health Commitment:Ā To drink water throughout the day.

Except there are like -ZERO- chances to use the bathroom! That’s my struggle. I like water and I like how I feel when I’m hydrated. But we teachers have very few opportunities to use the bathroom. One year, I told my students to remind me to drink. It worked! Every 20-30 minutes they would blurt out “Drink your water!” I got my hydration and they loved bossing me around. And it helped them see another side of me as a person, not just me the teacher.

Classroom Commitment: To organize my curriculum.

I write brand-new lesson plans every year. Every. Single. Year. It’s exhausting and I’m ready to have some consistency in my lessons. Having an organized, age-appropriate curriculum will give my teaching focus and direction. I’ve started by creating a spreadsheet of curricular goals for each grade level. Kind of like a scope and sequence but a little more detailed. I hope to have that finished by June so I can spend the summer organizing my conceptual and skill goals into sequential units. I would like my 5th graders to know what they’ve learned and why they’ve learned it when they leave me!

Blog/TpT Commitment: To publish some of those products from my long list of ideas!

I have SO many ideas. But getting them out of my head and into reality is where I get stuck. Mostly it’s because I have two kids and a full time job and I just don’t have a lot of time to sit at the computer and create products. My M.O. has always been to publish products that IĀ already use in my classroom. It’s a win-win because my users know I am providing effective, valuable classroom-tested products and I spend my time creating something I’ll actually use. If there is something you’d love to see, email me! I’m definitely interested to knowĀ what people want. Custom requests don’t cost you a penny!

Thanks for reading. If you are wondering what you’re going to teach when school goes back in session on Monday, enjoy 20% off my TpT store today and tomorrow. No special codes needed! #TpTMusicNewYearsBash


Happy 2016!