Recorders: How Not to Lose Your Mind

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!)

Self-Grading

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?!? ūüôā 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?

Hello 2016

Commitments for the new year and a sale!

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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 resolutions¬†are cast off like the chunks of frozen road slush you kick off the bottom of your car. (For my friends¬†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.)

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So, this year, I resolve NOT to make far-reaching¬†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.

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

Health Commitment: 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 I¬†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 know¬†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

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Happy 2016!

One-day sale!

Music sellers on TpT are having a one-day, $3 sale.

Search TpT for “ThankfulForMusic” (no spaces) during the day TODAY, Wednesday, November 18. Shop all the great $3 deals!

Click here to see my “Music Games” discounted file.

Click here to see all the sale items.

Which product did you buy? Leave a comment below!

Seasonal Songs, Games, and Clip Art

It’s time to think about holiday lessons!

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Though it may feel like school only began, it is the time of year when teachers think about holiday songs and activities. October has Halloween, November has Thanksgiving, December and January have all the religious and cultural holidays such as Christmas, Eid, and Hmong New Year, February is Valentine’s Day, then there’s St. Patrick’s Day, spring, Easter, May Day, Flag Day, and summer! Heck, you could do themed lessons all year and not run out of material!

Here are some of my offerings to add a little “seasoning” to your teaching “entree”!

TurkeyFree Turkey Clip Art

There is one full image of a turkey, as well as a blank turkey body and some loose feathers. You also get a black line version of the designs. It’s great for creating your own games, visuals, or worksheets.

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I Have a Little Snowman: Interactive Song Game

I’ve been waiting for years to unveil this activity on TpT and it is finally here. I created this around 2007 as a way to introduce the song “The Snowman” to my Kindergarteners. At that time, I had a projector on a cart, a borrowed laptop, and a plain dry erase board. But the kids still loved it! The addition of a SMART Board has made this activity much smoother and it remains an annual hit with my younger elementary students. Watch a video demonstration here.

What are your favorite seasonal activities? Leave a comment below!

Organizational Tips for Traveling Teachers

Here are some ideas and encouragement for traveling teachers.

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If you are a traveling teacher, you understand stress and pressure like no one else. Teaching is one of the most stressful jobs out there, and teaching in more than one location just heightens the difficulty of the job. It may not be an ideal situation, but there are tricks and tools you can use to make it a little easier.

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Tip 1: Pick a “Home Base”

Humans naturally need a place that feels their own. When you are a traveling teacher, you must choose somewhere to keep your things and treat as your home base. This place should be somewhere you don’t have to share, even if it’s only a shelf in a closet. Even better if you get a whole desk or classroom all to yourself. Your home base is where you will keep your main teaching materials, make and receive phone calls, keep that extra sweater or pair of shoes, and attend staff meetings. It’s important that you feel included as a staff member in one of your buildings. Include yourself by assuming that staff messages, meetings, and initiatives at your home base all apply to you. Ask for your own phone. Or, ask the other teacher in the room if you can have that extension for receiving voice mails and placing calls. You need to have one phone number where people can leave a message and know you will receive it.

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Tip 2: Know Your Rights

I am extremely grateful to live in a district with a strong teacher’s union. They promise traveling teachers a minimum of 30 minutes travel time. There have been occasions where a teacher was only given 25 minutes of travel time, and the local union reps worked with that teacher and the administrators to fix the problem. I also get reimbursed for the mileage I am required to drive between buildings. It is important that we know and defend our rights, because over-working and over-stressing yourself on an already¬†stressful job helps no one.

Tip 3: Have a Travel Bag

When I asked other teachers for their advice for this article, the most frequent suggestion I heard was to have a dedicated travel bag. This bag carries all the things you have to have with you at all times, such as your laptop, charging cables, seating charts, mileage reimbursement forms, etc.

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Cable carrier

Pamela B. from Minnesota suggested using a sturdy backpack with padded straps to ease the pressure on your back and shoulders. She also showed me a great idea: wrap all those little cables and cords in twist ties, cable wraps, or ponytail elastics, and store them all in one little pouch (photo above). Your charging cables, earbuds, and adapters stay organized and you always know where they are. Extra benefit: you always have an extra ponytail elastic in case of a bad hair day. ūüôā

Thirty One Bag

Top: “Fold-n-File” by Thirty-One. Bottom: “Zip-Top Organizing Utility Tote” by Thirty-One (with Fold-n-File inside)

Kelly K. from Wisconsin said she can’t live without her organizational bag from Thirty-One. She uses the “Fold-n-File” insert to hold all of her hanging files and file folders. It has sturdy walls and handles. It even has pockets on the outside for her markers and calculator. That fits inside her “Zip-Top Organizing Utility Tote” which can zip closed to protect files from rain and snow, has shoulder straps, and has extra pockets around the outside for pencil pouches, tuning forks, and spare recorder.

You will read below that I use digital seating charts. However, that doesn’t help when you have a substitute. I print off a full set of seating charts for all of my classes, from both schools, and have a copy at both schools. (Yes, I print seating charts for one school and keep them at the other school.) This way, there will always be an extra set available whether a substitute brings or doesn’t bring them when traveling between schools.

My final piece of advice for your travel bag is to update your mileage reimbursement form EVERY time you travel. I put it in the front of my travel folder, even in front of my seating charts, so I am guaranteed to see it. I make sure to fill it out before I go home for the day. It never fails: every time I try to remember mileage I didn’t write down, I remember it wrong. WRITE IT DOWN.

Tip 5: Digitize

Being¬†“transportable” is SO EASY with digital lessons. I unplug my laptop at one school, slide it in my bag, and open it up at the next school. My lesson plans, seating charts, behavior management, recordings, and lesson files are all there on the screen.

EXTENDED DISPLAY (1)I use what’s called “extended display” (a setting on my computer), so what the students see is different than what I see. I can have my lesson plan on the computer screen and¬†the visuals or behavior management system projected for the class (see photo above). The only things I carry with me, then, are the items that one school owns¬†and the other doesn’t.¬†So far this year, I’ve only had to carry a train whistle and some beanie babies. THAT’S IT.

Here’s my setup:
Computer: Apple MacBook Pro
Interactive White Board: SMART Board
Speakers: Ceiling-mounted
Recordings: iTunes
Lesson plans: Planbook.com
Seating charts: SMART Notebook file
Behavior management: “Scoreboard” SMART Notebook file
Visuals/Manipulatives: self-created SMART Notebook or Powerpoint files
Sheet music/notation: Noteflight.com

I hope these tips have given you some ideas for ways to become more organized or just given you encouragement that you are on the right track. What is your best organizational strategy? Comment below!

I Have a Little Snowman: an Interactive Song Game

This fun and engaging game helps students learn a song in a new way while practicing the skills of sequencing, memory, and communication.

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It is almost winter! Here in Minnesota, snow is definitely on our minds, although it hasn’t fallen yet. We are used to wearing parkas with our Halloween costumes so now is the time when we buy our winter hats and mittens to prepare for those first few glistening flakes.

Even if snow is a long way off for you, or won’t fall at all where you live, this game is a fun way to celebrate winter and get kids singing and moving.

You begin by singing or playing the song while clicking through the hand-drawn illustrations. You can even use the “Rehearse Timings” feature to get Powerpoint to automatically change slides for you at the right time.

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Then, all of the images pop up, but they are all in the wrong order! A student comes up to the board and taps (or clicks on the computer) the image they think came first.

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When the right answer is chosen, it appears with the word “Yes!” You review that portion of the song with them and teach them how to sing it. Continue this way until all the images have been chosen.

Then, the class knows the song! You show the illustrations again as the students sing along with you. They will beg for this game over and over.

Watch this video for a demonstration:

You may download this product from Mrs. Martin’s Music Room at TeachersPayTeachers.com.

My Store

My TpT store is filled with innovative and fun ways to teach music.

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Have you visited Mrs. Martin’s Music Room on TeachersPayTeachers.com yet?

My store features products for music teachers and classroom teachers. Everything I post is something I created for myself to use, so you know it has been classroom-tested and it works with real students. Here are some of my favorites:

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Beethoven Grab Bag: This game has kids reaching in to a bag and pulling out a fact about Beethoven. They read the fact then guess whether it is true or false. The more advanced version is “Beethoven in a Nutshell”: you put question cards into a hard hat or bike helmet (the “nutshell”, get it? hee hee) and students have to answer the question on the card to earn points for their team. Other ideas are included in the directions.

Choir Listening Cards

Choir Listening Cards: This activity was really successful with my middle school choirs. I made a set of 16 cards with questions that would focus a listener on a certain aspect of a vocal music performance (phrasing or dynamics, for example). I would have one student sit out, holding a card, and listen to the choir sing a song. Afterward, the listener would answer the question and give the choir feedback. It worked really well because singers respond better to a peer than they do to an adult.

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Recorder Rubric: This is the first recorder rubric that was posted on TpT. It has stayed the same since 2012 because it is so good! I use this in my classroom every week. When a student or group plays a Recorder Karate song for me, I go over the rubric with them. They are uplifted because the wording does not make them feel bad. They are empowered because they realize the skills are in their power to learn. I have truly seen great progress in the areas of tone, hand position, fluency, and tonguing since implementing this rubric.

It is my goal to provide products that are useful, inspirational, unique, and time-saving! I’d love to hear any feedback you have so I can continue to improve my offerings. Thanks for reading and be sure to visit¬†Mrs. Martin’s Music Room on TeachersPayTeachers.com!