The Flossing Song: If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em!


     It's everywhere in every music classroom--and I'm not talking about teeth.  I can't even remember the first student who started doing it in my classroom, but I thank them for introducing me early so I was "educated" when other students began having arms swinging around their hips at maddening speeds that my 36-year-old body cannot even fathom to attempt. 
     Anyway, rather than fight the phenomenon that is sweeping the world, I thought I would go with it and use it to educate my students.

The Dentist Song (aka--Floss Your Teeth)

1.  Tell your students you are going to sing them a "boring" song about going to the dentist.  Watch their eyes roll and the groans begin. 

2.  Proceed to sing the following song:

You can download your own copy here

3.  See several student's eyes light up as they realize where you are really going with this song--and yes, you are going there . . .

4.  Have a short discussion about whether the motion for flossing is in sets of 3 or 4.  I highly recommend performing the floss in slo-mo saying "Floss, out, across.  Floss, out across." Hopefully that will give a few of them a hint that the answer is 3.  This is a great time to talk about meter and/or time signatures for a hot second (I don't advise a lengthy discussion at this point because their hips are all itching to floss and they can only pay attention for -0.2 nanoseconds.)

5.  Field 20 comments about how your flossing isn't up to snuff in their world.  Hint:  Do NOT bend your knees while flossing--this was my fatal error when I first began.  Also, apparently there is something incorrect with how I hold my wrists, perhaps some PD will teach me how to perfect my floss some day.  One can always dream. . .

If you REALLY need help flossing, watch this:

6.  Have students floss TO THE BEAT.  This a new concept to them.  They have been flossing wildly to incorrect meters for a year now, so this may be harder than you think.  (Note:  Assure kids who can't floss that they won't have to stand up in front of the class, but to do their best.  It's best to show them what your first attempt at flossing looked like so they don't feel intimidated.)

7.  Have a "floss off" in which all students compete to "floss to the beat" in order to be one of 5 finalists who compete in front of the class.  Choose 5 students who can actually floss to the beat to come up front--impressive!  (Note:  It may take a few times through the song to see the 5 finalists.  Something about 28 sets of swinging arms does crazy things to your eyes . . .)

8.  Have finalists floss together in front of the class.  Classmates get to vote 2 times (this assures everyone should get some votes!).

9.  Shower the winner with your admiration.  (Note:  Also, take a video of their style so next year YOU will be able to win the competition ;)

This music is free for educational use only.  Enjoy and share with others!  May your hip flexibility improve after teaching this to several classes in a row without a break.  Hey, you're tough, you're a music teacher!

Catch you next time I have something noteworthy (or flossworthy)! 

Tips for Secondary Teachers "Stuck" in Elementary Music

Teaching lementary general music is a fabulous opportunity, but if you used to be a band/orchestra/choir director and you get thrown into an elementary position, it can be overwhelming!  Here are some thoughts from my 14 years in the elementary music world:

1.  You will be okay.  The teaching experiences you already have will be beneficial to you!  Think about what you want students to know by the time they get to middle school and base your curriculum on that.  Also know that younger kids need to first feel/experience a musical concept to put a name with it--if you just put definitions on a board, students aren't going to keep that information well. 

2.  Go to Orff, Kodály, Music Learning Theory, Dalcroze, or Education Through Music workshops as soon as you can find one near you.  Not only will you learn valuable teaching ideas and lessons, you will also network which is imperative for you!  You need to have someone to ask questions to! 

3.  Speaking of Orff, Kodály, and Music Learning Theory--take a levels course for one or more of these during the summer, it will explain so much about elementary music teaching to you.  The courses are normally 2 or 3 weeks long, but they are life changing!  If you aren't sure which one to take, you can research it.  Here's a comparison between Orff and Kodály level 1

4.  Find a curriculum to pull activities from so you don't have to kill yourself coming up with lesson plans your first year.  You may even want to teach the same lessons to K/1, 2/3, and 4/5 so you are only coming up with 3 different lessons each day you see your students instead of 6!  There are tons of curriculum options out there--ask in the elementary music teacher page on Facebook to see what other teachers like and why.  You will have to find something that fits your style.  Teachers Pay Teachers is also an incredible resource for general music teachers!  You can find classroom decor, games, movement activities, sub tub supplies, composer of the month/music history, and other resources that will greatly impact your teaching!

5.  Your first week of school should be about setting clear expectations and learning names.  If you are totally new to this position, it will likely take you 2-3 weeks before you have most names down.  It will feel overwhelming at first, but it is worth it and means everything to your students.  Find name games on Pinterest and through music teaching blogs.  Don't worry about teaching content until you know names! 

6.  You need to know that kindergarten students are like a bunch of kittens or puppies at the beginning of the school year.  Find simple activities such as a few games where they stay in one spot, sing a book to them, or games where they sit.  Perhaps create posters for a few classic kid songs (Oh Mr. Sun, Down By the Bay, Old MacDonald, etc.) and sing those with them to help them become comfortable with singing.

7.  Use your strengths!  If you are a great vocalist, rely on activities that feature your voice.  Those with instrumental backgrounds might be more comfortable working on Orff instruments (I recommend Mallet Madness or As American As Apple Pie as a good place to start).  Keep in mind KG and 1st grade students won't be able to do much with instruments yet other than learning to hold mallets and keep a beat.  If you are a great guitar player, your students will love to do activities while you strum along.

8.  Your "go to" elementary music resources (besides Teachers Pay Teachers) will be West Music, Music Is Elementary, and Music In Motion.  Check out their catalogs--it may be worth spending a bit of your own money to have less stress in your life, and you will use it for years to come!

9.  Games are everything in elementary music!  Students at this age love to play!  Check out Chicken on the Fencepost, Doggie, Doggie, Shanghai Chicken, Pass the Beat, and Bow Wow Wow to get started!

There's so much to learn about teaching elementary music, but hopefully those ideas will give you something to think about.  I'm sensing that I might need to write on this topic a few more times in the future! 

Catch you next time I have something noteworthy!

Please note:  Noteworthy By Jen is an Amazon affiliate.  Links may be monetized to help support the upkeep of this blog.  This affiliation does not influence my honest opinion on book reviews or resource recommendations.  

Faith and the Classroom: Can they co-exist?

     I'm currently listening to a book called, "Girl, Wash Your Face" by Rachel Hollis.  First of all, if you are a woman and you haven't read it, you should.  Second of all, if you are a woman and you haven't read it, you should.  She talks about her life with complete openness in a way that is utterly refreshing.  As I have written music teaching blog posts, I have struggled to find my "niche," because it feels like it's all been done before.  However, listening to this book has made me realize that there is one music teaching blog that is totally missing . . . the one with complete honesty about the everyday things, and perhaps a touch of humor.  So from now on, not all of my blog posts will be a cute activity that you can use in your classroom, but more about "the struggle is real" sort of stuff.  Not that I will never share a fun activity--cause we ALL need those!
     So, without further ado, let's talk about faith in the classroom.  Let me start by saying, my first reaction to writing this post is that surely I will get FIRED for writing it.  Surely, some parent or administrator will stumble upon this post, read it, decide I am converting students, breaking my contract, and must be immediately removed from my classroom.  My next fear is that any of you who don't have religious beliefs or who have different beliefs than me will immediately block me from your life (hey, if you really need to, you have my permission!)  Now, before you get all worried that I'm going crazy, that's not what this post is about at all. . .
     I am a Christian.  There, I said it.  I go to church on Sunday to worship God.  I am not the best Christian, I don't do devotions everyday or volunteer for 10,000 things at my church, but my underlying belief is that God created us, He's in control, and I am not in ultimate charge of my life (cue the internet trolls). 
    I teach in a public school.  I also believe in separation of church and state.  WHAT??!!  Yup.  I think it's a great concept . . . but hear me out.  Our country was based on the idea that you can hold (or not hold) whatever religion you want to and that the government can't force you to change that.  Our schools are funded by the government and therefore, they need to stick to that belief.  Wow, now you think I'm a SUPER terrible Christian.  But I love separation of church and state because it protects my own family.  I don't have to worry that a teacher at my child's school is going to tell them they have to have certain beliefs.  I value that SO much, that I want that for other people's children too.  I'm not talking about what music you program, that's a completely different post.  So, why is this post titled, "Faith and the Classroom?"  Because my faith changes everything about my classroom.
     Note:  I will never present my faith in my classroom, period.  I might mention that I saw a student at VBS over the summer, but that's making a personal connection, not spreading the gospel.  I think all good teachers make personal connections, so it's okay to ask students about their church if they mention they go to one.  And if they mention they are a Jehovah's Witness, though you may totally disagree with their religious beliefs, it's super important that you honor their religion, because chances are, another teacher out there is honoring your choice of religion with your child even though it contradicts theirs.  

     So, how does faith affect my teaching?  I pray for my students--especially those little buggers  who can make it challenging to get through a lesson (okay, not really buggers, but you know what I mean).  The result?  I have increased compassion and a deeper love for the kids in my classroom.  I pray that I will love each child who walks through the door of my classroom.  Not some sort of mushy, gushy love, but the kind of love that says, "I will not give up on you no matter what happens."  I think every child deserves that from us, because it's quite certain that not all of them get that at home.  I reflect on my teaching to see if I create an atmosphere with the kind of love Jesus showed to people--not judging, but accepting!  When stuff with co-workers pop up and there's lots of grumbling going around, I try to be a problem solver instead of adding fuel to the fire.  I think that's how God would want me to approach it.  How about the fruits of the spirit?  Have I reflected on how those have been apparent in my teaching?  And guess what, if you believe something totally different than me, how can you use your beliefs to make your classroom a better place for your students?  I'm sure your beliefs can inspire you in your own classroom.   I think keeping this part of our faith (or non-faith) is essential, because then our students get our best!

     So go out there, think about your beliefs, and rock it in your classroom.  You students will never know what's powering you, but boy will they benefit from it!  It will also help keep you from burning out yourself, which is a huge bonus :)
     Catch you next time I have something noteworthy!

PS--If you have other teachers who are Christians (or not--this book is great for everyone) and you want to start reading an awesome book about teaching that also mentions faith, check out this:
Maybe you could meet after school one day each week to talk about what you learned, or pray for your students.   If you really want to dig deep, you could add in the Bible study that goes with it.  Enjoy your school year!
Please note:  Noteworthy By Jen is an Amazon affiliate.  Links may be monetized to help support the upkeep of this blog.  This affiliation does not influence my honest opinion on book reviews or resource recommendations.  

You Want Me to Teach Choir?!

If there's one thing I know about, it's getting thrown into a teaching position I never expected.  I taught K-12 for two years which included K-5 general music, middle school choir, and high school choir.  Though I had been in choir myself and had even student taught in middle school choir, it had been soooooooo many years, I might as well have been starting over.  I learned A LOT in those two years and I'm glad to pass on the most helpful things I learned. 

1.  Find a mentor teacher in the area.

Mentor teachers are EVERYTHING when you are teaching something new to you.  Go observe them, have them come observe you.  Go to see more than one person so you can see different styles of teaching.  You will learn more just observing and asking questions at the end of the day than most books will ever teach you.  Ask them to see their choral handbooks, sight-reading, and any books they recommend to learn about choral teaching. 

2.  Seek out professional development opportunities.

Who says an old dog can't learn new tricks?  My choral directing and understanding of how to teach choir came so far in just two years.  Much of it came from going to workshops where I could learn from the best of the best.  Join your state vocal music association so you can network with other teachers who can point you in the right direction. 

3.  Check out Christine Bass  

(no, she is not paying me to say this--in fact, she doesn't even know me!)

If you need tips on how to help your non-audition choir and above learn the basics, this woman is for you!  I saw Christine Bass present and she was exactly what every new choral director needs in their life.  Check out her book and I guarantee it will help you.  She also has real video examples of what her choirs sound like at the beginning of the year and what happens along the way.  It's real life!

4.  Get some good warm-ups in your tool belt.

Don't do warm-ups just to warm-up.  Make sure your warm-ups are teaching a skill related to something you are going over in your repertoire that day.  Warm-ups don't have to be anything special, just purposeful.  Here are two books I found especially helpful:

5.  Give yourself a break.  

Realize that when you are doing something new, that you have never taught before, you are going to make mistakes.  However, keep in mind that you will slowly have successes too!  No one became a world-class choral director over night.  Be patient with the process and enjoy as your successes begin to build on one another.

6.  Give Back

When you finally get to the point when you know a thing or two about choral directing, don't forget to help out the band director who just got "stuck" teaching choir for the first time in their life!  You will know the feeling better than anyone else.

Catch you next time I have something noteworthy!

Please note:  Noteworthy By Jen is an Amazon affiliate.  Links may be monetized to help support the upkeep of this blog.  

Oompa Loompa® Costume Idea

Willy Wonka KIDS® is one of my ALL TIME favorite MTI KIDS® shows.  It has everything a child (and their parent) enjoys in a musical--great music, nostalgia, candy, bright colors, a funny plot, and lots of opportunities to showcase students.  One thing that may hold you back is the costumes.  While it can be a bit overwhelming, here is a simple and cheap costume for an Oompa Loompa!  The cost is around $5 per child. 

(Please note, I have no association with Willy Wonka or MTI KIDS, just a music teacher helping other music teachers!)

Supplies Needed:  

1.  Plain brown t-shirt:  I have students order them through me.  I have also found that parents would much rather send in $3 than have to go find a shirt themselves, which would likely cost more at a store anyway. A huge bonus of ordering the shirts together is they are all the same color and you can make sure ALL students have one (even if you have to pay for it!).

2.  Green tinsel wig:  I have used two different kinds over the years.  We had to cut "bangs" for each child on them, but the classroom teachers were happy to help!  You may want to test one out before you buy them in bulk--some shed a bunch and others don't.

3.  Glue gun and glue sticks:  Go with a big glue gun, not a small one.

Photo used with permission
4.  White felt (rotary cutter, mat, and ruler are helpful but not necessary):  Cut the felt into two inch strips and hot glue on to the t-shirt to create the look of suspenders.  Ask for some volunteers who know how to quilt and they will cut your felt for you in 1/10 of the time you could do it with regular scissors.  If you want to add buttons on the bottom of the suspenders, you can use a marker to draw a button, but it's up to you!

5.  Orange body paint:  Use cotton swabs to draw orange circles on the cheeks of your Oompa Loompas for extra fun!

Have students wear jeans or another type of pants they would already have at home and you are all set!  I normally have around 80 Oompa Loompas because they are my chorus.  If you cast differently and only have a few Oompa Loompas, you may want to invest in matching pants.  

You have created one awfully adorable (and cheap) Oompa Loompa!  Now go break a leg!
Photo used with permission

Catch you next time I have something noteworthy!