Wow, it has been busy with CITA the past two weeks!
Jan. 11-15: We built our junk guitars and shakers out of various cardboard pieces so the students could experience sound energy first hand. We also composed a song about sound energy. The students were asked write a rhyming lyric with "Now we'll play our instruments to show sound energy." We focused on finding rhyming words with "gy" and came up with several rhymes like "see" and "be" and "key," We then composed sentences that ended with one of the rhyming words we came up with. We eventually combined two ideas that students came up with and composed the lyric "We all know the song. Vibrations are the key." The next day we learned to play the song on our instruments!
We also did a LOT of video taping in preparation for Arts night this week.
A lot of our time this week was practicing for Arts Night. We did manage to start the composition part of our Story Retell composition project. Rachel actually really started this unit a couple weeks ago. She prepped all the stories being read, broken down into main points. This took the students quite a while and we were also waiting for our new instrument purchases to arrive. In any case, this week we got to check out our new instruments (all but 2 have arrived) and started working on our compositions. I think doing compositions in partners has helped the process, but also the kids are a lot more experienced with this kind of thing now! The results have been fantastic. I have a feeling we'll be finishing up next week with some performances and video.
Speaking of video, you can see some of our Arts Nights videos in my online portfolio.
The kids adjusted quickly to being off of holiday break, so I was able to get back in the classroom on Tuesday. In science class the students were learning about sound energy, vibrations, volume, and pitch. I brought in my guitar, flute, and clarinet to play for the students. We looked at the guitar string vibrating and noticed how if I plucked it harder the sound got louder. We also learned about how a shorter string sounds higher in pitch that a longer string. We also talked about the flute and clarinet and how the length of the tube being used determines how high or low the pitch sounds. They did a great job figuring out what they thought would happen when I lifted or put down a finger! Rachel jumped in with some impromptu graphics to help illustrate the concept.
We started making straw flutes with the idea the kids would be able to get the length of tube = pitch concept. We got as far as getting (mostly) functional straw flutes. (It was a noisy day!)
I also happened to have a bass drum in my car (as occasionally happens) so I brought it in and had the kids feel the vibrations on one head of the drum as I hit the other. We talked about how the air inside the drum is moving and vibrating the other head. A very tactile lesson in sound waves!
We spent the rest of the week video taping for the upcoming arts night. We're planning on continuing to build our "junk band" with straw flutes and rubber band guitars next week. We're also planning our upcoming composition project with story retelling. Should be fun!
Our student teacher Jessica gave some lectures on map reading. Then I wrote a little song with gestures to help learn the directions:
When I’m facing north, north is straight ahead
When I’m facing north, east is to my right
When I’m facing north, west is to my left
When I’m facing north, south is to my back
North south east west, we know directions, we’re the best!
Students would face north and then point each of the directions as they sang about them. Ms. Kelm had a fantastic idea to change the song around and face east, making the location of the other directions different! It was tricky but went pretty well with some prompting and leading of the song.
After that, we used our gestures for mountain, hill, and lake to recreate maps in the cafeteria. Students had created maps the previous class period, drawing mountains, hills and lake, as well as naming their land. (My group was the land of snowmen.) Then the other groups recreated their map based on the written instructions the group came up with. It was a lot to process and required some teamwork, but overall I think was successful. A really great collaboration with ideas from Jessica, Ms. Kelm and myself!
Last week we learned about several different land forms. Our student teacher Jessica taught the students about several different landforms: mountains, hills, plains, valleys, peninsulas, islands, lakes, oceans, and rivers. I got a list from her of these landforms and wrote a song to help students remember.
Mountains are pointy, mountains are taller.
Hills are rounded, and hills are smaller.
Plains are flat, the land is still.
Valleys lie low, between two hills.
Peninsulas have water on three sides.
Islands are surrounded by water and its tides.
A lake is water surrounded by land.
An ocean has salt water, and its quite grand.
A river is water that flows free.
Landforms are great we can see!
Each of the different landforms had a different movement that went along with it. I came up with mountains and hills on the first day, but after that, the students came up with the gestures for each landform. They also wrote the last line of the song. The class came up with rhymes for "free" and then had to come up with a sentence that ended with that word. They came up with a lot of great ideas, and we combined a couple of them to finalize "Landforms are great, we can see!"
Here's a video of us doing the song in class! (Thanks to Ms. Kelm for video taping!)
We worked on the geography of continents and oceans this week. The objectives were that students would know what oceans and continents are, and be able to write the names of them on a worksheet.
Rachel, Jessica, and I had a planning session where we all brainstormed ideas about how to integrate music into this upcoming unit. Somehow we came up with the idea to use a song to help the kids memorize the continents and oceans by singing a song and having them do hand motions that represented the different places on the map.
Rachel had mentioned a song/video she had used in the past on youtube that wasn't very good. I did some searching too and discovered that there are DOZENS of songs on youtube about learning the continents and oceans but they almost entirely terrible. They are either not helpful in learning the continents, musically uninteresting, or just irritating. So I wrote my own continent song and made a video:
I think the kids really enjoyed it. Here they are doing the hand motions that map out the continents as the video plays.
I didn't have time to do an oceans song as well, so we kept it a little simpler with just a game and hand motions. I meant to add some music in so kids could do a call and response as I quizzed them about the oceans, but we didn't quite get to it. The students filled out their map worksheets and I'm looking forward to seeing how they did! The plus of using the video is that Rachel will be able to use it in future years if she wants to. Next week, land forms!
Rachel and I continued our reading enrichment before taking some time off for Thanksgiving. One of the reasons we've integrated music into reading time is because at this point, there is no formal curriculum being used at the moment. (Apparently this will change soon from what I understand.) Anyway, because we've gained an awesome new student teacher Jessica B, Rachel wanted to use a more formalized curricular plan for reading to give Jessica that experience. I was game to try it and see how we could fit music into the daily prescribed activities.
I won't lie, this felt difficult. With the set activities each day there seemed to be less room for music in general and the connections to the arts were harder to draw because the lesson objectives sometimes didn't lend themselves to music integration. I think we managed to make it work, and I do think we ended up making some relevant connections. However, it didn't feel quite as relevant as some of the other work we've done where we had more freedom. However, from what I understand, this is the reality of what the teachers are dealing with. They have a master schedule that they need to stick to, with very little wiggle room.
I am certain that arts integration makes a difference in the classroom. Just yesterday Rachel told me that when she asked her students what they were thankful for, one of them said he was grateful that Dr. E came in and taught them music everyday. What was really cool is that this particular student is one that I didn't think I was going to reach when I first met him in September, so this really meant a lot. However, I think for it to really work effectively it has to be given some room to breathe. Broader concepts, broader connections, allowing connections to be made where it makes sense, etc... The larger issue I think is allowing teachers freedom in their classroom to do these things.
This is a battle we will only win with incremental progress and results showing what is possible. Hopefully with results showing positive outcomes a more flexible schedule will be considered by administration as we move forward.
We kept working on reading this week, especially fluency and learning about punctuation. I modified an idea from my fellow teaching artist Melissa Kneeland who told me she used various motions to help students be expressive in their reading. Using motions to express different things is a cornerstone of conducting, so I modified her strategy for our classroom.
As a class, the students came up with various conducting gestures to represent the different types of punctuation they saw the poem "How Big is the Atlas Moth?"
As we read through the poem, we added our conducting gestures or "cues." (I honestly didn't see the word connection of Reading "Cues" and conducting "cues" until just now!
We had previously read the poem trying to stay with a beat and gain some speed. These gestures helped the students slow down and pay attention to the ends of sentences, italics, and other punctuation. I saw at least one student continue to read in her own time with these gestures. It goes to show that you never know what is going to reach a kid or make a difference. These gestures might not help all the students, but I can see at least one it made a real difference for! That makes it worth it.
This week we started working in a new subject area - reading. Rachel gave me a couple areas to focus on which were fluency and retelling a story. We're kind of in the phase where were just coming up with ideas, trying stuff, and seeing what works.
For retelling we talked about finding the beginning, middle, and end of a story, and using that to guide our retelling of the story. I thought this might relate in general to musical form. I talked to the students about how both stories and music have a beginning, middle, and end. We came up with some physical gestures (hands on head, hands on heart, and hands on floor) to help kids recognize and remember where they were in the story. I also wrote a very short song in three sections and presented that to the students before Rachel read to them.
Eventually we put together Rachel reading the story (a book called "Salt Hands") with me playing the music I had written. Students could use the musical cues and physical gestures to help cue them into the beginning, middle, and end of the story. Students were asked the next day to retell the story and Rachel felt like there was definitely some improvement!
Later in the week, we read a longer book about some boys who live on a farm and accidentally planted pumpkins all over town, which grew so big they took over. (Pumpkin Town!) After hearing the story, the students came up with places they thought music would fit into the story and what it would sound like. We came up with some music together and then used the music to retell the big parts of the story. I had some trouble remembering all the music we came up with, but the students always told me when I played the wrong cue. Next time I'll have to write it all down!
One moment that I knew the kids were really making connections was at the end of the story. Early in the story, the boys throw the pumpkin seeds into the wind, and they fall down on the town. The students said I should drag my fingers up and down the keyboard (glissando) to represent this. At the end of the story, the father of the boys throws some watermelon seeds into the wind and of course they fall on the town. Right away, one of the students said "We should use the same sound we had at the beginning!" (I could practically see lightbulbs over all their heads.)
We also worked on fluency with some poems. I asked students to conduct a beat and say some nonsense syllables in the rhythm of their poem. Then we read the poem together and observed if the fluency and rhythm of the poem had improved. I think for some students this helped, others seemed a little lost as we pushed the tempo to try to get the students to read a bit faster. All of this was done in a group, and I wonder if it would be worth while hearing students one on one with their poems next week. We'll see!
Due to a few factors I had some time off from the classroom this week, so I put a lot of energy into brainstorming and planning. But I've also had some time to reflect. My blogging is usually pretty matter of fact... here's what we did and it went like this and here's what I think about it... so it's probably time for one of those touchy-feely/wear my heart on my sleeve kind of blogs.
So last week and I had a really difficult week with some unrelated professional obligations and had to make some tough discoveries about myself and make some really hard choices. It was emotionally difficult has taken a while to process.
Just as I was feeling my worst, I went to Rachel's class, and had a great lesson with her students. As a special surprise at the end of the day, they all sang their "Start of the Day" song for me at the end of class with Rachel accompanying them on her new guitar. They have been singing it each morning (during a time I haven't been in class) and were really excited to sing it for me. Everyone did a great job and I could tell that the kids were proud of what they had accomplished and Rachel had worked hard to be able to play the song on the guitar. I saw that our ideas of using the song for community building had found some success and I saw the potential for this activity to be successful in future years when I'm no longer in Rachel's class.
So I had a moment where I saw evidence of the difference this initiative will make in the long run and how much joy it brings to our students. And in that moment, it also brought a lot of much needed joy to me.
We finished up our animal unit this week with a performance day on Monday. Everyone explained how they linked the sound of their instrument to their animal and then performed their composition. I've begun posting some of the students work and our documentation here.
Overall, I think the composition unit was a success. We successfully got the kids to think about their animals in a pretty abstract and creative way, and integrated music into their science research project. I also think Rachel will be able to do this unit on her own in future. I think we might have been able to streamline it a little more, but overall I think it was pretty effective and reinforced what the students were learning about their assigned animals.
The rest of the week we took the animal unit one step further and the students wrote poems about their animals, much like the "Carnival of the Animals" had accompanying poems. I helped out with this and related it to how I write a song. We talked about rhyming and ways to find words that rhyme, as well as the most effective place to put rhymes in a poem. The students all used at least on rhyme in their poems and they look pretty adorable.
We're taking a little time to plan the next unit which will be working on reading skills. We have a lot of ideas on how music can help with various aspects of reading, but they need a little fine tuning. We'll see what happens!