Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Welcome Back, Class: A Review Unit

To start the year, I plan a unit that will review many musical elements and dust off the vocabulary they may have forgotten over summer. This is a 3-lesson unit for 4th grade which will get the students playing rhythms, singing a melody, playing harmony, improvising, and composing. Here is an overview:

Lesson 1:

I begin the unit with body percussion, including patting, clapping, rubbing, and stomping. We review rhythmic durations by viewing the notation on the board including quarter note, half note, eighth note pairs, and quarter rest. I review dynamics by adding a crescendo on the 3rd phrase. We review the element form and perform the poem in a 2 part round with voices and body percussion. Then, we review timbre and add hand drums.

Lesson 2:

The Remix!!! We review the poem and discuss the musical elements. We discover we were missing melody and harmony in our previous lesson. We echo solfege and review the lines and spaces on the staff. We perform the melody on Orff instruments. We add a broken bordun for harmony. I have the students echo a rhythmic phrase "Fourth Grade Rocks!" They improvise with that phrase twice. I give them parameters for their improvisation. The first phrase CANNOT end on do (C). The second phrase HAS to end on do (C). We perform the improvisations in small groups: 1) glockenspiels; 2) alto/soprano xylophones; 3) metallophones, 4) basses. Our final performance is ABA form with the improv sandwiched between the song.

Lesson 3:

We compose! The students match school subjects with the correct rhythmic building block. I ask them to create a phrase using 8 books. I give them some parameters for composing. I ask that the last book be a rhythm with quarter note and quarter rest. I also ask that the phrases begin with the same 2 books. (Books 1 and 5 should be identical and books 2 and 6 should be identical). The students first get in small groups and use manipulatives to compose. Using manipulatives first saves the erasers on my pencils!!! When the group can perform the poem both verbally and with body percussion, they are given a worksheet to notate their patterns. When everyone is finished with their worksheet, we do a final performance in rondo form sharing the book compositions. We alternate the "Welcome back, Class" poem with each individual group.

This unit is always great fun! After only 3 lessons, I can say my students have used body percussion, played drums, played xylophones, used expressive speech, used their singing voice, performed in round, with ABA form, and rondo form, improvised melodically, and composed rhythms! It is a great way to start the year!

If you are interested in teaching this unit, you can search my TpT store for full lesson plans, PowerPoints, printable worksheets, and manipulatives.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Art With Mrs. Dennis: Tesselllations

I hope you don't mind brief trip into my world as the visual art teacher. Six years ago, I was asked to teach art in addition to music. I was clueless. I consider myself a crafty person, but had no background in teaching art. My elementary school did not have an art teacher either. Despite my lack of formal art education, many of my teachers found ways to integrate art. In my 8th grade math class, Mrs. Armstrong taught us how to make tessellations. It is a project that I have never forgotten.

A tessellation is a shape that can be repeated over and over. It interlocks with itself without overlapping or leaving any gaps. We created tessellations by starting with a cardstock square. We cut some designs on 2 sides and taped them to opposite sides. This would become a stencil to trace again and again. I wish I had my original project, but I remember it looking like an elephant. Below, is a video that is uses similar steps to create a tessellation.

I have taught this lesson to my 5th graders since the first year I began art. This year, tessellations inspired the 5th grade collaborative art project. This is the 4th year we have created a piece or art for the exiting class to leave their mark on the school. To see other collaborative art projects, click this link.

While searching for ideas on the internet, I discovered a Viking tessellation by French Artist, Alain Nicolas. Vikings are our school mascot, so I wrote to him requesting permission to use his design for our project. He granted permission and sent me a pdf file of a single Viking.

Each student colored a single Viking. I knew the project would need to be sealed with Mod Podge. I was afraid that markers would bleed and waxy crayons would resist the sealant, so the students used colored pencils. I encouraged them to use heavy, medium, and light pressure to create a change in value and make the Vikings appear more 3-dimensional. We had practiced this technique in a past lesson drawing Nutcrackers.

I purchased utility plywood which is very sturdy, yet thin and lightweight. I painted the board black using some leftover latex paint. We purchased some trim, painted it gold with acrylic craft paint. A fellow teacher used his miter saw to cut the trim and we glued it to the edges for a frame with wood glue. Each individual Viking was cut out to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. At first, I planned for the project to be a rectangular shape. But, a coworker suggested the tessellation also be in the shape of a giant Viking and I fell in love with the idea! I projected a single Viking on the board and used a white crayon to trace the outline. I painted a thin layer of Elmer's Glue All and started filling in the large Viking with smaller Vikings. Many small Vikings would get trimmed to fit the outline of the large Viking. But, arms, legs, and heads were saved and often used in other areas to fill in the edges. As one final touch, I outlined the large Viking with a gold chisel-tip Paint Pen.

To hang the art, I drilled a couple holes through the side border, about 12 inches from the top. I fed wire through the holes and secured it by twisting the wires together. I used gold paint to disguise the wire that was visible on the front of the frame. To protect the art, I applied 3 layers of glossy Mod Podge by brush  and one final layer of glossy spray Mod Podge. The spray reduces the tacky feel of the sealant.

The final project is displayed at the end of a long hallway. As you are walking from a distance, you notice the large Viking. As you get closer, you notice the smaller Vikings. The students loved searching for their individual Vikings in the finished piece, which we titled "We Are Vikings". Thank you, Mr. Nicolas, for allowing us to use your Viking tessellation.


If you would like to attempt a collaborative art project, I would be happy to answer any questions you may have. The projects have definitely brightened our building. When former students visit, they are proud to point out their art work and are happy to see it still hanging. It is a great tradition that we have started. The biggest problem is coming up with new ideas each year!

Thank you for allowing me to share my alter ego as Mrs. Dennis, the art teacher!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Hand Drum Labels

I am very fortune to have several sets of hand drums. They come in sets with 5 different sizes that nest together. As I have acquired more drums, I realized I needed an easy system to group the drums back in their families.

I have one set of hand drums from Periopole which are color coded by size. I liked this system and thought for one moment what it would take to paint the drums. But, I opted for color-coded labels. Each size is assigned a color and number.

8" drum = #1 Purple
10" drum = #2 Blue
12" drum = #3 Green
14" drum = #4 Yellow
16" drum = #5 Red

Each family was assigned a letter which precedes the number. So, a drum labeled D3 would be a 12" drum with a green label and nest with the other D drums.

The labels are printed on standard mailing labels measuring 1" by 2 5/8". I borrowed some clear book tape from my librarian to add an extra layer of protection from peeling.

I'm very happy with this project and the kids were excited to see the fancy labels. No one has dared try to peel the tape off yet! They saw my face and knew I was serious about losing their drum if I saw them destroying my new labels! If you would like to use these labels in your classroom, I have the file uploaded to my Teachers Pay Teachers store. The link is below. Happy drumming!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

DIY Double Decker Gong Stand

My school started back last week. SUMMER IS OVER!!! Boo boo. I didn't change my music room set-up much, but I would like to unveil my new double-decker gong stand! I have a small gong and a large Thundersheet (purchased many years before I was here when textbook funds still existed and could be used for musical instruments). When I found them, they had no stands. The gong didn't even have a string. I added a shoestring to the gong and used an old chart rack to hang them.  I would swap them out when I needed them, but that was a pain. I ended up leaving the Thundersheet on the chart rack and holding the gong by hand. The chart rack was also very wobbly. I attempted to stabilize the rings by slicing sections of garden hose to wrap around the top bar. This helped prevent the instruments from sliding left or right and falling to the ground. But, I still had to hold the rack or step on it to make sure it didn't fall over after a forceful hit. With this set-up, they weren't used very often.

Last spring, a teacher was trashing some pieces of PVC and I rescued them from the garbage before they were taken to the dumpster. I believe the pieces were left by a previous teacher and used as a backdrop for a photo booth. I only had to purchase 2 more T connector joints for less than $3 to create this new double decker stand to hang both the gong and Thundersheet. Now that they are readily accessible, I'm certain I will find more ways to utilize them in lessons.

The pipes were 1 inch diameter (Measuring the opening of the pipe). I'm not sure how much this project would cost if you were to purchase all the materials yourself, but I'm certain it is much cheaper than any gong stand currently on the market. If you are not inclined to attempt this yourself, I'm sure you could ask for a parent volunteer to offer their skills. If you have any more questions about this project, I'd be happy to answer them!