Wednesday, 14 December 2016

The Return

The end is near...the end of my maternity leave, that is! I'm back after the winter holidays after being on mat leave with my second daughter since October 2015. I'm so blessed to have been able to spend 14 months with my two turkeys but I'm also looking forward to being back in the classroom.

Lists help keep me organized so I'm using this post as a way for me to track my progress over the next few weeks. I so need to be organized! Here's what I'm doing to get ready:

1. Meet with my LTO (long-term occasional teacher)
How awesome is it that the teacher who did half of my mat leave with my first baby also covered my mat leave the second time around?!? We spent two periods chatting about what curriculum areas he's covered already, kids for me to know about, and routines that have been working well for him. 

2. Fill in my timetable and set up my daybook
I've used the same timetable blackline master my whole teaching career. I could use the one given to me by the school but I like the nostalgia of using my original. It wasn't designed by me so I can't share it but here is a link to my daybook. I developed this style of daybook a few years ago when I started only teaching Music. I find it saves paper and also keeps me accountable in terms of planning three-part lessons with learning goals.

3. Plan my first week
Starting with the Grade 8s and working backwards I have been reviewing my first week lessons from the September start to school as well as my January start a few years ago. I'll do a few more posts with what I've done once I've tried them out in the classroom. 

Each lesson starts out the same - I introduce myself and share some pictures of my adorable family. We discuss procedures such as lining up, learning goals, team leaders, and the signal I use to get their attention. I'm also having the students (except the 2s and 3s) write their own names on popsicle sticks to save me hours of time. Check out this post on my Pick-a-Stick strategy.

Most classes will have a "Show what you know" lesson where they will work in their music teams to perform something for me that highlights what they have learned over the past few months. Diagnostic tests based on rhythm and note naming will also be conducted. 

4. Deal with my stuff
I will need to get in to my crawlspace and see what I have stored away. Then I will make a trip back to school and move in a bunch of things and get some photocopying done for my first day back!

I'm feeling good about this and am excited to get back to blogging!

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Perfect Ukulele Posture

I get really nostalgic around this time of year. I'm not going back to work until January (which I am super thankful for) but I will really miss the whole community aspect of getting a classroom ready. Do you know what I mean? When all the teachers are back from summer holidays and you can catch up a bit. When your room is perfectly clean (thank you caretakers) and your supply bins have not yet been messed up. When there is a sense of promise in the air - for students who are eager and excited to learn and teachers who although they are longing for more summer are gearing up to do the best they can for the students they teach. I thought I would write a post to help with my nostalgia and realized I hadn't written much in the past about ukuleles.

Before I went on Mat Leave the first time, I purchased a whole bunch of ukuleles from Empire Music. I let the kids play around on them a bit in the last few weeks of school to maintain interest as we all know how rangy they can get towards the end. While off on Mat Leave I went to a ukulele workshop run by James Hill and although I left feeling woefully inadequate in my uke-ability I was excited to use his method book, Ukulele in the Classroom, with my students. What I really liked about was the fact that it encourages note reading and was not solely chord-based. Students learn by first playing melodies on the open strings.

The first few lessons I taught were structured around the following:

1). Selecting a uke - the team leader from each team would select enough ukes for the whole team. This cuts down on the number of students out of their seats. I'm all about limiting the chaos. 

2). Taking the uke out of the case and putting the case under the chair without playing the instrument.

3). Tuning the instrument - this can take forever and since I don't have time to pre-tune them all I decided to train one person from each team each class with the goal being that each student would be able to tune themselves by the end of the first month. This was not perfect and I had a bunch of tuners go missing so I will be working on improving that come January. 

4). Perfect ukulele posture - this was super important for me because I like to think of what the students learn from playing recorder and ukulele as training for when they start playing wind instruments in Grade 7. You know the saying "dress for the job you want to have not the one you do have?" That's how I feel about posture. If they look good, they'll sound good. 

At the end of the posture lesson, I had the students do a quick write in response to the prompt: What does perfect ukulele posture look like? I was extra smart and made sure to cover up the anchor chart. 

Saturday, 6 February 2016

New Blog

I've really missed writing and sharing ideas so while I'm on mat leave I've decided to start another blog: "Of the North". Check it out if you want! It will basically be a place for me to share what I'm doing while on this parental vacation of sorts. 

I haven't fully fleshed out my thoughts but I'm thinking of sharing these ideas:

  • meal plans
  • decorating
  • parties
  • decluttering
  • parenting
  • crafts
  • date nights
  • household management
I'm sure it will be a jumble of different things but that's kinda where my brain is at these days.

Thursday, 29 October 2015


Since it has been awhile that I've posted on my blog, I thought an explanation was probably in order! Our family is growing again - any day now really! I wasn't back at work from my first maternity leave for very long before we discovered that I was pregnant again. It was a bit of an adjustment figuring out how to be a working, pregnant mom/wife and how that impacted being a teacher. So now I'm off for another year and I'm sure time will fly by and I'll have to figure it all out all over again. I know now not to make any declarations of what I will be able to do but I'm hopeful that I will be able to share some new ideas and resources. 

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Move and Freeze with Yankee Doodle

There are two things that I can't seem to get enough of right now - Google Play Music and Game Plan. My husband and I signed up for Google Play Music at Christmas time and little did we know that it would have come in this handy in my classroom. I can access pretty much any song, any time, without worrying about advertisements or poor sound quality. 

A former music teacher at my school ordered the Game Plan curriculum for Kindergarten, Grade 2, and Grade 3 but switched schools before she had a chance to use it. When I got back at the end of January I was the one who got to open the boxes and dig right in. I am using the Grade 2 curriculum with my Grade 3s this year because I hadn't taught most of them and they are still missing some foundational concepts. I am also sprinkling in some of the games and rhythm activities into the lessons with my older students. 

One game that has been a hit with my Grade 3s is Move and Freeze. It is so simple (the students move around the room to the music and strike a pose when the music stops) but is super effective at getting the kids moving. You can also have them partner up and call out different body parts to attach to (knee to knee, elbow to elbow, etc...).

The Game Plan authors suggest using Yankee Doodle as the music to move to. I pulled up my Google Play Music and found this techno version of the song arranged by Vijay Joseph. What I took for granted was the fact that my students would recognize the song. So many of them had never even heard Yankee Doodle before so I searched Yankee Doodle on Google Play Music and found a version by Alvin and the Chipmunks that they loved. It was a great reminder for me to be aware that the experiences I had as a child are not the same as their experiences. They aren't better or worse - just different. And if I get to expose them to a catchy, nonsensical folk song, then I am pretty lucky!

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Back in Action with Music Rules

With the end of my maternity leave comes a whole new chapter in my life. I've been back in the classroom for three weeks and have already had a cold, dealt with a snowstorm, battled traffic and arrived late for work, and now have been off for four days because Baby V has pneumonia. I'm gathering that being a working Mom will have its challenges! Thankfully, I have a great husband, a wonderful daycare provider, a supportive principal and staff, and amazing students. 

When I am in the classroom it feels like I never left. This job is so busy that I don't have time to worry about Baby V (although I do miss her!). Coming back at the end of January when the students have had two other teachers along with a host of supply teachers presented a challenge in terms of planning, especially when I didn't really know what they had learned in my absence. I decided to treat my first few weeks back like it was September and focus on rules and routines. 

Before I went on my Mat Leave I used Lindsay Jervis' Music Rules and decided to use them again this year. Check out my previous post here. I taught the students each song and after each song we played a game. I posted two signs on opposite walls of my room and gave the students a few scenarios for each rule. 

For example, for "Make Good Choices" I said "You choose to line up silently outside the Music Room with your left shoulder against the wall even though your friends are chatting." The students would then walk (without talking) to either the "Yes" sign or the "No" sign. For each rule I had students move silently in different ways - walking, hopping on one foot, tiptoeing, patting head and rubbing tummy, and walking in a zigzag pattern.

The game and songs went over really well, even with the Grade 6s. I did have a few kids (you know the ones) who decided to pick the incorrect sign on purpose. When that happened, I asked them to explain why they made that choice and for the most part that put an end to any silly behaviour, although a few students were able to skillfully defend their choices. My next post will be about how I use these rules with my Stellar Effort program so stay tuned!

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Music Teams

Sometimes when I say "I'll post pictures tomorrow" I actually mean "I'll post pictures a year later." Not good, Lauren. Not good at all. You can shake your head at me as you read this post from last September. 

One of the organizational strategies I used last year was to split my students up in to Music Teams. I kept the kiddies in the same team (for the most part) for the 5 months I was there, except with my grade 4s who needed more moving around. I found this worked really well, especially when it came to handing out supplies. 

My brilliant idea was to create six Music Teams named for the periods of music history: Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, 20th Century, and Post Modern. When I'm back at work in January I plan to do a Music Spotlight of some sort on each of these periods so that my students can feel extra connected to their Team. My classroom chairs were set up in three rows with an aisle in between - making six groups. 

Each team had a Team Leader. The leader got to sit in a special chair (I taped a Team Leader sign to it) and was the person I would call on to pass out their team's notebooks, rhythm instruments, or to get their materials basket. The Team Leader chair rotated every two weeks. I tried to make it random so that the students wouldn't be able to predict who the Team Leader would be. The students were pretty excited when it was their turn to have the chair. Next year I may try to make them even fancier. I'm thinking a feather boa?!? What is fancier than that?

I have control issues (which teacher doesn't have that problem?). One thing that drives me super crazy are kids stealing my pencils. Yes, stealing not forgetting to return them. Since 400+ kids go through my room every week I used to lose a lot of pencils. This post on Mrs. Q's blog gave me the idea of duct taping the ends of my pencils. Amazing! I went to Dollarama and got six different rolls of colourful duct tape - one for each Music Team.

I not only duct taped my pencils but my markers, too. That way I'd know which team left the lid off their marker or who left the marker lying on the floor. The Team Leaders were responsible for making sure that they had 6 pencils and 8 markers in their bins after each activity. Only a few students took the duct tape off, so that is a success in my books. This was a fabulous strategy! The shelf life of my supplies was extended and I always knew who didn't clean up after themselves.