Making Thinking Visible

Making Thinking Visible
Making Thinking Visible

Arts Integration

Arts Integration
Arts Integration

Music Makes It Stick: Tips, Freebies & Goodies For Using Music In Your Classroom!

Music is a powerful medium.  How many times have you heard a song from your past and been transported back in time?  It might even trigger emotions.  When I hear "Stairway to Heaven," I'm back at a high school dance with my arms clenched around Wayne, my first boyfriend, my head buried in his shoulder.  I feel nostalgic. I remember the excitement of getting ready for that dance. That's what music transports us to different places and times in our lives...our memories are more vivid because music is connected to them. 

So as teachers, why wouldn't we use it to tattoo our students' minds?

One of my favorite ways to use music in my classroom is to create piggyback songs.  Piggyback songs are songs that use a familiar tune with lyrics that you write yourself to teach a concept.  I've written piggyback songs about Core Democratic Values, to teach the steps to long division, and to unpack math vocabulary.  I've worked with teachers, grades K-12, and watched them write songs to help students remember geometry theorems, calculus content, the names of the months in a year, and on and on.  They all report success. 

One of most favorite piggyback song efforts occurred while I was stuck in a major traffic jam on a 4-hour drive home from my parents' house.  My kids were having trouble with the huge amount of geometry vocabulary in our current math unit.  I was bored.  So, I "wrote" 8 geometry songs to cement the vocabulary.  By the time I got home, I had mentally outlined a script for a geometry musical! I wrote the play over the next three days, and the rest is history! There are three steps I've used to guide teachers in writing their own instructional piggyback songs.  Watch the video below to learn about them!

My best advice for writing your own piggyback songs includes:
  • Don't use the same melody for more than one song.  You want THAT particular tune to be attached to THAT particular concept.
  • Start out with easy ditties first, like "Mary Had a Little Lamb."
  • Don't forget to "unpack" the lyrics with your students. Use them as a lesson. Do a CLOSE READ with your song lyrics.
  • After you get more practiced, try writing them WITH your students.  They'll be even more motivated because they helped author it.
  • Put your I'm-tone-deaf-I-don't-even-sing-in-the-shower crud away.  Your kids do NOT care. Truly.
  • Revisit your songs often. They are a great way to review. Repetition, repetition, repetition.
  • Add movements to your songs and you'll double the learning whammy.  Bodily-kinesthetic approaches are just as powerful!
  • Laugh! Don't take yourself so seriously.
Working with non-musician teachers, I know how daunting it can be to incorporate music into your pedagogy.  So I've put together a little "I-don't-even-know-where-to-start" goodie for you.  If you click on the picture below, you'll find a freebie that outlines 20 ways to incorporate music in your classroom, a list of 30 instrumental songs that are perfect for classroom use (think "YouTube"), and a list of 41 melodies that work well for creating your own piggyback songs.  But will you do me a favor?  I LOVE hearing about how other teachers incorporate music in their classrooms.  If you've done this, please share  in the comments section.

To hear excerpts from a couple of my students' most favorite songs click here and listen to the start of this podcast! You won't be sorry!

If  you're interested in trying out some of my piggyback songs in your classroom, then check out the products below by clicking on the pictures.  There's another free resource here, too!                    

                                           Until next time, teach on, my friend!


GOT GAME? 3 Tips for Making Games Effective for Learning

I was in the toy aisle at Target the other day and spied a giant set of dominoes. It was a thing of beauty to behold. I was instantly transported back a gazillion years to my grandma's kitchen table. We sat hunched over the domino tiles. Her left hand cupped her never-empty coffee cup. There was a small plate of windmill cookies off to the side. She used her index finger to sweep up my cookie crumbs while I labored over my next move. My grandma and me, we were fierce domino players. 

Because she was a fourth grade teacher, when my grandma taught you how to play a game, you learned strategy. It was discussed and developed. I learned to visualize several moves ahead. I learned patterns of play. I learned what tiles were best to hold back until the end and which tiles were best to play first.

To this day, I adore playing games because of my Grandma Eller. As a classroom teacher, they are one of my favorite ways to teach concepts, strategy, collaboration, and problem-solving skills.  Over the eons of my teaching career, I've discovered three important factors that make or break classroom game-playing experiences.

Modeling is imperative. When I teach a new game to my students, they, as a class, play against me. I put the gaming materials on my document camera and project them onto my Smart Board. Before the days of technology, we sat on the floor in a circle and played. 

I usually begin by close reading the game directions with my students. We highlight key words. We ask questions to check our understanding of the directions. 

While I teach the game, I make my mathematical thinking visible. I think aloud. I question aloud. I want them to see how my thinking helps me play the game better. I ask them to predict any trouble they think players might run into.

Then we play against each other. The whole class is one entity that plays against me. Students take turns coming up to play for the class team. We stop, when necessary, to fix up any misunderstandings of the directions or errors in mathematical thinking.

Finally, I turn my students loose to play.  They scatter around the room. I monitor their efforts. This is important. It keeps students on task, helps their understanding (because questions always come up), and informs me of their mathematical thinking. I'm assessing them. 

We are so inundated as teachers, we often take this opportunity to multi-task while students are playing, but it's important to focus on their play. 

After students are about half way through a game, I call them back to my large group teaching area to discuss any "A-has" they've made about mathematical content and game strategy. We record these on chart paper or the board. Sometimes, we make plans for how we'll change our play when we return to the game.

The strategizing session is important because it helps all students be successful during game play by making the problem-solving nature of game play transparent.

Finally, at the end of math workshop, we come together again to share out. This is the segment of the game play where we cement the mathematical learning. Closure is a vital part of playing learning games, because it refocuses the entire time period on the mathematical learning. 

I usually ask, "So what mathematical learning did we do today?" We chart our responses. Sometimes I use a visible thinking stem. "At first I thought________________, but now I think__________________" in order to name and notice changes in our thinking. These get recorded on our math wall. 

Game play will always be one of my favorite ways to teach concepts. I think it is potentially powerful for the learner when the three steps are followed. But it is also my favorite because I'm transported back to the taste of almond windmill cookies and the click of domino tiles...and my grandma's laughter, warm and loving. 

If you're looking for classroom games, take a look below. There's a freebie in the line up, too, that is perfect for teaching back-to-school procedures. Enjoy!

This month, I've linked up with some fabulous teachers for Teacher Talk. There are some great classroom ideas here! Check them out below!