Manipulatives Made Easy

Has it really been over 4 months since my last post? I feel so ashamed and dirty. Now, it use to be every Friday evening I’d sit with my burrito and type up a long brain dump about what happened over the week. Sort of my “I need to do this to sleep at night” release. Now I spend my Friday nights either still trying to get caught up on actual work from work or attempting to squeeze in a little more grad homework before the weekly deadline, (because who doesn’t want to define objective behaviors on a Friday night, right??)

I see them all the time when I travel from classroom to classroom watching music teachers from all over do their thing. Being a manipulative geek myself I use to live and die by them in my classroom. Pieces of laminated paper with everything from quarter notes to NASCAR race cars, popsicle sticks, pool noodles, magnets, even foam dice. If it littered the aisles of the craft section of Walmart, I pretty much found a use for it in my classroom.

The main purpose of a manipulative is to make the lesson or activity more interactive. To give students an actual visual to play with and help understand what you are try to teach them.  Manipulatives can be physical pieces of craft material, pre made products specifically meant to be a manipulative, or they can even be a virtual product able to be used on a piece of technology. I’m sure you are sitting there thinking (How in the heck was this tech wizard able to figure out how to use and make such crafty manipulatives? and how did she get them to work with her lessons?) I know a lot of teachers out there tend to swing in either direction, you are really all about tech or really all about non tech. What you might not know is there is a happy medium! Yes, tech and traditional ways all mixed together into a perfect lesson.


Here’s an example of an activity that would use the manipulative above and a projector and teacher computer:


  1. Students will create 2 measures of rhythm using quarter notes, quarter rests, and eighth notes.
  2. The class will perform selected rhythm compositions from their classmates.


  • Have students get into groups
  • Give each student a pre made bag with a handful of popsicle sticks and a selection of beat cards.
  • As a class, have everyone build the same composition together. Write on the board and have students build along with you. The cards make up the rhythm and the popsicle sticks are the bar lines.
  • Students will now break off into groups and compose their own piece together.
  • The teacher will go to and log into the free side of the kids website. Then make their way to the QBackbeat creative.
  • When students are done, the teacher will explain how the program on the board works and will ask for volunteers to help put their rhythm into the program.
  • Once they think they have it correctly into the program, the class will listen, perform back the rhythm, and then the teacher will ask the volunteer group if the rhythm that was performed is that they thought it was going to be.
  • This process of putting rhythms into QBackbeat will continue until every group has gone.

Possible assessment:

Have students in the small groups perform their rhythm to the class before it is played and compare what they have played to what is written down. 

How easy is that? No fancy technology required and not a lot of effort into the manipulative (And something you can keep for more activities later!) What kinds of manipulatives do you create to use with your students? 


The Day the Crayons Came Home : A Maker Lesson for the Little Ones

Topic: The Day the Crayons Came Home

Recommended Grade Level: 1-4


  • Students will recall the different colors of crayons from the story and important descriptors for each crayon.
  • Each student will choose a different crayon color from the crayon box and write a postcard for that crayon’s personality.
  • Students will design and build a new house for their crayons out of cardboard and other materials.



  • “The Day the Crayons Came Home” book
  • Used crayons (big bucket of broken and used crayons)
  • Pencils
  • Card stock
  • Cardboard
  • Tape
  • Scissors
  • Molds
  • Heat source


Essential Questions:

    How do you design a project? How do you build it?

Lesson 1:

  • Introduce students to the bucket of crayons.
    • How many colors do you think are in here?
    • What do your crayons come in?
    • Have you lost any crayons before?
    • How do you think they feel about being lost?
  • Read “The Day The Crayons Came Home”
  • Students will now choose a new friend from the crayon bucket to write about.
  • Pass out pencils and paper. Students will write their postcard rough drafts on paper before cardstock.
  • Once students finish their rough draft they may move to card stock where they will also decorate their final postcard and draw a picture of their crayon traveling the world.


Lesson 2:

  • As a class, discuss the home the boy made for his discarded crayons again. What special things did he think about? What did he make it out of? Design a home for your crayons together on the board.
  • Have students break off individually with pencils and paper. They will begin to design their crayon houses on paper. ( they will finish their postcards before doing this step.)
  • Once done, students will make sure to label all of their features and highlight the materials that they will use a majority of in their buildings.
  • They must approve their plans through their Forman (the teacher) before they start building.
  • They must spend the rest of the time working on their crayon buildings.


Lesson 3

  • Students will come right in and continue working on their buildings.
  • Have them pick a few extra broken crayons from the bucket to live in the building.


Lesson 4

  • Students will finish up their buildings.
  • They will display them their tables, the class will go around to each crayon home and talk about what they did.
  • Each of them will get a cupcake wrapper with their name on it. They will take the crayons that lived in their crayon homes and take off any wrappers and break them smaller before placing them in the cupcake wrappers. The teacher will bring them to the kitchen oven to repurpose the old crayons into new ones. These crayons will go home as little gifts.


At the end of this activity, students will take a mobile device and write a paragraph of their buildings and why they built what they built for their broken crayons. This will include photos and building plans. Students will describe the process and what they learned to demonstrate meeting objectives and improved critical thinking skills.

How it Feels When It Happens

M is for Music

You hear it from the time you start college until you retire. “Here’s how to protect your program”  of course I paid attention to the articles, the talks, and the stories..but you never realize how much it hurts until it happens close to home. Now as you know I’ve been out of the classroom for a few years now but when I hear that my old high school. The one I still can see from my office everyday, where the teacher that pushed me into the right direction and still gives me a hug overtime I see her is. Is going to push the program to after school and make major cuts to the program? I had a lump in my throat. 

It was heart breaking, maddening, absolutely upsetting. 

But you know what? Music Geeks are leaders so lead we shall. I talked to alum like me, heard the stories, the feelings. I even talked to my former Teacher to get the story. The people coming out of the woodwork standing up for this program’s right to stay in the school day is amazing.

Isn’t that what we strive to create while teaching music? Hard working, creative..leaders? It doesn’t take long to figure out how music affects you, how it makes you feel but sometimes it takes a little reflection and a push off the cliff to realize the tools it teachers you.

M is for Music


So the community is taking a stand to let every student in the community have fair access to an instrument. What are we doing?

1.) Writing letters– To the school board, papers, anyone who will listen. Why music is important to us, stories, stats, what ever we can say to change their minds.

2.) Spreading the news – Sharing with friends and family builds the army, social media makes news spread fast.

3.) Standing strong with the program– Sharing their news, the good they are doing. Cheering them on and showing the board that we love the chorus and band. We’re ready to go to the school board meetings when the time comes.

4.) Getting in touch with NAfME– I gotta say, best thing ever. They showed me where to start looking for facts, stats, and stories to back up all of the stories the community is being flooded with about why music is important. They’ve been through this with other districts from all over and know where to get you started.

5.) Staying positive– Even though I want to say and do horrible things you get more flies with honey than vinegar. Helping the school board figure out how to change it rather than yelling will make the difference.




Promoting Leadership in Music Class

Wow, I have really gotten out of the blogging swing of things haven’t I? I feel a little ashamed of neglecting my poor little blog. Between work and grad school things are a little  busy these days!


21st Century Skills, a frame work for educators that keeps in mind skills that are necessary for students to practice and eventually master before they enter life after school. How to cook, how to balance a checkbook, operating a computer, listening, being flexible, creative, knowing how to collaborate with others, simple skills that you might be teaching already or might not be. I know when I went to and started to look at what these skills were, I reflected hard and realized I could have been doing so much more.

Leadership stood out in this list of skills necessary for students to master. Why? because we certainly have started to do less and less of it and we need to do so much more. I know so many teachers who have a hard time giving up the front of the room to someone else. In order to teach students how to lead, the best teachers give a little bit of their time to their students. I remember having one student who was the most quiet one in the class, I coaxed her to lead one activity, and by the end of it she had gone from the quietest to the most outspoken but in a great way. She went on to do great things and always thanked music class for helping her break out of her shell.

Leadership encompasses other skills like responsibility, accountability, and flexibility into one super skill. They learn so much by just by learning how to lead.

What things can you do to promote leadership in your music classroom?

Leading Activities: from showing off their mad recorder skills and teaching the class their next song to using interactive activities like the ones in Quaver. It doesn’t have to take a full class. 5 minutes of time to lead an important part of the day while you step back to guide and support can be such a difference. Have a new “conductor” each class, or have a “teacher assistant” who takes attendance and starts off class or ends it. Teaching and learning is a collaborative effort.

Discovery Learning: Can start out as a project, or maybe just a center or even the motivation to go learn more! Give students the responsibility and choice over some of their learning and let them go where their interests lie. It relates to their life, they feel like the leaders of their own educational ship, and it allows you as the teacher to step back and give them a bigger role as they sail their own learning ship.

Choice: Biggest out of all three and so easy to do. Give them a choice at the end of class on how to line up, choose a song to move to, maybe even fix up your agenda to a way they want it. If you set down lines early they will know how far they can go without going too far.

Little things like this make them better, ready to make the world an even better place because they are not afraid to stand up and make it right. How do you practice being a leader in music class? What activities do you do that they can lead?




Global Connection Project

I will admit that this is a homework assignment from a grad class. It was too good not to share though. I am totally and completely in love with it. Some days I wish I just had a class in my back pocket that I could test all these crazy ideas with. This post is from the POV of a class creating these rules and overall webpage. 


Mission Statement and Purpose:

The purpose of this project is to connect with many other music classrooms from all over the globe in the spirit of music and sharing. Students will learn about each country they connect with, share traditional American folk songs with other students in other countries, and learn a traditional folk song from the visiting country. This project will promote connecting with others on a global scale through music and appreciation of cultures other than their own. The final product will be a Google Map showing all of the places we visit.

What everyone is saying:

  • “The students are excited all day to get to music and connect with a new classroom, this is creating a buzz around school I’ve never heard before”
  • “What a great way to collaborate and get the students learning about Geography and be really excited.”
  • “This is showing students that there is a whole new world out there beyond the town they live in and it only takes a little motivation to go explore it”

How we are preparing it:

  •    Using the website Skype Classroom, we are connecting with classrooms from around the world who are looking to connect musically like us.

Visit our Profile Page

  •    We will also use our Twitter account

Visit our Twitter Account

  • Once we find a class to connect with we schedule a time that will be good for the both of us.
  • Then we will go into our regular classroom and with the help of our classroom teacher, we will research more about the country our new friends are from.
  • Taking the research we get from class we will pin it to our new map of all the countries we visit virtually.
  • In music we will choose and learn a traditional American folk song that we will share with our friends when we Skype.
  • We will also be sure to invite our school and district administration to come see us connect with our new friends.


On the day of our Skype:

  • We will be sure to remind ourselves of our classroom rules and show respect to the class we are going to be talking with.
  • We will remember to listen and know that we are representing our school and country.
  • We know our teacher Ms. Dwinal will have tested the connection already so we don’t have to worry about technology problems.
  • Our singing voices will be at our best.
  • We will ask well thought out questions to our new friends, and give our best answers to theirs.
  • We will be excited to meet kids like us from a different culture and share our music!

After the day of our Skype:

  • We will add our new information about our friends to our map.
  • Our class will reflect on how it went and what we learned for the future.


Songs we have learned during this project:

Student Responsibilities:
  • Research about the country they will be Skyping with.
  • Help to fill the map (linked above) with facts about the country
  • Learn and practice an American Folk song
  • Represent their country as they Skype and remember classroom rules.
  • Reflect as a class and fill out the Student Response form with individual reflections.

Portfolios: Showing growth

Has it really been a whole month since I’ve posted? Wow I’ve got to get back on schedule. It’s been a whole lot of travel, grad class work, and real work. Life huh? 

So as I’ve been traveling around my mind has constantly gone back to best ways to show student progress. How can we step away from number and letter grades and truly show student growth through physical product and having students actually demonstrate learned skills? Let’s face it, an A, a 4 or even a 99 doesn’t mean much when you try your hand at the real world. Its the skills you’ve mastered and the things you’ve done that truly count and what students should be striving for.

How does this translate into music? One of the rebels standing up for performance and demonstrating ability rather than stamping a grade on creativity. Easy, taking those performance opportunities, those composition activities, and even the small victories in class and archiving them. Taking those curriculum standards and create phrases like “I can” statements or status markers and connect those statements and markers to the archived moments.

For Example: Timmy videoed himself singing a “Do Re Mi” pattern. He showed mastery of the skill so in his portfolio he has that video with a statement “I Can Sing Do Re Mi On Pitch”

Imagine showing that to the parents/family instead of an A on a piece of paper? Means so much more. Also showing them products students created in class.Many website creatives now offer the ability to email parents while they are at work. Shows them in real time what their students are accomplishing, and you can save and store most of it when it comes time for report cards.

Top 3 things I can always put into a portfolio of student work:

1.) Videos of performances: They are already showing their mastery of a concept while performing it to a crowd, video it and archive it for their portfolio showing off their hard work. This also goes with taping in class performances and such.

2.) Recordings: Do you know how easy it is to whip out a recorder and carry it around the room with you as the class practices their songs or does their warmups. You can do it as a class or have them say their name as you go around and continue singing of playing. Soundcloud was always a favorite recorder app because I could record and instantly share.

3.) Compositions: There are so many composition tools out there now thanks to the World Wide Web, have students show their knowledge by creating and composing and then save their work to put away for later. Stuff like the Quaver Creatives or Incredibox are perfect examples of this.

Need some ideas of programs to keep student work? Check these out:

Three Ring – Awesome app that allows you to capture right there in the moment!

GDrive– A lot of schools now are Google schools and have access to GDrive easy and free!

Evernote– My favorite. Can be synced from any device and holds a lot of portfolio artifacts.


If you could throw out grades, how would you document student growth?

Mobile Devices in the Music Room

Technology now a days changes at the drop of a hat. One day CDs and DVDs are the new thing, next thing you know you have issues finding any machines that can use them because digital downloads have become so popular. Laptops use to be the new and innovative one to one device for schools, now Chromebooks and iPads have taken over the technology departments and classroom carts. Why? not only are they cheap but they last longer, meets student’s fine motor skills more on their level, and they have hundreds of thousands of apps that can be used to enhance student learning and experiences in the class environment.

I can’t tell you how many classes I’ve walked into in the past year and heard “They gave me iPads/Chromebooks, I want to use them but I just don’t know how”

Normally you would hear a response of “Well, you can use this app, this app, and this app” but to properly use these new devices in the classroom..don’t you normally have to see what the classroom is like first? Focus on the skills being taught and the activities or projects being executed in order to properly use the devices in a way that will make meaningful experiences in the environment.

Let’s take on iPads

See them in action in an actual music room:

iPads in the Music Room

There are 10 categories you can divide up iPad use in the classroom with:
As a teacher presentation tool
As a guest lecturer
As an e- reader
As a music device
As a note-taker
As a “center”
As a “writing tool”
As a review tool
As a research tool
As a content support

How would you use an iPad in each category? Would you project it on the screen and use a notation app to teach quarter notes? Covering as a music device and as a teacher presentation tool?

Or how about having a research center where students look up student questions and write them down in a collaborative glossary? Can you imagine instead of stopping class to answer a question, saying “why don’t you go find the answer for us and report back?” Turning spoon fed robots into innovative thinkers!


    The toughest thing sometimes is finding apps that fit what YOU want them to do. There are thousands of apps out there but not all of them work the way you want. I love those innovators that teach their students how to code apps that fit their needs but if you aren’t too comfortable with that yet sites like App Crawler help teachers discover programs that will help them with activities and lessons they are planning.


Need some ideas for your music class? Check out some of my previous posts on apps and iPad use:

           Integrating devices can always be difficult at first, but planning out your lesson first and then figuring out which activities would be enhanced by a device and THEN seeing which apps would fit into your plan. The more you do it and the more you do it right the easier it becomes!

 How would you integrate mobile devices into your music room?