This mid-winter break is really a time for reflection and planning for teachers!  I started out thinking about what my 5th graders need to do in January and that brought up memories of a now favorite series of lessons that were developed jointly with a super student teacher a few years ago.

We had a particularly tough group that year, and were definitely in survival mode, even though there were two of us in the classroom. The school had just purchased a class set of iPods and no one else was using them yet, so using the technology seemed like the perfect hook.

The overall plan was to look into the cultural connections between Gullah music, which originated right near us on the sea islands of South Carolina and Georgia, and the blues. We wanted the students to have some historical knowledge, but also some experience listening to and singing the music from both genres.

Step 1 Research

What did we want the students to know about Gullah music?  We created a knowledge-seeking worksheet based on information found on the wonderful Gullah Music section of  The fun part of this is using the QR codes to "magically" open the correct website.  A simple Google search will pull up many QR code generators.  We used the one at   Here is a sample section of our worksheet:

I'm not sure if the screenshot of the QR will work for you, so here is the actual page that this one leads to:

Remember those tough 5th graders?

Not a peep as they were totally engaged in the fact finding activity!

Step 2  Listen and Sing

Next, we engaged the students in a discussion of what makes a singing performance a good performance, creating lists in the board of various attributes and then specifying the criteria for excellence.  Some of the attributes were singing voice, rhythmic accuracy, tempo, and expression.  They were creating a rubric and they didn't even realize it!

After developing the rubric, we listened to several YouTube videos of Yonder Come Day sung by Gullah Singers and several school choirs.  Students were more engaged in the listening because they knew something of the culture from their QR research, and they knew what they should be listening for musically because they developed the rubric.  It was easy to discuss each video using musical terms and historical facts.

Hearing the song repeated several times also prepared the students to sing it.  Of course, they also had to rate their own performance using the same rubric that they developed for the YouTube videos!

Sharing Our Project

The QR worksheets, links, Yonder Come Day videos and our presentation slides from SCMEA can be found here:  

Look for the next steps, performance evaluation using the iPods and Google Forms, in this post:   Tech Talk Tuesday - iPods as Assessment Tools

Interested in Gullah Culture?

SCETV has a wonderful set of resources for elementary students.  I hope you will look them over!

Click on the Fermata Fridays logo to find other great music education blogs!

Whew! Winter concert is over for this year! Time to breathe.

This year's concert was titled "Dream BIG!"  Students in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades were featured, and the program consisted of songs from Music K-8, a scarf routine to the Russian Dance from the Nutcracker, bucket drumming to the Nutcracker March, and a combination dance/drumming/chorus number.  One highlight was when our principal played his guitar along with one of the bucket drumming groups!

Thank you to Mrs. Tanenblatt for hosting this link party.  First, I'd like to show you my desk as it was on the night before school started, July 28, 2014.  It looked really nice back then!

As you may have guessed, December is a crazy busy time for musicians and music teachers.  This week is my busiest, with 2 major performances.  Next week tapers off with only one field trip performance, the 2nd graders will be singing at the Children's Hospital.  I try to use shelves, drawers, and file folders, but it always seems that my brain works best when things are organized in piles!

Pile #1
The first thing you can see at the bottom left is my instrument inventory list.  Now who asks music teachers to do an inventory that is due in December?  Oh, that would be me!  In my assignment as lead elementary music teacher, I had to ask all of my colleagues to finish their inventory before winter break.  In all fairness, the district property person's original due date was Sept. 30, but that has been pushed back several times until....NOW!  I hope we can all get them done, but it has been a little challenge.

Field Trip Preparation
Further down the pile you can see the Carnegie Hall Link Up curriculum guide for the Orchestra Rocks.  We have been fortunate that our local symphony has linked up with Carnegie Hall because this is a great program.  It has made the young people's concerts much more interactive, and even the classroom teachers are now impressed with them.  My 4th graders began their recorder lessons in October, and we will have to hit the Orchestra Rocks songs pretty hard in January. 

Bucket Drum Materials
The yellow and white papers at the bottom are drumline cadences, printed from  This is a site full of just what the url says, free drumline music.  I have found several simple pieces that I am using with my 5th grade bucket drummers.

My Computer
This computer is connected to my new SmartBoard!  It still seems to have some kinks.  I'm not sure if it is the new board, or the old computer, but I hope to get that troubleshooted next week.  I really am loving the fact that I have a mounted projector and I don't have to trip over wires, or arrange seating so kids can see around the projector cart!

Winter Concert
On top of the computer, on bright green & gold paper so it doesn't get lost, is my script and rehearsal schedule for the winter concert.  The stack of green papers on the right are the student attendance commitment forms for the evening concert.  The pink square contains a sketch of a hot air balloon that I gave to my art teacher colleague.  She is awesome, and turned that little scrap of paper into a giant hot air balloon for the concert backdrop.  

Our theme for this year's concert was Dream BIG!  This coordinates with our school-wide them book, Dream Something Big, that you see on the back corner of my desk.  The book tells the story of the man who created the Watts Towers.  The concert include the entire 3rd, 4th & 5th grades, and went off with only a minor glitch or two and I am very thankful that it is over!  

Post Concert
I am definitely looking for something a little more low key for next week.  Jena Hudson's Winter Listening Glyphs will be just the thing!  I have printed out the mitten page, and it is ready to take to the copy machine.

Miscellaneous Stuff
Of course, there always seems to be a few extra things on the desk!  My Nutcracker is tucked in the back, in use during many lessons this month.  Under the monitor is a birthday card to me.  It was an especially nice surprise because we haven't been too great about acknowledging birthdays at my school.  Morning coffee mug, afternoon water bottle, well used pencil cup, and a bright pink scarf.  All necessary in the daily life of a music teacher!

Thanks for taking the tour of my desk.  I'm looking forward to cleaning it off again next week.  I hope to start January off with it looking more like picture #1!

Thanks to Rachel for hosting this linky party.  Be sure to visit her blog by clicking on the "What's on Your Desk" picture above and check out the other music teacher desks!