Wireless Doorbell Attention Signal

So normally this time of year I like to do a room tour, but this year I’ve been keeping things simple – more on that in a later post. However, there is one addition to my classroom this year that I wanted to share with you.

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This year I purchased a wireless doorbell for my classroom. You COULD use it as an actual doorbell (does anyone else have those super timid kindergarteners that barely even tap at the door to be let in?), but here’s how I’ve seen it used most commonly, and how I will be using it in my classroom.

Usually when I want to get students’ attention, I do a count down and then raise my hand for silence. But this still involves me using my voice, sometimes loudly (if the class is at a loud volume). So this year, I am using this doorbell as my attention getter. I will keep the remote at my desk (and maybe eventually add a clip on the back, as I have seen other teachers do, so I can just wear it on my person). When I want students to get quiet, I will press the remote and the doorbell will play. Students are to get quiet and raise their hand when they hear the doorbell.

Things I Already Like:

Classes start today (tomorrow as I’m writing this), so I haven’t had the chance to use it with actual students yet, but I already have some features I am liking.

  • Save your voice – anything we can do as teachers, and especially as music teachers, to conserve our voice is a major plus. I think I will be surprised how much of a break this gives me from talking.
  • Lots of ringtone choices – the model that I chose has 36 tones to choose from, include some classical options (Fur Elise, Turkish March, etc). They even have some fun tone for holidays such as Jingle Bells and Auld Lang Syne, and all tones can be scrolled through easily by pushing a little button on the side of the doorbell
  • The set comes with two doorbells and a remote. I only need one so I now have a backup if something happens to the first. Or you could plug the doorbells into different parts of the room if you want the surround sound effect

My model allows you to only pick one ringtone, but I am sure there are fancier models out there that allow you to switch between ringtones. In that case, you could have different music for different signals (attention, clean up, transition).

I’m looking forward to testing out my new attention signal on students soon! Here’s to a new and exciting school year. May yours go smoothly and stress-free.

Music Room Tours of the Past


Hey folks! It’s August and that means it’s time to get into our classrooms and make them fabulous! So I thought, what better time to check out some room tours. Here are some of my favorites over the years.

Room Tour 2014

I love how huge my classroom was back then, the exit slip board I had. And the It’s a Small World themed bulletin I had in the hallway.

Room Tour 2015

A lot like 2014 with some small tweaks.

Room Tour 2016

I added a couple posters this year that I really liked, such as my CHAMPS poster and the amazing rules poster one of my teammates created (our special area team decided to have the same common rules in all our rooms that year).

Room Tour 2017

This was my first year at a new school. So these two posts may be helpful if you are going into a new room this year.

Getting Your Bearings in a New Room – Part One

Getting Your Bearings in a New Room – Part Two

Room Tour 2018

I love the vocabulary posters I created for each grade level, my magnets I used to help implement some Kagan strategies, my recorder storage, and most of all, my door decoration.

Lesson Planning Bootcamp

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Hello readers! Here we are at the beginning of July. This is the time of summer when my thoughts start turning towards the coming school year. My planning tends to jump into overdrive. If you find yourself in a similar state, then might I recommend trying this lesson planning bootcamp. There is something fo everyone – from those who are starting from scratch or revamping their curriculum, to those who are just looking to tweak the previous years plans.

Some of you may be looking for a more detailed dig into your lesson planning. You may want to start your bootcamp here: STEP 1 – Grade Level Skills

Perhaps you already know what skills you want to teach for each grade, but want to look more closely at what time of year you roll out each of these skills (including the steps needed to prepare for these skills, and ways to keep them in practice once earned). This is a good one for everyone to look at at least a little bit each year. You may want to check out this step in the bootcamp: STEP 2 – Year at a Glance

If you have all of that set, then here are some other parts of my bootcamp series that you may wish to look at:

STEP 3 – Assessments and Events

STEP 4 – First Week of School

STEP 5 – The Big Stuff

STEP 6 – The Filler

Go the these steps and you will be WELL on your way to having yourself a great school year with lessons that are placed intentionally to make learning go smoothly for you and your students. Enjoy your lesson planning – but don’t forget some time to enjoy the end of the summer as well!

Theme and Variation Made Easy

So for as long as I can remember, I have been teaching a unit on theme and variation with my 4th graders which culminated in a project where they have to create a variation on Hot Cross Buns. I have to say that every year, my kids had struggled so much with the concept and I just did not understand why. Each year, I tried to break it down into more and more manageable steps, but still made little headway. But this year I finally had a break through! The kids were effortlessly creating variations (hallelujah!). So I thought I would share my breakthrough with you guys, in case you might want to use a project in your class as well.

The Introduction

I start by doing a quick introduction into what a theme and variations are. I show them and example of theme and variation in art (Andy Warhol’s Campbells Soup pictures), and math (translating a shape on a grid) and finally music. I show them how we can change the form, the pitch order or the rhythm of Hot Cross Buns, but keep other elements the same and create a variation.

Real Example

Next we listened to Variations on a Shaker Melody (from Copland’s Appalachian Springs) and do a little worksheet about what we hear in each variation.

Form Variation with Partners

This part was the game changers for me. In past years, I did some examples at the board for the class and then had them work by themselves. I’m telling you, any time you can have kids work in groups instead of lecturing from the board, they are going to learn so much more. (Sometimes I really must sound like that teacher in Charlie Brown – wah wah wah). Here’s what I had the students do:


  1. Each group got an envelope with form cards and note pattern cards.
  2. Student had to choose a form that was different from the theme (Hot Cross Buns – AABA). We reviewed how musical forms always start with A.
  3. Student got to pick which note pattern would be part A and which would be part B.
  4. Students played their song and then made decisions about editing it until they had created a version that they liked.
  5. Students shared their variation for the class by playing it on the recorder.
  6. Bonus question: I made the students choose a form different from AABA. However, there is one way to keep the form AABA and still be a variation. What is it? ANSWER: Make the “one a penny, two a penny” part A and the “hot cross buns” part B.

Rhythm Variation with a Partner

I pass out laminated staffs and dry erase markers. Students then have to decide on what rhythm they will have on beat one (B), beat two (A) and beats three and four (G). This one was still a little hit and miss with this group, so I would probably schedule a review of writing BAG on the staff and practice writing different rhythms on B, then A then G first before proceeding next year. But if you are a rockstar and have your kids writing on the staff all the time, you will probably not have this issue. For mine, I was surprised because they can read BAG, but writing it was a struggle (not for most of them but maybe 25%). But I do have a lot of new students in fourth grade this year so that may be part of it too.

Time to Fly Solo

Now that the students have had the chance to work in the safety of a partner group on creating a variation using form or rhythm, I give them a worksheet and they create a variation all by themselves.  This picture shows an old version of the worksheet I use, but you get the idea.

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I think that having some activities where the students work with a partner to create a form allows them to experiment without the feeling of pressure for a grade and with the support of a buddy or two. This can build their confidence going into the individual assignment, which is certainly what I saw in my classroom after doing these activities. Maybe I’ll even make some cool kits this summer to pop up on TeachersPayTeachers if you are looking to not have to do the ground work for the groups. Keep and eye out!

Kindergarten Improv

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This winter, I started to introduce the idea of improvising to my kindergarteners. We had done some readiness activities earlier in the year, like being able to tell when two patterns are the same or different, and even giving students the chance to explore that idea and sing or say a pattern that was different than mine, but this was the first time I had formally worked on all students improvising a 4 beat rhythmic response for me.

Step 1: The Song

The song you pick doesn’t really matter. I used the song “I Got a Letter This Morning.” You can use whatever song you wish, however, please make sure that if you want you’re students to improvise in duple meter, the song should also be in duple meter. Move around and get a good feel of the song. Maybe the first time you introduce the song, take ideas of ways to move to the beat. That way, students will be feeling the song in their body and brain, which will help a lot when it comes time to improvise.

Step 2: Provide a Vocabulary

So next, I would have students echo rhythm patterns led by me. This way, they are being reminded of all the different options they have when they are given the chance to improvise.

Step 3: Time to Improvise

At the end of the song, I added this little musical question. Students were able to volunteer to clap a rhythm during the 4 beats of rest.

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I would make sure to point out really good examples and talk about how it filled in the space and not just clapping as fast as they could.

Once we had the chance for a couple leaders to volunteer, the next week, I would have every try clapping a rhythm.

Step 4: Add Instruments

For the last week, I added tubano drums and students got to have turns playing their improvised solo. However, I will warn you that you should remind them about how to play musically – filling in the space, not just playing as fast as possible – because for some reason when you pop a drum in front of the kids they just want to wail on it as fast as they can and then we lose all the musicality we’ve been working on. Maybe even have a student give a clapping example and then you show how to transfer that to the tubano. Then you will have a lot more success with getting some good improvisation out of them,

Final Thoughts

I really loved this activity and plan to do it again in the future because it so seamlessly guided my students to successful improvisation. The kids had fun and loved the song and created some great improvisations by the end.

Florida History Song: I Wanna Go Back To Georgia

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As someone who did no grow up in Florida, I have always struggled with finding songs for Florida history, because I started out knowing very little about Florida’s history. However, over the years I’ve started to gather a couple that I like, and I wanted to share one with you today. This song is called I Want To Go Back To Georgia, and speaks to the life of early pioneers in Florida.

The Song

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The higher you climb the cherry tree, the riper is the berry.

The more you court that pretty little girl, the sooner she will marry.


I won’t have you to save my life, although you are my cousin.

But I can get a-plenty more, for 18 cents a dozen.

The Lesson

Students learn to sing the chorus. Then we learn chord roots to the chorus and add boomwhackers to that part of the song.

Students learn to sing the first verse. Add a cross-over bordun pattern (practice as body percussion first – pat R lap, pat L lap, cross R hand over body to tap L shoulder, pat L lap). Note: on the ending there is a chord change so we add an extra body percussion there: snap snap, pat. Transfer cross-over bordun to xylophone. If students are really successful and ready for a challenge, you can add in the notes for the chord change/cadence at the end (E – C – F). Otherwise, I just have my students click their sticks on the snaps and then play both Fs on the last note.

The History

We take a moment to discuss the Florida pioneers and how pioneer life was hard and full of dangers. Pioneers had to be very self-reliant for every thing from food to medicine to safety, since the nearest town could be hours away.


Word rhythms: take some Florida critters: Snake, possum, alligator, for example, and turn them into quarter, eighth and sixteenth rhythms. Have kids make up an 8 or 16 beat word rhythm. Add percussion instruments and play the rhythm on the instruments. As this as an interlude or intro to the song.

Improv: Use the same word rhythm idea, but have students improvise on the xylophones using the word rhythms as their base.

Folk dance: Add a folk dance. Use simple moves that you students know to create a dance that matches the phrases of the song.