By the Numbers

I have always been fascinated by the connections between music and math. And I love using math concepts to teach music. No, they are not exactly the same. But they do work together beautifully.

Today in music class, students were introduced to that connection. And they used it to become composers.

The premise was simple. Students would write four sets of four numbers (using only 1-5) on a notecard. The groups of numbers would then be translated into a melody, using the notes C, D, E, F, and G.

Before students chose their number groups, we talked about patterns. First, we studied the patterns on the keyboard. We discussed how numbers in a pattern can step up and down, skip, or repeat. Just like a melody.

2, 3, 2, 3…

With this in mind, each student received a notecard. They divided it into fourths, creating four boxes. Each box was then filled with four numbers of their choosing.

There were students, notecards, and pencils everywhere! It was loud! Controlled chaos, I like to say. But it was awesome!

Once students completed their pattern cards, I planned to play their melodies on the piano.

The response from my fifth-grade class was precious. And “precious” is not a word I often use to describe fifth graders. 😉

As I began to play the compositions, students huddled around the piano. Each one crowded in, trying to hand me their card next. Each one sheepishly smiled as they heard their creation. I wish I could have snapped a picture.

Maybe the actual composing was more logic than creativity. But the outcome was music, nonetheless. Even if it was music created by the numbers.

Thirty Seconds of Silence

We live in a busy, sometimes chaotic world. It is hard to be quiet. This is true not only for my students but for me as well. Recently, I experienced the power of purposeful silence during my first-grade class.

To introduce our lesson, I asked students to look at a picture on the Smartboard. A beautiful winter scene complete with a horse-drawn sleigh. I wanted them to tell me what they saw. If all went as planned, this activity would transition us right to “Jingle Bells.”

First-grade is at the end of the day. The kids were wiggly and chatty. Getting them to focus is not always easy. But I had an idea. I asked them to look at the picture for thirty seconds without saying anything. At first, students looked puzzled. But when I began silently counting, only mouthing the numbers, the room became quiet and still.

All eyes were fixed on the winter scene. And when I finished counting, hands started going up. Students took turns sharing answers and ideas. Some had surprising insights I had not even considered.

This was not something I had planned. After school, I thought about why this worked. I think part of it had to do with purpose. This wasn’t me simply asking students to listen or be quiet. I asked them for a defined amount of silence with a specific goal.

Granted, it was only thirty seconds. But that thirty seconds brought a successful time of sharing. And the sharing easily flowed into our singing and rhythm activities.

Before you envision a picture-perfect music class, things did get a little crazy during our next transition. I am definitely not Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. But that’s ok. I did stay calm in the chaos and class continued. Maybe because of that thirty seconds of silence?

I’m afraid I can’t take full credit for this idea. I think the inspiration came from Mr. Rogers. I’m currently reading “The Good Neighbor-The Life and Work of Fred Rogers.” I also saw “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” last weekend.

I have always appreciated the quiet, kind demeanor of Mr. Rogers. When I need to feel calm, I sometimes watch his old T.V. episodes. Revisiting his work through this current book and movie seems to have the same effect.

I am particularly struck by his use of time. His actions are never hurried. One scene in the movie displayed this so clearly. Fred asked a friend to be silent for one minute, but with a specific purpose. The time was set aside to consider all the people who had loved them into being. Profound.

Granted, our studying of a picture in a first-grade music class may not qualify as profound. But it was certainly beneficial. And it opened my eyes to the power of defined silence with a specific purpose. Even if it’s only thirty seconds worth.

Sparks

One morning as students were entering school, a sweet 3rd grader told me she was writing a song. I was excited, of course, and suggested she write it down and bring it to music class. With a promise to do just that, she headed to class.

Fast-forward a couple of weeks. I had honestly forgotten about this earlier conversation. I am happy to say, however, that my student remembered. Not only had she remembered she recruited friends to help with her creative project.

As 3rd graders entered the music room this morning, I suddenly had five girls surrounding my desk. The original songwriter, an illustrator, and three additional singers. Excited about their collaboration, they asked if they could sing their song for me during class. Well, of course!

They sat back down, waiting for class to start. Their smiles were huge. As we waited for everyone to sit down, one member of the group brought me a folded piece of paper. “This is for you,” she smiled.

Unfolding the paper, I read song lyrics at the top of the page. I smiled as I read them.

🎶I look up at the night sky
I see all those stars up high
🎶

My heart instantly melted. Then I looked at the drawing. Music notes, stars, a ufo…and then I realized the girl in the picture is standing on the moon. The earth is in the distance behind her. Wow! What a creative perspective.

The surprises continued. Turning the paper over, I saw a list on the back. The credits. Songwriter, artist, and singers. Followed by a precious note:

Hope you enjoy!

This was the highlight of my day. No, of my week! These sweet girls and their precious song about the stars gave me a spark. A spark that will help me make it to Spring Break, one week away.

I am grateful for that much-needed spark, but it brings an important reminder. Kids need the chance to be creative, and I need to incorporate more time for creating in my classes. That means giving up some control. Being ok with a little controlled chaos, a little extra noise.

It is worth the effort. I have experienced it before. How easily I forget, caught up in my daily routine. Missing the opportunity to spark some creativity, and receive sparks of encouragement myself.

🎶What do you think?
Is this the night to dream?
🎶

Going to Mars

Since I was a little girl, I’ve always been fascinated with the moon, the planets, and stars. Being far away from the city lights, able to see uncountable numbers of celestial objects, was something I looked forward to. I don’t even begin to understand the science behind these bodies. What are they made of? How long have they been shining? Will they burn out? Despite my lack of scientific knowledge, my fascination is not diminished.

Today was an exciting day! NASA sent another object to Mars-the InSight Lander. It has been traveling on a seven-month, 300-million-mile journey, and today was landing day! Apparently, it is supposed to spend two years studying the inner workings of the planet by measuring seismic activity. I know enough to understand that means earthquakes on our planet.

My point is not understanding all of the science behind today’s events or their purposes for our society. It’s really about curiosity and how events such a this spur the imagination. Sharing this information with some of my students, watching live while the scientists waited on the landing, their anticipation and excitement were contagious.

Even though we could not visibly see the InSight Lander, there was a countdown scrolling along the bottom of the screen. With each goal that passed-heat shield working-heat shield separating-parachute deploying-students would gasp as if they’d been holding their breath. Once the landing was announced, they clapped and cheered right along with the scientists in that NASA project control room.

Of course, there were some funny moments too. More than one precious kiddo asked, “Are we sending a man to Mars or just a robot?” “Mrs. Morris, I’m so excited about a person going to Mars!” “Not a person…not a person.” Also a few concerned, confused looks. Possibly related to watching too many sci-fi movies or playing too many video games. With a little reassurance and my simplified explanations, they were at least able to understand the basics of what was happening, and know that we were not being attacked by Martians.

I’m sure there will be some interesting conversations tonight if students are asked what they did in music class today. Who knows? Maybe that little detour from our music lesson sparked some new interest. It certainly reminded me of the beauty not only in our world but also in our universe.

We may not be able to see it all up close and personal, but we can appreciate it by simply gazing at the night sky, looking through a telescope, or viewing images taken in space and transmitted back to Earth…from a camera on a capsule…which traveled for seven months…and then landed on Mars.

I can’t wait to show my students the first image that was sent back from the surface of Mars today!

Pictures in the Clouds

This week I rediscovered the children’s book “It Looked Like Spilt Milk” by Charles G. Shaw.  I love this book!  If you’ve never read it, go look it up.  The author creatively takes his readers through a series of images in white on a dark blue background.  Childlike pictures are paired with simple, repetitive words, creating a beautiful backdrop for the imagination.

After reading this story to my students, I asked if they’d ever noticed pictures in the clouds.  Most excitedly raised their hands, eager to share.  We discussed the importance of using our imaginations, and I shared about finding pictures in the clouds when I was a kid.  Funny how that has become more difficult to do as an adult.

Creatively using our imaginations as a grownup often requires more intention than when we were kids.  Our adult minds are on information overload, concerned with family and job responsibilities.  Being imaginative gets put on the back burner, seen as a luxury instead of a necessity.  I wonder what would happen if that changed?  At the least, our stress levels would go down.

At the end of class I challenged my students to notice the clouds next time they go outside and report back to me what they see. Hopefully some of them remember.  Truthfully, I’m the one who needs to be challenged. Maybe my students responses will inspire me to take the time to go outside and look up.

The pictures in the clouds are always there, just waiting for us to imagine them. What do you see?

Something to Say

The following essay was written for a Writing Contest hosted by Positive Writer entitled You are Enough.

http://positivewriter.com/writing-contest-you-are-enough/

I believe each one of us has something important to say.  Valuable ideas, opinions, and questions are always hovering at the forefront of our minds. The decision to keep these thoughts inside our head, say them out loud, or write them down is personal. But once we decide to engage in this process of writing, the freedom experienced far outweighs any prior apprehensions.

Whether typed on a personal tech device or handwritten in a journal, the simple act of writing words down gives them life. Suddenly we see them in a different light. Simple ideas once floating around in our head instantly become concrete-combinations of letters in black and white ready to be read over and over, edited and expanded.

Once words are given life, we have another choice to make. Will our words remain private or will we find an appropriate platform for sharing?  Some may remain unread until we are no longer living, leaving behind insights intended only for those closest to us.  Others we may choose to display freely for anyone to read.

My family recently received a wonderful gift of words. After the passing of my Aunt Pearl, numerous precious pages written in her own handwriting were discovered by her children. Did she consider herself a writer? No-yet her words, beautifully describing her life, her hopes and her dreams, provided comfort during a time of grief.

Certain words, however, need to be shared in the present. Not only for the writer’s benefit but also the unexpected help they may provide others. A strong likelihood exists that other people are coping with the same life challenges and fears, yet have not found the courage to give their thoughts life.  Your words may provide the encouragement they need.

I was extremely nervous about sharing my personal story concerning depression in written form.  Typing those confessions gave them a new sense of reality.  Once I took the next step and clicked the publish button, a flood of positive responses arrived. Others suddenly felt free to tell their personal stories, and their powerful words provided the realization that I was not alone in my struggles.

What happens when we choose courage and allow our words to make a positive contribution to this world?  We won’t know until we write. Don’t be afraid!  Your thoughts have great value. And once put into words, they help tell your story-the specific set of life experiences belonging only to you. No one else is exactly like you, and someone out there needs to hear your words, your insights, your story! Get busy writing!

Something important needs to be said which only you can say!

Popsicle Sticks & Clouds

Time for confession-I am struggling this week.  Low days, fighting back tears, just the general blahs.  It will pass, I’m sure.  When this happens, thankfully I’ve learned to recognize it and say it out loud.  If it lasts longer than a week, there’s a need to talk with a trusted friend or family member.

All that to say-I found myself searching for the positive on my drive home from school today.  The sun was shining, the sky a beautiful blue with perfect, fluffy, floating clouds. Besides blue being my favorite color, I’ve always been fascinated with the sky and its inhabitants.  Seeing one like this today most definitely helped my mood.

clouds2

Once my attitude began to change, I remembered kindergarten class from earlier today.  We’ve been learning about rhythmic patterns while going on our adventures with Freddie the Frog.  Today was review time and students were creating patterns on the Smart Board.  Their ability to not only create a pattern but also read it out loud was a pleasant surprise.

Each of them was eager to give it a try-all twenty of them-at the same time.  Suddenly I remembered the popsicle stick basket. First and second graders had used them the day before to create patterns on the carpet. I hadn’t planned on using them with kindergarten just yet.

Change of plans!  I asked the kiddos to move to our circle and gave each a hand full of popsicle sticks-rhythmic patterns began to appear everywhere!  Once we cleaned up, I asked students to brainstorm ways they could do this activity at home if they didn’t have popsicle sticks.  Crayons!  Pencils!  Markers!  Legos!  And on and on and on…one mentioned writing down their patterns.  Impressive!

Encouraged by the success of my kindergartners, I decided to attempt the activity I had asked them to try at home.  Here are my results.

Goal for tomorrow-begin my day looking for the positive.  Will I be successful?  I don’t know.  But hopefully I will remember that the simplest things can change my day for the better-even popsicle sticks and clouds.