Thursday, April 21, 2011

LS Music Update

I seem to be following an annual tradition of frequent updates in the fall, fewer in the winter, and one or two giant updates in the spring. Such is the life of a teacher, I suppose! Anyway, rest assured that many exciting things have been going on in the Lower School since my last post. Here are just a few glimpses:

All classes have recently been playing with one of my favorite sets of classroom instruments, Boomwhackers. Boomwhackers are simple plastic tubes, all the same diameter but in a wide variety of tuned lengths. A full set can make a 3-octave scale. Boomwhackers are played by, well, whacking! Except for a completely non-negotiable rule against whacking other people, students may whack pretty much anything to create rhythmic tones. Boomwhackers are the perfect size for passing games, drum circle-type activities, and even tossing games. They can also be used to create melodies, one child per note, like handbells. Even a little science is thrown in as younger children learn the relationship between length and pitch, and older students begin to understand more advanced concepts such as why the "Octavator" cap makes the sound go down an octave.


We've increased our use of technology in Lower School music with the addition of my eBeam interactive whiteboard. Younger students have been exploring tone color and phrasing with Sibelius' Groovy Shapes, and older students have been using Groovy Jungle as well as GarageBand. Check out this rockin' song by Mountain 3rd years.**  Students composed short snippets of melodies using their recorders. We then played them into GarageBand and mixed and matched to make a song. We added drums, bass, and guitar with built-in Apple loops and changed the melody sound to electric guitar. Now they can jam along with it on their recorders.

Forest 3rd-years collaborated to create this recorder duet, named "Doorbell Song" after the falling minor third "doorbell" interval. We composed it in Noteflight, a free online flash-based music notation editor.

Today we had a special musical surprise. This afternoon was our annual Earth Day celebration, planned and run for the Lower School by Middle School advisee groups. During the games and fun we were treated to a set by local band Birds and Arrows, provided by Shakori Hills community outreach. They were fantastic! Their albums are available in stores and on iTunes, and they perform frequently around the area.

Finally, our 4th-years are hard at work planning this year's Springfest, to be held on Thursday, May 26. Children in all classes have been voting on their favorite songs, and songs will be announced next week. Stay tuned!

**edited to add: The Forest 4th-years finished their song today. Here it is!

Saturday, April 16, 2011


As a musician, nerd, and child of a pediatric neurologist I have always been fascinated by the brain. Though I'm no neuroscientist, keeping up with current brain research, especially as it relates to learning, is one of my favorite hobbies. So when my wonderful Middle School head teacher encouraged me to teach a trimester-long elective all about the brain, I was thrilled! The course is called "Your Brain: A User's Manual," and is loosely based on developmental molecular biologist John Medina's book "Brain Rules," and highly influenced by the book "NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children" by Po Bronsen and Ashley Merryman, among many other sources.

We're now past the halfway point of the trimester, and teaching this class has been as fun and fascinating as I expected! My students range from 5th to 8th grade, and are extremely interested in learning more about their own brains and how to help them function to their maximum potential. They also enjoy learning about the bizarre brain injuries and disorders that have helped teach us about normal brain function, and performing memory and processing experiments on themselves and others.

Here are a few glimpses into our class:
Creating a synaptic network with modeling clay neurons!
To demonstrate the non-linear note-taking and brainstorming technique of mind mapping, we made a class mind map about memory.

We're experimenting with under-desk exercise pedals, hand weights, and Chinese exercise
balls to see if keeping the body active during class improves focus and learning.

We have spent a lot of time recently learning about sleep, and why it is so important to learning and practically every other aspect of human health. We especially liked a 60 Minutes segment on the science of sleep. Some of our students are so fired up about this topic that they want to make a presentation to the entire Middle School, especially the teachers! I can't get the video to embed properly, but you can view it here. It will be well worth your time!

Finally, one of our favorite experiments. This is a Stroop test. Say out loud the name of each color, not the word. Notice how much slower it gets on line 3...