Author Archives: Malinda Essex

“Don’t You Want To Be A REAL Teacher?” 6 Ways to Educate & Advocate for Yourself 

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I get it.

A student asks if you ever want to be a real teacher.  Another teacher sees you as their planning time.  An administrator brushes you aside for academics.  

It’s demoralizing. Insulting. Hurtful. 

But here’s the thing … we can get angry, resentful, and complain about how we’re mistreated, or we can take steps to change the situation. (Or maybe we get angry, resentful, and complain, THEN we take steps to change the situation.)

So here are 6 steps I’ve found helpful to EDUCATE and ADVOCATE my way to change.
1. CONSIDER YOURSELF AN EDUCATOR

It’s easy to cocoon ourselves in our musician world and forget that we are music EDUCATORS.  Stay informed on what is going on in education and how it might pertain to you. When you can see the big picture it’s easier to figure out how you fit in. 

This is also a good time to remember that ALL teachers find themselves being demoralized these days. We’re not in this alone.

2. MAKE KNOWN WHAT GOES ON IN YOUR CLASSROOM, NOT JUST ON STAGE

Everyone sees the amazing things your kids do on stage, but do they know what it takes to get to that point? Do they know the musical knowledge that supports what they see on stage?  Social media is a great way to get the word out. Create a Facebook page for your class, a Twitter or Instagram account, and post pictures and short videos of the daily action in your Editclassroom. It’s great PR to give parents, other teachers, and administrators a look behind the scenes.

3. BE ENGAGED IN YOUR SCHOOL

As I mentioned earlier, it’s easy to stay in our musical cocoon. It’s a nice place to be. But if you listen to conversations and even ask what people are doing, it can be easier make connections.  If you’re proactive with this you can integrate where it occurs naturally and not when a teacher asks for songs about farm animals when she drops off her class. Maybe you can obtain copies of curriculum guides so you know what is being taught and when. I’ve even given teachers a short form to fill out when they meet to plan so I can get a quick snapshot of topics they are covering. Make a goal of making one connection a grading period. Over time, you might accumulate even more.

Hopefully, no one expects you to integrate your music classes with everything being taught, so if you can point to places where you’ve done it (by your choice) you won’t have to do it when it makes no sense – or when you’re deep in concert preparation.  

4. MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD

This goes along with being engaged in your school. Get on committees that plan the direction of building initiatives so that you may have a voice at the table. Most of the time, we’re not left out due to any malevolence- it’s just that everyone comes with their point of view and experiences. Make sure your point of view and experience is included in the decisions that are being made. In addition, you’ll have a better understanding of the why behind decisions. This can make them easier to swallow (sometimes.)

5. FIND WAYS TO MAKE TASKS/MEETING RELEVANT

Most administrators don’t create meetings or tasks to be irrelevant, they just don’t have the time and/or experiences to make them relevant for ALL teachers. So help them out! Create your own differentiation and run it by your administrator! As long as the integrity of the original isn’t compromised, I believe most are more than willing to accommodate. (I know, there are those who will not go for this. If you’re in this unfortunate boat, you may have to save this step for another principal.)

Finally…

6. IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU

This is a hard one to face. Our subject matter and the experiences we provide are important. So important that we’ve made it our life’s work to share it with our students and the world. But you know what?  There are other things that are important, too. We can’t always be #1 on the priority list. It has to be give and take. And if you’re willing to give sometimes, then maybe when you need to take others will be more willing. Does it always work this way? Of course not. But it’s something to keep in mind. And when a student gets pulled from your class for reading intervention, ask yourself what’s going to benefit him/her most at this time? And make a note to yourself to make sure you follow up on getting that student into extra music-making opportunities. 

Examine your WHY. For me, I teach music to make students’ lives more complete. So they can have a LIFE, not just make a living. But being complete doesn’t mean music is the only part. Sometimes I need to help by making room for the other parts to develop. It doesn’t mean I abandon a student. I just accept that at this time he/she may need the help of someone else. 

In my 26 years of teaching elementary, middle, and higher education, I’ve used all these steps at one point or another. And sometimes I chose not to and just stayed resentful. But I can tell you that educating and advocating makes me a much better teacher and colleague than being resentful. Maybe it will be the same for you.

Yes, everyone is busy and finding time can be difficult. Don’t try to do it all at once. Pick one thing that you think you can handle and might make a difference in your situation. What will be your first step?

Science & Pitch with Sprinkles On Top

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Have you seen this?

 

 

I saw this video about a year ago and became obsessed with making a Chladni plate. The problem is Chladni plates are actually pretty complicated to make and I’m not all that mechanically inclined.  But I kept thinking, “There has to be a easier way to make one.”

And guess what …

I found a way.

Here’s what I used …

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I bought the putty, steel sheet, and speaker on Amazon.  Here is exactly what I ordered…

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The steel sheet is 12 gauge, which is important because you need it to be solid yet thin enough to vibrate. The speaker needs to be a vibrating speaker with a flat surface for mounting the metal plate. There were more expensive speakers but I decided to start cheap and it did the job.

The assembly – if you can call it that – is very simple. Put a dab of putty in EXACTLY the center of the metal plate, then position the center of the speaker on the putty. Getting it centered is the most important (and the hardest part) of this.  If the plate isn’t centered everything will run off to one side.  You’ll be able to tell if it’s centered in the next step.

Now you need to generate pure tones. I used this This website, although there are others and even apps. You could also use a tuner that plays pitches.

Pure Tone Generator

Connect your speaker to the pure tone generator using an aux cord or blue tooth.  Turn it on and put some sprinkles on the metal plate. Most examples I’ve watched of chladni plates use salt or sugar but I found the white material difficult to see. Colored sugar sprinkles were much easier to see, but I recommend using the sugar crystal sprinkles, NOT the tiny round ones as they will roll right off. I put trash bags under the speaker and pieces of construction paper so I could easily catch what fall off the plate and reuse it.

Now, just start experimenting and have fun! You’ll need to adjust the tones up and down to find frequencies that produce a good vibration – not all of them do. As you do this, you’ll see if your plate is balanced. If it’s not the sprinkles will all drift to one side as they vibrate.  If it IS balanced, you’ll get the amazing designs. Just keep adjusting until you get it right.

Here’s a clip of what ours was able to do once it was pretty well balanced.

Aside from this just being cool to watch (which you might want to do to start with), you can use this for science and music concepts. Pitch and frequency is an obvious concept to associate with the tones.  I found it interesting that when the designs are formed the sprinkles go to the places that DON’T vibrate. Also, as the frequency (and the number of vibrations) goes up, the designs become more intricate.

My students often confuse volume and pitch. This experiment gives a good demonstration between the two and how they are related but not the same.  When the pitch is very low and the vibrations are very slow, the tone sounds quiet – perhaps because such a small strain is being placed on your ear drums. You notice, however, that the pitch and frequency will get so high that it makes your ears hurt – not because it’s so loud but because it’s making your eardrum vibrate so fast.

Finally, I don’t want to discount the pure artistic value of the designs that are created. Recreating them or taking photographs could be an amazing art project.

I’m sure your collective knowledge and creativity can come up with even more concepts to be discussed as you do this experiment. Please share what you try with your students!

Teaching the Elements of Music: Texture

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Teaching texture to young students (and even older ones) can be difficult. I try to help IMG_2699students create meaning by making sure they have a visual model to go along with the sound.

This year I decided to get students involved in making a visual model by using …. wait for it … PASTA! It worked out pretty well with minimal pasta remnants left on the floor.  At the bottom of this post is the slide show I created with visual and listening examples of Monophonic, Homophonic, and Polyphonic texture.  After several years of teaching texture, I’ve narrowed it down to the basics that I’d like students to understand at this point in their music education.

I made up bags of 3 kinds of pasta – elbow, bow ties, and penne.  Of course, you can use whatever you have available, but I’d advise against any long pasta like spaghetti because it breaks so easily.  We did our models on the floor but you could glue them onto paper to keep as examples. Here’s what my students came up with:

From left to right are examples of monophonic, homophonic, and polyphonic.

Having students create these in “real time” allowed me to correct any misunderstandings they might have had.

Feel free to use the slides in the link below – or create ones that work better for you! There is even an bonus link to a fun review Kahoot!

Texture Slideshow