Monday, March 29, 2010

Tools of the Trade

Have you ever wondered what "tools of the trade" a percussionist might carry around with him?
Check this out!

The carrying case is called a "stick bag" and in it, one can find mallets of various shapes, sizes, colors and degrees of hardness; one can also find several varieties of drum sticks (thick, thin, wooden tipped, plastic tipped); and one can find a metal striker, just in case said percussionist is called upon to play the bells. So began Mr. Winslow's final lesson for his Field 1 class with my first-graders last week.

For his third and final lesson, Mr. Winslow was required to teach what is commonly known as a "critical task" - a lesson that the music teacher must teach to cover a particular music standard. We decided that he would plan a lesson covering the Instruments of the Orchestra and focus his attention on the percussion section, since this was his specialty area.

He presented an overview using a PowerPoint presentation which covered the Strings, Woodwinds, Brass and Percussion families of instruments. Then he taught the sub-categories which relate only to the percussion family (wood, metal, shaker, membrane).

He brought an interesting wooden drum with him called a "cajon" and allowed each student to play it. He also brought a ship's bell as an example of a metal and a roto-tom (tunable drum) to demonstrate what happens to the pitch when the membrane is tightened by the turn of a crank. These instruments were very unusual and my students were fascinated by them.

Nolan with the ship's bell

Teaching the lesson

His assessment included a segment devoted to comparing and contrasting the different percussion instruments and placing them in their respective categories. The lesson concluded with a "matching" game to see whether or not the students could correctly label a wood, a metal, a shaker and a membrane and could properly place it in the correct sub-category. My students were thrilled with this hands-on experience and I was very appreciative of Mr. Winslow's willingness to share his expertise with them.

As Spring semester comes to a close at the University of North Florida, we must bid farewell to Mr. Winslow and his highly-specialized content knowledge. Because he is only here six hours a week and is limited in the number of classes he can teach, I have engaged a percussion ensemble from the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra to come to Chets Creek during Cultural Arts Week and bring the larger instruments like the timpani, the concert xylophone, marimba and vibraphone along with them. They will be performing two 30-minute concerts for our entire student body next month. I can't wait!!

Until next time...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Welcome Back, Miss Lambros!!

As many of you know, I had the privilege of mentoring Samantha Lambros through her music internship last fall. I served as her Directing Teacher and she spent approximately four months with me in my classroom. She was a joy and a delight to work with and it broke my heart to see her go. She is smart, musically gifted and brings an instrumentalist's perspective to my classroom. (Her instrument is the French Horn.)

Miss Lambros and Mrs. Tamburrino at her Senior Recital

Miss Lambros graduated from UNF in December and began teaching elementary music in Duval County Public Schools in January. Although not required, she has agreed to return to Chets Creek and assist me with our spring session of Recorder Club. Miss Lambros and I donate our time on a weekly basis after school to provide these students with an opportunity to work in an ensemble setting and further develop their note-reading and performance skills. Working with a smaller ensemble allows us to work at a deeper level with our students.

Last fall, the Chets Creek Recorder Club performed at the Midtown Arts Fest, the Beaches Senior Center, Jacksonville International Airport and the TownCenter Mall during the holdiay season. In years past, the Recorder Club disbanded after our final performance in December. However, In January, I received a request from the Community Relations Administrator at the airport asking if we would return in May for a command performance during TPC Week. I contacted the parents and asked them to let me know if their child would be interested in returning for eight weeks of rehearsal and another performance at the airport. I said that if I had at least ten students that were willing to make the commitment, I would do it. Fifteen students agreed to return and with my principal's blessing, we began rehearsing on March 9th.

We are currently working on several pieces which have been arranged in a jazz format for soprano recorder. The music incorporates a performance genre that is new to my students and requires the students to improvise on the instrument. I promise to keep you posted on their progress.

Until next time...

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Model Classroom

Model classrooms are used in learning communities to provide opportunities for pre-interns, interns and inexperienced teachers to observe "best practices" in action. Over the years, our school has built a relationship with the University of North Florida's College of Education and Human Services. Students needing placement for Field 1, Field 2 or an Internship can come to Chets Creek and experience firsthand what it's like to teach at a high-performing elementary school.

We are an America's Choice National Model School and have more National Board Certified teachers on our faculty than any other school in the district. We take pride in sharing our expertise with others. Faculty members who open their doors to student-teachers have taken a course in Clinical Educator Training and are well-equipped to assist the student-teacher. As the Directing Teacher, my job is to help acclimate the student-teacher to the classroom; assist with lesson planning; observe their teaching and to complete several formal, written observations throughout the semester.

This Spring, I was assigned a pre-intern from the Department of Music at UNF. Nick is a percussionist and is in his junior year at the university. He was sent to me for his Field 1 experience. A pre-intern has usually done some peer-teaching with his classmates, but has not had much real-life teaching experience outside the classroom. Because Nick is a percussionist, he has brought a wealth of information to my students that they would not necessarily have gleaned from my instruction. I was trained as a vocalist; Nick, as an instrumentalist. I have learned a great deal from Nick in the last few weeks and would like to share one of his lessons with you.

This lesson on Civil War Drumming (a/k/a rudimental drumming) was taught to kindergarteners. Specific drum cadences and rhythmic patterns were used during the Civil War to muster the troops and get them moving in the right direction. Nick wanted to integrate the music standards with social studies and physical education standards. He planned and implemented a lesson that included a brief history of the Civil War, noticeable differences between a field drum and a snare drum, sticks and sticking techniques, forward/backward movement and aural discrimination between a roll and a flam on both drums. I hope you will gain new insights from a percussionist's point of view by watching his instructional video. Nick - I'm proud of you!

Until next time...

Save Duval Schools

The Florida Constitution states, "The education of children is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida. It is, therefore, a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for...a uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education...."

As an elementary music educator, springtime is a bitter-sweet time for me. I love it when the sunshine returns, I enjoy getting outdoors and spending time in the garden, I blow the dust off of my rod and reel and head for the surf and all is well in my world - well, almost.

Springtime is also the time of year when the Florida Legislature re-convenes to balance the state budget. Because I do not teach what is considered to be a "core academic subject," my job is invariably on the chopping block every year. It matters not that I am a National Board Certified Teacher in Early and Middle Childhood Music. It matters not that I open my classroom doors to mentor college students from the University of North Florida, Florida State College at Jacksonville and Jacksonville University. Both my husband and I are elementary arts educators in Duval County. This horrible black cloud hangs over our household until the budget has been passed and we know whether or not we have a job to which we can return in the Fall. It is a very stressful time of year for us and for our children.

Duval County Public Schools is facing a $125,000,000 budget deficit next year. There is a disconnect between our parents and what is going on in Tallahassee right now. It has become necessary for all of our stakeholders - administrators, teachers, community leaders, parents and students - to make their voices heard in Tallahassee. If you value art, music and PE at Chets Creek Elementary, please contact your legislators. If you value a guidance counselor at Chets Creek Elementary, please contact your legislators. If you value a media specialist at Chets Creek Elementary, please conatact your legislators. It is imperative that you do so and do so quickly.

Ask your legislator to "provide flexibility" with how the money is spent so districts can use monies where they are needed most. Ask your legislator to "hold in abeyance the Class Size Amendment" or "limit the penalty for non-compliance." This is an unfunded mandate that we cannot afford. Ask your legislator to "hold in abeyance" all state-recognition funding including "School Recognition, MAP, AP, IB, and AICE teacher bonuses. If your child is taught by a Board-Certified teacher, John Thrasher is trying to repeal the "Dale Hickam Act" which provides teacher bonuses for Board-Certified personnel. Additionally, the State Lottery System was sold to the public as a system that would provide funding for K-12 education. Much of that funding has been shifted to Bright Futures Scholarships for post-secondary students and has left K-12 education with a huge hole in its pockets. The public has been duped and there is much to be lost if we do not speak out.

Florida is 50th out of 50 States in "per capita" spending on public education. Is 50th good enough for your child? Please go to "" to determine who your state representatives are and to gather e-mail addresses for your legislators. For every e-mail, telephone call or fax they receive, it counts as 25 contacts from constituents. Your help is greatly needed and greatly appreciated.

I have a dream that the teaching profession will one day be held in the highest esteem alongside the medical and legal professions. Without the professional educator, there will be no other professions of which to speak.

Until next time...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

X is for Xylophone

XYLOPHONE. The ubiquitous childhood instrument. It comes in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. It is easy to manipulate. It requires no breath control to make it speak and no special fingerings to make it play. It pairs beautifully with metallaphones, membranes and shakers. Because a xylophone is laid out in the same left-right orientation as a piano keyboard, kindergarteners can easily be taught transferrable concepts such as the music alphabet, high/low, and stepwise movement. Today, exploring the xylophone was first and foremost on my kindergarteners' minds.

Before ever touching the instrument, we watched a YouTube videoclip of a phenomenal xylophone performance of a piece entitled, "Log Cabin Blues," to get an idea of what one sounded like when proficiently played.

We looked at a diagram of a xylophone on the board and talked about "long, low, left." (The longer the bar, the lower the pitch.) We noticed that the bars got progressively shorter and the pitch got higher as we moved to the right on the instrument. We also discussed the funky phonemic blend (Xy=Z)at the beginning of the word. (One student informed me that the "ph" makes the sound "f" like in "Philadelphia Phillies." Can you tell his kindergarten teacher is from Philadelphia?)

We carefully removed five bars creating an octave (8-note sequence) from C-C; we practiced our mallet grip and technique, we played a C-major scale up and down at a moderately fast tempo and did our best to play as an ensemble; we labeled the different parts of the instrument on a piece of paper in pencil and finally, colored our xylophone picture with crayons to take home something tangible from the experience. All modalities of learning were touched upon in this lesson (aural, visual and kinesthetic). Inquiry-based opportunities for learning were also included.

The title of one of my favorite songs from the 70's sums up today's lesson exquisitely -"We've Only Just Begun." :)

Until next time...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Teachable Moments

Why is it that Asian children have such a propensity for musical greatness?

That question popped into my mind as I was introducing the Instruments of the Orchestra today in a second grade general music class. I always begin with the String family and work my way through the Winds, Brass and Percussion families in subsequent lessons. Today's teaching began with the work-horse of any symphony orchestra - the violin.

As I began to unpack my school-issue violin from its case, a precocious little second grader by the name of Sarah raised her hand and informed me that she played the violin. "Aha....another teachable moment is about to unfold in my classroom," I thought. "Just go with it..."

The lesson usually unfolds this way: I hold up the violin and explain that it has four strings, that it is tuned by turning these pegs, I show them the bridge and the neck rest, I explain that this is a bow and that the bow is actually made out of horse hair, etc. For my grand finale, I play "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" on the instrument. (It is the only song I remember from my string techniques class.) The students are awestruck by my terrible violin technique and I quietly place the violin back in its case and move on to the viola.

Today, however, I invited Sarah to the front of the classroom to perform on the violin, instead of me. She is accustomed to playing on a half-size instrument and had to reach and stretch to make it work for her.

I assumed she would play "Twinkle" too, since that song has been dubbed the "national anthem" of the violin. Everyone learns it; it is required literature for all budding violinists. I was absolutely dumbfounded when she began to play Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." Like my students, I was awestruck by a seven-year old's violin playing and completely embarrassed by my own!

Her classmates were mesmerized by the performance too. So much so, that they asked her to come back and play an encore at the end of our lesson.

Sarah serenaded her classmates until their teacher arrived to pick up the class. What an awesome way to end the day!

Until next time...