Father’s Day Special


In honor of Fathers Day, this post is about one of my two greatest mentors in life and in the field of education: my dad.  With an estimated 50% of teachers dropping out of education within five years of earning their licenses, most schools are using their resources wisely by providing mentors to their new teachers.  In my first year of teaching, it was essential for me to know people who could help me figure out HOW to teach.  However, this continuing high dropout rate could be a symptom of new teachers not having mentors that show them WHY we teach.  My dad has been this latter type of mentor to me.

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The Science of Music

My transition from the end of the school year into summer has been focused on the common theme of sound science. One of my favorite topics! During the last two weeks of school, I offered to cover the unit from the third grade science curriculum on sound. Exactly one week after my students’ last day of school, I was teaching a 21+ crowd at the Science Museum of Minnesota’s Social Science event on the theme “Science of Music.” Continue reading

Our Concert, ‘Tis of Thee, Sweet Music of Liberty

My students have begun preparations for our spring concert in mid-May.  As a performer, I always like to have some sort of theme or cohesive element in a concert, and I approach planning my students’ concerts in the same way.  Last year, I was very excited about our spring concert theme of “Music From Around the World.”  Each grade performed music from a different continent–Africa for kindergarten, Asia for first grade, South and Central America for second grade, and Europe for third grade.  The kids enjoyed singing songs in different languages and I enjoyed using some of my training in ethnomusicology to teach them about the music.

This year, I figured we should do some music from the one continent that was left out last year, so we’re working on “Music From Around the United States.”  I was a little wary of this theme.  It brings to mind images of children singing patriotic songs and waving tiny American flags in a cheesy and nostalgic way that I would prefer to avoid.  However, this theme is becoming far more interesting and educational than I expected. Continue reading


The Okee Dokee Brothers, Justing Lansing and Joe Mailander, with their well-deserved Grammy.

It seems that all Minnesotans are celebrating the Grammy win of the local kids’ bluegrass duo, the Okee Dokee Brothers, but none more than my students.  Ever since the Okee Dokee Brothers visited my school last spring and performed a concert, my students have been obsessed with their music.  They beg to listen to “Bluegrass for Breakfast” every day.  They regularly ask me when the band is coming back to the school.  Any time they hear a banjo, someone will comment that it’s the instrument that Justin plays.  So in honor of their victory, we held our own version of the Grammys in my classes. Continue reading

How It Should Be

“We both taught each other. And that’s how it should be.”

-a kindergartner

During a kindergarten lesson on the common melody of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and “The Alphabet Song,” one girl offered to teach her class the actions for “Twinkle, Twinkle” when she discovered, much to her shock, that I did not know them.  She stood in front of the class and everyone followed her lead as we sang.

As she was lining up to leave music class, she pointed out to me that if it weren’t for her being in my class, I wouldn’t know the actions to that song.  In fact, she had taught me–her teacher–something!  I felt like I was observing someone having an epiphany (not an uncommon observance in a kindergarten classroom), as she pondered this, and then stated very decisively, “We both taught each other.  And that’s how it should be.” Continue reading

A Lesson on Specificity in Teaching

ImageA new second grade piano student taught me a valuable lesson in being very specific and not assuming any prior knowledge when teaching beginners.  I was introducing him to the concept of a repeat sign in our last lesson.

Me:  “This symbol is called a repeat sign.  Whenever you come to one, you go back to the beginning of the song and play it again.”

Him:  (kneeling on piano bench, and turning toward me with a look of amazement/horror on his face)  “So…this song lasts….FOREVER?!?!”

Always give full definitions when teaching a new concepts!


Repeat Sign:  In music, a repeat sign is a sign that indicates a section should be repeated. If the piece has one repeat sign alone, then that means to repeat from the beginning, and then continue on (or stop, if the sign appears at the end of the piece).

Happy Candy Day!

Valentine’s Day, or “Candy Day” as my students call it, is pretty huge in an elementary school. Unfortunately, I don’t get to play a role in most of the excitement. We used some Valentine’s Day songs to illustrate concepts that we had been covering in class, and I allowed some time for the younger kids to color music related valentines that I had made for them. Not many of the kids gave me valentines, but it made those that I did get extra special.


Most heartwarming of all was the first grade girl who saw other kids in her class giving me candy or valentines.  She came up to me and told me that she didn’t have anything for me, but she could give me a hug.  I accepted!


My classroom is cold.  Like ten degrees colder than the rest of the school.  Long-underwear-every-day, if-only-I-could-play-piano-with-mittens-on cold.  This week, the third graders came up with a list of rewards for good class behavior.  One boy raised his hand and asked, “If we’re really good, could we get a heater in the music room?”  Another boy raised his hand and said, “What if we all raised money to buy a heater for the music room?  Then could we get one?”  And they only have to be in there for 25 minutes at a time!