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My Musical Heritage Project

What better way to celebrate family during the holidays than with a quest. In My Musical Heritage Project, students asked open-ended questions to discover how music influenced their parents and grandparents. Technology helped  record student discoveries and enhanced the learning experience. Using their iPads, they took a picture and recorded or filmed the interviews with their family members. My Musical Heritage Project is a perfect way to use technology to do more than my students could have ever done in the past. There were several ways students went above and beyond pencil and paper. If you are planning a research project like this for your students, consider the various ways learning can go deeper and wider using technology.

My Musical Heritage Project Announcement

I created an interactive flyer using SMORE (https://www.smore.com) The flyer contained information about the project and a funny video to “hook” the adults’ attention. An ordinary announcement via paper would not have the same effect as a SMORE flyer. Plus, I receive feedback on how many hits my flyer receives by my audience and beyond.

My Musical Heritage Project Goal

Students used their iPads to do something amazing. They  interviewed their parents, grandparents and maybe even uncles and aunts. The goal was to discover as much as they could about the musical experiences each family member had growing up and what music they enjoy today. My students always want to share the stories of their musical family members and this was the perfect project for documenting this information in an official way.

My Musical Heritage Project Prep

In preparation, we used the Shout Out Activity in SMART Lab in SMARTNotebook 17. I created an activity and gave the students a QR code to join my class online. They typed in the #code and their name popped up on the SB as a member of my class. After a little bit of discussion, I had the children text three open-ended questions they might ask their family members to discover how music was part of their lives when they were younger. It was like the room was filled with candy and they couldn’t type fast enough. What a cool feature of SMART Lab!! It takes under 5 minutes to create an engaging activity using Shout Out.

Questions to ask?

Students came up with many questions, but narrowed it down to five essential questions that should be asked of every family member in My Musical Heritage Project.

  1. What kind of music lessons did you have growing up?
  2. When you were my age, what type of music did you enjoy?
  3. Have you ever heard a famous musician in person?
  4. What type of music do you enjoy listening to today?
  5. Are there any musicians in our family?

My Musical Heritage Project


Shout Out SMART LAB activity

The Shout Out activity completely changes student engagement in my classroom. Using their individual devices, all of my students have a voice at the same time; they can “shout out” their answer and it will be recorded on the SMARTBoard for all to see. There is “buy-in” because they have a say in the activity. Once all of the questions were on the board, we sorted them and voted again on the ones students thought should be asked of every family member. We talked about open-ended questions and how to get interesting answers during an interview.

Book Creator ePub guide

Using Book Creator, I created a My Musical Heritage Project template that was air-dropped to each student during class. It served just as a guide for conducting the interviews. Here is the epub in image format:

My Musical Heritage Project

Grandparent’s Day

Grandparents’ day was the perfect opportunity to get the ball rolling for my students. I created a simple My Musical Heritage Project wall display, and as the grandparents walked through my music room on their special day, I pointed them to the wall and encouraged them to share their musical story with their grandchild. The sparkle in their eyes as they told of first one and then another who loved music was just priceless.   Singers, pianists, bass players, jazz lovers, an opera aficionado, a country singer who gave up touring due to a bad back, etc. Amazing stories that brought generations closer together and embedded their love of music all the more. My students couldn’t believe that their grandparents actually knew Elton John and Billy Joel. One grandpa couldn’t wait to tell me that he had once ridden in Elvis’ pink cadillac!

My Musical Heritage Project


My Musical Heritage Project and Technology

Students worked on their projects for several weeks. If their relatives lived out of town, some called or skyped them to conduct the interview. Thanksgiving was the perfect time to meet cousins and aunts and uncles. Most students put together a video of their interviews. Some simply put it on each page of their Book Creator file. As you can tell from the two examples below, technology is a tool  students feel comfortable using to do things that we could never have done before.

 My Musical Heritage Project Bridging Generations

Discovering our musical heritage creates so many opportunities for bridging the generational gap because  it gives us identity within the framework of family. We need those connections today more than ever before. If you haven’t challenged your students with a  research project like this, consider the various ways learning can go deeper and wider using technology that’s available right now. Let your students investigate their musical heritage and compare the results with their peers.

How are you using technology to make connections between generations? What can you do today that was never possible or practical before?

By the way, I discovered that my grandfather and his brothers taught singing schools all over Mississippi and read shaped notes. My mother was able to play any hymn in any key by reading shaped notes. I still have his baton and the music books he used for teaching and singing.

What is your musical heritage?


Sleigh Ride Flashlight Choreography Video

Sleigh Ride Flashlight Choreography Video

I made this Sleigh Ride Flashlight Choreography Video to make teaching my students easier and to allow my students to practice at home using the Seesaw Activities option. Although many of my teacher friends around the country are experts at flashlight choreography, my students and I have never tried it before this year. After studying video examples on YouTube like this one from Clarksville Primary School in Clarksville, Arkansas, and Artie Almedia’s Trans Siberian Orchestra version , I decided to bravely try adding flashlight choreography to this year’s Holiday concert.

In this Sleigh Ride Flashlight choreography video there are three colors: green for fourth grade, red for third grade, and white for first grade. Green (4th) always leads each B section movement and red (3rd) and white (1st) always follow their example.

For the actual program, I directed the three groups with my own flashlight and hand signals. We had practiced it enough that they knew what to do with only a little prompting.


Making the Sleigh Ride Flashlight choreography video

To make this video, I used the Explain Everything app and a blue background to film each section. I used blue to contrast with and remove the background from the green smiley face).  I could have then taken it through the Doink Green Screen app to eliminate the blue background and then exported it to iMovie. By having moving images and a clear background, I could easily layer and create more movement within the video. (random sparkles, large circles, karate chops, etc.)


However, I used ScreenFlow, the inexpensive lite version of Final Cut X, to create this movie. I was able to remove the blue background, add text, and create multiple clips to suit the needs of the choreography. This movie took me about two hours to create, but I was a bit distracted by watching a rerun of Law and Order. ScreenFlow is easy to use and will do almost everything I want to do in my simple movies. It’s much more powerful than iMovie on my Mac.

Seesaw Activities

So inspired by the way this Sleigh Ride Flashlight Choreography Video turned out, I decided to take advantage of the Activities feature in Seesaw.  I created a lyrics video for each of our songs for the upcoming holiday concert and uploaded them as activities for my students so they could practice the songs at home using their iPads. Example 1, Example 2



Using Technology to Audition Students

Using the Activity in Seesaw, students were able to listen and practice the song at home. If the students wanted to audition for a solo, they simply used the video tool in Seesaw to record themselves singing the solo and uploaded it to the Music folder for me to preview. If students wanted to be a joke-teller, they auditioned by making a video of their best joke telling skills. Auditioning this way was so amazingly easy and efficient: students worked hard to create their best video in the quietness of home, and I was able to listen and comment privately without having to deal with tons of kid at the same time during the school day. So much less stress on everyone!!


Lights, Camera, Action! It’s time for the

Sleigh Ride Flashlight Choreography Video

I hope you can use the flashlight choreography video for your holiday program or just for ideas for creating your own video tutorials for your students. With so many technology tools available, I love the constant challenge to use them to their fullest.

Game on!


Aurasma Brings Music to Life: It’s a Game Changer!

When comparing musical instruments and sorting them into orchestral families, how can we have our students actually see and hear the instrument being played to make the aural/visual connection? The magic of Aurasma brings music to life: It’s a Game Changer in the music classroom!! Aurasma brings music to life: It's a Game Changer!! 

Aurasma Brings Music to Life: It’s a Game Changer!

You can read about and explore other ways I’ve used Aurasma:

Augmented reality is my go-to tech tool when I need something engaging and memorable. Aurasma looks so much more difficult to use than it actually is, yet it provides maximum learning impact in my classroom.

Problem and Solution

How nice it would be to have orchestral instruments to demonstrate for my students; I used to play the clarinet, the oboe and the bassoon, but I no longer have access to those instruments.   I suppose showing a video would work, but that’s not very engaging nor unique. We could create QR codes to listen to musical examples, but that’s so ‘been there, done that!’   I wish I could get the high school band students to come down to demonstrate more often, but our schedules rarely sync. When comparing musical instruments and sorting them into orchestral families, how can we have our students actually see and hear the instrument being played to make the aural/visual connection. We can use Augmented Reality (AR) to bring music to life! Aurasma brings music to life: It’s a Game Changer!! [click to continue…]

Aurasma Monster Musicians Cards to print
Aurasma Monster Musicians Cards to print
18.9 MiB
Aurasma Monster Card File Bundle
Aurasma Monster Card File Bundle
43.3 MiB
How To Set Up Ipads Aurasma
How To Set Up Ipads Aurasma
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2nd Graders Hired St Louis Symphony Orchestra

When my second graders arrived for music on Monday, they were shown a FedEx envelope with an urgent message from the St Louis Symphony conductor, maestro David Robertson. It was terrible news that the entire orchestra had come down with the flu (it was flu season at our school) and Maestro Robertson needed help hiring new orchestra members for the upcoming Saturday concert. He sent along the orchestra seating plan with how many instrument players he needed in each section and said to be sure and audition each player before hiring them.  My 2nd Graders Hired St Louis Symphony Orchestra and you’re not going to believe what they learned in the process.

2nd Graders Hired St Louis Symphony Orchestra

2nd Graders Hired St Louis Symphony Orchestra

I divided the children into small groups of 3-4 and chose “The Boss” of the orchestra. I purposefully chose my quiet students who needed a chance to shine as a leader. The boss was responsible for hiring and firing to get just the right players for the orchestra. He/she assigned tasks for each member of the team, such as, “I need four french horns, “I need one more second violin,” etc. Once the team had enough players, they had to decide on placement in the orchestra. They could study the seating plan, but when I walked by, had to give a reason for placing players in a certain position. “Why would you want trumpets in the back?” “Why are strings on both sides?” “Why is there only one piccolo?” “How do you tell the difference between a cello and a double bass?”

When my 2nd Graders Hired the St Louis Symphony Orchestra, hiring eventually boiled down to whether the player could stand up on the job or not! You’ll understand once you view the video!  Below the video is a slideshow of pictures in case you want to see the pieces up close.

2nd Graders Hired the St Louis Symphony Orchestra Slideshow

[2jslideshow id=”4612″]

Building the Orchestra Pieces

The St Louis Symphony Orchestra pieces come from their website here.   What a wonderful gift to our students!! If you want to make these orchestral pieces, copy the entire 14 page PDF for each team of students; that’s enough to make up one full orchestra.  I made seven(7) sets while sitting by the warm fire during the winter evenings. Having enough sets for 21 students was my goal. From my experience, teams of 3 work best on this activity.

To create the orchestra, copy the PDF, color the individual pieces, laminate them, cut them apart, and build a standing unit. You may come up a better idea of how to make the pieces stand up and hold up under repeated play, but my solution was to attach the pieces to a small piece of foam, like the foam that goes under furniture legs when the carpet gets cleaned, or small leftover pieces of the 8’x4′ foam insulation boards from Lowes or Home Depot.

Extra Effort Needed

I used white gaffer’s tape to attached the sides and bottom pieces to the foam. Any tape will do, but gaffer’s tape is easy to tear and has no sticky parts to gunk up over time. Plus, the white tape blended in with the pieces so well.  On some of the pieces, I even tried to glue a paper clip to the bottom to get them to stand up without falling. Because I wanted to make something that could be thrown on the floor, handled by children, and tossed back in the storage box, going to all the extra effort/trouble was just part of the process.  The black velcro, by the way, was for a first grade activity on the bulletin board where Ss had to sort instruments and place them in correct family groups.

2nd Graders Hired St Louis Symphony Orchestra


I store all of the pieces in a large clear container box and bring them out just for this awesome activity. The kids absolutely love the challenge of building an orchestra and manipulating the instruments makes it all the better. How many other times would a little 2nd grade boy talk about needing 4 french horns, two flutes and violas?

Using Our Technology Tools to Record Learning

2nd Graders Hired St Louis Symphony Orchestra

Students used the pens on the SMARTBoard to highlight each group of instruments. They moved freely around the room to complete the task and definitely owned the learning throughout this activity. The final task was “Show what you know” using their iPads.

2nd Graders Hired St Louis Symphony Orchestra

Students took pictures of their completed orchestra and then used  Seesaw to draw and record what they learned. Several examples were heard during the video collage. Once these videos were uploaded on Seesaw, the parents were totally blown away. “We got to hire (and fire) the orchestra today!” was the talk of the town for a while.

2nd Graders Hired St Louis Symphony Orchestra

Presentation is Everything!!

This was part of a larger unit on the orchestra and for the first time, my students ended up grasping that individual players make up sections and sections make up families in the orchestra. Maybe they’ve always understood that, but by building the orchestra from the ground up and using technology to record what they learned, it was a completely different experience for both students and teacher.

Presentation is everything!! Hooking the students right when I greeted them at the door with the FedEx package and plea for help from Maestro Robertson set up the adventure perfectly. There were no behavior management problems at all. It was magical…corny, but true!! I see these orchestral pieces being used by others on Pinterest… and wonder how it’s going with them? Have you made a set yet?


A problem and a story that created curiosity led to …..


How would you finish the sentence?