Tuesday, July 8, 2014

I can sing a rainbow!

Singing Fingers is the kind of app that can become really annoying...really fast.  It's a whiteboard app that only lets you draw if it detects sound.  At first, I thought it would be a cute app for the few times my kids have free time on the iPads, but after just one 5 minute "free time" with the app, I wanted to delete it forever.  Kids screaming louder and louder. Ugh!

Then I got smart.  I realized that the each color was linked to a certain pitch and if we controlled our voices, we could control the colors.  So now I have two activities that we do with the app that my students still love, but I don't loath.

1. Vocal Circles

Especially in pre-k and kindergarten, I do a lot of vocal exploration for them to search for their singing voice.  I have a rug that has small 16 inch circles that we typically sit in and we also do vocal exploration by dragging our finger around the circle and matching our voices to go high and low.  Same concept with Singing Fingers, but we draw our own circles.  The higher the sounds, the more vibrant the colors.  They loved this!  And surprisingly, they sat quite nicely as their waited for their private turn.  It was fun to watch the individuals attempt and see how bright their colors could be.  They were singing by themselves and see exactly on paper (iPad) what their voice was capable of doing.  I was hearing each one solo and was able to assess where they are in their development and guide as necessary.  This activity works great even just with one iPad.

2. Sing a Rainbow

This activity is more involved and has some great potential!  I have done this one mostly with 1st and 2nd graders, but I let kindergarten do it as well just to challenge them a little and let the more developed singers shine.

In this activity, we take control of our voices to literally sing a rainbow.  It takes a lot of prep work in procedures with the students to make the rainbows look their best, but it's also a lesson in team work and how one "bad see" can disrupt the outcome of everybody's work.  Here's how my procedures work:

Teacher plays pitch on piano
Teacher sings pitch on "loo"
Teacher sings directions: echo (keeping pitch)
Students echo pitch on "loo"
Teacher sings directions: draw (keeping pitch)
Students keep singing pitch and draw first color of rainbow.

It is important for the kids to remember that the app will pick up EVERY sound in the room so even a chuckle or a soft comment will ruin someone's rainbow.  I make sure we do a test run and I specifically mess up their rainbows so they realize the consequences.

I also make it very clear that there are no do-overs.  Once we start the activity, we keep going until the whole rainbow is made.  If someone makes a mistake (or messes up their rainbow by talking), then their rainbow will always be messed up.  Occasionally a student will erase their work after making a mistake and then they don't have a complete rainbow.  It's another lesson to be learned when they are upset about not having all the colors anymore.

So once a student group (I put them in pairs) is finished drawing one color of the rainbow, the instructions are that they stop singing and WAIT.  Once I see we're all done, I play the next pitch on the piano and we do the next color.

A couple tips:  Do a practice run.  There is a lot of learning on the job for this activity and some students get frustrated that the rainbow doesn't turn out perfect the first time.  I typically introduce the activity at the end of a class period and try a few colors.  Then the next class, we reiterate the procedures AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN and do the full rainbow.

The higher the pitch, the brighter the color. I pick super high pitches that not only force the students into their head voice, but also make the colors much brighter.  My choice notes are:
Red: C# above middle C
Orange: D above
Yellow: D# above
Green: E above
Blue: G# above middle C (drop lower than before)
Violet A# above

My school piano is not exactly in tune so you might find better notes that work for you, but at least this is a guide for you to find your way.

Let the students show each other their work.  I like to have us all back in our circle and discuss our work.  We look at who has the brightest colors, who has the nicest shape, who maybe didn't follow directions and touched where they weren't supposed to, whose work might have been messed up a little.  I try to say something about everyone's rainbow and I don't sugar coat it.  If Evan was doing something wrong, I point it out so everyone can see.  Evan might need to learn that his actions are noticed by others and his results will show.

Let them play!  At the end of this activity, I definitely let them have the 5 minutes of torture for me and fun for them to play around in the app.  It's awful.  But they had to show so much self control during this process that they deserve to let loose just a little.  It's awful. 

So, all in all, Singing Fingers has the potential to be a great tool for exploration and assessment!  Looking at everyone's rainbows, I can easily see who is strong at matching pitch and who wavers a little.  I can see who is following directions and whose fingers strayed a little.  And THAT'S how to use technology in a music classroom!

Enjoy this video we made in 2nd grade to share Singing Fingers with our parents!


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