Using Music to set the Mood

Recently I've been running my classroom through iTunes playlists. Transitions, worktime, tests, small groups - they all have their own playlist. I hook my computer up to the speakers, use the Remote App on my iPhone, iTouch or iPad and voila! - I am able to wirelessly change the mood and instruction using music.

I've found that this is a fun and low-stress way to cue students to different tasks, moods and periods of the day. It has added a sense of levity to our day that once it was characterized as... well... perhaps a bit militant (clapping to get students' attention, transitioning in lines with arms folded and marching single file... effective but no fun). It is amazing to see a student trudge up the stairs, grumble through getting breakfast, roll their eyes as they walk in to the classroom and then - bam - they are shaking their hips to Shakira and greeting classmates with a grin. Come time for the math challenge in the daily math message, my normally frustrated students are tapping their feet, and putting pencil to paper when I play the math message playlist. Talking has all but ceased during work time as students quiet down to listen to the instrumental work time playlist. It's been a great change in our classroom environment. Music really can lighten the mood and help soothe the souls of our weary students (and teachers)!

Some examples of tunes and times:
  • Morning Entry: I love to use popular, upbeat songs with a positive message. As kids enter the classroom, they dance in listening to "Waka Waka (This Time for Africa" by Shakira, "Firework" by Katy Perry, "Loser Like Me" by the Glee Cast, "Wavin' Flag" by K'naan, and "Born this Way" by Lady Gaga (I use the Glee version).
  • Math Message: This is the time for our kids to problem solve, and challenge themselves with difficult problems. Therefore this playlist is more mellow but still has a "you can do it" message. They work listening to either "The World's Greatest" by R. Kelly or "Wake Up Everybody" by John Legend. Both are about 4 minutes and so time our Math Message well.
  • Work Time: When it is time for kids to work, but lyrics would be distracting, I turn to Vitamin String Quartet. A fellow teacher told me about this group - as the name suggests they are a string quartet - who performs popular music (Queen! Michael Jackson! Lady Gaga!). Pretty funny the first time you hear it - but a great background soundtrack for worktime!
  • Transitions: We do an action-movie Slo-Mo transition. Kids know where to go and begin transitioning as soon as the music turns on. They make ridiculous Slo-Mo faces, over-exaggerated movements and have a total ball moving from their seats to centers, the bathroom line, etc. In this way, 25 kids can get from point A to point B safely, without pushing, yet while still smiling. The perfect song for this is from the Kill Bill soundtrack - "Battle without Honor or Humanity" by Tomoyasu Hotei. At the end of the transition we name an "Academy Award Winner" for best silent and slo-mo transition. 
 Note: See a follow-up to this post here (posted June 5, 2011).
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