‘My dog has fleas’ #pedagooreview


A highlight for 2012?  Over the years I have been involved in many things, often with the focus being on technology and science stuff.  I’ve always strived to engage pupils and am constantly on the look out for resources that enhance and extend my learners experiences.  Twitter has been a great way to find and share ideas with enthusiastic motivated teachers all over the world. So I have surprised myself as my definite highlight has been something very un-tech.

At the end of last session I noticed a poster advertising a new pilot project for Fife being organised by Sandra Taylor of the Youth Music Initiative; Ukulele in the classroom.  Now, like all primary teachers I’m a ‘Jack of all trades’ and have taught music to various age groups over my 11 year career so far.  I have also been fortunate enough to work with excellent visiting specialists and musically talented class teachers over the years at various schools.  I can hold a note having been encouraged to sing in choirs as a child and would consider myself a good enough recorder player to keep one step ahead of a P7 class.  However it is not something I had ever considered as being a ‘strength’.

So what possessed me to fire off an email and sign up? Was it the fact that as a primary teacher I regularly wish I hadn’t given up learning to play piano at the age of 8?  That I now actually agree with my mum that I would live to regret it?  Well, if I’m honest – partly yes (but don’t tell my mum).  My main reason was that I thought it would be fun.  Fun for me and fun for my pupils.  Whilst I’m sure recorder has its defenders and can be a beautiful instrument I was sure that ukulele would have the edge.  If nothing else (I figured) you can sing along and they come in cool colours. I also decided that surely you couldn’t go to a ukulele twilight and meet people who didn’t want to be there.  You can’t take life too seriously if you choose to play the uke.  A chance to learn a new skill, be part of a pilot with motivated people and get outside my comfort zone.  I’m in !

Thankfully I was accepted on the pilot and met up with the fantastic Sandra Taylor and Ann Rae.  A real mix of teachers attend, some I know, most I didn’t.  I headed back from the first twilight with 19 ukuleles in the boot of my car to an incredibly excited class… two weeks of daily tuning had to be undertaken before they could be played and my utterly brilliant classroom assistant took on the challenge with me. She claims to be totally unmusical but was totally up for it.  I love working with people like her! Enthusiastic, motivated and positive.

So how have we done so far since September? It has been utterly fantastic!  I have driven my colleagues mad with our constant tuning and strumming (one of which is getting a uke for her Christmas). Children have been bought their own instruments (which can be had for around £20) and I know a few more will be appearing in stockings on the 25th. My class have totally surpassed my expectations, we play twice a week and have a whole stack of chords under our belts.  Some pupils are naturals, some find it tricky; everyone loves it.

We have performed three songs at our School Christmas concert in front of a packed church. We are off to play to the nursery this week and at another church service on Saturday.  We are even planning to play on the Glow TV Talent show this week.  We’ve made a giant Hawaiian Christmas card for the hall featuring Santa in shorts, ukulele calendars and strumming ukulele playing snowmen Christmas cards.  Music is fun! I have never had a class exclaim ‘YES!’ when it’s time to play recorder. Yes, I’ve seen recorder taught really well…but in my opinion the uke is better. In the new year we are going to go even further and start composing our own songs.

And technology? Well, we have a class blog into which we have an RSS feed from audioboo. We regularly record our music (including our Samba drumming) and comment upon it on our blog.  We can hear ourselves improve as we sing along enjoying ourselves.  I demonstrated how other teachers could use Audioboo to record and share their class’ work.  I’m hoping this is going to develop into a network so pupils can offer peer feedback across schools.  Oh, and one pupil is working on a Scratch project featuring an interactive Ukulele! I’m also just about to send off recording to Chris Evans on Radio 2 which, fingers crossed he might broadcast.

We have a concert planned for the summer term and our enthusiasm shows no sign of wavering.  I’m looking forward to my uke twilights and we are apparently performing as a staff at the Fife Festival of Music.  I have my homework to do over the holidays! All of this and just yesterday I read with interest on Twitter that the Scottish Government have pledged to spend an extra million pounds on instruments for schools.

So what have I learned? Well, we never stop learning and getting yourself outside of your comfort zone is a good place to be.  Everyone should seek out motivated, positive people to engage with; enthusiasm is infectious.  Pedagoo is one great place to do this….a room full of ukulele playing teachers is another 🙂

Oh..in case you were wondering-I don’t own a dog!.

5 thoughts on “‘My dog has fleas’ #pedagooreview

  1. Stuart Disbury

    Great article, and really enjoyed going through your audioboos. As someone who always despised the recorder, I really like what you’ve done and have been looking into something similar for use with some ASN pupils.

    1. karlbarrs Post author

      Thanks Stuart. Glad you’ve enjoyed the Audioboos. Feel free to leave a couple of comments for the pupils; they would be delighted to receive some feedback! The Ukulele songs we are teaching fit within and extend the Kodaly training (if you are familiar with it). Of course, a quick search on-line or on the ever-useful Youtube will result in loads of ‘3 chord’ songs to enthuse your pupils along with contemporary tunes. In the first term we planned and opened a Halloween shop, Jesse J ‘price-tag’fitted in perfectly. I’m not suggesting singing ‘it’s all about the money, money, money…’ can be called cross curricular, but it’s certainly fun (and motivating)! One pupil commented on our blog that they didn’t think Jesse J could play ukulele on account of her nails 🙂

      When it comes to ASN and uke (depending on the specific needs of your pupils) we have discussed this in the group. I believe one teacher teaches a group of ASN pupils ukulele (I’ll find out for you). Normally you wouldn’t use a plectrum with uke but one pupil finds the strumming hard. The addition of a ‘leather’ plectrum enables the pupil to be part of the project. Another technique for pupils who find the chords hard to make is to retune the uke so an ‘open strum’ (without pressing any strings with the left hand) results in a chord.

  2. karlbarrs Post author

    Cheers Colin. The ukulele is definitely more ‘forgiving’. With a recorder even one slightly misplaced finger or an overenthusiastic blow can result in a screech. Also the plethora of music available which is ‘cool’ and amount of current artists who use ukulele in their songs make it a great choice. I can see how the positive experience of playing ukulele may lead to children continuing with experimenting with and developing their musical skills. With the best will in the world, I couldn’t see that happening with recorder. Having said that, I feel it still has it’s place in terms of learning to ‘read music’. Oh, and recorders don’t go out of tune every half an hour 😉

    1. Ann Rae

      Fantastic to hear all the positive comments about ukulele,
      and of course it’s even more exciting and satisfying to see it in
      action. I had nearly 100 primary 4 & 5 pupils today singing
      2 Christmas songs while accompanying themselves on ukulele….truly
      a sight and sound to behold! Of course further down the line, the
      ukulele can also be used as a tool for learning to read music, just
      like the recorder. As for the tuning of the ukuleles….yes it is
      very variable at the beginning, but if the ukes are of a decent
      quality, then it will settle down and they will need much less
      tuning the more they are played. The other positive aspect, is that
      with repetition of the sound of the open strings, the pupils are
      being exposed to aural training, and will soon recognise if any of
      the strings are out of tune. It ticks all the boxes as far as I’m
      concerned….kiddy sized, easy, relatively cheap, inclusive,
      popular, attractive sound, encourages singing, is fun, and is a
      social skill for life. What more could you ask for? As for ASN
      Stuart….Karl mentioned two of the adaptations we have made, but
      of course it very much depends on the needs of the pupils, and any
      enquiries/suggestions/experiences/problems etc would be carefully
      discussed and considered.

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