Kids in Space!

Welcome guest blogger, Jim Thorne!

Kids really like to dream, and one thing they like to dream about is flying in space. I certainly dreamed about that as a youngster during the Apollo moon landings, which inspired me to become a space scientist. Recently, I combined my love of space travel with my hobby as a singer-songwriter, and recorded a CD of songs called “To Follow Apollo” about a boy and a girl named Tommy and Laura who explore space together.  I’ve played these songs at assemblies for more than 2,500 elementary school students so far and it’s really fun to watch them light up as they follow the stories in their imaginations.

To Follow Apollo CDIn the seven songs on the CD “To Follow Apollo,” Tommy and Laura learn about science and how to fly spaceships, and then leave the earth to visit many places in the solar system.  In the title song, they return to the moon to find the original Apollo landing sites and go on to visit three more places where Apollo should have landed, had it not been canceled early. This way, the kids who are listening to the song can imagine that they could finish the original mission of Apollo by doing it themselves!

In the song called “The Little Bear,” which is another name for the Little Dipper, Tommy and Laura go outside on a clear night to look at the constellations in the sky. They try to see as many animal constellations as they can, and end up finding 14 different animals during the song.  A good friend of mine used “The Little Bear” to teach English to her 4th-grade students with other primary languages.  I got to visit her class, and the kids sang my song back to me and made thank you cards with their drawings of Tommy and Laura looking up at the sky full of animals. It really touched my heart to experience this, and I believe the kids will remember the songs and the ideas.

In “The Countdown Song,” Tommy and Laura fly to the planet Mercury to look for a crashed robotic space probe called “Messenger,” which was a real NASA program. The kids find the crashed probe on the surface of Mercury, but since Tommy’s rocket accidentally landed on uneven ground, they need to fix it before it can take off safely again. The kids both work together to solve the problem, then they count down from ten to one for the takeoff. In the classroom, I teach the chorus of the song to the kids first, which is just the numbers from ten down to one, and then they sing along at the right places in the song. This is very effective for keeping their attention because the students are directly involved in the story.

Jim Thorne

My goal is to inspire elementary students to think about space and see the science in the world around them, so I wrote the songs for “To Follow Apollo” as visual stories they could follow in their own imaginations. The stories are told in plain language, but the scientific concepts and references are correct so they will at least get the right impressions and perhaps choose to study space science in the future. I was recently interviewed about this on a public access television show called “Around Space TV,” and played a few of the songs from the CD:

Keep your eye on the sky!  Jim Thorne

In addition to being a singer-songwriter, Jim is a published rocket scientist who shares his enthusiasm for space exploration by performing his original story songs for science programs in elementary schools.

For all of Jim Thorne’s products on Songs for Teaching, click here! For more songs about outer space, click here!

10 Ways to Use Music in your Classroom

Due to several requests, we are republishing this blog post, originally published in March 2014.

Most teachers agree that using music can enhance learning. Yet, many teachers get stuck, not knowing what to play or how to use music to the fullest. Here are 10 ideas you can implement today in your classroom!

1. Transitions – music is a great tool when switching subjects of changing directions for your students. It has a way of resetting the stage so that children can mentally switch from one topic to another. Play a song to summarize what was just finished, or a song about what is coming next. Allow the children to stand up, march around the room or do hand movements to mark the transition. You will find your children fresh and engaged for the next subject. Click here for some great transition songs!

2. Energize – When children have been focusing on a subject for a time and begin to get fatigued (usually marked by restlessness, inattention, disruptive behavior), take a break from the class and call a music break. Play a activating song, best if related to the topic, to re-energize the children. Click here for some great suggestions!

3. Use Lyrics – display lyrics on a whiteboard, smart-board or on flip chart paper. Have the children find sight words, diagram the sentences or pull out academic vocabulary. Using the text while the song plays, gives relevance to the lyrics and allows the children to learn conventions, build vocabulary and enhance reading and literacy. Nearly all the music at Songs For Teaching is sold with lyrics.

4. Write Lyrics – Collect a few instrumental tracks of familiar songs and as an assignment have the children write their own lyrics. This can be done individually, in small groups or with the class at large. The teacher can incorporate a current theme or target information learned from a particular lesson. It might be a great project for a poetry lesson! Here are several suggestions for instrumental tracks.

5. Power of the Pause – Pausing the music at key spots in the music can increase engagement. Pause before the end of a line and ask the children to finish the line. Then think of other words you could substitute for the actual lyric. Brainstorm other words that rhyme or words that may change the meaning! Use the pause button with any song (remember musical chairs?). For rhyming songs try Jack Hartmann’s Rap, Clap, Rhyme. Also see Marla Lewis’ Rhyme Riddles!

6. Pair with Literature – There are a number of ways to pair songs with the books the children are reading. Teachers can select songs that relate directly to the book. For example, if your class is reading Mr. Popper’s Penguins, you can incorporate this song also titled Mr. Popper’s Penguins directly about the book. Or you can find songs about a related topic such as Penguin Party about the different types of penguins or Puffin’s Summer Picnic to learn about animals of the Arctic. This can be a great way to address the Common Core directive to integrate science, social studies etc into reading. Or . . . flip it! Listen to a song before going to the library and have the children find related books! Click Here for more songs inspired by Children’s Literature.

7. Make Music Video – This is a great project to integrate the sciences. Children can find photos on the internet and arrange them in a slide show to convey meaning in the song. Take the song Hibernation for example. . Children can collect photos of hibernating animals and sync them to the music. How about a song about amphibians . . . or a song about the solar system. Not only do the children enjoy the science lesson, they build their technology skills as well.

8. Coordinate with Holidays – Most teachers are used to playing songs related to the big holidays, but don’t forget the other special days of the year. For example, Earth Day is in April. It is a great time to play music related to conservation such as Music with Mar.’s Can It, Save the Planet. It also can be a great way to integrate songs about historical figures related to that holiday. For Earth Day, you could play a song about John Muir and learn the history of the day.

9. Have a Performance! This can be something simple like a performing for the classroom, perhaps across grade levels or with reading buddies. Or it can be for a school assembly or parent night. Using instrumental tracks saves the day when an accompanists cannot be found. Click here for some suggestions for performances! Make costumes and write your own scripts. Try one of our great musicals that come fully scripted complete with vocal and instrumental tracks.

10. Just plain fun! Try some silly songs for the simple joy of it. Make the classroom environment one that nurture’s children’s creativity and natural desire for learning.

Rich Soil Blog Post from Stan Slaughter

Rich Soil

This is an exciting time for the healthy food movement. The number of tools and techniques that inform organic farming and gardening is exploding. Evidence is pouring in that the conventional food system is broken and the interest in food that can lead to health grows daily.

While this curve is turning vertical now, it didn’t come out of thin air. Yes, Kansas City does have 43 farmer’s markets and a notable movement well in place, but the meetings that kicked this off started almost 30 years ago. The Mother Earth News started in the 70’s and Organic Gardening magazine started in the 40’s. Sir Albert Howard published his compost manual in 1931 based on his research and influence from Farmer’s of Forty Centuries which was based on a tour of China, Japan and Korea in 1905. The Biochar Solution, by my friend Albert Bates, details the soil preparation techniques practiced by Amazonian Indians more than a thousand years ago, which hold great promise for the long-term productivity and health of our soils today.

This legacy of information is a treasure to be built upon and shared. Too often we are like the farmer who was asked if he was going to the farming workshop and replied, “No, I already don’t farm as well as I know how to.” The time is ripe to practice what we know. Economics, demographics, and an out of balance food system are creating rapid change and exciting opportunity.

Songs about composting, rich soil, and other eco-friendly topics can be found on these great Stan Slaughter albums: 

Rot N' RollIn Tune With All SpeciesUnintended ConsequencesWater All Over the World

This post was submitted by Stan Slaughter, The Eco-Troubadour. See all Stan’s music here! 

Memorial Day Remembered

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As a classroom teacher of 24 years, I know the importance of teaching the standards and the pressure of students performing well on test scores. Somehow, that all pales in importance when I think of my good high school friend, Larry Herrera, who lost his life at the age of 19 serving in the Vietnam War. He never had the chance to get married, have a job and family, or live a full life.

Years ago I wrote a poem about him which I read (with difficulty) every year to my students for Memorial Day. I always show them his picture and the rubbing I made of his name at the Vietnam Veteran’s Wall in Washington DC. Even in the already packed school day, I always feel it is of upmost importance to talk about him and other individuals who gave their lives so all of us could enjoy ours. Eventually, I created a melody for this poem and turned it into a song – “No Time” on my Learning About Patriotic Holidays and Symbols CD.

      No Time - Learning By Song/Barbara Speicher

Recently, one of Larry’s younger sisters, Stella, learned about the song, and through Songs for Teaching, was able to contact me. We had never met or talked with each other before. She thanked me for honoring Larry and all the other fallen soldiers through not only the song, but my teaching efforts over the years. We have formed a wonderful friendship via email, and have had a chance to share stories about Larry that have been very meaningful. We both say Larry is our hero, as are all the other individuals who gave their lives for our country and all of us.

In their honor this month of May, both of my CD’s, Learning About Patriotic Holidays and Symbols by Song and Learning American History by Song, will be available for the price of one. As responsible teachers and appreciative Americans, we owe it to these brave individuals who sacrificed so much to keep their memory alive.
Memorial Day Offer


This post submitted by Barbara Speicher
24-year veteran teacher, 3rd-6th
CD Company:   Learning by Song
Guest Speaker: Benefits of Curriculum-Based Songs in Teaching
Tutors children of homeless families