By Brendan Lai-Tong
Music lessons should never be a dull or boring experience. There are many great method books and resources that teachers can use to make music lessons fun, interesting and engaging for students of all ages. We were on the lookout for some of these resources while at the Music Teacher’s National Association Convention in Anaheim, California. Some great resources that stood out were teaching aids and games from Keys to Imagination. Michelle Sisler was running the Keys to Imagination booth right next to ours at the show!
Michelle’s uses of technology and creative teaching materials have gained her national recognition and a unique place at the forefront of music education. Her materials allow teachers to incorporate technology and creativity into music lessons. Keys to Imagination publishes some neat books, games and interactive whiteboard software that can be used to great effect in the classroom or private studio.
Michelle is frequently asked to present at conferences nationwide. She has presented sessions at The National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy, Music Teachers National Association conference, and various state conferences and local groups. She has written technology articles for Keyboard Companion, a series of technology articles in Clavier, and reviews in American Music Teacher. Michelle has co-authored Studio Makeover, Technology “Addition”®, Double Click Curriculum® and Are We There Yet? A Musical Journey Around the Globe®.
Today we’ll get to learn a bit more about Michelle as well as some great new resources for you to use to teach your students effectively.
Hi Michelle, thanks for taking the time to interview with us! Please tell us a little more about how you became involved in music:
Thank you for this opportunity! It was great to meet, and be booth neighbors with you at MTNA!
When I was about 5, My parents discovered my talent and love for music when I used to play songs, along with our jukebox, on my toy piano. They realized I had an ear for music and enrolled me in piano lessons at the age of 7. Neither of my parents play piano, although I keep telling them to come and take lessons now.
Who are some of your musical role models?
While not necessarily a musical role model, Walt Disney is my inspiration. His quote, “If you can dream it, you can do it,” is hanging on my wall and my studio is decorated in Mickey Mouse and Disney! Whenever I go to Disney World or Disneyland, I am always inspired on how I can inspire my students and make their music lessons interesting and memorable.
My inspiration and motivation to pursue music came from my piano teacher, my elementary classroom music teacher, and my band teacher. In their own unique way, each had an impact on my music career. I was involved in our elementary school fine arts and hobby show, in which my compositions, won first place, even at the state level. One of my classroom music teachers let me accompany the class on the piano for concerts, and my band director switched me to oboe because of my piano background. In all of these, I have always had the support of my piano teacher, and now good friend and composer for Keys to Imagination, Portia Johnson. I probably was like most students and didn’t practice enough and didn’t like to do my written theory workbook (but somehow, I enjoy teaching theory to my students now), so I am grateful for these teachers who helped me continue all of those years. They gave me opportunities that made me want to be a music teacher. It reminds me as a teacher that even these small opportunities and accomplishments can help students stick with music for life, no matter if they choose a career in music or not.
What inspired you to start up Keys to Imagination?
When I started teaching, I knew I wanted to add technology to my studio but wasn’t sure how to start and what programs to purchase. I became frustrated with the lack of knowledge stores had about their products and how to implement and built my lab with a lot of time and research. Once I figured it out myself, I decided to help other teachers and provide not only the information I was lacking, but the advice from another teacher and what worked with students. I started by retailing products used in the lab, then started writing my own lab curriculum, Double Click Curriculum®. Now with the help of my authors, Leila Viss and Michelle Galindo, we have several Double Click Curriculum series available.
Tell us more about your “Are We There Yet?” series.
Are We There Yet? A Musical Journey Around the Globe® is a unique multimedia, interdisciplinary program to teach students about world music, instruments, culture, people, and geography through colorful slides, text, photos, videos, music, crafts, games and puzzles. Designed to be used with a projector or SMART board (or computer station for independent lab), this curriculum is completely done for you! Simply read the slides to students, click on related sound clips and videos, and complete activities as directed.
Bring a world music expert, Dr. Deborah Brener, into your classroom or studio!
Easy for music or non-music teachers to use; no experience in world music needed. Classroom teachers may coordinate projects with other subjects.
Save time planning and preparing lessons! The research, music, text, photos, videos, crafts, games, and puzzles are already done for you and aligned with the national standards. Very little preparation time needed.
Customize classes or a student’s lab session by choosing slides and activities to fit your schedule. We recommend a minimum of 3-4 hours of class time per country. There are currently six countries with another six in development.
Play songs along with the accompaniment tracks and hear instruments from around the world as you play piano or Boowhackers, Orff and rhythm instruments and sing!
What sparked this idea and how can it best be utilized in the classroom setting?
I met my co-author, Dr. Deborah Brener, at the MTAC conference a few years ago. Deborah is from Orange County, CA and is an expert in this area. She had previously published articles and materials with Alfred and we decided to collaborate on a project to bring world music to elementary student in using an interdisciplinary and multimedia program. We both have different areas of expertise which made us a great team for this project, and because of this project, have also become good friends. Deborah and her family are some of the nicest people you will ever meet and I have been fortunate to be able to stay with her and her family and escape the Minnesota winters to work with her in sunny southern California.
Are We There Yet can be used in a classroom or group setting with a projector, large TV or SMART board. Each country has 40-50 colorful slides for the teacher to display, reading the text, clicking on audio or video links, or completing activities with the group. Students complete their writing activities in their passport and can make crafts included with the program, sing, and play songs.
What age range is the series best suited for?
We recommend grades 2-6 but the program can be adapted for younger or older students as well.
What is the difference between the classroom and piano studio version?
The classroom version is licensed for an entire school building and multiple classes. It also includes music for Boomwhackers (already color coded for the teacher) or other Orff instruments, rhythm instrument and vocals. This is an optional add on kit for the piano studio version, and my piano students always enjoy playing Boomwhackers!
You also have several great motivational board games for use in the studio or classroom setting. The one that really caught our eye at MTNA was “Sebastian Sharp and the Case of the Missing Manuscript”. Please tell us more about the game and best uses in the classroom.
I enjoy being creative and finding a way to make lessons and recitals interesting and memorable. I always have a theme for each studio year. Several years ago, I started developing themed programs for my studio and other teachers started asking for them. It grew to now include a giant vinyl game board that hangs on the studio wall. Students come into lessons and get to move on the game board based on their practice that week. Even parents appreciate the motivation that makes their job a little easier as well.
The newest motivation game is Sebastian Sharp and the Case of the Missing Manuscript. Aunt Bernice has invited her niece and nephew to her at her musical mystery mansion, Misterioso Manor, to help solve this case but they need your students’ help! Join Sebastian, Elise, Aunt Bernice and her staff to track down one of history’s most famous composers using your knowledge of music to guide you through the clues. Are you up for the challenge?
It’s elementary, my dear Watson! Each student gets a character piece to stick on the game board. For each day students practice the required amount, set by the teacher, they will earn one space in Misterioso Manor, a giant heavy-duty vinyl gameboard hung in the studio. They will move and re-stick their piece to the game board on their new location.
Visting each room only once, students must visit all 12 rooms in the mansion plus the Piano Pool, Staccato Stable and G Clef Garden to earn all 15 available clue cards one at a time. Each clue card tells the next part of the story and asks students to answer music and theory questions. Sometimes, students need to document their music clues on their manuscript paper to help put the song together. The answers to these musical questions will not only help them learn more about music but will give them their next clue to find out WHO the mystery musician was and WHAT song Sebastian was playing.
As students pass the ? spaces on the board, they earn suspect cards to help them also identify WHO stold the music, WHY they took it and WHERE they hid it so we can get it back. You could even be a suspect!
Students track their clues (both answers to questions and measures of music they find) in their detective notebook, which doubles as their student assignment book. My author, Michael Hemsworth, did a great job of creating a fun and interesting story where students can’t wait to see what happens next!
Do you have any new fun teaching resources planned in the future?
Absolutely! We are always working on new ideas (and are looking for authors with ideas they would like to see published.) We have new motivation games, summer programs, and new Double Click Curriculum in the works!
Thanks again for taking the time to interview with us!
We hope you enjoyed this interview with Michelle Sisler. Teachers, what are you currently using to inspire your students to learn and practice music? Are you already using some of Keys to Imagination’s products? Let us know what you think!