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Tuesday, March 2, 2021

February Highlights 2021

Every month I stop and look back at the highlights from the past month. This month's highlights include teaching chorus for the first time in almost a year, a little inspiration from my daughter, and some amazing content from some wonderful music educators!

1. Teaching chorus

I usually try to include photos for my highlights- I don't have one but I have to mention this anyway. We decided to put together a virtual choir video with 4th-6th graders from across the district instead of our usual all-district chorus (which got cut short before the performance last March), and I've had the opportunity to lead those rehearsals the last few weeks. I knew I missed teaching choir but I didn't know how much until I got to do it again- even with everyone muted it was SUCH an amazing feeling! And the students involved have been so motivated and hard-working. Definitely one of the highlights of the entire school year!

2. A little inspiration

Last month I gushed about how much I love making these family calendars together with my daughters every year. Each month the girls decorate half of the top page and add in all the important dates that affect their lives. When we put together the February calendar one of my daughters turned her page into a valentine's card, and when I read later what she had so easily come up with I was blown away! (If you can't read her handwriting clearly: "Dear Valentine, I just want to say that there is always someone who loves you. And to not give up.", and "Dear valentine, I just want to say that whatever you are doing is changing the world.")

3. Music education content

I love highlighting my favorite music ed content from other teachers and creators each month- check out this month's picks by clicking the images below!




March is, as usual, shaping up to be a very busy month indeed- but a fulfilling and exciting one too. March 2021 has GOT to be better than March 2020, right?!? Let's hope so.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2021

International Music Festival in a Hybrid World

The last few years I have been doing a school-wide informance I've called the International Music Festival every May. Each grade presents two songs or dances from a culture they've been studying for over a month in music class and shares them with the rest of the school. It is by far the best part of the school year for me- everyone huddled in the gym, students excitedly watching the other grades, nervously waiting their turns. There's dancing, singing, and instruments galore. This year so much of that is impossible: no gathering, no singing, no instruments, no dancing- at least not the way we've done it before! But I think I've found a way to still give my students, and the school community, a meaningful experience that makes the most of the hybrid model we're in. 

My basic plan is this: each grade will make a recording of one performance from the culture they're studying. We're very limited in what we can do, but I've found something for each grade, whether it's a cup game or a dance we can do in place or an instrumental performance with found sound. The in-person learners I can record live in class. The distance learners I'll either record on zoom in class or have them make individual videos on flipgrid, depending on what they're doing, and then I'll put them all together to make one video per grade. On the day of the festival, we'll have the entire school together on zoom and I'll share those videos on my screen so we can all watch together.

It was important to me to maintain some element of performance, because one of the elements of the festival I think is important is the sharing of their learning, and the opportunity to see everyone else's performances. But the real value of the whole experience is in the learning itself: the weeks we spend in class going in-depth to experience one particular culture and become more familiar with their music. The opportunity to develop the skill of cross-cultural understanding is the most important reason I do this every year. I'm shifting gears in that regard and leaning into the advantages we have in our current hybrid model to foster cultural understanding when we can't have the same shared experiences we normally would.

Last spring, when we were only posting asynchronous assignments with no live instruction, I put together YouTube playlists with videos showing a wide range of musical styles, dances, and other non-musical aspects of each cultures- food, geography, history, etc- and assigned students to watch a certain number of videos they selected from the playlist and report back on what they learned in a flipgrid video. I'm going to incorporate that same assignment again this year on their asynchronous day, but take some time to discuss what they learned together as a class the next day. 

The most exciting change I'm making this year is to take advantage of the opportunity to finally bring in the broader school community! I've been trying ever since I started the International Music Festival to find a way to allow families and community members to come, and even participate, but I've never been able to work out the logistics because our space is so limited. This year, I'm inviting families to submit short flipgrid videos sharing something from their cultural background: a dance, a song, a recipe, or even a tutorial on how to speak their native language. Families will have a few weeks to submit their videos, and then on the day of the festival I'll publish the videos for everyone to see. At the end of the zoom where we watch each grade level's performance, I'll share the link to the flipgrid so everyone can go and watch all of the videos on their own and learn about each other's cultures!

There is a lot we can't do this year, but there are also a lot of new opportunities this situation presents, and I'm hopeful that, while it will be different and there are definitely things I'll miss, it will still be an impactful learning experience for everyone involved. If you're looking for other ideas for pandemic teaching, you can see all of my posts on this page:


If you want to see some examples of the units I teach in each grade level, you can see those lesson plans and resources, as well as some general thoughts on how to do this appropriately, in this post:




Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Music In Our Schools Month® 2021: "Sound of My Heart" Song Bracket

This year the Music In Our Schools Month® (MIOSM®) theme is "Music: The Sound of My Heart". Although I've been celebrating MIOSM in some form or fashion since my first year of teaching, this year is going to be different because of the pandemic as well- our district is in a hybrid model, with some students in person and some participating live online, so not everything I've done in the past will work. One of the things I'll definitely be doing is another song bracket! Here are my plans to make it work (and also tie in this year's theme).

I've done a "march madness" style song bracket before (see the full list of songs, as well as how I ran it in a "normal" year pre-pandemic, in this post) and I knew it would be one of the easiest things to do in our current hybrid model. Last time I tried to choose a wide range of songs without any set theme, but this time I decided to go along with the theme a little bit and only use songs that have the word "love" in the title. Here are the songs I'll be using (in no particular order), or you can see them all in this YouTube playlist:

This Is Love -Walk Off The Earth

Bigger Love -John Legend

All You Need Is Love -Beatles

White Love -SPEED

Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet movie

I’m In the Mood for Love -Charlie Parker

I Will Always Love You -Whitney Houston

Seasons of Love -Rent

Love Song -Sara Bareilles

We Found Love -Rihanna

I Just Called To Say I Love You -Stevie Wonder

Find Your Love -Drake

I Love Rock and Roll -Joan Jett

Love On Top -Beyonce

Love You Zindagi from Dear Zindagi

I Love You -Lacrae

Te Quiero Mucho Mucho -Rio Roma

Can You Feel the Love Tonight -Lion King

I Love to Laugh -Mary Poppins

Young Love -The Judds

Song For Love -Lyn

L'amour est un oiseau rebelle from Carmen -Bizet

Fallen in Love -Chidinma

Piano Concerto No. 20 Mov.2 -Romance -Mozart


Since we have 22 school days in March this year, having 24 songs works out so that most days students are choosing between 2 songs, with one round towards the end where they choose between 3:



Last time I was able to play the songs over the announcements, but I don't want to do it that way this time because only the in-person learners hear the morning announcements in my building. Instead, I'm putting together a Google Slides file with the songs for each day listed on one slide (with just the audio), and asking each homeroom teacher to play the songs for their class when they have both the in-person and distance learners together, and report their class' vote to me by marking it right in their slides (I'll make one copy of the file for each homeroom). I'll tally the class' votes to see which song advances to the next round and add slides as we go after round 1. I can't share the audio files because I don't own the rights to the songs, but if you'd like a blank copy of the slides where you can insert your own audio (or you could add a youtube link instead), clicking below will give you the option to save a copy to your own drive:



I think this will be a fun way to include everyone in the process, expose students to a variety of genres, and fill the school day with more music without overwhelming myself or anyone else with too much extra work (something we definitely don't need right now)! 


What are your plans for Music In Our Schools Month® this year? What "love" songs did I miss? There are so many out there, I know there are more good ones! Share your ideas in the comments below. If you're looking for more ideas to use for MIOSM, here are all my posts on the topic, and you can see all of my posts relating to pandemic teaching on this page below:



Tuesday, February 9, 2021

FlipGrid for Elementary Music

One of my favorite teacher discoveries during this pandemic has definitely been FlipGrid! This was one technology I had never even heard of before March 2020, and has now become one of my favorite tools that I plan to continue using long after this is over. Here are some of my favorite ways to use it, along with some of my tips for making the most of it.


If you aren't familiar with the site, essentially it is a way to collect videos from students on a particular topic in one place. You set up "groups", which are like your "classes", and then within each group you create "topics", which are like the specific assignments for which you want students in that group to create videos. Recording and editing their videos is built right into the site, so students can just go to your link and record right there with intuitive, easy to follow steps. Here's a quick overview of what it's about/ basic steps for getting set up:



Top Tips for Use

1. Grade Level Groups

For elementary music, I think it makes the most sense to set up a "group" for every grade level. I set mine up this way last spring and it is still working well for me almost a year later! It makes it easy to find the assignment I want, see one students' work on different assignments in one place, and duplicate an assignment year-to-year (which I am now discovering in my second school year using it). I kept all of the same groups I set up last year because I still teach the same grade levels, and I just give students the link to their current grade's topics!


Bonus: as I'll explain in some examples below, I have also found FlipGrid very useful for organizing school-wide and district-wide events. So in addition to the grade level groups I also have one group for the district music department, and one for my school building, and then I keep all my "topics" for different events in those groups.

2. Duplicate Groups/ Topics

For music teachers one of our biggest struggles is having so many different classes! So I love how easy it is to create copies of groups and topics once I make one. I highly recommend setting up one grade level "group" with all the settings the way you want it, then just duplicating the group and changing the grade level. I do the same thing with assignments- I often reuse an assignment from year to year, or have a similar assignment for multiple grades, so I just duplicate a topic I already created and edit as needed.

3. Moderate Topics

I set all my topics to be "moderated", and I recommend this for almost every situation in teaching. Having a topic moderated means when students submit their videos, only the teacher can see it unless the teacher shares it publicly on the topic page. This is obviously helpful for making sure no off-topic or inappropriate content gets shared with the class, but more than that it makes it less intimidating for camera-shy students if they know I'm the only one who will see it. If it's a normal class assignment I usually tell students they can let me know if they want their response to remain private. Most students are happy to have their classmates see their videos, but for students who are more hesitant they can still participate in the learning experience without the performance anxiety. 

The moderating feature is also really helpful for collecting submissions in advance and publishing all submissions at once later, especially for school-wide events (more on that below) or even for something like an assessment where you need students to submit their response without seeing others' answers beforehand.

Examples for Music Teachers

1. Performance Task Class Assignments

Although it's marketed as a way for students to basically talk to the camera to share their thoughts like you would in a discussion, for music FlipGrid is the perfect way to have students perform! I've done simple assignments like creating a found sound composition, or even demonstrating a quick performance task like singing a pattern on solfege, playing a rhythm, etc like I would in class. I envision using this long after the pandemic is over for absent students to do an activity I used as a quick assessment in class, or as an alternative for students who get "stage fright".

2. Self-Paced Work

FlipGrid is also perfect for things like recorders where students work at their own pace to "earn belts" etc, or instrumental lesson situations where students are working on different skills. I have a topic set up for recorder "belt tests", which I have linked in the google slides I made that have all of the songs and instructional videos for each level. Any time they are ready to play a song for me they go to that topic and make a video, and then I can give them feedback or tell them to go to the next song. This is definitely something I'll be continuing post-pandemic, because it gives students a way to play for me without having to play in front of the class or wait their turn if I'm listening to 20 other students. It solves so much of the frustration of allowing students to work at their own pace!

3. Virtual Ensembles

One of the obvious uses of FlipGrid, especially in our current situation, is for students to submit individual videos to put together for a "virtual ensemble" video. I include tracks for students to listen to, and a PDF of the sheet music etc, right there in the topic, and tell students to record their video while listening to the track on headphones from another device. It's the perfect way to collect all the videos in one place, and they're easy to download from there to edit in any video editing software. 

4. Talent Shows

I've done a few school-wide events on FlipGrid where, essentially, students, staff, and/or community members are invited to share/ perform on a particular topic. What's great about this is I can have a time period for people to turn in their video, when the topic is moderated so the videos stay private, and then a "show date" when I publish all the submitted videos for everyone to view, and everyone can watch the performances on their own time or watch together with their class while the grade level teacher shares their screen on zoom and/ or projects it on their screen in the classroom. 

I hope this gives you some inspiration for using FlipGrid- I have loved using it and found, once I set it up the first time, that it's so easy to navigate! If you have other tips for using FlipGrid, or other examples of how you've used it in your teaching, please leave a comment below. If you're looking for more of my posts for all different aspects of pandemic teaching, including other technology-specific posts, you can find them organized by topic on this page: