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Tuesday, December 1, 2020

November Highlights 2020

November was... quite eventful! When I first started writing these monthly recap posts I had a few intentions in mind: have a way to share some of my day-to-day, amplify content from other bloggers I was sharing on my Facebook page directly on this site, and highlight some of those little things I share on my Instagram account that aren't lengthy enough for a full blog post. The problem is, I am not a savvy social media person, so when things get crazy, that's the first thing I drop. So rather than try to limit myself to sharing things from my social media accounts, I'm going to just recap life in general (and still amplify other bloggers- don't miss their great content at the end of this post)! 

1. Switch to Remote Teaching

The biggest thing that happened to me was my district's switch from hybrid to fully online learning. It was, of course, definitely the right thing to do, but that didn't change the loss I feel. I'm glad I get to teach live classes on Zoom rather than just throwing asynchronous assignments out there like we did last spring, but it's still just not the same. And because we are on a rotation seeing 2 grade levels at a time for 3 weeks each, I actually never got to see my 3rd and 4th graders in person before we switched to full distance- our district's first day of remote learning was also the first day of my first rotation with them! 

Some things I am definitely not missing: running around the building with a mask and headset pushing a cart that was never meant to see that much action with super unreliable internet and a work computer that shuts down whenever it feels the need is not what I call a good time. But as we all can attest, limiting our face-to-face interactions is so hard!

2. Time with Family

No, we didn't all get together for a big meal, but I continue to be so grateful to have my parents nearby and so willing to help out with my daughters. Having the time to just hang out with them, playing board games, decorating the house for Christmas, and spend a little more time away from computer screens has been just the thing we all needed. And we did get to Zoom in my sisters and their families for a meal "together"! 

3. Songmaker Composition

I do a unit every year with my 6th graders where they create their own chord progression, notate it, add a melody, and perform/ record the completed piece (you can see the project here). It's one of my favorite things to teach because it combines so many important concepts and it's the first time their compositions really start to sound "legit" to them- it's daunting but so worthwhile. I was teaching 5th and 6th grade most of the month with our rotational schedule, and we did that project but modified for the hybrid model- since they all have their own devices (which we've never had before), I had them put their compositions into Songmaker as part of the creation process. It went so much better this way! Students could visually see the chord tones and hear the chords and melody together immediately so they could make adjustments immediately. We all loved it and I hope to continue doing it this way from now on.

4. Blog Catchup

If you missed any of my posts this month, you can catch up on your reading here! The conversation I had with other music teachers in various teaching situations was one of the best things I did this month for sure- if you haven't already that is a must-see.



5. Music Education Posts

These are some of my favorite posts from other writers that I found helpful this month- I hope you will take the time to read them as well:





I hope you find some new inspiration for the month ahead, and that you had a wonderful November as well! 

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Sunday, November 29, 2020

24 Days of Family Christmas Activities: Socially Distanced Edition

One of our most treasured family traditions is our advent calendar. Since my daughters were 2, I've been putting together an advent calendar with a small holiday-related activity to do each day leading up to Christmas. I never thought it would become such an important part of our lives but now, with my girls about to turn 9, they start asking about the calendar several months in advance! And if there ever was a year we could use a little something to look forward to each day, it's 2020! Here's how we're making it work this year (and you can too with very little prep work).

Because I am all about low-maintenance, especially as a music teacher in December (if you know you know), most of the things we've done in the past still work in our current pandemic situation. But I did have to make some adaptations this year to keep everyone safe! Here is a list of what we're doing this year:

1. Put up the Christmas tree

2. Decorate the tree with ornaments

3. Hang the Christmas lights

4. Virtual crafting class: rainbow forest (free registration here)

5. Make hot chocolate with all the fixings

6. Put out the advent wreath

7. Virtual crafting class: front door wreath (free registration here)

8. Decorate the front door

9. Make and send Christmas cards

10. Write gift idea lists (to receive and to give)

11. Bake cookies

12. Decorate sugar cookies

13. Put up the rest of the decorations around the house

14. Shop for/ make gifts to give

15. Read some Christmas books

16. Wrap gifts

17. "Jingle" a neighbor (here is an explanation and free printable)

18. Watch a Christmas movie (this year will be Jingle Jangle)

19. Do this candy cane science experiment

20. Go caroling via zoom

21. Drive through a lights display

22. Hang the stockings

23. Make a gingerbread house

24. Set out cookies, milk, and carrots for Santa and the reindeer

This kind of Christmas countdown / advent activity calendar is so easy to set up because the activities are low-prep, low-mess, quick activities, most of which are things families celebrating Christmas would do anyway. If you want to do something similar this year but don't have time to make a calendar, all you really have to do is write down each activity on a piece of paper and fold it up with the number for the date you want to do it on the outside. Then open a paper each day to reveal that day's activity!

Here is how I made the calendar we use every year (so easy if you have the supplies):

And you can see how my list of activities has evolved over the years as my daughters get older in these posts from previous years: my list for 7 year olds, for 6 year olds, for 5 year olds, for 4 year olds, and for 3 year olds.

If you're looking for ways to add a little cheer without a lot of effort I hope these ideas will help! 

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Top 3 Tips for Using Google Slides in Elementary Music

Between hybrid and virtual teaching, I have become a huge fan of Google Slides. It does everything I need all in one place so I don't have to switch between programs, or get my students (or myself) to learn how to navigate multiple platforms. After using slides in virtually every lesson this school year, here are the top functions I come back to over and over again that have been most useful for me as a general music teacher.

1. Drag and Drop

If you aren't using Slides this way by now you are seriously missing out! For most of the work I have students complete as an assignment to turn in, I use some form of drag and drop worksheets. For composition, I have them drag the notes they want onto the staff from a note bank at the bottom. For instrument identification I have them drag the names or pictures to its match. It is such a great assessment tool! The key is to create the "worksheet" and save it as an image, set that as the "background", and then insert whatever elements you want students to drag and drop as images. Then you can create as many copies of each item as you need and put them all on top of each other! Here is a tutorial on how to create them: 


2. Video Viewer

I love the fact that I can insert videos, whether from a YouTube link or one I create myself, into the slides themselves. Even better, there is a feature to set the exact start and end time for the videos, and you don't have to worry about ads interrupting YouTube videos (although you'll still get banner ads at the bottom), so you can find the exact portion of the video you want to show in class and set it up so it will only play that part without unnecessary distractions! Here's a tutorial for doing that:


3. Insert Audio

Similar to the way you can embed videos, I use audio files with my slides often as well- it's great for creating a simple play-along or having students sing along with a recording, by putting the part I want students to play, or the lyrics I want them to sing, on the slide and then embedding the audio recording in the corner so I can click play and keep the visual up without switching windows to start and stop the recording. I've even used them to have students aurally identify things like major and minor tonality or instrument timbres by inserting audio clips of each one and having students drag and drop the audio files to the matching word (see above!). Here's a tutorial for inserting audio and using some of the basic formatting options:


One more "pro tip" if you want to get super fancy: you can change the image of the audio file to not be that ugly grey speaker icon, so you can actually make it visually fit in with the slide or make it more easily identifiable if you have multiple audio files on the same slide! Here's a tutorial for that:


I could go on and on with more useful features, but those have to be my most-used ones beyond the very basics. If you have been using Google Slides as well, I'd love to hear your top tips as well- leave them in the comments below! You can find more posts related to pandemic teaching on my page below:


Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Teaching Solfege Without Singing

I can't believe I'm even writing a post on the topic of solfege without singing, but this is the crazy world we live in right now! So far my school has been in a hybrid model in the school building wearing masks, where none of us are allowed to sing. Although this is certainly a less-than-ideal situation, I've found some creative ways to still keep students practicing solfege- here are some of my favorites.

1. Solfege Challenge Videos

The YouTube channel "Visual Musical Minds" has a few videos with different sets of notes that have patterns notated on the screen, with a singer singing them on solfege syllables and then repeated instrumentally for students to echo. These have been perfect for practicing humming and using hand signs with- students listen to and watch the pattern the first time, then echo it back by humming and showing the hand signs. Here's an example of one of them with sol, mi, and la- there is also one for sol and mi, and another for do, re, mi, and sol:


2. Speed Rounds

Since we can't sing the solfege syllables, I have been taking the opportunity to focus on aural identification and solidifying the hand signs, especially with my younger students. One thing I started doing that is super simple but has proven highly effective is a quick round where I pick a note and students identify it in different ways (generally progressing in this order over the course of several lessons from easiest to hardest):
  • I hum and show a hand sign and they say the name of the note
  • I say the name of a note and they show the hand sign
  • I hum a note (without hands) and they say the note name and show the hand sign
  • I say the name of a note and they hum and show the hand sign
I start off doing this with one note at a time, and once they seem to have a handle on it I build up to 2 notes, then 3 notes in a row. I have been surprised at how well students are able to hum patterns with hand signs on their own by the end! I usually throw in a few quick rounds of this at the beginning and/or end of each lesson and they really enjoy it (and get pretty competitive!).

3. Notation

Of course besides performing them, we have also been practicing notating. Here are the 3 most effective ways I've found for practicing notation in the hybrid model we're in, where some students are learning from home on zoom and others are in the building where we can't share supplies:
  1. Google Slides
    Our district is using Google Classroom to post lesson material and I rely heavily on Google Slides for my visuals and interactive materials for students. One easy way for all students (whether they're in the building or at home) to practice notating solfege on the staff is to have a slide with staff lines and moveable notes for students to click and drag to the correct spot as I dictate patterns.

  2. SongMaker
    Another fantastic tool I can use in Google Classroom assignments is SongMaker. Because the notes are color coded by solfege it's a great way to have students create their own patterns using specific solfege notes- I use this often to have students compose using specific solfege syllables. The great thing is they can save what they create and send the link to me, so they can turn it in within Google Classroom as well.

  3. Manipulatives
    At the beginning of the year I was able to send home some basic templates with each student, both distance and in-person learners, with staff lines etc, to use for dictation and composition (and if they lose theirs, I send them a PDF to print). Another way I have had students notate is by using whatever they have on hand- math manipulative tokens, marker caps, coins, etc- as notes and placing them in the correct spot. The unexpected and undisputed favorite, though, has been ripped up pieces of sticky notes! I have them use just the top half sticky side of a post-it and rip it into 3-4 pieces to place on the staff, and that way they can actually hold up their paper to show me without the notes falling off.
I hope this gives you some fresh ideas to try if you are facing the same predicament of teaching solfege without singing! If you are looking for more non-singing alternatives, I wrote another post with more general ideas for teaching various concepts and adapting lesson activities when you can't sing here:


And see all of my posts related to pandemic teaching on this page:


If you have more ideas for teaching solfege without singing that you've found work well for you, I'd love for you to share them in the comments below!