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Monday, March 30, 2020

Distance Learning Music Classroom at Home

Few moments in this school closure situation have been more difficult for me than the short time I had to grab stuff from my deserted classroom at school to take home with me to use for distance learning. This is not how music teaching is "supposed to" look! But I took what I thought I might need and now I've set up a small corner in my basement to record videos of myself and create lessons for my students while we're apart, so here's a look at what I grabbed and how I set up my space.

My basement is primarily my daughters' play room, so there were several things already there that I've pulled in for my purposes: a keyboard, some percussion instruments, and even a dry erase easel. The other things I brought home from school:
  • recording microphone
  • puppets/ stuffed animals (well, minions actually)
  • storybooks
  • scarves
  • a poster
  • small percussion instruments
  • one octave set of boomwhackers
  • ukulele
  • cajon
  • glockenspiel
  • dry erase staff board
Here's a quick tour of how I set up my space- I also explain some of the reasons why I chose to bring home certain things in the video:

I hope this helps give you some ideas if you're trying to figure out what to bring home yourselves or wondering how to set up a space for videos or live teaching! I'd love to see what others have come up with- let me know in the comments what you grabbed from school or how you've set up your school stuff at home.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Virtual Music Lesson Ideas: Instruments of the Orchestra

We're officially in week 2 of school closure. Last week in our district we weren't doing much direct teaching- we sent home learning packets for students to work on and waited for directions from our district as they figured out a plan for moving forward. Now we're back on the clock with official work hours to be online and we're setting up our online virtual classrooms. This week I have been working on ideas and resources to use online, and thinking about which musical skills and concepts will most lend themselves to distance learning. One concept that I think will work very well in distance learning is the instruments of the orchestra, which I teach in varying degrees to almost every grade level. Here are the lesson ideas I plan to use with my K-6 general music classes.

First let's all take a deep breath and remember that we are in unusual times. We shouldn't expect our virtual classrooms to replace our brick-and-mortar ones. We aren't trying to replicate the curriculum and instruction we would normally be doing right now. But I also don't think we should be giving our students mindless fluff- if there was ever a time to spark their interest, it's now! I do think we should still be seeking to engage them intellectually for students to be most engaged and motivated to complete the assignments we give them.

With that said, I've been working on ideas for practicing specific musical concepts with my students in an online setting. My district will be using Google Classroom as our platform and we are being asked to upload assignments in the morning for students to complete on their own time rather than meeting live.  I am planning to generally have a pre-recorded video of me introducing and demonstrating a lesson and then a short task for students to complete. 

One of the concepts I think is best suited for online learning is instruments of the orchestra! There are so many great resources developed by symphonies around the world available for free, and they are very interactive. I plan to introduce the lesson content in a short video recording, reviewing specific instruments, instrument family names, or just talking about what an orchestra is depending on the grade level, and then sending them off to one of the sites below with specific questions to answer.

SFS Kids: Perform: This website is amazing! Students can learn about each individual instrument and then virtually "play" them by using their computer keyboard! This will be perfect for the upper grades who are learning about individual instruments in the orchestra to find specific answers to specific questions, or for younger students to explore and report back on a favorite instrument or fun fact they learned.

LSO Interactive Performance Video: This website allows you to view a performance by a full orchestra from different camera angles focusing on the different sections of the orchestra. This would be a good one to use with students who are learning about the instrument families rather than specific instruments- I plan to use this as an exploratory lesson and have them report back on their favorite instrument family and what they liked about it.

DSO Kids Make Your Own Instrument: Another fun way to review instruments and relate it to the science of sound- this site has directions for making instruments at home, ranging from a brass mouthpiece to coffee can drums. I'll show students an example that I made myself, then have them choose one instrument to make themselves and report back on what they made and how it produces sound.

Instrument Commercial: For older students reviewing the instruments of the orchestra, I'll have them make an advertisement for an instrument of their choice. They can use prior knowledge or find out more about specific instruments on this website and create a radio, TV, or poster ad "selling" why their instrument is the best! Students can videotape a TV ad, audio record a radio commercial, or make a poster on a piece of paper and take a picture.

With everything that's changing in our worlds on a daily basis, I hope these lesson ideas will help other music teachers create concrete lessons that are fun and engaging for students and keep that spark going while we're apart. Have more ideas or online resources for teaching instruments of the orchestra virtually? Please share them in the comments below!

Monday, March 23, 2020

Getting Kids Involved in Housework

Right now most schools around the world are closed, and many families are stuck inside their houses for most of the day (either voluntarily or by government order). This is the perfect time to get kids more involved with housework chores!

I admit we have gotten out of our cleaning rotation from time to time when life has gotten too busy, but my daughters have been involved with cooking, cleaning, and other housework since a very young age. It can actually be really fun for kids to have more responsibility around the house, and I think we can all agree these are important skills that many kids have not been learning as well as previous generations have. Now's the time to fix that. Here are some tips for making chores a positive and genuinely helpful experience for everyone at home.

And if you're wondering what chores young children can actually handle, here are some lists for different ages:

I hope this helps give you some ideas to get your kids more involved with housework this week! Cooking is a whole separate topic, so we'll cover that in a future post. If you have questions or other ideas for getting kids more involved in chores around the house, please share in the comments!

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

In the Music Room During COVID-19

My school district, along with many others in the United States and elsewhere, closed recently as covid-19 (coronavirus) hit the country (if you've found yourself in that situation please read this post). But schools in China and other places that are nearing the tail end of their bout with the virus, as well as some parts of the US and other countries that haven't yet been affected, are still open (or will open soon) for business and looking for ways to be vigilant about germs while continuing to teach their music classes. Other teachers have closed to students but are still working in their rooms and trying to disinfect and find relevant lessons to teach online. Here are some ideas to limit the spreading of germs while music class is in session, clean up music equipment, and plan lessons that encourage good hygiene in a positive way.

1. General Considerations
  • If you're trying to keep germ-spreading at bay, you'll want to plan activities that don't require students to touch each other and also don't require students to touch the same equipment. 
  • Keep cleaning! Find out what the school is doing as a whole to address cleaning classrooms, and ask about special considerations for your room and equipment.
  • Make sure everyone is cleaning their hands as they come and go, and always remind students of other good practices like washing their hands after using the bathroom, covering any coughs and sneezes, and going to the nurse if they feel sick.
2. Instrument Cleaning

One of the most immediate concerns for music teachers is keeping instruments clean! If you normally use shared wind instruments (like a class set of recorders that is shared by multiple classes), it's time to stop that now. For the time being, consider switching to a different instrument, or ask families to purchase their own. If that's not possible, find new lesson plans. But other instruments can also be an issue, especially knowing that the virus can live for days on hard surfaces. West Music has also put together a resource for cleaning various common classroom instruments, as well as movement props and puppets- click here to read their tips.

Lessons to Teach, in Person or Virtually

3. Hand Washing Dances

Before my district closed unexpectedly, I was planning to do this with my classes to help reinforce good hygiene while getting creative and active (without touching each other).  Show students this video and learn the dance together (this video shows the English translation of the lyrics and this video is a good slowed down tutorial):

Discuss the different hand washing techniques that are incorporated into the choreography, then have students create their own dance using the same hand washing moves! For younger students it will probably work best to have them just pick 2 of the hand washing techniques to use in their dance, or ask each student to come up with one move to contribute to a dance you put together as a class. Remember no touching!

4. Hand Washing Song

Go to and create a few posters using lyrics from songs that would be familiar to your students. Practice pretending to wash their hands while singing the songs. Then have students make up their own hand washing song to go with the timing of each move- print out one of the posters, blank out the lyrics, and have students come up with lines to go with each picture (remember you don't want students to use your shared pencils, so either have them bring their own and let them write their own on a hard copy, or you write in the lyrics by projecting it on the board or showing it to the class and have students work together to suggest lyrics).

Once you've come up with lyrics, you can quickly turn it into a melody with Word Synth and then practice singing the song together while washing your hands!

5. Learn About China

There is a lot of fear and misinformation going around about China because of this virus. You can help students feel more of a connection to China and combat some of the sinophobia by learning about the music of China. The good news is this is an engaging and relevant unit that doesn't require any touching- click here to read my post with ideas for teaching Chinese music.

6. Sing!

Singing requires no contact and no equipment but still helps students feel connected and joyful! If all else fails, take this as an excuse to let go of any other notions of pushing curriculum and just sing. Here are some of my favorite silly songs, here's how I teach canon singing, here's how I teach partner songs, and here are 5 different ways to introduce a song to keep things interesting.

If you are still teaching in the classroom or getting ready to start again, of if you're looking for ideas to teach virtually, I hope you find these ideas helpful! I'd love to hear your plans as well if you have other ideas. If you have ideas or questions, please leave a comment.