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Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Back to School Haul: pandemic cart teaching edition

My back to school shopping definitely looked a little different this year! Yes, some of these are things that I should not have to purchase with my own money- I fought hard to have the district provide many of them but was unsuccessful. I tried to be judicious with my purchases though, and not get sucked into buying all the things for a teaching situation that is so constantly changing. I'm no expert in cart teaching, or pandemic teaching for sure, but these are the things I got that have been working for me so far teaching elementary music in person on a cart in a hybrid model.

Affiliate links included in this post- this does not affect the purchase price or experience, and I was not sponsored or otherwise compensated for sharing this information.

1. Voice Amplification System

One thing I knew I would need teaching with a mask on was a personal microphone. I probably should have been using one much sooner, considering how often I experience vocal fatigue as a music teacher, but I know I would not survive without it now! I ordered this one, but there are many different options available online and I honestly did not spend too much time deciding which one would be best. This has worked well for me so far though, and the price was good! Sidenote, I learned since taking the photo above that wearing the mic outside my mask works just as well and it's much more comfortable.

2. Medical Grade Masks

Please note, I am NOT an expert on this AT ALL! I spent a lot of time looking at the research on aerosols, mask efficacy, and which PPE is most practical for music teachers. I tried a lot of different versions but what I have settled on for now are the medical grade disposable masks like these. With the number of students I see each week etc I did not feel comfortable with a regular cloth or non-medical masks, but with this extra trick shown in the video below I have found these to be the most well-fitted for my face while still being comfortable enough to speak in and stay off my mouth. 

3. Water Bottle

I have become a big water drinker in the last couple of years and really believe it makes a huge difference in my overall health and energy, and my vocal health in particular. I have been using the same water bottle at school for years but this year since I'm on a cart, I needed something that was spill-proof but easy to take a quick sip from- I ended up getting this one and so far I love it (the colors are pretty great too)!

4. Cup Holder

With my new water bottle I also needed a place to keep it on my cart, and this cup holder worked out perfectly. It is very stable and holds my water bottle securely, and it's easy to attach anywhere on my cart too. 

That's it! It was very strange, honestly, not to be setting up my classroom and coming up with ways of streamlining and organizing like I usually do, but there are plenty of new challenges to deal with now and I'm learning how to adapt better every day. If you have any items that you've found especially helpful for pandemic cart teaching, I'd love for you to share them below! Don't forget, if you're looking for more ideas for all aspects of pandemic music teaching, head to my page below:

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Music Teacher Cart 2020

Normally I would have done a classroom tour at least a month ago, showing how I've set up my space to get ready for students and another year of music-making. This year I have no room to set up because I am on a cart for the first time ever as we open in a hybrid model in the midst of this pandemic. I'm new to this myself and tried not to spend too much of my own money on something that is so subject to change, so this may not be the perfect model of what everyone "should do" but I'm making it work!

First of all, my district has not (yet) actually provided me with a cart to use for cart teaching- they are hoping to be able to order something but for now I am using what I happened to already have in my classroom from last year. So if things seem unnecessarily awkward, it's because it is! Still, I am lucky to have this cart that I bought last year to store composition and other miscellaneous student supplies:

Originally I took all the bins out, thinking I would want the bigger shelf space for things like my laptop, a keyboard, etc. But I quickly realized that while the large lip around each shelf is very helpful for keeping things from falling out, it makes it very difficult to reach things that sit low inside them! So the bins made a comeback and I'm using the ones on the top shelf to store things when I'm rolling, and serve as a shelf when I'm stationary.

Besides my computer, I keep all the things that are most essential to teaching on the top shelf (plus a minion for good measure): a clipboard, my voice amplification headset, and a small bluetooth speaker. I didn't realize how helpful it would be that the cart is metal- I am able to attach things to the sides with magnets, like the laminated copy of my class schedule that I have stuck on the top shelf so I can keep track of where I'm supposed to be when.

The middle is where I plan to keep different things I might need for a particular lesson. I found that a mini keyboard fits perfectly into the shelf, and since I do tend to gravitate to the piano for quick demonstrations of concepts or to accompany a movement activity, I wanted to make sure I could take it when I want it. If I have other instruments or supplies for a specific lesson I'll take out the keyboard and use the middle shelf for those. That shelf also has the power strip, which I had no idea how badly I would need until I started trying to plug everything in! Most of it can run without being plugged in, but I am paranoid and want to make sure I can plug things in in case the battery runs low in the middle of the day.

On the bottom shelf I have an extra Chromebook (again, because I am paranoid- I want to have a backup plan in case my laptop freezes, which is not uncommon for my dinosaur machine), an extension cord, tissues, basic first aid kit, hand sanitizer, a walkie talkie, and a box with some basic office supplies like sticky notes, pencils, and paper clips. 

This is all admittedly a bit of a mess to look at from the back, but I brought back the one poster that I took home during distance teaching this spring from my classroom and attached it to the front to hide the mess:

If you're a first time cart teacher like me I hope this gives you some ideas! And if you have your own ideas that have worked well for you please share them in the comments. We're all going to need to learn from each other more than ever this year! If you're looking for more ideas for pandemic teaching, here's the page where I'm organizing all of them:

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Google Classroom: Top Tips for Music Teachers

My district used Google Classroom during school closures this past spring, and we're continuing with the platform for this school year as we prepare to return in a hybrid model. After spending some serious quality time with it the last several months, here are my favorite tips to get the most out of Google Classroom as a general music teacher.

1. Use Questions 

One of the best things I learned this spring was to post assignments as "questions" instead of "assignments". It works the same as an assignment- you can assign a due date and grading scale, or not, and include materials and links and a description- but instead of having to open or upload something like a Google Form or Doc to give an answer or tell you what they did, students can do it right in the post in Google Classroom. There are 2 choices for setting up the question: short answer, or multiple choice. My favorite trick is using "multiple choice" with just 1 choice that says "I completed ___ task", so once they have done whatever the assignment says (maybe watching a video and singing along, or uploading something to flipgrid, etc) they just click the button and mark as done. It it so much easier for young students- any time I can set it up as a question instead of an assignment, I do! 

2. Use Topics

Any teacher who has used Google Classroom for any amount of time will know that organizing assignments by topic is key! This year I am setting up one topic for my Zoom links, which students who have opted to stay home can use to join my live streamed class, one topic for emergency sub plans, where I have assignments that can be used any time of year posted as drafts so I can grab and post if needed without students seeing them in their pages, and the rest of the topics by week, where I will post each day's materials labeled by date. 

This year I have my own classrooms (which I prefer), but last spring I shared classrooms with the art, PE, and library teachers, so we had one topic for each of our subject areas and posted our assignments within those topics.

3. Get Your Own Room

After trying out both sharing one Google Classroom per grade with the other specialists, and being added as a co-teacher to the homeroom teacher's classroom and posting assignments there, I can say with confidence that the best solution in my opinion is to have a separate room for music. Yes, it means students have more classrooms to switch between, but as a parent of incoming 3rd graders I can say that in the long run, navigating different classrooms is far less confusing for students than digging through one classroom with so many different topics and assignments! If you have the choice, get your own rooms. 

One way to make the process of navigating multiple classrooms easier for young students is to add students to the room yourself instead of sending out an invitation code and asking students to find the rooms themselves. Yes, it's extra time adding hundreds of students to their rooms yourself, but it's pretty quick and easy to do and in my experience takes way less time than giving homeroom teachers the code to share, then re-share, then contacting families to try to connect with missing students. Once you add them to the room yourself, all students have to do is go to "classes" and it will be there waiting for them!

4. Google Slides

I experimented with all kinds of different formats for posting materials this spring, and I have come to the conclusion that Google Slides is by far the most effective and versatile tool for music teachers. I plan on using Slides for as much as I can! 
  • composition and other worksheets: students can drag and drop items or add their own text
  • visuals: I won't be able to project slides onto a board this year, even for my in-person students, because I'm on a cart. Instead I'm uploading the slides to Google Classroom so all of my students, whether they're live streaming from home or with me in person, can open the slides on their own screens.
  • embed video and audio: Slides make it easy to insert videos or audio clips I want to share in class, so just like visuals I can have students access those within Google Slides. If I need to share a recording of myself singing etc, I'll just insert the video into the Slides so that students are still only opening one file, rather than going back and forth.
I hope these tips are helpful for anyone using Google Classroom in a full distance or hybrid model this year! I know many teachers have been using this platform for a while themselves- if you have any other tips to share please leave them in the comments!

I'm continuing to compile all of my posts related to teaching through this pandemic in one page- whether you're looking for management ideas, lesson plans, or technology tips, this is the place to go (and check back often):

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

August Favorites 2020

Well that went fast. I truly feel like August just started a couple of weeks ago- where did the time go?!? I'm still going full speed preparing for the start of a school year for the books. Here's a look back at just a small snippet of what this month was like for me.

1. Back to School

This photo is more than a little depressing, honestly, because this it not at all what I've spent years building my classroom to look like- my room is being used for extra cohorts of students and I'm on a cart. But I'm still going to call my first week officially back working in the building a highlight! Students won't start for a couple more weeks but there was a certain sense of return to normalcy just being back in my space doing school things in a physical school building. Teacher work days have been overwhelming to say the least, but I do feel like we're starting to make sense of what we're doing, and I have hope that we're going to figure this out and get through this together!

2. Weekly Planner

I've been getting a lot of joy from decorating my planner pages lately- it is such a good hobby for me when life gets stressful because I get to be creative and colorful while also taking time to organize and think through the week ahead! I'm sticking with the 1-page calendar from the business section of my planner until the students start back, and I'm really enjoying the layout I've settled into over the summer! 

3. Creativity from Boredom

This summer, especially the month of August, I've been pulled away from time with my daughters for Zoom meetings, phone calls, and emails much more than normal, and I've naturally gone through a lot of mom guilt dealing with that reality. But it has also given the girls the time to get bored and come up with some creative imaginative play, and that has been so wonderful to watch! One favorite has been setting up a restaurant in the yard, serving "food" put together with whatever they can pick up off the ground. I often come out of a meeting to find a multi-course meal waiting for me :)

4. Articles I Read

I always love sharing some of my favorite articles from other bloggers that I read this month- click on the pictures below to read each one, they are all super useful! 

And with that, it's straight into September we go! 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Building Relationships Through Restorative Practices (even if you're virtual)

Building relationships with our students is more important than ever this year as we work through an ongoing pandemic, but it is also going to be harder than ever as we adapt our teaching to completely new formats, whether we're online or socially-distant in the classroom. Here are some ways to incorporate Restorative Practices, no matter what your teaching situation may be, to foster relationships as a music teacher.

I'm so grateful for the wonderful people who shared their insights with me to include in this post! Be sure to read to the end of this post to read more about who they are and find ways to connect with them: Alice Tsui, elementary instrumental/ choral/ general music teacher in NY, Czarina Francisco Jimenez, elementary general and choral music teacher in CA, and Michelle Rose, secondary virtual music teacher in NC.

What role can Restorative Practices play in building relationships with and among students as a music teacher who teaches hundreds of students?

Michelle: I have students fill out a "Get to Know You" survey via Google Form and then keep a spreadsheet with the answers that I pull up before each class. I create a column and make notes. I try to make it a point to talk to every student over a certain period of time depending on how often I see them. Usually, I try to reach out to 2-5 students per class so it doesn't become overwhelming.

Additionally, I have hosted virtual lunch bunches for my students. I usually host these once or twice per month and make them optional for students to attend. Sometimes I'll partner with another teacher and they'll invite their students as well. Students will eat lunch and chat with each other in my virtual classroom for 30 minutes during their lunch break. Sometimes we end up playing a game like "Would You Rather?" and other times we'll just chat.

Alice: Restorative Practice further builds relationships between students and among my students and I. So often we are eager to "get to the music" without recognizing that our students are PEOPLE first- people with feelings, thoughts, and ideas that do not always have to do with music. All of who they are are VALID, and an affirmation of their identities can occur through the restorative conversations. Affirmations can naturally lend themselves to being included in student compositions and music making as a form of self and collaborative expression. Only when my students can trust me for who I am can they truly then trust that I am here to help them express themselves through music.

Czarina: As a music teacher we have the opportunity to translate the musician's practice of "listening" into the way we create relationships. As a teacher, we need to realize that before we attempt to bring any practices into our workspace, we need to first bring restorative values and practices into our daily life. We need to nurture a restorative connection within ourselves and then we can nurture it in our community.

Clearly the key is not just specific actions we take, but a mindset and individual reflection as teachers! These are all things we can do whether we're teaching in person or online. Here is my post with more thoughts and simple strategies for how I foster relationships with students, coming from a restorative mindset:

It's so important to continue to bring ourselves back to what is most important, even as we deal with the overwhelming task of reinventing everything we do. None of our new ideas for making this work will mean anything if we aren't connecting with our students in meaningful ways and maintaining a focus on social emotional / character development. I encourage you to connect with the teachers who so graciously shared their insights for this post to learn more from each of them, as they all have important wisdom and insight to share:
Czarina is an elementary classroom music and choir teacher in Southern California. Her passions are creating culturally responsive music lessons and incorporating anti-bias/anti-racist social emotional learning into her curriculum. Connect with her at

Michelle Rose works at a full time virtual school where she teaches middle and high school music and directs the extracurricular virtual band and choir. You can connect with her on Instagram @the_musical_rose or by visiting her website

Alice Tsui (pronounced TSOY) is an Asian American/Chinese American pianist, music educator, scholar, activist, lifelong Brooklyn, New Yorker, and the founding music teacher at P.S. 532 New Bridges Elementary, an arts-integrated public elementary school in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. As a product of the NYC public school system, Alice is passionate about decolonizing, anti-racist, abolitionist public music education and empowering the individual and collective voices of youth through music as expression. Learn more about Alice at and on Instagram at @MusicWithMissAlice.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Elementary Music Without Shared Instruments

Whether we're teaching virtually with our students learning from home, or teaching in person with a requirement not to share supplies and/or needing to teach from a cart, many of us are losing access to the majority of our classroom instruments for our teaching this year. And even for those music teachers who do have some ability to use instruments in class, that use will be severely limited because of the need to sanitize. Here are some alternatives to use for general music teaching when we can't use our instruments the way we normally would.

1. Individual Kits

If you're a music teacher and you've been on the internet at all this summer then you've probably seen this idea: create individual kits with some low-cost instruments so that students can continue to use them to play (from home or in school) without needing to share. There have been several music teachers who have shared low cost options for putting these together- if you have the time and the budget to do so, this is an ideal solution! Here is how Jennifer Bailey from SingtoKids made hers:

2. Body Percussion

This is an obvious point but it bears mentioning: there is a LOT we can do to replace instrumental playing with no equipment whatsoever! The trick to using body percussion long-term is to keep it interesting- take some cues from step routines and incorporate different ways of making sounds besides clapping/ patting. If you aren't familiar with step, check out Step Afrika! to get some ideas:

3. Virtual Instruments

If students have their own devices, there is a lot you can do with virtual instruments! Here are just a few examples that I've found (did you know YouTube instruments were a thing?!? Because I just discovered them recently and my mind was blown!):



4. Found Sound

There is so much we can do with "DIY instruments"! This is another way to use the idea behind the individual student kits without the time or budget requirements: have students put together their own instrument kits at home using common household items! Or if you're teaching in person, think about items students will have access to- desks, pencils, shoes, rulers, etc- and have them use those as instruments. Here are some more ideas for using found sound:

We're having to make a lot of adjustments to our teaching this year, but hopefully this experience gives us the opportunity to add some new tricks to our toolbox that will carry over into our long-term teaching practice, even when we return to "normal"! If you're scratching your head over how to handle not being able to sing in person this year, you can read my post on that below:

I am continuing to update my centralized page with all posts related to teaching and living in this "new normal", from distance learning lesson ideas to managing work from home life and everything in between:

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

First Day of Music Lesson Ideas: 2020 edition

After more than a decade of teaching general music I feel like I have a pretty good handle on how to start off the school year. I don't do the same exact lessons every year, but I have a formula that works! But this year... nobody has a "pretty good handle" on anything! My district is preparing for a hybrid model to start the school year with me on a cart, but with almost a month left before the first day of school I know things could change so I'm preparing for all eventualities. Here are my plans to kick off the school year socially-distanced, live online, and through posted online assignments.

A couple of years ago I shared my basic formula for my lessons at the beginning of the school year- if you missed it, you can catch up on that post below. Depending on what my teaching situation is, my plan is to adapt the formula to what I'm doing, so my ideas are based on the normal lessons I detail here:

The basic outline of my normal first day lessons goes like this:
1. Names and seats
2. Tour the room
3. Practicing procedures/ expectations (instruments, singing, movement)

Here are my plans to adapt those elements to different teaching situations.

1. Socially Distant / On a Cart

If I'm on a cart pushing into other classrooms, there's no need to assign seats or talk about the physical space! I can jump straight into an activity that allows me the opportunity to practice names and make an individual connection with each student. For older students I plan to use "Jump In, Jump Out" and just have students stay next to their desks, and for younger students I'll use a few different versions of "Hickety Tickety Bumblebee"- for K/1 I will probably do something like this video, and for 2nd/3rd grade I'll probably do something like the modified version Jennifer shared in her post here- but no matter which version we do I'll have them stand up.

One of the key elements of a fun first day in my experience is to actually try the "procedures" I want students to understand rather than explaining them. As we do things, I can naturally point out the ways we do things that work and don't work to communicate my expectations. The name games will give us a chance to practice using our voices and getting up out of our seats/ moving appropriately with the new social distancing guidelines in the classroom (whatever those may be). 

To practice instrument procedures, I'll do the same thing I normally do and have students echo a few quick patterns after me, using any instruments they may have in individual kits or trying out some "found sound" ideas by tapping desks with pencils, etc. Doing some echo patterns gives me a chance to review rhythms and also practice one of the fundamental procedures in my class: "If you play before I say, you'll make the instrument go away"! If they play out of turn they put their instrument down for one turn, then I have them join back in right away to practice waiting for the right time to play.

I'm not expecting much more than that for the first class period, but if we have more time I'll turn on some music and play some freeze dance! This will be another great way to practice movement in a confined space. At the end of class, we'll need to take some time to practice how we'll finish class and transition back to a different teacher, put away supplies, and sanitize if needed. We'll see what those specific procedures need to be!

2. Live Online

Depending on how things go in the next month, it's possible we will end up having to start the school year virtually- I know many schools are already preparing for this reality! If we do, my hope is that I will be having live class sessions on Zoom or some other similar platform. 

If we're on a live video call, we'll need to practice how to make music together while dealing with technology and sound delay! The first thing we'll practice is mute/ un-mute to make sure students know how to do it and understand why we'll have to mute for group singing. I'll introduce the song, "I Know a Song" and then tell everyone to mute their microphones and start singing along with me. I'll have signs for "mute" and "un-mute" to hold up/ point to and they have to keep singing with me while they adjust their mics accordingly. Every time they un-mute we'll all hear the cacophony of delayed singing, which will hopefully get everyone laughing but also give me a chance to explain why we mute for group singing!

To get students saying their names and using instruments, I'll have them take turns saying their name twice, once loudly and once quietly, while playing an instrument from their kits (or "found sound") with each syllable. It will be a quick way to hear everyone's name and practice waiting their turn- students need to know that even from separate homes they're expected to listen to one another! 

The last thing I'm hoping to do is a few rounds of freeze dance. Not only will it get everyone up and moving but it will be a good opportunity to practice adjusting camera angles if we need to so they can do movement activities (which will be a big part of live virtual lessons for sure)! 

3. Online Posted Assignments

It would be a real bummer if I had to start the year with asynchronous online assignments, but depending on how our district can allocate staffing for students who opt for full distance learning in a hybrid model, it's possible that I'll need to do that for a portion of my students. Hopefully they'll have a way to join in with live classes virtually somehow, but for posted assignments I'll want to practice some basic technology as well.

My first lesson for posted assignments will primarily be a recorded video of me introducing myself and welcoming them to the new year. I'll tell them who I am and what I did this summer, and then demonstrate saying my name 5 different (musical) ways- singing, saying it while clapping the syllables, saying it loudly/ quietly, fast/slow, etc- and then invite them to do it themselves. I loved using Flipgrid for my assignments this past spring, and I know it will be a big part of my teaching for any online assignments this year, so we'll start off the year by making sure students are familiar with how to post videos there. Their assignment will be to record a short video of themselves saying their names 5 ways, including at least one "instrument" and at least one non-speaking voice. I'll include a tutorial in my recorded video that walks them through Flipgrid and how to record so they can see how to do that.

No matter what situation we go back to, this school year will be a year like no other. I need to constantly remind myself to let go and give myself (and my students) plenty of grace! There will be changes and challenges but we will continue to adapt and do the best we can. 

Have you thought about what your first day will look like this year? Or have you already started back? I'd love for you to share your ideas in the comments! I will continue to save all of my ideas related to pandemic teaching on the page below, so check there for more ideas!