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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.

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.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Suddenly Homeschool: parenting through school closures

Like many other families around the world, my 2nd grade daughters and I have found ourselves suddenly home all day for an indefinite amount of time. As I know many parents are trying to wrap their heads around what to do all day with kids who suddenly find themselves stuck at home, I thought I would share my plans- how I plan to structure the day, the resources I've found for each subject area so my daughters can continue to explore their interests and stay mentally and physically active, and some general suggestions for making this crazy situation work for everyone.

1. Weekday Schedule

There is certainly an argument to be made for letting go of structure and schedules altogether and just letting kids explore, be creative, and do things on their own timeline. For me and for my daughters, that would most certainly not end well- we all thrive on predictability and routine, and anything we can do to give ourselves some sense of normalcy is helpful in these uncertain times! So we've come up with a schedule for weekdays that we plan to follow during the closure. If you'd like to make a schedule for your family, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
  • Let the children be involved in the creation of the schedule- ask them what "subjects" or activities they want to do, if they have any preference for when and how much time they spend on each, etc.
  • Whatever schedule you come up with, make a visual that everyone can easily read.
  • Don't feel like you have to stick to the schedule exactly once you make it- have a conversation with the whole family from the outset to establish the expectation that the schedule is there when you want it, but does not have to be followed if you choose to do something else.
  • Intentionally build in time that is unspecified- no matter how structure-oriented you are, it's good for kids to learn to come up with things to do without being provided entertainment every minute of every day!
We actually got pretty excited about coming up with our schedule- this was our chance to build the schedule we wish we could have at school! That means art every day, music every day, PE every day, cooking and cleaning... Here's what we came up with:

We're actually pretty early risers, but our scheduled time is starting later to give us time to relax in the mornings. The girls also already cook dinner once a week, so we'll continue that- the rest of the evening time will also be for relaxing, unstructured time as well.

2. Free Resources for Home Learning

With so many families in the same situation, there are lots of amazing resources available for parents to use at home for every subject area imaginable right now! Here are some ideas and resources I plan to use for each subject (all resources are free). My main objective here is to give my daughters time to explore and grow in a variety of areas without increasing screen time too much.

Science: I mostly want to use this time to let the girls a) explore topics they're interested in and b) do some hands-on experiments they wouldn't be able to do at school. There are some fun ideas on KiwiCo, MommyPoppins Science Experiments, Maker Stations, and National Geographic Kids.

Exercise: We'll be dancing to music, practicing jump rope, cartwheels, and backbends (because that's what the girls are into at the moment), and walking/ running/ biking outside if it's nice. There are lots more fun ideas on OPEN Active Home, and GoNoodle is always a good resource!

Writing: My girls love to write, so I don't expect to have to give them much guidance. They were at the end of a poetry unit at school and wanting to write more poems, so I will show them some different types of poems and give them time to come up with their own. They're also excited about writing longer stories. For kids who need more prompts, Scholastic Story Starters is fun!

Art: We do not lack for art supplies in my house, nor do my children lack inspiration for arts and crafts! The whole point is to get creative, so we will mostly just be getting different supplies out and seeing what we come up with: origami paper, glitter glue, markers, construction paper, paint, playdough, beads... but there are some great ideas for art projects on KinderArt if we need more ideas.

Reading: Again, we are blessed to have lots of books at home, so this will mostly just be time for everyone to read what they want. But there are also lots of books available online at Epic and you can find lots of read-alouds on YouTube as well!

Math: My daughters' teachers recommended MobyMax for math, so that's what we'll be using. This is the one place I'll probably have the girls mostly using technology- other free options include Khan Academy and Math Playground. I'm also planning to spend time whenever it comes up talking about money management, since they just started getting a small allowance a couple of months ago and don't yet fully understand the concepts of spending vs saving vs sharing.

Music: Music is a part of our lives always- we're constantly listening to music, singing, and dancing- but this focused "music time" will be mostly for instrument practice since my children take instrument lessons. For more general music ideas and resources to use at home, check out this blog post, where I've compiled lots of online and no-tech ideas to use at home. If you're looking for tips to keep kids motivated practicing an instrument independently, click here for my blog post on helping kids practice at home.

Social Studies: I actually want to use this time to just talk about the world and help them get better oriented with geography and culture. We'll look at our world map and talk about where things are and explore places they ask about by looking up videos from locals in those areas. There are also all of these free museum virtual tours we could explore, and I'd like to spend some time discussing current events around the world with resources like Time for Kids, Flocabulary, and NewsForKids.

Cleaning: I am putting different small cleaning tasks on pieces of paper and we'll each pick one out of a jar each time we have a cleaning session. Cleaning is definitely the first thing to go when I get busy, and this is the perfect time to do some extra cleaning around the house!

The key here is to have a basic outline for the day and plenty of resources on hand so we don't ever get stuck for ideas, but also allowing each of our individual interests to drive what we do- this is our chance to explore and direct our own learning! I hope this helps families as you wrap your heads around this whole situation- if you have other resources or ideas, please share them in the comments!

General Tips

A few other things I've found helpful to consider:
  • Get other families with similar-aged children to share ideas- maybe you each take one day a week to plan a science experiment, or kids could "present" to each other through video conferencing. Maybe you take turns reading aloud to all the kids over Skype. Find ways to share the load and give everyone some interaction!
  • Get outside whenever you can!! Fresh air and sunshine are always good, but when you're feeling cooped up it's good to remember avoiding large crowds doesn't mean avoiding leaving the house.
  • Make extras of whatever you're cooking and put the leftovers in the freezer. Good for if you can't find ingredients later, get tired of cooking, or end up needing to stay in the house.
  • Take advantage of the flexible daytime schedule and do some video calls with friends and family. Don't forget about older people in retirement homes etc who are especially isolated.
Most of all: keep calm and give yourself and those around you the freedom to rest and enjoy one another's company! Staying busy will help keep your mind from dwelling on anxiety, but it's important to also make sure we are resting, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Music Teacher Resources for School Closures

We are living in unusual times, to be sure.

My school district, along with many others around the world, is closed indefinitely in an attempt to slow the spread of covid-19 (known widely as coronavirus). As we go through this time of uncertainty, I know many of us are scrambling to find ways to continue to provide music learning opportunities for our students without actually being in school. Whether you're hoping to move to online / virtual teaching, provide students with online resources, or put together no-tech resources for families without internet or technology access, here are some resources to help.

1. Virtual Teaching

If you're looking at setting up an online classroom or teaching virtually, Michelle from The Musical Rose has been teaching music virtually for a few years now and she has put together resources for music teachers looking to teach online. Click here to visit her website, where you'll find links to her social media accounts where she is posting her most updated content, and click here to view the slides from her FB live presentation on using Zoom and Nearpod, along with general tips for online teaching (including general music and ensemble rehearsals!).

If you have a private lesson studio as well, Ashley Danyew has some excellent ideas and resources to transition private lessons and studio group classes to online teaching. Click here to read her post, where she outlines different online platforms for live lessons, pre-recorded videos, and activities to send home, templates for letters to send to parents, and other advice for private lesson teachers.

2. Online Resources

If your students have reliable internet and device access, there are plenty of resources available for music teachers, and many are being offered for free temporarily to support school closures or already offer free options! Check out each of these below to explore these options- obviously this list is not exhaustive, so feel free to share others you love in the comments:

SmartMusic (currently being offered free through June 2020 to closed schools)
MusicPlayOnline (free resources being offered during school closures) (free plan available)
Prodigies Music Lessons (their YouTube channel has lots of free lessons)

Of course there are plenty of online resources that can be used as tools or exploration opportunities:

For more ideas incorporating technology in music teaching, my top recommendation is Midnight Music. Katie has been involved in music education technology for years and she has excellent resources and information on her website- go explore her site right here. You can also find more ideas in Facebook groups specifically dedicated to sharing ideas for online music teaching during school closures, so if you are on FB you can search for those as well.

3. No Tech Resource Ideas

For my district, we are preparing paper and pencil packets for students. We are not one-to-one with devices, nor does every family in our district have reliable internet access, so we have chosen to provide resources that can be accessible to everyone. If you are looking for student learning resources that don't require technology or internet access, Charissa from Music with Mrs. Dunc has a free take home packet you can download here for elementary general music. The packet includes rhythm and pitch practice, composition, and more without any need for technology! Here are some more ideas you can use with a range of grade levels:
  • Interviews: have students interview family members about their musical backgrounds and interests. What is their favorite song right now and why? What instruments do they play? What does music mean to them? Who are their favorite artists? Students can record the responses they get and also answer the questions themselves.
  • Instrument invention: have students invent a new instrument. They could draw a picture of it and describe how it is played, how it's constructed, and what it sounds like, or they could make one out of recycled materials.
  • Hand-washing dance choreography: have students choreograph a short dance routine incorporating the different ways we're recommended to wash our hands (scrubbing nails, between fingers, etc). Check out this one for inspiration.
  • Listening log: have students write down music that they hear each day. Depending on the age, they can also record information about the songs, like the title/ artist, genre, mood, time signature, tempo, instrumentation, etc, or they could draw a picture in response to the music.
  • Singing log: have students write down songs that they sing each day. They can sing along with a recording, sing by themselves, or sing with their family.
  • Soundtrack of my life: have students create an imaginary album that shows who they are. They can make a list of song titles, and for each song describe the music- this could either be done by asking students to come up with their own imaginary songs or by having students find existing songs that would describe aspects of their personality/ life. Students could also design an album cover to go with it, write liner notes, etc.
  • Instrumental / choral practice: of course if students have sheet music for choir songs, instrumental method books, recorder music, etc then they can practice their music! Include tips for independent practicing, fingering charts, etc to help students maintain productive practice.
4. Professional Learning Opportunities

With more flexible schedules and some extra time on our hands, this is a great time to do some reflecting and learning ourselves! Elisa from Music Ed Mentor has compiled a list of online professional learning opportunities for music teachers in this post, and you can find more ideas including book and listening recommendations in these posts below:

With all of the information and debating swirling around, let's remember to be deliberate and compassionate. Let's all help each other as we forge new paths- please share ideas in the comments to help other teachers support their students!

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

5 Ways to Advocate for Your Music Program

Whether we like it or not, advocating for our program is part of our reality as music teachers. While it can be exhausting constantly having to justify our existence, we have to be our own advocates if we want our students to have access to the best possible music education. Here are 5 concrete, practical ways you can advocate for your music program.

1. Get involved

One way to increase your visibility in the building and start to build positive relationships with staff and administrators is to get involved with building tasks, events, committees, and/or initiatives. I know, we're already so busy with our own stuff, who has time to do anything extra? And if the other staff are unsupportive and refuse to help out with music events, it can be a tough pill to swallow. I'm not saying we have to work a bunch of hours outside our contract or shoulder other people's responsibilities. But when there is a building staff meeting about test scores or building-wide behavior programs, get involved in the conversation. If you're asked to be on a committee, say yes when you can (within reason). Don't sit back and tune out because it's not directly related to music! If we want others to see us as equal colleagues, we have to be part of the team. Then once you've proven that you're here to be part of the building-wide initiatives, speak up for the same support for your music program. It will be much harder for staff and administrators to say no to helping you set up for your concert if you have been helping out where you can yourself, and there's nothing wrong with pointing that out. If you want to read some specific suggestions for getting involved straight from administrators, read this post:

2. Bring others in

Find other teachers, administrators, parents, or community members who are musicians, and find ways to get them involved in your program. If your superintendent can play guitar, have them come play with one of your ensembles at a concert. If the librarian plays drumset at their church, have them come in and demonstrate for your classes when they're free (or combine classes for part of the period so they don't miss planning time). If one of the parents of your students is a DJ for a local radio station, have them come in and talk to students about what their job is like, ask them if they would be willing to DJ a school event, or see if they can promote your program on air or even bring in a student group to perform on their show! There are lots of ways to get adults in the community involved without taking too much effort or time, and they not only offer extremely valuable experiences for your students but those adults will often become some of your greatest advocates!

3. Gently but firmly correct language

There's a lot of unconscious bias and micro-aggressions that come out in the way people speak, and most of the time they don't even realize the underlying message they're communicating when they do. When people talk about "non-classroom teachers" or "prep teachers", correct them. When someone makes a comment about music class being a fun "break" from academics, counter it. If you're doing so in a respectful way, and you're mindful of your own language, it's important to speak up for the ways that you and your program are being undermined by the language people use. Over time, as language shifts, hopefully the underlying attitudes will start to change as well. At the very least, the subtle messages that students get through these types of disrespectful comments or vocabulary will lessen. If you want to see some of the top comments I hear and how I correct them, read this post:

4. Share what you're doing

There are still so many people who assume music class today is the same as the one they experienced as a child 20 years ago. It's not! But without having any way of seeing it in action there is no way for people in the community to understand the scope of what we do. Find a way to regularly share what's happening in your classroom, whether it's through a social media page, a newsletter, email updates, or some other communication. You can also have regular opportunities for people to sit in on a music class through informances or open class times. To read more about the logistics of any of these options, read the posts below:

5. Music In Our Schools Month®

I get it. March is a busy time of year. You're already preparing for your spring concerts. But don't miss out on the chance to really push hard for the importance of music education through NAfME's Music In Our Schools Month®! This is a perfect excuse to be completely obnoxious about how awesome music is and how important it is as a school subject, and there are plenty of ways to do so that don't require too much extra effort or time on your part. I've been participating since my student teaching years and I've shared many of my ideas in previous posts- click below to read more ways to celebrate- you can still jump in this month or use these ideas to promote music education any time of year within your school community!

No matter what level of support we have for our music programs, we can all benefit from continuing to advocate for the benefits of our program. And while it can be exhausting and demoralizing to be constantly justifying our existence in an unsupportive environment, ultimately the benefactors of our advocacy are our students! I hope these ideas give you some fresh ideas and concrete action steps to help bolster support for music education in your community.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Tips for Music Classroom Social Media Pages

For better or for worse, as music teachers there is always a need to advocate for the importance of our programs. One of the best ways to do that is to share all of the great things that we're doing in our classrooms with the community- most people have no idea that there is so much more that we do beyond our public concerts! In this day and age social media is one of the best ways to do that, but navigating any online community safely, ethically, and effectively can be tricky. Today I want to share some of my top tips for running a social media account for your music program.

First of all let me say that I am by no means a social media expert. I'm also not an attorney. These are just some introductory tips to help get you started in a responsible way, based on my own experience running social media accounts for my school's music program. That being said, I have found it extremely worthwhile to have a social media presence for our school music program, and I don't think any teacher should feel that they need to be "power users" in order to have meaningful social media accounts for their classroom!

Which platform?

Social media encompasses a broad range of ever-changing platforms. I highly recommend picking one platform to start with for your school account- don't try to start posting everywhere all at once! Better to do one well than to do several hardly. Ask yourself 2 questions when you're deciding which platform to use:

1. Which one(s) am I comfortable using?
2. Which one(s) do others in my school community use?

If you've never used the platform you choose as a personal user before, it will be a much steeper learning curve to get your school account going. So if there is one platform you already use, go with that one. The other factor will be the audience you'll have- if you're choosing between a few platforms that you're comfortable using, do a little sleuthing to find out where your school/ district already has a social media presence: do the board of education, other classroom teachers, the athletics program, or administrators already have accounts that parents and community members follow? You can also look at which platforms have local community groups and organizations already actively sharing. The more you can connect to pre-existing active audiences, the easier it will be to get your own content out into the world!

In most cases, I think right now the top candidates for teachers are Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. There are different limitations for each platform, and those change over time. At the time of this writing, Instagram will require some type of image or short video for every post and does not allow sharing clickable links, and YouTube will require some type of video file for every post. Spend some time doing some research by searching for names of local people and places and see what is already happening on those platforms in your school community to figure out which one is best for you!


Of course one of the top concerns when you're sharing your classroom in social media is privacy: both your own personal privacy and the privacy of your students. To protect your own privacy, the most important thing to do is to make sure your school account is not connected to your personal account. How you do this will depend on the platform you're using, so you'll want to do some research for the one you choose, but you'll want to be sure to look at the settings of your school account, and then stop yourself from liking/ sharing/ following your school account and its content from your personal account. 

Protecting your students' privacy takes a lot more effort but is obviously of paramount importance. If you aren't familiar with FERPA, a federal privacy law in the United States, be sure to read this post by Jillian Starr to make sure you understand the laws first. A few basic steps you'll want to take before sharing anything connected to students and their work (their faces, their voices, their names, their handwriting, etc):

1. Check with your building and/or district for media releases. Most schools and districts will ask families to sign a release giving them permission to share photos/ videos from school events/ classrooms. Find out what that release covers, and get a list of anyone for whom you don't have that permission/ release.

2. If your school doesn't already have this in place, you'll need to solicit explicit permission from families before sharing anything tied to students anywhere online. That includes any identifying information, including their handwriting or voices- covering their name on a worksheet or pixelating their face is not enough without explicit permission!

3. Even with media release, I recommend never sharing names of students, period. The only time I might make an exception is to honor an award of some kind. If specific students win an award etc and you want to publicly recognize their achievement, ask the family specifically about sharing their name in that specific way before doing so. Otherwise just share as "this 4th grade student", or some other generic identifier.

4. Ask for student consent. In the same way that you wouldn't want a student taking a video of you teaching and then sharing it without your permission, our students should be able to say no if they don't want a photo or video of themselves to be shared, even if their families have signed a general media release. Let students know your plans before you take pictures or videos, and tell them they can let you know if they are uncomfortable and you will respect their wishes.

The best "rule" to keep in mind: if in doubt, don't. The thing about the internet is you can never completely erase something once it's up. There are very simple ways to access old content that has been (supposedly) completely deleted, even from "private" accounts and posts. It's better to err on the side of caution and make sure you don't create an undesirable digital footprint for your students.  


As music teachers we also have the unique issue of making sure we aren't breaking copyright laws when we share content from our classrooms! There is a myth out there that it's legal to share short snippets (like audio/ video clips under 30 seconds) of copyrighted material. That is not true- it's far more complicated than that. Not being a legal expert myself, I have chosen not to share any audio or video recordings of performances of copyrighted work. I've found there is still plenty of content for me to share between performances of work in public domain and original student compositions, or I can share a photo of a performance if they're performing something under copyright instead. 


The best way to get your content "out there" to the community is to connect with other active accounts. Like and share content from your local arts organizations, the school's athletics department, or the local government account. Tag relevant accounts in your own posts. You'll be noticed by the people who run those accounts, and by some of their followers as well, and hopefully other accounts will like and share your content in return. Just make sure any content you share from other pages still complies with your privacy and copyright concerns (see above)- don't assume that because someone else posted it, it's safe for you to share!

When you're sharing other's content, though, make sure you're sharing with proper credit. It's unethical to copy another account's content without sharing where you got it! If you're sharing something from another page, make sure to:

1. Share from the original post- oftentimes the videos and memes that go viral and show up in your feed are not from the original creators of the content. Take the time to trace the video of that cool performance back to the original performers, or that funny meme back to the original creator of the meme. Tag the actual owners/ creators in your post and share directly from their account instead of sharing a share of a share of a share. If you can't trace it back, don't share it.

2. Keep any watermarks, logos, or other identifying information on images and videos you share. If the creator took the time to put a watermark or logo on their content, they don't want it shared without it. 

3. Do a quick search to make sure any quotes etc that you want to share are attributed correctly. We all know in the age of the internet there is a lot of misinformation. Don't be responsible for spreading it. Fact check your sources before blindly sharing content.

Posting schedule

Once you have your account set up to share safely and responsibly, get yourself on some kind of posting schedule. There's no point in posting on social media if nobody sees your content, and the best way to make sure people actually see your posts is to be consistent. That doesn't mean you have to post every day, but I definitely recommend at least once a week. My school account posts 3 times a week, and I always share on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings. Having a specific schedule will not only help keep you accountable for staying active, but your followers will know when to look for new posts, and generally social media platforms will show content to followers more from accounts that appear "active".

Content ideas

In order to post regularly you'll need to have plenty of content! It doesn't have to be anything fancy or complicated though. Obviously this list is not exhaustive, but here are some general ideas of the types of posts you could share for a music class account (don't forget to see the privacy and copyright considerations above before sharing):
  • Pictures, videos, or audio recordings of students doing something in class
  • Pictures, videos, or audio recordings from public performances
  • Pictures of written work
  • Pictures and/or information about specific instruments/ supplies and how you use them (for example: "We love using xylophones in first grade to learn about high and low notes!")
  • Quotes by famous musicians, about music education, etc
  • Links to articles about music education
  • Announcements about upcoming events- concerts, trips, parent conferences, open house etc (not just music-specific events, but building-wide events as well)
  • Information about your curriculum (for example: "Did you know students start learning to read music in Kindergarten? Our Kindergartners can read quarter notes and eighth notes!")
  • Information about current artists students should listen to
  • Information about upcoming local music-related community events and organizations (concerts, private lesson studios, arts organizations etc)
  • Pictures of you and/or colleagues working outside the classroom (for example, a department meeting to plan new curriculum, a teacher workshop to learn new lesson ideas, etc)
  • Announcements of awards, recognitions, and achievements by music students, programs, and staff
  • Meet the music teacher (including yourself and other teachers in your department or extracurricular programs)
It can be overwhelming initially to make sure you're doing it correctly, but if you take the time to do your research beforehand and set everything up correctly, and if you are mindful to always err on the side of caution with the content you share, social media can be a powerful tool for advocating for your music classroom and program! If you have experience running a social media page for your class, please share your experiences in the comments. And if you have any questions as you look into starting your own, feel free to ask away- if I can't answer them myself I will try to point you to someone who can! 

Sunday, March 1, 2020

February Favorites 2020

Even with the extra day this year, February flew by! It was also a challenging month, in many ways, so I'm honestly a little relieved to be turning the page to a new month. Regardless of how your February has been, I hope you find some fresh inspiration as we look back together on my highlights from last month!

1. Hip-Hop Unit

This is my second year collaborating with a local hip-hop artist to teach my 6th graders about hip-hop and work with them to create and record their own song. Having done it once before, we were able to make some significant changes to how we teach the unit, and it was even more successful than it was last year! The best part was seeing, once again, students taking leadership in the classroom who normally don't, and those who normally have all the answers being put in a position of uncertainty. I don't have any pictures to share but I hope to be able to share the unit plans sometime so that other music teachers can implement it in their own classrooms in the future. 

2. Black History Month

In my classroom, we recognized BHM by listening to songs by different Black artists and discussing them for our warm-ups at the beginning of class. It was so fun seeing kids' faces light up within the first few notes of Aretha Franklin or Black Violin! In the world of Organized Chaos, I decided to feature Black music education accounts in my Instagram stories this month. There are some fantastic accounts that don't have nearly the following they should! If you missed them, be sure to go to my highlights in my profile and click on "BHM to follow" to see all the accounts I featured this month.

3. Blog Posts

Here are the music education posts I found this month from other authors- it is always so inspiring to read what others are sharing and learn from other music educators! Be sure to click through and read each post if you haven't already:

Where did you find inspiration this month? What are you most looking forward to in the month ahead? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Happy Music In Our Schools Month! 

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Instrumental Sequencing in Elementary General Music

If there is one thing I hear adults reminisce fondly about most from their childhood music classes, it's learning to play an instrument of some kind. And if there's one thing I hear adults most regret from their childhood, it's not sticking with whatever instrument they started learning how to play. Instruments are an important part of children's musical development! Today I am sharing which grades I teach each instrument and how.

Kindergarten/ Preschool

Early childhood is all about exploring musical elements and establishing a strong foundation in both musical understanding and proper care and responsibility for equipment. I always start my youngest students with a few classroom instruments that are easy to play and hard to break (rhythm sticks, egg shakers, and hand drums are usually the first) and use those exclusively for a month or two to practice how to hold them and play them correctly, how to get them out and put them away safely, how to play only when they're supposed to, and to start practicing basic musical concepts like steady beat, fast and slow, and simple rhythm patterns. 

Once they are able to use instruments appropriately, I start introducing more unpitched percussion instruments, always making sure they are using proper playing technique and making sure students can correctly identify each instrument by name as we go. There are so many different instruments I like to use at this stage, but the ones we use the most include triangles, jingle bells, tambourines, djembes, cow bells, and boomwhackers. I try to make sure all of the instruments are easy enough for small hands to play while still giving students exposure to a wide range of timbres and techniques.

I wait until January or February of Kindergarten (about halfway through the school year) to introduce barred instruments. These instruments are much more complicated to play and use properly! In Kindergarten I just introduce a few basic playing techniques and use those to explore the instrument without trying to play any specific melodies etc. You can read my specific lesson plans for introducing barred instruments in this post.

1st/ 2nd grades

First and second grade is all about developing music literacy and expanding their musical "vocabulary" by adding more pitch and rhythmic elements to their repertoire. In these grades students spend a lot of time learning more complex techniques on barred instruments, including borduns, ostinati, and in second grade, simple melodies. I also spend more time exploring the range of barred instruments with them (which I am lucky enough to have in my classroom): xylophones, metallophones, and glockenspiels all in various sizes. 

Besides the focus on barred instruments, I also make sure to save some of the more challenging and unique unpitched percussion instruments for these grades: cabasas, slap sticks, ratchets, vibraslaps, rain sticks, finger cymbals, sleigh bells, guiros, and more. It can be tempting to let students try out all the different instruments right away (and boy, do they want to!), but I make sure I reserve exciting new things for each grade so that things don't get stale, and many of these instruments are too heavy or difficult for younger students to play properly.

3rd/ 4th grades

This is the age I introduce recorders. In my last district I taught recorders in 4th grade, and in my current district we teach them in 3rd. I think either grade can be successful, but with 3rd graders I definitely recommend waiting until halfway through the year to give them time to develop their fine motor skills, let their hands grow a little more, and develop their notation reading skills as well. In both districts the recorder was introduced the year before beginning band is offered, and that seems to work well in both cases.

Recorders are a whole new ball game because it's the first time they are learning a wind instrument, and it's also the first time I expect them to care for their own instrument and take it home to practice independently as well. Besides the obvious goals of developing their playing technique and musical literacy, I also use the recorder to teach independent practice skills. You can read about all my tips for teaching recorder, including my lesson sequence, recommended instruments, storage and organization solutions, and more in this post.

5th/ 6th grades

I know many elementary schools don't include the 6th grade- when I have taught K-5 in the past I included some of this in my 4th grade curriculum- but currently I teach in a K-6 school, and I teach piano in 5th grade and ukulele in 6th grade. I know many teachers start ukulele at much younger ages, and in terms of physical capability I think younger ages definitely could play ukulele properly, but it is so important to me to make sure my oldest students have something that is special just for them, and there is a lot of musical content they can learn naturally through the study of these specific instruments that would be too advanced for younger students.

I have written separate posts about my ukulele and piano units as well- click below to read those posts.

I hope this helps you think about your own sequence for instrumental music curriculum in general music class! This is certainly not the only right way to teach- there are plenty of other instruments that would accomplish the same curricular goals besides the ones I have available to me in my classroom. If you'd like to implement a similar sequence in your own classroom, you can find my curriculum, including all the lesson plans and materials to teach all of these instruments, in this resource.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Music Lessons for Read Across America

Many schools across the United States will be celebrating Read Across America the first week of March. Whether you've been strongly encouraged to do so by your administration or just want to join in the festivities, this is a great time to pull out some books to tie into music lessons! Today I want to share some of my favorite ways to bring Read Across America into the elementary music room.

This post contains affiliate links, which do not affect the buying experience or the opinions expressed in this article, but do support this blog.

First let me make sure everyone is on the same page: Dr. Seuss is not featured in my RAA celebration, and he shouldn't be in yours either. The NEA has already completely removed Cat in the Hat, and Dr. Seuss, from their logo and theme (visit their site linked above to see their new resources), but many teachers haven't gotten the memo yet. Besides the author's overtly racist political cartoons and propaganda, a large portion of his book characters and content (including the Cat in the Hat) are demeaning and exoticising of non-white people and non-Western cultures. If this is news to you, I know it can be hard to process at first, but I encourage you to set aside your childhood memories for a moment and read this article (click here to download for free) and do a little research- there are plenty of other articles to look at to find out for yourself.

OK. Now that we've addressed that, let's talk about alternatives! Because there are so many, and actually they're way better.

Conveniently enough, March is also Music In Our Schools Month® (MIOSM®)! So my favorite way to bring literature into my music lessons during Read Across America week is with books about music. The theme in 2019 was "All Music. All People.", and for that theme I used the book My Family Plays Music to explore different musical genres while having students play along with recordings on classroom instruments. See all the recordings I used and the full lesson plan in this post:

The 2020 theme for Music In Our Schools Month is "Music Changes Lives", and I am going to be incorporating this year's theme with the beautiful book Because. I've been trying to think of a way to bring this book into my lessons in a meaningful way ever since I found it last year, so I can't wait! To see the lesson and activities I am planning to go with this book, read this post:

For any other music teachers who, like me, used to teach "My Many Colored Days" by Dr. Seuss, I found a great alternative that my students actually like better and understand more readily: here is the lesson I do with the book Allie All Along:

There are so many great ways to use books in the elementary music classroom- these are just a few examples! I especially love using them with my younger students (K-2). They love listening to stories, and their imaginations light up when we use those stories as springboards for creative musical expression. You'll find complete lesson plans for 13 more books (and counting!) that I use throughout the school year in this post:

I know there are many more great books and lesson ideas to use them! If you don't see your favorite here, please share them in the comments below! I hope you enjoy reading with your students and discovering new books to use in your classroom.