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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!