Image Map

Sunday, November 29, 2020

24 Days of Family Christmas Activities: Socially Distanced Edition

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

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

1. Put up the Christmas tree

2. Decorate the tree with ornaments

3. Hang the Christmas lights

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

5. Make hot chocolate with all the fixings

6. Put out the advent wreath

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

8. Decorate the front door

9. Make and send Christmas cards

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

11. Bake cookies

12. Decorate sugar cookies

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

14. Shop for/ make gifts to give

15. Read some Christmas books

16. Wrap gifts

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

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

19. Do this candy cane science experiment

20. Go caroling via zoom

21. Drive through a lights display

22. Hang the stockings

23. Make a gingerbread house

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Top 3 Tips for Using Google Slides in Elementary Music

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

1. Drag and Drop

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

2. Video Viewer

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

3. Insert Audio

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Teaching Solfege Without Singing

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

1. Solfege Challenge Videos

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

2. Speed Rounds

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

3. Notation

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Advice from the Field

After chatting with some fellow elementary music teachers last week about the joys and struggles of our various teaching situations, I asked each of them to share a short word of advice to others who may find themselves in the same situation, whether that's teaching fully online, live or asynchronous, on a cart, in your own music room, or some combination of the above. Here is what they had to say!

If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend sitting down with a cup of something cozy and watching the video of my conversation with these wonderful women. It has been one of the most encouraging conversations I have had in a long time just to hear their hearts and feel a sense of camaraderie in the struggles and joys we are all encountering in our various situations! Watch that here

And now here is the advice each of them shared:

For full virtual, live teaching: Charissa Duncanson

I encourage teachers to connect with one another on social media if they have not already. We can feel very lonely in times like this, and connecting with others reminds us that we aren't alone in this new journey of teaching in a pandemic. I have also found it helpful to set clear boundaries for myself when it comes to working vs being home. I gave myself clear boundaries of when to and when not to do "school work". When I made the choice to turn off my work laptop at 4:30pm I really was able to rid myself of the burden of constantly answering and feeling like I had to immediately respond. I know that my work will be there for me the next day and I can pick up where I left off. These boundaries have helped me tremendously, and kept me sane throughout my week. 

Find Charissa @musiciwthmrsdunc on all social media platforms or at her website to connect and chat with her further!

For full online, posting asynchronous lessons: Leah Riggs

In this season of my life, where I am teaching in a way that is completely new to me, I have found a few new pieces of wisdom. Number one is being adaptable. Good teachers are good learners; we have to learn and adapt to new content and new ways of delivering content. I can’t think of another time in my career that I have learned more in such a short amount of time. I didn’t know how to make a video lesson let alone how to upload it and make it available to students! There are SO many new skills I can take into the future. Number two is safety. I am keeping my students and my family safe by working from home. I am in a district, county, city, and state that is doing it’s best to keep our community safe. That comes with a lot of restrictions that are hard to deal with. The bottom line is, we may not always understand in the moment the big picture of community safety, but I trust that my leaders do, and I am ever so grateful for that. If you ever need advice, or need to bounce off ideas about asynchronous teaching, I am all in to help! 

Find Leah on Facebook and Instagram @musicinthemeadowbooks, or email to connect and chat. 

For in-person teaching in the music room: Aimee Curtis Pfitzner

Deep breaths. 

Expect the unexpected. The Law of Mutability applies this year: Nothing remains the same but change. That is incredibly difficult for human beings - we crave routine and are hard-wired for habits and familiarity. Nothing about Pandemic teaching has to do with routines or familiarity. We are all first-year teachers figuring out how to work with the technology, learning platform, behavior management, student engagement, interaction, etc., etc., etc. 

What are the most important areas of content to teach your students this year and what kinds of lessons can be extended to multiple lessons?  Consider grouping grade level lessons together and/or using the same pieces to teach from once in a while to ease up on planning. Consider reaching out to small groups of students to encourage, develop relationships, and stimulate engagement. In an age where everyone wants to create virtual classrooms and high-tech proficient lessons that are polished and professional, consider that what your students might need most is YOU.  Your face, your voice, and the stability and familiarity of you teaching lessons as if all your students were in the room. Share the personal joy of music making, creation, and performance.  Give them moments of joy, safety, comfort, and fun while also focusing on concepts and skills. 

Reach out to other music teachers- our community is AMAZING and the support, camaraderie, and sharing that is happening within music education is absolutely remarkable. 
Above all, know that this too shall pass.

Find Aimee on Facebook @ofortunaorff and Instagram @aimee_ofortunaorff, or email to connect with her!

For hybrid teaching on a cart: Elizabeth Caldwell

First a few practical tips: 1) Get a mic/ personal amplification system. Teaching with a mask on to a room full of spread-out students will do a number on your voice otherwise. 2) Write down where you are supposed to be when and have it readily visible on your cart. 3) Have a power strip and extension cord on your cart so you can plug things in. 4) Drink water. Lots of water. I have barely any time between classes but it's worth the precious 2 minutes it takes to use the bathroom to keep my energy up. 5) After each class, roll your cart to the next location, start the zoom for the next class so students can start coming into the waiting room, and get your computer set up with whatever tabs you need for the lesson. I have found little spots in the hallway outside each of the rooms I teach in to park my cart and set up my computer, then I run to the bathroom, drink water, and/or check messages etc with whatever time I have left before the next class, knowing I have everything ready to go.

Besides those practical tips, I echo what the others have said: connect with other music teachers, establish routines and boundaries for your work hours, and be intentional about self-care, whatever that looks like for you. And please reach out to me on social media, in the blog comments below, or by email! You can find my contact information and social media links right here on my website.

I'd love to hear from you: what advice would you give to other music teachers, and what questions do you have? Leave a comment below so we can all support each other through this crisis.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Music Teacher Fireside Chat: pandemic edition

Now more than ever, it's so easy to feel alone in our situations as music teachers! Today I'm sharing something simple but so very special: a peek into life on the ground with 4 of us, all teaching elementary general music in different ways around the country! We represent full virtual teaching, posting online lessons, in the music room, on a cart, hybrid models, and everything in between- I'm betting you can relate to our experiences! If you've been wondering what it's really like for music teachers around the country right now, if your district is adjusting their model and you're feeling apprehensive about what this new way of teaching will be like, or if you've been wishing you could sit down and just chat with some music teacher besties, here's a little taste of that.

In this video I'm chatting with elementary music teachers from around the United States teaching in different modalities in the fall of 2020 as we go through the ongoing pandemic: Charissa Duncanson, who has been fully virtual teaching live online lessons, Aimee Curtis Pfitzner, who has been teaching a combination of in-person music classes in the music room and streaming into other classrooms, and Leah Riggs, who has been posting asynchronous lessons online for all of her classes. I have been teaching in a hybrid model on a cart, with distance learners joining in-person classes via zoom, so we all had lots of stories to share and thoughts to ponder! There is some great insight and advice from this conversation and lots of camaraderie from our shared experiences!

Connect with Aimee on her blog, Charissa on her website, and Leah on her Facebook page! All three are wonderful, intelligent, kind-hearted, and talented educators who I learn from every day. And be sure to stay tuned: I'll be sharing more insights from each of them with their best advice on handling their respective teaching situations next week!

In the meantime, you can always look for more ideas and resources for our current teaching situation on my pandemic teaching page:

Sunday, November 1, 2020

October Highlights 2020

I'm scared to say this out loud but... I feel like I'm actually getting into some semblance of a rhythm. I'm sure as soon as I put that thought out into the world everything will be upended, but for now it is nice to feel much more settled than I have in months! Here are some of my highlights from the past month.

1. Fall Decorating

This may seem silly, but it was really refreshing to take a few hours one weekend morning and decorate the house with some fall decor. It's so easy to get caught up in the craziness of pandemic teaching and pulling my brain away from it all was so nice. My daughters spotted the squirrel at a craft store and we had to bring him home! 

2. Family Wedding

My baby sister got married! Despite all the disruptions to their original wedding plans, it was a beautiful day. And despite needing to keep everything socially distant, it was still so nice to have a small gathering of people after so little adult interaction! 

3. Blog Catchup

Missed some posts this month? Click below to catch up on your reading:


4. Music Education Posts

I love finding posts from other music teachers- I always get new ideas for my own classroom! Click below to see all of the posts I found and loved this month:

I'm not saying things are easy or great, but there is still plenty of joy to be found out there! I hope this brings you fresh inspiration- happy November!