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Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Best of 2020: Year in Review

The phrase "best of 2020" seems a bit ironic given how difficult the year has been, but I do still want to take a minute to look back on the past year here on the Organized Chaos blog! It's always so interesting for me to see which posts were most read, and look back on what we, as a profession, were thinking about most. January seems like so long ago! So here they are: the top 10 most read posts from 2020.

10. Distance Learning Music Classroom at Home

9. Distance Music Lesson Ideas: Exploring Cultures Through Music

8. Distance Music Lesson Ideas: Singing

7. Elementary Music Without Shared Instruments

6. Distance Music Lesson Ideas: Found Sound

5. Virtual Music Lesson Ideas: Instruments of the Orchestra

4. Distance Music Lesson Ideas: Note Names

3. First Day of Music Lesson Ideas: 2020 Edition

2. Elementary Music Without Singing

1. Music Teacher Resources for School Closures

It's no surprise, figuring out how to teach in all these new forms schooling has taken has been our biggest concern! And the year ahead is sure to present new challenges as well. I'm so grateful for this community, more than ever before, to share ideas, learn from each other, and encourage each other as we push through the hard times and celebrate the good! 

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

More Contemporary Instrumentalists of Color

One of the easiest ways to better reflect minoritized people in the music room is to include examples of people of color in our everyday lessons. About a year ago I shared some contemporary instrumentalists of color I like to feature in my lessons when I am introducing instruments of the orchestra, and today I'm sharing some more musicians on instruments I didn't cover in that post (so be sure to check out the original post after you read this one for more examples to use!). It's important to me to share currently active musicians specifically, and share examples that showcase a range of genres as well. I want to inspire my students to want to explore these instruments further, and these examples make them so much more relevant to a wider range of students!

oboe- Bernice Lee

guitar- Meliani Siti Sumartini

vibraphone- Justin Vibes

classroom instruments- Aaron Grooves

euphonium- Hiram Diaz

bassoon- Daniel Matsukawa

I hope you'll incorporate some of these into your lessons the next time you are introducing students to a new instrument! Don't forget to see my first post for more instruments, and if you know other great contemporary instrumentalists of color, please share them in the comments! I decided to limit myself to one example per instrument, which was so hard because there are so many great instrumentalists out there!

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Zoom for Music Teachers

Like many teachers around the world, I have been using Zoom to teach distant learners since the beginning of this school year. For most of the fall I taught distant learners on Zoom while teaching in-person learners in the classroom, but now our district is fully virtual and I am teaching everyone through Zoom every day! So today I'm sharing my top tips for using Zoom as a music teacher.

Audio Settings

The audio settings that you set up for your account are really key to making music teaching and learning possible. Without the right settings, you and your students won't be able to hear each other properly at all! The good news is once you get everything set up, you don't have to worry about them hardly ever! I highly recommend following this step-by-step tutorial from Midnight Music- it's very easy to follow and it will take care of everything!

Mute Them All

It seems so very counterintuitive, but I think I have my students muted more than any other teacher in my school! I have it set up so that participants cannot unmute themselves unless I invite them (you can do this by clicking on "security" inside the meeting). There's just too much sound delay and sound quality issues to let students unmute themselves- I want everyone to be able to make their own noise... I mean music... and still hear me and/or the music I'm playing.

To make up for rarely hearing them, I watch for visuals. Honestly I have been assessing student performance informally through mostly visual cues for years now- I can tell pretty well from watching them how well they are playing, singing, counting rhythms, etc without being able to pick their sound out from the rest of the group. It's obviously very much less than ideal not to be able to hear them, but I find I am still able to assess how students are doing pretty well even while they're muted, and it definitely makes for a much more pleasant experience for everyone when we don't hear the lag and the feedback!

Use Two Monitors

This tip is especially for teachers who have bigger groups (meaning more than, say, 6) of students on zoom- not for hybrid teaching. I have found my second monitor to be invaluable since we switched to full distance learning! Normally when you share your screen (which I do a LOT to show slides and videos), you can only see 4-6 people's videos at a time. And then you have the problem of people's videos getting in the way of the visuals you need to see that you are trying to share with the class! Setting up dual monitors means when you share your screen, everyone's faces are on one monitor and the shared screen is on the other. So much better, and it's so easy to set up! Here is a tutorial.

Stay in the Spotlight

As soon as I let my students into the Zoom from the waiting room, the first thing I do is spotlight my video. My primary reason is to make sure only my video shows in the recordings, since we are required to post recordings of every lesson, but it also makes sure students can see me whether I share my screen, someone else starts talking, or they start scrolling through their classmate's videos. If you're having students perform for the class (and you aren't trying to record), spotlighting that student (or multiple students) is an easy to way to make sure everyone can see them too!

Give a Hand

In a similar way to spotlighting, I have students use the hand raising feature to move themselves to the front of the line, especially in big classes. For example, when I have 2 students racing to name a note that I show them, I'll have both raise their hands. That moves their videos to the top of the screen for me, and I can invite them to unmute without having to search through all the names to find them. It's a handy way to call on students when you're taking turns.

Share the Music

Most music teachers are probably aware of this by now but just in case you aren't: you can share just the audio from your computer instead of sharing your actual screen. When you click on share screen, go to "advanced" at the top and select audio only. This way if you want to share a recording that you found on YouTube without showing them the visuals from the video, you can play the audio for them without them seeing the screen. Related point: when you share your screen, be sure to click the little "share computer sound" box in the bottom left corner of the share screen menu before you hit "share"- that way if you play any tracks or videos while sharing your screen everyone will be able to hear the audio clearly!

With so many teachers using the platform these days I'm sure others have their own tips to share- I'd love to hear them in the comments! These are just some of the great features that I've discovered over time that have made my life so much easier teaching synchronous online classes, and Zoom continues to improve as well, which has been great! I hope you find these helpful.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

An Inclusive Holiday Sing Along in Pandemic Times

I have been doing an all-school holiday sing-along the last day before December break for several years now, and when I started talking with my principal about schoolwide events we could do in full distance learning, I knew I wanted to do it this year despite the obvious challenges. We started the school year in a hybrid model, which meant no singing in music class. Now that we're in a full distance model, all I want to do is get everyone singing! Here are my plans to make it happen this year.

Along with figuring out the logistics of running a sing-along virtually, I have also been on a quest the last few years to decenter Christmas and make the event more representative of our school community and our world. Last year I wrote about where I was in that journey- you can read that post here- and I have made further changes for this year to improve on that further. 


As of right now, my plan is to hold the sing along on Zoom. A few things I've had to think through to make that work:

  • My district got paid accounts for teachers, so I can host meetings with up to 300 participants. Our school has more than 300 students, and with staff coming too we will have well over 300 people invited! I am planning to tell students to join with 1 device per household- I think if everyone does that, and knowing some people will inevitably be absent, we will be OK. But I am looking into the possibility of live streaming, on something like YouTube live, as a backup.
  • Because of the sound delay, everyone else will have to be muted. I'm planning to have the zoom set so nobody can unmute themselves. I've always included movement and other activities to go with each song to keep everyone engaged, and this year that will be even more important! 
  • I've had to adapt some of the movement/ activities I normally use because they are group activities- one song we normally sing in canon, another song students shake hands with each other, and another each class does a circle dance. I've changed up the activities for all of those songs to make them doable over zoom.
  • There is no way I can manage that many participants while also leading the event. I am planning to have a few staff members help out as co-hosts to 1) keep an eye on the chat, which I will have set to only send messages to the hosts, and 2) scroll through the videos to make sure there is nothing inappropriate going on in anyone's background etc. I'm also asking grade level teachers to be the point of contact for any of their students' question or tech issues during the event, so I don't have to worry about checking for messages and troubleshooting while leading!
  • I have the lyrics for each song in a Google Slides file, so I am planning to share my screen and show the words and then just have myself singing (and possibly playing an instrument with some of the songs), rather than having any accompaniment tracks. I've never used tracks for my singalong before, and I think it's more "organic" without them (which is important when everything is on a computer screen).
There are a few songs that I'm planning to invite students to use props with. My plan is to publicize a supply list, making it clear that everything is optional, well in advance so we don't have to spend too much time waiting for people to find things in the middle of the program. I also am planning on needing to teach the songs live during the event itself, because we are on a rotation this year where I only see a few grade levels at a time, and I don't want to ask grade level teachers to do one more thing right now! Many of the students will (hopefully) remember the songs that we did last year, and all of them are very short and simple, so I think it will still work!


After looking at continuing to improve the representation of my song selection and considering which songs are doable over Zoom, here is what I plan on doing this year:

1. Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah (we'll do a modified version of the circle dance we normally do- we sing only the first section)
2. Sleigh Ride (we'll do the cup routine shown in the linked video)
3. Feliz Navidad (I'll ask students to find something around their house to use as a shaker to play in the Spanish section, and do a simple clapping pattern in the English section)
4. Diwali is Here (I'll ask students to grab a flashlight/ cell phone light if they can, and do some simple choreography with the lights off while we sing)
5. Gong Xi, Gong Xi (we'll do the same motions with the verse- which we sing in an English translation- and then turn to each side of the video screen and pretend to shake hands in the chorus)
6. Eid Mubarak (we'll do a clapping pattern with this, clapping towards the camera so it looks like we're clapping each other's hands)
7. Happy Kwanzaa Song (I'll assign each grade to stand and do a motion that represents one of the 7 principles when we sing the verse (I teach K-6 so it works perfectly), and we'll all drum along while singing the chorus)

To be honest, I'm pretty happy with my plans for this year. I have absolutely no idea how well it will work with the technology, but I'm excited to try, and I'm much happier with my song selections this year than I was last year. 

Are you planning a sing-along this year? How are you planning to manage yours? I'd also love to hear your thoughts on holidays in public school classrooms, how to make holiday sing-alongs more reflective of our world, and whether holiday sing-alongs are even a good idea to begin with! Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below. I hope this sparks some conversation in the music education community as we continue to look for ways to value and respect all of our students and their backgrounds.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

November Highlights 2020

November was... quite eventful! When I first started writing these monthly recap posts I had a few intentions in mind: have a way to share some of my day-to-day, amplify content from other bloggers I was sharing on my Facebook page directly on this site, and highlight some of those little things I share on my Instagram account that aren't lengthy enough for a full blog post. The problem is, I am not a savvy social media person, so when things get crazy, that's the first thing I drop. So rather than try to limit myself to sharing things from my social media accounts, I'm going to just recap life in general (and still amplify other bloggers- don't miss their great content at the end of this post)! 

1. Switch to Remote Teaching

The biggest thing that happened to me was my district's switch from hybrid to fully online learning. It was, of course, definitely the right thing to do, but that didn't change the loss I feel. I'm glad I get to teach live classes on Zoom rather than just throwing asynchronous assignments out there like we did last spring, but it's still just not the same. And because we are on a rotation seeing 2 grade levels at a time for 3 weeks each, I actually never got to see my 3rd and 4th graders in person before we switched to full distance- our district's first day of remote learning was also the first day of my first rotation with them! 

Some things I am definitely not missing: running around the building with a mask and headset pushing a cart that was never meant to see that much action with super unreliable internet and a work computer that shuts down whenever it feels the need is not what I call a good time. But as we all can attest, limiting our face-to-face interactions is so hard!

2. Time with Family

No, we didn't all get together for a big meal, but I continue to be so grateful to have my parents nearby and so willing to help out with my daughters. Having the time to just hang out with them, playing board games, decorating the house for Christmas, and spend a little more time away from computer screens has been just the thing we all needed. And we did get to Zoom in my sisters and their families for a meal "together"! 

3. Songmaker Composition

I do a unit every year with my 6th graders where they create their own chord progression, notate it, add a melody, and perform/ record the completed piece (you can see the project here). It's one of my favorite things to teach because it combines so many important concepts and it's the first time their compositions really start to sound "legit" to them- it's daunting but so worthwhile. I was teaching 5th and 6th grade most of the month with our rotational schedule, and we did that project but modified for the hybrid model- since they all have their own devices (which we've never had before), I had them put their compositions into Songmaker as part of the creation process. It went so much better this way! Students could visually see the chord tones and hear the chords and melody together immediately so they could make adjustments immediately. We all loved it and I hope to continue doing it this way from now on.

4. Blog Catchup

If you missed any of my posts this month, you can catch up on your reading here! The conversation I had with other music teachers in various teaching situations was one of the best things I did this month for sure- if you haven't already that is a must-see.

5. Music Education Posts

These are some of my favorite posts from other writers that I found helpful this month- I hope you will take the time to read them as well:

I hope you find some new inspiration for the month ahead, and that you had a wonderful November as well!