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Tuesday, March 30, 2021

March Highlights 2021

 As this milestone month comes to a close, it's time to look back on some of the highlights. It was a month of ups and downs to be sure!

1. Song Bracket

March is always so much fun because I celebrate Music In Our Schools Month in a big way. I didn't do all the different in-class activities or bulletin boards I would normally do because of our hybrid teaching situation, but I did get to do another song bracket, where students voted on their favorite songs each day in a March-madness-style bracket, and it has been so much fun! I highly recommend it if you've never done it before- here's my blog post where I explain how I set it up.

2. Philippines and Korea Units

The units I do with each grade on one culture and their music are always highlights of my year, and because we're on a rotational schedule I did those units with my 3rd and 4th graders early this year! I used to do China with my 4th graders each year but a couple of years ago I decided to start alternating between China, Korea, and Japan. The students loved the units and I had so much fun, even though we couldn't do everything I normally like to do! I videotaped each class too, to use in my international music festival at the end of the year- I can't wait!

3. Improving Weather

I cannot overstate how big of a difference it makes in my mood and motivation having warmer temperatures and sunshine these last couple of weeks! Even more than most years, being able to be outside makes such a difference for my daughters and I after being cooped up inside for so long, and I notice the difference in my students and colleagues too!

4. Music Ed Content

Here is some of my favorite music education content I found this month- click each picture to check them out. They are well-worth your time!

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Teacher Routines for Concurrent Music Teaching

I've been teaching concurrently- with some students socially distanced in the classroom and some students participating in the same class live on zoom at the same time- since the beginning of this school year. I'm also on a cart and, as of right now, still not allowed to sing or share any supplies in school. It's still exhausting and frustrating, but I have definitely figured out some strategies to make it work more smoothly over the last several months! Here are some routines I've established for myself to help me juggle all my responsibilities for teaching elementary music concurrently.

There are 2 categories of routines that I think are equally valuable in teaching in general: class routines and teacher routines. Class routines help make class predictable- I've leaned even more heavily on establishing routines for how I run my lessons this year to help give my students and I some predictability in these highly unpredictable and unusual times and make it easier on all of us to know what to do when we're dealing with these complicated restrictions. I do the same series of stretches at the beginning of class, and I end with a virtual "happy note" at the end of class, ever single lesson. You can read more details about how I have established class routines this year in this blog post.

Equally important, though, are the routines we establish for ourselves as teachers! The reason concurrent teaching is so exhausting is because you have to think about so many different things at once, so anything that can alleviate the mental load is a good thing. It has taken me a long time to find a routine that helps me manage everything, and of course as things continue to change I have to continue to adjust my own routines, but here is my current routine for managing everything for my teaching.

1. Before School

I make sure to set up a few things before my first class each day so that I have everything ready to go:
  • Put my class lists on my clipboard to have on my cart
  • Put my class schedule on my cart
  • Review my lesson plans for the day and write down the basic sequence of each on sticky notes- the first one goes on my computer next to my trackpad where I can see it, and the rest go on on my class lists next the classes they're for
  • Pull up the slides and any other tabs I need for each lesson- I put all the tabs for one lesson in one browser window and minimize the others so they're ready but not visible
  • Open the zoom app and find the first class in my list of recurring meetings
  • Get my voice amplifier on
  • Make sure my computer, walkie talkie, speaker, and voice amplifier are charged and turned on
  • Open class dojo on my phone and find the first class I'm teaching
  • Fill up my water bottle, eat a quick snack, and go to the bathroom
2. Before Each Lesson

I have 5 minutes between most of my classes. Before each class here is what I do to make sure everything is set up:
  • Start the zoom, and pause the automatic recording, 5 minutes before class (this often means I'm starting the zoom for the next class before I leave the class I just finished teaching)
  • Adjust any zoom settings- make sure students can't unmute, and can only chat with me
  • Make sure slides and other tabs for the lesson are open and ready for the beginning of the lesson
  • If it's different than the lesson before it, get the sticky note for that class and put it on my computer, and move the previous one to my clipboard
  • Look through the roster to remind myself of who to expect on zoom and in the room
  • Try to be walking into the room about 3 minutes before the start of class so I can
    • say hello to the in-person students
    • ask the homeroom teacher/ cohort supervisor who is absent today and/or any in-person students who are on zoom 
    • Plug in my power strip from my cart
    • Connect my computer to the projector and adjust my settings as needed, move windows so the visuals I'm sharing are on the board and the zoom window is on my computer
  • Admit all students from the zoom waiting room at the start of class time, say hello, and make sure everyone can see and hear me
3. After Class

Usually the routines I have for starting the next lesson are happening at the same time as the routines I have for the end of the previous one, unless I have more than 5 minutes between 2 classes. 
  • Write down attendance: I try to note my attendance for the distance learners sometime during the lesson- usually when they're all taking turns answering a question or when everyone is watching a video so I am free to look through the participants and mark them down. If I don't have a good time to do that during class I make sure to do it right after class before I forget, and I always wait until after class to mark down the in-person attendance.
  • Send a virtual happy note on class dojo to whoever got it that day (more on this in my previous post on class routines linked above)
  • If I'm not teaching that lesson again that day, close those tabs
4. After School

After my last class is over, here are the things I always do before the end of the school day:
  • Make sure I have sent all the happy notes on dojo (if I didn't have time between lessons)
  • Pick out one zoom recording for each grade and post the recording in each google classroom
  • Plug in my voice amplifier and speaker to charge
  • Throw away all the lesson sticky notes for that day
  • Contact the families of any distance learners who were missing more than 1 day without a known reason
  • Make sure tomorrow's google classroom's posts are ready
  • Make sure tomorrow's slides are ready
This is a lot when I write it all out but I hope it helps anyone who is finding themselves teaching concurrently for the first time and struggling to wrap their head around it all! If you want to see more ideas and tips for teaching in various pandemic teaching situations, be sure to visit this page where I've compiled all my relevant posts in various categories:

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Dance Playlist 2021

I love finding upbeat, school-appropriate, modern songs to use in my music classes for dance parties, slideshows, field day, and general merriment, and this year this feels especially important to share. I've been using my playlist of upbeat dance songs a lot this year to throw in a dance break at the end of class or use to play along with on found sound instruments! Here are my new picks for this year- be sure to check out my posts from previous years to find more awesome music my students and I love linked at the end of this post.

To make it easier to find all my dance party playlist songs in one place, I've put together a YouTube playlist with all of the songs from all of my previous year's lists including this one! Here's the link to the playlist.

If you've missed my playlists from previous years you can see those posts below! Happy dancing :)

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Favorite Tech Tools for Composition in Elementary Music

One of the best things to come out of this pandemic is the technology infrastructure that we've been forced to put in place. And one of the most powerful ways I've been able to incorporate the new one-to-one devices my students have into my lessons is composition. Today I want to share my 3 favorite tools to use for composition in elementary music: all available free online with no accounts to set up and with the ability to save and share creations.

1. Mario Paint Composer

In terms of an online music composition platform that allows students to actually notate on a staff, Mario Paint is my absolute favorite. I use this with my older students in particular- it's too much for lower elementary (though they do enjoy fiddling with it)- and I love all the options they have without being too overwhelming and still very intuitive for them to use. 

Besides just having students notate their own melodies in treble clef and/or bass clef, it's also a great way to practice specific elements. With my 6th graders I added chords to the bass clef staff and shared that with them so they could add their own melody using chord tones to the treble clef staff, save, and send it back to me. With 5th grade I pointed out a couple of timbres that would make staccato notes and a couple that would make it sound legato and had them notate a melody using whichever articulation they chose (and identify which one they used). 

Having the ability to share a song with a link, edit it, and save it to a new link is huge. Not only can I give students a starting point that I set up, like in the chord example, but I can look at their compositions, make edits, and send it back to them for them to continue working on it and then send in again. To do this you just click "save/ load", then "publish to shareable url". 

It's so easy to incorporate expressive elements too: not only are there a ton of different options for timbre, which the students love, but you can also adjust the tempo and add effects. For more advanced composition assignments, there are flats and sharps, different time signatures, and the ability to subdivide beats different ways.

2. Chrome Song Maker

For younger students, and for older students learning to use a new musical element for the first time, Songmaker is definitely my favorite. It doesn't have a staff, but it does have color-coded notes that match boomwhackers, so it's perfect for helping students understand melodic and harmonic concepts without worrying about staff notation. I've used it with students as young as 1st grade to have them create their own melodies using mi and sol, and it's so easy when they can clearly see which colors to use! 

Just like Mario Paint, Songmaker lets you save and share songs with a link, so I've done similar projects where I pre-load parts of a song for students to add to or change and send back. When my 6th graders were practicing adding a bass line for the first time, I notated a familiar melody in the top octave and had them add their bass line in the lower octave.

There are also plenty of options for changing the timbre and tempo, and if you click on "settings", you can also adjust the range, time signature, and subdivision of the beat. The best part is you can also adjust the scale- it is normally set to have the diatonic major scale, but you can adjust it to have all the chromatic notes or make it pentatonic. This is perfect for younger students so they don't have to click around so much to find the notes they need!

3. Google Slides

This may not be a tool designed for music composition but I have found myself using it just as much as the other 2 tools because I can create drag and drop composition worksheets using the same templates I used in previous years in hard copy! I save the PDF as an image, match the slide size to the same dimensions as the paper, then insert the worksheet image as the background. Then I add several copies of whatever notes they're using on top of each other in the note bank at the bottom of the page, so students can take one and drag it up to where they want it in their composition.


I've found that between these 3 tools, I have been able to translate all of my usual composition assignments to a digital platform- and I plan on keeping them in the future! While I do still think there is benefit to learning both paper/ pencil and digital formats, I have seen this year that for many students these tools have significantly improved their understanding and for some it has removed the barriers that come with handwriting. Being able to use both in the future will give more students the opportunity to succeed and give more pathways to understanding!

I'd love to hear about your favorite online composition tools you've used this year- let me know in the comments if you have one you love! If you're looking for more ideas, whether it's technology, lesson ideas, managing the various pandemic teaching scenarios we've faced, or anything in between, head to this page:

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

February Highlights 2021

Every month I stop and look back at the highlights from the past month. This month's highlights include teaching chorus for the first time in almost a year, a little inspiration from my daughter, and some amazing content from some wonderful music educators!

1. Teaching chorus

I usually try to include photos for my highlights- I don't have one but I have to mention this anyway. We decided to put together a virtual choir video with 4th-6th graders from across the district instead of our usual all-district chorus (which got cut short before the performance last March), and I've had the opportunity to lead those rehearsals the last few weeks. I knew I missed teaching choir but I didn't know how much until I got to do it again- even with everyone muted it was SUCH an amazing feeling! And the students involved have been so motivated and hard-working. Definitely one of the highlights of the entire school year!

2. A little inspiration

Last month I gushed about how much I love making these family calendars together with my daughters every year. Each month the girls decorate half of the top page and add in all the important dates that affect their lives. When we put together the February calendar one of my daughters turned her page into a valentine's card, and when I read later what she had so easily come up with I was blown away! (If you can't read her handwriting clearly: "Dear Valentine, I just want to say that there is always someone who loves you. And to not give up.", and "Dear valentine, I just want to say that whatever you are doing is changing the world.")

3. Music education content

I love highlighting my favorite music ed content from other teachers and creators each month- check out this month's picks by clicking the images below!

March is, as usual, shaping up to be a very busy month indeed- but a fulfilling and exciting one too. March 2021 has GOT to be better than March 2020, right?!? Let's hope so.