Five Chromebook Apps/Websites for Elementary Music Class
Recently, while performing research for an upcoming book, I find that more and more schools are using Chromebooks over iOS. In 2014, it was reported that Chromebooks were the best selling device over Apple’s iPads. In 2015, it was projected that 50% of K-12 schools would be 1:1 (defined as one device per student) (Molnar, 2015). In my current teaching situation, grades PreK-2 are 1:1 iPads and grades 3-8 are 1:1 Chromebooks.
Why Are Schools Going To A 1:1 Platform?
Many reasons stem from the 21st Century Learning initiative that can be found in numerous articles about current education. However, when researching this, the term has a variety of definitions from 1:1 devices to makerspaces and learning labs.
In 2013, Alan November wrote an excellent article titled, “Why Schools Must Move Beyond One-to-One Computing” where he takes the 1:1 term and shifts it to 1:world. His research showed that schools were implementing 1:1 devices without training, support, or resources. When one shifts the term from 1:1 to 1:world, “it changes the focus of staff development from technical training to understanding how to design assignments that are more empowering—and engage students in a learning community with 24-hour support” (November, 2013).
Why Use Chromebooks In An Elementary Music Class?
This question comes up often on many music educator networking groups and it is an excellent one. In the elementary music class, students should be actively making music, moving to music, learning about music, appreciating music, singing, and performing music. With time limitations and students connected to technology at home, finding a reason to have students using technology in the music classroom can be debatable.
With that said, there are valid reasons to effectively integrate technology into the elementary music classroom. There is the obvious one of that technology shows up on some music educators’ evaluation forms. However, aside from that, here are five Chromebooks apps/websites (with one bonus) that an elementary teacher could use to increase active music making in their classrooms. As I have stated in many presentations, treat this list like a dessert buffet: try one or two items that appeal to you and would work in your atmosphere. Do not eat every dessert. As my 6-year-old always states, “Mommy, you will get a bad tummy ache!”
Incredibox is a website where the students can use beat-boxing cartoon characters to create music. The music is divided into beats, effects, melodies, and voices. There are four versions with the web-based version. I have used incredibox for the students to create a background accompaniment for a poem/rap/lyrics they have written in music or in their own classrooms. I have also used it on one device for students to create a background accompaniment for a “Say Your Name” first-day-of-school chant. It has also been used to reinforce discussions about beats, effects, melodies, and voices.
Incredibox hooks my students and they love to go home and show their parents another way to create music. I recommend Version 1 if you do not like that the cartoon characters are shirtless. Finally, it is flash-based and if your school is gearing away from anything flash-based, then the site might not work. However, check out the “Bonus” section below for how to place Android apps (which incredibox has an Android version) on Chromebooks.
To take this up one more step, my students use Soundtrap (soundtrap.com) to record themselves and create musical accompaniments. They also can connect to other students from around the world to collaborate in music-making.
In addition, my two favorite web-based notation apps are Noteflight (noteflight.com) and Flat (flat.io). Both of these apps are free, but the paid versions do a lot more for the students. The students can compose and easily share their compositions with other students and place them in apps like Soundtrap to further their music making.
Joytunes Website for Recorder (joytunes.com/master)
A free website for your budding elementary recorder players is Joytunes. When your students go to joytunes.com/master, they can click on the “One time pass”, then “Connect”, then “Allow” (so the internal microphone will work), and perform some fun, recorder games. Though it is easier to use headphones in a 1:world classroom, this can also be used in a station or in a one-computer classroom projected onto a screen with the laptop connected to decent speakers (either hardwire or Bluetooth).
The students then click on a picture on the map to enter a world of recorder games. The first world focuses on the note B. It encourages the students to memorize the fingerings and to blow quietly as their performance directs the airplane to stay in the sky without hitting any trees that are in the way. As they continue, they unlock more worlds, learn more fingerings, and eventually learn how to play a simple melody.
This website is flash-based, so to use it on an iOS device, you would need a flash-based web browser app like Photon Flash Player EDU or Puffin Web Browser. With some patience, both of these apps work well. In addition, they are both priced between $4-6.
Virtual Instruments (virtualmusicalinstruments.com)
All students should be able to experience music making in the music classroom. However, not all students have the ability to play an instrument in a traditional way. I find virtual instruments to be a great alternative. I am more of a fan of iOS virtual instruments because the students can hold and touch the screen to play the instrument. If the student has access to a Chromebook, then there are several virtual instrument websites that encourage active music making with the stroke of the Chromebook’s keyboard, mouse, or touchpad.
Virtualmusicalinstruments.com is just one of many websites that host virtual instruments. With this website, a student can make music on a virtual guitar, piano, pan flute, drumset, or bongos. By hooking up the Chromebook to a decent pair of speakers, the student can launch the bongos, use the touchpad, or the “1” and “2” keys to play rhythm patterns along with the rest of the students in the class. Technology like this opens doors for all students to actively make music.
There are numerous iOS apps that have virtual instruments built into them. The most popular one would be GarageBand. I personally love the virtual Chinese instruments found in the app. During the celebration of the Chinese New Year, I have my students create music using the virtual Chinese instruments since we do not have access to acoustic ones.
Seesaw has been a game changer in my classroom. It is a digital student portfolio where students can add their work from audio recordings of solo singing, to video recordings of orffestrations, to writing out pitch explorations, to so much more, for their parents to see. We use the paid version of Seesaw for Schools, which allows unlimited classes and some other additional items. However, the free version allows you to have ten classes and can do a lot.
Seesaw is a wonderful way to showcase your students’ musical works and your curriculum for parents to access from their mobile devices. You can also create assignments for students to submit from home. Students can also use Seesaw to reflect on higher order thinking questions about the process of their musical creations. Early childhood music teachers could use it to post the lyrics and record themselves singing the “Song of the Month” for parents to use at home. These are just small examples of the large realm that Seesaw can support. It is not required to have a 1:world classroom to use Seesaw. For my first year, I used it with one iPad. Seesaw is also very versatile as it can be used on multiple devices from iOS, Chromebooks, web-based, and Android.
The challenge is finding the time to sit down and learn the program and to encourage the parents to join. However, it is very intuitive and your young students will be able to use it from day one. Seesaw has numerous webinars and social media accounts through Facebook and Twitter so that when you are experiencing a challenge, there are many educators who can assist you and help you solve the problem.
Finally, as a parent using Seesaw, I absolutely love it! It is so nice to be able to ask my child, “I saw this on your Seesaw journal today. Please tell me more about it.” This makes my third grader go into a narrative about the activity. This is so much better than, “What happened at school today?” with the answer of “nothing.”
There are other programs out there that are similar. One is Class Dojo. If you are currently using Class Dojo, check out how to share a class story. This is very similar to Seesaw’s journal.
Though this is not encouraging music making, Kahoot! is a free assessment tool in the form of a game. Once you create your free account, you can search for numerous music games or create your own. These games can be used to assess the students’ knowledge on their concert music, lyrics, note names, rhythm names, and so much more. You can use Kahoot! as a fun way to assess almost anything you have been teaching in music class. And, the students love it!
Kahoot! can be used on Chromebooks (kahoot.it turns the Chromebook into an answering device), iOS devices, Android, desktops, etc. It can be used in a 1:world classroom as well as a classroom with limited devices (set the game to group mode). The students do not need email addresses to participate in a Kahoot! game. You can also send a “Kahoot! Challenge” to your students’ devices for them to participate from home by a certain date and time.
Socrative (socrative.com) works as well and I tend to use it for more formative assessments. If you only have one device in a classroom, Plickers (plickers.com) uses one device and plickers cards that you can download and print for free from their website to track assessment.
Staff Wars can be downloaded for free from the website, themusicinteractive.com. Staff Wars is a note naming game that has a Star Wars feel to it. My students adore Staff Wars.
Since Staff Wars can be downloaded onto a desktop computer or can be purchased for an iOS or Android device, how can this be used on a Chromebook? Even on their website, it reads that “Chrome Version 57 and above effectively blocks Flash…”. If your Chromebook accepts Android Apps, then you can purchase or ask your IT to purchase Staff Wars from Google Play. To do this:
- Update your software.
- Click your Chromebook account photo.
- Click Settings
- In the “Google Play Store” Section, turn on Enable Google Play Store on your Chromebook.
- In the window that appears, click Get Started and continue through the prompts.
This only works on Chromebooks that work with Android apps.
There are many more apps/websites that one can use in an elementary music classroom. These are just the tip of the iceberg. I hope that this article inspires you to try one of the ideas that is presented. Please let me know if you need any assistance with these ideas. In addition, please check out the webinars offered for PD credit for NJMEA members at amymburns.com/webinars
Amy M. Burns (amymburns.com) is a PreK-4 general music teacher and directors of the Philharmonic and Conservatory at Far Hills Country Day School. She is also an author and clinician on how to integrate technology into the elementary music classroom. Recently, she was awarded the 2017 NJ Non-Public School Teacher of the Year Award. This article appeared in the NJMEA March Edition of Tempo.
Taylor, H. (2015, December 09). Google is crushing Apple, Microsoft in US schools. Retrieved January 15, 2018, from https://www.cnbc.com/2015/12/03/googles-chromebooks-make-up-half-of-us-classroom-devices.html
Molnar, M. (2015, December 07). Half of K-12 Students to Have Access to 1-to-1 Computing by 2015-16. Retrieved January 1, 2018, from https://marketbrief.edweek.org/marketplace-k-12/half_of_k-12_students_to_have_access_to_1-to-1_computing_by_2015-16_1/
November, A. (2013, February 10). Why Schools Must Move Beyond One-to-One Computing. Retrieved January 15, 2018, from http://novemberlearning.com/educational-resources-for-educators/teaching-and-learning-articles/why-schools-must-move-beyond-one-to-one-computing/