Today I attended the first day of the NJAIS Innovation Symposium 2017: Transforming Education with Technology. The day was filled with excellent presenters, inspiring keynotes, and wonderful breakout sessions. It finished with a plethora of technology resources. As an elementary music educator, one would question if this conference would be applicable to the elementary music classroom. I feel that it was because the goal of this conference is universal: How do we create learning environments that will develop the knowledge, skills and mindsets for the future?

FEATURED PRESENTATION: Innovation in Schools: Preparing Our Students for the Future

Presenter: Kristine Scharaldi, Educational Technology Consultant

Kristine made us think about our students’ futures. She spoke about the research that shows that 40% of the workforce will be contingent and independent workers. These workers have to be skilled in design thinking (creating prototypes that they continuously improve upon), collaboration, creativity, and empathy. They have to exhibit qualities such as growth mindset, passion, curiosity, problem-solving, and to not have the fear of failing as failing leads to growth. These workers will be hired to do a job. Once the job is complete, they are on to a new job at a new workforce. However, these independent workers will continuously have work if they develop relationships with those that hire them. This is why academic excellence and character development are essential in today’s education.

She quoted the NCM/CoSN Horizon Report, which highlights the trends, challenges, and important developments in educational technology which were ranked most highly by the 2017 expert panel. These trends included coding, STEAM, maker spaces, virtual reality, and more. She displayed the seven ISTE standards for students, which focused more on character development than technological skills (empowered learner, digital citizen, knowledge constructor, innovative designer, computational thinker, creative communicator, and global collaborator). Finally, she showed how these trends and standards enhanced student-directed project-based learning. She presented the question of ‘are the students engaging in projects after the teacher teaches it, or is the project the learning?’

What does this mean for the elementary music classroom? Whether you embrace technology or not, Kristine’s point was how to make your classroom and curriculum an environment that will develop the students’ mindsets, skills, and knowledge for the future? This future includes technology, along with academics and character development.

Character development traits such as creativity, collaboration, and empathy are three qualities that are addressed daily in the music classroom. Whenever my students perform dances, they are working on empathy by choosing partners and working with that partner to dance successfully. Whenever my students perform as an Orff ensemble, they are working on collaboration. However, if you have a student with special needs that has challenges when playing traditional instruments, technology could be an amazing tool with the students using virtual instruments connected to speakers to successfully participate in the ensemble. Whenever my students create music using Soundtrap, noteflight, incredibox, groovy music, or some other music creation tool and present it to an audience, they are creating music that you can use higher-order thinking questions for them to realize how they are making music and how to present it well.

SEESAW:  Making Learning Visible 

The next session was presented by my colleague, Monica Lluch. She showcased Seesaw, the student digital learning portfolio. This free program can run on multiple platforms. It is like a “facebook” for student portfolios. The teacher creates a class by setting up a free account, logging in, naming the class, and adding students’ names. The teacher can work with the settings to set up a class theme and icon, manage how the students sign in, allow or not allow students to like posts and add comments, require all items to be approved by the teacher, enable the parent access, enable the class blog, create folders, and more.

My daughter’s Seesaw journal

The teacher invites the students to join the class through a QR code or a text code. The teacher invites the parents to access their child’s journal. The parent can only access their child’s journal. They cannot see any other child’s work unless another child was tagged in the post. The child and the teacher can add work to post in their journals. This work could be in the form of pictures, video, drawing tool, recording tool, links, and adding files directly from dropbox or google drive. The parents receive notifications on their devices when their child has added something to their journal.

What does this mean for the elementary music classroom? This is a game changer for the elementary music classroom. The parents are now receiving your music curriculum on their mobile devices. On my seesaw class pages, the students have showcased their compositions, musical creations, rhythms, ebooks about recorder tips, movie trailers about composers, ebooks about musical stories, pictures from the music classroom, videos of dances, videos of Orff ensembles, assessments of solo singing, and so much more. I can also create my own video of playing a recorder piece and placing it on their Seesaw page for them to practice. Seesaw has enhanced my classroom greatly.

FEATURED PRESENTATION: Description: Culturally Relevant Teaching: How to Make Learning Real and Relevant for Your Students

Presenter: Abran Maldonado, CEO and Founder of NuSkool

This was one of the most thought-provoking keynotes that I have ever attended. Abran started the presentation with us thinking about what questions we would ask if we were suddenly transferred to a different country to teach. We thought of numerous questions to ask about our new classroom setting. He then asked us to use those questions in our own classroom because if we were going to ask them when we thought we were teaching in another country, why would we not ask those same questions in our own classrooms?

Culturally responsive education blends students’ home and community experiences with instructional methods. Teachers study their students’ communities to learn about the knowledge, skills, and assets that can be found because under culturally familiar circumstances, students often use reasoning, analysis, and problem-solving strategies. Students only invest in learning where they are given ownership.

Abran showed numerous examples that drove home those points. He showed how undeveloped literacy skills can be linked to students not relating to the “dominant” or “mainstream” culture. He also showed a link to students not seeing themselves in the curriculum with discipline issues. 

Giving students ownership of their learning can bring about a vulnerability within teachers. It is difficult to give up the control of the classroom to the students. We, as teachers, could experience a failure if the class does not accomplish standards or goals. However, we encourage our students to take risks and to grow from their failures. As teachers, we have to accept this as well and to embrace the growth mindset to work on how we can successfully move towards a student-driven classroom.

Abran ended with this question: “Who do students see reflected in their education? Them or an extension of you?”

What does this mean for the elementary music classroom? This keynote makes me reflect on the music I teach in my classroom. I feel that there should be a balance with the music taught in the classroom. This is similar to the balance with technology. If technology is the best tool to relate to and teach to the students, then it should be used. If it is not, then it should not be used. The song selections used in the classroom to teach music are in a similar situation. If we only teach to one or two eras of music or if we only teach to one or two cultures of music, then who do the students see reflected in their music classroom?

In my years of teaching, I have grown to use a variety of musical eras, genres, artists, cultures, and styles in my music classroom. Some I am very comfortable teaching. Others I am not. However, I research and use technology, like youtube videos, twitter, websites, etc, to assist with presenting music that is new to me, but not to my students. Finally, I invite the students to share their favorite music with the class and ask them higher-order thinking questions to why they like it, what about the music is appealing, and what can we hear when we listen to the music?


Presenters: Stephanie Hammond, Instructional Technologist, Newark Academy

Kristine Scharaldi, Educational Technology Consultant

Whenever I present a resource session at a music education conference, I begin by showing a dessert buffet. I remind those who are listening that even though there are many yummy treats to eat, do not eat them all or, as my youngest daughter would say, “you will get a very bad tummy ache!” 

Stephanie and Kristine showed us some amazing tech resources. I had to remind myself to not eat the entire dessert buffet. Here are some that I found would be helpful for elementary music educators:

  • OneTab – This google chrome extension converts all open tabs into one tab so that you can save up to 95% memory. This will result in your computer not slowing down as much and will reduce clutter.
  • Google Keep – Like evernote, this syncs your notes across all devices.
  • Google Docs (Forcing a copy) – Has someone ever sent you a google doc and asked you to copy it before you fill it out, but you open it to find out that someone else did not do that and it is all filled out? Yes? This ends that problem. Change the last word of the url from “edit” to “copy”. When the person clicks on the link, google will ask them if they would like to make a copy.
  • Zamzar – Convert audio, music, video, image, document, and other files into other formats. For example, convert an .m4v file into a .mov file with no added software.
  • Adobe Spark – Post, Page Video – Create beautiful posts, pages, and videos. It is cross platform and free!
  • Nearpod and Pear Deck – Students connect to your presentation on any device and answer your interactive questions.
  • Smithsonian Learning Lab – Find music and learning labs of music
  • Flippity – Turn a google spreadsheet into a Bingo Game, Hangman Game, crossword puzzles, and more! Create a musical hangman game using only the letters of the musical alphabet.
  • Thinglink – Link objects in a picture to any url (videos, websites, and more)
  • Book Creator – Create ebooks and videos of ebooks for iOS devices and now web-based devices!
  • Padlet – An online virtual “bulletin” board, where students and teachers can collaborate, reflect, share links and pictures, in a secure location. Padlet allows users to create a hidden wall with a custom URL. This is wonderful for your students who hesitate to ask or answer questions during class. They can participate using padlet.

This first day was inspiring. I look forward to tomorrow’s where the keynote address speaker is Jaime Casap, the Education Evangelist at Google.


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