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As we begin this last week of 2018, I am going to continue a tradition at I started last year: a countdown. This year’s countdown is a list of the top ten reasons to enhance an elementary music classroom with technology. When I use the word enhance, I am defining it as technology can assist the music educator or the students in making, creating, performing, or connecting to music in a way that traditional methods cannot or are not working as effectively. This does not mean to utilize all 10 at once. I encourage you to look through the posts to find one item that might work well in your classroom. At the end of the countdown, there will be a free webinar where you can watch the tech in action.
Try Not to Eat the Entire Dessert
When I present at conferences and at workshops, I know that the participants all come from various teaching situations and tech backgrounds. Therefore, I always begin by stating that I will show them a dessert buffet of tech and for them to choose one or two desserts. If they try to eat the entire buffet, they will get sick. Always choose a tech enhancement that you support and would work best in your classroom. Finally, please never forget what we tell our students: have a growth mindset, always try your best, and as Albert Einstein stated, “Failure is success in progress.” If you are afraid of tech and feel you fail often with it, please remember that learning to use tech takes time and patience.
#10 – Bring Your Music Classroom to Your Parents’ Mobile Devices
For years, I was trying different ways to communicate and connect with my parents or caregivers so that they knew that the music classroom was more than preparation for a concert. I wanted them to see our curriculum, students’ musical works, and learning in action. However, there were concerns about privacy, school policy, which platform the parents would respond to, and more.
In recent years, there has been effective ways for music educators to communicate and connect with their parents. Here are some ways:
- Student Digital Learning Portfolios: Seesaw, Class Dojo, and Bloomz are some of the many portfolios that educators can try for free to connect their classroom curriculum and daily music making to their parents. These apps are cross-platform and work with various devices and setups, from 1:1 to a few devices in the classroom. In addition, these tools have significantly worked on privacy issues, constantly update, have lessons built into the tools, and have worked very effectively in the music classroom. They are intuitive to learn and the students can use them to post their works, reflect on their performances, and more. Parents or caregivers have the option to leave comments as well as like their children’s posts. They can only see their child’s posts and ones that they are tagged in.
- Tip: If you decide to try one of these to pilot it for the school, ask a classroom teacher to pilot with you so you both have one classroom page that you both contribute to with the students.
- Advantages: The parents and caregivers receive notifications (you or they can turn this feature off) every time their child posts to their portfolio. They can now see the progress that goes on in the music classroom as well as receiving information about upcoming events. The platform looks like Facebook and is therefore, very intuitive for a parent or caregiver to learn. Many of these platforms have added features such as lesson plans. The music educator controls the posts and must approve them before anyone can see them. The students have the ability to login from home (better if they use email addresses to logon, but can use a QR code) and submit work. Finally, if your school is a 1:1 device school, and administration insists that your students bring their devices to music (even the youngest of students), then having them add to their portfolios is a great and effective way to enhance the music classroom with technology.
- Disadvantages: These apps are internet-dependent. If your school’s wifi si limiting, there might be some issues when working with them. The free versions are wonderful, but they understandably have their limitations. The first year will take some time getting used to the app. However, your students will catch on quickly and will begin asking you to “seesaw” their work.
Google Classroom for Blended Learning
- Google Classroom: Google Classroom can be more of a blended learning tool where the students can login and work from home on assignments that you have created and assigned to them during class.
- Advantages: If your school has students using gmail addresses, then google classroom works smoothly. If not, there are similar apps such as Edmodo and Schoology. There is also an option to have the parents connected to the google classroom as well, so that they can check their child’s work and progress. It is intuitive to create google forms, assignments, add materials, and more to each classroom.
- Disadvantages: Depending on the device being used, having students upload video (to show their recorder playing or singing) can be cumbersome. It is also internet-based and the students have to be able to understand how to login to the classroom. Setting up a classroom can also take some time.
- Tip: When using 1:1 devices, make sure you are using a monitoring system such as Apple Classroom or Hapara so you can see your students’ devices and their work on your screen. However, students are tech savvy and can hack these monitoring systems. It is best to ask your school and the IT department about monitoring systems when working in a 1:1 school.
Flipgrid: There are times when a music educator asks me for a simple, intuitive tech tool that will allow the students to quickly send the teacher videos of their performances. Flipgrid is a great tool for this purpose.
- Advantages: It works across various devices and platforms. You can use it for free. No email address from the students are necessary. You just set up a grid and the students login with with a code through the app. They see your grid with the directions and an example. They record themselves and upload it. Students can respond to videos, but the music educator controls and moderates the grid.
- Disadvantages: This is another internet-based tool. This tool is also focused on using video for learning purposes. If you want to do more or are not geared towards using video as a learning tool, then the digital portfolio apps might be a better fit.
#9: Connect Globally
I feel that my students should be experiencing music from outside of their town or state. I am not just talking about my students listening and moving to music from various cultures or watching youtube videos of cultural music (which are very important), I am talking about connecting with other musicians from around the world.
There some excellent tech tools that can make this happen. Here are a few that have been very effective in my elementary music classroom:
- Skype: My students have Skyped other classrooms from around the country. They have performed for them and have asked them about their state and their music program. In addition, we have been able to speak to composers and learn more about their music. There are similar tools that also work as effectively such as FaceTime and Google Hangouts.
- Soundtrap: We use the EDU version in our classrooms, which can be obtained through Soundtrap or MusicFirst. The EDU version has the safewalls that keep the students safe when creating music. My students have been able to create music using this app as well as connect with other students to help with their musical creations.
- Seesaw: This digital learning portfolio mentioned in #10 has allowed my students to connect to other classrooms using Seesaw through their blog feature. My third graders have been able to connect to 6th and 7th graders from another state to comment on their compositions. This helped my students reflect thoughtfully on music, as well as digital citizenship.
These are just #10 and #9 on a list of enhancing your elementary music classroom with technology. Please follow me daily as I continue to add to the list as we count down to 2019!
Amy M. Burns is an elementary music educator, clinician, author, and musician. She currently works at Far Hills Country Day School in Far Hills, NJ teaching PreK through Grade 3 general music, grade 5 instrumental music, and grades 4-8 instrumental band. She is the author of Technology Integration in the Elementary Music Classroom, Help! I am an Elementary Music Teacher with a SMART Board, and Help! I am an Elementary Music Teacher with One or more iPads! She is also an author for Online Learning Exchange™ Interactive Music powered by Silver Burdett. She has given numerous presentations on integrating technology into the elementary music classroom as well as being a keynote speaker for music technology conferences in Texas, Indiana, St. Maarten, and Australia. She is the recipient of the 2005 TI:ME Teacher of the Year Award, the 2016 NJ Master Music Teacher Award, the 2016 NJ Governor’s Leader in Arts Education Award, and the 2017 Non-Public School Teacher of the Year Award. You can find out more about Amy at her website: amymburns.com