Thursday, August 28, 2014

Technology That Transformed My Teaching: Music Edition

It's the end of my first week of school! My feet are so tired, but I'm energized for a great year!

I have not always been a gadget gal, but I've been around computers since Kindergarten computer specials (K2Typing anyone?). So I feel like I'm a digital native, even if I'm probably just a little bit older than the curve.

Over the past few years, I have started incorporating specific technology in my classroom that has really altered how I teach.

Now let me say, I'm not one for forcing the issue and shoving tech down people's throats - if it doesn't work for you, no worries! But I will tell you that it has made teaching easier for me. And I'm all for anything making teaching easier.

I'm going to skip past the obvious - email, laptop computers, CDs. Without those, none of my tech would be possible.

Interactive White Board

I have always known that some people are visual learners. (looking at you Mom!) And as much as I hate to admit it, my students eat up anything on a screen. Enter interactive white boards.

It doesn't matter what I put on my SMART brand board, the kids eat it up. Now I use it for reading, writing, improvisation, labeling form, watching short clips, practice games, vocal exploration, visuals for kinesthetic preparation, reviewing visual preparation, presenting the notation, composing/arranging, part-work...

Here are a few examples:

Filling in the missing solfege syllables

Tapping the iconic representation of the new rhythm 

Kinesthetic prep of the new melodic concept (tapping the focus phrase for low so)

Labeling the sound of the new melodic pitch

Part work after presentation of the new rhythm

A few tips:

Content, content, content! The Kodaly philosophy holds strongly that only the best is good enough for our children. Even my school district has a motto about only doing what's best for the child. If you are selecting the best material, the best methods and you have the means to create or buy some cute visuals to enhance the experience - go for it!

If you find a visual or an interactive slide or activity that doesn't promote musicianship, doesn't cover any legitimate standards or uses what my students call "cheese" music, are you really doing what's best for the child? If you're spending all your time making "schlop" cute, what are you really teaching? Just my two cents. :-) (soapbox over!)

The more interactive, the better. It's one thing to have kids look at something and quite another to have students up to the board, tapping, manipulating and rearranging things on the screen. Even letting the kids tap the arrow to see the next slide is better than just sitting there watching.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Just like a good preaching or presenting at a conference, if you put a bunch of words on the screen, you're not going to keep my attention, much less a kid's!

I learned this from my mom - as a teacher, she had a writing portfolio of thousands of interesting images she had collected to use as class discussions and writing prompts - and this was before Pinterest!

Now we have billions (?) of images at our fingertips! As a TPT seller, I have to be careful about the images that I use - clip art is purchased and carefully credited. But as a teacher, I can use anything out there to capture my students' hearts for music.

Video Camera/iPad Video/Laptop Video

I know it's pretty old tech, but it counts, right?

Teacher Analysis: Of course video cameras are great for videoing performances, but recording yourSELF teaching?! Mind blown. How many times can I say okay, okay? And did I just call on the same student 4 times? Oops!

When I first created videos of myself teaching it was scary terrifying, but now it's a tiny smidge better knowing that I'm the only one that's going to see them. And a little hilarious to see how I act when I know I'm being recorded!

Seriously, any time you need to work on pacing, just ask someone to come sit in on your class. Any time I have the video going or a guest in the room, I FLY through those plans!

Behavior Documentation: Have a rough class? Put a video camera on a tripod in the corner. They'll never know when you're recording and you have documentation of any behavior issues that may will arise. Be sure to get permission from the principal first, but it shouldn't be a problem since you're not posting to the internet.

Information Distribution: Last year, I made some silly videos with my iPad to give the kids some info about their programs, about recorders and to invite them to join choir. They were the most basic videos ever (me sitting on my couch at home talking to the camera) and the kids sat GLUED to the screen.

I played it for them and then asked, "Ok, what did I say?" and they pretty much told me verbatim what was in the video. Face palm. So now, anything important gets its own little video.


Oh. My. Spotify.

Spotify is a music streaming software that exponentially augmented my "listening lesson" capability. Music streaming software for the ages.

I must be honest - When I first heard of Spotify I didn't want use it because I thought it was like the music stealing software of the 90's and 00's and I didn't want to have any part of that.

Now I know better and even though I believe they should charge more & give more to the artists, I am SO grateful that it's only $10 a month which means I can afford that with a little creative budgeting.

When I first started teaching it was like the stone age, pulling out CD after CD, rewinding old scratchy tapes and just hoping to find some-thing appropriate to listen to. I typically used the same song for multiple grade levels just for sanity's sake. Who has time to trade out multiple CDs and tapes for 6 different grade levels a day? (not complaining at all - at least I didn't have to do records! scratchy needle! *shudders*)

Fast forward a few years to iTunes. Praise the Lord for organization! I could now load CDs onto my computer and make playlists! And the iTunes store - oh my! Be careful or you might drop a whole paycheck there.

After that came Pandora, which I LOVE for personal listening, but which was useless for teaching 5 classes the same piece of music, several times in a row.

Youtube was around sometime in there and I made "youtube lists" of semi-ok recordings. "That will do." And half of the time it didn't download correctly. I polished the phrase "technical difficulty" during those days.

Then came Spotify.

Now I have the world at my fingertips. I can choose songs/pieces/movements to my heart's delight and with a touch of a button, I have 20-30 options (recordings, arrangements, conductors) to choose from!

Black History month? No Problem! Original recordings of Scott Joplin, Ella Fitzgerald, Chubby Checker at your fingertips.

Hard to find "Bebop for Babies" for a jazz version of "Billy Boy?" You've got it. Or my favorite "Being a Bear?" Right there.

Comparison examples of Bach's Solfegetto, including the Swingle Singers? Done.

And a pretty nice playlist feature that allows you to access songs from your computer/ iTunes and use the same program to listen to all your music.

It is a FREE software, so you can try it out, search for all the music you like. The only thing that costs is to get it ad-free and on your mobile devices (worth it!).

This comes with a warning, though - some schools may not support this software, so you might have to eat up some personal gig using it through your phone.

What technology have you used to make your job easier?

p.s. Thanks to Sonya DeHart, Lovin' Lit and Kimberly Geswein for the cute graphics and paper!


  1. I love your SMARTboard pages! How do you make them look so cute!? As a first year music teacher, do you have any suggestions?

    1. Hi Meagan! I design my visuals in Keynote and save as PDFs to project. I started with solid content, the best songs I can find and then after using them for years, I've tried to make them cute. ;-)
      As a first year teacher, I would say to not try to "do it all" - pace yourself and make baby steps with the students. Develop relationships and establish procedures first, then worry about getting to every concept. Start wherever they are and push them to be better musicians. Don't let them get away with sloppiness in their singing or musicianship - ask them "What could we do to make that phrase better?" or "What's one thing we did today that we could improve on." And most importantly - get training! Get Kodaly or Orff certified so that you are not trying to reinvent the wheel with every lesson plan. Oh man, I could write a whole post - maybe I will! :-) Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Great post Lori! If I have time, I'd love to do a post on this too! :)