Elementary Music

How to Teach Elementary Music Digitally for Distance Learning

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I don’t know about you, but I was not good at using digital activities in my elementary music room. Like at all. I got a grant for iPads to use, and every time I tried to use them, it was a disaster. Then, in March, many of us were expected to take our entire curriculum and start going digital overnight. Suddenly, I was teaching elementary music digitally…. and I had no idea what I was doing.

Not ideal.

What got me through it was mostly thinking about how when this year started, we would be back to normal. We’d be able to talk to and hug our kiddos, and we could catch kids up.

But, unfortunately, my school is still closed due to the Coronavirus, and therefore I am still teaching music digitally with my elementary music classes.

Yay.

Now, the good thing is that I was able to test some things out last year, so I am a little bit more aware of what to do and mostly, what not to do.

In this post, we’re going to talk about options for going digital in the elementary music classroom. I am not going to be able to cover everything, but hopefully I can cover enough to make you feel confident (or at least not terrified!) in starting your year off by teaching music digitally.

Live Lessons

Depending on your school, your principal may ask you to do live lessons, recorded lessons, or even a combination of both.

If you are doing live lessons, there are three main platforms that you can use: Google Meets, Microsoft Teams, or Zoom.

Throughout last year, I was actually required to use all of them at different times for different meetings. Personally, I like Google Meets. It integrates easily with Google Calendar and Google Classroom, which we were using. Students didn’t have to log in a second time. And it didn’t have some of the weird idiosyncrasies that the other platforms have (for example, in Zoom you have to manually let people into your meeting, and sometimes if you try to use audio from your computer, it can be annoying).

Of course, you can use whatever you would like to use.

Procedures for Calls

In live lessons, you want to talk upfront about what students will be expected to do. You want to think about procedures like:

  • What if someone has a question?
  • Should they be muted?
  • Should their camera be on?
  • What if they need to leave for a few minutes?

It doesn’t matter too much what the answers are to these questions, but just like with a classroom, you need students to have answers to these questions.

Lessons

Live lessons can be tricky. One of the biggest things that I found difficult about them is the lag time.

Lag time refers to how long it takes the audio or video to get from your computer to the students’ computer, and back.

Why is this relevant?

Because you can’t sing together.

My first Zoom lesson, I was all prepared with games and songs and….. most of them were completely nixed as soon as I realized that all of our lag times are different. So I would say something, and if they were supposed to say it with me, it sounded like craziness.

So, if you are singing (and I recommend that you do!), you’re going to have to mute everyone or risk it sounding like a forest of wolves.

Other than that, I try to focus on changing activities every few minutes, and alternating between high energy and low energy. This is the same thing that I do in regular classes to keep attention. Think of it as changing between active and passive. Students may sing a song (active), then you introduce a concept (passive), then they practice the concept (active), then they do a song with motions (really active!), then read a book (passive), then play a game (active).

Changing the energy will keep kids engaged.

A few ideas for active activities include:

  • Dancing (you can show them a how to salsa video here!)
  • Singing
  • Actions along with a recorded song or song you are singing
  • Games, such as charades or Kahoot!

Passive activities:

  • Introduction of concepts
  • Reading a book
  • Watching a video

You can check out a blog post here with specific ideas for teaching Zoom music lessons!

Recorded Lessons

Live lessons may not always be the best option for teaching elementary music digitally.

I must admit, I found recorded lessons easier to do. Although they lack the human touch like live lessons do, recorded lessons are a bit less awkward because you don’t have internet going in and out, and the weirdness of not being able to sing with your kiddos.

To record lessons, you can use your phone, computer, iPad, etc. Using your phone is actually really easy, as you can upload from your phone to Google Drive or straight to Google Classroom. On your computer, you can use Quicktime (free!) on a Mac or Screencastify, which is a Chrome extension to record videos (this is free up to 5 minutes). Both will also let you record your screen.

If you are doing recorded lessons, you can do most of the same things. Games are a bit harder, although you could do a trivia game. But you can dance, sing, read books, talk about instruments, etc.

Recorded lessons should ideally be short. I would go with a 5-15 minute lesson depending on the age of the students, and pair it with an activity.

You can post recorded lessons on Google Classroom, Youtube (if you put it up as “unlisted”, then only those with the link can view it), or even your school’s Facebook page depending on what your school allows. You could also upload it to your Google Drive and then share the link with classroom teachers to put wherever their students already are.

Activities

When teaching elementary music digitally, you probably want to assign students activities in addition to live or recorded lessons. This is especially important when doing asynchronous learning– AKA, the students are not on live lessons.

If you have live lessons, you could give a portion of the time to allow students to work independently on these assignments.

For students who are sharing devices, waiting for their parents to get home, or are providing childcare for their siblings, having activities that can be done whenever they have time is ideal.

There are a million different things that you can have students do, but we will split it up into two categories: turned in activities and internet activities.

Turned in Activities:

This would encompass anything where students are producing and something– a Google Doc, a picture, a video, etc. Typically, they would attach their work to Google Classroom, It’s Learning, SeeSaw, etc.

Ideas for turned in activities:

  • Google slides activities where students are filling things out (like this!) (how to)
  • Google slides game activities (like this!) (how to)
  • Listening to a song and responding to questions in a Google Doc
  • Answering questions in a Google Form (Forms are self grading!)
  • Students creating a PowerPoint or Google Slides presentation about a topic.
  • Finding forte or piano objects and taking pictures of them.
  • Going on a Listening Walk and taking a picture of found sounds from inside or outside (like in this activity)
  • Drawing rhythms and taking a picture of them.
  • Making a video of singing or playing an instrument
  • Composing a song and turning in a video of it

TPT activities can now be digital! Some sellers have opted into the digital beta, which means that you can take PDF files and add a digital layer over it, so that students can type into or draw into the PDF. You also get a link to make assigning it super easy! This only works if the file is a PDF, so if it’s a zip file with a PDF and a powerpoint, then it won’t work. But– it doesn’t hurt to check what you have already purchased!

Internet activities:

This encompasses….. anything else. If it’s on the internet, it goes in this catagory.

You may not be able to have students turn in some of these, but you could always add a reflection in Google Doc or Google Forms to ensure that students are doing the work.

Ideas:

There are many, many others, but that’s a few!

Teaching elementary music digitally? Now that we've been teaching music online, I know it's possible! Get ideas for digital elementary music lessons. Becca's Music Room

Depending on your skills, your students’ skills and their needs, you may chose to do one or even all of these different types of activities.

Although nothing is going to replace face to face instruction, you can give good instruction even when going digital in elementary music.

What about you? What are your favorite things so far? I’d love some more ideas, so let us know what you do when teaching elementary music digitally in the comments!

Happy teaching!

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