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Elementary Music Technology in the Time of COVID-19

Jun 05, 2020 2020-06-05

By Andrea Trivax

The World Turned Upside Down
On Thursday, March 12, I left school fully intending to be back in the morning. We were canceling classes the following Monday to have a teacher in-service on how to teach remotely, “just in case,” so I was mentally planning on what items I might need to bring home. At midnight, an email came in to notify us that one of our colleagues had tested positive for COVID-19 and, concurrent with the Governor of Michigan’s declaration, school would be closed until further notice. At that moment, I knew I would have to teach in a new and unfamiliar way and to begin doing it in five days without returning to our building.

I am an elementary music teacher at a private preK–8 school. I cover K­–2 general music, 5­–8 choirs, and 5–6 STEAM classes, as well as a greenhouse club. Another colleague covers the remaining grades. I am very fortunate to have a large, well-appointed music room with an interactive whiteboard, a dozen iPads, and many instruments. In my classes, we sing, we move, we learn to read music notation, and we play. How was this going to translate to remote learning?

Thankfully, we have a wonderful “Coordinator of Technological Adventures” at our school, and she already had us set with some cornerstones of remote learning in place. Our 5th–8th graders have Chromebooks and use the Google suite, including Classroom. Our kindergarten through 4th grade students had been using Seesaw as a means of maintaining a digital portfolio, and our preschool teachers and families were using Remini.

Even with these in place, I had to learn how to deliver content to my students, keep it engaging, and be able to receive responses to my lessons. It was time for me to do as much learning as teaching.

Changing the Game
In my music classroom, technology had been another tool in the toolbox for delivering content. Live singing and playing of instruments were at the forefront, with technology giving me extra ways to engage and instruct, along with traditional methods.

But teaching ONLY with technology? The first week, I scrambled to adapt my current lessons or find something in the Seesaw library. For those unfamiliar with it, Seesaw is a platform that allows teachers to set up classes (and share with multiple teachers), post assignments, record responses, and share student work, all in one place that is accessible to parents. It has a public activity library where teachers can share their assignments, sorted by grade and subject.

This worked easily until there were multiple teachers posting multiple assignments daily. Posts per class ballooned from a few hundred for the whole school year to several thousand over the next eight weeks. All of the teachers were having a hard time keeping up.

Soon, the adjustments began. The specialist teachers were asked to post assignments on Seesaw, but to use Flipgrid for responses to take traffic out of the Seesaw journal. The parents then became overwhelmed with the frequency of assignments, and responses to the specialists were declining. We were asked to post only once per week, on a designated day, although our content could have multiple activities. Seesaw, at this point, only allows one link per activity. Again, my technology guru steered me to choice boards, a work-around using a Google Slide with shapes, each with a link. For example, in one slide, I can have three shapes: one teaches a concept, the second gives practice or extension of the concept, and the third asks for a response to demonstrate learning.

With Flipgrid, I can have a grid for each grade level and send a topic or assignment to each class in that grade, and the video responses go directly back to that topic. That way, when reviewing student work, I don’t have to sift through their assignments from other subjects.

Let us not forget Zoom. I have two weekly drop-in sessions, where I can play a favorite game or live-teach one or two of that week’s songs in real time. I can answer any questions students might have, and I also get to see all of those little faces that I miss so much!

Looking Forward
As this school year comes to an end, we are still looking at an uncertain future for next fall. While my school intends to be back in our building, we are nonetheless preparing for whatever adjustments our government may require. If there is another wave of illness that causes us to close the building for a period of time, I am confident that my colleagues and I have the tools and experience to keep our students learning and engaging, whatever comes our way.

Andrea Trivax received her Bachelor of Music degree from Wayne State University. After working for an entertainment agency, a diesel manufacturer, as a mom, and Bar/Bat Mitzvah tutor, she returned to her teaching roots and has been teaching music for 14 years at Hillel Day School of Metropolitan Detroit.

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