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My Music Technology Toolbox

Jul 03, 2020 2020-07-03

By Andrea Trivax

Children singing, drums beating, ukuleles strumming, learning rhythms and notes—to an outsider, these may seem like activities that would not require much in the way of technology. In today’s music classroom, however, there are many tech tools that help teachers communicate the art of music making to their students. Most of these tools are easy to learn, visually engaging for students, and can even streamline assessments.

Interactive Whiteboards
Whether you have a Smartboard, Promethean, or other means of projecting what is on your computer onto a screen, these items can be a music teacher’s best friend. From posting the day’s goals and class message or Learning Targets (also known as “I can” statements) to displaying song lyrics and interactive games, the uses for these devices are almost endless.

My interactive whiteboard allows me to cast my iPad and laptop to my whiteboard, so I also have access to the many iOS apps available for music. If you don’t have a classroom set of iPads, you can still take advantage of that technology.

If you are fortunate to have a classroom set of iPads, there is a whole world of music learning apps available to you. I started out with just five iPads and have slowly added enough to accommodate almost an entire class. However, if you don’t have enough for the whole class, you can have students work in pairs or in centers.

I find iPads very useful at times when I want to work with smaller groups, either for instruction or assessment. I’ll use iPads as one of my centers as the students rotate to their small group sessions with me. They bring their headphones or earbuds from their homeroom on those days, so it doesn’t disturb the other centers while totally engaging their attention.

Some great apps for elementary students are the Melody Cats series of apps: Rhythm Cat, Ear Cat, Treble Cat, and Bass Cat. Blob Chorus is a favorite of my students, whether individually or as a whole class game for teaching note discrimination. TuneTrain is great for learning melodic direction and composition. These apps can often be found for free as a daily special.

Older elementary students can create their own songs or accompaniment to songs with Garageband. Take an old classic like “Frere Jacques” and have them create a drum track, a bass track, and a guitar or keyboard track to sing along with and you have a whole new song. It’s also great for teachers in creating accompaniments for performances or to fill in extra texture when playing recorders or Orff instruments.

Assignments and Assessments
Today’s technology tools can streamline the delivery of assignments or formative and summative assessments. Google Classroom isn’t just for math and language arts. It can be used to communicate assignments, practice logs, playing tests, and concert information. I have used it to create practice tracks for my choir to practice their individual parts at home. Assignments are digitally “turned in” and you can grade them and create reports. Flipgrid allows you to assign topics and collect video responses, which is particularly useful in music. Seesaw pushes out assignments and collects responses, all of which are contained in a digital portfolio that can follow your students from one grade to the next.

If you have 1-to-1 devices, Kahoot is another excellent way to assess. The game-show feel of this app keeps students engaged—you can even add images and videos to your questions. Plickers requires only a device for the teacher and uses scannable student cards to answer multiple-choice questions for quick formative assessments. Both of these create reports, streamline your grading, and eliminate stacks of papers to wade through or lose.

Digital Curricula
There are many options for digital curricula, with resources for both teachers and students. It enhances, rather than replaces, live teaching: you will still sing and play instruments. You will have a wealth of materials at your fingertips, scope and sequence, and lesson plans. Musicplayonline, from Denise Gagne, Fun Music Co., and Quaver, as well as most of the “old school” book-based curricula now have digital resources. These can include songs, lesson plans, activities, printable worksheets, videos, and online activities for students.

Certain Strategies for an Uncertain Future
We begin this summer with more questions than answers about what school will look like this fall. We may be back to “normal,” attending with social distancing measures in place, engaging in remote learning, or a hybrid of several of these. By incorporating these tools into your knowledge base, you can keep many of these tools in your back pocket and use them in either a physical or virtual classroom.

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.

Music Technology

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