Let’s Go Outside

It’s that time of year for many, mental exhaustion season. Like, you know it’s time to call it quits for the day when you can no longer form words or full sentences. I may have experienced this yesterday while trying to end my work day, I pretty much had to push myself out the door. This was an often experience when I was in the classroom after spending a normal 100+ hours a week trying to keep my head above water. Teaching can be hard and being asked to pretty much have a superhero-sized workload most of the year is mentally taxing on anyone. We’ve had “self-care” drilled into our heads a lot recently as we’ve come out of the lockdown and pandemic, but what does that really look like? They can tell us to rest and relax until the cows come home, but self-care looks different for everyone. But, what’s one universal thing that works for pretty much everyone?


That’s right, go get your vitamin D and bring your students with you. I know schools with all the violence that has happened over the years sometimes have different rules based on the area of the country they are in, but make yourself familiar with those rules and find ways to bring your class outside when the sun is warm and lovely. Here are some ideas I did and some are collected from friends on what to do with your students for class outside during the spring before summer starts kicking into full gear.

  1. Drumming Circles and Games – I had a lot of auxiliary percussion instruments and Remo kid drums that students could use responsibly outside. Sometimes we just used rhythm or drumsticks. My favorite resources to use for these activities came from Kalini music, his books Together in Rhythm, The Amazing Jamnasium, and Drum Fun provided some great ideas and activities to do with students. More about his books can be found here, https://kalanimusic.com/products/books/
  2. Chalk Notation– I had a bucket of sidewalk chalk and permission from my principal and we go out and take up the blacktop on the playground and write measures of 4 beats. They then grab a partner and clap it together before adding more or going to the next free space and making another one. By the end of class, the whole blacktop is filled with music!
  3. Reading – Sitting outside under a tree and reading a story was sometimes the most relaxing. There are hundreds of books that are great for music class particularly (Freddie the Frog was one of my favorites.) A few more recommendations can be for on this post I made several years ago.
  4. Found Objects Performance– Give them 20 minutes and a whole area to find something they can play as an instrument and bring it back to the circle before time is up. After, treat it like a drum circle and get playing.
  5. Instrument Safari – This is a more in-depth experience to do with littles, directions can be found here, https://celticnovelist.com/2013/03/30/venturing-out-for-a-safari/ but you can also find this and more in my book found here, https://global.oup.com/academic/product/interactive-visual-ideas-for-musical-classroom-activities-9780190929862?cc=us&lang=en&

Just a quick trick, have a bucket or bag ready with all the necessities to head outside. I had one for outside, one for centers, etc. Here is a post I wrote a while back with some recommendations if you make a quick decision to head outside for class.

What are you going to do outside to end the school year?

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The Rules of Engagement

So this is a little bit of a rant to start. This comes after reading several articles and talking with so many people about that big word that seems to be a hot topic of conversation especially now, engagement, how to create engaging content, how to engage your students, how to make what you do in class resonate with your learners in your audience. Engaging your students has always been a best practice when it comes to instruction, but it has become a hotter topic after we have dealt with lockdowns and teaching remotely. I cannot tell you how many educational influencers out there I have heard blame the entirety of student engagement and learning loss on remote teaching alone. In my opinion, I don’t find that the case. Well, let’s backtrack a hot second. I do think that remote learning definitely was a small contributing factor to the shrinking of student attention spans and did not allow students to develop social and emotional skills as fast as previous generations, but we can’t blame it all on being separated for so long.

What we see from a different perspective is a consistent general decline in student engagement using current practices. Which leads to a general decline in learning loss because they are not engaged. For the most part from year to year, this decline is not as noticeable because we see these students all the time. Then we are thrown out of the classroom for consecutive years before being asked to jump back in full-time. That unnoticeable decline is now noticeable because we haven’t had to deal with it for a while. All this just didn’t magically happen, it was always there because, with the new societal innovations, we see almost every day now, things change quicker than they used to. Students are just learning differently, and it’s time to help meet them where they are at.

So how do we meet them there? Where do we change our practices in order to find connection and make core moments for them? These are just some tips and tricks to help.

  • Just Ask – Having a conversation with your students about their interests and what they like to do can lead to such a special connection where they feel you care and want to hear what they have to say. Once they know that, they listen closer to be able to contribute to the conversation. “But what if it just turns into chaos when I open the discussion?” Limit the number of shares and let students know that before you start. Saying “I’m going to take 5 hands to share” gives them a level of expectation. Once the 5 hands are done they know it’s time to move on. Building in conversations like this into a normal lesson lets them know they will all get their turn at some time.
  • Interactive Resources – I don’t mean engaging, I mean interactive. What is the difference? The hands-on aspect. A movie can be engaging, but it’s not really that interactive. Resources that students can interact with and manipulate allow them to explore and build routines without a barrier. These don’t always have to be a digital resource, but with the attention spans of so many individuals now (not just kids! but Adults too!) digital resources tend to build a stronger connection with audiences. Try composing together using Garageband, try playing games like Staffwars, try to bring out egg shakers, and play to the beat.
  • Letting them Lead – Yes, students can lead activities and games. Give them a shot in a controlled environment. Not every student might want to do this so never force them, but a lot of your more vocal students might jump at the chance to lead the class or be the leader of a small group to make something really fun.
  • Play Music they Like – Especially in the older grades, playing Hot Cross Buns on the recorder just doesn’t do it for them anymore. When I was in the classroom, one of my proudest moments was building a choir program up from practically nothing to over 70 students in just a few years. Why? because I added music to the repertoire that was current and that they wanted to sing. Of course, I always had a few songs in there that were ‘for me’ to work on technique, but we always had a few songs in there that they could not wait to sing. You don’t have to go that big though, even the simple art of turning on Spotify during a quiet period can mean so much.
  • Time Together – Of course, whole class time does a lot but giving students time to be in small groups or partners to discuss, create, make, or brainstorm connects them with their peers over a common learning goal further adding to the core memories in their safe learning spaces.
  • PLAY – Time to play is essential and allows learners to explore at their own pace with minimal expectations but maximum imagination and creativity. Allow for activities and lessons that allow for some free time with just minimal guidance. This sort of guided play leaves room for positive environment building.

There are so many more ways to engage out there, thanks to amazing innovating educators. In what ways are you changing your practices in order to better reach your students?

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Debunking Myths: Letting them Lead

We stand at a unique time in education, depending on your viewpoint. We are at a turning point of heading up or heading down. After a point in the pandemic, the educational views of many took a turn going from traditional pedagogy to pointing toward more modern pedagogy, and now as things in life are starting to head back to a new normal, we are going back to those traditional ways, but it doesn’t have to be like that. We can start to dethrone those long-time myths all teachers hear, why go back to the ways you knew, let’s try something new.

So let’s debunk one of those myths right now: to teach, you need to be in the spotlight, center stage. How many times have we seen a teacher in a TV show, movie, ad posting, or social media meme standing in the front of the classroom teaching? How many times have we found ourselves falling into the same routine, sometimes without even thinking of it. I know I’ve been out of the classroom for quite some time, but having the blessing of being able to see other teachers in their natural habitat. The best teaching times, don’t always come when the teacher is standing in the front of the room or the one commanding attention. I know my favorite times teaching students come from when my classroom was noisiest and the students were the most engaged. How were they engaged? They were given a piece of their learning to be in charge of. When held responsible for the outcome, it increases their attention and focus and motivates students to engage in higher-level critical thinking. (https://teaching.washington.edu/topics/engaging-students-in-learning/)

So how do we give students that bit of freedom without it turning into complete chaos? Well I can tell you, you can’t just say “go.” It takes building up the skills within the students before allowing to set them free to do their work. You want to be, for lack of a better term “the guide on the side.” The skills we start with are those surrounding leadership, through time management, working collaboratively, problem solving, and more. You set students up to be able to work more independently and motivate themselves to continue to learn about what interests them.

So here are a few suggestions for activities to get you started.

  • Oops Masterpiece – One of my favorite activities I just discovered. This stems around the art of learning how to fail with grace and not being afraid to stand up and try again. Get your favorite music creation app, or some lined paper and a pencil. Give your students an initial 5 minutes to create a short piece, this could be a pattern of loops to create an accompainment, a melodic pattern, or a rhythmic pattern. Set the amount of measures you want the students to initially create, and have them only use notes and rests they have learned so far. The trick is, once they put down a note or rest, they can’t erase it or delete it. That’s right, you heard me. Students can’t fix their work the first go around. This encourages students to just get started and go. Once the first 5 minutes is up, have students switch with a partner and do it again, this time the partner gets to add another part to the first, but they can’t listen or read the first and also can’t erase or delete any notes and rests they put down. That’s right, we’re creating chaos here! You can have students switch pieces as much as you would like until they are done. After, have them get their original work back. Then the original composers can listen or play the whole piece to hear how it all sounds together. Doesn’t sound too good on the first go around? Oh well. That’s the beauty of it. You have a good laugh, then they get into small groups or partners to talk about how they would edit their work. Put 10 minutes on the clock, and let them edit and play or sing one more time to hear how the edits sound. We are getting over the fear of messing up before even starting. That is huge for a leader and a big hurddle for most to get over!
  • Projects – Projects work on a lot of skills, time management, goal setting, collaboration, listening, the list goes on. Some of my favorite projects stem from a simple guidance such as “Make me a rhythm” to ones that are immersive and collaborative across the whole school. I find starting small, using 10 minutes of class and giving directions and expectations before letting students start is a great stepping stone and does not take up a lot of your classtime with everyone. Projects do not have to be big, they just have to be organized with a great end result.
  • One Word Goal – Another new favorite activity, if you are reading this right now I want you do something for me. Think of a goal that you want to accomplish between now and the end of the year. Now think of one word to describe that goal, just one word. Now write down that word and put it away where you can find it at the end of the year. Go back and read that word later whenever you need to to help remind yourself of that goal. Imagine doing that with students at the beginning of the year, or maybe when they need some direction or guidance. How much impact can one word have on their life to remind themselves of where they want to go?

Let’s debunk some more myths, what other taboo things have you heard about teaching and education?

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Transitioning Back Using Virtual Tools

For some, going back to school is an exciting time, one full of hope for a little bit of normal that had not been seen since the beginning of the pandemic. For others, it is an anxious time knowing about the battles that are ahead and the uncertainty about how long the little piece of normal we have will last before chaos will strike once again..or did chaos ever actually leave? Let’s face it, the world has turned upside down since 2020 and now we are sitting in the dark ages again looking at small glimpses of a new period of renaissance with hope that out of all the darkness, there will be a brighter future.

Education itself has gone through huge changes to deal with the current events going on in the world. Everything shut down and teachers and staff were forced to find creative ways to reach students. Districts who had never had a huge amount of technology resources were forced to start curating a library of subscriptions and hastily pulling together a 1:1 device loaner program. Teachers who were use to teaching in person were forced to learn online methods of instruction and recreate years of analog resources into a digital format while trying to figure out how to connect with their students who were not physically with them.

Now schools are heading back in some way shape or form, what happens to all the hard work everyone put in? Will we continue to need it going forward? With everything going on. The honest answer should be yes. Education has changed and the models we have learned and the resources we have created should help push forward standard traditional practices that have needed evolution in order to meet the current digital native audience of students. It is always good to have a plan too just incase you need a substitute, still have hybrid students, or if digital becomes a necessity again.

So how can you move forward with what you have created?

Content and Course Delivery Platforms – Spaces like Google Classroom and SeeSaw are great ways to continue to deliver content to your students. You can still use these platforms to deliver assignments you have already created, or create new assignments to send to students so they can work on projects and smaller activities from their individual devices. You can also use platforms like this as a way to differentiate learning for your students who might be a little ahead or a little behind so they can continue to get high quality instruction from you anywhere. Take what you already have created, do some editing, and continue to use it as a new resource.

Interactive Presentations – If you’re in person, you have a projection system…what are you waiting for? Just because you used them during distance teaching doesn’t mean you have to get rid of them and go back. Integrate them as fun visuals during your instruction to help those visual learners. Have students take turns interacting with the resources, or assign them the presentation and have them on their individual devices as you have yours on the board so you can all do it together. They will have just as much fun together as they would doing it apart.

Videos – SOOOO many teachers started to create videos and post them online for students. Even my Mom did it! From full lessons, short and fun activities, how-tos, and more. Videos were a great way for any educator ok with being in front of the camera to connect with students and provide instruction. What’s stopping you from continuing to share them? Try a flipped classroom model with your students assigning them the videos to watch for homework and then come in to discuss and practice with you, provide some extra content to students who might need some extra attention, or just continue to share your creative videos with students by projecting them on the board for all to see as a way to break up your instruction into smaller chunks. There are so many possibilities.

External sites – You’ve already built up a library of all kinds of tools and resources. Continue to integrate the ones that really stuck with your students. Find ones that they are engaged with and are learning and demonstrating learned skills and knowledge with. Find that balance to reach all the students in your classroom.

If you are in need of some more virtual resources to assist with virtual or distance teaching, here are some articles with great suggestions!

Common Sense Learning Best Tools for Virtual and Distance Teaching

We are Teachers 350+ Online Learning Resources for Teachers and Parents

Digital Promise Online Resources

Edutopia Online Learning

How are you using your resources as you head back into school?

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Don’t be a chicken..DANCE

Think you have no time to learn a new dance? Do you have the time but just are too afraid to teach your students for fear of doing it wrong? Well fear no more. JUST MAKE IT UP!

Of course there are many traditional dances out there that require many ornate and exact steps but you do not have to teach a traditional dance to your students. Pick a song according to the culture you are teaching and create the movements yourself. I love to just make up movements myself because I can cater the difficulty of the dance to each class!  I do stay within the style of dance though, Celtic jigs and step are very hard and fast movements, African dance varies from song to song with either slow and connected movement or faster and very grounded. Latin dance is very simple and grounded as well, or you could go as far as Asian with very connected and meaningful story-like motions.  What ever you chose, feel free to just experiment and have fun with it. No one is going to correct you in a classroom (unless you of course have an expert there).

Dance gets students up and moving, which many of them do need during the school day! The more they move around, the more into the lesson they are!