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With over three million teachers serving close to 51 million students throughout the United States alone, it’s no surprise that talk about school closures, the shift to distance learning, and the uncertainty surrounding the future of education has led much of the conversation during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Like many teachers, I have been tasked with one of the biggest challenges: creating new ways to shift our curriculum online to support students learning at home. Fortunately, the move to distance learning has been supported by the edtech tools, particularly in specific areas of studies, like music education, which is what I teach to middle school students at Gorham Middle School.

Transforming Music Education to Support Distance Learning

To support my choir and music students’ transition to distance learning, I had to rethink my approach to teaching and learning. In the past, students were often limited to practicing music in the classroom using the school’s collection of physical instruments. Distance or remote learning for music education would not have been possible at that time.

But today, distance learning is not only possible, but also has the potential to offer an invigorating learning experience for students. Indeed, I am finding new ways to engage my students online using a combination of online learning tools, including these:

Music Tech: Both Soundtrap and Flat.io are music technology platforms that integrate with one another to support music-making online. Flat.io is a music notation software that allows learners to create their own sheet music online while Soundtrap’s online studio offers a collaborative digital audio workstation that encourages students to explore creative sound-making through thousands of loops, presets, beats, and more.

Video instruction: Flipgrid allows for teachers to facilitate asynchronous video discussions with students. Teachers can record their own instructional videos and create assignments for students to respond via a recorded video submission. Meanwhile, Screencast-O-Matic is a great tool to create video tutorials and recording step-by-step guides to walk students through a series of steps to complete their project or use a new tool and/or feature.

Digital Badging: Badgr is a digital badging platform that allows teachers to create and issue customized digital badges to students. Students can collect their badges from various classes and subjects via a digital backpack. Digital badges can be a great alternative to incentivize students, especially when traditional grading is not available. It was a huge advantage that my students already had some experience using many of these tools in the classroom. As soon as we transitioned to distance learning, I dove into my tech toolbox to begin developing “app-smashing” projects that combined various online tools to encourage students to explore creative sound making. To date, my students have embarked on three projects, including:

Virtual Choir: My students and I meet virtually using Zoom for choir rehearsals. When introducing a new song, we start by reviewing the selected music—for example, the first song was “Home” by Phillip Phillips— and together, we walk through the sheet music and study the lyrics. After the group’s virtual rehearsals, students record their assigned parts into Soundtrap’s online studio on their own time. Within the studio, I can combine multiple student-created tracks into a single song. For this project, I surprised the students with a video montage that included recordings from our school’s teachers and staff sending their good wishes during school closures.

Tabata Workout Composition: Tabata is a popular form of exercise that uses a series of interval training. For this project, students were tasked with creating their own Tabata workout song that incorporated a variety of beats, loops and sounds to indicate new intervals, as well as the varying intensity of the workout. Using Screencast-O-Matic, I demonstrated how students could access and use Soundtrap’s extensive collection of beats, loops and sounds, as well as record their own instruments into the studio to create their track. Students then listened to their own music while recording a video on Flipgrid of their own Tabata workout video from home for PE class.

Digital Badges: An ongoing project that easily transferred from in-class to online learning was our music reading incentive program, through which choir students can earn digital badges. To support distance learning, I create short music reading prompts in Flat.io. After studying the music, students use Flipgrid to record themselves singing their part and are awarded with Badgr’s digital badges once completed. For example, to earn a level one music reading badge, students must record themselves performing three short examples in 4/4 time incorporating whole, half and quarter notes and three pitches: Do, Re and Mi.

Without online learning tools, much of music education would have been lost during this time. Instead, I am working with students both in-real time and asynchronously to find new ways to collaborate and create new sounds and music together.

Tracy Wheeler Williamson is general music teacher, choral director, and steel band director at Gorham Middle School in Gorham, Maine. She is an Apple-certified teacher, certified Soundtrap Educator and Expert and is working on her Google Educator certification. Tracy holds a bachelor of music degree in flute performance from Boston University and a M.M. in music education and flute performance from Boston Conservatory.



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