So…what am I doing for distance learning?

Like most of the United States, our schools are physically out-of-session. Minnesota–as a state government–has been a little crazy about it all. As we watched other states near us announce closures, the Governor of Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Health held news conferences (and provided materials on their websites) where they continued to declare that schools posed no risk with the virus; and in fact, in their shared information, closing schools would cause more of an epidemic than keeping kids in schools. And then twenty-four hours later, the Governor decreed a two week break where teachers would start planning to implement distance learning. This is actually pretty amazing; in the school district where I live (Wisconsin), teachers put together four weeks of materials while still teaching the students in school. I don’t know how they did it. Admittedly, our district was on Spring Break when much of this was starting and would have only had two contact days before school was cancelled anyway.

So that’s where we are…as teachers, we were required to be in school [minus those with health concerns] through Wednesday (some stayed and worked in the buildings all week) and we are supposed to be getting digital lessons ready to go for March 30th. As a large district (I know there are larger, but in Minnesota, we’re the 6th largest district), there is now a twenty-six page guiding document to distance learning (sent to everyone on Wednesday at the end of the day), and a lot of mixed messages. Some leaders are comfortable with a slow transition to digital learning; others want us to be firing on all nine cylinders (yes, nine, in other words, adding a cylinder) by March 30th. All I’m going to say is that I am VERY blessed to have the principals that I have (as I am shared between two schools). We are NOT doing choice boards for specialists, other than for students who have no technology (which our district is trying very hard to provide).

Part of my job–very limited since Wednesday–has been to support the other teachers in my (main) building as their tech coach. From a distance, there’s little I can do in that regard other than answer occasional e-mails. I can’t go and help anyone at this time.

What is wild is that I have moved from secondary to elementary; and I can’t imagine what my life would be like trying to teach choir from a distance. Secondary programs in our district use Schoology as a classroom management tool, which is well-suited to distance learning, and students–at least in my former school as a 1:1–are very familiar with that technology, and as secondary students, can be much more independent.

At the elementary level, we’re using Seesaw, which is wonderful. But now we’re trying to use it as a classroom management system–which is just isn’t–and Seesaw has challenges for “specialists” like music teachers. For example, I have 20 different classes, and I can’t post the same message in multiple classes at the same time (Yes, Seesaw is aware of this). And notifications…I have to click through each class, and then into messages, to clear notifications. I know Seesaw will get to these things eventually–but it does make it less than ideal to use. (In comparison, you can enter things in multiple classes for Schoology, and messages come to a central inbox, rather than a class-specific inbox).

In the short term, we’ve been asked to “test run” a class next week. They have assigned elementary specialists with two classes for K-2 and two classes for 3-5 per week, so I’m keeping things set up that way (K-2/3-5); although I do have two sections of a combined K/1 at my other school that requires some different materials, as my K-5 school is a Spanish immersion school, and I do some Spanish things with them (I don’t have to, but I choose to).

My teaching life was saved this year through the First Steps method of Dr. Feierabend. I am not FAME trained, but I have read the book, and I model some of my lesson parts off his work. One of the things that freed me was that he follows the same framework every day for class. That was a life-saver for me as a former choir teacher, because I realized that I could do the same with my elementary classes.

3rd and 4th grade have been using recorders since November; 5th grade has been using ukulele since November as well. We had just started a piano unit, as the traveling piano lab arrived–and I had to clean that up and box it away this past week. So 3rd-5th has not been following that outline for a while, so they’re going to have to do so now.

So my immediate plan is this: I want to make videos following the outline of what I already do in class. For my K to 2 classes (Spanish) it looks like this:

  • Intro Song (“Hey, hey, hello” by Stephanie Leavell)
  • Greeting
  • Vocal Warm-up (following on-screen)
  • Echo Song
  • Spanish Song
  • Counting (Screencast-o-matic with Sight Reading Factory)
  • Solfége echoing
  • Movement Video (embedding a dance-along from YouTube)
  • And then some other activity. For this first lesson, I’m using a recording of Dvořák’s Slavonic Dance #1 as a listening/watching activity
  • Goodbye song (for now, “Happy Trails,” although that might change.

    Following all of this, students will complete some kind of response in Seesaw. For the listening, they’re being asked to draw a picture in response to the music.

I try to follow the concept that no single activity can last longer in minutes than their age.

My K/1 classes at my other school have some of the music they are preparing for a May concert, and I want to make sure that if we go back to school this year, they can sing it.

I remove the Echo Song, Spanish Song, and Movement Video for 3-5, and instead am doing a longer content lesson/demonstration–for this first effort, it’s review of the Treble Clef as we’ve been away from it for a while with recorder/ukulele (just because they are reading the treble clef with recorder doesn’t mean that they are actually reading it, you know?).

This is also recruitment season for 3rd and 4th grade, so I’ll be recording a StreamYard with our band and orchestra teachers talking about instruments and what instruments they can choose to study.

What am I using to record? It depends. With all of the ukulele stuff that I’m doing, I have learned a lot when it comes to creating videos (309 on and 743 on

  • For straight-out videos of myself, I am using my iPhone to record, and air dropping the results to my iPad Pro.
  • For screencasting, I am using Screencast-o-matic. I like Screencastify, but am worried about the recording limits.
  • I am also occasionally recording my iPad’s screen with the built in-screen recorder on iOS 12.
  • Then I do all of my editing in Luma Fusion. That includes adding lyrics, transitions, and more.
  • If I need to embed a video, I am able to save it from a source using iCab Mobile and then import it in Luma Fusion.
  • If I have to create an accompaniment for a song, such as the version of “You’re a Grand Old Flag” that my K/1 students are learning, I do that in Notion, and record the playing of it with iOS 12 on my iPad. I do any final “put together” oof the video
  • I am putting the final video in Google Drive, which, with a link, acts like YouTube when linked into Seesaw (pending the correct visibility is set) avoiding putting things on the internet directly that I don’t need to.
  • The final link goes into Seesaw, as does an Activity for that day.

I want to reiterate that other than recording with Screencast-o-matic, all of the video editing occurs on my iPad.

So, this is my first attempt, and there are components that I am able to share right now between all grade levels. For example, counting could be a review for all K-5 for this first lesson, but as it goes on, I’m going to have to expand further with 3-5 than K-2. We’ll see how everything goes and what the feedback is. I’ll put a couple of clips of what my work looks like in a video on the techinmusiced website.

As a final note, I did not write this post this thinking that I’m a master teacher who has it all together. Especially as it comes to teaching elementary…I never had any intention of becoming an elementary teacher; while I am loving what I am doing, I know that I don’t have that “pure elementary” mindset. I know there are teachers who always wanted to be an elementary teacher, and I don’t even want to try to pretend that I can match your skills, talents, and abilities. What I have tried to do this year is to be myself–because I believe that students at any level can see right through an act. So I relate to my students in the same way that I relate to my own boys. I try to share my passion for music with music, and I take great joy in helping them love music. They are my kids–but my kids at school, if that makes sense. Trust me…I know that what you’ll see in this video isn’t perfect. But if it helps anyone forge some ideas of their own…that’s why I am sharing it with you.