Saturday, March 11, 2017 Beginning Orchestra?

Have you ever had one of those days where you are just struggling for inspiration and motivation in your teaching?  

That happened to me this last week.  I looked at what I had planned for one of my beginner classes, and it just felt so "blah".  I couldn't get myself excited about it.  About an hour before the class, though, my mind started rolling...

...a few years ago, I recorded teaching videos of all of the songs we learn in 5th grade for students to watch at home...
...YouTube is open at elementary schools now in my district...
...since our district's IT Open House, I have been wanting to try to Chromecast to a TV to see how it works, and this school has a TV in my teaching space that has that capability...
...knowing the technology at this school, I could probably get ahold of a Chromebook cart during class...
...this is my smallest class, therefore the easiest to "experiment" with... idea was born!

It's amazing how quickly my mind can roll when I get excited about something!  In a matter of minutes, I made sure I had access to the Chromebook cart, asked teachers to have students bring headphones, and set up Chromecast from my device to the TV (with a little help from some teachers).  We were ready to roll!

I first gathered the students in the front of the room and told them not to unpack - yet.  I asked them if they would be willing to embark on an experiment with me, to which they enthusiastically replied, "Yes!"  I shared that I wanted to try using this technology in class, so they could each watch the video and work on the song that they needed the most work on, even if it was different from their neighbor.  I used my Chromebook (Chromecast to the TV) to show them how to access the videos online, and then set them free!

Overall, the students did a fantastic job of using the time well.  They picked which song they needed to work on, clicked on the video, and learned in their own way.  Some bowed along with the piece, while others plucked.  Still others wrote down the notes or just fingered to make sure they knew how to play.  We did run into an issue with the song "Can-Can" being blocked - apparently, since the dance could get a bit risque, the name of the video triggered the filter (even though I promise it's just a video of my showing how to play it on an instrument)!  Other than that, though, this went off without a hitch!

The next step was grabbing a few of my students who were ahead to try recording themselves and sending their recordings to me.  We used Screencastify, since I am the most familiar with it, although I have a couple of other options I want to play around with in the future, too!  I was wondering how well the headphones would work - would they be able to concentrate on their own learning with other people playing different songs around them?  And would the recordings pick up all of the other noise?  It didn't seem to bother them too much, and when I listened to the recordings, I could hear the background noise, but it did not impact my ability to hear the student making the recording so I could provide meaningful feedback.

For the last few minutes of class, I regathered everyone for a quick evaluation of the day.  Their response was overwhelmingly positive!  They liked being able to work at their own pace and in their own way, and they were excited about the idea of recording videos and sending them to me.  We talked about how they could both watch and record videos at home, so they could really extend their learning beyond classtime.  I asked if they would want to do this again - and of course the answer was yes!  We probably won't do it that often, but I can see it being useful for a change of pace, sub plans, or as a catch-up day after we've learned some new music.  It really allows students to differentiate and work on what they need!

As I reflect on a personal level, I am so grateful that my tiredness that day sparked the desire to look for something new - creativity and innovation can come from anywhere!

I would love to recreate this in my other beginning classes, but I will need to figure out the technology piece - larger classes mean they would have to be 2:1 or 3:1 with a device, which makes headphones/sound difficult, which leads to all sorts of other issues.  I'll keep looking for solutions!

Any ideas?  Have you ever tried something like this with beginners?  Leave a comment below - I'd love to learn together!


  1. This is awesome Aubrey! I love (and hate) when inspiration happens right before class :) It sounds like your students really responded to the lesson and were engaged in the task. Bravo!

  2. This sounds like a great class Aubrey! I love it when inspiration pays off and this sounds like a super way to differentiate.

    In larger classes would it be possible to have some kids working on the Chromebooks while others work with you on something else? We usually lack devices so try to use tech as one of several stations but I don't know how that would look in a music class. Another idea, that I've read about but never tried, is a headphone splitter so that more than one student can work on each laptop. They seem fairly inexpensive and might work. Good luck!

    1. Thanks for the idea, Carla! I've thought about stations, which is probably the best bet for limited devices. I'm struggling with where to put them (large classes = packed in a small room, and if half of the class is supposed to be working with me, that will be hard for listening/audio). I also think it will take a day or two to help them get comfortable with the steps of using the Chromebooks independently at stations, and I'm wondering if I should just wait and build this into the beginning of the year next year, since I'm not sure how many days I can take for that foundation work this close to our end-of-year concerts! I will have to look into headphone splitters, too.

      Thank you for the feedback! It's always helpful to hear others' ideas!

  3. You are a master teacher Aubrey--love your passion and thoroughness in thinking about what will work best for all the kids. Your final evaluation piece (even if brief) is another sign of your skill! #sunchatbloggers Any kids have trouble learning that way?

  4. My first thought was Carla's: Stations. My second thought: Could a group of students sharing a device function kind of like a lit circle where they each have explicit roles to fulfill? Those roles could rotate around until everyone in the group has been recorded. The $64,000 question (or one of them): What roles might be productive and meaningful for what you and students are after?