Taking Time for Me – NYC Style!

As you might know, in my previous life, I was a music teacher. Music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I also love musical theater and have even done a few shows in my time. And yet, I’ve never seen a Broadway show. That is, until a few weeks ago.

In early July, I flew to New York City where I saw six Broadway shows in four days. Yes, I said six. I was inspired by a high school friend who traveled to London with her family and saw a few shows there. It made me think about how I haven’t seen many shows lately and how there are so many good shows out right now. I also have been trying to take more time for me this summer (after working 50+ hours a week all last summer). I decided to book a trip.

I’ve been to NYC twice before, so I could skip most of the touristy stuff. I stayed near Times Square so I could walk to every show. I even braved the subway and the bus. I checked out both the Museum of Modern Art and a tiny bit of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I also visited the 9/11 museum since it wasn’t built yet when I last visited.

But the best part was obviously the shows! The first shows I chose were Dear Evan Hansen and Waitress. I’d been listening to the soundtracks of both and couldn’t wait to see them (and they didn’t disappoint). I got to see Katharine McPhee lead in Waitress (she’s great!). I booked my trip the week after the 2018 Tony Awards, so I also booked The Band’s Visit, which had just won 10 awards, including Best Musical. I even got a picture with Tony Award winner Katrina Lenk!

The next show I chose was Hello, Dolly! While this one wouldn’t have normally been on my list, the role of Dolly Levi was being played by none other than Ms. Bernadette Peters. BERNADETTE PETERS! The legend herself! Not only that, she was playing opposite Victor Garber. I’d loved both of them since I saw them together in the Brandy version of Cinderella (which I still have on VHS, by the way). I added Kinky Boots because it seemed like a fun show (and it was). Last but not least, I actually didn’t buy tickets for Mean Girls until I was in New York and I’m so glad I did. I didn’t love the movie, but the musical is really well done.

This trip was a great little getaway for me (yes, I traveled alone). The timing was great because I submitted my final portfolio for my administration license program a few days before I left. I ate great food, including NY cheesecake and ice cream for dinner. I saw famous works of art and sites like Radio City Music Hall and Carnegie Hall (yep, still a music geek on the inside).

Too many times, I hear people say they would love to do _______, and they never do. Obviously, we can’t all afford to do everything we want all the time. But what are the things you have always meant to do and could but haven’t? Maybe a trip around the world isn’t feasible right now, but maybe there’s a book you’ve been meaning to read or a restaurant you’ve wanted to check out. What’s stopping you?

We put other people’s needs before our own. We say we’re too busy. We say we’ll do it next week, next month, or next year. But why wait? If watching my Facebook newsfeed in the past few weeks has reminded me of anything, it’s that we only have a finite amount of time and we never know when that time is up.

So do the things that are important to you. Do them now. Don’t wait for that perfect time because there won’t be one.

MMEA Resources

Here are the resources from the three sessions I’m presenting at the MMEA Mid-Winter Clinic this week:












Voxer: Professional Development in Your Pocket!

Many educators out there have been touting the merits of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter for connecting with fellow educators for promoting ongoing learning and development.  I agree with them, and I’d like to add another app to the list: Voxer.  It’s a free website as well as an app for iOS and Android and it will literally change your professional life.

Voxer is essentially a walkie-talkie where you can either listen to people talk in real time or hear their recorded messages later.  Messages can be sent to individual people or multiple users can send messages back and forth in a group conversation.  The result?  You can listen to colleagues from around the globe asking questions, providing solutions, and offering support in real time.

I discovered Voxer a few months back after joining in on some Twitter chats with some fellow Minnesota educators.  I was added to the group and at first I wasn’t sure if I liked it.  Then I was added to another group that made me almost give up Voxer entirely – the group was huge and I couldn’t keep up with the messages!  But then I found the #TOSAchat group and it has been the best thing that has happened to me as an educator!

The group is active, but they make it okay to come and go as you please.  We use a hashtag system, which allows users to know the topic of the message so you can skip over it if it doesn’t apply to or interest you (this was me when some of them were talking about some standardized testing issues in California when I’m in Minnesota).

Just like Twitter, some people actively participate in the voice chats, while others prefer to listen and lurk.  You can record voice messages or you can write text messages.  You can like another person’s message and you can forward them to a variety of other apps to store them for later reference.

I take advantage of my commute time by listening to Voxer messages while I drive.  Time that would normally be “wasted” in the car is now time I use to enhance my practice and connect with other educators.  No other social media can do that!  Others listen during breaks during the day, others at night during Twitter chats.  Because you can listen to messages any time, you can hop in and out as you please.

Have a question? Throw out a message in the morning and you’ll likely have a response later that day.  Just need to vent?  Throw out an “edu-rant” and get support from like-minded colleagues.  Want to celebrate a major “edu-win?”  Share it with your pocket pals who will be more than happy to celebrate with you!

The friends I have made and connected with the past few months have literally changed my life.  Being the only TOSA in my district can be a lonely life sometimes, but I know I’m not on my own because I have an entire network of fellow coaches in my phone who support and challenge me to grow every single day.

Your first step is installing the app and creating an account.  Next, you need to find the right group.  I have seen lists floating around Twitter of all kinds of groups around a variety of topics.  Many times Twitter chats will also have a Voxer group on the side for continued discussion.  If you’re having a having trouble finding a group, reach out to me on Twitter (@halversonandrea) and I will try to help you find a group that meets your needs.

Give Screencasting a Try!

A lot of teachers ask me what my top tech tool is.  It’s like desert island for geeks: what one tool could you not live without if you were stranded with only one thing?  While it’s hard to narrow down, I think my answer right now would have to be the screencast.  They can be used by any teacher at any level and be extremely effective and efficient when done well.

What is a screencast?  Basically, it’s where you record what’s happening on your screen (a broadcast of your computer), usually with some sort of audio recording.  Some screencasting tools also allow you to record a web cam as well, meaning you can also see the person doing the recording while you watch.  Screencasts can be created on virtually any device, though some particular screen recorders work better on particular platforms.

Screencasts have a tremendous amount of value in the classroom!  A common use of screencasting is to operate in a flipped classroom model.  The teacher records a video segment teaching a lesson, the students watch the video as homework, then the teacher helps the students work through problems and questions the next day in class.  The lecture moves outside the school day and the in class time is spent working directly with students.

Screencasts can also be helpful when planning for a substitute.  I used to love creating screencasts for when I knew I was going to be gone.  When I was teaching a class, I couldn’t always count on getting a substitute who knew my content, but I always had someone that could click a link or press play.  I could leave directions for a particular activity or process, record a greeting for the class, or explain difficult concepts that my students needed to know about in my absence.

Or what about students who are absent?  How many times have you had to sit down with a student and reteach an entire lesson because they missed it?  Or a student who was in class but just hasn’t quite grasped the material yet.  Both of these students can stay in the classroom, watch the video on some kind of device, and then be ready to join back in with the rest of the class.  The teacher, meanwhile, is free to move around the room helping other students working in real time.

Students can also use screencasts to show what they know.  Want kids to explain a process and show you they understand?  Have them create a screencast where they walk through their knowledge, hopefully with visuals of some kind.  Want your students to do a slideshow of some kind but not want to sit through 30+ presentations?  Have them create a Google slideshow then record a screencast to talk through their presentation.  Then have students share their videos for the teacher and their classmates to view.

My favorite screencasting tool by far is Camtasia.  You can pause recording, edit out mistakes and add so many fancy features to make your videos look amazing.  But for the beginner screencaster, I would recommend checking out Screencast-o-Matic, Screencastify, or Snagit.  The last three products are free; Screencast-o-Matic works best on computers (Mac or PC) and the other two both work on the Chrome browser (Mac, PC, or Chromebooks).

Never made a screencast before?  One tip is to plan out your video ahead of time.  Have any windows open that you need and are ready to go rather than having to wait for software to load.  Make sure you have a quiet environment where you won’t be disturbed; this helps keep you from having to edit your video or re-record later.  Finally, keep your videos SHORT! Screencasts are generally more successful when they are less than five minutes, but even better when they are less than three.  Consider chunking your content into smaller bits to allow you to record shorter videos.  You will appreciate it when you are recording the videos (and so will your viewers).

Have you tried recording a screencast before?  How have you used it in your classroom?

I Get to Be a Clinician?!

Five years ago, I had never presented at a conference before. I had led staff development sessions and training in my own school, but never on a bigger stage. But some music teacher friends of mine were hosting the regional conference for MKMEA (www.mkmea.com) in Columbus, Ohio, and they encouraged me to submit a session proposal. I put together a session about using technology to enhance music advocacy in the classroom and community. I was excited, but really nervous as I had never done anything like this before.

The first session went well. The feedback I got from participants was generally positive. They were excited to have someone who knew both music content and technology skills who could blend the two seamlessly. If I had to pinpoint any negatives about the first experience, it was that my session was scheduled at the same time as a couple of my friends, which meant we couldn’t be there to support each other.

Fast forward to 2016. I’ve presented at a few different conferences and I’m now working in technology full time. I don’t really get too nervous before sessions if I’ve had time to prepare ahead of time. I’ve even been thrown in as a presenter the day before a workshop and made it work. I often propose multiple sessions to present when I’m planning to attend a conference.

But yesterday, I had another first. I received an email from a music group inviting me to be a clinician in their 2016-2017 workshop series. I’ve never been asked to do this before, and I’m extremely excited. I feel honored and validated that someone values my work enough to invite me to come share my ideas with other people. I can’t wait to work out all of the details and start to plan the session that I will share with the excited music educators in their group.

And in true karmic fashion, the workshop will be in Columbus.

Create Music Scores Online with Flat

Having been a music teacher for nearly ten years, I get pretty excited when I see some great resources out there for music educators and their students.  One of my biggest frustrations with schools moving toward Chromebooks is the lack of music apps and resources that were included on the iPad.

Flat is a website trying to change all that.  It allows users to create their own musical scores on their browser (translation: no iPad app needed!).

The benefits are huge here.  Flat offers free services as well as paid premium options (many good iPad notation apps are paid apps), but working in the browser means that student work is mobile.  Creating in the cloud means they can feasibly edit and create on any device with an internet connection.  No more “I forgot my iPad” or “my work is on that iPad over there that’s being used by another student.”

Another issue? Printing from iPads.  Many times, students and teachers need to be able to print scores once they are done creating and editing.  By using a browser notation tool like Flat, scores can be printed like regular documents without the hassle of emailing copies to another computer (note: your district setup may or may not allow printing from Chromebooks, but you should be able to pull up your score on another computer that is capable of printing).  Flat allows user to print an entire score, individual parts, or both.

What I’m really excited about in Flat’s site is the ability to collaborate and share scores with others: think Google Docs but with music scores instead of text documents!  Flat also allows users to login with their Google credentials – a huge plus for my students in a GAFE environment.  Flat also offers Educator accounts, which allow teachers to integrate work with Google Classroom.

What do you think? Have you used Flat or a similar tool?  I’d love to hear more!

Not Geniuses Yet, But Definitely Smarter!

My first Genius Hour experiment is complete!  A few weeks ago, I launched my first attempt at this type of learning with my 5th grade music class (see original post here).  On Monday, my kids got to share the efforts of their labor.  Based on some of the work I had seen from them in class, I was considerably worried.  Were they even ready for this?  Did I give them more than they were ready for?  Maybe, but giving up would have taught us nothing, so we pressed on.

Each group took turns sitting in front of the class with their ukes in hand and iPads on music stands.  They introduced their songs, pressed play on their YouTube videos, and began to strum along.  Each group played only about 1-2 minutes of their song so we could hear everyone.  Overall, I was pleased with what I heard.  Most groups had a good idea of what they were supposed to be playing and how it was supposed to go.  A few were a bit lost, but that was likely due to the group’s difficulty in working together during practice time.

So, what did I learn?

  1. My kids seemed to really enjoy choosing their own songs. This wasn’t surprising, but learning about ukeleles and chord progressions has been one of the first opportunities we’ve had in class to use popular music in an authentic way.
  2. Some of my students still really struggle with collaborative group work.  They always want their own way and have difficulties with compromise.  So, naturally, song selection took up a large part of their group time.
  3. Next time, I need to do a bit more scaffolding for my kids.  Some of them chose songs they liked but were way beyond their playing ability.  While I’m glad when my students have high expectations, they also need to be realistic given the time we have in class.
  4. I think next time I’d like to include a video recording and reflection component.  Particularly for music, some students have a hard time self-assessing in real time.  Videotaping and letting them watch later would help them see their progress.  If this were a long project, I’d recommend doing periodic video checks to keep them on track.
  5. Some of my kids are AMAZING!  One student in particular, M.B., absolutely blew everyone out of the water!  Not only did she learn her entire song by herself, but she added finger picking for the introduction of the song (a skill we never even talked about in class).  But honestly, the best part was watching how proud she was that she learned the whole thing and could nail the whole performance.  Though nobody matched her playing level, other students showed similar passion and pride.  And as a teacher, that is about as awesome as it gets.

All in all, I’d definitely do it again and I’m excited to use this model in other classes.  If you haven’t already, check out Don Wettrick’s book, Pure Genius!

Skype Attempt #1…..Success!

Well, Skype session #1 is in the books!  Overall, I’d say it was a success.  Despite the fact that I couldn’t get Skype to work on my school computer in the morning, by class time we were ready to go!  We chatted with Mrs. Wren’s (@Mwren13) students in Illinois.  My 3rd graders chatted with her 2nd, and 3rd graders.  We each shared a song we know and then we had a short Q&A afterward.  It was fun for my kids to hear the other kids playing and singing and it made it more real to them to have an authentic audience for their own music.  I think they particularly enjoyed getting to hear another group of kids playing recorders!

Most of the feedback I got from students was positive.  They seemed to really enjoy getting to meet another group of kids.  Many of them commented that they wished they’d have had more time to ask the kids questions.  Most of them wished we could do it again, so I will hopefully be able to set this up again next year.  I think it would be fun to do a “mystery music Skype” and have to ask the other class questions to figure out where they are.

As a teacher, one thing I’d change would be to try to get a better video quality.  The kids really enjoyed meeting the other students, but it was hard to see their faces clearly.  Being able to do so would make it that much more “real” for them.  The other thing that was difficult is that the other classes’ music times didn’t line up exactly with mine.  One group had almost the whole half hour, while the other had only about 15 minutes.  In a perfect world, I’d find a school who had similar class times to ours so we can get the most time possible.P

I’m going to encourage other teachers in my building to try this as well.  I think it could be really effective to set up a pen pal relationship between two classes and have them write back and forth all year, with some live chats thrown in.

Have you connected with another class via Skype?  How did it go?

Skype in the Classroom…Attempt #1

I’ve been hoping to do this for years, but never had a means to connect with anyone to try it out.  Now that I’ve been connecting with other educators more frequently on Twitter (follow me! @ajforsberg), I connected with another music teacher from Illinois and we’ve made arrangements to connect our classes next week.  Today, we did a quick tech check and made sure I could get connected using my school’s sometimes sketchy wi-fi connection.  After fixing a brief mic issue on her end, we were all set!

My 3rd graders will get to meet some of her classes online and share the recorder song they’ve been working on for the past coupe of weeks.  Today, we practiced our arrangement and brainstormed a list of questions that we could ask new kids we’d never met.  We also got to see what we would look like on the big screen and how we’d need to sit closer together for everyone to be seen.  The kids are excited and a little confused (some of them still think the other class is actually coming to visit).

Have you ever connected with another class using Skype, Google Hangouts, etc.?  Any tips or tricks?

Genius Hour in Music

I’ve recently started reading the book Pure Genius by Don Wettrick.  It’s no secret that kids are more engaged when they have voice and choice in what they are learning.  We all have passions that we could lose ourselves in for hours if given the chance.  I’ve been intrigued by the idea, but wasn’t sure how to make it work in a large group music class until now.

My 5th graders have been playing ukuleles in class for about a month or so and have done amazingly well.  I’ve tried to find songs for them to play that are school appropriate and familiar to them (a not always easy task!).  Still, I know not all my boys love Taylor Swift and Meghan Trainor, and there were probably tons of other songs they were dying to play.

The solution? Genius Hour in music class!  Starting today, my kids are working alone or in groups to come up with a school appropriate song that they’d like to play.  They are in charge of figuring out the chords and how to play the song (with the help of iPads and the internet).  We brainstormed ideas for what steps they would need to take to be successful and then off they went!  And they were actively engaged the entire time!

We will continue working on the project next week during music time!  I can’t wait to see what they come up with!  Hopefully, I can share some on YouTube!