MASTA May Online Gathering

Candace Chappell, MASTA Notes Editor, Ann Arbor Public Schools

After about 6 weeks of online teaching with roughly 6 weeks to go, members of MASTA gathered online on Friday, May 1 via Zoom.  The meeting was created and organized by Michael Hopkins, MASTA President-Elect. The topic of discussion: online teaching and learning.  Teachers of all types were present: from studio teachers to school teachers, new teachers to retirees, elementary to the collegiate level. 

As members logged on, it was nice to see friends and colleagues to catch up.  Val Palmieri (Adrian College) started the conversation by recommending stringmasters.com, a website created by Crispin Campbell and Val Jaskiewicz through which teachers can hold private lessons. For a fee of $5 per lesson, teachers can record lessons so that students can re-watch for feedback, and upload and annotate music.

The whole group also talked about student participation.  It was generally found that the higher the grade level, the more students participated. Likely because high schoolers are a bit more self-aware and organized than, say, 5th graders.  We also came to find that students have been completing more of the written or non-performance assignments.  Possibly because those types of assignments more closely resemble the work given by other teachers, and are easier to submit than creating and uploading a video performance. 

Despite the discouraging feelings of not all students doing our work, some important points were brought up.  There is no way to recreate the orchestra experience online, but it is more important than ever to connect with our students.  Michael Edwards (Walled Lake Schools) uses his zoom meetings to check in on students’ well being and creates assignments that get his high schoolers thinking about why music is important and how it can be a comfort in tough times. Many teachers echoed this sentiment. Larry Ditmar (retired, Ann Arbor Schools) mentioned that the students need music now more than ever, and reassured us that our communities will support us and advocate for our work in tough times.

Part way through the meeting, breakout rooms were created so that teachers could discuss topics more pertinent to their situation.  The elementary group had many great ideas about how to improve student engagement.  They discussed using checklists to provide students with choices, as well as silly playing challenges to help them enjoy the work.  5th grade teacher Lydia De Leeuw (Troy Schools) mentioned that she challenged her students to play a song while hula-hooping!

In the middle school breakout, members started a discussion about helping young students tune with pegs.  Abby Alwin (Ann Arbor Schools) said that she has had great success when tuning an instrument alongside the student.  She recommends tuning down to where the student is, and then demonstrating tuning at a very slow speed so that the student can see exactly what to do.  The conversation then moved to a discussion of activities that have worked well in various classrooms.  I (Chappell) shared that my students loved doing a “show me your team spirit!” activity where they learned and performed the fight song for UM or MSU.  It was a hit in Ann Arbor!  Allie Holden (Rockford Schools) had a lot of success in asking her students what their “silver lining” was during this time.  This question helped her connect with her students, as well as check in emotionally.  Lynn Brosnan (West Bloomfield Schools) shared that her students have enjoyed making videos of themselves playing a recital for someone in their household. Sara Gibson (Ann Arbor Schools) was preparing a Star Wars themed Kahoot for her students to play on May 4th.

The high school breakout was focused on student well-being.  MASTA president Dan Scott mentioned that many high school students are working extra shifts at their jobs because they are more willing to come in contact with people at this time.  These students have less time for classwork, and it is important that teachers be flexible and understanding of their individual situations.  Current seniors were also a big topic of conversation.  Members shared their plans to honor the seniors in their programs.  Two ideas shared were: creating photo albums to send to each student (Dan Scott), and creating a special program that features the senior class (Joe Harmsen of Escanaba).

Overall, members included in this online gathering seemed to enjoy this experience regardless of whether they shared their ideas or learned new ones. MASTA hopes to provide additional opportunities to connect with each other and share ideas in the coming months.  I hope you find the time to join us!  Look out for even more ideas being posted by members on our MASTA Facebook page!

Online Resources for Teaching and Learning:

  • The Massachusetts chapter has started a page with a list of resources:
https://www.massasta.org/covid-19

These online platforms are being recommended by some members as being better than Zoom for synchronizing online performance: