Carolyn Brumfiel teaches music at Arrowhead Elementary, part of the Cherry Creek School District in Colorado. She’s entering year 17 as a teacher, all at the elementary level, and she loves it ― especially when she and her students can make learning fun. No matter the subject area, whether math, writing, science, or especially music, she’s passionate about engaging kids with play and with truly enjoying the learning experience.
Like so many educators, particularly in the elementary grades, Carolyn and her colleagues have been challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic and the rapid shift to online learning they experienced. When their success as educators is so reliant on excellent student engagement, relationships in the classroom, and getting everyone involved in having fun, how is it possible to succeed in a new remote world? Fortunately, by midyear 2020-21, the Arrowhead Elementary team was introduced to Soundtrap and found a solution to some of these challenges.
Teachers Take Charge
In January 2021, Brumfiel learned she had the opportunity to try out Soundtrap with her students through a district-wide pilot, and she didn’t hesitate to give it a shot. “It kind of fell in my lap,” she says, but she knew this was a worthwhile opportunity. Other teachers really got behind the online studio too, she says, and it was the school’s teachers who really drove implementation. Teachers showed one another different features and functions within Soundtrap and shared ideas for lessons and activities through which Soundtrap could be integrated. With an engaged faculty, implementation spread quite quickly.
Dr. Paul Cribari, who was the district’s arts coordinator in the previous academic year, transitioned back to a teaching role in order to support online instruction. He was the first to start spreading the Soundtrap craze, announcing to the other music teachers: Hey, we’ve got a great opportunity here. Who wants to try it? Jeff Gleason is another music teacher in the district, at Black Forest Hills Elementary, and he took the reins and ran with it, reaching out to Brumfiel and others saying, in essence, “Let me show you all the stuff.”
Brumfiel worked mostly with the other elementary teachers. The school was in a remote setup at this point, and students would soon return in-person. The unique nature of the school year made collaborative planning among teachers even more important than usual. She shares, “We had a group that would get together about once a month. We talked about what to do, how to do it, and how to get kids ‘locked in.’ The first time I tried Soundtrap with one of the classes was a remote learning day. They did a really good job ― almost all of them were able to get going on day one!”
Students Embrace the Experience
From the start, Brumfiel’s students were enamored with Soundtrap. “They absolutely love it, being able to be creative and to put together a song within a matter of minutes,” she says. “It lets them show their creativity in a way that they wouldn’t necessarily have been able to before; especially for some of my students who wouldn’t necessarily sing or don’t like to perform. Working in Soundtrap, they’d eagerly show me, ‘Hey, look what I just put together.’ It was fantastic.”
For the most part, the students focused on individual work, but they’ve also loved the fact that they can collaborate with each other. One group of students that really took advantage of the collaboration features were those who worked on the “performance day” project. They created a rap about how they met one another and how their relationship evolved over the years.
Another student, a first grader, was so excited about what he was learning that he told his dad all about it: “They were looking at it and the dad came to me the next day said, ‘Whoa, this is what they’re using in Los Angeles ― and we have access to it.’ He was really excited about it.”
Other classes used Soundtrap during the year as well, reading and recording poems that used background-checked biography underneath. It resulted in fully produced projects that combined audio with written material for presentation. In addition, an ELA teacher used Soundtrap recordings to help with fluency, where students read stories and listened to playback to hear what they sounded like when reading.
New Year, New Opportunities
One of the factors that made Soundtrap so valuable during the 2020-21 year is also a cause for excitement leading into the upcoming semester: Brumfiel’s desire to get students singing again.
Singing has been a problem during the pandemic, even on in-person days. There isn’t enough space in a classroom for students to practice the required social distancing while singing (nine feet apart), so it wasn’t an option. This was a gap Soundtrap was able to fill, keeping kids engaged in high-quality music learning even with some activities off the table:
“I went from singing for 45 minutes to ‘let’s figure something out.’ It was like telling a math teacher, ‘okay, you have to teach math, but you can’t use numbers this year ― good luck!’ So with Soundtrap, the fact that they could still hear melodies going on even when they weren’t actually physically making those sounds was incredible,” says Brumfiel.
“But I’m so looking forward to the time where we can sing a song into Soundtrap and then students can do a background track. Or when they can practice their singing, or record a vocal track and then actually hear what they sound like, it open up lots of collaboration that way. I’m really interested to figure out how we can incorporate singing with the technology and put it all together.”
For schools across the U.S. starting the 2021-22 year, there are still some questions about what exactly this year will look like. But one thing is for certain: Brumfiel and her colleagues in Cherry Creek School District will maintain engaging learning through their creative approach to music (and more).
Listen to the Virtual Choir’s Version of What A Wonderful World
Carolyn is in her 17th year of teaching music. She graduated with a BME from Colorado Christian University and a Masters of Music Education with a Kodály Emphasis from Colorado State University.