Laptop on a Cart: Using Digital Resources to Save Space and Time

This is a guest post by one of our blog writers, Sarah Joncas.

Many music teachers will be teaching on a cart for the first time this fall. I spent my first year teaching on a cart, so I have figured out a few tips and tricks to help you save space and time while traveling classroom to classroom. 

My biggest tip is to digitize everything you can. Scan it, put it on slides, get rid of paper as much as possible. Paper and books take up valuable cart space, and often end up jumbled after hours of back-to-back classes with not enough transition time in between. On a laptop, you can have what you need at your fingertips and ensure things are organized in a way that works for you.

Scoping out your teaching spaces

Before you spend too much time digitizing resources and typing up lesson plans, scope out the technology in all the spaces where you’ll be teaching. Will you plug into an already-existing projector in the classroom? If so, do you have the necessary cable(s)? Is there a speaker system with the projector, or will you need to run sound through a separate system? Knowing all of this before the first day of teaching makes a huge difference to a successful first class.

When I was on a cart a few years ago, I had my own projector and speakers on my cart, which made things very simple. I hooked my laptop in at the start of the day, had everything plugged into a power strip, and simply plugged the power strip into the wall in each classroom. Of course, it can be tricky depending on room setup, so if mounted projectors are available I would suggest using those. Just be sure you know whether you’ll need your own speakers or if there are speakers in the projection system.

Also scope out where in each room your cart can go, and how you’ll get it there. It can help to talk to the colleagues you’ll share the room with about leaving a pathway for you to be able to navigate your cart through. When I was teaching in especially crowded classrooms, I taught the students a procedure for moving their desks so that I could easily get the cart into position and start teaching right away. Having students move their own desks rather than me having to do them all cut down on the transition time a lot. 

If you have your projection system figured out, you’re on your way to making cart teaching work for you. Now it’s time to think about the resources.

Resources on a cart

The thing about being on a cart is there just isn’t a lot of room. You can’t easily take that “just in case” book or hand out the way you can in your own classroom. The way I handled this was digitizing and simplifying as much as possible. 

Lesson Plans on Google Docs

When I was on a cart, I wrote my lesson plans in a Google Doc. I love paper planners, and always use one when I have my own room to teach in, but when I was on a cart my planner took up valuable cart real estate and was easy to accidentally leave behind, which would leave me without my lesson plans handy. Below is the template I used. The four columns on the right of the activities box let me track which items I had done with each specific class section. I taught four classes of each grade level that year, so I would remind myself how far we’d gotten in each class by marking it in the appropriate column after I finished teaching the lesson. If you’d like an editable copy of the template, you can get one here.

Lesson Plan on Google Doc

Notation Pattern Cards

I teach elementary general music, so I often go over rhythm and tonal patterns with my students. I had access to poster-sized flashcards of different pattern sets, but they were bulky and always fell off my cart. So I digitized them. Using Google Slides, I made my own pattern cards, then could project them on the board for students to read. Here’s one of my cards from the quarter note and quarter rest set I made:

Google Slides Notation Pattern Card

For more on digital flashcards and how you can use them with your students, check out my previous Midnight Music Blog Post, 10 Ways Google Slides Helps My Students Build Music Literacy.

Projecting sheet music

Rather than making copies of music and spending time passing them out and collecting them, I would project sheet music and have students read it from the board. For example, I often use Beth’s Notes to find a folk song, then project the sheet music. So I might bring up this page to do Engine, Engine. For longer songs, it can help to right-click on the image and select “open image in new tab” to allow you to zoom and adjust as needed.

You can also project sheet music that you create using notation programs, such as MuseScore, flat.io or Sibellius. By having all students look at the copy on the board, you can point out specific features and support students in following along in the music.

Objectives

When I taught on a cart, my school required us to have our objective or goal for the lesson displayed. When I was travelling room to room, remembering to write the objective on the board in each different classroom I taught on was difficult, and wasted valuable class time. Instead, I put it on a slide. If I knew I’d be using a lot of other visuals in the lesson, I’d put the objective at the bottom of each of the slides. That way, if my supervisor walked in they could see that I had the objective on display for students without me having to click around to find it. For example, here’s one of my slides with an objective.

Google Slide Objectives

Demonstrating instruments

If I need a quick instrumental demonstration when teaching on a cart, I often won’t drag instruments around with me. There’s too much risk of them getting damaged in transit. Instead, I’ll find a video example and project it, or create a video myself and play it for the students. That way, they still get to experience hearing and seeing instruments without me having to carry them. 

I will also sometimes use the virtual version of an instrument if I just need a starting pitch or a quick model of something. Yes, an online piano isn’t going to work to play a sonata, but it works just fine to give a starting pitch or play a simple melodic pattern. Though moving instruments may not be practical, online instruments and videos of instruments can help fill in the gap. 

Related: 10 Virtual Musical Instruments for Your Virtual Classroom

Keep it simple!

When teaching on a cart – especially if it’s your first time – keep it simple! Decide what you really need to carry with you, digitize as much as possible, and do what you can. Teaching from a cart isn’t easy, but hopefully these tips will help make it a little easier, whether you’re on a cart for the school year or the foreseeable future.

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About the writer

Sarah Joncas

Sarah Joncas is a music teacher from Massachusetts, USA. She teaches kindergarten through fifth grade general music, fifth grade chorus, fifth grade band, and percussion ensemble. Before becoming a teacher, she worked with technology and educational software.

In 2014, she was named a TI:ME Technology in Music Education Leadership Fellow, which allowed her to attend a music education conference in Texas and explore cutting edge music teaching technology. She has earned degrees in Music Education from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Boston University. You can connect with Sarah on Twitter or her blog Teaching Music Musings

Looking for More Resources for Music Teachers?

Hello! I’m Katie Wardrobe – an Australian music technology trainer and consultant with a passion for helping music teachers through my business Midnight Music.

I’m a qualified teacher but no, I don’t currently teach in a school. I help teachers through my online professional development space – the Midnight Music Community – where there are tutorial videos, courses, links and downloadable resources.

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I like to focus on easy ways to incorporate technology into what you are already doing in your music curriculum through a range of creative projects. I also run live workshops and have presented at countless conferences and other music education events.

If you want simple, effective ideas for using technology in music education, I would LOVE to help you inside the Midnight Music Community.

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