Category Archives: General Musings

General Musings

Presentations from the 2014 Iowa Music Education Professional Development Conference

This weekend (Friday), I had the privilege to present three sessions at the Iowa Music Education Professional Development Conference (I usually just call this the Iowa MEA).  If you are in a surrounding state, I really recommend this conference.  It is a smaller conference and most of the vendors are local–but clinicians come from across the country to present on a wide variety of topics.  Don’t let the size of IMEA fool you–it is packed with professional development.

My first session was a summary on the latest with the iPad in Music Education.  (PDF of the presentation: The Latest and Greatest with iPads in Music Education).  In summary: better hardware, better iOS, better [and continually improving] apps, and better accessories for music education.

My second session was an overview of some of the ways you can use devices OTHER than iPads in your classroom (PDF of the presentation: Technology for the Rest of Us).  This was a discussion of web apps for all, Android, Chromebook, and Windows “Tile” Apps.  There was one big surprise about Chromebooks that I will be blogging about soon.  I also recommend Chad Criswell’s post about High Tech options for low-cost budgets: http://www.musicedmagic.com/tales-from-the-podium/low-cost-musictechnology-options-for-the-music-education-classroom.html.

The final sessions was my core “60 Apps in 60 minutes,” which is more than 60 apps.  (PDF of the presentation: 60 Apps in 60 Minutes).  On the positive side of things, my overall list changes very little over time–but the best apps continue to improve with each passing generation.  As a secondary teacher, it is a joy to be able to recommend Amy Burns’ FREE interactive book, “Help! I am an Elementary Teacher with One or More iPads” to elementary teachers looking for even more elementary-focused apps, applications, and lesson plans.

I love presenting in Iowa–it is a relatively close convention (about a 3.5 hour drive from my house) in a wonderful town (Ames), and Des Moines is only a short drive away.  On Saturday, my wife and I drove down to Des Moines and visited the Iowa State Capitol (it is a beautiful building–if you have not visited it, do so) and then went to blow our own glass Christmas ornaments at Studio Fuzzishü in the West Des Moines area.  We wanted to spend some time in the East Village and perhaps at the Jordan Creek Mall, but parking was an issue in both those places.  We also had the chance to visit some friends of the family that had moved to Southern Minnesota on our way back to the metro area of the Twin Cities.

Still the One…

This evening, I have been working with my Android Nexus 7 (2013 version). I am waiting for the latest version of Google Android (Lollipop) to be released for the device. Generally, I use my Android device for one of three things:

  • Playing games (particulary Clash of Clans and Star Wars Commander)
  • Watching Netflix or Amazon Prime (you can install Prime via the Amazon Android Marketplace)
  • Checking music education apps on Android

For some time, I have said that if iOS and the iPad didn’t exist, I could be happy with Android. I still think this is true. But as a person who owns a device from all of the major OSes available on the market, I still strongly feel that the iPad is “still the one” for music education.

 

Don’t get me wrong–there are some really strong apps on Android, and some wonderful web-based resources that work on nearly any device. Neuratron, makers of NotateMe and PhotoScore, prefers Android over iOS–particularly the Samsung Galaxy Note. And I have recently discovered “Perfect Ear 2″ on Android, which is an incredibly well put-together app that isn’t available on iOS. Online resourses, such as Noteflight, continue to improve.

 

But when it comes down to a platform that represents the very best for music education, the iPad still is the place to go. At this point in my life, as my far sightedness (literal) requires me to use reading glasses, I would prefer a larger device such as the 12.1″ Samsung tablets. But when it comes down to the list of available apps and available accessories, as well as built in features for music making–such as Core MIDI and MIDI over Bluetooth LE, the iPad is squarely in control. Yes, some apps are on multiple platforms. Some of those are GREAT apps (NotateMe, iReal Pro, ClearTune, StaffWars). But when you need a native music composition app (Notion, Symphony Pro) or a world-class PDF Music Reader (forScore, unrealBook), iOS is the only place to go for those apps. And if you are a musician using a mobile device to mix music–iOS is the only answer.

 

Read this closely…I feel the battle for the device in education has been lost. I think the Chromebook has won. The simple fact is that you can buy (at least) two Chromebooks for the price of a single iPad, and you can replace an entire Chromebook for the price of an iPad screen repair. Will some schools still choose the iPad? Absolutely, and they will be considered “elite” schools, just as Mac schools were considered special in the 90s (while Apple was making terrible products). But the reality is that the majority of schools will look at the “96% of what a computer can do at a fraction of the cost” and try to get the biggest bang for the buck. It doesn’t matter to most schools that the 4% that is lost are those things needed/used by music education and other elective classes. If you consider Chromebooks on the SAMR model, I don’t think Chromebooks transform education–they generally enhance education. Typing a paper or collaborating on Google Docs is not a transformative task. Schools that adopt Chromebooks should be willing to admit that they are okay with only reaching 50%-75% of the SAMR Model.

 

With this reality, I think our strategy has to change as music educators. We aren’t going to get developers to spend their time writing Chromebook apps for music education, as schools aren’t spending money on web apps or web services (if you are already penny-pinching in your choice of device, you aren’t going to save money to buy subcriptions to online services), and Chromebooks–as clamshell devices–aren’t going to fit well into our music classrooms.

 

I think the strategy needs to become this: “Since our district saved ___ million dollars by purchasing Chromebooks for students instead of iPads, our elective classes (music, art, etc.) need to request iPads for our use along with the apps and accessories that are available for our discipline out of some of the money that was saved.” You can ask for devices to be used as musical folders, pit orchestra devices, and as a portable MIDI lab for music theory and music technology courses. You can make a case that several carts of iPads with all needed apps is still less expensive than a dedicated MIDI lab. Don’t forget the usefulness of SmartMusic on the iPad, either. With this approach you can “play along” with a Chromebook initiative, yet have the benefits of iPads in your room. If your district has gone (or is going) “all in” with Chromebooks–I would suggest trying this approach. Music education has always been considered an outlier in education (especially by technology departments), and you might find that the decision makers are willing to consider exceptions for music (and other electives).

A Little Bit About the Choral Director Magazine Article

This past September, I was contacted by Choral Director Magazine, who wanted to ask me some questions about integrating technology into the choral rehearsal. I was happy to answer their questions, and at the end of the interview, I was asked to provide a portrait for the cover of the magazine, and to send some pictures of my choirs using technology.

I wasn't expecting that. I had no idea that I was going to be on the cover of a magazine.

I am extremely honored to be featured in the October issue of Choral Director Magazine. I have been trying to be very quiet about it–but it is a tremendous affirmation that some of my recent career choices have been right for me. As Bach would have written…SDG!

A few other things:

  1. One of my processes have changed since the article. I no longer use Google Forms for collecting daily journal questions/writing prompts. Instead, I am using the Showbie App (paid version), which also allows me to include other kinds of tasks as “bell-ringer activities.”
  2. The actual cover photo was taken at Prescott High School, in their technology office (also the home of their video studio, thus the green screen). I had asked Apple if I could use a local Apple Store as the location of the photo, and was denied (I had contacted a VP who I have gotten to know over the years). I then asked a local Best Buy if I could use their store for a photo–and was told I could by a “manager.” The day we took the photo, I called Best Buy to let them know we were coming in–and was told that the “manager” that had granted permission was not a manager, and that Best Buy could not allow anyone to use their store for a photo without corporate permission. So I tried to call corporate headquarters to get quick approval–and all the Best Buy departments ask you to contact their departments through e-mail, and that they will get back to you on their availability. As a result, we had to find a back-up location where I could be pictured around technology–and thanks to Dallas Eggers, the Technology Director of the Prescott School District, we were able to take the picture. Thanks, too, to December Orpen (www.decemberorpenphotography.webs.com) for her flexibility in taking photos and arranging to take the pictures at Prescott High School. Incidentally, I am not shopping at Best Buy any more. Several employees lied to me, imitated being a manager, and then the person that told me the truth did not offer one ounce of compassion or willingness to help me in any way. I am writing a letter to the CEO of Best Buy about the issue. Had I simply been told, “No,” or “Contact Corporate,” originally, there would have been no later crisis.
  3. I purposely chose objects to be featured in the pictures. This included my iPad in its Gripcase, my Maglus Stylus, my AirTurn page turner, my JamStik, my MacBook, and my Akai L25 MIDI Controller. Several other devices could have been featured, but were (or are) still delayed in shipping/production such as the Miselu C.24 (still waiting) and Quicco Sound mi.1 (article to follow). We also scattered some other technology from the room into the photo (Chromebooks, some PCs, some monitor speakers, a video camera, and a light)
  4. I realize that I speak about “kids” a lot in the article, and I was attempting to speak in a very easy-to-understand way, thinking that I was simply providing information for an article; had I known that I was being interviewed for the “feature article,” I would not have been as informal as I was in the interview. Perhaps the more casual result is better.
  5. It would be exciting if the article led to some other opportunities in the future.

If you haven't seen the article, you can read it here.

 

New iPads? Who cares?

Actually, I do.

I am going to be purchasing the iPad Air 2 from T-Mobile, the first time I will have purchased a cellular version of the device.  T-Mobile allows you to finance the device interest free, even without a monthly data plan (which would be $10 for 2.5 GB per month).  My current iPad is the 4th generation iPad, and it is time to upgrade.  Why?

  1. Touch ID.  My new iPhone 6 has the Touch ID feature, and it is wonderful.  I was never a fan of using a passcode on my iPad, as I use it as my primary teaching device.  Believe it or not, when I’m teaching, I want to just “be” on my device and not have to fight a passcode.  Touch ID solves that issue for me (and many other users), and it works.
  2. Faster processor.  Apple’s charts showed that the iPad Air 2 is twice as fast as my 4th Generation iPad.  My rule of thumb–at least with these current devices–is a doubling of speed.  There will be a point (perhaps with the iPad Air 2) where we will no longer see such leaps of speed, but we’re not there yet.
  3. Faster graphics processor.  The iPad Air 2 is something to the effect of 10 times faster than my 4th Generation iPad.  Considering that so many of my music apps are graphics-heavy (PDF music readers, Notion, etc.), this will make a big difference.
  4. Anti-Glare Screen.  If you have ever performed on stage with an iPad, you will know why this is an attractive feature.
  5. More memory.  The top iPad starts at 128GB.  That is what I need.

There are other advances…it is thinner, has faster wi-fi, and a much better camera (which will help when using PhotoScore in NotateMe).

There are some things I didn’t like about the recent Apple announcement.  First, starting any device with 16GB is simply inexcusable these days…iPhone or iPad.  I dislike seeing schools buying the 16GB model.  Second, the fact the iPad Mini’s only advancement was the Touch ID button and the colors.  Last year, I liked that the iPad Mini was the same basic device as the iPad Air, just smaller.  Sure, the iPad Mini 3 will still be a good tablet, but it should have gotten an A8 or A8X processor like the iPhone 6 or iPad Air 2.  Finally, I dislike that Apple has kept the pre-64 bit iPads in the line-up.  All of those devices should have been put to pasture, just as the iPad 2 should have been last year (and then was quietly dismissed during the year).

If you have an iPad Air, you don’t need to update–unless you want to.  If you have the iPad Mini (2) with Retina Display, you don’t need to update–unless you want to.  If you have the iPad 2, 3rd Generation iPad, or 4th Generation iPad, it might be a good time to update.  It might be better to wait for a couple of months when Apple starts selling refurbished units.  If you have an iPad 1, it is time to move up.

The other thing to remember is that you can still get a decent amount of money for your used Apple equipment, even an iPad 1.

A Week with the iPhone 6

We have had our new iPhones over a week now. For the record, my wife and I moved from the iPhone 5, and my in-laws moved from the iPhone 5c. We're a few days away from AT&T's ETF fees, which will then be passed on to T-Mobile to reimburse; and our old phones have been sent to T-Mobile as a trade-in. Yes, you can sell your phone yourself, but we expected to only get $250 at best for our old iPhone 5 models, and my in-law's iPhone 5c models were still locked under contract. Easier just to trade them all in for just a few dollars less (this is the truth).

T-Mobile has offered decent coverage; yes, blazing fast LTE is limited to the metro area (my iPhone recorded a speed test of over 35 Mbps while on LTE in the Twin Cities area, which is faster than my 24 Mbps router at home, or the 11 Mbps LTE coverage near our house). Otherwise, we seem to have cell coverage–and no coverage–in the same areas that we experience with AT&T. But when you have that T-Mobile LTE…it is INCREDIBLY faster than AT&T (which incidentally scored 5 Mbps just a day before we moved to T-Mobile).

As for the devices, they are simply the nicest phones we have ever owned. I like the curved edges; I love Touch ID; Siri is much improved in iOS 8 (I find myself composing many e-mails through Siri); The larger screen of the iPhone 6 is practically bigger, not “terribly” bigger (we aren't 6 Plus people); The camera is great; and battery life is better than our iPhone 5 models. I have no issues with the new location of the power switch, and wi-fi calling has been fantastic (working in a school where there are places without cell service, but ubiqutious wi-fi). I know a lot of people were excited for the ability to use custom keyboards with iOS 8, but I don't have a single non-stock keyboard installed.

Even iOS 8 seems to work better on my iPhone 6 than on my iPad (4th Generation). This is iPad replacement year for me (supposedly, new models are going to be introduced on October 16), so that doesn't bother me too much, but I do hope that Apple irons out the bugs in iOS 8 soon for the sake of our 1:1 which is populated with all 4th Generation iPads.

Should YOU buy an iPhone 6? Well, if you are an iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad person, and you are up for a new phone, absolutely. If you have no allegiance, then (insert shocked sound), I don't think you can go wrong with any of the top-of-the-line Android phone, either. Here's the deal: you will find that you use your phone for specific tasks. This includes (for us) calls, FaceTime, texting, e-mail, social media (Twitter, Facebook), taking pictures, taking videos, and some games. In truth, Android does these things just as well as Apple's iOS. Two things start to influence you: the amount of money you have invested in the platform (e.g. apps, games, and accessories), and your familiarity with the operating system. The average user isn't going to be spending a lot of time messing around with individual settings on the iPhone or an Android device. So when it comes to phones, buy what makes you happy. I truly believe that.

But for our family, the iPhone 6 represents yet another layer of refinement and reliability from a device that was already a part of our lives. We're pretty happy with our purchase and our move to T-Mobile, even though it took us a week longer to get our devices than originally planned. We will hold on to our devices for two years and plan to look forward to our next iPhone purchase–the iPhone 7 (2016).

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