Category Archives: General Musings

General Musings

SAMR, RAT…how do you actually integrate technology into the music classroom?

I am preparing for my “Technology in Music Education” workshop on Monday and Tuesday, and I am also going through old Feedly “saved” items.

One of the questions I am often asked is, “This is great, but how do you integrate this technology into music education?”  The answer isn’t hard, and it isn’t a sarcastic answer: you do it.

If you have one iPad (your own), you mirror the iPad and you teach from your iPad.  You use apps to SUBSTITUTE or REPLACE things you previously did without technology (e.g. sheet music, audio player, etc.) as well as to AUGMENT what you use to do.  Basically, you are simply ENHANCING your curriculum.  You don’t start trying to TRANSFORM, MODIFY, or REDEFINE what you are doing right off the bat, because you want to make sure that you are using the technology.  As you SUBSTITUTE and REPLACE, you will learn new techniques and you will take new risks.

These are all edu-speak terms that follow the SAMR and RAT models of technology integration.

Additionally, as you integrate technology, expect things to not work from time to time.  Your Windows Notebook, MacBook, or Chromebook may crash.  The wi-fi might go down.  There might be an app update that accidentally breaks the functionality of your app.  Google might, overnight, completely rewrite or replace a service.  This stuff happens all the time.

So as you teach with technology, you always have to have a backup plan in mind, even if you never use it.  And you know what, this isn’t any different than life before technology in your classroom.  You didn’t know if you would have a day where you lost your voice, something major interrupted the school day, or a grade level or class took a trip without reminding the entire staff.

Over the last twenty-four hours, I have seen two videos that exemplify using technology in music education.  The first is a video from my friend Paul Shimmons (who blogs at iPads and Technology in Music Education) which shows a first grade class using the iPad App Flashnote Derby to strengthen their note reading ability.  This is a model of a one-iPad implementation that is an example of Augmentation.  Note how one student is at the iPad, and the rest of the class in 100% engaged in the process.  Flashnote Derby is still a great app, and this could be done with a number of any other apps including StaffWars, which came out this year on the iPad.

The second video was tweeted yesterday by Steven Struhar, the Product Manager of SmartMusic with MakeMusic.  This is a twenty minute video by Dave Faires, the band director of the Willowcreek Middle School Band program in Lehi, Utah.  In this video, Mr. Faires discusses the various apps that they use in their band program.  This includes SmartMusic, TonalEnergy Tuner, Tenuto, Read Rhythm, Sight Reading Machine, iReal Pro, Vic Firth, and forScore (and a few other apps).  At the end of the video, Mr. Faires makes a joke about people lasting through the whole video–but if you are interested in integrating technology in your music program, this video is invaluable as it shows how one director is doing things–again, mainly with levels of SUBSTITUTION, REPLACEMENT, and AUGMENTATION on the SAMR and RAT models.  If you are interested, I wrote a similar post about how students used (free) apps in my middle school choir program this past year.

So again, technology integration isn’t a scary thing, and you just need to move forward and start with SUBSTITUTION and REPLACEMENT.  Set a goal, and go meet it. Expect bumps along the way.  Failure isn’t fatal in this arena, even if it can be annoying…but as we have been told, FAIL=”First Attempt In Learning.”

The Chromebook vs. iPad Debate

Tim Holt is the director of technology for the El Paso school district.  I have been aware of his work for some time as he was one of the first people to show how to make an iPad document camera out of standard school chemistry equipment (you can now buy a fabricated stand or make one out of PVC).  On the 18th, one of Tim’s blog columns was posted on EdSurge, and since that time, I have seen the article posted a number of times on Twitter.  The EdSurge article can be seen here:

Let me make this clear: I, for the most part, agree with Mr. Holt.  I support iPads for music education because they are the one device we can actually fit into our work flow.  If you are familiar with Rueben Puentedura’s SAMR model of technology integration, tech integration begins with Substitution.  Chromebooks (and other clamshell devices) do not fit into our music classooms (no desks!).  That means that if you are a Chromebook school, your music teacher has to jump to levels of M and R (modification and redefinition) to use that technology in their classroom.  That’s terribly unfair, as much of the “core” can “substitute” and show tech integration in their classrooms.  Many of the “elective areas” have the same SAMR problem when it comes to clamshell devices.

That said, the Chromebook isn’t a bad device.  There are a number of different Chromebook devices, and only two models of iPad with different levels of onboard memory).  The iPad itself is probably a better device than half of the Chromebooks on the market, but there are a number of top-of-the-line Chromebooks with hardware on par with the iPad.  Schools buy the inexpensive models of Chromebook, and do not purchase the top of the line models.  My own Chromebook is the common Samsung 303 model, and I am using a Chromebook to type this article (I figured this was the right thing to do when blogging about the Chromebook).

When you need  a keyboard, a physical keyboard is always going to be better than a virtual keyboard–particularly if you learned how to type on a physical keyboard.  That said, some research is showing that students can type faster on an iPad than on a physical keyboard.  I’m not surprised by this–they are accustomed to doing so.  We continue to say that keyboarding skills are important, yet most schools have removed keyboarding as a class!  In our 1:1, we offer keyboards for checkout in the media center.  They were basically left untouched last year.

The Chromebook is better at all the Google “stuff” than an iPad.  If you want to use collaboration in Google Docs, or just Google Docs,  Chrome, or Chrome Web Apps and Plug-Ins, the Chromebook is going to offer a better experience than an iPad.  I still have major issues with educational workflow and Google Docs (or Google Drive).  Perhaps Google Classroom, Google’s new classroom learning system to be released this fall, will solve many of those workflow issues.  I always expect the entire Google experience to be better on a Chromebook than an iPad–they should, as Google controls the OS, the Web-based apps, and many aspects of the hardware.  As much as Google has improved their iPad offerings over the last year, I don’t see this changing very much in the future.  If you are a GAFE school (Google Apps for Education), and you primarily use GAFE tools, the Chromebook MAY make more sense for your school.

There are some new(er) music tools that are available on the Chromebook, such as VexTab in Google Docs, NeoScores (coming out of Beta soon), and of course, Noteflight (not new!).  All of these products, however, mean a departure from the traditional performance/rehearsal based music programs at the secondary level of education in the United States…and where do you put the Chromebooks as you work on them?

The educational technology divide has become Chromebook vs. iPad, much like Apple vs. Windows of the past.   As a pro-iPad person, I have found that some pro-Chromebook educators and tech directors become very territorial and angry in their defense of the Chromebook.  I would imagine that there are iPad people who do the same; but I haven’t met them (perhaps because I am in their camp?  See my last post as an example of some anti-iPad/Apple abuse I was given on Twitter).

I don’t use my Chromebook, Windows 8.1 Tablet, or HP Touchpad running Android very often.  On a similar note, I don’t fire up my Mac very often, unless I have work to do in Finale and PhotoScore.  Nearly all of my work is done on my iPad or iPhone.  I fired up my Chromebook just to write this post; and in typical fashion, it crashed twice as I wrote!  I don’t think my Chromebook’s issues (yes, it has been restored) are common to all Chromebooks.  But I know my Chromebook crashes more often than any other device that I own.

For music education, Chromebooks may become a viable option when  the new(er) touch-screen Chromebooks take the leap to a full-tablet mode (sort of like my Asus Windows 8.1 Transformer–detach the keyboard and it becomes a tablet).  When you get a Chromebook that is a tablet, it can fit into your music classroom,  and it potentially can  match the iPad in functionality.  Until then, I will continue to advocate for iPads in music education.  I don’t know if Google will allow this, as they already have a platform for tablets–Android.  For the most part, Android has not made much of a dent in the educational market.  It is pretty clear at this point that the competition is Chromebook vs. iPad for 1:1 distributions in schools. For that reason, if I were a developer, I would be making apps for the iPad and WebApps for the Chromebook, particularly if I was selling a subscription-based software package.

The ability to run advanced software becomes an issue for the Chromebook.   If your entire philosophy is to provide a computer that can do 90% of what a computer can do, with a fraction of the RAM and relying on web-based apps, there will be a point where developers want to write software/apps that can run on your device, but your device doesn’t have the power to support those apps.  But you can’t make a more expensive “base unit” that schools will purchase, because you would quickly run into the price range of an iPad.  And when your price matches an iPad, which will you choose?  The whole idea of Chromebook was, “Cheap, easy to manage, web-based, low quality parts.”   Do you see a Chromebook running Finale, Sibelius, or even MuseScore?  I don’t–the platform isn’t made to handle that kind of computing.

There are a number of pro-Chromebook IT directors who state that iPads require more tech upkeep than Chromebooks.  This was true in the past, but new developments from Apple (during this year of the LAUSD iPad debacle) have made it very easy for schools to register devices and to distribute them via a MDM, such as Casper.  In fact, with the new DEP (Device Enrollment Program), it might be just as easy to manage iPads as it is to manage Chromebooks.

The other thing to consider is Chromebook repairs.  iPad repairs are costly…It cost me $149 to replace my iPad’s retina screen this past May.  Chromebook repairs are just as costly; it may be cheaper to replace a Chromebook than to replace its screen.  If that is the case, how much of your Chromebook is recyclable?    And what is the mentality of a throw-away technology tool?

I think Mr. Holt’s opinion piece is going to generate a lot of discussion, and there will be a lot of unhappy Chromebook advocates because of the article.  Let me again make my stance clear: I am not anti-Chromebook (in education or in life), but as products stand right now, I am anti-Chromebook in music education.  That could change with new forms of Chromebooks, and I look forward to the day those are offered!

Trains and Motorcycles, Oh My!

Last week, I had the opportunity to take an Amtrack train from St. Paul (Minnesota) to Pasco Washington. My father-in-law was purchasing a motorcycle from his daughter, and I volunteered to go out and ride the motorcycle back to the Twin Cities.

The Amtrack ride was about 36 hours, and was unfortunately about four hours late. As a result, we went through Glacier National Park in the dark–something I wanted to see from the train (I have ridden through Glacier on my motorcycle in the past). I was housed in an extremely smelly coach car–none of the other cars were stinky–so I spent as much time out of the car (in the observation car, mostly) as I could. Train travel hasn’t changed very much through the years–it takes time, cell coverage is better but not rock solid, and you meet all kinds of interesting people.

The ride back from Pasco was intense. I was originally going to spend some time looking at things, but it turns out that the motorcycle–a 1992 Suzuki Intruder 1400–just wasn’t comfortable. It has an extremely low seat height, so when I sit on the bike (and I’m 5′ 10″ tall) my knees are nearly at 90º and flat-footed on the ground. Additionally, the bike only had a small windshield–exposing most of me to the elements. My goal was to simply get back to the Twin Cities as quickly as possible. Thursday featured a leisurely ride to Missoula, Montana (about 330 miles), Friday I dodged rain showers in the mountains and managed to make it to Gillete, Wyoming (about 525 miles). Saturday, going through some of my favorite places in the United States (the Black Hills of South Dakota), I was riding in heavy rain and cold temperatures. My rain gear, about 10 years old, completely failed me and I was soaked through. I had to stop along the way and buy new (warm) clothes for the ride when the rain let up. After a cold, wet morning, I caught up to the weather front in Wall, South Dakota, and then faced brutal side winds (from my left) until Mitchell, South Dakota. At Mitchell, the skies cleared and the winds calmed, and I had a wonderful ride to the Minnesota border. In Minnesota, I caught up with the next storm system, and faced brutal winds from my right, making it all the way to the Twin Cities before the heavens opened up again, where I rode in the dark, pouring rain, basically swimming all the way home for the last fifteen miles. By the time Saturday was done, I had ridden in five varied riding conditions, covering just over 735 miles that day.

I learned a number of things on this trip, and believe it or not, there are connections to technology.

  1. You need to choose the right machine. My 2000 Victory V92C is a bike that I chose, that fits me. It offers unlimited seating positions, and the handlebars are custom bars that I chose. Although I would argue that the Suzuki Intruder 1400 might be a better “runner” than my own motorcycle (the Suzuki only has four speeds, but really drove well at 75 mph), the Victory is just a better fit for me. Likewise, if you are using technology, it is important to choose the technology that fits you.
  2. I am an iPad apologist. I think the iPad is the best device for music education. If you are reading my blogs or interacting with me on Twitter, you have to be okay with that. It is hard when you come across people that aren’t okay with that. I don’t like conflict, I don’t like making people angry, and really am one of the most easy going people (professionally, at least–we’re all a bit different with our families) that you will ever meet. Here’s a story where my pro-iPad stance blew up:
  3. I recently had an exchange on Twitter where a Pro-Google and Chromebook person blew up at me. He was complaining about his iPhone, and I suggested that I haven’t had any problems since iOS 7.1. I reminded him that he had helped me through problems I had been experiencing with my Chromebook, and he tweeted (tweets connected), “I’m sorry I talked about your precious Apple. Logical fallacies are a sign of weakness and desperation. Your continued fight to prove Apple over Google is painful to watch. It wasn’t even about that, but you so can’t help yourself. Have fun and enjoy what you love. I really don’t care. My phone sucks right now. It happens to be an Apple phone. Sorry. You troll to protect and go after anything negative with a redirect back to Google. #tiring. I never claimed either perfect.” I wasn’t trying to attack him or Google…and it is important to note that this is a tech director for a Chromebook 1:1/GAFE school district. I did not block him, but I stopped following him, because clearly, he isn’t interested in conversation or even discussing different strategies–and whatever I respond to clearly makes him angry. Almost all of his tweets are about how great Google is, or Chicago Sports (nothing wrong about either, by the way. I just mention this because we ALL write about what matters to us). I suggested that we meet to have lunch someday so that he could learn who I really am…his response? “mabye” Since that time, that person replaced their iPhone, and I expect and hope they are happy!
  4. Don’t be dissuaded from using Twitter based on that experience. The only other person that I have had such a negative experience with on Twitter was Sean Junkins, a respected ADE and education blogger/tweeter. Some of his tweets (and posters that he creates) oversimplify issues and some statements would hurt the feelings/motivations of non-technologists (e.g. “If you don’t begin integrating, then get retiring”). He also has some specific techniques on Twitter: if you unfollow him, he tweets about you and what a great person you are. This guilts you into re-following him. After I blogged about my thoughts, he blocked me on Twitter. I had favorited a few of his tweets in the past, and because he blocked me, I cannot even “unfavorite” those Tweets! Don’t get me wrong…I have been told that he is a great guy–and I have no reason to not believe that. I was using his work as an example that you won’t agree with everyone on Twitter, and that you can always unfollow them. Clearly my thoughts rubbed him the wrong way enough that he blocked me, and I feel bad about that.
  5. Simply selling one point of view is not my goal with technology, and in fact, I work hard to support people with every type of technology roll out. I’m convinced that the iPad is the best tool for music education, and that most of the other platforms just don’t fit our subject very well (Android is improving, but there is no growth in educational adoption of Android…it is all iPad or Chromebook for the most part). And I have gone through my own technology journey, and as such, I realize that something better than the iPad may eventually come along. That is why I follow people who support all kinds of technology–that way, I can see what is out there beyond my own experience, broadening my own knowledge and expectations for technology.
  6. So…back to the original motorcycle story…choose the bike that fits you and your purposes. That $100,000 custom OCC chopper isn’t a cross-country bike. That Goldwing probably isn’t going to impress your buddies or make you “hip.” So…choose your technology as well…iPad, Chromebook, Android, Mac, Windows, Linux, whatever. If you can use it and use it effectively, that’s what it is all about.
  7. The failure of my rain gear reinforced my belief in the need for good accessories. A good accessory can help you adapt for various conditions that your motorcycle was probably not intended for. A good rain suit can make the difference between riding in true discomfort or just under the annoyance of weather. There’s a difference. Boot and glove over-covers can also be a help. Bluetooth helmets can provide audio on your trip (if your bike doesn’t have a stereo–most don’t). A cup holder can keep hydration at hand. An Airhawk seat cushion can save your butt (literally) on a long journey. Crash bars can save your bike in a crash, as well as serve as a mounting point for highway pegs. There are various kinds of bags–leather and fiberglass–that can help you haul items safe and dry!
  8. In a similar way, the accessories you buy for your technology can impact your use of that device. A good case can help keep your device safe from drops (falling) or even water damage! A stylus can change how you use the device (based on the apps you use). Apps themselves can change the very functionality of your device. I am looking forward to the JamStik (guitar device) and C.24 (keyboard case), both which have the potential to change how I will use my iPad, just as my Zagg case (I no longer use the case, but just the keyboard when I have to do a lot of typing, such as this post) changes how functional my iPad can be. Many of these items–cases, keyboards, and styluses are available for many platforms (not just iPad). Make sure to customize “your ride” with the accessories that will make your device a better fit for you. You might find yourself using that device for more than you ever thought you would!

At any rate, those are my thoughts, post-motorcycle journey. I would definitely take the trip again–but hopefully on my own bike, with some new rain gear. I don’t know what the rest of the summer holds–I am still working in my basement (hanging drywall in the main part) and I have a few presentations this summer. I will certainly continue to blog as there are developments in the tech world that impact music education, and as other odd thoughts pop into my head! Enjoy the summer!

A Comprehensive Music Education Program

Six years ago, I chose to bid from my current high school position in our district to a brand new high school that we were building. Included in that position that was being a part of a year-long planning team before the school opened. During that year, we taught at our existing school but also met frequently to be involved in every aspect of the new school–and ultimately, I had a large part in defining the entire music program at that school (I also had a band colleague in this process).

Although it may have been my driving opinion, we felt that a modern high school should not simply offer band, choir, and orchestra. As a result, we created a program with the following elements:

  • Traditional Bands, three levels, ability based
  • Traditional Choirs (five), two gender-based “beginner” choirs, and then three abiltity based mixed choirs
  • Guitar, three levels
  • Beginning Music Theory
  • AP Music Theory (music theory level 2)
  • Music in History and World Cultures
  • In my last year, we managed to put a Music Technology course on the program of studies, although the course did not have enough enrollment to run (see below). I became convinced that music technology was a needed (an interesting) element to add to the curriculum.
  • We also wanted to consider adding courses such as Jazz Band, Show Choir, and Drum Line.

We built the music program with the idea of, “Build it and they will come.” Even if the courses did not run, they were on the books and could run when they needed to run.


Over the first four years of the school, we ran a number of these classes; typically two bands, three choirs, occasional classes in music theory, and regular courses at Guitar level 1, and the occasional level 2.


We had a MIDI lab installed when we opened the school, a seventeen seat lab with a computer, MIDI keyboard, microphone, Finale (2010), and other free software (e.g. Audacity). The plan was to use this lab in conjunction with our Music Theory courses.


Ultimately FTE ratios became a challenge. In music courses, the minimum cap number of 25 was usually enforced. Any music teacher will tell you that FTE is a deceptive number. There are always courses where FTE is allowed to dip “below” that magic number of 25, and if the district ratio is at 32.5 (as our is), no one is ever concerned if music or physical educaton teachers have a FTE ratio far above that ratio. Counselors I talked to considered these courses “black holes” where you could place students and lower the FTE for other teachers. Ultimately, if your program is a “favored” program of your administration, the administration runs those courses regardless of FTE. As we opened the school, both the Band and Choir were below the “actual” FTE requirements, partially because we opened under the last year of a four-period day where students were strongly encouraged to take two years of math and two years of foreign language in one year while they still could. Choir began with 35 students and band with 105; by the end of my four years there, choir was at 156 and Band at 88 (there was additional growth for next year). I don't want to make the case that we were overloaded with students, but I do want to point out that an additional class or two could have been added, only further justifying our FTE. One year I taught (under the four period day) three choirs and another course (music theory or guitar). But that only happened in one year (year 2, I believe).


Logically, courses such as Music Theory are intended as a place for your most gifted musicians who want to prepare for college (I also found that a number of guitar players not in traditional band/choir/orchestra would take music theory to learn how to write music). We will run an AP course of 15 students for a high level science or math course for students wanting to pursue those fields in college–but doing so in music was a hard thing for our administration to justify.


Furthermore, it became clear that the MIDI Lab was a poor investment; the MIDI Lab only had 17 work stations, and if you needed a class of 25 to run a course, what do 8 students do while the others work on the computers?


As I have written about in the past, I left that school last year, and have taught this year at a middle school in our district which is 1:1. I will be writing about those experiences in the weeks to come. Yesterday I was visting with another teacher in our district, and wondered if my former schools was going to be offering any of the comprehensive music courses we created. I looked at the district program of studies, and all of our “comprehensive” courses no longer exist at that school.


To be clear: the program of studies is impacted by the staff at each school, and they have input on what courses are offered. It is possible that the new teachers had no interest in offering those courses. Many music teachers consider themselves specialists: “I only teach ______.” Many teachers do not even want to consider teaching theory, history, guitar, or music technology as a separate course. I understand that point of view, but one of the things I have learned in my educational path is that schools need to offer more than band/choir/orchestra. You might disagree, or you might not feel equipped to teach such classes. But the end result is that you CAN teach those classes. You are a music educator–you are first and foremost a generalist, a common practitioner, and a specialist in your field second to that. If FTE is a factor in your teaching position, why wouldn't you want the FTE from guitar or music theory to keep you at 1.0? Sometimes we are afraid that we will lose kids from traditional band/choir/orchestra if we offer other courses such as “guitar.” You might lose some kids to those classes, and you can take steps to protect yourself (don't make guitar meet an Arts credit–making the course a true elective, only offer it to upper classmen, etc.). But generally, my thought has become: if a kid is in music, taught by a music teacher, they are still in music. MENC (now NAfME) used to say, “Music for every child, every child for music.” When 80% (or more) of high school students aren't in music when band/choir/orchestra are the only options, we're missing a lot of kids, and there is huge potential for growth.


Again, I don't know if the new teachers simply didn't want to teach those courses (which didn't always run), but the removal of those courses from the offiicial “program of studies” also shows that the administration of that school did not share the same vision for a comprehensive program in music education. Otherwise, you could simply leave the courses in the program of studies but simply not run those courses. So it is yet a further validation that my decision to move (first and foremost for my family and to work in a 1:1 situation) was the right move.


Let me be clear: I am in total support of band, choir, and orchestra in our schools. I love classical music, and I think those programs are relevant for today; I am not sure that our students (or their parents) always agree with us. So, keep offering those traditional music courses, but also consider offering non-traditional courses for that other 80%. But: would you be willing to teach a theory course, or a guitar course?


iPad Buzzword: App Smashing

One of the big “buzzwords” in iPad assisted education is “App Smashing.” If this term causes you angst, do not allow it to do so. The definition of “App Smashing” is taking the product from one app, using it in another, and perhaps using the product of the two apps in a third app.

Put another way, “App Smashing” is what iPad users do all the time–particularly music educators.

Let me give you several examples:

Scenario 1:

  1. A teacher uses NotateMe to write out a melodic line, and then exports the MusicXML file to Notion.
  2. In Notion, the teacher takes advantage of Notion's music notation, taking a screen shot of the results and exporting the audio.
  3. The teacher takes the audio into iMovie and creates a blank movie, with only the audio file (audio remains a particularly tricky issue on the iPad). That movie is exported to the Camera Roll.
  4. In Keynote, the teacher embeds the screen capture from Notion, along with a movie (with opacity set to 0) to play the example on a Keynote slide for their class.

In this case, four different apps are used to create one Keynote slide, “smashing” NotateMe, Notion, iMovie, and Keynote.


Scenario #2:


  1. A teacher enters a song into Notion with the intent of generating an accompaniment file. That song gets exported to Dropbox.
  2. The teacher uses Dropbox to open the song into forScore.
  3. The teacher links the song to the actual score, and then uses the resulting accompaniment track in their rehearsals.
In this case, three apps are used to create an accompaniment for a PDF in forScore, “smashing” Notion, Dropbox, and forScore.

If you use your iPad for anything other than watching movies, surfing the web, and checking e-mail, you likely already “App Smash” as much as anyone else.


In music education, App Smashing isn't a new concept: we are used to having to use any number of computer programs to create resources for our classrooms, whether we are given Windows PCs, MacBooks, SMART Boards, or Chromebooks. App Smashing is simply a way of life, particularly when no software program or app can do all that we need to do!


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