Awareness

Tonight I’d like to share a bit about my personal life that may be of assistance to you in your life, or in your life as a teacher.

Throughout my career, I have made a point to listen to, watch, and read the things that my students were talking about. As a high school teacher, this was a bit easier, as the topics skew towards (if not are) adult topics. Now that I teach middle school (five years already), the divide is greater.

Twenty-two years into my career, things are different as I have kids of my own–a step son who graduates from high school in three weeks, as well as a ten year old and a six year old.

The most popular game on the market right now is a game called Fortnite, which originally was a blend of Minecraft and Call of Duty. The most recent versions of Fortnite feature a battle royale where 100 players are dropped into a terrain and the goal is to be the last player standing. The game is cartoonish, and there is no blood or gore–but the goal is to use realistic weapons to kill people–and players celebrate things like headshots.

Everyone is playing this game. I just read about David Price (a pitcher with the Red Sox) who caused a bit of backlash by playing the game in the clubhouse (perhaps instead of doing things he should have been doing as a pitcher). Everyone that I know who plays the game (including many of my middle school students) says that it is addictive and that it isn’t long before you let other things go while you continue playing “one more round.”

As you can imagine–younger kids want to play the game, too. It is rated 13+, but many parents will simply let their younger kids play. As a result, all of my ten year old’s friends are playing Fortnite, and we won’t let him play it. Simply put, he is furious with us.

We make our own choices when it comes to following ratings, but we will read various sources, such as Common Sense Media and PluggedIn to help us know more about the games and shows our kids watch. We had to take YouTube and even Safari off of our kid’s iPads because they were finding them watching videos that simply left the realm of what kids should be watching. Our kids weren’t purposely seeking out those videos–but autoplay is a terrifying feature. Instead, both of our younger boys have YouTube Kids as an app on their devices, and even that app cannot guarantee that videos don’t contain things they shouldn’t be watching.

Other than the clear addictive nature of Fortnite, the other concern I have is about the game is the game’s celebration of gun violence at the same time that high school students are protesting for gun control and demanding changes in gun laws. Jay Feely, a former punter, posted a picture of his daughter and her boyfriend going to prom with Jay holding a gun–using that old image of a father cleaning his guns or showing off his guns to a young man wanting to date his daughter. Jay Feely was openly destroyed on social media for the post–yet we’re happy to put 100 players at a time into a virtual world to try to kill each other with guns, and that’s okay? I don’t think playing Fortnite will make you into a mass murderer–but can we at least be honest about the conflict between the game and the real world right now?

To parents, my message is simply this: please parent. I’m not going to tell you how to parent…that’s up to you. But don’t be afraid to impose restrictions on what your children can do, what they can listen to, and what they can watch. You can modify those restrictions as your kids get older, and you can have honest conversations about things throughout the process. You don’t get a lot of logic from a furious ten year old when you have just told them they cannot play Fortnite–but the restrictions will lead to many good conversations down the road.

And to teachers, try to be aware of the cultural trends both in terms of the overall culture, as well as in the sub culture of the students that you teach. If you know that students are playing Fortnite every waking minute on their phones, you can better understand why they may not practice, do their work, show up for a concert, or even care about school. And it isn’t “just” Fortnite…it will be some other game in a short while, or it will be any of the other major challenges that our culture will face in the months and years to come. I’m not saying that you have to change anything…but awareness is certainly the starting point of the process–whatever “the process” is.

And I’ll be honest…in my 40’s it is much harder to relate to the trends of the “pop culture” than it was when I was in my 20s. I’m not asking you to act younger than your age, or to try to be someone you are not (which always ends in disaster in some way). Just be aware of what your kids or what your students are interested in, get informed about those things, and take action of some kind if necessary.

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JamStik 7 and 12 Indiegogo Campaign Now Live

I have been a supporter of Zivix products for a long time. Zivix brought the JamStik (wi-fi), Puc (wi-fi), JamStik+ (pickup and Bluetooth MIDI) and Puc+ (Bluetooth MIDI) and AirJamz to market–using crowdfunding a good percentage of the time.

Each generation of Zivix’s devices have addressed customer suggestions and concerns, and have incorporated newer technologies. The company has continued to improve its software and has expanded to Android applications as well. Examples of continuing improvement was their early adoption of Bluetooth MIDI and the addition of a pickup in the JamStik+.

The existing JamStik is a five-fret wireless Bluetooth MIDI device, using real metal strings in a portable format. New players can use the JamStik with the JamTutor app to learn to play the guitar while existing guitar players can use the JamStik as a way to interact with digital audio workstations and notation software. The newest JamStik models will use new “FretTouch Finger Sensing Technology” and “Infrasense Optical String Pickups.” I am excited to see how this new technology works. Seeing as the previous models worked very well–I know the 7 fret and 12 fret models of the JamStik will be an improvement.

This is also the first new Bluetooth MIDI device I have seen on the market for some time. Bluetooth MIDI is wonderful–and I simply believe that most music educators (and musicians) simply do not know it exists!

As a bonus, Zivix is a “local” company for me, located near Minneapolis, Minnesota.

When I started following Zivix, I was teaching high school guitar classes. Since that time, I moved to the middle school level and have introduced the ukulele to my middle school students. Admittedly, I play ukulele a lot, and I simply do not play guitar very often (this is quite common). I do bring the JamStik with me to conventions and professional development sessions to show to others.

Beyond Zivix’s own focus to help people learn music through their products, I have used JamStiks in an educational setting. I have done so in both a 1:1 setting with a small class of difficult students and have also used the JamStik as an instructional tool in a guitar classroom. The JamStik is far easier to carry around a classroom than a full sized guitar or even a backpacker guitar (which I purchased to use in the classroom before the JamStik came out)–and your finger position on the JamStik can be shown to the whole classroom via the JamStik+ app. I would not want to teach a guitar class without a JamStik–and if you teach guitar in a school–I can’t recommend it highly enough–either for your use or for 1:1 situations where a student would learn better through a digital experience or through additional enrichment.

Earlier this year, Zivix announced a new 7 and 12 fret model of the JamStik+. The biggest complaint I have heard about the JamStik from guitar players in the past is that the existing JamStik only has five frets. These new devices solve that issue–although many guitars have 20 to 22 frets. I’m sure that “Pro” players will lament the lack of 8 to 10 frets from a regular guitar…but let’s be honest…most casual players will never leave the five frets of the original Jamstik.

I’m excited for the new JamStik models–not only will they have more frets, but they will be packed with new technology–and I am told that the plastic body will be made in Minnesota. Imported items are fine…but if an American company can keep production elements in the USA, that is nice, too.

I also keep dreaming of a ukulele version of the JamStik–and the 12 fret JamStik makes this a possibility as many soprano ukuleles only have 12 frets (however–the cost of a ukulele Jamstik might be too prohibitive when a travel ukulele like the Flight TUS 35 sell for $60 or less).

As the Indiegogo campaign is underway, you can purchase one of the new JamStiks at a reduced cost from what they will sell for later. And unlike many crowdfunded projects, Zivix has already seen several crowd funding projects from start to finish. As of this post, the project has already received 149% of its required funding–so you know you will receive yours–and Zivix has always delivered. The JamStik 7 will ship in August and the JamStik 12 will ship in Q1 2019.

Interested? Join the Indiegogo campaign!

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/jamstik-7-jamstik-12-modern-midi-smart-guitars-iphone-bluetooth#/


Apple Education Event, March 27, 2018

Earlier this morning, Apple held an education event, where it offered some new solutions for education.  I’ll be visiting with Robby Burns in the near future on his podcast about the education event, but I wanted to cover some highlights and offer some initial reactions.  I work in a 1:1 iPad environment and have done so for five years.  I have “hands on” experience with teaching and iPads.

First, Google Chome has been kicking the hind end of the competition—including Apple—as it comes to education.  School districts are simply too tempted by low cost devices that have a keyboard and offer free services/apps/storage.  If you are a music educator, you are fully aware that you need more tools than the Google Suite, and that those services (rightfully) charge a key.  There is also a very good chance that your school district isn’t budgeting any extra money for you to have those services.   We’re also actively ignoring Google’s willingness to sell data to provide those low cost services. As reported widely today, Chrome represents 60% of the education business in the United States right now, and Apple only 11%.  Just yesterday, Google announced a Chrome-based Tablet, set to compete with the iPad for $329.  It will be interesting to see if these devices become “accepted” in Chromebook schools—proving that the choice of Chrome devices over Apple devices isn’t really form factor, it is an anti-Apple bias, which still exists.

Second, what was really announced today?  As I wasn’t there (I would have loved to have been there, and as I’m on Spring Break, I could have made that happen), here’s the list as I know it:

  • A new 9.7” iPad that is faster and works with the Apple Pencil for the previous price point of $329 for end users and $299 for schools.
  • Apple Pencils will sell for $89 to education
  • There are new cases, including a good looking Logitech armored keyboard case for $99
  • iWork has been reworked to allow for annotations.  This is cool in Pages—but will be positively AWESOME in Keynote.  I’ve used PowerPoint and I have used Google Sheets, but I find Keynote to be the best tool for what I do.  I have always said that Keynote is a program that acts as if PowerPoint and SMART Notebook had a baby.  At this point, I would rather work on a mirrored iPad in KeyNote than on SMART Notebook on a SMART Board.  My school recently decided against getting SMART Boards in every room in our new school—a decision that will pay for itself with this announcement.  SMART activities are great, but many have been messed up on the Mac platform for years with Flash anyway.
  • Apple Classroom will now work on MacBooks, too (a major request)
  • It appears that iBooks Author is somehow integrated to Pages on iPad, allowing you to finally create iBooks content on the iPad (This has kept me from updating my own iBooks, to be honest).
  • There is a new homework hub that will integrate with education apps, allowing teachers to assign work and track completion.
  • And school assigned accounts now get 200GB of free storage per account.  That is a nice change.

Third, it is unclear how some existing services will decide to work with Apple.  Can Schoology tap into the new homework hub?  I think Apple has made a poor decision in not acquiring JAMF, which is what most schools use for Mass Device Management (MDM).  MDM should also be free for schools, provided by Apple.  You want the market?  Eliminate the extra costs to run Apple products in schools. I also did not see Apple address the problem of in-app purchases for school apps (there is currently no way for a school to pay these costs).  Apple also didn’t solve the situation where students can stop management simply by going to Airplane Mode or restarting their device (Yes, kids do this—all the time).

Finally, I wish we could be honest and admit that part of the problem is that Google refuses to provide their own suite on iOS with the same functionality it offers on its own platform.  I am very aware of this as I work with Google Slides.  I have to work on a computer in Chrome or on a Chromebook to have full functionality, whereas even working in Chrome on an iPad isn’t enough.  There is a “nod” to provide basic functionality—but if you really want to work, you need to move to another device.  That is a purposeful choice by Google, and if Apple did such a thing, they would be mocked for it by the press (you can run most Apple iWork apps through iCloud.com, by the way).

All in all, the biggest changes in my life due to today’s announcement will be the ability to write and draw in Keynote and the ability to create an iBook on the iPad.  I don’t see schools buying Apple Pencils for students, but I can see some students opting to buy them (what happens when they are stolen or broken, I do not know).  It sounds as if Logitech is making an Apple Pencil device for education—I need to read more about it.  Perhaps this opens the door for 3rd party Apple Pencil devices?  That wouldn’t be so bad.

We are also going to have to update my own children’s 4th Generation iPad Minis, as those devices are getting dated (and are in rough shape).  As a parent, I can see myself buying a 9.7” iPad in the place of those iPad Minis, with a keyboard case from Logitech and a Logitech “pencil.”  I could also see buying the new iPad for my parents (my mom has the previous generation 9.7” iPad).  I just wish Apple would start those devices at 128GB these days.

I don’t know if this is enough for Apple to “win,” and I’m not sure Apple wants to “win.”  I think these changes make it possible for Apple to keep competing, and today’s announcements certainly do that.


forScore and Musicnotes.com

Today in its Twitter feed and blog, forScore announced its coming partnership with Musicnotes.com, where you will be able to pay for music and open it directly to forScore.  Yes…you could do this now, as Musicnotes.com allows you to download in unprotected PDF format–but you would have to go through several other steps to get the music from Musicnotes.com to forScore.  Let’s hope this is a beginning for a number of publishers–and that other sheet music and MusicXML apps will be able to benefit as well!


Thoughts from TMEA

My wife and I returned yesterday from a short trip to San Antonio, where I presented a session on the S-Cubed Sight Singing Method on Saturday morning.  A huge thank you to everyone that attended that session!

I had previously blogged that I had applied to TMEA and none of my proposals were accepted—furthermore, because we had a new principal, I did not apply at any other conferences.  At some point—it must have been October—TMEA contacted me, letting me know that someone had withdrawn their proposal, and asked if I would like to present one of my sessions, specifically my S-Cubed session.  I was happy to accept that proposal, and used two of my personal days (not sick days) to attend the conference.

My wife and I have been flying Spirit airlines over the last year, and we really like the company.  We travel with a minimum of belongings, and every flight has been a positive experience.  If you travel with more stuff, I can see how Spirit would be more of a negative experience—but we’re happy with it.  I even bought a sopranissimo ukulele so that I can fit it in the Spirit-sized personal item.  We couldn’t fly into San Antonio on Spirit, so we chose to fly into Dallas, where we rented a car.  We stayed in Dallas on Wednesday night, made our way to San Antonio on Thursday (having dinner at our favorite restaurant, Guillermo’s), and I spent Friday at the convention and Saturday morning at the convention as well.  We had dinner on Friday at Lulu’s—home of the 3lb cinnamon roll (we did not order one—at least this time).

I attended a few sessions—both of the offered ukulele sessions, as well as a couple of other sessions.  My main focus at conferences is to make connections with other like-minded (or like-interest) people, so it was fun to have lunch with Robby Burns and Daniel Jamieson on Friday, where we talked about a lot of things (note to self: I have to download Bear notes for iOS), as well as to finally meet Greg Dellera and Ryan Sargent from MakeMusic, Meredith Allen from SoundTrap, Katie Wardrobe from Midnight Music, and to say “Hi” to John Mlynczak from Noteflight and Floyd Richmond from Houghton College.  I also enjoyed meeting Andy Ramos, who has been making ukulele play along videos as well.  I didn’t spend very much time in the TI:ME area, so I missed a number of my techie colleagues (e.g. Barbara Freedman and Amy Burns) but at a conference as large as TMEA with the limited time I was actually there, that isn’t a surprise.  As my wife was with me, who is not a techie nor a music educator, and I didn’t want to ditch her or force her into additional conversations (e.g. meals) where she would be bored.

TMEA’s exhibit area is simply overwhelming if you aren’t used to it.  Even so, there were a few products that were not represented this year (I am sure that the costs to have a booth are overwhelming), and in that case, I wish the vendors would still come and float around with their product (that is what I would do).  Interest in ukuleles was sky high (I’ll apply again to present next year) and vendors were selling a lot of them.

What I’m trying to sort out in my brain right now is where we are at, as a profession, with music technology.  We have more tools than ever—and there are functional tools on every platform, even though some platforms (in my opinion) remain better suited for certain tasks.  And it is pretty clear that there is still a huge divide between “traditional” music education and what we consider “music technology.”  I think elementary teachers are better suited to incorporate music technology into their lessons—but when performance becomes the focus (where the majority of secondary music education lies), “music technology” is still a rare course in many schools across the country.  It is nice to hear from teachers who have such programs—and understandably, they challenge “performance based” music educators to do more.

I guess it is always true, but we have a long way to go.

I love going to Texas, and if I have one conference that I can attend/present at, it is my top choice (and there are MANY fine conferences across the country).  If you haven’t been to TMEA (and there is a one day TI:ME additional conference on Wednesday for $50 extra), make it a priority next year to go!  You won’t regret it, and if you are from the northern states, it is nice to see 70º in February (it was a little colder this time than it has been during my other trips).