Week 1 of Elementary

Well, I’ve just finished week one of my role as an elementary music specialist. I’m already starting to get an idea of what is going to work for me and what I need to do to structure my lessons. I’m not sure if this is usual, but our district doesn’t have a specific curriculum–only a scope and sequence (itself based on a curriculum we no longer use), and the curriculum I have available is from 2000.

Additionally, I am attempting to weave in Feierabend’s “First Steps in Music,” primarily in Grades K-2 (no pun intended) and to start Dale Duncan’s S-Cubed method (MUCH more slowly) with 4th and 5th grade.

What is working so far is just singing…the main song we’ve learned is a theme song shown my Stephanie Leavell (musicforkiddos.com) entitled, “Hey, Hey, It’s Time for Music.” We’ll sing this every day the whole year as an introduction to class–and this week I’ll be recording some classes and dropping the video of the song on SeeSaw, which is now used by our district in grades K-5 (grades 6-12 use Schoology). 4th and 5th grade are DEVOURING the “forbidden pattern game” (S-Cubed), and I’m trying to find my own balance as as teacher. I see twenty different classes twice a week for thirty minutes each class, and travel four days of the week to teach one class in another school. I have seven different preps…K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…and combined K/1 classes in the other school.

There have only been a couple of challenging students so far–and even those are no worse than what I’ve faced for six years at a tough middle school position. It is quite a joy to work with ALL the students (almost all of them are in band or orchestra by choice in 5th grade). The toughest aspects is planning–sorting out what I want and need to do between the dated curriculum that I have, the First Steps, and anything else.

As I use technology in music education, a lot of my prep time is spent preparing music for a projector screen (I don’t want to use books). I’m also using some videos as brain breaks, but I also need to find videos to allow students to settle down again in an enjoyable way. I also plan to use apps as appropriate. My other goal is to find lots and lots of songs for my K and 1 classes to sing.

My goal is to get 3rd grade going with recorder this year; start 4th grade on recorder; and to get 5th grade going on ukulele. We also have a keyboard lab, which I’ll probably use with grades 4 & 5…again, there’s no specific guideline about what needs to be taught on what instruments, other than a scope and sequence which is based on a curriculum we no longer use.

So…it’s a good start to the year, but very, very different for me. I hope you’re having a great start to your school year, too!


What are you looking forward to?

As we prepare for the 2019-2020 school year (and I’m fully aware that some of you have been back with students a couple of weeks already–we start with students after Labor Day), I’m making a major shift to the elementary classroom this fall. To complicate matters, I’ll be a crossover (I understand this is pretty normal), one of my schools is a Spanish immersion school (I’m actually very excited about that), and our district is VERY loose when it comes to music curriculum.

On the positive side, I managed to find the teacher manuals for one of the early 2000’s elementary music curriculums that our district owns, so I have a starting point to plan some lessons at the beginning of the year. Our district does have a curriculum map which outlines what skills are to be taught each year, and we also have a strong commitment to standards based grading.

Last week, my family was on an extended vacation through Tennessee and the Smoky Mountains (a bit of North Carolina and Georgia as well) with my wife’s extended family. One night we spent some time with my wife’s cousin and her husband, and they asked us, “What are you looking forward to this year?”

The question really took me by surprise, as I haven’t really been looking forward to anything, really. Over the last years, my focus has been a combination of survival and project-focus. I haven’t been spending much time thinking about the future, or looking forward to things…it’s been a focus on the present and the urgent.

So, as I start what really is a new career in year twenty-four as a teacher, I’m looking forward to learning how to look forward to things again, and I’m putting that on a list of goals that I’m coming up with. I’m currently focused on WHAT to teach and drawing up some lesson plans, along with my ukulele video work (which is not my actual job). And I also want to make sure that I am spending time with my family. They graciously allowed me to lose myself in my own bubble of ukulele video work this summer, knowing that it brings me joy to make resources that help others, even if I’m not paid to do so. That was how I dealt with my feelings after being displaced from my previous school.

So…I’m learning how to look forward to things again.

How about you? What are you looking forward to this year?

NinGenius Music Ultimate App (New)

I’m very happy to announce the release of NinGenius Music Ultimate, a new version of NinGenius that drills notes, fingerings, rhythm, and music theory for all instruments. The app builds off the original NinGenius apps, but adds some features and changes the appearance a little bit. Right now, the app allows for 8 users, and is the type of app that you would want for every student in a 1:1 setting–for $3.o0 (as of 8/20/2019). Looking at the comments, a few teachers are hoping for a version that can be used with unlimited students (as there is such a version for the original NinGenius). This should be coming as an optional in-app purchase in the future for those teachers looking for such a feature.

NinGenius is also in the final steps of preparing a release for Android and Chromebooks that run Android (check with your school district for compatibility), as well as a version that runs on the Kindle Fire. These should be available soon.

The current versions of the app will continue to be available for download and purchase.

There hasn’t been a lot of motion in the world of apps for music education lately, and this is a nice additional app (or improved app) to add to your tool box, certainly for elementary through middle school ages. And to be honest, I think your students will enjoy working with the app.

Summer 2019 MacBooks

A year ago, I was faced with the decision of having to replace my ten year old MacBook. Incidentally, I couldn’t find a buyer for my old MacBook (and didn’t want to place it on eBay), so my 11 year old son is continuing to use it to watch YouTube videos.

Right now, I’m standing in an Apple Store, and I remember how challenging it was to settle on a new MacBook. I wanted the Touch Bar, and 16GB of RAM, and a 500GB hard drive…pretty much the configuration I would recommend to anyone else (Touch Bar is optional, of course) that wants their MacBook to last until Apple declares it obsolete.

This time of year is a great time to buy a MacBook with the education discount, as well as a discount on Apple Care (I can’t recommend this enough), and a free set of Beats.

I couldn’t bring myself to buy the MacBook at this time of year (I really didn’t need the Beats…I wish Apple would offer other incentives, such as a discount on an iPad or AirPods or something else). So I waited for last summer’s MacBooks to hit the refurbished store, which took a couple of months. I then bought my current MacBook which is great–exactly what I wanted–at a lower cost than the education discount (but perhaps more expensive if you throw in the Beats promotion).

A couple of weeks ago, Apple refreshed their MacBook line up, making things simpler and even dropping a model (the 12″ MacBook).

As I look around, I think the MacBook to buy is the MacBook Air with 16GB of RAM and the 500GB hard drive for $1700. You can’t get into a similar configuration of a MacBook Pro for less than $2200. Or you can wait for these to hit the refurbished store, too. Or buy a 2018 MacBook Pro with TouchPad from the refurbished store, like I did.

If your heart is drawn to the $999 MacBook Air (Education pricing), go for it. It will work fine, but I do think there are benefits to more RAM and storage. And I also think Apple’s 2 TB iCloud storage plan is a pretty good deal…and I expect that value to increase in the future (someday they’ll offer even more storage for the same price). And don’t forget that if you have family sharing enabled, all the members of your family can tap into that 2 TB of data! iCloud had a bumpy start but really works well these days. There is a reason why Dropbox has so drastically changed its user experience!

And if you are a Windows user, I don’t expect you to buy a Mac–I’ve simply migrated to the Apple side of the technology world, and the Apple environment works best for the work that I do.

Some music hardware items: Jamstik Pro and Roli Lumi

One of the joys about the summer is that I have time to catch up on developments that I’ve missed over the last months.

If you are a reader of this blog, you are aware that I am very fond of Zivix (a local company) and their products, the Jamstik and the PUC. Zivix released the JamStik 7 earlier this year, and had promised a Jamstik 12 as part of its last crowdfunding effort. I realized that I had not heard anything about the Jamstik 12, so I went back to the original Indiegogo campaign to see what was up.

In late March, Zivix announced that it was going to stop development of the Jamstik 12 to make a 24 fret “Jamstik Pro” MIDI guitar, upgrading every backer of the Jamstik 12 to the Jamstik Pro when it is released. The Jamstik 7 is available for purchase. While I am sure that Jamstik 12 backers were disappointed by the cancellation of that device, I am sure they will be thrilled to own a Jamstik Pro for the same price, even with the wait.

The prototype Jamstik Pro (right) versus a full size Telecaster-type guitar (left).

One of the things that has always amazed me about Zivix has been their forward thinking approach. They are always thinking about the next device while completing the current device. They were one of the first–if not the first–companies to adopt Bluetooth LTE MIDI. So it isn’t surprising to me that they looked at the 12 fret Jamstik, and thought, “You know what, these extra five frets don’t really do that much more than the Jamstik 7. Let’s simply go ahead with our long-term plan of making a full size, 24 fret guitar.” I have no doubt that they will deliver on that new goal.

Guitar isn’t a primary instrument in my life–but it has been wonderful to have different versions of the Jamstik to use over the years. And as I’ve said over and over again, I wouldn’t teach classroom guitar again without one. When the Jamstik Pro comes out, I’ll do my best to visit the company and try it out (their product specialists are light years more capable players than I am), but I would think that guitar players would be ecstatic about this instrument and what it promises to provide. It will take some people by surprise to learn that they don’t need to tune a Jamstik Pro!

As Zivix has music education in its DNA, I fully expect that they will continue to develop devices that are affordable and accessible for schools and individuals just wanting to learn music. The JamStik 7 is already affordable, and the company offers special purchase prices for teachers, military, and first responders. And I’ll continue to ask where the Zivix ukulele is in the development process (I can’t help it…I bought two ukuleles this month).

The other interesting development in the music technology hardware world is a new keyboard on Kickstarter from Roli, called the Lumi. Roli has had some really amazing hardware over the last years, but it has always been out of the price range that I wanted to pay for it. They have the Seaboard and its various iterations, as well as their Blocks. The Garage Band Block is really intriguing–but it is a $650 purchase. That’s a lot to spend on an iPad or MacBook accessory!

The new device is Roli’s first geared specifically towards education–removing the barriers for a an individual to learn music–a kindred product to Zivix’s Jamstik. Just as the Jamstik offers JamTutor and integration with other apps, the Lumi will do the same for piano. The Lumi is still pretty expensive…$186 as a Kickstarter, but that is a fraction of the cost of a Seaboard, and the Lumi features very cool keyboard lighting (some people are going to buy it just for that, I’m afraid) and what appears to be solid software integration. The ability to link keyboards together brings me back to Miselu’s product C.24, which just seemed to disappear after it shipped (and whose modules never were developed).

The XKey Air (37 key) is still available for $300 (the 25 key sells for $199); and there is also Korg MicroKey units with up to 61 keys for about $200 (or less). For the budget minded, it’s hard not to choose the Korg MicroKey Air 49 for $180. The Roli Luma is at the higher end of the price tier (even as a Kickstarter) for a 24 key Bluetooth MIDI keyboard (not as much as the Seaboard Block for $350, however)…but you do get the cool light effects and what appears to be great software. If you’re interested in the Roli Lumi, you can back it on Kickstarter now!

Are you a Windows user? Here are a couple of apps for you to consider!

There was a time when I was quite literally anti-Apple in my life. That part of my past actually helps me when I meet people that are currently Anti-Apple. There was a also a phase in my life when I was trying to keep devices that ran all operating systems in my house, so I could help other teachers regardless of what technology they used. I don’t do that any more, and my time is spent on my iPhone, iPad, and 2018 MacBook Pro. I realize that I could install a virtual Windows machine on my MacBook Pro–but I have no need to do that.

Quite a while ago, I received information about a couple of Windows based music notation applications that are not available for iOS or MacOS. I thought I would let you know about them.

The three programs are Forte, ScanScore, and Bandora. The ultimate version of Forte includes all three applications. I have linked their YouTube introductions below (yes, there is English overdubbing, as the videos are originally in German). You can also buy each program individually. ScanScore will export to MusicXML, which makes it useful for just about any existing notation program, not just Forte.

You might ask, “Why, in the world of so many music notation programs would I want to buy another program?” The simple answer is: for ease of use and choice. The developers of Forte are trying to make Forte a very easy to use program, and choice is a great thing in the marketplace. And I will add that it is becoming a rare thing to embed a scanner in a music notation program.

The company has also developed iOS and Android apps that work with the Forte platform, including a scanning component for ScanScore, a Forte music reader, and a PlayAlong Orchestra that works with Forte files. Note: all of these iOS and Android apps are not stand-alone apps…you need Forte (and/or ScanScore) on your Windows computer to use them.

I can’t comment on how easy Forte is to use, or how ScanScore operates compared to other options on Mac or iOS, as I no longer have a Windows device…but if you are a Windows user, there are trial versions of the software which would allow you to see how Forte, ScanScore, and Bandora work for yourself. Forte Premium, at the time of writing, is $229, which is a great bargain if you find that you can work easily in Forte, and if the scanning features work well for you. The closest paid notation app I can think of is Notion, which does not include scanning software (I have not heard anything about StaffPad for a LONG time). If you try Forte, send me a note and tell me how the product works for you.

Forte Notation: https://www.fortenotation.com/en/

ScanScore: https://scan-score.com/en/

Six years with 1:1 iPads: A reflection

One of the reasons I left my high school position to teach at the middle school position was to move to a school that was going 1:1 with iPads. Incidentally, seven years later, my former high school will be 1:1 with Chromebooks next year. I remain a massive enthusiast for iPads, but my support for iPads as 1:1 student devices has shifted, and I wanted to write about that.

I do think there are massive benefits to students have technology in schools, and I still believe that the iPad is a fantastic device for content creation in educational settings. The problems I witnessed were either due to the teacher’s integration of iPads in the classroom, or to student misuse of iPads in the classroom.

When we rolled out iPads in the Fall of 2013, it was the wild west of 1:1 programs. At the time, district-level administration wanted as little restriction of student devices as possible, meaning a wide open App Store for every student, and no teacher controls whatsoever, unless you physically took an iPad from a student and set restrictions on the iPad.

When iPads were rolled out at our school, there was an expectation to use the devices–as much as possible–and to replace paper with the devices. This past year, the new principal at the school began to question why teachers were using iPads when other approaches might be better (e.g. paper and pencil). Focus groups were held with every department, and they discovered is that the mentality that rolled out in the school six years ago was still the status quo, and that new teachers to the building were indoctrinated to the practice as well–even though the new principal never demanded such an approach. My former school has to address that issue, but it is amazing how quickly a school’s practice can become part of its long-term philosophy. Educational leaders would be wise to learn from this example.

Furthermore, many teachers stopped searching for better or new solutions with the iPad after the second year with the device. When the iPads were new to the school, teachers were scrambling to find apps that could be used in their curriculum. Most teachers stopped looking for new apps by year three of the program. Additionally, we moved to Schoology as a Learning Management System over the past three years. Once Schoology was adopted (SeeSaw is used district-wide in our elementary schools) teachers spent their time with Schoology, and the majority of student educational interaction with iPads was connected to Schoology in some way or another.

In choir (my subject), students used iPads in five ways–which, if used properly, would still require iPads for 75% or more of the class period:

  • As sheet music through Showbie
  • To complete in class audio or video assessments (sight reading, singing, or ukulele) in Schoology
  • To complete daily reflections in class (also used as an exit ticket) in Schoology
  • To make up missed assignments in Schoology
  • A very small amount of composition with Flat.io

This doesn’t include the ways I used the iPad, it just includes student use.

Apple continues to try to help teachers with classroom management of iPads, and they keep investing in services like Apple Classroom, but the experience is a lot like trying to herd cats.

In the early days, we fought apps like Five Nights at Freddy’s and students installing profiles on their devices which allowed them to do whatever they wanted on the device. Things got better as Apple added more features for schools. We were able to lock the App Store, turn off Bluetooth management, lock access to Profiles, migrated to JAMF management, and took advantage of Apple Classroom when it was released.

But the problem remained–and remains–that students did not see the devices as a privilege and as an education tool–they saw them as “their iPads.” Furthermore, all a student has to do to avoid supervision is to put their iPad into Airplane Mode. In Apple Classroom, a student in Airplane Mode is no longer supervised, although they CAN be on the Internet–and keeping tabs on thirty to fifty iPads in a class (icons that do not all fit on one screen) while trying to teach is a losing situation. While I did my best, I couldn’t keep tabs on every student–and I know that some teachers never even used Apple Classroom. Apple Classroom is now available on Macs as well, but you need OS X Mojave to do this, and we are not upgrading district-wide to Mojave until the fall.

We also ran into the challenge of what to do with a student who was off-task with an iPad. Some teachers approached the situation with a sense of seeking holy justice; others just ignored the problem all together. Administration didn’t quite know how to handle those situations, either, as there were legitimate larger issues for them to deal with. Contact home was usually ineffective, and removing an iPad from a student always required more work from the teacher who now had to make paper copies for students without iPads.

Left unchecked, students were happy to play online games like zombsroyale.io (which happily offers MANY additional URLs so that schools are unable to block access to their page) and yohoho.io. And should you dare to ask a student to stop playing a game in class, the response was anywhere from rude to insubordinate. A few teachers weren’t even aware of the problem. There were also plenty of times where students would simply choose not to bring an iPad or would choose to not use their iPad in class. How do you deal with that situation without a standardized school management plan for iPad use?

And the issue wasn’t only misuse–it was shocking to see how often students would feel free to throw iPads up in the air (like a ball), throw them on the ground (in anger), or to other students like a frisbee. Yes, we had a lot of cracked screens. We asked students to buy insurance, and it was surprising how often they would say, “Well, if it breaks, I have insurance.” And to complicate matters, our latest iPad cases had a stand which “clacked,” and it was common for students to “clack away” on their iPads throughout an hour.

Perhaps these issues were only at our school, as it is trying to establish respect for learning, property, others, and self through PBIS. But my guess is that these issues occur at many other 1:1 iPad Schools.

No, I’m not on the Chromebook bandwagon, but I would teach at a Chromebook school. Our district decided to go with GoGuardian’s management system this fall for the district’s new Chromebook initiatives. GoGuardian seems to be an application that will ensure that students use the devices as intended. If teachers take the time to set up their class properly, students are only able to access specific sites during class. And Chromebooks don’t have the same issue with Airplane Mode as iPads (giving unmonitored access to the Internet while in the Airplane Mode).

In my opinion, two things could make iPads a much better solution for schools. The first is the necessity of a school based management plan which would outline what would happen if a student misuses their iPad (off-task use or physical misuse). Such a plan has to have consequences (not punishment) that places the onus on the student and the parent. Lose your iPad? Then getting copies of the materials that are online and bringing them to class are your responsibility. The challenge with such a plan is that many students who lost iPad privileges were already disengaged in their classes, and in many cases their parents were also not engaged with their students’ academic career–so how do you put the consequence on a such a student? One of the things I love about the Love & Logic behavior plans is that it calls for children to experience consequences for their actions. One of our biggest issues is that teachers usually felt those consequences.

The other thing that Apple needs to solve is the ability for a student to simply enter Airplane Mode to avoid management of their iPads. There should be a way for those iPads to still know where they are (geo-gating) and to force them into management by Apple Classroom even if they are in Airplane Mode. Until Apple solves this situation, and as long as School-Based Management Plans are not put into place, teachers are playing a game of whack-a-mole instead of being able to simply use those devices, when appropriate, as a way to improve the learning environment.

In closing, I’m not anti-iPad, but changes are necessary, and Apple has the ability to solve both issues. Apple could offer a suggested management policy for schools to adopt, and they can solve the Airplane Mode issue. I still think the iPad is great for education, even 1:1, if students can use them at times that make sense to enhance education or to create content. And I certainly support the use of the iPad by teachers, who are not going to be tempted to misuse their devices while teaching a class.