A few thoughts on iOS 9

My day is ending, and I thought I would write down a few thoughts about iOS before I went to bed.

The update to iOS 9 came out at noon, and I downloaded it on my iPad (Air 2) and my iPhone (6) moments afterward.   I had a meeting to attend, so I figured I could leave my devices in my office, and if they downloaded, great.  If not, no worries.

Well, they both downloaded just fine.  iOS updates didn’t use to be that way.  It used to be a hit or miss thing on the first day if you wanted to update, because Apple’s servers couldn’t handle the load.  Not anymore.  My wife was able to update her phone this evening without any issues, either.

Sure, there are some differences in iOS 9.  The app switcher now goes to layered cards versus a row of cards.  You can use “glance” (swipe from the right side of the screen) to check another app for a second, and then return to your current app.  And if you have an iPad Air 2 or iPad Mini 4 (new at Apple), you can run split screen mode.  One other caveat–the app you want to run has to be able to be displayed in split screen mode, which is at the mercy of the developers.  Apps that can work with your current app in split screen mode are also shown in “glances”

Over the years, lots of people have demanded multiple apps in a split screen.  I have an Android device and a Windows device, and I just don’t use a tablet that way.  The screen size is too limited.  Perhaps it makes more sense on an iPad Pro, and I can see times, as a teacher, where I would want to show two apps.  Most of the time though, I think I’ll simply use one screen.

There are a few other changes that are readily apparent–the font is different and harder to read by my 42 year old eyes.  On the iPad, you now have a row of four icons in the folders (I think it used to be three), and the biggest change is the keyboard.  First of all, the keyboard shows whether you are typing in caps or lower case; and second, if you use two fingers on the keyboard, it acts like a trackpad.  A two-finger tap on the keyboard will select things.  This makes moving to the right spot in your document SO MUCH BETTER than the old magnifying glass.  This has been a feature of a few apps for years…I wonder why Apple took so long to implement the idea.

The only other thing to note is that there are 8,000,000 app updates today.  And if you use a computer for mirroring (e.g. Reflector, Air Server, XMirage), these programs no longer work with iOS 9.  Reflector 2 works, as does the Apple TV.  But none of the other mirroring apps work.  Don’t forget…you can also use a lighting cable on a Mac (Yosemite or newer) and show an iPad via QuickTime…but the joy in mirroring comes in wireless mirroring.

There are blogs (see iMore, for example) that will go into much further depth on iOS 9.  There are many more improvements to the OS, including with Siri.  For me, if Siri simply works better with every release, that’s a win.

Most of your apps will work with iOS 9, and other issues will be addressed in the days to come.  This is really an update meant to fix problems and bring some new features without redesigning the OS.  It has been tested like crazy by developers and public beta–it is probably safe for you to install, too.  I’d do it for the keyboard tools alone.  Today one author said that he now prefers typing on his iPad versus his MacBook for the trackpad feature alone.

A “Stupid” Moment

Our lives, sadly, are often defined by those “stupid” moments where we make mistakes. To err is human.

I had a stupid mistake a week ago.

I bring my iPad to church every Sunday, as I use Notability to take sermon notes. I usually use a stylus (and am currently longing for an Adonit Script for my iPad Air 2) and it works wonderfully for that purpose (I often copy and paste text from Olive Tree Bible Reader, NLT version).

After church, I did something I usually do not do: I put my iPad in the trunk of our car, on top of our baby stroller (which we still use from time to time with our 3 year old). And I left the iPad there.

That afternoon/evening, we went to a wedding of one of my wife's friends. It was a stormy, rainy day at an outside wedding venue (there was a shelter for the reception, which also then served as the location of the ceremony). At the conclusion of the evening the bride's family asked us to take most of the leftover food, as they had no room for it in their cars, and most people were staying in a hotel.

So, in the dark, I opened the trunk, took out the stroller and loaded up the food, later putting the stroller on top of the food containers.

Do you see what happened? I forgot the iPad was there, which had landed on the ground as I took out the stroller.

When we arrived home thirty minutes later and took out the food, I realized the iPad was gone. At this point, it is lightly raining, and I realize there is a good chance that I drove over the iPad as I backed up and left the wedding venue.

I then hastily drove back to the venue. Of course, I managed to get behind every driver who decided to drive under the speed limit on a rainy night, in an area with very few passing lanes.

I arrived at the venue to find my iPad face down, in its “lightly” armored TuaTara case. The case was wet, and you could see my tire tracks (grass parking) from my previous departure, where I had missed the iPad by a foot. The case had done the job–no water was inside. Only the outside was wet. An hour later from my discovery that the iPad was gone, I was back home with an iPad that was okay.

I bought this iPad using T-Mobile's EIP (0% interest) financing and still own more than a year on it. Destroying my iPad would have been a devastating blow to me, as I use it daily for my work. I dodged a bullet there, and I am SO grateful that my iPad was okay.

Yep…a “stupid” moment indeed.

Another Apple Watch application

Siri Alarm

I have had another important use of my Apple Watch this week as we returned back to school.

Notifications (text message and e-mail) have become more important now that I am teaching, and a quick glance to my wrist quickly lets me know if I need to respond to something.  Being married and having kids, you are always a little worried about mid-day text messages from your wife, especially those that say, “Can you call me?”

The surprise Apple Watch feature this week has been a combination of Siri and Alarms.  Yes, alarms.

Our Middle School has no bells (other than start of the day and end of the day).  We have different schedules all the time.  So what I have done is this: at the end of one class, I raise my wrist, say, “Hey Siri, set an Alarm for 10:15” (or whatever the ending time of the next class is).

At 10:15, my watch dings, but more importantly, taps my wrist, and I know that I need to dismiss students.

I would have never done this on the iPad or the iPhone…it was just too cumbersome to haul out and to set alarms (although you could use Siri there, too).  But this is a case where the watch really wins and has helped me in my job.  There is a peace of mind not having to look at your watch OR watch a clock on the wall–something I have never experienced in my 20 years of teaching.

What an elegant and useful solution.

On an unrelated note, I end up taking nearly 6000 steps at school each day, not even trying to do so!


A bit about life

I apologize for not posting recently.  We have been back in school, and the previous week was our inservice week.  My program is bursting at the seams (with new kids coming in every day), and with nearly 350 students, literally every hour of my day, other than contract-specific prep periods, is taken up with teaching.  There is no lesson time, sectional time, or breathing time in my schedule.  When I come home, I try to spend some time with my kids (although a few days this week, I just came home and stared at the wall after a long day of teaching), and when they head to bed, I work on planning for the next day.

Although we started Dale Duncan’s sight reading method on the first day(s) of school (we are an A/B class, so I see students every other day), students did not have full access to their iPads until the second day.  That means our second day together was our first day with tech.  We adopted Schoology (Basic version) as a school-wide solution this year.  As I see more than 1/2 of our school’s students, and I am “tech guy,” I make sure that I am following all of our technology directives.  This means that teachers have to post every assignment in Schoology (whether it is done in Schoology or not).  Therefore, part of the problem has been getting kids into Schoology.

This first week, we had an extra-long advisory (90 minutes), during which all teachers were supposed to make sure that every student in their advisory class was properly enrolled in Schoology.

After seeing 350 students in 10 different class periods over the past two days, that didn’t happen in every class.  Not all of our teachers are as “techy” as others, so when they can’t figure things out, they just turn the kids loose and hope someone else fixes it.

So I fix it, at least for my 350 students.  The other 280 students in our school have to figure things out with someone else, I guess.

Getting kids to join my Schoology class is time-consuming, because there are always kids who don’t even have a working Schoology account, and they that are in EVERY class, regardless of grade.  The troubleshooting takes time–but I figure that I had better do it.  The advanced kids get frustrated about waiting, but I think even they eventually figure it out and realize that if I solve the problems, it makes all their other classes go better, too.

After all students are in Schoology, and then in their designated Schoology choir class,  I project the class member roster (in Schoology) on the board.  I check that projected list against our student information system (class roster), and I also ask my students to make sure they are on the list as well.  Again–this is time consuming and frustrating–but it is far less frustrating than having a kid tell you that they aren’t enrolled in Schoology during the fourth week of school.  Yes–they can slip through the cracks if you let them.  Schoology doesn’t accept GAFE logins, so you have to go through a painful registration process that includes a necessary e-mail verification–and accounts don’t work if students do not receive the e-mail (this happens a lot with our GAFE implementation).

Our district also created a GAFE system with an incredibly long “surname” (after the @), so if students don’t forget their GAFE password (which happens A LOT), they also frequently mistype their e-mail address, which is needed for all Google applications.  If I had a quarter for each student that came up to tell me that their password didn’t work, but they had mistyped “district” in the e-mail surname, I would be able to retire, particularly with compounding interest.

Although I teach grades 6-8, I doubt things are much better in a 9-12 1:1 setting.  I wish peace and happiness on ALL of us!

After getting Schoology to work for everyone, and getting everyone into the correct choir Schoology class, my next task was to have them fill out a Google Form.  They accessed this though a link in Schoology.   I ask for their preferred first name, the first name they would want used in a program, last name, class hour & day, GAFE e-mail address, and house.  This way, I can sort the spreadsheet later to make concert rosters as well as to export CSV files to Attendance2, so I can make QR codes from Attendance2.  With some classes at 50 or more students (average class size in our school is probably 28), taking attendance with Attendance 2 saves me A LOT of time.

My final task with Schoology (at this point) was to have students open a link to Padlet, where I had created a Padlet wall for each class.  I asked students to put their name in the “Title” area of a Padlet entry, and then to take a selfie.  My plan is to move those Padlet boxes into a seating chart than can be used by me or by a substitute.  Students FREAKED OUT about the selfies, yet they will take selfies for eternity if you don’t ask them to do it.

We still have a long way to go before our technology setup is done in choir.  We still have to set up Showbie in most classes (much easier with GAFE account integration), go over the choir expectations (Above the Line process) that are in every student’s Showbie folder, and THEN we can get to music…both Dale’s sight reading method and our holiday music.  Showbie is where I have students do most of their work, and I also use it for their sheet music AND for audio assessments.  If you are in a 1:1 iPad situation, I cannot possibly recommend Showbie enough.  Again, as we sign up for Showbie, I project the roster so that I can compare the student information system with the Showbie roster–and to ask students to see themselves, too.  One thing I love about Showbie is that the service is persistent.  If a student’s iPad has to get wiped, when they log in again on a restored iPad, everything is still there.  This is also true of Schoology, but when it comes to on-screen written work, Showbie really shines.  The free version of Showbie is great…the paid is incredible…and just to think…it is a fraction of what other management systems cost.

All this is about going slow so you can go fast.  Right now, we have slow covered.  Plus a healthy dose of frustration.

I have one more day of technology set-up nightmare, which will pay off down the road.  Even so, these technology days leave me exhausted, too.  I had an app review (Musiclock–see the previous post) that I had not finished, and I have a post I am working on for the Finale Blog as well.

I hope you have had a successful beginning to school, and that your technology rollouts have gone better than mine over these past two days.

Musiclock – A tool for improvisation

Musiclock Icon

I was recently contacted by the developers of Musiclock, an app that was written to help people (students and adult musicians) develop skills with improvisation.  Improvisation was an element of the old National Standards of Music (one of the standards that was often left unmet).  The new standards, which have been divided into various disciplines in music education (instead of having one set for all teachers), still include improvisation.  While improvisation was historically at the center of all music (including the daily lives of Mozart and Beethoven), improvisation has (generally) become a part of the culture and experience of jazz music.  Chances are that if you are not a jazz musician, you may not spend very much time with improvisation at all.

So how can we change this?  It turns out, there is a (new) app for that.

Musiclock provides many background “jam” tracks (loops) that are written in a specific scale (e.g. Major, or Pentatonic Major).  Those loops can be started on any note of the chromatic scale.  As you choose a scale, you will see a piano keyboard (playable) that indicates the notes that are available for that scale.  The scale itself shows itself on a staff at the top of the screen.  You can also see guitar fretboards if the piano is not your instrument.  While the piano can be played, the fretboards cannot.  You can also touch the letter names of the “clock” if the piano is not an instrument that you play.

When using the app, one thing you can’t get away from is the importance of scales in improvisation.  This is why guitar players who do not understand how to read a single note of music will know fifty different scales.  This app is a great way to show kids the importance of learning their scales on piano or in band/orchestra.

Once you have selected a scale and an accompaniment/loop, you “hit” play on the clock, and you begin to “jam.”  With the on-screen piano, if you limit yourself to the notes that are shown, you are guaranteed that your improvisation has the chance of sounding good–and as this is improvisation, there is no right or wrong.  You can, of course, put headphones on, and practice on your instrument (or sing) using the app’s jam tracks.

I still remember sitting in junior high jazz band, and our director having the entire band play a blues progression.  Every member was then expected to improvise a small melody on the spot.  I remember how terrifying that was (as a tuba player and a pianist in jazz band), because I didn’t want to sound bad, and I didn’t understand scales as I do today.  Here is a chance for you to invest in an app that can take that scary process away for your players.

There are some things I would like to see in the app, and I have shared these thoughts with the company.  The app currently only functions in portrait mode, which is disappointing because the onscreen piano keyboard could encompass more octave or have larger keys in landscape mode.   If you play a transposing instrument, it would be great if the app could show transposed keys while playing in the non-transposed key (it currently only shows the actual, non-transposed key).  It would also be great to see the app include CoreMIDI functionality so you could connect a MIDI keyboard or JamStik.  I would also like to see the ability to change tempos of each jam track.

The only thing I don’t like about the app is one of the screen shots provided on the app store, where the company says, “No more struggling with music theory…take your playing to the next level with Musiclock.”  As a music teacher, I want people to struggle with music theory and music notation, regardless of what the Huffington Post says.

This is NOT my favorite thing to see in screen shots of a music app in the app store!

This is NOT my favorite thing to see in screen shots of a music app in the app store!

The app does a great job of letting you (or your students) improvise right now, regardless of your training in music.  Still, as a music teacher, I want students to go deeper into theory and to avoid painting theory in a negative light.

At the moment, Musiclock is $3.79 on the app store.  If you want to teach improvisation to students of any age, this is a wonderful app, and I hope more features are on the way.  This app could be incorporated into a band lesson, or for an entire class.  It could be used by individual musicians (with headphones) and they played their own instrument (or sang).

See my short video review below:


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