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

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 (which happily offers MANY additional URLs so that schools are unable to block access to their page) and 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.

Presentations from the 2015 Ohio MEA/Central TI:ME Conference

This past weekend I had the pleasure to present three sessions at the 2015 Ohio Music Educators Association and Central TI:ME conference.  The conference has a unique focus on technology in music education, as the state conference turns several rooms over to the Ohio TI:ME organization, which then schedules technology sessions for those rooms.

My first presentation was on scanning music…the first time I have presented this as a session.  Ins and Outs of Scanning Presentation (PDF) Ins and Outs of Scanning (Handwritten PDF Notes)

My second session was on iPads in Secondary Music Education.  iPads and Secondary Music Education 2015 Presentation (PDF) iPads in Secondary Music Education 2015 (PDF Notes)

And my final session was on Chromebooks in Music Education.  Chromebooks and Music Education 2015 Presentation (PDF) Chromebooks and Music Education 2015 (PDF Notes)

**In the Chromebook session, someone asked if the Adobe Creative Suite could be used to edit video on Chromebooks; I replied that some parts of the Adobe suite worked, and others didn’t.  From my research this morning, it appears that (as of 2/2015), only PhotoShop is working as a web app on Chromebooks via the Adobe Creative Suite.

Thank you again to the Ohio TI:ME committee for approving my sessions, and to everyone that attended those sessions this past weekend!

Presentations from the 2014 Iowa Music Education Professional Development Conference

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

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

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

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

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

GarageBand in the Choral Classroom

I have been fortunate to teach in a 1:1 iPad environment this past school year. We used iPads in some way each and every day, whether the student was using an iPad, or I was using an iPad.

Our last concert was held on May 15th, giving me six final days with students after the concert, five with iPads. One of those days was reserved for post-concert activities, and the other four were available for something other than choral singing. I had decided earlier in the year that we would use these last days to experiment with GarageBand.

As of this past fall, GarageBand became a free download for any owner of an iOS device (including iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch). The free version is limited in some ways, coming with only four instruments: keyboard, smart guitar, drums, and audio recorder. The piano and smart guitar only come with a few instruments each. There is an In-App Purchase that allows you to have access all of GarageBand for iOS, but this costs $4.99, and as of now, there is no way for a school or business to make an institutional In-App Purchase. The full version comes with more instruments (smart bass, smart piano, smart strings, sampler, and guitar app) as well as more pianos and two more smart guitars. The free version of GarageBand also includes all 270 standard Apple Loops.

For these last four days, I chose to show clips from a GarageBand training video made by I chose specific scenes which related to the (new) free version of the iPad, each roughly 20 minutes long. After attendance and announcements, this left roughly fifteen minutes at the end of each class session for students to simply mess around on the app and to make music. I invited students to put headphones in their iPad and to follow along with the video; most did this, but some just chose to mess around in the app. For the most part, students were in GarageBand and not on other apps, as they often were throughout the year.

I chose the video purposely; I could teach all of the content, but at the end of the year, after the last concert, they have been accustomed to “shutting down” in the past. This kept them involved, but it also spared them the challenge of trying to listen to me teach the content when my voice had dulled in their ears by the end of the year.

The first video compilation included an introduction to GarageBand, a summary of what you need to know to use GarageBand, and a walk-through of the app and all its buttons.

The second video compilation included a focus on track view, piano, and drums.

The third video focused on smart guitar, song settings, and Apple Loops.

The final video focused on the Jam Session.

As I wrote about a few days ago (a summary of apps we used), I would have liked more time for the students to create music and to show their compositions to each other, but time did not allow this, and by the end of the year, the students were simply “done.” Nonetheless, I feel they had a good introduction to the app, and that they were (overall) interested in the app and learning how to use it. One student whose iPad was taken away from inappropriate use asked to use my school iPad so that he could work on GarageBand, which he did. Students whose iPads were punished and taken away (about 5) did not accomplish much over the four class periods…and some students took the app home and started working on much more complex music.

Apple Loops are certainly a way to get your students composing (or more appropriately, rearrranging audio segments) and a fun way to get them plugged into the app.

It would have been fun to eventually have them create a melody to a song, and to have them record themselves singing their own songs. Next year?

I hope that Apple finds a way to allow schools to make In-App Purchases so that all my students could have access to the full version of GarageBand.

Our 1:1 — What Went Wrong?

As I have mentioned previously, I taught this year in a 1:1 iPad Middle School. In a continuing series of posts, I am addressing some of the things we learned in our first year. This post will focus on some of the things that went wrong in our first year of an iPad implementation. I don't write this to add fuel to the fire of naysayers, but to be honest when talking about our 1:1.

Problem #1: Apple, then MDMs, were not ready for 1:1 programs. Last fall, Los Angeles began a 1:1 iPad program, and it didn't take long before the news outlets were covering the program in a very negative light. The LAUSD program distributed iPads that were heavily restricted, basically making the iPads digital textbooks. It didn't take long for students to realize that they could delete the profiles and have nearly full access to those devices. LAUSD and Apple took quite a beating in the media over this issue. Furthermore, iOS 7 promised the ability to distribute and reclaim apps via a MDM (multi device manager). This feature came at various points over the school year, and to our MDM at the END of the school year.

Because our MDM couldn't handle managed distribution of apps, we could not purchase any apps, including Pages, Keynote, iMovie, or iPhoto–or any other teacher-requested app. Because our devices were purchased in July of 2013, we could not purchase the Apple apps for free (as they are now…the starting date was September 1). This meant that all teacher-used apps had to be free apps. Although there are ways to use free apps, you do get what you pay for.

Ultimately, Apple has addressed the profile deletion issue and MDMs have solved the app distribution process; however, we lost a year to these items. In-App Purchases are still not available to educational instutitions. If a device is registered via Apple's new Device Enrollment Program (DEP), profiles can be permanently attached to a device, and if the device is restored, the device reboots back to the original enrollment screen (if a device is stolen, it isn't good for anything else).

Problem #2: iOS updates occur in late Fall. Apple's hardware and software patterns do not match the purchasing process of schools. Schools order new hardware in July (new fiscal year), and most software “work” is done in the summer months, meaning that updates can be tricky later in the fall–either due to not wanting students to update until a version is proved stable, or to stagger an update so that it does not take as much bandwidth.

Problem #3: Student misuse of devices. Our philosophy over the past year was to not restrict iPads; we asked that students not be on social media or games during school. We wanted to teach responsible behavior; and furthermore, if students were off task, to discipline the student and NOT punish the iPad. As a whole, it seemed that our middle school students were not able to resist the temptation of games (e.g. Minecraft) or social media (e.g. Instagram) during classes. When asking students to turn over a device or to put it down, a number would say, “Just a second,” and continue to do what they were doing on the iPad. Some students had to lose their iPads completely; several broke two iPads (after they broke two, we cut them off). Even our random checks had very few actual consequences for the students–we did far more punishing of the iPads rather than dealing with the misbehavior of students.

One of the things I ask students to do in choir is to answer a daily journal question, and several of my questions centered on the iPads. Students generally indicated that they would prefer more restrictions and to keep students on task in all their classes. We are hoping we have permission from our upper adminstration to do this next year.

Problem #4: Broken/lost charging cables. Just an epidemic…hundreds of broken cords. The cables wear out with normal use ($20 each), but middle school student placed undue pressure on the connectors (particularly the lightning plug side of the cord), usually by winding the cord around the brick, or using the device while plugged into the wall. This is potentially a $20 per device per year expense.

We did have a number of broken devices this year, some accidental, others not. I believe nearly all were covered via the optional warranty that was available for $29 for the past year.

Problem #5: Griffin screen covers. We used the Griffin Survivor cases with our students, and although this is an $80 case in the store, our district purchased them (en masse) for $30 a piece, also receiving a $10 discount per insurance policy for using those cases. The front (clear) cover just gets gross, if not ruined. This is a potential $10 cost per device per year expense.

Problem #6: Distribution issues. Each student, upon device activation, had to use or create an iTunes account. We changed procedures while rolling out the iPads. Orginially, we asked students to use their own iTunes account; we quickly changed that to asking students to create an iTunes account with their Google Apps for Education e-mail address. With Apple's DEP program and streamlined start-up process, this will be easier next year than it was this year–even if new students have to create their own new iTunes account.

Problem #7: Undercharged iPads. Too many students came to school with an iPad with less than 100% charge, or would use their iPads in such a way during the day (gaming) that they would not have enough battery left on the device for the last two hours of the day. Again, we did not follow any particular consequence for this behavior.

Problem #8: One device leads to others. Towards the middle of the year, we saw an increase of students using other devices (iPhones, Androids, etc.) in classes, and we were not a BYOD program. The mindset of students was, “if I can use an iPad, I can use this.” That wasn't true–but they tried.

Problem #9: Training new students during the year. We had a “tech week” during the first week of school; but for students who moved to the school during the year (close to 50 students), we did not have a plan to train those students into the iPad or the apps they would use as we did for all students at the beginnng of the year.

Problem #10: Workflow. Many teachers tried to “go paperless” by utilizing Google Docs and Google Drive, with a combination of strategies. There was no good way to open work, correct it (drawing by hand), and getting it back to the student for feedback. Some LMS or CMS (Learning or Classroom Management System) have some of these features, but no one has all of them. We are hoping Google Classroom has some soluitions in the Fall.

Problem #11: e-mail. Student GAFE e-mail could send documents, but not receive docucments from any sender BUT Apple. This means that we could not sign up for any service that required e-mail verification, and as teachers, we would not e-mail students from our work e-mail accounts (kind of an important thing as permanent records are kept about our teacher e-mail accounts.

In conclusion, a lot of things went wrong in our first year of 1:1. Many of those problems were caused by things out of our hands, such as timing on the part of Apple or MDMs, or certain aspects of a district philosophy (top-down) that impacted how we could distrubite and use those devices. Other issues were caused by our lack of clear consequences and follow-through. And some could be attributed to adolescent behavior. These are issues common to MANY (if not all) platforms, and to many 1:1 programs.

We also lost a very small number of teachers to other buildings that do not have 1:1 iPads; they would rather not teach in a 1:1 school. Overall, however, most teachers would admit that even with the problems, we cannot imagine teaching in a school without the iPads.

Apps My Students Used in 2014

Over the next weeks, I am going to write a number of posts about our experience as a 1:1 school this past year. The logical place to start, of course, is about the apps that my students used. I use a number of apps beyond what my students use in class.

The very first thing you need to know is that all the apps we used had to be free this year, with the exception of Notability, which was purchased for every student. The district purchased our 4th Generation iPads in July of 2013, which meant that the changes in Apple's own iOS apps did not apply to our devices (today, if you buy a new iPad or Mac, all the iWork and iLife apps are free, with the exception of GarageBand, which has an in-app purchase). We had hoped that Apple would retroactively give our iPads those apps for free–but that didn't happen.

Why didn't we purchase any apps? iOS 7 brought the ability for a school to distrbute an app via MDM (multi-device management) and then to retreive that app. If you spend $4.99 on an app as a school, you don't want to “burn” that purchase with one student–just as you wouldn't want to simply give textbooks away each year. Granted, there is a significant price difference between a textbook and an app, but still, the cost of apps will add up over time and bleed a 1:1 budget. Our MDM didn't add the ability to distribute apps until late into the academic year–at which point it didn't make sense to purchase any apps.

With that in mind, what apps did we use?

Chromatik: Chromatik has changed a little bit since its introduction a couple of years ago. It began as an app that allowed you to store, purchase, and share sheet music with others, mainly through the use of a “Join Code.” The latest version of Chromatik (although the “schools and groups” app is still available) is more focused on the solo performer with daily free pop songs. Chromatik has the concept of copyright protection in mind; material purchased or uploaded stays on the server, and can be revoked by the person who manages the group's music. If you purchase music via Chromatik, you can only use as many copies as you purchase. The service is so promising that they have agreements with some publishers, such as Alfred.

We ran into problems with Chromatik, however (I am being honest here). The app itself wouldn't refresh the content of playlists, and was based on an e-mail subscription. Our district chose to close our student's gmail acounts to any outside e-mail other than Apple, so when students forgot their login or password, there was no way for them to retrieve that information. And our students are middle school students, so that happened a lot. We had to abandon Chromatik (our band teacher tried using it, too, and also abandoned it). It is a great concept with a lot of promise, but it was too problematic for our class.

PiaScore: The number one way to use iPads in secondary music education (in the United States, this usually means performance-based programs, such as choir, band, and orchestra) is for sheet music. When Chromatik was no longer an option, PiaScore was our next choice. Our band director chose Notability (not free) as students were familiar with that app, and in general, band scores at the middle school level are on one or two pages. Choral scores tend to have many more pages, so we needed another option. PiaScore was generally successful, and our main “feed-to” high school (also 1:1) also used the app with a lot of success. The app was updated a number of times throughout the year, adding more features for free.

My big complaint about PiaScore is that it does too much for middle school students. It has a number of features which are in-app purchases, but gives 30 seconds of trial to those features, such as a piano, metronome, a way to turn pages by waving your hand in front of the iPas's camera, and more. Middle school students press those buttons. All the time. It also has an embedded YouTube player. I wrote the company, asking if they would ever consider making the YouTube feature a part of the in-app purchases, as I didn't want my students watching YouTube during class. Something was lost in translation, because the company (in limited English) couldn't understand why I wouldn't want students on YouTube during class. As much as I love the PDF music readers forScore and unrealBook, these apps have too many features for middle school students (high school is another thing, and also a place where music is an elective that they choose). I found out about NextPage as a music reader this year–a scaled down PDF music reader that is ideal for Middle School. There are some additional features, but the app has just the essentials, and I hope we can purchase it next year.

Next year, my hope is to incorporate the writing of solfeggio under every note of every song, and to learn our music via solfeggio first, and then to add words. This is wonderfully possible with PDF music readers…and not to completely destroy the original music while doing so!

NotateMe Now: Neuratron, the creators of PhotoScore, released NotateMe (paid) and NotateMe Now (free, one staff) in January. This apps allows you to write music by hand…a unique way of entering music notation. As a teacher that wants students to learn how to actually draw musical symbols, this has been wonderful. We used the app in two ways. First, we did some composition projects with the app following our first concert, and then occasional dictation exercises. New features in the full NotateMe allow a teacher to create a master file that can be shared with students via the free version (I have not tried this yet). Students were not enthusiastic about the app, but then again, they weren't enthusiastic about being in choir, either (music is a forced elective in 6th & 7th grade, and likely only 40% of the students would choose to be in choir if they had a choice). We will continue with NotateMe Now next year, and to make more time to work with student compositions and helping them improve their compositions. Make no mistake–composition and dictation are not innate skills.

GarageBand: We ended our year watching some instructional videos about GarageBand (our district has a subscription to and giving students time to play around with GarageBand. Most students had access to the free, limited version of the app. The full version requires an in-app purchase, which schools cannot access with a volume purchase. Our GarageBand unit came at the end of the year and there wasn't really time to make a graded project, and of course, students check out after the last concert. A number of students seemed to enjoy the lessons, happily messing around with the app after each video. I see how GarageBand on iOS could be used as a foundation of a music technology class, teaching the basics that could be brought into any other app (iOS or PC). The use of video instruction was intentional; they are “wired” (trained) to focus on a screen, whereas if I teach about GarageBand myself (particularly during the last two weeks of school), they will just tune me out. I would like to find more time for GarageBand, but not at the expense of being ready for a concert.

Google Drive: We are a GAFE district, so students used Google Drive to recieve music (“Open In” PiaScore) and other class materials, and as a way to submit homework. Workflow with Google is a mess no matter which way you try to organize it. Google is releasing Google Classroom in the fall, which may solve part of the problem.

Canvas Instructure: Canvas is a Learning Management System that allows students to access and submit work; and for teachers to seamlessly correct that work inside the LMS. It looked promising, but required an e-mail verficiation, and thus even after having students sign up for the service, we could not use it.

Safari: Students used Safari to access the choir webpage, as well as to answer Google Forms (daily journal questions, post-concert self evaluations, end-of-term self evaluations, and quizzes.

Notability: Although Notability is not free, I had students use the app on a day I was absent to complete some activity sheets that were distributed via Google Drive.

I believe that is the extend of the apps we used; keep in mind that we only see students every-other-day for 42 minutes, so the majority of our time is spent preparing music for our concerts rather than teaching all kinds of concepts about music.

As we worked on the GarageBand unit at the end of the year, a few students complained (I think this is par for the course), saying, “This is choir…why do we have to do this?” That was not representative for all students, but it is still a very hurtful thing to hear as a teacher. Trust me…those students don't want to sing, either. The fact is that I am not apologetic for using these iPads…particularly at the end of the year or after a concert…to do some different activities that might teach them something about music that they normally would have never learned. I try to teach them about music theory, sight-reading, dictation, and music history–not to mention music technology. The primary goal is to prepare music for a concert and to have that experience of preparing and performing literature; but my secondary goals of educating the whole musician are also strong and intentional.

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?