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!

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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?

And here’s to new beginnings…

On Friday afternoon, I taught my last classes as a middle school music teacher. I have been teaching middle school choir (and general music) for the past six years. I have grown a lot as a teacher, expanded my own use of technology, tried to support the technology needs of other teachers in our building, learned how to help integrate technology into student’s work flows, worked through a classroom management system, and discovered the ukulele. I did my very best in a challenging environment, but that chapter is now closed in my life.

In April, I was informed that due to FTE realignment, my position would be reduced to .75 FTE, and that I was guaranteed a 1.0 FTE position elsewhere in the district. Only two positions opened–both elementary music education positions.

At some point in May, I was placed (primarily) at our Spanish Immersion Elementary School for the 2019-2020 school year (the position does have a small percentage of crossover)

Just over a year ago, I was interviewing for a college position, and when we reached the point of discussing salary, it became clear that–at this point in my life–I could not possibly afford the drop in salary to teach at the college level (you’re not getting a Power 5 full professorship for your first position). I went into this school year truly believing that I was where I was going to be for the next twenty years of my life. It’s funny how life throws you a curve ball when you think you have everything figured out.

About going to the elementary level–I never thought it would happen, but my experiences at the middle school level (particularly incorporating ukulele into choir) make me far more open to the idea than I would have expected. Families apply to attend our Spanish Immersion program, and parents are usually very involved with the school. I look forward to dealing with all students, helping them to foster a life long love of music…listening, singing, playing, practicing, and performing. I also have a Spanish minor from college–I would never claim to be fluent, but I would say that with some practice, I can soon be at a conversational level. “Specialists” do not have to teach in Spanish in our immersion program–but we are not prohibited against teaching in Spanish, either.

I have never looked down on elementary music teachers. I have actually looked at them with awe–and now I will try to become the best elementary music teacher I can be. It does feel funny to hit the “reset” button at age 46. And teaching at the elementary level will put me in a good position for college positions in the next phase of my life (college music education positions).

The other great twist is that our immersion program is now housed at the same building that my middle school just left (we opened a new middle school this fall), and I will be back in the same room I taught in for five years. I get my office back! 🙂

As for my work with technology, the elementary school is not 1:1 (my middle school position has been 1:1 since I went there in 2013), but I certainly plan on utilizing technology in my own teaching, and I love the perspective that I will have as a former high school and middle school teacher as I use technology with with students and help other elementary teachers in their use of technology. I will also be reading A LOT of Amy Burns’ (mustech.net) posts this summer and I recently bought a copy of “You Want Me to Teach What? (Amazon Referral Link)”

I want to give a special thank you to my friends who I reached out about this situation, for all of their advice and feedback. I do want to say that I am grateful to have a job, to have a new schedule that will actually give me more time with my family, and I trust that God is good and has a plan for my life. I go into this change with some fear, a lot of hope, and a sense of relief. I think I am at peace about it.

In the next weeks, I plan on posting about some of my tech experiences this past year, including an honest appraisal of 1:1 iPad environments. I will also be updating all of the pages on this blog. If summer has started for you, I hope that you are enjoying it–if you are almost done–you’ll join us soon!

The Demise of iTunes?

Back in 2000, Apple acquired SoundJam, and without tweaking it very much, named it iTunes and released it to Apple users. The technology press has had a love/hate relationship with the program ever since. The program has been accused of being bloated and archaic; but now that it appears that Apple will discontinue iTunes, many of the same people that complained about iTunes are complaining that it will be discontinued.

One take away is that you can never make the technology press happy.

Coming from the Windows platform, long before iTunes ever came to Windows (2003), dealing with digital media was a pain. Searching for just about anything was a pain (it is much improved with Windows 10). When I moved to Mac in 2008 (11 years ago!) the two programs that were the greatest relief for me as a teacher (and as a music teacher) were Spotlight (system searching built into every Mac with a shortcut of COMMAND and SPACE BAR) and iTunes.

I very much liked the idea of a single program that housed all of my digital media–music, movies, and books. iTunes worked well (easy to search), and while there were some challenges along the way (figuring out how to move libraries, how to add artwork to my own ripped music, figuring out how to add metadata to my own collection filled with classical music, or experiencing a corrupted library index), I have been very happy with iTunes. And it was so great to have one place to get everything over to your iPhone or iPod Touch.

What has changed over the years is the influence of the cloud and streaming. Music Match (a service Apple provides for $25 per year) protected my entire music library in the cloud, and made those songs available anywhere on any device I owned. iBooks were eventually separated from iTunes. And Apple Music has made most of my music library–except personal recordings–pointless. And we’re at the point where very few people back up their iOS devices to their computers–most of us just back up to the cloud.

Ultimately, it makes sense that iTunes is going away–most of the architecture is already there, including Apple Music which already differentiates between your collection and Apple Music. It will be interesting to see how video is handled, and what happens with Music Match. And there will probably be a hiccup or two along the way. That said, most things that Apple changes either begin or become an improvement. iCloud was a complete mess–but has continually improved, and is now an essential part of my work flow.

In closing, if you hated iTunes, you have reason to rejoice. If you are sad that iTunes is being discontinued, don’t worry. This is a good change for everyone, and the end result will be better services for all of us.

Bluetooth Finder App

Hello! It has been quite a while since I have blogged. Most of my time (other than family and teaching) has been spent making ukulele videos (see youtube.com/ukuleletenor). And to be completely honest, my technology life has settled into a routine that hasn’t seen any significant changes for some time. What I’m using in the classroom is technology that I have already blogged about, and I don’t see any value in writing about what I have already written about.

That said, there are some major changes coming in my life, and I look forward to writing about those in just a few short weeks (That’s what they call a “teaser.”

What I did want to write about today was a new app that I bought to solve a specific problem. Last week, I had been editing videos on my iPad Pro, using Luma Fusion (great app) and my Apple Pencil. At some point, I misplaced my Apple Pencil and could not find it anywhere–tearing up the house to find it (much like when my son’s iPod Touch had been stolen, and we had torn up the house to try to find it). After looking for the Apple Pencil for two days in every conceivable place with no luck, I was ready to order an Apple Refurbished replacement.

As a last resort, I googled (when used as a verb, is “googled” capitalized?) “how to find a lost Apple Pencil” and was immediately referred to the “Bluetooth Finder” app. Unfortunately, Apple’s “Find iPhone” doesn’t track the Apple Pencil, but there are several iOS apps that track signal strength of local bluetooth connections. “Bluetooth Finder” was highly rated, and while it was $4.99, that’s far better than $85 for a refurbished Apple Pencil.

I bought the app, opened it, and saw my Apple Pencil, and followed the strength meter to find the pencil in our laundry room, in the middle of towels that I had folded while watching Star Trek Voyager on Netflix as I folded. The $4.99 app would have saved me several days of searching…and I had looked in the laundry room to no avail earlier.

Now, had the Apple Pencil been dead, the app wouldn’t have helped me. But that was not the case, and I have been very grateful to have my Apple Pencil back. Once you start using an Apple Pencil, you change a lot of the ways that you do things, and it is very difficult to go back to not using one.

As a result, if you have an Apple Pencil, I highly recommend the Bluetooth Finder app. You never know when you might need it. You might not think that you would ever misplace a white pencil shaped object…but it can happen to anyone!

App Store Link (no referral): https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/bluetooth-finder/id1259319285?mt=8


Handel’s Messiah…and Notion

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An image of the original manuscript of The Messiah

When I was directing high school choir, I eventually added an annual goal to sing one movement from Handel’s Messiah with my advanced choir at our Holiday Concert.  I was fortunate in my last few years as a high school director that our district had added a string program, so the school’s orchestra provided accompaniment for that song in our concert (it was a great way to involve everyone).

I know that many groups perform the Messiah this time of year, and would benefit from a digital accompaniment track.

This morning, a PreSonus presentation from ASME 2017 showed up in my feed, and I watched it.  It featured Chris Swaffer, a developer from PreSonus, which makes Notion) and Dr. Ian Cook.  Chris introduced Notion, integration with Studio One, and the live performance capabilities of Notion ; Dr. Cook discussed Persons’ conducting component (great for college programs).  I have interacted with Chris for a long time (I get the opportunity to try Beta updates for Notion), and it was great to actually see him (he’s in the UK, so he doesn’t make many music education conferences here in the USA).

As I was watching the presentation, Chris mentioned that Notion includes a number of resources, including the FULL MESSIAH.  Remember…Notion comes stock with sounds from the London Symphony Orchestra.  You can buy the full expansion pack of sounds (currently $299–which is a bargain compared to other sound packs from other vendors). Otherwise, Notion (on Mac/Win) is $150.  If you are a director needing a rehearsal or performance tool for the Messiah, Notion would instantly pay for itself.

I didn’t know about these included files, and you can find them in your account at my.presonus.com.  Then follow the links to “Get All Content” and then add the “Notion Score Library” in the “Extra Downloads” area.  This will send you a zipped file of Notion files (all in the Public Domain) that can be edited as necessary.

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In my.presonus.com, look at “Get All Content” with Notion 6.

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The Messiah is included in the “Notion Score Library”

About the Messiah…it doesn’t have text in the voice parts, so if you want those, you may have to add them…and it ships with all of Part 1 and Part 2 as separate files.  That said, as it is a Notion document, you can certainly cut and paste a range of the song and paste it into a new document and add text to those voice parts.

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Here’s the full screen view, in “pages across view” of Part 1 of the Messiah, which is included as a extra download when you buy Notion.

Notion’s sounds are great, and are probably worth the initial cost ($150).  Don’t forget that you can add the iOS version as well, with all add-ons, for around $50 total (bargain!), and anything you do on Notion for Mac/Win will show on the iOS version.

However, if you want to use Notion’s excellent stock sounds and run a humanized performance, you can do so with Notion’s live performance features.  I haven’t done that, but I know that Paul Shimmons did so recently, making his own “pit orchestra.”  Read about that here on his website, ipadmusiced.wordpress.com (link).

And if you are a user of another program, as I am (e.g. Finale), Notion can read MusicXML and export MusicXML, so you could easily to and from Notion.  In other words, you don’t have to leave your current program to add Notion as a tool.  If you have an iOS device, and you are a music educator, Notion should already be one of your tools.


Note: This is NOT a sponsored post by Notion, I just love the program, and yes, I am a beta tester of the product.

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