Follow-Up on “Old Technology”

While I did a search yesterday for the updated scanning program from Canon, it became clear that there are many people out there whose scanners no longer work because of Mac OS X Catalina. That’s a big problem, and I’m not sure who to blame…Apple or the hardware companies (such as Canon). Maybe there shouldn’t be any blame.

I ended up going to the Apple Store yesterday as I had an issue with my newer Apple Pencil. My original Apple Pencil died suddenly in September (I personally think the battery gave up after a lot of use) and I grudgingly bought a new Apple Pencil. That Pencil suddenly stopped working yesterday, so I first attempted to get support via iMessage…and was eventually told to go to an Apple Store. I was able to book an appointment (highly recommended rather than showing up and seeing if you can get help) for later in the afternoon.

While I was at the Mall of America, I heard from Shirley Lacroix, who mentioned that she had found a way to keep using her Canon P-150 scanner. When I came home (with a replacement Apple Pencil), I did a broader search and found VueScan. And later yesterday evening, Shirley e-mailed again to let me know her solution was VueScan.

VueScan has made a 64-bit application (runs on Catalina) with a bunch of reverse engineered drivers for old scanners, like the P-150. So, for $89, you can buy the program giving you access to your scanner’s feature set (e.g. duplex, sheet feeding), without having to buy a new scanner.

My little P-150 still works just fine, and it looks as if Canon isn’t going to update its software (I was able to log into their website today…it just must have been a coincidence that the USA website was down yesterday when I was looking for drivers). So if you want to use your scanner…you send $89 towards VueScan. I’ll be honest…if it was $50 I’d feel a lot better…while VueScan is offering a great service, it also feels like they are setting a pretty hefty price for you to use old hardware.

As for the program itself, it works. It isn’t as nice as Canon’s software was, but the scanner now works and I don’t need to take it to a recycling center.

So…many thanks to Shirley for the e-mail about the P-150. It was much appreciated!

Jamstik Studio MIDI Guitar

One of my favorite companies when it comes to technology and music education is Zivix. Zivix is located in the Twin Cities (not too far away from where I live) and they have released a number of products over the years, including the Jamstik (different versions), PUC (different versions), and Air Jamz. They have been industry leaders in the development of wireless MIDI and BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) MIDI applications.

Zivix has always had education on its mind as it creates products…with a main focus of introducing people to music through the use of technology. And over the years, they have dabbled in the area of music in the classroom in addition to their work for individuals who want to learn how to play music.

For a long time, I have said that if you teach guitar in a classroom setting, you need a Jamstik–and I think that’s still true. I don’t teach guitar any more…but if I did, I would be using my Jamstik all the time.

Professional guitarists have had a different relationship with Zivix…they have seen the technology (and how well it works), but have consistently asked for a full size guitar…not just five or seven frets.

Zivix had been working on a larger Jamstik, but decided to abandon that project (mid-stream) to make a full size studio MIDI guitar, as they decided it was the right time to do so. Well, they just introduced the studio guitar to the public at Winter NAMM (2020), and preorders are now available. $600 secures a place in the limited pre-order. The instruments start shipping in April 2020…and Zivix has had a great track record of actually releasing products (unlike some other companies).

Admittedly, I’m not their intended audience for this project…the Jamstik 7 does all I would ever need it to do, and ukulele has taken over my life…but I know that there are a LOT of guitar players who will make great use of this technology. $600 may seem like a lot (especially to a ukulele player), but it seems to me to be a great price for the technology in the world of a full-size guitar. If you are a guitar player who works with digital music…go visit their website and find out more about it. If guitar and digital music are your thing–this might very well change your life.

Holiday Greetings! A year in review!

Hello everyone! I thought I’d take a minute and reflect on 2019.

As it comes to this blog, I haven’t been very active as there has been very little movement in the world of technology and music education. We’re really not seeing much in terms of breathtaking new apps or online services, and there has been very little news in terms of hardware, too. With the exception of functionality on Chromebooks, which continues to improve, the landscape in this area looks very much the same as it did three years ago.

The biggest change is the continuing dominance of the Chromebook in education, even with the (school model) iPad at the same general price point. In my own school district, the latest initiatives have been Chromebooks at the high school. GoGuardian is a far better tool than Apple Classroom to control those devices in the classroom (and you pay for it), but the devices are traditional clamshell devices, and they are seeing damage far above the levels of the iPads that are distributed 1:1 at other schools in the district.

So on the whole, the Chromebooks that schools are deploying remain hard to use in class (integration) and require subscriptions (e.g. MusicFirst, Noteflight, SoundTrap, Flat.io, SmartMusic) to be really useful, and most of that usefulness has to occur outside of the classroom (outegration).

I fear that the use of technology in music education has remained at low levels. There are exceptions…check out the podcasts by MusicFirst and Katie Wardrobe. But I still think the technology users in music education are the exception rather than the norm.

Ah, yes. Podcasts. Paul Shimmons and I have not recorded a podcast in a long time. We’re still here, but I have a new job at late-start elementary schools, so the time frame that used to work for us to record podcasts doesn’t exist any more. We’re trying to record a podcast soon, so watch for that.

As I wrote last Spring, I was notified in April that my position as a middle school choir teacher was going to be cut to .8 FTE. This was difficult, and it felt like a personal attack. Some of you have gone through similar situations–or are going to–and I feel your pain. The only positions available in our district were elementary positions–something that I had not taught in my career. The spring and summer came and went and there were no positions in other school districts that made sense to apply for, so I decided to let things fall as they would and moved to elementary. I’m tenured in our district with high seniority, so at the least I had a job (and a lot of people reminded me of that).

Well, I started teaching K-5 this past fall at our Spanish immersion school, and at another school (literally across the district), for one class at the end of the day. I teach four sections of Kinder, two sections of a merged K/1 level, four sections of first grade, three sections of second grade, three sections of third grade, two sections of fourth grade, and two sections of fifth grade…and also a before school choir once a week. Each section is thirty minutes long, twice a week.

The transition to elementary was scary and tough. My district doesn’t have a chosen curriculum, and the curriculum I did manage to find is from 1995; two years BEFORE I started working in this district. Yikes.

Thankfully, I have been following Amy Burns (amymburns.com) for a long time, and she has discussed the work of Dr. John Feierabend. I had been using the work of Dale Duncan’s S-Cubed at the middle school level (http://inthemiddlewithmrd1.blogspot.com). I had already created my own ukulele curriculum (available here: https://ukestuff.wordpress.com/the-video-ukulele-method/) and I knew about Recorder Karate (https://www.musick8.com/html/store_page.php?cat_id=3). So if you blend all that together, you can teach elementary music (well, you can TRY to teach it).

What I struggled with was how to organize thirty minutes of class time, especially in K-2, as 3-5 are working with instruments (3-4 on recorder, 5 on ukulele). The Feierabend method presented lessons almost like a Choir rehearsal, and that set the light bulb off in my head. I treat every class like a mini-rehearsal, with the same types of activities (although they change) every day, and I use a blended method of our district’s dated curriculum, S-Cubed, and Feierabend. And it’s working. For 3rd and 4th grade, I’m making videos for Recorder Karate, and I use my own work for 5th grade ukulele.

Well, there are days that teaching K, K/1, or 1 is a bit like herding cats. But from what I understand, that’s age appropriate. My general rule is this: no activity longer than their age.

I follow a number of elementary music teacher groups on Facebook these days, and I have to tell you…there are a lot of horror stories out there. I do have a couple of tougher classes (all in the youngest years, which makes sense) and a few students that make life harder than others…but I have to be honest…I’m pretty happy in my career at the moment…happier than I’ve been in ten years.

My last two teaching assignments were tough for different reasons. While I’m not a pure “elementary music educator” (whatever that means), I feel like a weight has been lifted off my chest. It is wonderful to be greeted by kids…even the tough ones…with joy and happiness. The staff has been incredible and supportive. And I have been getting a lot of positive feedback from administrators, teachers, and parents. It is amazing what that can do for your mental health.

So what I want to say to everyone is that I feel like I’m back. Optimism has returned in my life. I don’t dread driving to school in the morning. And I don’t have to bring any of my anxiety or fear or anger home with me. I’m happy. And the other funny thing is that I was always hearing about school drama (not the school activity but the social illness) in my prior positions…there’s just no drama for me at my current positions! Can I tell you how great that is?

I will say that the technology I have available at my new schools is very limited; I have my school-provided MacBook, and an iPad to use with Seesaw. At my .10 position, I am in a classroom that isn’t mine alone (think about a teacher on a cart, without a cart) with a SMART Board that I only use as a projector (I’m setting up when I enter with the students as I arrive just barely in time, if not a little late). But I have my own technology, and that’s okay.

And ukulele continues to be a huge blessing. Much of the singing we do in class is accompanied by my ukulele. I honestly don’t know what I’d do without it!

And I’m learning so many things…the importance of floor dots, tape lines, Musication (https://www.youtube.com/user/derjanson), Koo Koo Kangaroo (https://www.youtube.com/user/kookookangaroo), and any freeze dance.

I’m not sure what 2020-2021 will bring; at the moment, I’m hoping that I can be assigned at my main school full time (admittedly, the actual crossover, the driving in the middle of the day–not the crossover school–stinks), but with additional cuts, people are going to be bumped all over the place and all I know is that I’m guaranteed a 1.0 position somewhere.

And I don’t know where my future lies. I’m still a secondary educator at heart, with a goal to be able to teach at the collegiate level…I’m just not sure I can afford to do so until I retire! I do love that fact that a few years of K-5 experience can open up some collegiate music education positions that I would not have been able to apply for in the past.

As far as this blog goes, a huge percentage of my time has been focused on my ukulele work, which has brought me a lot of joy, and has rekindled my love of music (it got pretty dark when I was teaching middle school music), and has also tapped into all of my skill set (technology, pedagogy, music theory, etc.). That said, I’m keeping an eye what is changing in the world of technology in music education, and as I see new developments, I’ll be sure to let you know about them.

I hope you have had a great 2019, and that your 2020 will be even better! I’m finding myself incredibly grateful for the changes in my life (painful as they were at the time)…and I hope there are others that can find encouragement from my own experience. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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?