Category Archives: General Musings

General Musings

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.

Professional Development?

Every now and then, I think about Professional Development (PD) in terms of institutional offerings. This blog is committed to providing PD for music teachers who often receive little topic-specific PD for music or music education technology from their district, and my presentations–whose cost is usually covered out of my own pocket– are also meant to be PD for fellow teachers.  If you have attended a workshop I have taught–PD is at the core of those workshops. 

(I don’t mean to get stuck on that aspect of payment, but I think it is important to note that most conferences require the presenter to pay registration fees to present.  Knowing this can help you further appreciate fellow teachers who present at conferences–whether the sessions are great or not-so-great.)

A recent post by Tim Holt (a technology integration leader in Texas) suggested that we might not need designated PD time as we have in the past

Once again, I find myself not fully agreeing with the suggested concept. My own district has moved to a Ed Camp model of PD, providing time, but not designating topic–allowing teachers to choose their own topics. This is a great model for some teachers, and it saves the district thousands of dollars versus the old method of hiring or training PD facilitators.  

Mr. Holt suggests that teachers should be able to train other teachers (using Twitter and collaborative Word documents as an example). 

I think both of these are good models…but I also think that the “old” model shouldn’t be thrown out, either. If you are adopting a full 1:1, or a common new technology–the old model where the tech is introduced and basic skills are used in creating a product, is still valuable. Ed Camps are great, but should not be the only model used.  I have seen teachers misuse Ed Camp, and Mr. Holt’s example involves skills accessible on nearly any platform that should be available to every teacher (whether they choose to use Twitter or not). 

In music education, even some “basic” technology tools (think music notation) become wickedly advanced in little time.   Sometimes we need a master teacher and a required outcome to learn.  This summer, in my workshop on notation, I asked participants to choose a notation product and to do certain things with it. While they could have done that at home, my statement was, “Feel free to leave, but in my experience, we never set the time aside to actually learn the software–so this is your chance to do it.”  Nearly everyone stayed until the end of the day. 

It is also dangerous to expect teachers to simply learn on their own, without recompensation.  Our district tried that one summer.  Yuck. You are entitled–and wise–to use your summer break to refresh yourself for the next year.   Spend time with your family. Relax. Sleep in (if you don’t have small children). You should not be required to give that time up for PD.   You can choose to do so…but you should not be required to do so.  Paid “required” summer PD is also questionable (but sometimes unavoidable). In such cases, scheduling has to be extremely flexible.  When we opened a technology-rich high school in 2009, we offered SMARTBoard 101 and 102 in different sessions over a number of days, times, and weeks of the summer. 

I like to see a mixture of PD offerings…Ed Camps, teacher sharing time, optional PD experiences, and school-scheduled traditional PD.  Again, many scheduled PD topics may not directly relate to your teaching as a music educator–but some can.  As always, take what you can and use it in your instruction.

Big news about MusicXML today

Other sites are carrying this news today (I recommend reading the Sibelius Blog for its coverage on this issue), but as of today, control of MusicXML has been given from MakeMusic to the Music Notation Control Group. Additionally, control of SMuFL (Standard Music Font Layout) has also been given from Steinberg to the Music Notation Control Group.  The creator of MusicXML (Michael Good), the project manager for SMuFL (Daniel Spreadbury), and the CEO of Noteflight (Joe Berkovitz) remain involved as co-chairs of the committee. 

What this means is that these items will become a standard format not owned by a company but still watched over by a governing group.  It is an interesting move for MakeMusic, although posts by Michael Good have hinted that this day has been coming for a while. 

While this news may not seem very important to music education, the role of MusicXML, which allows the transfer of notation between programs, is greatly important to music education (e.g. bringing something from NotateMe to Notion, or from Sibelius to Finale). Also important is MusicXML’s size compared to native files in many music notation apps. SMuFL’s integration with MusicXML will help to make sure that notation moved from one program to another is even more accurate as all possible characters for music notation (SMuFL) are represented in the MusicXML container. 

In other words, this is a bit of background news that will quietly impact your life as you work with notation apps. As I mentioned at my workshop with the WCME last week, a notation app without MusicXML is not an application that is worth using in the modern era. 


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