Category Archives: General Musings

Apple Education Event, March 27, 2018

Earlier this morning, Apple held an education event, where it offered some new solutions for education.  I’ll be visiting with Robby Burns in the near future on his podcast about the education event, but I wanted to cover some highlights and offer some initial reactions.  I work in a 1:1 iPad environment and have done so for five years.  I have “hands on” experience with teaching and iPads.

First, Google Chome has been kicking the hind end of the competition—including Apple—as it comes to education.  School districts are simply too tempted by low cost devices that have a keyboard and offer free services/apps/storage.  If you are a music educator, you are fully aware that you need more tools than the Google Suite, and that those services (rightfully) charge a key.  There is also a very good chance that your school district isn’t budgeting any extra money for you to have those services.   We’re also actively ignoring Google’s willingness to sell data to provide those low cost services. As reported widely today, Chrome represents 60% of the education business in the United States right now, and Apple only 11%.  Just yesterday, Google announced a Chrome-based Tablet, set to compete with the iPad for $329.  It will be interesting to see if these devices become “accepted” in Chromebook schools—proving that the choice of Chrome devices over Apple devices isn’t really form factor, it is an anti-Apple bias, which still exists.

Second, what was really announced today?  As I wasn’t there (I would have loved to have been there, and as I’m on Spring Break, I could have made that happen), here’s the list as I know it:

  • A new 9.7” iPad that is faster and works with the Apple Pencil for the previous price point of $329 for end users and $299 for schools.
  • Apple Pencils will sell for $89 to education
  • There are new cases, including a good looking Logitech armored keyboard case for $99
  • iWork has been reworked to allow for annotations.  This is cool in Pages—but will be positively AWESOME in Keynote.  I’ve used PowerPoint and I have used Google Sheets, but I find Keynote to be the best tool for what I do.  I have always said that Keynote is a program that acts as if PowerPoint and SMART Notebook had a baby.  At this point, I would rather work on a mirrored iPad in KeyNote than on SMART Notebook on a SMART Board.  My school recently decided against getting SMART Boards in every room in our new school—a decision that will pay for itself with this announcement.  SMART activities are great, but many have been messed up on the Mac platform for years with Flash anyway.
  • Apple Classroom will now work on MacBooks, too (a major request)
  • It appears that iBooks Author is somehow integrated to Pages on iPad, allowing you to finally create iBooks content on the iPad (This has kept me from updating my own iBooks, to be honest).
  • There is a new homework hub that will integrate with education apps, allowing teachers to assign work and track completion.
  • And school assigned accounts now get 200GB of free storage per account.  That is a nice change.

Third, it is unclear how some existing services will decide to work with Apple.  Can Schoology tap into the new homework hub?  I think Apple has made a poor decision in not acquiring JAMF, which is what most schools use for Mass Device Management (MDM).  MDM should also be free for schools, provided by Apple.  You want the market?  Eliminate the extra costs to run Apple products in schools. I also did not see Apple address the problem of in-app purchases for school apps (there is currently no way for a school to pay these costs).  Apple also didn’t solve the situation where students can stop management simply by going to Airplane Mode or restarting their device (Yes, kids do this—all the time).

Finally, I wish we could be honest and admit that part of the problem is that Google refuses to provide their own suite on iOS with the same functionality it offers on its own platform.  I am very aware of this as I work with Google Slides.  I have to work on a computer in Chrome or on a Chromebook to have full functionality, whereas even working in Chrome on an iPad isn’t enough.  There is a “nod” to provide basic functionality—but if you really want to work, you need to move to another device.  That is a purposeful choice by Google, and if Apple did such a thing, they would be mocked for it by the press (you can run most Apple iWork apps through iCloud.com, by the way).

All in all, the biggest changes in my life due to today’s announcement will be the ability to write and draw in Keynote and the ability to create an iBook on the iPad.  I don’t see schools buying Apple Pencils for students, but I can see some students opting to buy them (what happens when they are stolen or broken, I do not know).  It sounds as if Logitech is making an Apple Pencil device for education—I need to read more about it.  Perhaps this opens the door for 3rd party Apple Pencil devices?  That wouldn’t be so bad.

We are also going to have to update my own children’s 4th Generation iPad Minis, as those devices are getting dated (and are in rough shape).  As a parent, I can see myself buying a 9.7” iPad in the place of those iPad Minis, with a keyboard case from Logitech and a Logitech “pencil.”  I could also see buying the new iPad for my parents (my mom has the previous generation 9.7” iPad).  I just wish Apple would start those devices at 128GB these days.

I don’t know if this is enough for Apple to “win,” and I’m not sure Apple wants to “win.”  I think these changes make it possible for Apple to keep competing, and today’s announcements certainly do that.

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Thoughts from TMEA

My wife and I returned yesterday from a short trip to San Antonio, where I presented a session on the S-Cubed Sight Singing Method on Saturday morning.  A huge thank you to everyone that attended that session!

I had previously blogged that I had applied to TMEA and none of my proposals were accepted—furthermore, because we had a new principal, I did not apply at any other conferences.  At some point—it must have been October—TMEA contacted me, letting me know that someone had withdrawn their proposal, and asked if I would like to present one of my sessions, specifically my S-Cubed session.  I was happy to accept that proposal, and used two of my personal days (not sick days) to attend the conference.

My wife and I have been flying Spirit airlines over the last year, and we really like the company.  We travel with a minimum of belongings, and every flight has been a positive experience.  If you travel with more stuff, I can see how Spirit would be more of a negative experience—but we’re happy with it.  I even bought a sopranissimo ukulele so that I can fit it in the Spirit-sized personal item.  We couldn’t fly into San Antonio on Spirit, so we chose to fly into Dallas, where we rented a car.  We stayed in Dallas on Wednesday night, made our way to San Antonio on Thursday (having dinner at our favorite restaurant, Guillermo’s), and I spent Friday at the convention and Saturday morning at the convention as well.  We had dinner on Friday at Lulu’s—home of the 3lb cinnamon roll (we did not order one—at least this time).

I attended a few sessions—both of the offered ukulele sessions, as well as a couple of other sessions.  My main focus at conferences is to make connections with other like-minded (or like-interest) people, so it was fun to have lunch with Robby Burns and Daniel Jamieson on Friday, where we talked about a lot of things (note to self: I have to download Bear notes for iOS), as well as to finally meet Greg Dellera and Ryan Sargent from MakeMusic, Meredith Allen from SoundTrap, Katie Wardrobe from Midnight Music, and to say “Hi” to John Mlynczak from Noteflight and Floyd Richmond from Houghton College.  I also enjoyed meeting Andy Ramos, who has been making ukulele play along videos as well.  I didn’t spend very much time in the TI:ME area, so I missed a number of my techie colleagues (e.g. Barbara Freedman and Amy Burns) but at a conference as large as TMEA with the limited time I was actually there, that isn’t a surprise.  As my wife was with me, who is not a techie nor a music educator, and I didn’t want to ditch her or force her into additional conversations (e.g. meals) where she would be bored.

TMEA’s exhibit area is simply overwhelming if you aren’t used to it.  Even so, there were a few products that were not represented this year (I am sure that the costs to have a booth are overwhelming), and in that case, I wish the vendors would still come and float around with their product (that is what I would do).  Interest in ukuleles was sky high (I’ll apply again to present next year) and vendors were selling a lot of them.

What I’m trying to sort out in my brain right now is where we are at, as a profession, with music technology.  We have more tools than ever—and there are functional tools on every platform, even though some platforms (in my opinion) remain better suited for certain tasks.  And it is pretty clear that there is still a huge divide between “traditional” music education and what we consider “music technology.”  I think elementary teachers are better suited to incorporate music technology into their lessons—but when performance becomes the focus (where the majority of secondary music education lies), “music technology” is still a rare course in many schools across the country.  It is nice to hear from teachers who have such programs—and understandably, they challenge “performance based” music educators to do more.

I guess it is always true, but we have a long way to go.

I love going to Texas, and if I have one conference that I can attend/present at, it is my top choice (and there are MANY fine conferences across the country).  If you haven’t been to TMEA (and there is a one day TI:ME additional conference on Wednesday for $50 extra), make it a priority next year to go!  You won’t regret it, and if you are from the northern states, it is nice to see 70º in February (it was a little colder this time than it has been during my other trips).


Technology that can help you through the tough days…

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We’re in the rough part of winter in the Midwest, where we will see temperatures between -20ºF and 50ºF over the next two months, with the potential of snow and rain (of both the frozen and unfrozen varieties).  These can be rough months to get through—made even more difficult if you are in a tough teaching positions.

I try to be very careful about what I post about my position, but my position is a tough position in a Title 1 school, and  there are unique challenges in my particular position as students have to take music, and if they aren’t in band or orchestra, they are in choir.  We’re also trying to integrate PBIS, the first year of a five to seven year process—and if PBIS is true (I think it is…PBIS is how teachers in healthy schools have always taught), then we also have to acknowledge that anti-PBIS is true.  Either your 60% of compliant students will impact the other 40% (I’m using skewed numbers reflecting my position), or the 40% of non-compliant students will impact the 60%.  Change is slow and hard.  And the issues aren’t solely in my classroom—they are present throughout the school (Otherwise, the answer is pretty simple: find a new teacher).

We have a new principal (who is excellent), we open a new school with different boundaries (and thus student population) in the fall, we are continuing with PBIS, and 8th Grade music will become an elective instead of a required course.  As a result, eight months from now, my position will look very different than it has for the past 9 years (this is my 5th year in this position).  That’s all good…but how do you make it through the next five months?

I am tired of the educational “gurus” who keep laying the blame on teachers.  If you think teachers are the problem, then get off your hiney and come work alongside those teachers and stop preaching at them from your social media pulpit.  In the process of chastising teachers, those who are doing what you suggest will simply puff themselves up, those that aren’t going to do it will still ignore you, and those in broken positions will take the admonition to heart, adding more weight to their “heart” that already feels as if they are to blame.

We also have to accept that some systems are broken, regardless of how much time you put into relationships with students.  I’m not saying that you shoudn’t build relationships with students—but I don’t know many teachers in this day and age who do not!  There are a few, sure—but they are far and few between.  In an industry where we are seeing teachers leave the field in less than three years, we need to start caring about the physical and mental well-being of teachers.  I fear that a lot of mental harm is done to teachers who are admonished for not working hard enough, not caring enough, and not doing enough to reach students.  This has to stop.

If you are a teacher in a happy, healthy situation—I celebrate with you.  I’ve been there with you, and I know how great that experience is.  Enjoy that time to the fullest and make it last as long as you can.  For those teachers who are in less than ideal situations—and you’re stuck in your position, I want to bring two tools to you today.

The first is simply a post by Tracy King, a music educator who has a presence on social media and sells a number of materials on Teachers Pay Teachers.  She wrote a blog about dealing with teacher burnout, and if your batteries are running low, read that blog post (link).

The second is for me to admit that I have always relied on my loud voice throughout my career.  I am an operatic tenor with the ability to produce a Decibel level approaching that of a jet taking off (well, not really).  When I was teaching high school choir, music theory, music history, or guitar, my students generally chose to be there and thus were invested in what they were doing.  I only raised my voice when I wanted to—usually as a joke.  Perhaps there were classes of 9th grade boys that needed more volume than others, but I generally just used my normal singing and talking voice (and I’m loud, as my wife would be happy to tell you)

Since I began teaching music to students at the middle school level, where a healthy percentage of students would rather not be in the class, I have found myself regularly suffering from vocal fatigue and connected illnesses.  I have had to be louder and larger to gain their attention.  Yes, I am aware that there are quieting techniques such as EnVoy (I am learning about EnVoy as part of my personal development plan this year), but those techniques are less effective when an entire school staff has to be louder and larger to fight an anti-PBIS environment (again, we’re in year 1 of a multi-year process).  As we moved to ukulele for a couple of months in the middle of the year, I found myself dreading the volume I would need to project over fifty ukuleles (as well as the students who simply keep strumming no matter what—the same students that if you take away the ukulele will disrupt your class in other more significant ways).  I thought back to my master’s work, where I took a class on “Body and Mind,” where the instructor (a voice therapist) begged all of us to use voice amplification systems.  I ignored that advice—I was teaching high school music to kids that listened, which didn’t stress out my voice (he also suggested that we don’t sing along with our students—something I still struggle with when teaching students.  Guess what I start doing when we go back to singing on a daily basis in March?).

I opened a new high school nine years ago, and it was technology-packed (thus my desire  to go to the school).  The technology package had a voice reinforcement package for every classroom.  It turned out it was truly “reinforcement” versus “amplification.”  Teachers needed amplification in the room, not “reinforcement.”  As a result, the system didn’t work for teacher needs—and specialists from the company were brought out who verified the systems were working as designed—with no benefit for the teachers.  As a result, nobody used those systems (I tried, and gave up, as did others).  With our new school that opens up next fall, “amplification” is included.  That will be a different situation altogether.

However, in our current school, there are only certain classrooms with the ability to do teacher amplification—and my classroom is not one of them.

I decided to break down and buy an inexpensive wireless microphone system (less than $40–the Pyle lavalier system.  I’m not going to give it a five star rating, but it works), which I have hooked up into our portable PA system.  I now run my computer through a Bluetooth audio connection (more about this later), and then my voice through the lavalier system, all through the PA.

Since adding the microphone, I find myself in a much better state of mind at the end of the day.  I can still utilize EnVoy techniques—but I also am taxing my vocal folds significantly less than I used to.  The job is still incredibly tough, and many days I still feel as if I am invisible or that I have failed—but some physical wear and tear has been taken off my shoulders, and that makes things a little bit better.  When you feel that you are at the bottom, even a little boost is significant.

So, that second tip?  Invest in a wireless audio system for your room.  I know it might sound crazy…but you owe it to yourself.  I was told to buy that system in 2002 and put it off for fifteen years.  I was a fool.  Don’t follow my foolish example.

At a later time, I will write about the Bluetooth audio connection and how that has been a blessing (and far more reliable than AirPlay).  I have also changed my approach to let my iPad be my iPad (after all, I bought it), and to use my school issued computer for projection without mirroring my iPad to that computer.  Again, I’ll write about all of this at a later point.

And to anyone going through tough times…many of us are with you, or have been in your shoes.   Some people have never been in that position, and they may not be able to empathize with you—so it can be a challenge to share how you are feeling—make sure that people actually want to hear how you are doing, and then share.  Sadly, many people are fine just using the superficial, “Things are great,” even when they are not.  Hang in there…take care of yourself…do get counseling help if you need it (yes, most of us benefit from such things)…and consider using some technology tools to help you make it through the day.


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Some miscellaneous tech info: Light Signature, NiceChart, and RehearsalAids

Every now and then, I hear from developers and companies about their products, and they don’t always fit into my workflow.  I know that my blog (and others) frequently receive requests to feature articles by other bloggers (likely for a fee), which is something that I am not particularly interested in, either.  This is a blog that I write from my own experiences as a way to give back to the community of music educators.  With all sincerity, if you want to share your thoughts, start your own blog!  Let me know about it and I’ll be happy to include it on my blog roll here on this site.

The first tech item is an app by Matthew Fagan, who has developed a keyboard-based app to interact with various scales and chords, and also has MIDI in/out functionality.  That app is called LightSignature.   Go check it out!

The second tech item is a new sheet music technology that was just launched at the Midwest Band and Orchestra clinic, called NiceChart.  NiceChart is a customization-based  technology that allows directors to customize arrangements to their instrumentation and individual proficiency levels of each member of the ensemble.  You can find their website at NiceChart.com, and you should see a growing list of available titles as time goes on.

The third tech item is an existing service by RehearsalAids, where the company will create rehearsal tracks (visual and sound) from your existing literature for (choral) students to use.  If you contact the company, you will find that the services are very affordably priced for schools.  I don’t know what your school year looks like, but January through March was always the “heavy” part of the year at the high school level with a conference music festival, large group contest, and solo and ensemble contest.  If I were a director that was not going to make these resources myself, I would certainly look into this service.


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A quick ukulele post

If a ukulele was under your tree this morning, or you are buying one tomorrow…I highly recommend Barry Maz’s book, which is on sale right now in the Kindle format for $1.99.  Highly recommended.