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,, 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 ( 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 ( I had already created my own ukulele curriculum (available here: and I knew about Recorder Karate ( 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 (, Koo Koo Kangaroo (, 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 ( 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?

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’ ( 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.