Category Archives: General Musings

General Musings

NAfME Session #1 – 30 Apps in 60 Minutes

As I write this, we have just spent 14 hours on the road, driving to Tennessee so that I can present a session called “30 Apps in 60 Minutes” at the National Association for Music Education Conference in Nashville.  This presentation is on Sunday at 11:00am.

I have given many “XX apps in 60 minute” presentations, which often become a marathon attempt at showing the best of the apps that are out there–often showing 3 or 4 different apps with a similar focus.

For this session, I wanted some time to be able to discuss each app, and thus had to pick (what I feel) the best thirty apps on the market.  Apps were left off the list, and other than grouping all of the GAFE apps as one app, I kept to the list of 30.

My second presentation will be on forScore at 2:30 on Monday.

And if you are interested, the session “handout” is here: 30 Apps in 60 Minutes (only available in PDF format).  I will add the presentation and the handout to my “Past Presentations” in the future.

I am looking forward to presenting at and attending NAfME!  If you are at NAfME, I hope to see you there!

Asus Chromebook Flip

Okay. I did it. I went and bought an open box Asus Chromebook Flip today–as well as a Chromecast.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to present a rather broad presentation about music education and technology as it can be applied to Orchestra with MNSOTA (Minnesota String and Orchestra Teachers Assoication). As I often do with “broad” presentations, I spent a bit of time talking about SAMR and form factor in my presentation. I find myself often having to describe why Chromebooks are not a great fit for music education. On the other hand, I remain open to new technology, and I talked about how the Chromebook Flip might be a better fit.

Throughout the past day and a half, I spent my free time pondering Chromebooks. As I have written on a regular basis, the Chromebook is winning in education, and as time goes on, there are more solutions for music. For example:

1) Did you know that there are now two HTML Music Notation programs? One is the long-established Noteflight (now owned by Hal Leonard). The other is a French start-up, Both will work on a Chromebook.

2) Did you know that in addition to SmartMusic’s scheduled arrival to the Chromebook in the Fall of 2016, there is already a Chromebook-friendly music assessment program called PracticeFirst (from

3) Did you know that there is a dedicated HTML 5 sheet music viewer, NeoScores, which will receive some major updates in the next 3 months?

4) Did you know that there is a Web MIDI standard in development, which will (finally) allow Chromebooks to be used with USB MIDI instruments? (See this link) Web MIDI is already in Chromebooks–there is a lack of apps that utilize it so far.

5) Did you know that most web-based programs work on a Chromebook?

6) Did you know that Chromecast now works with the entire desktop, and that you can purchase AirParrot to show a Chromebook over an AppleTV? Chromecast is $35, and I am not sure how much a HDMI to VGA adapter costs for the device. In the past, my Kanex ATV Pro (converts HMDI to VGA for Apple TV) did not work with my Chromecast. That said, Chromecast mirroring is “laggy.” Whereas sound can sometimes lag when I mirror with an iPad, the video and sound both lag on Chromecast–even with the latest version of the device.

7) And most importantly, did you know that there is now a Chromebook that folds in half and can be used as a tablet (in truth, there are two such devices right now–the Asus Flip and the Acer R11 Convertible)?

I now have the Asus model in my possession. After (Minnesota) taxes, it came to $239. That’s less than 1/3 of the cost of my iPad Air 2 (which I maxxed out with LTE and 128GB of storage). On a more comparable note, the entry model iPad Air 2 (at 64GB–don’t ever buy a 16GB device again) is $599. So the Asus Flip was less than 1/2 the price of the “base” iPad model that I would consider buying. I purposely bought the Flip with 2GB of RAM because that is what schools would buy if they bought them (they would not spend the extra $50 for two additional GB of RAM).

Asus Chromebook Flip, left; iPad Air 2, right

I have been spending the evening with the Chromebook, and overall, I am impressed. The Asus Flip is very close to being a solution for music education. If money wasn’t an object, I wouldn’t choose the Flip over an iPad; but if your school has a choice between buying a Dell or Acer clamshell model or the Flip, I would encourage the purchase of the Flip for use in music and other non-typing classes.

I’m not making the claim that the Flip is more durable than other models…I would be terrified of dropping it, and it doesn’t seem like you can use a case with it without impacting its ability to flip. It is significantly smaller than my old Samsung 303 Chromebook, and the screen is only slightly smaller than my iPad. The Flip has a 10″ (diagonal) screen, but is in a widescreen mode versus the iPad’s 4:3 mode. Therefore, the Flip’s screen is only 5″ wide (roughly) while the iPad is nearly 6″ wide. The screen of the Flip is nice–most Chromebooks have low quality screens, whereas the Flip’s is clear. It doesn’t compare to the iPad’s retina screen, but then again, the iPad costs two to three times as much. If you didn’t buy the Flip for the flipping, it would be worth it for the screen versus other Chromebooks (other than Google’s top of the line Pixel model). If you are a musician wanting to view music on a device, and the iPad is too small, skip the Flip, unless you are going to use a MusicXML music viewer such as NeoScores, where notation can be instantly resized. If you need a bigger screen, wait for the iPad Pro in about a month.

The Flip weighs about 1 pound 15 ounces, whereas my iPad Air 2, in its case, weighs about 1 pound 8 ounces. Most tech journalists would complain about the difference of a half a pound, but for most users, you could deal with it. The most awkward thing about the Flip is holding it with the keys in the back…it is a feeling that takes getting used to. The keyboard itself is disabled in this mode, and the touchscreen overlay (something I suspect Asus put together above Google’s operating system) works surprisingly well–far better than some Windows devices that I have used. Asus should get this right, as they have made many Android and Windows tablets, convertibles, and even Flip devices in the past.

One oddity about the Flip is that it has a unique charger, when most devices are shipping with USB charging capability of some kind. Having a proprietary charger in today’s mobile world is a strange choice for a new device. Other than its unique charging port, the Flip has two LEDs (battery charging and power), a volume rocker, a power button (on the side of the device), a headphone jack, a MicroSD slot, two USB ports, and a mini HDMI out port. I wish they would spend the extra $3 and ship these devices with a mini HDMI to regular HDMI adapter.

The negatives of the Flip, with the exception of the solution of the form factor issue, remain the sameas other Chromebooks. As a whole, there are not a lot of quality apps for the device, and nearly all of the quality apps require a subscription for the best features. While I love what Noteflight,, NeoScores, and MusicFirst are doing by creating a number of quality apps, many schools simply cannot afford a subscription (for the record, Noteflight and NeoScores have free versions, and is still free). I think that developers deserve to be paid, even if schools are too cheap to pay for software. The issue is that when your school district has selected a device for the primary reason of cost savings and streching their dollar, they aren’t putting aside money for music departments to buy music specific apps–and to do so annually (In comparison, on the iPad, generally, apps are “buy once”). Other than NeoScores, I cannot find a PDF web app that allows for horizontal page turns and allows annotation. And I do not believe that you can add a scanner so that an app such as NotateMe’s PhotoScore (in-app purchase) could be developed/created.

Samsung 303 Chromebook, left; Asus Flip Chromebook, right

That said, we’re almost there with this device. If programs can establish themselves with Web MIDI, and NeoScores works out the bugs, Google incorporates more of Android into Chrome, and Chromecast mirroring can become less “laggy,” the Flip is just about the perfect form factor. Teaching in a 1:1, I no longer think you want to distribute a device where students can detach a keyboard. I used to think this was a good idea; but having seen what students do to iPad cases, I fear what they would do to a Chromebook detachable keyboard. As a result, a device where the keyboard folds back might very well be the device that can work for all subjects without compromise. We’re almost there–and the remaining issues might be worked out before this version of the Flip reaches its end-of-life. I wouldn’t tell you to go buy a Flip today–it still has most of the compromises of any Chromebook.

In closing, I think the iPad still holds the greatest value for education (music and otherwise) with available apps, accessories, mirroring, and MDM control (particularly with Casper by JAMF). There is a strong chance that your decision makers may not see the value in a device that costs two to three times more than a Chromebook. In that case, advocate–at the least–for this device. You should never buy a device for what it might do, but there is enough promise around the corner that many additional uses could be present on the Flip in the next six to eighteen months. I can’t promise that, but it seems likely. The worst possible scenario is that your decision makers choose a clamshell device that won’t ever fit easily into your music room. Try to educate those decision makers that there are better options on the market that either do work or potentially will work better for all subjects in the future.

P.S.  The animated GIF at the top of the screen was recorded with my iPhone 6S with the new “Live Pictures” feature, and then converted to an animated GIF with the app Live GIF (link).  Inserting it into the blog required saving the image OFF of the iPad and then uploading it via the web on another device (incidentally, the Asus Flip) as iOS doesn’t play well with animated GIFs (or more specifically, not yet).

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.


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