SMART Boards and Music Education

I’ve now been using a SMART Board for five months of teaching.  In prior years, I had used a laptop and PowerPoint.  About a year ago, I spoke at the MMEA Mid-Winter Convention and mentioned that I wasn’t sure how I would use a SMART Board in rehearsal.  A year later, I have some concrete ideas, which I shared at this year’s MMEA Mid-Winter Convention.

First, however, I’d like to address perception regarding the SMART Board.  Due to its most common application (elementary classrooms), some teachers (including myself in the past) felt that a SMART Board was better suited for the elementary level than the secondary level.  In some ways, this is true.  As I mentioned, the majority of “music” items in the SMART Gallery (included objects, animations, and backgrounds) would be better used by an elementary teacher than a secondary teacher.  What this means is that secondary teachers are better served when they find or create their own SMART Board resources.

Here are a few of the ways that I’ve been using my SMART Board, most often on a daily basis:

I can’t tell you how much time I’ve wasted in my career taking attendance.  I’m sure my school is just like yours, where accuracy with attendance–and attendance taken by a licensed teacher (not a student)–is required.  With choirs or bands…usually with double the membership of a traditional “class,” attendance takes time.  There is a local high school with 120 students in each choir…I can’t imagine the time it takes to do attendance for those classes.  With the SMART Board, I can make a sign-in, or even copy a class picture from our student information management system, and have students sign in.  This has led to some issues, such as certain students “playing” too long as they sign in, making others wait, as well as “milling about” by students after they’ve signed in…but I still maintain that using the SMART Board saves a great deal of time each day with attendance.

I’m not sure if it was Sally Herman or Mike Smith that said this, but they always encouraged announcements before the last song.  I can’t seem to find that timing, so announcements are the first thing I do after attendance.  I also include the daily rehearsal schedule on the announcement page.

I’ve created a jpg (older files are tiff) of each warm-up we do in class, which I’ve grouped into days, and I select warm-ups from those days.  In cases of choral arrangements for different parts, such as SSA, SATB, or even SAB, I have those all created as well.  I find that when I put the warm-ups on the screen (something going back to my PowerPoint days), students keep their eyes on the screen and are less distracted.  I also like the fact that they see the actual notes that go into a warm-up.  For the first time, I took a passage out of a song we’re working on and recreated it in Finale, then exported it for the SMART Board, and we’re using that passage–until it’s mastered–as a daily warm-up.  I also include sight singing in my warm-ups, and I’ve been putting Bruce Phelps’ Sight-Reading Method into Finale (with his permission).  I take a screen shot (SMART Notebook functionality), and paste it into a SMART page.  I also include an image that I borrowed from a student teacher years ago, which shows the solfege scale with ascending and descending half steps.  That way we can identify accidentals before we begin.

SMART Boards make it so easy to put together lessons on music history…either about a composer whose work we are singing, or about any composer.  Lately I’ve been using the “Composer of the Day” iPhone app from Wittenburg University, taking a “screen shot” of that page on my iPhone, e-mailing it to myself at school, pasting it into a SMART page, finding a picture of the composer, and then playing a sample of that composer each day.

Although we don’t have a theory class this year, I’m sure one will run next year.  The ability to work on the SMART Board to teach theory concepts will be fantastic.  I can quickly grab a background of music manuscript from the SMART Gallery, and quickly write examples on the SMART Board (rhythm, notes, etc.).

FreeHand Music Pad Pro Interaction
My last post was about the iPad and how it will be a logical venue for choral octavos.  If you look at the comments, it appears that both FreeHand and its competitor (Music Reader) are in the process of making software for the iPad.  Good!  With all honesty, the best part of the Music Pad Pro we bought has been its software.  The hardware has been my biggest disappointment.  I’m able to pull up actual scores on the SMART Board, and interact with those scores using the MusicPad manager (something that Music Reader can do, too).  In fact, FreeHand contacted me and let me know that they have some other ideas for integration with the SMART Board, something I haven’t had a chance to follow up on yet.  The potential here is HUGE, pending that you can scan something cleanly.  That’s why I love taking a PDF I’ve created from Finale and capturing part of it to a page in SMART Notebook…it results in a clean picture.  Admittedly, many of my FreeHand scans are a bit fuzzy, although from a distance they look fine.  This way, I can make notes in the music and show my students exactly where to write them.  The next step, of course, would be for those marks to immediately broadcast to every iPad in the room…but that’s a future step.

Video Clips
I know of one area college-level director who uses a story from the internet (humorous) at every rehearsal.  Some of us don’t have that comic timing (unless it’s a personal story, in my case).  But there are a lot of video clips that either relate to what we’re doing (e.g. I was talking about an open vowel sound and used the example of E.F. Hutton “We EARN it,” and none of my students had ever seen the commercial, so I found it on YouTube, converted it to a FLV file, and showed it to my students) or just morale boosters (go find Beeker singing “Ode to Joy” on YouTube.  You’ll see what I mean).  If you want to convert files and place them in a SMART Notebook presentation, use a service like or (both are free) and then save those YouTube videos as a FLV file.  If you don’t have YouTube access in your district, you may need to do this at home (or at your local library) and bring it to school on a flash drive.

In the Long Run,
The sky’s the limit.  If you have a SMART Board, start small.  Don’t try to impress.  Do what you can.  Try to incorporate your SMART Board every day.  Marzano indicates that the most effective users of SMART Boards only use them a maximum of 76% each day (or less!).  So the idea of “all SMART Board, all the time” isn’t supported by the research.  But SMART Boards can make teaching more interesting, even in the field of music.  Admittedly, our field has been resistant to change, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend changing just for change’s sake.  But if you are getting a SMART Board, have one already, or are requesting one, you can use it effectively and powerfully in your classes.  One final thought…although finances are limited, in many districts, there is money for technology, and principals often look for teachers who want to have technology in their rooms…and more often than not, those that ask, receive.  So if you don’t have a SMART Board, ask.

Which SMART Board should you get?
Funny that you should ask.  Our planning team chose the Promethean, the techs on our team chose another brand (I can’t remember the name offhand), but in the long run, the district went with SMART Boards (which led to a lot of complaining on the part of our school’s planning team, particularly with the six teachers trained to use a Promethean for a year).  In the USA, it’s pretty clear that the SMART Board is the most popular board, meaning more resources and more users to lean on if problems arise.  That said, the SMART Board isn’t multi-touch (something Apple users grow to love; by the way a 2-sided SMART Board is either in research or  pending, allowing two users at once), but there are a plethora of accessories that just work, including a wireless slate, clickers (SMART Response–at least two varieties), document cameras, and more.  Any board can revolutionize your teaching; SMART is a safe bet.


New Challenges

In the Fall of 2009, we’re opening up a new high school, which will be a technology based high-school. For a number of reasons (schedule and a missing senior class for the first year are two of the major issues), we have only 38 students in our choir program next year. The school is keeping me as a full time teacher, but part of my day will be to act as a technology support specialist for the other teachers in the school…helping other teachers put hardware and software into practice. I’m looking forward to that opportunity…but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I wish the choir program was larger from the inception, too.

At any rate, I’ve been learning how to make Notebook presentations, as each classroom will have a SMART Board. That is the industry leading (or at least the industry’s most popular) interactive white board, and it comes bundled with software that both lets you interact with traditional applications (Internet, Office Suites, and we’ll see how it does with Finale later), and it also comes with its own presentation software called “Notebook.”

Ultimately, I’ve found that SMART Technologies has released that software for both Macs and PCs. But the Mac version is severely crippled in some ways: it cannot import PowerPoint files, it cannot export to PowerPoint files, and traditional cut & paste methods for slides DO NOT work. The PC version is much more powerful, but it too has caveats…if you generate a PowerPoint from a Notebook presentation, the result PowerPoint is messed up in terms of “squeezed” elements on each page and incorrect page margins. Ultimately, you end up going back through each slide and fixing each item on each page; although I’m not fully convinced that pictures in the original Notebook presentation ever look the way they are supposed to look. I’ll be receiving training on the SMART Board this summer (officially…but my natural tendency is to play and see what I can do), and I’m going to be asking lots of questions. I’m already discussing these problems in some SMART forums…and finding some work-arounds, but sadly, no easy solutions.

That said, I’m seeing how these SMART Boards have TREMENDOUS (strong emphasis intended) application for music education, but the caveat is that there do not seem to be a lot of resources for music from other SMART teachers, and basically none for high school teachers. This may be true due to a number of reasons. First, schools may be buying these SMART Boards for only the “core” subjects, as those are the subjects we are tested in, and those tests determine state funding or sanctions. Second, there may be few music representatives working on the software side at SMART Technologies. And finally, teachers may just be creating their own resources and not sharing them, as what happens (a lot) in other fields.

At this point, I can see that I’ll be presenting on SMART Boards for Music Education at MMEA next year, and perhaps even TIES. We’ll see. And the iPod project continues both at my current school, and will begin at the new school next fall as well.