Six years with 1:1 iPads: A reflection

One of the reasons I left my high school position to teach at the middle school position was to move to a school that was going 1:1 with iPads. Incidentally, seven years later, my former high school will be 1:1 with Chromebooks next year. I remain a massive enthusiast for iPads, but my support for iPads as 1:1 student devices has shifted, and I wanted to write about that.

I do think there are massive benefits to students have technology in schools, and I still believe that the iPad is a fantastic device for content creation in educational settings. The problems I witnessed were either due to the teacher’s integration of iPads in the classroom, or to student misuse of iPads in the classroom.

When we rolled out iPads in the Fall of 2013, it was the wild west of 1:1 programs. At the time, district-level administration wanted as little restriction of student devices as possible, meaning a wide open App Store for every student, and no teacher controls whatsoever, unless you physically took an iPad from a student and set restrictions on the iPad.

When iPads were rolled out at our school, there was an expectation to use the devices–as much as possible–and to replace paper with the devices. This past year, the new principal at the school began to question why teachers were using iPads when other approaches might be better (e.g. paper and pencil). Focus groups were held with every department, and they discovered is that the mentality that rolled out in the school six years ago was still the status quo, and that new teachers to the building were indoctrinated to the practice as well–even though the new principal never demanded such an approach. My former school has to address that issue, but it is amazing how quickly a school’s practice can become part of its long-term philosophy. Educational leaders would be wise to learn from this example.

Furthermore, many teachers stopped searching for better or new solutions with the iPad after the second year with the device. When the iPads were new to the school, teachers were scrambling to find apps that could be used in their curriculum. Most teachers stopped looking for new apps by year three of the program. Additionally, we moved to Schoology as a Learning Management System over the past three years. Once Schoology was adopted (SeeSaw is used district-wide in our elementary schools) teachers spent their time with Schoology, and the majority of student educational interaction with iPads was connected to Schoology in some way or another.

In choir (my subject), students used iPads in five ways–which, if used properly, would still require iPads for 75% or more of the class period:

  • As sheet music through Showbie
  • To complete in class audio or video assessments (sight reading, singing, or ukulele) in Schoology
  • To complete daily reflections in class (also used as an exit ticket) in Schoology
  • To make up missed assignments in Schoology
  • A very small amount of composition with Flat.io

This doesn’t include the ways I used the iPad, it just includes student use.

Apple continues to try to help teachers with classroom management of iPads, and they keep investing in services like Apple Classroom, but the experience is a lot like trying to herd cats.

In the early days, we fought apps like Five Nights at Freddy’s and students installing profiles on their devices which allowed them to do whatever they wanted on the device. Things got better as Apple added more features for schools. We were able to lock the App Store, turn off Bluetooth management, lock access to Profiles, migrated to JAMF management, and took advantage of Apple Classroom when it was released.

But the problem remained–and remains–that students did not see the devices as a privilege and as an education tool–they saw them as “their iPads.” Furthermore, all a student has to do to avoid supervision is to put their iPad into Airplane Mode. In Apple Classroom, a student in Airplane Mode is no longer supervised, although they CAN be on the Internet–and keeping tabs on thirty to fifty iPads in a class (icons that do not all fit on one screen) while trying to teach is a losing situation. While I did my best, I couldn’t keep tabs on every student–and I know that some teachers never even used Apple Classroom. Apple Classroom is now available on Macs as well, but you need OS X Mojave to do this, and we are not upgrading district-wide to Mojave until the fall.

We also ran into the challenge of what to do with a student who was off-task with an iPad. Some teachers approached the situation with a sense of seeking holy justice; others just ignored the problem all together. Administration didn’t quite know how to handle those situations, either, as there were legitimate larger issues for them to deal with. Contact home was usually ineffective, and removing an iPad from a student always required more work from the teacher who now had to make paper copies for students without iPads.

Left unchecked, students were happy to play online games like zombsroyale.io (which happily offers MANY additional URLs so that schools are unable to block access to their page) and yohoho.io. And should you dare to ask a student to stop playing a game in class, the response was anywhere from rude to insubordinate. A few teachers weren’t even aware of the problem. There were also plenty of times where students would simply choose not to bring an iPad or would choose to not use their iPad in class. How do you deal with that situation without a standardized school management plan for iPad use?

And the issue wasn’t only misuse–it was shocking to see how often students would feel free to throw iPads up in the air (like a ball), throw them on the ground (in anger), or to other students like a frisbee. Yes, we had a lot of cracked screens. We asked students to buy insurance, and it was surprising how often they would say, “Well, if it breaks, I have insurance.” And to complicate matters, our latest iPad cases had a stand which “clacked,” and it was common for students to “clack away” on their iPads throughout an hour.

Perhaps these issues were only at our school, as it is trying to establish respect for learning, property, others, and self through PBIS. But my guess is that these issues occur at many other 1:1 iPad Schools.

No, I’m not on the Chromebook bandwagon, but I would teach at a Chromebook school. Our district decided to go with GoGuardian’s management system this fall for the district’s new Chromebook initiatives. GoGuardian seems to be an application that will ensure that students use the devices as intended. If teachers take the time to set up their class properly, students are only able to access specific sites during class. And Chromebooks don’t have the same issue with Airplane Mode as iPads (giving unmonitored access to the Internet while in the Airplane Mode).

In my opinion, two things could make iPads a much better solution for schools. The first is the necessity of a school based management plan which would outline what would happen if a student misuses their iPad (off-task use or physical misuse). Such a plan has to have consequences (not punishment) that places the onus on the student and the parent. Lose your iPad? Then getting copies of the materials that are online and bringing them to class are your responsibility. The challenge with such a plan is that many students who lost iPad privileges were already disengaged in their classes, and in many cases their parents were also not engaged with their students’ academic career–so how do you put the consequence on a such a student? One of the things I love about the Love & Logic behavior plans is that it calls for children to experience consequences for their actions. One of our biggest issues is that teachers usually felt those consequences.

The other thing that Apple needs to solve is the ability for a student to simply enter Airplane Mode to avoid management of their iPads. There should be a way for those iPads to still know where they are (geo-gating) and to force them into management by Apple Classroom even if they are in Airplane Mode. Until Apple solves this situation, and as long as School-Based Management Plans are not put into place, teachers are playing a game of whack-a-mole instead of being able to simply use those devices, when appropriate, as a way to improve the learning environment.

In closing, I’m not anti-iPad, but changes are necessary, and Apple has the ability to solve both issues. Apple could offer a suggested management policy for schools to adopt, and they can solve the Airplane Mode issue. I still think the iPad is great for education, even 1:1, if students can use them at times that make sense to enhance education or to create content. And I certainly support the use of the iPad by teachers, who are not going to be tempted to misuse their devices while teaching a class.

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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’ (mustech.net) 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.

Bluetooth Finder App

Hello! It has been quite a while since I have blogged. Most of my time (other than family and teaching) has been spent making ukulele videos (see youtube.com/ukuleletenor). And to be completely honest, my technology life has settled into a routine that hasn’t seen any significant changes for some time. What I’m using in the classroom is technology that I have already blogged about, and I don’t see any value in writing about what I have already written about.

That said, there are some major changes coming in my life, and I look forward to writing about those in just a few short weeks (That’s what they call a “teaser.”

What I did want to write about today was a new app that I bought to solve a specific problem. Last week, I had been editing videos on my iPad Pro, using Luma Fusion (great app) and my Apple Pencil. At some point, I misplaced my Apple Pencil and could not find it anywhere–tearing up the house to find it (much like when my son’s iPod Touch had been stolen, and we had torn up the house to try to find it). After looking for the Apple Pencil for two days in every conceivable place with no luck, I was ready to order an Apple Refurbished replacement.

As a last resort, I googled (when used as a verb, is “googled” capitalized?) “how to find a lost Apple Pencil” and was immediately referred to the “Bluetooth Finder” app. Unfortunately, Apple’s “Find iPhone” doesn’t track the Apple Pencil, but there are several iOS apps that track signal strength of local bluetooth connections. “Bluetooth Finder” was highly rated, and while it was $4.99, that’s far better than $85 for a refurbished Apple Pencil.

I bought the app, opened it, and saw my Apple Pencil, and followed the strength meter to find the pencil in our laundry room, in the middle of towels that I had folded while watching Star Trek Voyager on Netflix as I folded. The $4.99 app would have saved me several days of searching…and I had looked in the laundry room to no avail earlier.

Now, had the Apple Pencil been dead, the app wouldn’t have helped me. But that was not the case, and I have been very grateful to have my Apple Pencil back. Once you start using an Apple Pencil, you change a lot of the ways that you do things, and it is very difficult to go back to not using one.

As a result, if you have an Apple Pencil, I highly recommend the Bluetooth Finder app. You never know when you might need it. You might not think that you would ever misplace a white pencil shaped object…but it can happen to anyone!

App Store Link (no referral): https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/bluetooth-finder/id1259319285?mt=8


At TMEA this week!

I will be at TMEA this week, from Thursday through Saturday. I have a session on forScore on Saturday morning at 8AM in Grand Hyatt Crockett CD. Please feel free to contact me if you are going to be there—I’d love to say, “Hello.” I will be spending a lot of time in the vendor area, where I get chance to see what is new and talk to some of the key players in the industry of music education and technology.

I used to attend up to five conferences a year, something I have not done for a couple of years. I wanted to explain why.

Several years ago, my school/district stopped supporting my efforts to present at music education conferences, which is one of my very favorite things to do. I never asked the school/district to pay for travel, lodging, or meals—I just asked them to pick up the cost of a substitute teacher. When I attend a conference these days, presenter or participant, I have to use my contractual personal time. If I have any other plans during a school year that involve my use of personal days for other things (which was the case this year), I need to save those days (we get up to four personal days a year).

I don’t have any plans for the 2019-2020 convention schedule at this time, so if you would like to have me present at your conference, feel free to propose session topics (you can see the many different sessions I have presented about here), or to contact me with your ideas. Most states have a way for members to request presenters for their conference.

That’s all for now—I look forward to meeting some of you at TMEA this next week!

PlayScore 2: Another Tool To Buy

Over a year ago, I wrote a blog post about PlayScore Pro, an app that had a lot of promise, but didn’t work for my personal work flow. A few weeks ago, I was contacted by the creators of PlayScore Pro, which is owned and operated by Dolphin Computing Ltd and Organum, Ltd. There is a new version of PlayScore 2, which answers the difficulties that I experienced trying to get PlayScore Pro to fit into my workflow.

As a side note, I have to mention that I don’t think the creators of PlayScore 2 were worried about my individual work flow…the improvements to the new version just happen to address them.

PlayScore 2 works very similar to PlayScore Lite and PlayScore Pro (which are also still available, and might add some confusion) in that you can take pictures of your score and the app recognizes the music, making it able to play your music or to export it as a MusicXML file to another app (or using AirDrop, to your Mac).

PlayScore 2 now adds the ability to import a PDF directly into the app, and to recognize all the pages of a score at the same time.

The selling points of PlayScore (Lite, Pro, or 2) have always been speed and accuracy—including pulling in additional markings (diacritical markings like staccato and accents, crescendos, and dynamics). PlayScore 2 does not import lyrics or text—but their website (PlayScore.co) indicates this is in development (with no specific timeline).

In a moment of transparency, the first version of PlayScore 2 that I used “hung up” on a choral score that had staves that appeared and disappeared along the way (very common in choral scores). The developers were aware of the issue, and this morning (as I write this post) a new version of the app came out that solved that problem.

The suprise for buyers will be PlayScore 2’s purchase options…the use of all features requires a subscription. You can get a subscription for $4.99 a month or $15.49 a year. Paul Shimmons (ipadmusiced.wordpress.com) and Robby Burns (www.robbyburns.com/blog/) were just talking about subscriptions a few weeks ago on Twitter. I think we all see subscriptions as an evil necessity (although Paul is reluctant to buy apps that require them). The idea of a buy once-use forever app is hard to justify. We’re close to nine years with the iPad, and I’m still using the original purchase of forScore that I bought for $0.99 at that time. I’m more than ready to buy “forScore 2” to make sure that the company can continue to stay in business!

All that said, I think a $16 annual charge for the ability to scan your music, importing from a PDF, is a fair price. It takes time to enter any song into a digital format, whether note by note (how did I ever do that for hundreds of scores?) or simply playing into a digital piano and recording it to create an audio track. If the app saves you one hour of time during the year, and you earn at least $25 an hour, the app has already saved you money. If you are scanning a bunch of scores, the app will likely save you tens or hundreds of hours of time. It doesn’t take long to prove that the old axiom is true…“time is money.”

There are now three reliable scanning apps on the Apple App Store. The first is NotateMe with the PhotoScore in-app purchase, which sells for about $70 all together. NotateMe is just about as accurate as the PhotoScore Mac/Win version, although it won’t read PDF files (the Mac/Win version does). The second is Sheet Music Scanner, a $4 app that does a good job of importing notes, but there are some things it does not do (triplets). And now there is PlayScore 2 which I can recommend as well. If you are scanning a piece to use purely as accompaniment, PlayScore 2 might be the best starting point, as it attempts to import (and play) expression.

In terms of my own work flow, I will now try to scan a song with Sheet Music Scanner and PlayScore 2 to see which does a better job with that score (the results are never the same) and then export that scan to Notion or Finale to finish editing the score. I don’t generally use NotateMe/PhotoScore on my iPad/iPhone because it doesn’t import PDF files. If Sheet Music Scanner or PlayScore 2 don’t do a good job, I will then go to my MacBook and use PhotoScore to scan the PDF. And if the PDF was generated by a notation project, I will use PDFtoMusic Pro (on my Mac) to decode the file into a MusicXML file. PlayScore 2 does not appear to be available on Android yet, and neither is Sheet Music Scanner, but you never know what the future will hold (NotateMe is available on Android).

Incidentally, NotateMe on iOS/Android works very well if you have sheet music on hand, and attempts to import lyrics. PhotoScore has been the gold standard for scanning for long time—the app just can’t handle PDF scores, and that is where I live most of the time.

In summary, I have a number of tools on my devices to help me scan, and it doesn’t take long to see which one is the best tool to use.

I continue to scan every score that I use, so that I can have it on my iPad, and I purchase a digital copy when they are available (even if I have to buy five copies of a choral score). A notation-created score will be smaller (it uses a font instead of an image) and can usually be decoded by PDFtoMusic Pro to help me make accompaniment or rehearsal files.

This is a good day, everyone—I’m pleased to be able to recommend PlayScore 2 to you as an additional tool to add to your tool kit. I’d recommend the annual subscription due to the cost savings (only three months of a monthly subscription).