I really didn’t want to replace that router…

Old and New Apple AirPort Extreme

Last Saturday night, we had a storm go through our area. One bolt of lightning hit very close to our home, and I turned to our media center to see the light our Apple AirPort Extreme router turn yellow, and then fade out.

Although nearly all the cables in our neighborhood are underground, there are still various locations where those cables surface, such as the cable company distribution points and of course, where cables go into our house.

So although our technology is connected via a surge protector, there is nothing “in-line” to stop an electrical surge through the cable coax. But that is what happened…a surge took out the cable modem, and then continued via the Ethernet cable to our Apple AirPort Express.

Our AirPort Express was old…perhaps a 2008 or 2009 model, but it worked well. Even though it was not AC rated (the latest spec for wireless), its N speed was providing 25 Gigabit downloads to our devices. That 's enough for four Netflix streams without any stuttering. My dad loves to come to our house because our Internet is significantly faster than any other place he visits.

But alas, the wifi router was dead. I was able to go to Comcast and get a new cable modem; but I had to order an AirPort Extreme router. I could have bought an AirPort Express, but I wanted the additional ports so we can plug in other “Internet of Things” devices to our router. The Express does not offer these additional ports.

So I had to buy a new AirPort Extreme, which has changed form factors. The old one looked like the old white Mac Minis or like the first generation Apple TVs. The new one looks like six new Apple TVs stacked on top of each other (a tall rectangular cube). I didn't want to pay retail ($199) for the router, which is not overpriced (see the cost of other routers with similar capabilities), so I shopped in the Apple Refurbished area, and bought a new router for $125 (plus tax). It was shipped and received two days after my order ( I couldn't order on Sunday anyway).

I really like the Apple AirPort options; there is a standalone app that helps you set it up, and there are a ton of choices. You can run two networks (normal and guest), and you can easily control individual users. For example, we turn off my 15 year old stepson's Internet access at 11pm, encouraging him to get some sleep. Yes, other routers offer these features, but they are not as easy to deal with (the app really makes it easy). You can also run things off of the router's USB port, such as a hard drive or a printer.

With the new router, it was time to set up OpenDNS again. OpenDNS is a free security service that, in our case, helps filter content in our house. You set up an account with OpenDNS, add the IP address of your router, and then add OpenDNS's filtering DNS address to your router. This sounds complicated but it is rather easy. Then, on OpenDNS, you choose the filtering level desired for your house. We typically choose “moderate” which eliminates most of the major inappropriate things on the Internet. This protects our family from accidentally (or intentionally) accessing sites that they shouldn't be. This is especially true when there is a LAN party of 15 year old boys in our house.

While the school's use of iBoss solved about 95% of our inappropriate use of school iPads, if parents had used OpenDNS the previous year, we might not have had to use iBoss this past year (I just saw a tweet that said when we distribute devices, we do so for their families as well. That is also true…we did have situations in. 2013-2014 where parents were using student devices to look at inappropriate things). If you have children in your house, I can't encourage you enough to use OpenDNS and to protect your children!

Yes, Comcast offers a cable modem with a router, but we wanted the dual channel router along with the ability to control the router with the Apple app.

So…we have a new cable modem and wireless router, and our hope is that we will get at least. 6-7 years out of this device, too.

 

Coping With Classroom Management, Part II

In one of my previous posts, I discussed the challenges that I have been facing in my current position as a choir director in a middle school, in a situation where music is required–but there is no “general music” class.  As a result, any student not in band or orchestra, or any student kicked out of band or orchestra, finds themselves in choir.

Overall, I have been successful, but trying to teach a percentage of students who do not want to be in choir is a new experience for me.  When I taught middle school in 1997-1998 in the Dominican Republic, students may not have wanted to be in music class, but as a whole, they participated and went along with the process.  That is not the case where I teach today.  There are some possible solutions on the horizon, but I wanted to share some strategies that I have come across (none of them are things I invented) that have made my life easier.

The first strategy was a sight singing method called “S-Cubed” and developed by Dale Duncan.  Dale’s process of teaching sight singing is established in a game, and the game itself adds to a better classroom management experience in your room.  The end result is that your students learn how to sight sing and they act better.  It really works.

The second strategy I am going to discuss is called “Above the Line.”  This is a management system developed by Corwin Kronenberg (who lives in Minnesota).  Our entire school adopted this system mid-year, and for those teachers who stuck to it, it had a very positive impact.

The basis of the system is this: your students know how to act in your classroom.  This may not be true for kindergarten students, but pretty much every student in your classroom–particularly at the secondary level–know what is expected of them.  Our problem is that we (as teachers) fail to acknowledge this, and we fail to make general rules known, and even more, we fail to enforce the consequences.

One coach, at a former school where i taught, reminded us of another coach’s statement: “We get what we allow.”

Ouch.  And even if we have some students that are management nightmares, it is still true.  I’m not saying we can fix every issue, but we can all do better, right?

So the process is this: with each class, you have a discussion with every class about what it means to be above the line.  You usually start this off with a written prompt that goes like this:

“Jim and Pete were sitting in class.  When the teacher turned around, Pete threw a wadded up ball of paper into Jim’s face.  Jim turned to Pete and said, “Man, that was really below the line.”

What did Jim mean by “Below the Line?”

What does it mean to be “Above the Line?”

Then you begin a process of asking each and every class what it means to be Above the Line in choir (or band, or orchestra).  And you write down what they are saying (On a projected iPad or computer, on a white board, or even a chalkboard).

Then you ask them what it means to be “Below the Line.”  Also write these items down.

Finally, spell out which things are “Bottom Line.”  Bottom Line items are things that are simply never tolerated, such as weapons, fighting, or harassment of any kind.  Some things in “Below the Line” may fall into that category–although this can be a conditional category.  For instance, I believe that mistreatment of a substitute teacher (we have a shortage of these in Minnesota, if anyone wants to move here and be a full time substitute) is a Bottom Line offense.  Not everyone agrees with me on that issue.  Swearing was another issue that was Below the Line for some teachers and Bottom Line for others.

Then introduce your students to your own “Above the Line/Below the Line/Bottom Line” chart, and review how their answers fit into your document.  If necessary, add items to your list.

The next step is to have a list of consequences.  These need to be designated by level.  It is okay if you want to give a warning to a student for any Below the Line behavior, but if you do, use the language, “_____ is being above the line.  Be above the line.”  Any Bottom Line behavior results in an immediate referral to the office.  After the warning, you go to Level 1 interventions.  I suggest keeping track of every time you need to go to a Level 1, 2, or 3 Intervention for future reference with parents and administrators. I know this is hard, but you are already having to stop teaching to deal with these students, so you might as well take the 20 extra seconds it will take to document what you have had to do.

Level 1 interventions follow a warning, if you choose to give a warning (you don’t have to).  At this time, you take a minor action, such as moving the student to a different seat, reviewing the expectations (particularly what is going on) with the class, or giving a non-verbal warning (proximity, eye contact, post-it note).  The idea is to make sure the student knows that they are above the line, and to give them the opportunity to fix the situation.

At no point in the process do you battle with the student (Has this happened to you?  It has to me!).  You simply point out the master sheet/chart with the Above the Line expectations, and you point out the consequences.  And you never lose your cool, or they win.

Level 2 interventions happen when a student will not correct their behavior.  At this point, you ask them to step out of your room, and you bring some materials along.  I have a clipboard with a copy of the Above the Line expectations, consequences, and two additional forms.  One is a Fix-It-Plan, which helps a student figure out how they will adjust their behavior, or a Think Sheet, where they lay out a plan to fix the problem over time.  When you get the student in the hall, you give them two options.  The first question is: “Can you fix the current behavior, or does there need to be a consequence?”  You are always trying to give them the choice to choose to be above the line.  If a student chooses to continue acting inappropriately after this chance, you go to Level 3.  However if a student indicates they can get it together, and they do–it is a win-win for everyone.  But there are a surprising number of students that will choose a consequence.  This is when you leave them outside your door, with instructions to complete the form of your choice.  Following this, students can let you know they are done with the form and ready to be a part of your class again.  Some will choose to be out of your room for the rest of the hour.  Whenever you have a Fix-It-Plan or Think Sheet in hand, it is time to call or e-mail the parent about the issue, and to share the document with the parent, and likely the administrator.  Detentions, Lunch Detentions, and Service Projects also make for good Level 2 interventions.

Level 3 Interventions occur when a student chooses to continue to be below the line, even after other interventions.  Admittedly, if a student is a daily offender to the system, you might get here sooner than with other students.  In these cases, it is important to talk to your administration about what to do with these students. A Level 3 Intervention is a situation where a student is sent immediately to the office.

Above the Line failed to work for me only when I failed to follow the steps.  I found removal from class (to fill out a Fix-it-Plan), particularly without their iPad (we are a 1:1 school) a very powerful deterrent.  Ideally, you want a student to be back in your class and participating within 10 minutes.   There may be situations where you want a student to “stew” a little longer.  We have cameras in every possible hallway of our school, and there is a bench outside of the choir room.  I let students know that if they choose to leave the bench, we will know and a Level 2 will become a Level 3.

Yes, there will be some students for whom this system does not work.  But for most students, it does.

There is one final step in the process, which is that students get up to 3 daily points (as a class) for good behavior. Teachers deal with these points in a number of ways.  Some teachers allow a student to take up to the number of daily points to shoot a small basketball into a hoop at the end of a class, and the class with the most “baskets” wins popcorn and pop at the end of a semester.  I just gave them daily points as a whole, and added the points they they earned beating me in S-Cubed.  My winning classes (by grade level) received a lollipop (I sell Ozark Delight D’Lite Lollipops before school, mainly to make enough money to give out awards).  It can cost quite a bit of money to give out rewards when you have over 300 students in three different grade levels!

As a side note, I also wanted to reward students that did their very best in choir.  Kids in my choirs do not earn an “A” automatically.  Many of them aren’t concerned about their grades in the first place, but I strongly feel that if you can’t sing the music by the time we have performed the music in a concert, you shouldn’t be earning an “A.”

I made an “A” club.  Ideally, any student earning an A would come in after school for a pizza party.  B’s do not count.  Even an 89%.  Middle school students can be bribed by food–oh yes, they can.

So, that is the general concept of Above the Line.  It really works, if you follow through with the consequences.  Again, don’t argue with a student.  They are very fond of saying, “Jimmy is doing this…”  The issue isn’t about Jimmy, it is about them–and the fact that they are below the line.  Follow the process, and watch the behavior improve.

My goal is to adjust my materials this summer (I have attached our above-the-line expectations, Fix-It Plan, and Think Sheet) so they look better.  I also wish I could simplify the master list, but the truth is that students came up with most of these expectations this year, and I wanted their voices to matter!

Good luck!

Choir Above the Line Expectations (PDF)

Fix-It Plan (PDF)

Think Sheet (PDF)

PhotoScore 8 and AudioScore 8 are out!

PSASBundle8DVDPack

Think for a moment about the programs on your computer for a moment.  Which programs are on your computer that are truly irreplaceable?

My answer to this question has changed over the past two years as the apps on my iPad have gained more functionality, and as the number of quality solutions for some types programs have multiplied.

Microsoft Word may have been an indespensible program in the past, but services such as Google and programs such as Pages (free with a Mac and also free via iCloud.com) and Open Office has changed our reliance on these programs.

I mainly use my Mac for four tasks these days.  Those tasks are: editing music in music notation programs, scanning music, creating concert programs, and dealing with video.  In these four categories, I have several programs that I use consistently.  For video, I use iMovie and Handbrake.  For scanning music, I use my Canon P-215’s own software.  For creating concert programs, I use Pages.  When it comes to music notation, I am likely to use Notion or MuseScore (and will perhaps jump back on the Finale bandwagon with the next release).

But when it comes to taking a PDF and scanning it with music recognition software, I have ONLY one program of choice: PhotoScore Ultimate.  Neuratron just released PhotoScore 8 and AudioScore 8, and I have been working with these programs today.  AudioScore takes audio and converts it to digital notation (transcription), which is a feature I seldom need.  I can definitely see how arrangers and composers could benefit from a transcription program.  Most of my work requires me to import existing printed music into digital notation, and thus PhotoScore has been a lifesaver for me.

I have tried all of the music recognition apps, and PhotoScore (even in Version 7 which was originally released in 2011) has been far superior to any other solution.  The one exception would be PDFtoMusic Pro, which takes a PDF generated by a music notation program and converts it to MusicXML.  This is a highly accurate process, but chances are you are trying to recognize a scan you (or someone else) has personally scanned on a scanner or photocopier versus recognizing a printed file from a composer.

If you use Finale, Notion, or MuseScore, PhotoScore is for you, too.  Yes, PhotoScore is the “bundled” software that comes with Sibelius (albeit a lite version), but you can save any PhotoScore document to a MusicXML file and then edit it with any music notation program that opens a MusicXML file (even Notion or Symphony Pro on iOS).

Neuratron turned the recognition world on its head last summer as it introduced the ability of its Android & iOS app to take pictures of printed music and to use the PhotoScore in-purchase app to convert the music to digital notation.  For $70 ($40 app, $30 add-on), we are now able to scan music “on the fly” without the need for any additional hardware.  I have been a pest in the past months, regularly asking employees at Neuratron when we would see the next version of their desktop programs.  Sibelius and the Sibelius Blog leaked news of the coming update earlier this year, but there was no specific ETA for the updates.

Well, today was release day.  You can go to Neuratron’s website (Neuratron.com) and purchase PhotoScore Ultimate (and AudioScore Ultimate) today.  The prices:

  • New purchase of PhotoScore Ultimate and AudioScore Ultimate: $369
  • New purchase of PhotoScore Ultimate or AudioScore Ultimate: $249
  • Any upgrade of PhotoScore Ultimate or AudioScore Ultimate to its updated version: $99
  • If you own and update both programs from previous additions: $119 for both
  • If you add AudioScore to PhotoScore during the update, you can get it for just $50 (80% off – limited time offer)
  • And if you bought the program on April 11th or more recently, you get the upgrades for free.

In my honest opinion, the $249 I spent on PhotoScore Ultimate 7 (same price as version 8) was the best $249 I have ever spent on music technology for my Mac.  It has saved me over a thousand hours of note entry in the time that I have owned it.  While there will ALWAYS be scanning errors, PhotoScore Ultimate runs circles around its competition–and even lyrics are recognized.  And if something doesn’t scan well, it is usually indicative of the quality of the printed music itself rather than a problem with the program.

PhotoScore 8 has a lot of improvements “under the hood,” but the biggest change is that NotateMe (the main app for Android/iOS) is included in the program (which, incidentally is just over 80MB on my Mac).  There has been another handwriting recognition app in the news lately that only runs on the Microsoft Surface–and that program has received an overwhelming amount of promotion directly from Microsoft.  With this update, Neuratron also adds the ability to handwrite notation via NotateMe to the Windows platform.

I am currently working on making rehearsal tracks for a fall musical production, importing songs from a PDF of the musical.  As I was about the begin the next song, I used the same PDF in both PhotoScore Ultimate 7 and PhotoScore Ultimate 8 to create a MusicXML of the song.  As should be expected, PhotoScore Ultimate 8 was significantly more accurate than PhotoScore 7, but cleanup was needed in both scores.  The editing screen hasn’t changed much, and I find that I personally edit faster in a traditional music notation program than using PhotoScore’s own tools (or NotateMe, so I simply export PhotoScore’s initial scan as a MusicXML file and open that file in another app.

In the following comparisons, I imported MusicXML files into Notion and then removed everything but the notes and articulations (I have been placing all lyrics into any document I have worked with over the past three years, and Notion’s main weakness is lyrics.  It is easier to delete all text and lyrics and re-enter versus trying to edit what imports via a MusicXML.  I am hoping this changes in a future version of Notion).  You will notice that PhotoScore 8 does a much better job with the same PDF, making 60% to 75% fewer errors.  As you can see in example 2, if the original score has bar lines that are hard to see, PhotoScore will have a hard time seeing those measures are pat of the same staff unit, and will put all of the voices as if they were one continuous single staff.

photoscore comparo 1 photoscore comparo 2

Unfortunately, I do not have the original score on hand to take a picture of the score with my iPhone with NotateMe/PhotoScore IAP and then to do a comparison of those two solutions.  I will have to write an article about that at a later time.

Here is the big question: do you need PhotoScore Ultimate 8?  If you are a musician who wants to convert PDFS of music to digital music, yes, you do.   NotateMe/PhotoScore on Android/iOS does not yet allow for the import of PDF files.  And of course, you can use a scanner with PhotoScore (this is how it was originally used), but the Android/iOS app may be a better solution for scanning smaller works.  If you are scanning a lot of pages, you will want to invest in a auto-feed duplex scanner like the Canon P-215II, scan your music as a PDF, and then import it via PhotoScore Ultimate 8.

If you already use PhotoScore Ultimate, the $99 upgrade will pay for itself in a few hours of work (you will be saving yourself at least 50% of your current corrections).

Is the addition of NotateMe to PhotoScore a good thing?  Absolutely.  But without a Surface Pro, my main tool for NotateMe will be my iPad, and I still prefer to edit my PhotoScore scans in other software.

If you would like to see all of the information about PhotoScore Ultimate and NotateMe 8, see: http://www.neuratron.com/v8.htm.

And as a reminder, AudioScore Ultimate was updated to Version 8 as well.  Again, my workflow does not need transcription software very often.  However, if you do use transcription–and particularly if you own PhotoScore Ultimate already, you can add AudioScore for a limited time for just $50 (this is normally $249).  You can learn all about the AudioScore changes at http://www.neuratron.com/v8_as.htm.

You can download a free demo of either program at the websites listed above.

Thank you, Neuratron, for once again making my life easier with your programs.

Mastering MuseScore by Marc Sabatella

Music Notation is a key component of my work flow: not only reading music notation, but creating music notation as well. My reliance on music notation started many years ago, when it became clear that I would never become a concert pianist. What I could do, however, was to enter scores into a music notation program and to have that program act as my rehearsal accompanist.

Over the years, the notation programs have evolved, as have the sounds. As a result, there are times when I prefer to use a digital accompanist rather than a flesh-and-blood accompanist, and in fact, my middle school students perform to accompaniment tracks that are either purchased (e.g. the various pop tunes we sing) or made by me (anything else). As much as some of my choral colleagues can be critical of that approach, the accompaniments I make with Notion typically sound better than any pianist or piano I have ever used (and we had a Yamaha CFIIIS at my last schol), and you can put the resources you would spend on a performance-only pianist into other things.

Over the years, Finale has been my tool of choice. This makes perfect sense, as I went to school in Minnesota (where Finale was created and existed until this past summer), and one of my professors worked for Coda Music Technologies (a predecessor to the current MakeMusic). I never joined the Sibelius bandwagon, but I have grown to include Notion in my work flow, first due to their iPad app, and second to Finale 2012’s inability to function with Mac OS X Yosemite (Finale 2014 works with Yosemite, but I find myself reluctant to upgrade mainly for that reason). Meanwhile, MuseScore has been another tool that I have been using, particularly its latest release (version 2.0). It works very well–and I have really been enjoyiing its screen shot function for use with presentation software (I just wish it would save to a JPG as well, as it saves to a PNG file)

Two years ago, I was asked to speak at a prominent college about music technology and education, and I asked students which notation software package they used. Not a single student was using Finale or Sibelius, and none of them knew about Notion. They were using MuseScore. MuseScore, as a free program, is changing the face of music notation. Do you know which program you use? Probably the tool you were forced to learn in college. If college kids are learning MuseScore, what happens in the future to the paid programs?

You can download Finale Notepad for free (something that wasn’t true for a while), but then again, MuseScore is a fully functional free app, while Notepad has (and has to have) limitations.

To be quite honest, why would you buy a program when you can download a free program that can do nearly everything you need it to do? Why would any high school or college buy a single computer lab full of a paid app when every computer lab in the school could be a music lab with access to MuseScore, and the ubiquitous nature of Google Drive means that you could use a file anywhere or share it with others?

Noteflight is another interesting product as its basic product is also free and the program is growing, but the main educational tools of Noteflight are found in its subscription-level packages, meaning that MuseScore is still the better price value and has more features.

You might also buy Notion for iOS (or Symphony Pro) as a solution for your mobile needs, and then purchase Notion for Win/Mac because of the direct compatibility. But MuseScore very much changes the face of music notation. The essential question becomes: why would any music student, music teacher, or amateur musician purchase another notation product? There are reasons…but you have to have specific needs for those reasons.

Now that I have discussed my background and the state of music notation software, it is time to talk about the matter at hand: Mastering MuseScore. I was given a preview copy of this book, and Philip Rothman at the Sibelius Blog has already posted a review of the book. I would start by sending you to that article, as Philip always has a great “take” on music notation and music technology.

There is a user’s guide for MuseScore that is in continual review and adjustment. For some people a user manual is overwhelming. David Pogue once stated that as geeks, we often forget that the majority of the world are NOT geeks. This is where the role of the technology integration specialist comes in…someone that is a geek that can speak “normal.” That is what Sabatella’s Mastering MuseScore is all about–he takes you through most of the major features of MuseScore in a conversational format. If you hate user manuals, ultimately, this is the “user manual” for MuseScore for you. This is also a way to purchase a printed user’s manual without having to print it yourself.

Additionally, every purchased copy (about $40 US) goes back to support the development of MuseScore. MuseScore is free, but you can always donate to their work on their website by going “Pro” in their community (musescore.com), of you can buy this book!

I enjoyed learning about the history of MuseScore in the book (which explains why MuseScore is supported on Linux–because it began on Linux!), and I particularly enjoyed the subchapter on “Replace versus Insert” on page 82. As a long time Finale user, MuseScore drove me crazy because I couldn’t insert notes into a measure, and would have to delete an entire measure to edit it. It turns out that MuseScore acts more like another major notation package, and “replace” is a specific feature. I love the fact that Sabatella discussed this, and this subchapter should be mandatory reading for any Finale user migrating to MuseScore.

Another benefit of the book is that you learn all kinds of shortcuts. In truth, you will need to work with a bunch of scores (I have worked with thousands in Finale) before the shortcuts become second-nature. Such an example can be seen on page 209 where MuseScore will add a decrescendo to a selected group of notes, just by hitting the “>” key. There are many keyboard shortcuts for MuseScore, and truthfully, the next thing I’d like to see them sell is a laminated “master shortcut cheat sheet” that users could buy ($10?) and have at hand while using the program (and you cen even customize shortcuts!).

While you read the book, you will want to have a computer at hand with MuseScore installed and running, so you can work through what you are reading about. Afterwards, you will not know everything about MuseScore, but you will have a good background to start with, and you will know where to go for help when you need it. And when you encounter something that isn’t covered in the book, there is still the traditional user’s manual as well as the wonderful support community that has answered every question I have ever posted about MuseScore on Twitter.

Is the book worth buying? Even if the book was empty, it would be worth every penny of the $40 cost to support the ongoing work of MuseScore. But the book isn’t empty, and it will help a lot of users figure out key tips and tricks of the music notation software that is taking over the industry.

One final note: if you are not a person that learns by reading but instead by watching others, check out Dr. George Hess’ series on MuseScore 2.0…his videos are bite-size and outstanding! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=24PK-LOTla8&list=PLTYuWi2LmaPEZX1IDtL6Lx1Uyq7WGdGCL&sns=em

S-Cubed: A New Approach to Sight Singing

Raise your hand if you have figured out how to teach your students to sight sing. If you are a band or orchestra teacher, don't consider yourself out of this discussion. My high school band teacher was also a singer, and his philosophy was, “If you can sing it, you can play it.” In a perfect world, band and orchestra kids would learn how to sight sing, too, as a part of total musicianship (this is why you had to take sight singing and ear training in college).

But here's the problem with sight singing: there is a disconnect between how we sight sing, and then how we actually learn music. Teachers that “teach” sight singing do so as a disconnected exercise from any other part of the rehearsal. I have been guilty of this, too. Over my years as a teacher, I had mixed commitments to teaching sight singing until a professor on my doctoral committee asked, “What are you doing to teach music literacy in the form of sight singing, dictation, and composition.” At the time, I wasn't doing very much, and my committment changed. Since that time, sight singing has been a part of what I focus on.

I have tried a number of approaches, including reading off the board (my preferred method, as all eyes are up and you can see who isn't participating), using exercises from Melodia, Bruce Phelps Sight Reading Method, and 90 Days to Better Sight Reading, using SmartMusic as a class, and even teaching complete songs via solfége. At best, kids tolerated my efforts, at worst they hated them.

This past fall, I had the chance to work with a Minnesota school district that had adopted a 1:1 Chromebook initative and wanted an outsider's perspective on how those devices could be used and what other resources could be used. In that process, the middle school choir director talked about S-Cubed, a sight singing method devised by Dale Duncan, and how that methodology was not only working with her students, but also helped with discipline in her classes.

Knowing my situation (see my last two posts), I figured it was worth a try. Dale offers the S-Cubed series on “Teachers Pay Teachers” and occasionally offers sale prices. I bought his entire series, and waited for a time in the year to begin working with it. I need to let you know that I am not receiving any financial compensation for mentioning S-Cubed. I am mentioning it because it works.

When you buy S-Cubed, you receive files of all the various PowerPoint lessons Dale has created to teach sight singing. Dale has created many (short) YouTube videos demonstrating how to teach concepts and sharing additional thoughts. He currently works in Georgia where sight singing is still a part of the adjudication of choral contests. His choirs “kick butt” in this process every year. After years of struggling with teaching sight singing, Dale observed other teachers and came up with a process that worked for him, and he is now offering his process to other teachers.

When you see Dale on his YouTube videos, you may be tempted to think, “I'm not Dale. This isn't going to work for me.” What I am sure that Dale would tell you is the same thing I have said to my student teachers–if you try to be me, you are going to fail. To succeed in this job, you have to know who YOU are and to be true to yourself, working through your strengths and learning how to cope with your weaknesses. If you buy S-Cubed, you have to present it AS YOURSELF, and not as Dale. If you do this, it will work for you.

At the core of Dale's process are two things: gameification and technology. He uses available technology (in his case, an Interactive White Board and PowerPoint), and we all know how students (heck, even adults) love playing games. Sight reading is turned into a game (at first), which leads to a systematic process that enables students to sight read without hating the process. In the process, classroom management also becomes easier.

I began using S-Cubed in March, as we have taken a period off mid-year to work on other non-singing projets (composition). Over the past 3 months, we have covered the first five lessons of S-Cubed, while there are 27 complete lessons. I have personally worked through Lesson 6, but even so, I have only used 1/3 of a year's worth of lessons with my class (remember, my classes are on an A/B format, whereas Dale's classes are open enrollment but meet daily).

I don't want to get into the specifics of what you do in each lesson, as Dale's process walks you through every step of the journey, and truthfully, the man deserves to be paid for what he has developed. What I can tell you is that S-Cubed is working, and I can't wait to start my 6th Grade students on Lesson 1, and to pick up with Lesson 6 with my 7th and 8th grade students next year.

Athough Dale includes PowerPoints (which also act as your manual) for each day (there are several days in each lesson), I have been re-creating content to use on my mirrored iPad screen with Keynote. I like to use Keynote's “laser pointer” as I walk students through the tasks which keeps me from signing (yes, signing) with them as many students used to watch me as I signed solfége instead of watching the projected screen. I also like to use APS Tuning Trainer to help my students develop sensitivity to pitch. And I like to use other resouces for quizzes, such as Google Forms (and perhaps Schoology in the future) for assessments (instant grading). I am placing a lot of hope in PracticeFirst next year (at $6 per student) to assess student sight singing as well. I might also have students record themselves on video (we shall see).

What you are going to see with S-Cubed is a systematic approach that exposes kids to solfége names and hand symbols, and then gradually puts those names and hand symbols INTO THE MUSIC. The hand symbols won't be “just” for elementary music teachers with a Kodály background any more. And if you do have elementary teachers that teach with the Kodály hand symbols, let them know you are continuing the work.

Here's the deal…this system is worth its weight in gold, and could be EASILY modified for elementary school or high school (if you choose this method, your high schools would be foolish not to continue using it), or for band/orchestra as well. The complete first method is currently selling for $150, but there are occasionally some sales, and there is no guarantee that prices won't go up, either. You can also buy individual lessons or smaller lesson packs if you don't want to commit to the entire series. Or you can download the free pack just to find out more about the method. Dale also blogs at inthemiddlewithmrd1.blogspot.com, and is in the process of developing S-Cubed year 2.

In closing, one of my major tools during the second half of the year has been S-Cubed. Kids buy into it, even stoic 8th grade students that are “too cool.” if you start this at the beginning of the year, your kids will be sight reading before you know it, and you will have massively changed the climate in your program.

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