Technology That Influenced My Life in 2017-2018: Bluetooth Receivers

I use a lot of recorded audio in my work, which can include anything from playing a Keynote with embedded video files on my MacBook, to playing audio from forScore on my iPad. Switching between audio connections can be a pain–and every moment that your eyes and body are doing something other than teaching is a moment for your students to be off-task as well. There are some classroom transitions that cannot be avoided–but with foresight, many tech transitions can be avoided.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I began using a microphone last year in my teaching. I already had a small mixing board connected to the sound system, so it became very easy to attach Bluetooth receivers (yes, plural) to that sound system.

In the past, I had tried to use AirPlay through Apple TV or even the Apple Airport Express. This worked, but there was always lag in the audio (push play and wait) and there were times that things did not work. In particular, we wanted a way to be able to control our middle school level musical from forScore, with every audio track embedded in the score, but I did not want to deal with wires, and AirPlay had too much of a lag.

Amazon to the rescue…quite literally.

Amazon sells a $20 Bluetooth receiver that can be connected to your receiver or mixing board (you need to buy the appropriate cables…1/8″ stereo to ?? Dual 1/4 mono? RCA? 1/8″ stereo?).

Once your iOS device or Mac (I cannot speak to Android, Chromebook, or Windows in this matter) is in range and the device is on, it automatically connects, and you can instantly play audio over the Bluetooth connection.

This isn’t new technology, but it sure works well.

I ended up buying a second Bluetooth receiver (I went with a different brand so they would look different in my Bluetooth menu on my device) for my MacBook. I could have bought two of the same unit and just experimented until I found out which receiver was which. I do not believe that you can rename units so they look different in your Bluetooth menu.

As a result, I could play audio seamlessly from either device, without wires.

A student COULD go up to your receiver and put it in “pair” mode to play their own music during your class, but they would have to do so physically (there is a button to press). Chances are that isn’t going to happen.

If you play audio files to a sound system in your room from one or more devices, a solid solution is to invest in a $20 Bluetooth receiver. Highly recommend!

Amazon referral link for the Amazon Basic Bluetooth 4.0 Receiver


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Technology That Influenced My Life in 2017-2018: Wireless Microphone System

I’m a teacher: I use my voice a lot. I’m a singer: I use my voice a lot. I teach middle school students who are not afraid to talk: I use my voice a lot to speak over them.

For a long time, when I get sick, my body has learned to attack my voice to get me to slow down. In fact, I got sick a week ago when we were camping and thankfully, I kept my voice until I was done with a workshop for the Wisconsin Center for Music Education on Wednesday. By Wednesday night, I was full sick and my voice was fully gone–and it still isn’t back.

I have written about this before, but this was such a game changer for me that I bring this advice to all of my fellow music educators: USE A MICROPHONE SYSTEM. Yes, you can speak/shout/sing over your band/choir/orchestra/General Music class. I did the same thing. But I was wrong. My elders had told me to do this 15 years ago. I was foolish and stubborn. Don’t follow my example.

With all sincerity, the microphone system made it so much easier to get through each day, and changed my perspective to a slightly more positive outlook each day (even in the midst of deep, deep challenges).

I bought a ridiculously cheap microphone system from Amazon, a Pyle 2 channel lavalier system for $35. I plugged that into the PA system that I was already using for my room–and this made a HUGE difference. I should have used a microphone for my workshop on Wednesday–and I never want to teach without a microphone again.

I also used the microphone system at my concert–our last in a gym–as I brought the PA system into the gym for the concert anyway.

I was a little worried that the Pyle system would pick up other broadcast items (such as the communication system used by our principals and support staff–or baby monitors in the community), but I had no problems, and had I been broadcasting on other frequencies in the school, people would have let me know.

Do expect to use 2 AA batteries a week (I teach 5 classes a day on a 7 period day).

Our new school will feature voice reinforcement in every room, so I may not need the system–but it is packed up and going to the new school when it opens (supposedly later this month).

Interested in a cheap mic system for your room? Check out the Pyle Dual Channel Wireless Microphone System

Here is a referral link to Amazon for the product: Inexpensive Pyle Lavalier Mic System Referral Link


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Tech That Influenced Me in 2017-2018 (#1: Epson EcoTank ET-2650)

Now that we’re several weeks removed from the daily grind of teaching, I find myself able to sit back and reflect on some things from 2017-2018. As Paul Shimmons and I talked about on our podcast (The Music Education and Technology Podcast), there hasn’t been a lot of “major” developments as it comes to music education and technology.

Don’t misunderstand us–there have been improvements, and those improvements often are the result of a huge commitment of time and resources. For the end user, there isn’t much to notice. A great example of this is Finale 25, which was completely rewritten to modernize the code–but seemed to work the same when it was finished.

As a result, I have been feeling a little worn-out when it comes to blogging. Most of my recommended apps and devices are still the same; and in the big scheme of things, most teachers don’t have any idea of what those apps and devices can do. At the same time, the term “iPad” and “Apps” no longer has the appeal that it did at conferences a few years ago–so there are still these wonderful devices and applications that can make your life easier–and there is really no way to bring that information to people that don’t know about them.

I love forScore and unrealBook. But realistically, how many times can I blog about them to the same audience?

One of the things I have been thinking about are the little things that made my life better in 2017-2018. There are a few things that I have purchased that I would recommend to others, so I thought I would cover some of those products.

The first product I would recommend is a printer. We have had AirPrint enabled printers in our house (HP) for some time. I despised having to purchase cartridges on a regular basis–and it seemed like we were buying black and color sets all the time. A combined set of black and color was over $45.

I had heard about the Epson Eco-Tank and was skeptical–but when I ended up with a gallon sized bag of empty cartridges (returning those is a scam to be addressed at another time), I decided to buy a Epson ET-2650 at Sam’s Club. I can’t remember the price–I think it was about $250 at the time.

It may not be the world’s best photo printer–send your photos to Target, CVS, Walgreens or whatever if you need photos printed. But in terms of affordable printing–we have printed at least a box of paper since we bought this printer and the ink levels seem to be fine. We no longer have to live in fear of printing in color, and I would have replaced the black cartridge many, many times over in my old HP. We have replacement ink that we bought at the time of purchase–and haven’t even opened those bottles.

My only complaint is that Epson sends out updates frequently, and you’ll look at the screen and it is asking to update the firmware AGAIN. It’s a printer. How often do you really need to update the firmware?

Are you looking for a decent printer that has AirPrint and isn’t going to break your budget with printing? Look at the Epson Eco-Tank printers. Sam’s Club now sells the next generation, the 2750, for $279.


JamStik 7 & 12: Final day of Indiegogo Campaign

Yes, I have posted about this before. That said, it is the final day of the JamStik 7 & 12 campaign on Indiegogo…you’ll be able to buy one when they officially go “on the market” in a few months, but if you would like to save some money, this would be a great time to join the campaign.

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-new-jamstik-guitars-for-learning-creating-iphone-bluetooth/

If I were teaching guitar (I currently teach ukulele), I would want the JamStik for myself–to walk around the room easily (instead of hauling a guitar) and projecting JamStik+ (an app) on a screen. As the JamStik senses and shows where your fingers are–it is GREAT for teaching. I would also want one or two JamStiks for students who either needed remedial work on guitar, or for those students needing an additional challenge (being ahead of the class). You COULD have a classroom set of JamStiks–but I don’t know how many settings are 1:1 with devices that could support such an initiative.


Flat v. 2 for iOS

A number of web-based programs simply do not run well on iOS, and therefore, companies are forced into making an iOS app if they want to tap into that potential revenue stream.

Flat.io has had am iOS app for quite a while, but announced this past week that it had released a new version of the app.

If you have an iOS device, and if you have a Flat.io account (if not, why not? There is a free version of the service), give the new version of the app a try today!