Friday, December 14, 2012

Amazing Moments in a Classroom

Thinking and learning!
I pushed my kids beyond the point I thought was possible yesterday, and they responded with enthusiasm.  It was one of those amazing moments we savor as teachers.  And since it is music & edtech related, I thought I'd share it.  Here's what we were doing:

• While working on our Nutcracker unit, we were learning about the harp (Waltz of the Flowers).  But thanks to, instead of just directly teaching them about the harp, I could send the students a link to a website about the harp and have them find the answers to my questions about the harp.  Then, students could submit answers through infuselearning which we could discuss as a class.  

But it gets better:
Screenshot of the various tabs 3rd grade students had open for work
• I also asked the students to have another browser tab open and logged into Google Apps.  When designing this unit, one of my essential questions was "What choices does a composer have when writing music that tells a story?"  A simple shared document was all we needed to gather all sorts of answers.  These students had never experienced a collaborative document - there was no need to explain it, and yet they got it.  Great discussion followed, more revision, and ideas shared.
This was a 30-minute class with 3rd grade students!  It was our fourth class on infuselearning so far and they had prior experience on Google Apps.  They had all sorts of browser tabs open, constructing their own knowledge and defending it in front of the class.  

All I had to do today was ask questions, such as:
How many strings does the harp have?
How many pedals does the harp have?  Why?
What are the colors of the strings on the harp?  Why?
Which finger do you not use to play the harp?
What choices do composers have when they write music that tells as story?

The students had to do the work and the thinking.
I just needed to provide the questions and the right tools for the learning.
Questions from Smart Notebook file for students

Saturday, December 8, 2012

InfuseLearning - Student Response System

Every year, I teach a 3rd grade unit on the Nutcracker Ballet.  When I first started teaching elementary, the 3rd grade homeroom teachers would read the story, a dancer would come in and work with the students, and we would take a field trip to watch the Milwaukee Ballet's amazing version of the Nutcracker.  That left me (as a music teacher) plenty of time to focus on Peter Tchaikovsky and his music.  

Over the years, money grew tight (no more field trip) and time grew short (no more story or dancer).  That left me to teach as much as possible about the Nutcracker - Tchaikovsky, his music, ballet, and a video performance - in the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Needless to say, the way I have taught the Nutcracker has changed every year.  This year, I decided to use InfuseLearning while teaching.  I had used InfuseLearning with 8th grade students earlier this year, and thought I would give it a try with 3rd grade.  
InfuseLearning is a free, web-based tool which calls itself a "virtual learner response solution".  It is a student response system, but with some really great customizable features.  A teacher logs in and is given a virtual "Room ID" to provide to the students.  The students log in with the Room ID and name and then wait for the teacher to initiate "activity" in the room.  The activity can be questions, links, or drawings.  

Of course, 3rd grade students being who they are were surprised when their screens started changing when I would initiate activity.  The students would get excited anytime I would begin a new activity.  I had to tell them, "I know what your screen says - you don't have to tell me - I made it say that - go ahead and do it!"
InfuseLearning's teacher homescreen
You can ask many kinds of questions in InfuseLearning.  True/False, Multiple Choice, Sort/Order, Numeric, Likert Scale, and Open Ended Text Questions.  But I think the two features that make InfuseLearning stand out are InfuseDraw (which lets the students submit drawings to the teacher) and InfuseLink (which sends a link from the teacher to the student devices which open in a new browser tab).  You can also set up quiz questions ahead of time, and InfuseLearning offers options such as reading questions aloud, grading text answers by establishing key words, enabling a "don't know" option, setting up multiple classes, and more.

One drawback to InfuseLearning is that the entire class must be on the same activity at once.  If everyone finished a quiz except Johnny, then everyone must wait for Johnny before moving on to the next activity.  It is not exactly self-paced.  We also had better success on Google Chrome than Internet Explorer.  Absolutely no problems on iPads or iPhones using Chrome.  If I had students in a BYOD environment, I might use this tool every class, either for reflection, feedback, or formative quiz.  With 3rd grade students, we used a cart of 15 PC laptops, 3 iPads, and my iPhone and I gave students a partner.

The students loved seeing immediately how they performed, and they loved to see what everyone else's answers were, too.  Everyone was accountable for their learning, and sometimes the correct answer came from surprising students!  It created a collaborative community.  

Here are some examples of how I used InfuseLearning with the Nutcracker on just the first day:
• A quiz that I pre-created about Tchaikovsky
• Sending the students a link to the story of the Nutcracker to read
• Listening to selections from the Nutcracker and replying with instrumentation in the "Open Ended Text Answer" response box
• Sending students a link to ballet feet positions and having them Draw the various positions of the feet, labeling left/right in the InfuseDraw tool.

If you are looking for a great student response tool, give InfuseLearning a try (and of course, I am not receiving anything from anyone for this blog post).  

Thoughts from an iBooks Author Rookie

My first iBook has been published in the iTunes store - it really is a great feeling of accomplishment because it took quite a bit of work and time.  But the results are worth it.  It is free from the iTunes store:
My Voice Sounds Like This - Chris Sepersky

The iBook is a showcase of student work.  My 5K kids "composed" songs with pipe cleaners.  The purpose is to explore high and low sounds by bending the pipe cleaners into various shapes.  Every year, I record students performing these songs.  In the past, I would make a Voicethread out of these pieces and post the recordings on my classroom website.  This year, we also used an app called Soundbrush to create "virtual pipecleaners" as well.

A pipe cleaner composition

But how could I show parents all of this work in an easy format?  I decided that it was time to take the iBook plunge.  I could make one page for each student (video of pipe cleaner performance, the image of the student work, and the Soundbrush creation) in an ibook that I can use in my classroom and parents can download at home.  Add some explanatory comments in the introduction and "voila"!

Here are some thoughts from an iBooks Author rookie:
iBooks Authoring is an entirely new skill set.  Many skills in edtech are transferrable.  For example, if you can make a Wikispaces page, you can make a Google Sites page.  If you use Prezi, you can use Realtime Board.  But iBooks Authoring is different.  In order to put all of that media into an iBook, there are a lot of buttons and menus to learn.  You could start with an easier project (i.e., no videos), but what would be the point of making an iBook without interactive media?
Don't stress about it being perfect.  If you are creating a showcase of student work, remember that it is about the student work, not your iBook.  It's an interactive, take-anywhere bulletin board.
Take time to plan.  I made a lot of mistakes until I finally made a template for the pages of student work.  Then, all I had to do was change the pictures and videos of each student page.
Use the iBook to educate parents, too!  I used the introductory pages to explain the purpose and goals of the project.  As the parent of young children, I know kids have a way of forgetting by the time they get home.  The iBook gives you a chance to explain clearly and completely to parents in a way that a website does not.
Be prepared for the publishing time once the book is completed.  After all that work of uploading videos, images, and editing, you have to send the book to the iTunes store.  This was another learning curve.  Apple sent me an email letting me know that I had made a mistake and had to lock my iBook in landscape mode.  That meant more uploading and waiting for publishing.
Of course, student anonymity is respected.  The pages of student work do not have pictures of students - only images of their work and their voices.
The joy of seeing it published is really cool.  I had been holding onto all the student work until the book was published.  Once published, I sent home the pipe cleaner papers with a note to parents saying how they could find the iBook.  I am excited to use it in class, and hopefully encourage other teachers to try out iBook Authoring.  In fact, I have so many ideas for classroom iBooks, I'm not sure which one to do next.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

What Are You Most Excited to Teach Today?

“What are you most excited to teach today?” 
Has anyone ever asked you this question?

This week, I was in a meeting discussing the book The Connected Educator by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall.  The discussion revolved around leadership, collegiality, and risk-taking.  Much time was spent wondering what keeps us from being high-performing, collegial teams with a shared mission and vision.

I was thinking about this again and thinking back on all the new projects I have created in the last year.  And I was thinking about the people who supported me on the way with these projects.  And not just people who have been supportive, but people who have been genuinely excited.  
That’s when it hit me –

Who gets excited about what you are doing in the classroom?  I don’t mean your spouse, significant other, or the students in your classroom.  They “get it” already.  They know how exciting your classroom is.  But do we get genuinely excited – really get enthusiastic – about what our colleagues are doing on a day to day basis?

Little kids tell us things because they think everyone will be excited to hear it.  But when adults stop being excited by what children tell them, kids stop sharing so freely and so excitedly.  (Think about kids losing teeth)

The same can be said of educators:  If nobody’s going to be excited about what I’m doing in my classroom, I’m not going to stop doing it - I know it’s good!  Rather, I’m just not going to tell people about it so much.  It’s self-defense.  And what good does that do for anyone?  Shared mission requires a shared enthusiasm about why we exist.  Shared vision requires a shared excitement about the future.  And that starts with shared excitement that builds trust on a day-to-day basis.

So how do we overcome this?  Perhaps we should go around to other teachers and say, “What are you most excited to teach today?  Tell me about it!”  and then make the time to listen and share the excitement.  We ask students what the most exciting part of their day will be.  We ask students what they are most excited to learn.  We need to ask each other what we are most excited to teach.  

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Letting the students Explain Everything

I have an app "crush" and its name is Explain Everything.  In a classroom, it can help you ... well ... Explain Everything.  In a world where students are obsessed with the visual, I have Explain Everything open almost all the time.  It is my ever-present virtual chalkboard.  You can save your work, record audio as you draw, and import/export in all sorts of ways.  Students can use it to perform a variety of tasks, and when combined with Apple TV, you can project that student work for everyone to see.

I use Explain Everything to project choral
warmups behind me in rehearsal.  
Lately, I have been using Explain Everything to assess if my 3rd grade students understand treble clef notation.  After a quick tutorial, I told students to record a presentation to demonstrate that they know how to read and write music.  Pick a word using the letters A-G of the musical alphabet and notate it while talking through your thought process using Explain Everything.  For the students, the strangest part seemed to be actually talking to the iPad so that it could record their voices.

And the results?  Amazing.  This year's 3rd grade students are completing notation worksheets (yes, there is a right time and place for worksheets) that have traditionally been difficult for my fourth grade students.  In the past, I'd never been able to assess every student's thought process, but now, with Explain Everything, I get a peak into their brains, not just their work.  And the GREATEST part?  It didn't take any extra class time to accomplish!  While students were working on another project, I could send them in groups of two per iPad to record their presentations.  Here are two of them, exported from Explain Everything directly to Youtube.

5K makes Rhythm using Explain Everything
My 5K students are also learning to read rhythm.  Instead of having one student at the Smartboard and making sure everyone gets a turn drawing rhythms for us to read, I can hand out three iPads and project work quickly.  Someday, I'll explain my simple rhythm reading system, but you might guess from the colors we use to write quarter notes and pairs of eighth notes.

I am looking forward to the upcoming version of Explain Everything.  And, just for the record, I did not receive anything from them for this blog post.  

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Apple TV ... now in the Elementary Music Room

About one week ago, I was teaching a fourth grade class and this tremendous BANG came from my ceiling.  It was the bulb inside my (very) old projector, and the projector was beyond repair.  This projector was so old that even a Kanex ATV adapter would not work, meaning there was no hope of Apple TV in my elementary classroom, where I spend 80% of my time.

But not any more.
Having installed Apple TV in my middle school choir room last year, I knew exactly what equipment I needed.  After some quick budget wheeling-and-dealing, I had a new HDMI projector installed in two days.  I ordered the cables from monoprice, and within one week, everything was installed and running perfectly!  I now have the first elementary classroom in our district equipped with Apple TV.

Equipment list:
• Mitsubishi EX240U Projector - our librarian found this projector for the middle school choir room last year, and it works really well.  HDMI input, 2 VGA inputs, RCA video input.  Easy to switch inputs with remote control on the fly and a magnify button on the remote that you will need to enlarge the Apple TV image.  $450.  Not cheap, but I'm sure prices will be coming down for HDMI projectors.
Apple TV - $99

Cables and optional equipment:
• Long HDMI cable.  Apple TV does not include an HDMI cable.  I purchased a 30' HDMI cable from monoprice for about $25.  You need to think about placement of Apple TV box.  You probably only have one or two outlets on your ceiling for the projector.  Your Apple TV box also needs to be line-of-sight with its remote control.
Apple TV (left), Audio Converter box (center), and
Smart Audio system (right)
• Audio converter box - I have used this converter twice now and it works great for $20. Normally, the audio follows the HDMI cable to the speaker in the projector.  If you want decent quality audio, then you want something like this so you can send the audio to the sound system most music teachers already have in their room.  But you need a converter box because Apple chooses to use an "optical audio" (toslink) port on the Apple TV.  The converter changes that to dual-RCA.  Now I send the video to the projector and the audio to a sound system.  If decent-quality audio is not important to you, you would not need this.
• If you use a converter box, you will need a toslink cable to connect the Apple TV to the audio converter box and RCA cables to go from the converter box to your sound system.

Some notes:
2 student iPads
• I am a 3-iPad classroom (currently).  I have two student iPads plus my personal iPad.  I don't think there is a "critical mass" for iPads in the classroom.  A single iPad can make a difference if used effectively.  But having the two student iPads has really opened up a new world of possibilities for learning.  And now, adding the Apple TV to those three iPads makes the iPads "communal mobile devices" because the projected iPad is no longer just one person's learning.

Wireless microphones
for Smart Audio system
• I already had a Smart Audio system in my classroom.  The Smart Audio system combines many functions that a music room needs into one small package.  It has four nice, ceiling mounted speakers.  The box functions as both a mixer and a wireless receiver with four inputs - a handheld wireless, a lanyard-worn wireless, plus two more RCA inputs.  I put an RCA to 1/8" jack on one of those inputs so I can plug in my laptop.  Now, the fourth input receives the sound from the Apple TV.  (My Smart Audio system is an older version from Smarttech.  It appears the new version has the same features but with only one microphone and is designed to replace traditional PA systems in a building.)  It may not be a "glitzy" tech tool, but it does get the job done well.
Smart Audio system from Smarttech (old version) with the Apple TV on top

• The ooh's and aah's from the students when they realized you could write on my iPad and have it show up on the screen wirelessly were reminiscent of the first time we used a Smartboard.  Nice to have those magical moments once in awhile.

• Yes, I am projecting onto my Smartboard.  I have no reason to remove the Smartboard.  I created so many Smartboard lessons in the past few years that are really valuable.  I do wish I could have a larger projected image, but 30 students gathered around the Smartboard can see clearly enough.
The command center

Monday, October 8, 2012

Warmups on the iPad

This is a project I've been wanting to get done for the better part of a year, and this week I finally did it!    Ever since my choral career was rekindled (last year I taught 7th grade choir, this year I have 8th grade choir), I wanted to put our warmups on the iPad.  Once the choir room was outfitted with new projection equipment and Apple TV, I had even more reason to get this project moving.

I divided my warmups into three types for this project:
• Vocal Warmups
• Rhythm Reading (without pitch)
• Sightreading

And here's how I did it:
1.  I am a Sibelius user, so I created a new score for each warmup in Sibelius.  I named it according to the three types of warmups above.  In the "subtitle" of the warmup, I would often put the skill or sound I am expecting from the students as a visual reminder.  Sometimes, I would list alternative vowels or consonants for the warmup in the subtitle.
2.  Export the score into some form of graphics file that will work on your iPad.  PDF's and .png files were good choices for me.
3.  Place all of the warmup files in a folder in Dropbox.
4.  From Dropbox, I can open the score in a variety of iPad apps I use in class, such as ForScore or Explain Everything.

Some notes about the process:
• When creating single line warmups in Sibelius, I found the automatic spacing of staves to be a little too close together for my tastes.  Drag them apart slightly for visual separation.

• When creating rhythm reading warmups, I chose "No instrument (Hidden - Show barlines only)" from the "Other" instrument category in Sibelius.  But this instrument gives you very tiny barlines, so I would suggest extending those barlines so they are more obvious.  To extend the barlines, you need to go into House Styles>Edit Instruments.  Click on your instrument and it will bring up another dialog box which allows you to "Edit Staff".  At this point, you can choose how far the barlines should extend above and below the centerpoint (I chose 2.5 above and below).  Much more visually appealing.

• My whiteboard app of choice is Explain Everything.  If I need to communicate something to the students visually, I will draw it on the iPad and it shows up right behind me.  Explain Everything allows me to put together a "slide show" of warmups I will use on a given day.  Using Explain Everything, I can annotate on the warmup images.  I realize I could do this in ForScore, but in Explain Everything, I can get a blank whiteboard screen whenever I desire.

• In the past, when exporting a file as a graphic, I always used the Export option in Sibelius and saved the file as a TIFF image.  But TIFF images didn't work in Explain Everything for me.  In fact, when I tried to put my TIFF image into Explain Everything, the entire iPad crashed - twice!  I've never had anything crash an iPad until now.  The iPad had to be completely restarted.  No problems like this with PDF and .png files.

• I am shedding a tear for Sibelius.  As I said, I've been using Sibelius for a dozen years, and it sounds like it might be coming to an end.  Our entire district's music staff has been using Sibelius for the last 10 years.  But with the transition to Smart Music and the possible sunset of Sibelius, I see Finale in our future.  Sibelius and I have spent so much time together that it's kind of like losing a friend.

• After a few hours of work, I have a large set of warmups ready to go, and now can easily add more to the toolbox in just minutes!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Getting Classroom Audio Online ... FAST!!!

When our district became a Google Apps district, I made the switch from Wikispaces to Google Sites for my classroom webpage.  Google makes inserting media into a Site easy in almost every way except one - inserting audio.  It is a serious omission, especially for a music teacher who uses a website to connect what we do inside the classroom to the world beyond.  So I went on a mission to find a faster method than the standard embedded Google audio player.

Here's how I am posting classroom audio online this year, and it couldn't get simpler than this!  This video shows how I record on my iPad in Garageband, share directly to a Soundcloud account, add it to a pre-created set on Soundcloud, which is already embedded on my Google Site.  Total time (not including the recording itself) is less than 30 seconds!
Why this drive for simplicity and efficiency?  For two reasons:
• Every minute is valuable in a teacher's day.  If I can't get content onto my Site quickly, I'm probably not going to do it at all.  Wikispaces made it easy to get audio online, but Google does not (yet).  
• I want the recording on my Site before the students leave my room.  I don't want to promise them that it will be there and then disappoint.  Plus, they want to hear themselves online (great for them to evaluate their own performance).

For those who prefer to read and see screenshots, here's how I do it:
1.  Create a Soundcloud account.  I confess, I have paid 29 Euros (less than $40 as of today) for the lowest level premium account.  The free version does give you 120 minutes of time, but you can only create 3 sets (set=album).  If you only don't need many sets, you may be fine with the free version.  I tested all of this using the free version and upgraded after I knew it worked.  I need at least 7 sets, one per grade level that I teach.  Create the sets you plan to use.  (One note of caution - charging the 29 Euros on my credit card did trigger a fraud alert on the card, which my wife found out when trying to pay at the grocery store.)  Embed each set on your Google Site (use HTML code button).  

2.  Record classroom audio using the Garageband app on your iPad.  Save it with the name as it will appear online.  In Garageband, push and hold the song until it jiggles and the sharing options appear in the top left corner.  The first time you try to share to Soundcloud from Garageband, you will need to sign into your Soundcloud account.  Share the song to your newly connected Soundcloud account.  
Sharing options in Garageband app
3.  Garageband will ask if you want to visit your newly shared song.  Click "Visit", and your iPad will automatically switch apps to Safari and your Soundcloud page.  Then click "Add to Set" and choose the set you wish the track to go into.  
Your track once it is shared to Soundcloud

4.  Go to your website where you have already embedded the set.  Your track should show up and be ready to play.  I like that all the tracks this year will be bundled together like in one playlist, rather than spread throughout the page, as they were in the past.  By the end of the year, we will have created quite a lengthy set for each grade level!
The set list and player is embedded on your own Site
Note that with the paid version of Soundcloud, you have a few different choices of players to embed on your Site.  I chose the HTML5 player without artwork.  You embed the set on your Site by choosing the Share button above the set on your Soundcloud page.  Then insert the code on your Google Site by using the HTML button.  Since I put the player at the top of the webpage, there is no need to search through the code to find the right spot to paste!

One more note - sometimes removing a track takes awhile before the embedded player catches up with your Soundcloud account.  Adding tracks happens instantly, while removing tracks from an embedded set seems to take time.  

I hope this helps you - I am a little geeked out every time I do this now, because I can't believe how incredibly easy it is.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

To Seat, or Not to Seat … That is the Question

My two elementary colleagues gave up chairs a long time ago, and they have urged me to do the same for many years.  One of them has a room that is smaller, and the other just prefers not to use chairs.  But I held out.  Maybe it was the high school teacher in me.  Perhaps it’s that I just crave order.  Seating charts make life easy.  For whatever reason, I needed my elementary students to sit in chairs.

Last year, I found myself moving around the classroom more than ever.  And I had the students moving more than ever.  We were singing around the piano, gathering by the Smartboard, working at xylophone centers around the perimeter, bringing instruments to the middle, working at centers in groups, dancing in the middle, setting up risers for concerts, etc.  Often we moved chairs (always a struggle when you are 5 years old and the chair is as big as you).  The only thing we seemed to be in chairs for was attendance at the beginning and dismissal at the end.

But over the Summer I realized the chairs were also hindering one more crucial element in a music classroom – the community that comes from seeing one another’s faces while making music.  That sealed the deal – no more chairs.  If I want my students to be collaborative creators, then I needed to arrange them in a way that allowed for better collaboration.
My classroom (before I finished the bulletin board, I guess!)

A retired choral director friend of mine always used to rehearse in the round until concert time.  I am a big advocate of big, flexible space in a music room because you never know how it might be used in the future.  Wenger or Stageright seated risers are much more flexible than cast-in-place concrete steps in a music room. 

Frankly, I have a large elementary music classroom and one of my fears is that without chairs, people will think I have more space than I need.  People like that don’t understand that flexible space is creative space.  A big, blank palette in the middle of a room that is used 50 different ways every day.  But to the untrained eye, it looks like my class could fit just fine in a room half the size. 

I do have one problem without the chairs now.  The seats of the chairs also served as our desks.  So it might be time to invest in some clipboards. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

I Just Got Hit By an #Edcamp Bus

So, I was at my first Edcamp this weekend.  Edcamp Milwaukee (#edcampMKE) was held at South Milwaukee High School (my home district), put together by two incredible edtech leaders - Tammy Lind and Chad Kafka.  Edcamp Milwaukee was the 100th edcamp in the world and the first in Wisconsin.

I just don't think there is anything you can compare an Edcamp experience to in education today.  Seriously ... it's like getting hit by a bus of positive ideas and people.  Why else would people drive four hours or cross state lines to come to a conference with no set agenda?

The most amazing thing to me was how much learning a person could do at a time:
• You might be physically sitting in one session, listening and contributing.
• You find a few moments to tweet out the best ideas from the session you are in and jot a few notes into Evernote to remember later.
• At the same time, you might be watching a Google Doc of notes from another session take shape.
• Sending out message to teachers in other sessions
• And then, all of a sudden, someone who is not even at edcamp sends you a tweet because they are following and are interested in your session.

And that sums up a session at edcamp - a place where teachers are concerned about what is happening not only in their own room, but making an impact around the world.  This is what most surprised me about my edcamp experience - how fast learning can happen when you collaborate.

A few notes from my sessions:
Evernote - there is a real excitement with teachers to create digital portfolios with Evernote.  I would love to do this.  One of the great things about being a music teacher is having students for many years.  I have had some students for 8 years - wouldn't it be great to document that progress in an authentic way?  But I have one HUGE issue with this as a music teacher - I have about 350 students this year (and I think that's my smallest number in the last decade due to schedule changes).  With only one hour/week with each elementary student, is this possible to do?  Love the idea of emailing recordings to parents.
Here is a link to a site about creating e-portfolios in Evernote.

Giving the Classroom Back to the Students - This was my "deep thoughts" session of the day.  My brain was in overdrive trying to listen to others, participate, take notes, and send out an occasional tweet of the incredible thinking going on in the room.  My favorite notes from this session:
• The students know the technology.  Teachers know the content.  Make the connection.
• Technology can build face to face relationships.  When a teacher uses technology to open a student's mind, the student realizes how much that teacher cares about his/her individual learning.  That is a relationship.
• How many people in education have sat down and written what they really believe about education and learning - before writing any lesson plans or choosing any technology.
• Turn "just in case" learning into "just in time" learning.  Technology makes it possible to differentiate for students, making learning personalized.
• The thing that holds up most teachers is exactly the same thing that holds up most students - the fear of change.  Learning is supposed to be uncomfortable.

Google Certified Process - I hope Google opens up a bunch more Google Academies in the future, because I think there will be so many teachers interested in the GCT process.  I was interested in starting this journey prior to attending edcampmke, and now I am really interested.

Students as Content Creators - We must teach students the difference between cheating and collaboration. How many times do you see teachers sitting at lunch with teaching manuals, asking each other how they teach a particular lesson effectively?  That's collaboration - not cheating.  Students need to know the difference and how to collaborate effectively.

EdcampMKE schedule
Apple TV - My love of Apple TV is no surprise to readers of this blog (here and here).  The problem with Apple TV (and Apple even admits it) is that Apple TV is still a niche or hobby interest.  People don't "get" it because it is not as pervasive as other Apple products.  Those of us that "get" Apple TV and use it have to keep talking it up, because it truly is a game changer in education.

App Share - I was not in this session, but I was watching the Google Doc from another session.  Here is the link to it.

Going Google - Our district is about 6 months into Going Google.  It was good to hear the ups and downs from other districts as they make the same transition.  One note I took from this session was about the digital divide that going Google may exacerbate - the students with technology at home will do better with Google Apps, but those without technology at home may become frustrated with themselves and others.

Another note - Edcamps are free for participants and depend on the generosity of volunteers and sponsors.  Many thanks to the volunteers and sponsors of EdcampMke, especially Evernote (I won an Evernote premium gift card!)

7 Apps for Special Ed Communication

The elementary school at which I teach houses the CD program for our district.  We have incredible special education teachers and aides.  And one of the most important skills to teach any student is how to communicate.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) is meant for students who are non-verbal, but whose cognitive and physical abilities abilities are strong enough to use assistive technologies such as choice boards and visual schedules.  (Forgive me if I did not state that correctly - I am not a special ed teacher.)

For many reasons, communication apps often go unused in favor of (very) low-tech solutions.  Some of the reasons for this include:
• Visual schedules and choice boards get a good workout every day.  They get folded and stuffed in pockets, dropped, lost, and all sorts of things you wouldn't do with your iDevice.
• Visual schedules and choice boards sometimes have to be changed in an instant.  Clicking through technology can take up precious seconds if you are not comfortable with it.
• Creating schedules from scratch using an app you are unfamiliar with has a learning curve.
• Schedules are custom made for individual students, therefore sharing an iDevice among several students does not work well.  You would need several devices.
• You want a fairly consistent program of AAC assistive technology in your school, unless the educational needs of the student call for it.
• Special ed communication apps can be incredibly expensive.
• A very common special education assistive technology, PECS by Pyramid Educational Consultants, does have a few apps out, but none of them are meant as choice boards or visual schedules.  If they do in the future, it would be a game-changer.

So, perhaps this list can give us some insight into what educators might appreciate in special education communication apps.  A special ed communication app needs to be easy to create on the go, easy to change on the go, shareable with other teachers, and inexpensive.  In the end, they all have the same goal - enabling expressive communication.  These apps could be used in addition to other existing systems.  With that in mind, let's look at some budget-friendly special ed communication apps and see how they compare.

Scene Speak (Good Karma Applications, Inc)  $9.99
Speak All (Purdue University)  Free
First Then Visual Schedule (Good Karma Applications, Inc) $9.99
Choice Board Creator (Techno Chipmunk)  Free
Talk'n Photos (Intermediate District 287)  $2.99
Click n'Talk (Intermediate District 287)  $2.99
Sounding Board (AbleNet)  Free

Scene Speak by Good Karma Applications allows you to add audio "hot spots" to an image.  You can also type in text and choose from a selection of voices for your hot spots.  Your image can come from the in-app camera, your camera roll, or a Google image search.  You can export/import your entire library, meaning not only can you backup, but also share your library with other Scene Speak users.  Works in portrait or landscape mode.
My own kids love playing with this app - it really works well.
Possible uses - Getting used to a new space, safe/not safe, a real life choice board with all the choices in one image.  Elementary social studies could use it for maps that speak, and science could use it for environments or animal studies - anything that would benefit from multiple audio hotspots in one image.
Drawbacks - Takes a little bit of time to set up the hot spots, so this is not something you can easily use "on the fly".  Little on the pricy side at $9.99, but watch for discounts.

Speak All comes with about 20 images.  You can import more images, but only from your photo library camera roll.  Stores your photos and audio in a kind of "in-app library", meaning it is easy to load up choices in a flash IF you already have them imported from your camera roll.  But there is no way to organize the library, so I could not imagine scrolling through 100's of choices to find the correct one.
Possible uses - The purpose of the app is to create sentence strips that will say a sentence when put together (such as "I want ______.")  Images can set to either drag into position or be set to drop with a single touch.  Works only in landscape mode.
Drawbacks -  no in-app camera, meaning there are several steps to get custom images into the app, and then the library is not organized.

First Then is a visual schedule that does exactly what it says - puts your images in order to tell a student that "First you do X, then you get/do Y."  You can have multiple steps in each schedule, not just two steps, meaning it can also be a visual schedule.  There are three ways to view schedules:
• Full view (1 picture at a time)
• Split view (First, Then)
• List (all steps)
You can export your schedule to PDF, which would make it possible to print.  You create a library of schedules or common routines, and it is easy to create or edit these schedules on the fly.  There is a built in library of over 100 images, and you can add to that library by using the in-app camera, photo library, or google image search (First Then is by the same maker as Scene Speak, so there are many similarities).  Other nice features:
• can add a checkmark when a task is completed
• can set a password to protect
• can back up to iCloud and file share through iTunes to another device
• Appears that Android version has a LOT more features (for now?)  The iOS app needs an update.  The current version is for iPhone which means the graphics suffer when enlarged for iPad.  The android versions looks really great.
I have used First Then with my 2 year old at home.  In fact, if I say something like "First eat strawberries, then pudding", she'll respond "like on iPad!"

Choice Board Creator does what it says - it creates choice boards.  There is a box at the top to type in your question.  Then, you can have 1, 2, 3, 4, or 6 boxes for choices (not sure 1 is a choice, but ok).  Each box can have an image and a sound.  You can set any or all of the images to be the "correct" choice and add applause.  You can make the boxes bigger and smaller and add multiple pages of choices.  And the app automatically mixes up the order of the choices each time.

Images come from the in-app camera and your photo library, but this app adds two other interesting features:
• the ability to use text in a choice box instead of a picture
• the option of using audio from your iTunes library.
The audio feature is both good and bad - since the only way to add audio to an image is through your iTunes library, it is great if your audio is a song.  But if you want to record a voice, you would need to record in another app (such as Garageband) and then place your recording in iTunes.  Not likely to happen if you need a lot of short recordings.  But if you were going to record your kids singing and make a choice board of their own songs, this would be a great feature.  There is also no backup feature or sharing with this app.

The next two apps, Talk'n Photos and Click 'N Talk, are very similar and both created by teachers in Intermediate District 287 in Minnesota.  I love the idea that teachers had an idea and made an app to help students.
Talk'n Photos is simple and straightforward to use.  You create an album of photos using your photo library or the in-app camera.  Attach a caption and record a sound for each image.  Your iPad will show a 3x4 grid of photos before you have to start scrolling down.  You can password protect.  Best uses would be a choice board or simple schedule.
Click 'N Talk is essentially the same as Talk'n Photos, but the difference is that this app allows the photos to be full screen.  Therefore, this app might be easier to use for students with vision or motor difficulties.  It also would be a great app to create social stories on the go.  You could easily have a student record the social story using Click 'N Talk.

Finally, Sounding Board by Ablenet used to be $49.99 but has recently become free.  It does have in-app purchases for more boards, but you wouldn't need them if you are creating custom boards.  It comes with approximately 200 preloaded images, and you can also choose images from your photo library or use the in-app camera.  You can record sounds for each image and also record prompts for Makes boards with 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, or 9 images.  The neat feature here is that you can link each image to another board (kind of like a choose your own adventure book) so you can create sub-schedules or routines for each part of a master schedule.  It is an iPhone app, which means the graphics don't display as well on the iPad.  Perhaps the recent price drop means an update is coming?

One I have not purchased yet is Visual Schedule Planner by Good Karma Applications.  Judging by its sibling apps (Scene Speak and First Then), I would imagine it to be another good app, but I will wait for a price drop from the current $14.99.  I did get many of these apps at discounted prices on my own - no promo codes provided.

So that is a list of seven budget-friendly, fairly simple to use AAC apps that I have found.  This is certainly a great use for the iPad and I am sure there will be many more apps like this in the future.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

But what do the students say?

This the 14th in a series in which 5th grade musicians are collaborating and researching using Edmodo and using Google Apps to create Sites, Docs, and more ... oh my!

Our school is in the midst of MAPS testing, which means the computer lab is mostly off limits during this week.  I have scraped together a little bit of lab time, but the break is good for the kids.  They are going to camp next week, and we need some time to work on camp songs (we need both tambourines AND technology to make life happy).

But before singing camp songs together, I took a few minutes of each class to do some reflection on our Google Apps project so far.  What's going well?  What's not?  What's easy?  What's hard?  Why?  The answers were honest and positive.  And generally, if a student said something in the project was "hard", we talked more as a class and came to the conclusion that it is hard for one (or both) of these reasons:

• Research in general is hard work
     - and -
• Students are wanting to go deeper than they are accustomed to working

Student reflections so far, collected on
Some other discussion points came up:
• Some students said they were going slower than they would normally go.  But not because the technology was slowing them down - because they were collecting so much research.  Some expressed frustration when they developed questions in their mind to which they could not find answers.  Some wanted more sites for research.  What they haven't learned is that sometimes in research, you have to draw the line and say "enough", but it's a good problem to have.
• We talked about "digging deeper" in our project.  The students seem surprised at the amount of work research takes, but they remain enthusiastic about it.  Like planting a large tree, research is a big project, and it takes more work to dig that hole.  If you don't dig deep enough, the tree will not flourish.
• General excitement over the use of Google Apps.  Everyone loves it.

Two teacher observations from this discussion:
• The comments from the students really focused on the research aspect of the project and less on the GAFE aspect.  At first I was disappointed about this - but then I realized that perhaps we hit a "golden mean" at which the technology creates excitement but remains a tool.
• After this discussion, I am convinced even more that Google Apps does impact student achievement.  And the comments from the students about research and digging deeper reveal that they are putting pressure on themselves to create a product that the world will see.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Dogs, Lambs, and Little Beethovens - 1st Grade Composers

This is the 2nd part about how I teach first grade students to notate and compose using a single line staff.

In the first class, all of the students learned to play, read, and notate "Hot Cross Buns".  And they can explain it to you.  Ask the students to tell you how to notate the music as if you are a brand new student.  You can clear up any misconceptions from the last class this way.  But what to do next?

Day 2 - I give them a sheet of paper with a song they have never heard before and tell them to figure it out.  The song is "Bow Wow Wow" (lyrics - "Bow wow wow.  Whose dog art thou?  Little Tommy Tucker's dog.  Bow wow wow".)  I have notated the first, second, and fourth phrases, leaving a rectangle in the middle that says "Little Tommy Tucker's dog" that I tell them not to play.  Sing the notes using low/middle/high, Do/Re/Mi, and C/D/E.  The hardest part for them will be skipping from Do to Mi at the beginning.  Great chance to talk about steps and skips.  Then send them off to xylophones to play it.
Bow Wow Wow

After they can play it successfully, sing the song together again.  But this time, teach them a dance to go with it - here's what we do:
Bow Wow Wow - stomp stomp stomp
Whose dog art thou - pat legs 4x
Little Tommy Tucker's Dog - wring the dishrag (hold partner's hands and turn back to back in a circle without letting go of hands)
Bow Wow Wow - head, shoulders, hips (Mi/Re/Do)

At the end, ask the students to tell a partner and tell you how they figured out how to play Bow Wow Wow on the xylophone.  Self-reflection is good fit with this unit because of the critical thinking involved.

Day 3 - The next class, let the students compose their own melody - make them into Little Beethovens.  Give them the black strips of paper from Hot Cross Buns (to be the single-staff line) and about 12 little circles for notes (all the same color this time).  The kids will want to play the xylophone right away.  Teach them to notate first and then play what they notate.  They can always change it, but it will be easier to notate first, then play.

After composing with manipulatives, the hard part here it to have students write down on a piece of paper what they created with manipulatives.  Give students a legal size piece of paper with a single black line across it.  Make sure they do not squash notes together to create chords instead of melodies.  Students can play each other's melodies if there is time, or the teacher can demonstrate a few in front of the class.

Day 4 - Another day, give the students a copy of "Mary Had a Little Lamb", but do not tell them what the title is.  One of the skills here is that Mary Had a Little Lamb is long enough that you will have to split it up into two lines of notation - remind students that reading music is like reading a book - you have to go from the end of one line to the beginning of the next line.  At this point, the students should be able to look at a single line staff and tell you the letters they should play.  In fact, they should be able to sing the letters, but don't let them sing it right now - they'll figure out the song!  Just read the letters together.
Mary Had a Little Lamb

Also, it is important to teach students how to sit next to each other with the music facing them (I write the word "top" on the sheet so that students know which way it goes).  Just last week I did this lesson with three classes - one class got it almost right away, and the other two classes took about 15 minutes.  It seemed that they could play it well, but just couldn't put the tune together in their mind to come up with a title.

Ideas for Extension - Depending how much more time you have, here are a few other things I have done in the past with this unit.  Not sure what I'll do this year, since time is running out.
• Continue finding more Do/Re/Mi songs for xylophones
• Try playing the songs on boomwhackers
• Have students try the songs starting on other notes, exploring major/minor keys
• Record students playing their original compositions from Day 3 in Garageband or Voicethread and publish to classroom website.
• Transfer students original compositions into standard notation using software or an app to give students a professional looking copy of their song.

I have done this unit for a few years now - it is one of those units the kids love and learn so much at the same time.  If you have suggestions or questions, let me know!