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.