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