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Tech Frustrations…and Successes

I’m having a great time in my music classes using the Smartboard, and the students are as well. Much of my planning and learning time this school year has been spent experimenting with the Notebook software, looking for  resources previously created by other music teachers, and creating my own files.

Through another teacher in my school district, I learned about Blossom Learning and have been using the online course to familiarize myself with the SMART technology. It’s been extremely helpful. I’m also reminded every day to listen to my students for suggestions! My elementary level students have given me extremely valuable Smartboard tips and ideas.

I follow several wonderful educators on twitter and read their blogs. My Google Reader helps me stay up to date with them. Push Notifications on my iPhone also informs me when any of them publish a new post. Here’s a screenshot of my list of blogs.

Maybe not. I’m trying to post a screenshot of some kind using Evernote here. It’s not working!!!! That’s my frustration. Am I using the right tool??? Probably not. So my blog post remains unfinished.

Just a few minutes ago I tried to follow the example I’ve seen from Mrs. Muench and write a protected blog post where students could access the music for our musical. I couldn’t get the music to upload from my iTunes library!!!! Do I have to change the file type? Probably. I don’t remember how!

I get so many great ideas from other educators online. Often my efforts end like I’ve just described.

I’ve also been thinking about an efficient way to share resources. I spent about an hour and a half this morning watching online training videos for PB wikis. I understand the concepts of why they are great tools, but I haven’t put one together successfully yet. For instance, my available time this morning is gone. I’m feeling the pressures of getting the laundry done, running errands for my family, and other responsibilities looming after a morning sitting at the computer.

Have I mentioned grades are due next week? I also have to finish my lesson plans.

I’m frustrated.

However, there have been successes! I’ve been using Google Docs and Dropbox to create and share lesson plans, store Smartboard files, and many other types of documents. I’m becoming more efficient in those areas.

Students in my classes LOVE using the Smartboard in music! Just the other day, a class of 3rd graders were “ooohing” and “ahhing” in concert as we used some of the tools. Their engagement was SO satisfying.

Several months ago I posted on twitter about my new Smartboard. A twitter friend replied that it would “transform” my teaching. At the time, I wondered how. Now I know! Because of budget cuts, I was assigned an additional school this year. I only have one computer in that room: no Smartboard. I’m finding that I’m preparing many more paper manipulatives and having students come to the regular whiteboard much more frequently than I ever did prior to the Smartboard installation at the other school. My teaching IS in the process of being transformed!

I’m going to try one more time to include a screenshot of the educators I’m learning from before I carry on with my family responsibilities, grades, and lesson plans….

There! After googling the directions and reviewing how to do so on the Mac, I was successful with the screenshots. However, there are no direct links in the above pictures. That’s a project for another day! I should have started with the “how-to” search first. What can I say. I’m still in the process of learning!


A New Smartboard

I’ve decided to make “learning to teach with a Smartboard from the perspective a tech newbie” a main topic this year. Each step of the way has taken more time than I would have liked, but the Smartboard is now in my room, computer set up, with only the installation of the software as the last step…I hope!

I applied for a grant from my school district a year ago last spring, but didn’t receive it. Then about half way through the school year (last winter) I learned that the school PTA would provide one for the music room as well as another room in the building. The box arrived sometime in the spring, and I was so excited that I took a picture!

With the beginning of the school year starting, the equipment is now mounted on the wall where students can enjoy interacting. When I walked into the music room two weeks ago, I planned to get somewhat comfortable with the technology before school starts on the 23rd. However, this “techie” had problems throughout the week getting the phone, network, computer lines hooked up correctly. As of this morning, I understand  the wires are connected and the Smartboard is ready to use. Well, almost. I still have to install the software onto my computer. With the slowness of this whole process, I certainly hope I’m able to get that step to go smoothly!

I thought the world of technology  was moving extremely rapidly?! So far, the process, for me, is inching along. The good news is the students in my classes will be familiar with Smartboard technology from their regular classroom. I have a feeling they’ll be teaching me a lot this year!

Learning a Few Techie Things

Summer is a great time to add techie skills. I’m able to take the extra minutes to figure out processes and how to apply them. One thing I’ve often seen used, but never took the time to learn how to do, is screenshots of a computer screen. Just a few minutes ago, I took my first screenshot after googling the topic. I’ve seen screenshots in blogposts, and just tried to paste it here from Evernote. Since that was unsuccessful, I’ll try putting the screenshot on my desktop first.

That worked. Sometimes I just need those few extra minutes to figure out how to use technology. I don’t always have those extra minutes during the school year.

One of the most helpful tools I’ve discovered in recent months is the App Push Reader for my iPhone. It allows me to select sites from my Google Reader and receive push notifications when those sites are updated. I’ve had RSS feeds in a Google Reader for a couple of years, but I rarely remembered to check it. Now the push notifications remember for me!

I have several great music and regular educator’s sites in the list as well as a couple of tech blogs included. Just last week, I discovered through one of the feeds (or possibly a tweet?) Jane’s Pick of the Day. Jane Hart is a Learning & Performance Consultant, and founder of the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies. Every day she features an item of (e-)learning interest. Since receiving push notifications from her site, I’ve discovered several tools I can use to become a more effective teacher.

One of those sites is Aviary.

I sent a request for an account this morning and used the priority code listed on Jane Hart’s site. Hopefully, I’ll have one soon.

One item that continues to frustrate me is getting my school e-mail account on my iPhone. After trying several times unsuccessfully today and yesterday, I think it’s time to contact the school’s tech department!

Hawks Win!!

When I heard the radio this morning reminding me of the Blackhawks victory last night, I thought of a nine-year-old girl I was able to greet every morning last school year. She’s a BIG hockey fan and often had comments about her team or the Blackhawks game the night before. I don’t know for certain, but I have a feeling those few moments of conversation helped her enjoy and participate more in my music class than she might have otherwise.

Who knew that hockey would help me teach music!

Do traditional ideas fit in a techie world?

How does the old fit in with the new? Does it? As a techie wanna be, the question for me is also, “How do I incorporate the good ideas from the past with new technology?”

I’ve heard ideas recently on Twitter (follow me if you’d like: @mrsbrownmusic) and at conferences about teaching music in a “new” way. Sometimes it makes perfect sense and other times I’m not sure. I’ve taught music for a total of over 16 years, general music, band, and even choir during my first three years.  Two years ago, I earned my Orff Level 1 certification. It transformed my teaching. Now I’m trying to figure out how to incorporate those ideas using Web 2.0 technology. I’m overwhelmed! Technology is moving so fast, and I’m behind the times. However, that’s not an excuse for me. I have to keep working at it.

I want to be careful not to forget that I teach music first. I want my students to become the best musicians they can, at whatever level they are capable. I’m using recorders (the old fashioned kind) in grades third through fifth grades at my current elementary job. Students learn the basic concepts of phrasing and good tone production. Third grade and the beginning of fourth grade sound pretty scary, but beginning band and orchestra do too! Does that mean I should scrap the recorders? I don’t think so? The recorder is still a good beginning for students to learn left-hand on top, eye-hand coordination, basic notation, and musicianship. Will they all continue in band and orchestra? Absolutely not. However, I still find the recorders useful in teaching musical concepts at the elementary level.

I also use Orff instruments and some Kodaly methodology (although I’m not Kodaly certified). As I’ve written in previous posts, I’m learning how to use those methods in teaching audiation, musical organization, notation, etc. Then I heard the idea recently that notation isn’t as important as we’ve made it out to be. What do music educators mean by that statement? How does the idea fit? Does it?

As you can probably tell by now, this post isn’t about giving answers. It’s about asking questions. My questions come from the basic idea that new technology is a tool, just like the Orff instruments are a tool for teaching children musical ideas and skills. What are your answers to these questions? Please share. I want to learn from you!

Audiation & Modeling

Since I began working on my Master’s Degree at VanderCook, I’ve given a lot of thought to audiation, hearing pitches mentally. The Orff Level 1 certification class during the summer of 2008 was where I began to understand better how the concepts applied to teaching singing. In previous years of teaching general music, my focus had been teaching new music by rote, with a little bit of notation understanding. Now my focus has changed to teaching students to listen to pitches intently.

One of the pitfalls I experienced before the Orff class was that I ALWAYS sang with the students. I had heard in previous classes that I shouldn’t, but I’d never forced myself not to. I wanted to hear the music correctly! I didn’t always like what I heard when I listened to the students! However, after MUCH practice, I’ve learned to stop singing with them and really listen. I’ve found that when I do that, it gives me a chance to think about how to help them with their own listening and matching pitches. I’m doing a better job of using formative assessment!

The problem for me continues to be transferring that formative assessment to a meaningful grade. I know many other music teachers do this effectively. Another music teacher in my district showed me Google Forms for assessment at the ICE conference. I must learn how to use that! With my iPhone, I could incorporate it relatively easily. As with all new (for me) processes in teaching, it takes time to get it going. But I digress. Audiation…

As I’ve concentrated on listening to students rather than singing with them, I’ve noticed something: I’m modeling how to listen and think! I now try to point out how to listen by exaggerating my “thoughtful facial expression.”

I think my efforts are beginning to pay off. A few weeks ago, a third grade girl requested to sing in front of the class. She didn’t sing with a CD at all, but sang a current Taylor Swift song with great pitch and rhythm. I could tell she was hearing the music accompaniment and pitches in her head. She even sang the key change correctly! It’s very possible she could have done that before I started teaching the way I now do. However, I was able to use her singing as an example of audiation (hearing music in your mind and matching it) with the other students in the class. I asked them, “Were you able to hear the accompaniment in your mind while she waited for it to continue singing?” I could see them thinking about it as they nodded their heads!

One more compelling example for me of the effects of modeling is the one boy who didn’t match pitch at all last year as a first grader. He comes from a family of…I’ll use the modern vernacular…athletic jocks! 🙂 I’ve noticed that even though he didn’t match pitch well (notice the past tense) last year, he always pays attention and thinks about what I say. You know that thoughtful look on a student’s face. A few weeks ago, I walked by him while the class was singing, and he was matching pitch in the correct range for a boy his age!!! Yesterday, I confirmed by singing near him again. Is my modeling and teaching having an effect or would he have reached that stage regardless? I’m not certain of the answer. Part of the problem is I didn’t listen closely enough in earlier years because I was too busy singing myself! I like to think this new (for me) way of teaching is paying off.

Dr. Robert Marzano, ICE Conference 2010

For the second year in a row, I’ve been able to attend part of the ICE Conference in St. Charles, IL.  This year I attended the Friday sessions.

I enjoyed every aspect of the conference, but the highlight for me was hearing Dr. Robert Marzano speak. His presentation showed correlations between interactive white board usage in classrooms and student achievement and engagement. He first referenced ongoing research that takes the teacher out of the equation. In this study, data is collected on two classes taught by the same teacher: one class using an interactive white board, the other without. I found it fascinating that both achievement and engagement improved by relatively high percentage rates. According to Marzano, when interactive white boards are used  about 75% of class time by an experienced teacher, who has also used the technology for some time and is comfortable using it, the best results are realized. He was careful to caution teachers on several points:

  • “Nothing is a silver bullet.”
  • Interactive white boards are best used by multiple students at a time rather than only teacher “stand and deliver” methods.
  • Make sure the use of the whiteboard focuses primarily on subject matter content. Use the technology as a means for students to interact with the content.
  • Teachers need to keep best practice in mind and use the whiteboard with those principles in mind (previewing, chunking, scaffolding, pacing, monitoring, physical movement, games, humor, pacing, friendly controversy, immediate feedback, questioning, wait time, etc.)
  • Remember, when we really know something we know it both linguistically and with mental imagery. He cautioned teachers to help students use one predominant form of learning.
  • Keep the presentation clean and simple. Marzano referenced Richard Mayer who has found students learn best when mostly words or mostly pictures are chosen in presentations. This avoids too much busyness.
  • Results don’t just happen because of the technology but rather how we use it. In the hands of the right teacher using the whiteboard in the right way, the technology is very effective in improving student achievement and engagement.

Marzano also gave several more specific helpful hints:

  • A few examples of immediate feedback the whiteboard provides are with the drag and drop, hidden content, and virtual applause features.
  • The random selection feature is very effective in keeping students engaged.
  • When questioning students, change the method of answering. Sometimes have students vote with their hands, sometimes with their feet (move to a room area designated for each answer), or use the whiteboard voting technology.
  • Students can type in their responses which can appear as text boxes on the whiteboard. The teacher (or students) can then manipulate the boxes. The students’ responses then become the content where learning takes place.
  • iTunes University is a site to watch.
  • Brain Pop was mentioned.
  • “Multimedia Learning” by Richard Mayer was referenced.

Marzano encouraged educators to remember that teaching is still an art even though the profession is becoming more of a science. Teachers can teach their own way, with some guidelines.