The Easiest Social Media Setup For Your Program!

I had an awesome time at TMEA this past weekend!  I am honored to teach in the best state for music education in the country, and to have an awesome professional association/convention such as TMEA.  If you teach in Texas and didn’t attend, you are missing out on an excellent opportunity to recharge your batteries and grow as an educator.  If you live out of state, come join us! I’ve been to a couple of conventions in other states and they are miniscule compared to TMEA. YOU NEED TO GO NEXT YEAR!!!!

Ok, back to business.  There is one question I answered more than any other at TMEA this year. “How should I set up/manage social media for my program?” Great question! And one that can be answered easily.Social-media-for-public-relations1

There are tons of free, easy to use, and integratable platforms out there that make having a professional social media presence easy! Here’s how I manage my groups all from my cell phone!

  1. Social Media – The followers of your program (parents/students/community members) are everywhere. EVERYWHERE! Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google +. Create an account for each site for your program. IN a minute I’ll show you how to post to them all with ease!
  2. Google Calendar – This is an essential part of my day!  I have different calendars set up for each of my ensembles/classes, and can view any or all of these events on one screen.  I can share events with my coworkers, allow them to view my calendar so they can make scheduling decisions without me having to be present, I can set reminders to alert me of upcoming events, and I can embed any of these calendars (like my band calendar) into a website.  I can now update my public band calendar that’s visible to parents on our website from my smartphone by just opening my calendar app.
  3. Remind – Want a safe way to send messages to your student group and parents? Remind (formerly Remind 101) is a one-way text messaging system that students and parents can subscribe to.  You can send them SMS messages from any internet connected device (including your desktop computer), but they can’t text back.  I use this every Friday night to notify parents when we leave football games and when we’ll return.  You can also schedule reminder text messages so kids don’t forget to bring important items, or use it as a reminder for scheduled rehearsals.
  4. HootSuite – Now that you have created all those accounts mentioned above, manage them all from one easy to use service. Great functionality to post simultaneously to all your social media outlets, or to simply read all your feeds in one place. Best of all, there’s an app for that! I can post pictures of a concert or contest to all the social media outlets, and my website from my cell phone! Yes my website. That’s because I use…
  5. WordPress Blog For A Website  – It’s very fast and easy to create a basic website using WordPress for your school groups.  You can embed your Google Calendar, post to it via HootSuite, embed a Remind widget to post those text messages to your website, and basically give everyone a home base to get all the information they need for your groups.  Create multiple pages, or multiple blogs for each of your groups. It’s all free!

The entire process of setting all of this up and making it functional should take under an hour! Best of all, it’s easy to keep everyone up to date and keep the lines of communication open, freeing up time in the process.

What sort of tech/education questions do you have?  Leave a comment below and I’ll answer those questions in an upcoming post.

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Back To Work!

Happy Summer Friends!

I hope you’ve enjoyed your summer as much as I have! Hopefully you got to spend some much needed time with friends and family instead of being chained to your classroom! As you know my blog has taken a little vacation too! It’s been a great break from school, but August is just around the corner which means it’s time to get back to work, and time for me to get back to writing about topics and issues that matter to you…hopefully making your job easier in the process.

Over the summer I presented a workshop that received such great feedback I decided to turn a part of my workshop into an ebook for you! My EdTech Ebook is great for music teachers, but applies to any teacher regardless of subject matter. The book shares simple tech tools I use daily that can make our jobs way easier while making our teaching more effective!

If you’d like to receive my free ebook, simply opt into my email list by clicking the email link below and you will get my EdTech Ebook in your inbox shortly.

Best wishes for the end of your summer and the beginning of another great school year!

CLICK HERE TO GET MY EDTECH EBOOK!

Getting A Fast Start To Every Class

“What are we doing today?” That question is the very bane of my existence. Or at least it used to be. That is before I automated the whole process of preparing my students for each class period!

After hearing this same question from every student that walked in the door for 8 periods a day, I started looking for ways to answer their questions without having to repeat myself hundreds of times.

I started by writing instructions on the board, but by the time I finished teaching one class, I couldn’t get the new instructions written on the board before the question started circling my head. We came up with an idea that has saved us tons of time and energy answering annoying questions. It also helps us get a very fast start to every class. Here’s what we do!

I started posting the instructions for each class period in a Google Presentation slide. I also shared this slide show with my coworker so she could edit the slides that effect her primary classes as well. The slides include what is needed for the current class period, a brief description of what we are working on, as well as any other special instructions for the class period.

My coworker came up with the idea of linking a YouTube video of a timer into the slide so the students know exactly how much time they have to finish setting up and warming up before we begin class.

We simply bring up the slide for the next class as the bell rings, click play on the timer as the current class leaves. The timer ticking down as the next class enters the room ensures they hustle and stay on task…at least as on task as middle school students can be.

Here’s an embedded view of the slide show in Google Presentation, and a link to download it in PowerPoint.

PowerPoint Slides

A couple of tips for implementing this procedure in your classroom:

  • Use highly contrasting text on the slides to ensure your students don’t have problems reading the slides.
  • If your students have iPads, or other devices equipped with QR codes, feel free to paste them in the slide show as well.
  • Add as many slides as you need for each class for important upcoming dates, class discussion questions, or other resources you will use in your class.
  • Train the students to look at the screen before asking any questions when they come in the room. My default answer to any question when implementing this routine is  “Did you look at the slide?” Usually the students will look at the screen again (or for the first time) and the question is answered.
  • Stick to the routine! Post the instructions every day and refer the students to the screen every time they ask a question. It will take them a few days to catch on, but they will catch on.

It only takes us a few minutes to edit the existing slide show each morning, but saves us tons of time and frustration throughout the day. Feel free to create your own slide show, or download and edit our slide to fit the needs of your group!

5 Reasons Every Teacher Should Use Evernote

I used to have endless piles of educational resources around my office. Files full of hand outs from conventions, in-service training, workshops, and magazine articles. I used to keep stacks of educational and professional journals thinking I would some day need to reference those materials.

I no longer have the piles…I recycled them all. But I do still have every bit of information that was in them! And it’s completely searchable and organized where I can find anything by typing just a few keywords! Did I mention they’re also accessible from anywhere? How did I do this? The answer is Evernote.

Evernote

If you’re unfamiliar with Evernote, it’s an amazing resource that operates as a digital file cabinet allowing you to keep track of anything. Literally anything! Instead of me giving a brief overview, I’ll just let the fine folks at Evernote. show you their product.

 

Pretty cool, huh? My life has been so simplified by using Evernote. Here’s 5 reasons why you need to start using Evernote today!

  • Evernote is Universal – If you are a Mac, PC, Android, iOS, or just about anything else, Evernote is fully functional on all devices. Not only does Evernote allow you to create new notes, it also allows you to import any file type you want to keep track of. Have tons of old Finale files? Need help keeping track of spread sheets and word documents? No problem, Evernote stores it, sorts it, and catalogues it where it’s easy for you to find! You can access your important files and documents from anywhere in the world on a web enabled device using either the Evernote app, or their website!
  • Evernote is Searchable – No longer will you have to spend time digging through file cabinets of paper in order to find that one handout from several years ago. Simply title and tag the note, or file it in a “notebook” of your choice. You’ll never lose a document or file again! Also, if you’re working with PDF files, the text within the PDF is searchable. That means if you have scanned 100 old magazines and are interested in finding every article dealing with flute tuning, simply search “flute” and “tuning” and every single document you’ve saved that has those two words will pop up! It’s an amazing tool!
  • Evernote is Shareable – Do you have an important project that you are working on with other teachers? Create an Evernote note, or notebook and share access to it with all the members of your group. An example could be a notebook where everyone shares lesson plans, or commonly used forms and resources, or anything else you want to share. The possibilities are endless!
  • Evernote is Great for Taxes! – For the past several years I have used the iPhone Evernote app to take pictures of every receipt every time I spend my personal money for work related expenses (school supplies, meals & hotel on trips, music supplies, etc.) This year I was able to deduct a huge amount because of how well I tracked these expenses. The IRS allows us to deduct these things, so we might as well make the most of it. Evernote saved me tons of money this year alone just because of the receipts I tracked!
  • Evernote is Easy to Use – There are tons of video tutorials on how to do anything you want with Evernote, and there’s also books and blog posts. I’ve found the best way to get started is to just play around with it a little. It’s very intuitive and very well thought out. Probably the easiest feature to use is the email function. Included with your Evernote account is an email address that is linked directly to your Evernote. If you receive an email that you want to save, simply forward that email to your Evernote address and it will automatically generate a new note containing the entire email. It’s a fantastic tool that I use about ten times a day.

If you want to get started using Evernote, their YouTube Channel is full of helpful information. I would also highly recommend the blog posts by Michael Hyatt concerning Evernote (He’s the one that got me to try it!) I would recommend the following posts he’s written:

Evernote is an amazingly powerful tool that you can start using today for free! It’s well worth your time and will increase your productivity drastically.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” 

The Best, Easiest, And Cheapest Classroom Recording Setup Ever!

Have you ever felt like you just can’t quite determine what your ensemble needs to sound better? Maybe they just need a little extra help to sound awesome, but you can’t quite put a finger on it? I think I’ve found the answer!

I have often heard knowledgable teachers and clinicians claim that you must record your groups regularly in order to objectively determine how they truly sound. I agree completely! My problem is I always “hear” what I know I should hear, and my mind and ears sort of block out mistakes. Listening to a recording, however, gives me a much more clear and unbiassed view of the group.

I’ve also found that students benefit tremendously from hearing their own performances. We always listen to our recordings from contest, but what if I could record every rehearsal? What if I could instantly allow students to hear the changes we were making? I thought this sounded like a good idea, so I got to work.

Over the past couple of years I’ve been recording my groups in rehearsals. I discovered several ways that don’t work, but I’ve finally found the best and most affordable way to record your groups every day! Want to know how I do it?

I bought a hand-held recorder and used it quite a bit, but it often gave useless, lousy, distorted recordings. When I did record, it was a pain to import files into my computer, then open them, then convert them, then save them, then….you get the idea…it was a pain.

I finally decided I needed a permanent solution in my classroom because I knew recording rehearsals would never become a regular staple of my teaching unless it was easy to do and always ready to go.

Here’s how I created a high-quality and very low-cost recording setup in my classroom. It’s easy to use and always ready to go! I chose to record to a Mac Mini computer, though a desktop PC or laptop would work as well. Essentially, you need three items: microphones, an interface, and recording software.  If you already have some of these items, then use them!

Here are my equipment choices, as well as some images of how I have it set up. Hanging Mics Edited.jpg

I use the Audio-Technica Pro 45 Hanging Condenser Microphone as my microphone of choice. It come attached to a 25′ thin mic cable, as well as with directional supports that you can bend to point the microphone at the area you wish to record. And if you or your admin are looking for something unobtrusive, the mic does come in either black or white.

As far as quality is concerned, these are quiet microphones, leaving almost no traceable hiss or noise on the recordings. They are also very sensitive to the nuances of musical performance. In addition, they are affordable, quality microphones, costing (new) approx. $80 each.

I chose to hang two in my room near the front, outer edges of my ensembles. The cables are run above the acoustic tile ceiling and down a piece of plastic conduit to my table, where they connect to a USB interface.

USB interface Edited.jpgI chose the Steinberg CI1 USB Audio Interface. The device is equipped to provide phantom power (required for condenser microphones) and is powered completely by the USB power of the computer. This device does require you to download drivers in order to function, but the ease of use and exceptional functionality makes the install worth the hassle.

There are two channels that have both gain and volume controls. It took me about 3 minutes to get the desired levels dialed in the first time we used it, and they’ve virtually stayed the same ever since. I just had my students do a little playing on their own while I adjusted the levels to a good full volume that would not overdrive the inputs. Also of note for those who like to use headphones, there is a headphone jack with separate volume control on this unit so you can hear the signal you are sending to the computer!

Audacity On Screen Edited.jpg

There are tons of options when it comes to choosing a recording software.  Some programs even come installed as standard equipment on new computers, but for the easiest and most cost-effective recording solution, you simply can’t beat  Audacity’s Free Recording Software. It works on either PC or Mac, is very easy to learn and use, and it’s FREE!

Files can be exported using nearly any audio format you would want. Just click the mouse to start recording and tap the space bar to stop. It really is that simple! There are also ample editing tools built into the program if you need them.

Here are some ways I’ve used this setup with my students.

  • My students like seeing what they sound like. With Audacity projected on the screen at the front of the room, they can clearly see a clean unison start to the sound verses a sloppy entrance. And if you have a metronome clicking in the background, it’s very easy to see where your tempo lines up with the click and when your tempo fluctuates. Also, as your dynamics change so does the size of the sound waves. Did you crescendo and decrescendo evenly? You can now hear and see the answer.
  • Has your group been invited to perform at an event that they can’t attend? Why not send a CD of your group instead? I did this with two of my groups just last week and the results were great! Our ensembles got credit for putting forth the hard work to rehearse and create the majority of the music for the event that none of the students attended. We rehearsed just as if we would be giving a concert, but instead recorded our pieces in class in the days leading up to the event.
  • I think it’s important to include students in making musical decisions when approaching a piece of music. Is there a question about whether we should ritard in measure 55, or should we attempt a more drastic crescendo in measure 63? Try recording the section in question a few different ways and allow your students to listen and vote on what they like best. You may be surprised at the very mature interpretive choices your students are capable of making!
  • The recording doesn’t lie to you.When I started recording my groups I found the recording rarely sounded like whatthought I heard on the podium, or what the students thought they sounded like. For some reason it is so much easier to hear mistakes on recordings than live. If you hear tuning issues on the recording, there were actually tuning issues when you played. Spending some time recording and listening to yourselves will insure there are no surprises coming from the judges at contest. You’ll know exactly what your group sounds like before you ever compete.
  • Listening skills have greatly improved for my students and for me! I’m not talking about simply how to listen to recordings. We have all discovered what we should listen to in a live setting based on our discoveries from the recordings. I receive much more educated comments coming from my students now. Even before hearing the most recent recording, my students can often tell me every mistake we’re about to hear. Before we started this process they didn’t have a clue!

There are countless ways you could use a setup like this, but I would strongly encourage you, if at all possible, to allow your students to be able to see what they sound like. This has been an enormous aid to our students from our high school ensembles all the way down to our beginner classes. Best of all, it’s cheap! Our entire setup cost under $150 (I purchased one mic used).

It took me about an hour to hang the microphones and run the cables, but it was a very easy install that I’ve done many times before. The educational value in this one setup far outweighs the cost, plus the return is endless! I encourage you to start recording your groups today!

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” 

Please Steal My Lesson Plan!

I am sick and tired of students telling me they did absolutely nothing in their other classes. Click To Tweet This! So I was motivated by my students lack of higher level thinking to alter my rehearsal plans on Friday. I decided to start class with something fun, interesting, full of educational value, and above all something to make them think! Surprising as it may sound, they really enjoyed it! We discussed music history, used advanced listening skills, higher level reasoning, and much more all in the first 10 minutes of class. This was such a hit with my music classes, I want you to steal my lesson plan! Here’s what I did. Click To Tweet This!

My favorite composer has always been Mozart, and my favorite piece is the Adagio from Serenade No. 10 in Bb Major (K 361) Gran Partita. I primed their pumps by talking a bit about Mozart and how early he started performing and composing.  I then played for them this short clip from Amadeus of Salieri describing the first time he heard Mozart’s music.

Yes, that video is a bit cheesy, but it does a good job of telling them what to listen for. Next, I played them this recording from the movie soundtrack of the same piece by Sir Neville Marriner and The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.

I only played about the first minute and a half of the recording. At this point we discussed what the students heard and appreciated about the recording. We talked about the tone (“Does this group have a dark, rich sound or a bright, radiant sound?”) and the overall mood of the piece (“Was this a happy, or sad piece? Why?”) After a very brief discussion, I played this recording of the very same piece, but this time it was performed on period instruments. I told them that these are the instruments Mozart’s musicians would have used, and this is what Mozart would have heard when the piece was originally performed.

After this recording played, I asked them to describe what they heard that was different from the previous recording (you may need to replay the first few seconds of each depending on how attuned your group is to listening.) 

And now here are some discussion questions for your and your class.

Discussion Question 1: Which recording did you prefer, the one of modern instruments or period instruments? Why?

Discussion Question 2: We tend to like the way our instruments sound to the way the instruments of Mozart’s time sounded on the recording (at least all of my classes did.) Why?

Discussion Question 3: If Mozart were here with us today, which recording do you think he would prefer? Why?

Discussion Question 4: Should this effect the way we approach playing older music? Why?

I hope you find this useful. Try to work it into your lesson plans some time this week and see if your students have as much fun with it as mine did.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Three Easy Tech Tools for Teaching!

This post will share some of the ways I’m using technology in our music classes at school. In case you didn’t know, part of my job for the school district is working in IT and helping teachers integrate the use of technology in their teaching. If incorporating technology in music teaching is a new concept to you, don’t worry…these tips are simple, and very effective! Plus, all of these suggestions will work for other areas of education as well, so feel free to share this with non-music teachers too! Click here to tweet this!

Slide Show for Every Class We project a slide show all day on our video screen at the front of the room.  The slides include what is needed for the current class period, a brief description of what we are working on, and a timer that we start when the bell rings to give students a visual indication of how long they have to finish getting ready for class to start. (The timer is an embedded YouTube video for 5 minutes.  If you want a shorter time you can change the video, or set the video to start at a different time.) This eliminates the “What are we doing today?” question that usually gets asked 20 times a period.  Here’s an embedded view of the slide show in Google Docs, and a link to download it in PowerPoint.

PowerPoint Slides

QR Codes – If you’ll notice in the slide show above, we use QR codes on some of our slides. QR codes are a type of bar code that can direct your device to a particular URL (or can contain other information too!) Using a QR code instead of a web address makes it easier for students who have trouble typing to get to the correct website.  We like using The QR Code Generator to create the codes.  Simply save the QR image and post it where it will be helpful.  The students with iPads (we have a cart we can use when needed), smartphones, or a laptop with a webcam can scan the QR code and arrive at the correct website instantly.  We use these to link students to custom quizzes created on MusicTheory.net, important files we need them to access, our band calendar, or anything else you can imagine. Give it a try!

goo.gl – If you aren’t quite ready to take the QR challenge yet, but still want students to access web based information, you can use a URL shortener like Google’s goo.gl. Simply paste that long URL like…

http://www.utexas.edu/uil/pml/catalog/browse/catalog_id/6/op_event/mat/event/68/acapella/1/accomp/1

and wind up with a nice short link to the same place like…

http://goo.gl/maL0EM

These links take you to the same place.  You can even simplify life by just giving your students the last six characters (maL0EM in this case) and instruct them to always place goo.gl/ in front of it. Be careful though as the links are case-sensitive.

These three tips should get you started.  More tech tips coming soon!