iPad: Review of Early Edition

Here is a new app that has a lot of potential if you prefer a more "newspaper-like" blog reading experience. It's called Early Edition and sells for $4.99. There are a few bugs/issues that need to be worked out, but a very nice initial effort that takes advantage of things the iPad does well.

Sorry for the low light iPhone video, but at least you'll will get the idea of this app.

Update: Bug regarding Posterous feeds has been fixed!

On Festivals and Contests

Achieved In about 45 minutes there is going to be a "musedchat" on Twitter regarding the values of festivals and contests. I know myself well enough to realize that I can't fully express myself on this topic by using tweets. So although I'm going to try, I figured I'd better get some clarifying thoughts written here first. I hope you don't think this is against the spirit of the chat concept, it's just a complex subject that I've been thinking about for decades. Please forgive the typos and poor sentence structure, I'm typing fast!

Competitions

As I've written before, I do not think that competition should be a part of curricular ensembles. This is nearly unavoidable, since even the invited opportunities such as the Midwest Clinic or the National Concert Band Festival are competitive during the application process. I can live with that, but I cannot support the idea of a fully ranked competition. I want my students to be able to focus on (and celebrate) the manifestation of the music, and that just isn't realistic when there are ranks and trophies at stake. I just don't see the musical upside.

Ratings

I also find the "Divisional Rating System" to be problematic, though perhaps marginally "less bad" than ranked competition. Playing for three band directors in a gymnasium is simply not my idea of an excellent performance opportunity. I have also found that I get input/criticisms that are far more beneficial to me and my students by inviting respected professionals to our classroom for clinics. It is amazing what a colleague can share with you and the students when they are not worried about stamping a rating on it.

Festivals

Festivals (at least in Illinois) come in two basic flavors. The first is the "Honor" ensemble whereby each school sends a small number of students in order to form one large ensemble (and when I say "large" boy do I mean "large"). Typically students audition for these spots. These festivals can be a positive experience for some students, but there can also be a fair amount of disappointment for the students who do not place "high enough" in the section or do not receive a placement at all. I could go on at length about the actual festival experiences (whether single day or multiple days) which often lack a clear sense of philosophical grounding and therefore become "hit or miss" from year to year. I'm sure we've all had students return from these events only to proclaim that there experiences at home were more enjoyable and musically beneficial. If we're going to support these types of events, we need to think carefully about that.

The second type of festival is the format I vastly prefer, whereby groups come together to perform in a non-competitive, "comments-only" format. The National Concert Band Festival is a prime example. I especially like how the students support each other by serving as audience members. The main advantages of this type of experience are (a) your entire ensemble participates, (b) you are able to focus almost exclusively upon the repertoire, and (c) you are usually performing for a knowing audience in an appropriate performance space.

Collaboration Concerts

One idea we are starting to see in Illinois is the idea of sharing concerts between schools. For example, a trusted colleague and I rented a nearby college concert hall and we presented a concert, each with one of our bands. Then for the last piece we combined the groups and performed together. This gave an "off campus" opportunity for our students to work towards, there were no rankings or ratings, and we played in a marvelous hall. And the students got to learn about the musical approach of a nearby school and show support for each other. I found this to be one of the more significantly relevant endeavors we have ever done, and I look forward to making it a tradition.

Well, there are my thoughts. Clearly more than I could fit into a tweet. Your comments are welcomed.

Teaching: Profession and Professionalism

mugged Recently I stumbled upon a blog post by Will Richardson talking about professional development for teachers, specifically in the area of technology. In the subsequent comments under the post the discussion between David Warlick and a few others took an interesting turn from professional development to whether or not teaching iteself is a profession. David posted additional thoughts on his own blog:

If you think of teaching as something you do in one room, beside the room of another teacher, beside the room of another teacher, delivering content or directing skill development, checking off standards sheets, and doing pretty much the same thing year after year — then I would agree with Sheryl.  Semi-profession might actually be generous.  Much of the job, especially as addressed by NCLB, is more like being a technician, applying prescribed, researched, and government-approved techniques on students, based on high-precision measurements.

I suspect that the term professional, has described teachers because they’ve earn a college degree, and years ago they were among the only people in many communities who were educated to that level.

I agree completely with the spirit of David's thoughts. Yet it concerns me that there is a tendency to use terms like profession, professionalism, and professional development interchangably. I know some may think it's just semantics, but I think there's more to it and we need to be more intentional about our word choice. Do some of us really believe that teaching is not a profession?

There is little question that there are some teachers who lack professionalism. Nor is there much doubt that some teachers need more professional development, especially in these times of exponential change. We've experienced administrators, board members, and legislators who may not treat teachers professionally. While a profession, the conduct of those within it, and the treatment of its members are certainly related, they are still clearly distinct. Furthermore, these are the realities of any profession. Can you think of a profession that does not have these same challenges? The bottom line is that the challenges we face do not change the fact that teaching is a profession.

"A profession is a vocation founded upon specialised educational training, the purpose of which is to supply disinterested counsel and service to others, for a direct and definite compensation, wholly apart from expectation of other business gain".[1]

By any reasonable definition of the word (like the one above), teaching "meets or exceeds" the definition of a profession. We hold college degrees and state/national certification. We provide service to others, are directly compensated, and teach without expecation of "other business gain." If teaching is not a profession, what is it? And what careers are professions, if teaching is not chief among them?

Having said that, if someone is qualified to enter the profession, does that mean he will surely conduct himself professionally? Will she continue to develop her teaching skills throughout her career? These are important questions of conduct within the profession, or professionalism. We must not confuse the two, nor use the terms interchagably.

We can (and should) discuss educational professionalism without any doubt that what we do is a profession. Let's be sure we are choosing (and using) our words carefully.  To my mind, teaching continues to be one of the most essential professions on this earth, and we would serve ourselves well to not only keep that in mind, but believe it to the core. If we don't, why would anyone else?

Midori Q&A - Ovation | ColumbiaTribune.com

Midori: I think that every child should have the opportunity to play or explore whatever kind of music speaks to them and to take that experience into adulthood. The eventual manifestation could be as a devoted listener, a casual player or a paid professional musician; whatever that might be, simply having those musical opportunities as a child ultimately benefits the individual as well as the larger culture. No matter the level of experience or talent, I am always amazed by children’s capacity to love music and to embrace it. At the very beginner level, the focus should be on the individual and to nurture the child as a whole person, rather than focusing on a specific talent or skill. For instance, at Midori & Friends (my nonprofit organization in New York), we emphasize a process-oriented, rather than goal-oriented, approach to music education. As I mentioned above, whether or not this young person grows up to play the violin professionally or for fun or not at all, just having this exposure to the arts will benefit and enrich their lives tremendously.

This interview with Midori is worth reading. We had the opportunity to bring Midori to our school last year. Her commitment to music education is unwavering. Notice her statement about nurturing "the child as a whole person." That needs to be the core of our educational mission in this country.

Elizabeth Gilbert on Nurturing Creativity

This is a fantastic TED Talk given by author Elizabeth Gilbert in February of 2009. Since that time it has remained one of the most popular videos at ted.com, which is further evidence that creativity continues to be on everyone's minds these days. As you watch it, resist the assumption that ensemble music students are creative by default, and instead think about how you can empower your students to become more involved in the creative process of bringing music to fruition. Further, what does it mean for music teachers to be creative?

What do you think? Leave a comment, it only takes a moment.

What is Google Voice and Why is it Great for Teachers?

Telephone operators, 1952

Google Voice started out as Grand Central, a call routing service that a few bright guys (Craig Walker & Vincent Paquet) started a few years ago. Google saw the opportunity to disrupt the telecom world with Grand Central, and snatched it up. So what is it? Basically Google Voice is an independent call router and voicemail system. I'm going to give a brief overview and tell you how I use it.

It's a Number Without a Phone

The idea is that instead of having a phone with an "attached" number (the traditional way of doing things), Google Voice gives you only the number (for life, and for free!), and that number is completely independent. It does not "reside" on a device. Does that have you scratching your head? Read on.

When someone dials your GV number, many things can happen from that point. For example:

1. Google recognizes the incoming call as being from your mother and passes it through to ring your home phone, mobile phone, and work phone, all at the same time so you are sure to get the call. Or calls from your friends only ring your mobile and home numbers, but never your work phone. Whatever you want. You can have up to six different numbers ring when you get a call, in any combination depending upon the rules you create on the Google Voice website. I put my Google Voice number on my syllabi so parents and teachers can reach me. Much better than an office phone (and for those of you who share an office phone, this is a great solution).

2, If you choose, Google will send all callers of a certain type straight to voicemail if you so choose. For example, all unrecognized callers, or calls from that friend of yours that always results in a thirty-minute conversation. ;-)

3. Google receives a call from a pesky sales person that you have identified, and you will never hear from that person again. Their voicemail goes to your junk box. Or you can block that number completely and the sales person will get an "out of service" message. How often have you wanted that for your landline or mobile number?

4. Different Outgoing Greetings: People you have tagged as "friends" or "family" hear an informal voicemail greeting from you ("Hey what's up? Leave me a message) whereas calls from your students' parents get a different greeting (Hello this is Mr. Robertson, sorry I wasn't available for your call, I'll get back to you as soon as I can).

Call Screening

When you "take" a call, you don't have to be connected with your caller. You have the option to listen in to messages as they are being left (call screening). It's a very cool feature to have when you are out and about (same as listening to your old message machine at home). Sometimes you can't or don't want to take a call, but you don't want to wait for the voicemail to come in either. Screening is the perfect solution. GV also lets you break in and take the call while the person is leaving a message if you so choose. You can also send calls directly to voicemail after Google tells you who is on the line.

Call Translation

After Google purchased Grand Central, they added voice translation. I have found this to be a great feature. Say you are at a meeting where you can listen to voicemail. Google sends you a text translation of the message as email. I have to say, it works great. Not perfectly, but it usually gets 95% right, enough to know what the call was about. You also get the voicemail as an audio attachment. All of your voicemail is available on the GV webpage as well, where you can review, add the caller to contacts, etc. Basically you never have to write down message details again. Much like gmail, Google has plenty of storage so you never need to delete your messages.

Number Permanence

I really like the idea of having a number that stays with me. There are many cases where I don't want to give out my mobile or home number. Or have you gone through the ordeal of getting a new phone number and trying to notify everyone? With Google Voice it doesn't matter if you get a new office number, mobile number, or drop your land line number. You simply give everyone your GV number. Since I have the spam options on GV, I don't hesitate to give it out. I give out my GV number for all business transactions (utilities, comcast, etc.). I don't want those companies having my mobile number, and now it's never necessary.

Call Routing

Basically Google is acting as a call routing system. Somebody calls your GV number, and then Google switches the call wherever you need it to go. You also use it to make calls so that your caller will see the call as coming from your Google Voice number rather than your mobile, office number, etc.

For example, when you are listening to voicemail you can return the call by pressing the number 2. When you do, GV dials the person's number so that they see your GV number, not your mobile or wherever you are listening to your voicemails. Then Google connects the call to that phone. Another use: You can put a "call me" button on your website. People can call you without even knowing your GV number at all! They press the button, enter their number, and Google calls you both and connects the call. Slick!

Google also added SMS and international calling. SMS is totally free (and unlimited).


Should You Get It?

As you can see, Grand Central was a very forward looking idea. Google was wise to buy it out. Add on top of that the things Google has added and you have a very disruptive technology. It has been working perfectly for me. When people call my number at school, I have changed my outgoing message asking them to write down my Google Voice number and use it exclusively. This way I don't have people leaving messages for me on the school's outdated voicemail system. For those of you who have newer voicemail systems at school (for example the type that emails you the message) Google Voice may not be a high priority. But for me it has been great. No more dialing into the school system and pressing buttons to navigate about. I just hit the Google Voice website.

Other uses might include obtaining a Google Voice number for your parents organization. There are times when your parents don't want their personal phone numbers being used. Google Voice could be the perfect solution. You could also grab a Google Voice number to serve as a ticket or special event hotline. Possibilities are endless.

Google Voice requires a gmail account and you must request an invite. Go to: http://voice.google.com

UPDATE: There's an app for that! The Google Voice app works great on the iPhone and Android. And you can also port your home number to GV and ditch the land line if you like!

Infinitec officially launches IUM ad hoc streaming device: ships in July for $129 -- Engadget

So... you have a movie on your personal laptop and want to show it in class. Do you (a) email the huge file so you can download it to the computer that is attached to the LCD projector, or (b) hook up your personal computer to your LCD projector (wasting valuable time) or (c) stream the media from your personal laptop to the computer that is already hooked up to your LCD projector?

I'm going with C, and for about $129.

How A PLN Can Make You Filthy Rich

Origami dollar t-shirt

I'm starting a new association for music educators. We are going to meet monthly. The dues are one dollar per month, per member. However, each member will also receive one dollar for every member in attendance. So, if there are 100 people at the meeting, each member will give one dollar, but leave with 99 dollars. No strings attached. Pretty amazing model, wouldn't you say?

If that idea was guaranteed not to be a scam, would you do it? Of course you would! A one dollar investment that returns 99 dollars, every month? You would have to be crazy not to participate. So what is my point? It's this: although money doesn't work that way, ideas do. If, in a group of 100 teachers, each teacher shares one idea, everyone gets 99 new ideas.

Unlike money, educational ideas can be shared without losing their value.

And this is exactly what Professional Learning Networks are all about. The problem is, not enough teachers are sharing. They may think their ideas are not good enough. They may think they are too busy. They may be worried about being judged. All I can say is... if that describes you... get over it, and quick. You are cheating yourself, your students, and many other teachers (and their students). Teaching music is not a competition. All of our students deserve the best instruction.

My PLN lives in three main areas at the moment: A Facebook group of about 1,500; A Facebook page of about 600; and about 400 people I interact with on Twitter. It boggles my mind to imagine what we could do for students if each one of those people shared one idea per month. The number of participants in a PLN doesn't mean much if only a small percentage are sharing what they know.

You don't have to start a blog (but congrats to those of you who are trying it), you can simply start by posting a thought, idea, or link. Put it into the comments below this post, or post it on Twitter, or in your Facebook status. I can promise you that if we all share, we'll all get far more in return than we give.

So... do you want to be filty rich or not? Get your dollar on the table!

Discover Simple, Private Sharing at Drop.io

Sometimes we're just approaching problems from the wrong direction

Have you ever felt like you were this close to getting your ensemble onto the right track, but something elusive was in the way? Sometimes all the pieces are there and we just haven't put things together in the proper order. Sometimes we realize later that we had the cart before the horse, but it's not always easy to tell when we are in the moment. Take a look at this video and you will see what I mean.

Thanks Alan Levine for hipping me to that great video.