Teachers: It might be time to give Twitter lists a try

Here is a quick screencast to show you how easy it is to create lists on Twitter. Lists can help organize twitter users by criteria you choose so that you can narrow or focus your reading from time to time, rather than just using your timeline view. For example in the video you'll see my Admin list which is comprised of over 50 principals and superintendents that are using Twitter regularly. I review this list a few times a week to get a sense of how admins are using Twitter and to see what they are reading and discussing. Since I don't particularly interact with those folks on Twitter I chose to assign them to a list rather than follow each one of them. This frees up my timeline for people that I regularly interact with on Twitter. In addition to assembling your own lists, it is also very easy to "follow" public lists that many of us have already created.


Visit my page if you'd like to see my lists and follow any of them: http://twitter.com/teaching_music

Air Projector for iPhone: A great app for the classroom

Thanks to the folks at qrayon for giving me a pre-release code for their cool new app for the iPhone, Air Projector. Here is a quick video to show you just how easy it is to get photos and pdf files onto another computer/LCD Projector.



I'm really going to enjoy not being tied to the computer. I can easily be anywhere in the classroom while referring to what is on the screen. As I said in the video, I would love to see the ability to vary the size of the laser pointer, and maybe even a simple highlighting tool. As it is, it's still an incredibly useful app, and you're going to love it!

Thanks again @qrayon, I really appreciate the sneak peak.

I'm too busy to go to the doctor, and other teacher avoidance-techniques

Nose and finger (Stockholm)

I've been building a Professional Learning Network (PLN) for about half a year now, and while the people I am meeting are great, one segment of the profession is noticeably absent: High school ensemble directors. There are a few of us online, to be sure, but nowhere near the participation we are seeing from general music, middle school music teachers, private teachers, and college music majors. So, while I am thrilled to be interacting with those folks, we're usually not able to converse much about the classroom, which is of course the biggest reason to build a PLN.

So where are these directors? I generally find that they are "too busy" to try one more thing. This is something that I have heard regularly over my 20 year career. Too busy to run small ensembles, too busy to travel, too busy to switch kids to bassoon, too busy to go to the doctor even though I feel terrible... you get the idea. I am guilty of these statements at various times (especially the last one, which resulted in pneumonia, very dumb), but I think that overall I was fortunate to learn early on that the investment of time into pedagogy, tools, and philosophy pays dividends, and the dividends ultimately result in working smarter, not harder. 

"I'm too busy to have successful students" is of course a crazy statement. But our actions demonstrate our beliefs, and most of us work extremely hard doing the same things we've always done, hoping for better results. 

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

~Albert Einstein

Our music department has six concert bands, five choirs, three orchestras, five big bands, three vocal jazz groups, and AP Theory all within the school day in a school of about 2,000. We're pretty busy. I feel I have no choice but to work smarter at this point, and my guess is that you need to work smarter as well.

So back to my PLN. My focus has been simply to (a) share what I find and (b) share what I'm thinking about. By doing so I've met many people who are also sharing, and as a result we quickly reached a tipping point: we now receive far more ideas than we give. It's simple math. If everyone in your PLN shares one idea, you are going to get a LOT more in return than you give, and you don't need to feel guilty about it either!

Many of the ideas I've received via my PLN are now being used in my daily planning and teaching, and this is resulting in students that are more engaged and learning faster. It is leading to better record keeping, project management, assessment, and being able to look further down the road to see if where we are headed is in agreement with where we expect to go. I am able to get more done in the same amount of time....working smarter not harder.

With my workflow in pretty good shape, I'm wanting more dialogue about repertoire, instrumentation, equipment, curriculum, and so forth at the high school level. If you feel like your nose is just above the water line I encourage you to take a deep breath, join Twitter (make an account specifically for PLN building) and http://musicpln.org and start by sharing one idea per week. Pretty soon you are going to find your head above water, and eventually maybe you'll even be standing on the shore again. See you there.

I think @listimonkey emails are going to work great for keeping track of important Twitter subjects

Twitter lists are OK fot grouping users (roughly) by interest. But let's face it, lots of Twitter users are pretty diverse. I recently created a list of iPad-toting educators. Well, not surprisingly they do tweet about other things. It can be time consuming to wade through the posts looking for stuff about iPad.

And of course you could do a twitter search, but at that point you are searching ALL of Twitter, which at times is just too broad. So how can you quickly find topics within your lists? Enter Listimonkey.

I think @listimonkey emails are going to work great for keeping track of #iPadInEd posts, see pic. Just head over to http://listimonkey.com to try it yourself with any Twitter list. Enter a Twitter list, keywords to filter (optional) and your email. Boom, important tweets collated to your inbox. I wish they did rss!

Incidentally, keyword filtering would be a KILLER feature within Twitter lists.

Alan Watts: Music and Life

A friend posted this today, and I found it quite enlightening.

Even within our music programs we can easily create a feeling that the main purpose of one ensemble is to get into a higher ensemble. What's in it right now...today, that is of value and significance to your students? Don't we need to find the music within the music, so to speak?

Why Twitter Just Became Indispensable For Music Programs

OK, many of you have been in the following scenarios. What do you do when:

  • You are at Disney with your group, and suddenly there has been a mistake discovered in the itinerary. You need to leave...NOW... but your kids are all over the park. You have a phone tree set up, but it is going to take Who Knows How Long to get the word out, not to mention what will happen to the details during the inevitable telephone tag.
  • Practice starts in 30 minutes, and thunderstorm watch turns in to a tornado warning for your vicinity. People are en route, now what?
  • Snow is accumulating too fast this afternoon, and the principal tells you you need to reschedule the Holiday Concert, and you tell all the students during school. But how do you alert the public?

Now, obviously these are issues that have come up over the years, and we've all figured out ways to deal with them. But yesterday Twitter made a very important upgrade that is going to radically change the speed and efficiency of our communications. People can now use Twitter's Fast Follow feature to get text messages from your Twitter account without themselves having an account. Yep, they simply send a text to 40404. That's it, done, and free.

Fast Follow. Anyone in the US can receive Tweets on their phone even if they haven’t signed up for Twitter. This is a simple way for people to get information they care about in real-time. For example, let’s say you want to get Tweets from New York City’s office of emergency management (@). Just text ‘follow NotifyNYC’to 40404 in the US.

This alleviates alot of the concerns out there about whether or not students can be required to have a Twitter account, or share they mobile number with you, or whether they should have your mobile number. No longer an issue. Just have them Fast Follow your program's Twitter ID. Did I mention this is FREE??

Your excuses for not implementing a music program Twitter account just ran out friends.

Ensemble Community: One and the same

Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra

Recently I was part of a discussion on Twitter that dealt with the idea of building a sense of community into your ensembles. As has been the case for me in some prior Twitter chats, I find the format and pace to be less than conducive for some of the more essential philosophical questions. (UPDATE: Discussion is now easy on the new Facebook groups format) Twitter chats are fine for brainstorming fundraising ideas and so forth, but I get a little concerned when we have topics of such major import flying down that page at 140 characters per second! Anyway, I thought I would say a few things here that might add some clarity to my feelings on the matter of community, because I really don't believe that community is something that is "added in" over the top of an ensemble.

As a starting point, here is an excerpt from my post 25 Things About Teaching Music and Education:

Music performance is one of the only authentically interdependent classes we offer in American education. What is interdependence? A situation where each person relies upon the other. Blue and yellow are interdependent in the endeavor to make green. Musical ensembles are inherently interdependent. Every contribution a student makes to the ensemble changes the the reality for every other student in the room, and reshapes their contributions moving forward. Music teachers need to help students, parents, and administrators to understand this important truth. It is one of the most important benefits of music education, but unfortunately we have not done a very good job of explaining it.

The fact is, performing ensembles are perhaps the most authentic community in the school system, by definition! We often hear the line "there are no bench players in a music ensemble" and this is true...but do we realize the import of that cliché? Everyone in an ensemble is charged with supporting/informing/adjusting constantly in an effort to create meaningful music. Coming together under a common purpose with a desire to do good...isn't that what communities do? As a quick aside (but it's very pertinent) have you been following the El Sistema movement in Venezuela? In places where there is almost no sense of community, hundreds of thousands of children are finding it in the ensemble.

Community isn't something that is added on top of an ensemble experience. It's not something that one "gets around to" after the music is sounding good, or when an administrator is coming for an observation. Community in ensembles is a given...their interdependent nature makes this so. Now, whether teachers keep this in the forefront of their minds, or whether the community is a healthy one, is another matter altogether. But it is a community. If you are feeling a need to "build community" in, then that may be your first sign that you have not been allowing the reality of community to pervade your own philosophy.

"Yeah I've heard the philosophical stuff" I hear some saying, "but if I could just get the students to"

  • Get to know one another
  • Respect one another
  • Help one another

...then we would sound great! We need a motivational speaker...or a trust fall!"

Yet, as teachers, if we put our daily focus upon making sure that:

  • We are getting to know each student, and showing them respect
  • Teaching them to become self-directed musicians, and expecting their best
  • Helping them to discover the music, not just their part within it

...then you will see the vibrant community within the ensemble, because all of those things require students to know, respect, and help each other on a musical level. And guess what? It's pervasive.

Then when you take those trips or do other non-musical activities that you can (and should!) do, the experiences will be all the more special because you're making an existing musical community even stronger. You then have the basis for the elusive upward spiral that teachers want and students deserve.