Reading Music: The Real-Time Magazine for Music Educators

Ever feel overwhelmed by all the music ed. content flying around on Twitter? Great stuff, but we need to organize it. Here is an effort to do so in a way that is highly flexible, meaning the content will come to you in whatever way is most convenient. More details and tips soon, but for now, check out the trailer, visit the website, and be sure to add @reading_music to a fresh Twitter list!

Video: Zero to Sixty with Google Reader in Five Minutes

Here is a screen cast I put together to show you just how easy it is for music educators to start using Google Reader. It literally just takes a few minutes to be up and running with rich content. The key (as you will see) is getting two bookmarklets into your bookmarks bar.

Now just continue to hit the "Subscribe" button when you discover new sites. Next steps include creating your sharing settings, organizing your feeds with tags and folders, and connecting with other Google Reader educators. Find me here:

Teacher Workflow Part 2: Ubiquity

message for you sir

(This is part 2 in a teacher workflow series. See part one here.)

Camping Out

Teachers are infamous for being in one of two tech camps: (1) Sticking with what works, or (2) never sticking with anything. Both are troublesome. As a hopeless early adopter I naturally find myself in camp (2), busily trying everything under the sun. But slowly I have been solidifying a productive workflow for myself based on the concept of ubiquity. I hope that my ideas will help you no matter which camp you tend to frequent.

The idea behind a ubiquitous workflow is to maximize your actions by making the results readily available in a variety of ways, from a variety of locations, through a variety of tools. It may sound complex, but the beauty of today's technology is that it can be complex to create but simple to use.  As users we don't have to worry about the way things work under the hood. That era has fortunately ended.

Here are some suggestions for increasing your productivity through ubiquity:

Start Using Gmail

Let's just cut to the chase: Google makes too many free tools available to be ignore if you want to be productive. But even beyond that, many teachers are still using isp-provided email addresses that are not only non-extensible, but can create a real hassle if/when you decide to switch to a new provider. Make the move to Gmail! You don't even have to cancel your current email address. Simply open a gmail account and it will happily continue to check your other address(es) so you will never miss a thing during your transition. Include an automatic signature in your response that makes note of your new address and asked people to update. You'll be switched over in no time. And it's free.

Gmail is very flexible, meaning you can tap into it in a variety of ways:

  • It is easily added to your smartphone
  • It has a good browser interface that can be accessed from any computer
  • It can be added to Outlook
  • It has a very powerful search capability

While your isp (or work!) mailbox may be telling you it is full and encouraging you to toss old emails, gmail keeps it all and is lightning quick in its searching ability. I never have to worry about what to save, I save everything. When I can't recall exactly what was said or decided, I can always find the conversation.

As I said initially, you get easy access to many other tools once you have your gmail account, including Google Calendars, Google Voice, and Google Docs. I have written previously on some of these (see link) so I won't go into them now, but each of them has the ability to increase productivity through ubiquity.

Start Using Dropbox

I have been using Dropbox for a little more than a year, and it is a major time saving and productivity-enhancing technology. The power of dropbox is in its simplicity. Once you install it on your computer you don't have to think about it. By storing your documents in the "Dropbox" folder (instead of your traditional docs folder) all of your documents are:

  • backed up to the cloud
  • available from any web browser
  • easily shared with anyone you choose
  • accessible from your smartphone or other mobile device

And it's free.1 Gone are the days of "I'll email that file to you when I get back to my computer." Now I simply take out my iPhone, open the Dropbox app, and send the person the link to obtain the file. Done. When my colleague and I are working on a project, we simply use a shared folder. All updates and changes are immediately reflected wherever we are accessing the folder thanks to Dropbox's background sync. And no more emailing files to yourself so you can work from home. No more flash drives for toting documents. When you get home, the files in your Dropbox folder are identical to what you left at work. Brilliant.

Start Using

Honestly, I have never found the perfect task manager, and I've tried many. is the best at the moment because:

  • You can get to your tasks from any computer web-browser
  • You can assign/receive tasks to/from others
  • It is compatible with third party apps that sync with your smart phone (I use Appigo's Todo on the iPhone and iPad, but there are several others)

The most important factor in using task managers is easy access. You have to be able to get to your tasks from any device at any time, or you probably won't stick with it. Toodledo, because it is web-based and provides a third party API is currently the best option in my opinion.

There are many other technologies that I use but will easily overwhelm the spirit of this article. The point is to make your technology decisions using the principal of ubiquity in order to maximize your workflow. The guiding principals:

  • Ease of use
  • Ease of access through many devices
  • Ease of collaboration

Like exercise, the best technologies are the ones you will actually use routinely. Complex or proprietary tools are like owning the health club membership but never working out.


1. Link is to my dropbox referral code. Dropbox spreads the news by awarding extra storage space from referral links, up to 8 gigs max under the free plan. Amazing.

Teacher Workflow Part 1: Beware the Retweet

The little blue wheel keeps following me

(This is the first in a multi-part series on maximizing your online productivity, especially before school gets going this fall)


Let's face it, we all love getting them. They help to broaden our reach/connections/circle of influence. But here is the problem:

After you retweet someone else's great blog post or site, how do you get back to it weeks or months down the road? Will you dig backwards through your Twitter account (do you have that kind of time during the school year)? Retweets alone can be penny wise buy pound foolish. They are great in the moment (especially for real time news) but very inefficient in the future. If you are going to spend time online, you want your activity to be beneficial both now and in the future. That is what workflow is all about.

While I am not going to suggest that we stop using retweets (perish the thought!), I am hopefully going to persuade you to take things a little further for the sake of your own workflow. This is definitely a process you flesh out during the summer months so you are in the routine come fall.

Suggestions for actions to take after you retweet.

"Favorite" the tweet

You (and your followers) can access your favorite tweets at any time. It is a mostly underused feature of Twitter, but it is simple and better than letting important information just float away with an RT. If you do nothing else, at least "favorite" tweets that you may want to refer back to in the future.

Use Instapaper for articles

Instapaper is a great way to save articles for later reading or recall. Instapaper includes a "bookmarklet" that you can drag to your menubar. Anytime you browse to a good article that is worth saving, simply click the bookmarklet (most of the better iPhone and iPad apps have Instapaper support as well). This way, with just one more click, you are creating a valuable library of knowledge instead of merely retweeting to help spread the word.

Use Evernote for saving articles

Evernote is an extremely popular and ubiquitous service for keeping track of articles, sites, tasks, voice memos, and more. Apps are available for most smartphones, OS X, and within web browsers. When you stumble upon an article you like, simply clip it to your Evernote account in addition to retweeting.

Add blog to Google Reader

Great articles are usually a sign of thoughtful bloggers. Whenever I land on a blog with a great article, I add the blog to my Google Reader account. Like Instapaper, there is a bookmarklet that you can click that will instantly add the blog to your Reader. If you value your time, you really need to start using an rss aggregator like Google Reader. Once you get proficient at using it you can begin to easily tweet articles you are finding. This is an important step in becoming a "giver" on Twitter. Now you too will receive retweets!

See the Retweet as the first of two clicks

Teachers continue to flock to Twitter, especially in the summer, and retweeting is a fun and valuable PLN activity. Just remember to make one more click after you retweet in order to maximize your productivity. Think of it like a squirrel storing acorns for winter. You will thank me in February!

Oh, and thanks in advance for the retweet ;-)

If birds couldn't sing, all we'd have is a bunch of tweets

Feed Me!

Like most tools, Twitter is really great for its core purpose, yet 140 characters can make it woefully inadequate for other uses. Anyone who uses Twitter knows this very well, and as the teaching profession continues to "flock" to Twitter we are at the same time witnessing a desire for something that has been largely absent since the coming of "Web 2.0."

The missing "something" is organized conversation.

Twitter works OK for small talk, but when you want to go deep on a subject and include as many thinkers as possible, it just doesn't work well. Not to mention that Twitter is extremely "in the moment." Miss a little, miss a lot, with Twitter. Twitter was made for "here is what I think" and what is needed right now (especially in education) is "how can we put our minds together to improve?"

All this to say that if you are a teacher who is new to the Professional Learning Network (PLN) movement, you need more than tweets. For music teachers, Joe Pisano has just given the profession an incredible opportunity by launching, a site that has conversation at its foundation. This is an incredible opportunity for our us, and we need everyone on board in order to have the type of critical mass that a discussion board needs at launch. Sign up and say hello. Read, but more importantly, post your thoughts. For other teachers, check out the educator's ning at

The default behavior on the web these days is to take, not to give. We need more givers. We all have something to contribute. Give us a song or two in the midst of your tweets, the profession will be stronger for it.

Summer Decompression is Essential

I took this photo last night outside our hotel on Grand Cayman. We've been here since Monday, and the decompression is finally kicking in. What a great feeling when you can truly relax, enjoy the summer, and put work cares aside for a while. We all put so much heart and soul into our schools, remember to recharge your batteries. Take at least a week off from planning, contemplating, and worrying about next year. Your teaching will be better for it, I assure you.

Sent from my iPad

Words with Friends, education, and mobility

If you have an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch chances are you have heard of the Words With Friends craze. It's basically Scrabble across the internet between you and your friends. Before school let out dozens of my students were telling me about the game. Imagine that.... a game based around vocabulary and spelling being a hit with kids.

I've been playing for a few weeks now, and it is truly a blast. The game is turning out to be much more popular than the official Scrabble game for iOS. Why is that? Well:

  • There is a fully functioning free version (ad supported)
  • You do not have to be on a local network to play with a friend
  • You can play many separate matches at once
  • It has built in chat
  • It sends push notifications to your screen if it is your turn and the app is closed
  • It was designed with mobility in mind

These are all brilliant decisions, and makes me think about all the recent speculation surrounding the iPad's potential in education. As with any technology, it's going to be about the implementation/content in tandem with the device that determines success, and this is certainly going to be true of the iPad. But perhaps even more so with the iPod Touch and iPhone, as Words With Friends is showing us. Utilizing devices that students already own and can use on their own time is an excellent strategy.

There are of course many educational apps available for the iOS. But how many are as visually engaging and social as Words With Friends? None.

Could you imagine what would happen if educational experts and developers got together to create games like Words With Friends that students couldn't stop "playing?" What would the learning implications be in math, in science, in music? Let's not miss this opportunity.

P.S. If there are any developers out there who are interested in some ideas for music apps, I'm your man.