Tuesday, March 20, 2007

How do you support your music teachers?

This year, we've been forging new ground integrating technology into our elementary music curriculum. I'd love to take credit for it, but I can't; all the good ideas are coming from the music teachers themselves.

I'm new, but what they tell me is that one of the recommendations from the mid-term WASC visit (that's our accrediting agency) was to integrate technology into the music curriculum. They have taken that recommendation to heart.

One tool is Music Ace. I think I've mentioned it before. It is a music theory computer program for elementary-aged children. We've had a heap-load of trouble getting it running smoothly, but it is a sound addition to the curriculum. The students really enjoy it and the teachers are pleased with the learning they've seen so far. Now if we only had enough lab space for them to make a part of their music rotation for grades 1 - 5, we'd be set.

Another bit of integration has to do with the music on CD-ROM that comes with the music series. Each teacher has approximately 115 CDs. That's around 6 GB of music! Even using a multi-disk CD player, using the disks while teaching was tedious because they were constantly queuing up different disks.

One of the new teachers this year works part time and doesn't have her own classroom. She ends up teaching off a cart using whichever music room is available at that time. To preserve her sanity, she ripped all the CDs onto her computer and organizes the music into playlists to support that week's lesson or that class' upcoming concert.* She uploads those to her iPod. In class, she plugs the iPod into an iPod speaker system and she's ready to teach.

We have budgeted to purchase iPods for each of the music teachers for next year. However, we didn't purchase iPod speaker systems because each classroom already has a receiver that connects to surround sound speakers. We wanted to get the sound going through those. However, the teachers didn't want to be tethered to the corner of the room with the receiver.

We borrowed a number of FM transmitters. I have one that I use in my car and I really like it. However, when we were listening through those high quality speakers, we realized that while the sound quality is fine for listening to podcasts while driving, it is too full of hiss and crackle for use in the music room. We have read about Bluetooth devices for connecting iPods to stereos, but they are still in the development stage. We hope they will eventually be the perfect solution, but in the mean time, we needed something to fill the gap.

Each of our classrooms has a data projector. The computers can be connected to the stereo so we decided to not use iPods at all, just use the computer. We thought they could use Bluetooth mice to roam the room and using the image from the data projector, they could use their iTunes playlists. The teachers didn't love the thought of having the data projectors on all day with that light in their eyes, but it was worth a try.

Unfortunately, the network connections for the computers are in the opposite corner from the connections for the surround sound speakers. And we could use the wall speakers that every classroom has, but once again, the sound quality is too low for their needs.

And so for now, I have bought one teacher an iPod so she can pilot using it this spring. We've moved her iTunes library to a removable hard drive. Each day it backs up to the C: drive on her computer. Next year, all the teachers will have their iTunes libraries mapped to one network-able hard drive. (Can anyone recommend a good network-able hard drive? A 300 GB one will suffice.)

For now, the teacher will plug the iPod into the stereo and operate it from there. Hopefully by next school year, we will have all the kinks out so that we can bring the other teachers on board smoothly.

*(By the way, we did meet with a Singapore copyright specialist. Since each teacher has their own set of the 115 music series CDs, and since the company does not offer the music already on a hard drive, we are not defrauding anyone of profit, so this is acceptable fair educational use by a not-for-profit school.)