Classroom Management via the Internet & Intranet

My most advanced class has 22 students. This is their third or fourth year in a class with me. Most of them are friends outside my class, wicked smart, highly skilled musicians & composers and lightning fast with the technology. Many of them also have IEPs or 504 plans (Special Ed), are ADD, LD or have substance abuse, eating disorders or emotional or developmental concerns. A couple even have their very own parole officer! Many have GPAs above 3.5 and scored over 2000 on the SATs, even the ones with POs! Over 50% of them will be going to college, not trade schools, as Music Composition, Music Technology or Music Business majors and one third of them never studied music before they took my class. This particular collection of students is probably the most gifted and skilled class I have had in my thirteen years of teaching. There is a special kind of comfort and familiarity in an environment like this that can produce a little less “discipline” than I would normally tolerate in my classroom. I walk a fine balance of whom they have experienced me to be, who they think I am and who they want me to be. I occasionally need to remind them that I am thirty-plus years older than they are, have several degrees and certificates in music, education and technology, more experience performing, conducting and life than most will ever and I am still their teacher.

This is a very special group of kids and the classroom has a special kind of controlled chaos. Ok, sometimes, not so controlled. My biggest concern has to do with delivery of material and communication. Traditional lessons just don’t cut it in this environment. Mostly, they compose their own music. I do give them assignments but it’s really like pulling teeth to get it done with the same gusto they do their personal projects. Threaten them with a bad grade?  Not exactly my style and certainly not what many of them need. They’ll just go away, drop the class or really not care too much. I really need to get my points across in a completely different way than I do in my other classes. Enter the Internet and Intranet.

I recently got a Facebook page. I have been staying away from Facebook because I really do like my teaching license and was afraid that something could go wrong and I would be in one of those Tweeted newspaper articles about a teacher who did something someone thought was bad on Facebook and ….  Not for me.  Then, reality settles in. Facebook is the most widely used communication tool on the planet. Period. So my Facebook page is as closed as I can make it and I warn my students about trying to “friend” me. Although 18 is the legal age in Connecticut, my age requirement is 21. It’s pretty simple for me, if you are old enough to have a legal drink with me, we can discuss being “friends”.  Until then, don’t even think about it. I simply tell them that if Read the rest of this entry »

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Attaching Teacher Pay/Tenure to Test Scores or The Next Survivor

I don’t usually post my personal opinions or political views because I would prefer to keep my blog to my professional expertise. However, I was cleaning out my hard drive and came across an oldie but goody and thought about the recent conversations and federal government initiatives that support attaching teacher pay or tenure to student test scores. I say to anyone who thinks that this is a good idea, don’t even give me the six weeks that this story suggests. Give me six days, one unit of study, then, give a test on the materials. Let’s attach your salary or part of it to that test.

Since the beginning of the school year, 16 weeks or almost one half of the school year, I have had to speak to guidance counselors, staff psychologists, social workers, parents, administrators and even made a call to the state child protective services about various students who might be suicidal, are on probation, going to court, hospitalized for mental illness, might be abused by a parent, abandoned by a parent, in rehab, need to be in rehab, caught stoned or drunk in my class or have violent behavior. Forget about having to track, monitor, or report on the number of students who just don’t come to class (cut) or the 17-year-old who can’t manage to be responsible enough to get to class on time. BTW- my take on why we have so much of this is because kids are stressed to the point of breaking partly because we test them too much. Tests are stressful, people! Don’t even get me started on giving homework over a vacation…

My school has about 2800 students. I see 175 students, grades 9 – 12, over a three-day cycle (we are on an 8 day block schedule and I mostly teach part-time classes, 3 classes per 8 day cycle). When the spring semester begins, 100 students will end their classes with me and I’ll get 100 new students. I teach five different preps in nine sections of classes. 13.4% of my current students are “identified” (translate that to SpEd). 21% of my students are African-American or Latino (in my district that’s a socioeconomic indicator and compare that to the 2-4% in the performance ensembles but that’s a subject for another post). My kids learn project management, system design, respect, responsibility, how to be thoughtful in communication, appreciation for cultures unknown to them, right brain thinking, 21st century skills and any number of edu-speak jargon you care to apply. Oh yeah, they also learn enough about the actual subject that on average, 33% of my seniors go to college to major in the subject I teach. This year, it’s up to 54% or 13  out of 24 students. (That’s right Mom & Dad, your kids can go to college for this stuff and make a good living but that’s subject for another post). One third of those kids never studied music before they came to my class and some of these kids would never have seen the inside of a college. Assess THAT and tell me my salary.

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NJMEA/TI:ME 2010 – No Passport Required!

The Technology Institute for Music Educators (TI:ME) National Conference is at the NJMEA Conference in New Brunswick, NJ February 18 – 20, 2010. That’s right, New Jersey and for all of us New Yorkers, there is still no passport required to get to New Jersey!

I’ll be making two presentations this year. One will be Teaching Music Through Composition With Technology: Beginning Lessons That Work and the other will be a performance by a group of my students, nanoBands: Live Performance And Demonstration By Greenwich High School Students Sponsored by SoundTree.  The band’s name is “Total Kaoss” and they will be performing on hand-held devices including Korg’s Kaossilator.

A  pdf file of NJMEA and TI:ME offerings at the conference can be downloaded here: TI:MEconfinfo

For more information about the NJMEA Conference, go to their conference website:

http://www.njmea.org/conference/

For more information about TI:ME, please visit their website:

http://www.ti-me.org/

Don’t forget to visit the CT Chapter website:

http://www.ti-me.org/CT/

Teaching Basic Audio Through Podcasting: Part 1, The Speech Project

Podcasting is a great way to introduce students to the basics of recording, editing and mixing audio. By the time my students get to podcasting, year 2 or 3 of my class, they have had a lot of experience composing and mixing MIDI sequences created in GarageBand and Logic. Recording, editing and processing audio is a whole new ball game. I break it down into a few projects that teach the basics of everything they need to know about audio before they produce their own podcast.

The Speech Project introduces students to prerecorded audio and how to edit, process and mix audio for clarity with music underscoring. Basically, the assignment is to incorporate one or more prerecorded speeches into self-composed music. The music needs to be appropriate to the speech or the point of the piece. They cannot use the speech in its entirety so they need to make selections and edit the audio files. I distribute a few dozen pre-selected speeches as aiff audio files via our Mac Network shared folders. The speeches cover a wide array of topics including politics, early sound recordings, poets reading selections of their works, baseball, the moon landing, space travel and Civil Rights era speeches. Students listen to them via iTunes and can then import the ones they want into Logic. The assignment is very open-ended and allows students a great deal of leeway and creativity. Students can underscore parts of the speech, combine different speeches, use snippets of the speech rhythmically, any combination or any other means they can think of. The results are amazing as students often transform the original intentions of the words into a new idea they create in the piece and highlight their new creation with music.

Additionally, students now need to learn about plug-ins. Compression, EQ and Noise Reduction are just a few of the basic processing tools needed to clarify the audio so it can be heard over the music without pushing the volume. Students can then explore effects such as Reverb and Delay. How about using a Guitar Amp Simulator on the spoken word? They are only limited by their imagination and the amount of RAM on their computer!

Next time, The Commercial Project: An Introduction to Recording Audio.

A technical note: It is best to have the highest quality audio files, aiff or wav, for students to edit and manipulate as opposed to MP3. When you load an MP3 into an audio editing program, it will automatically convert it into aiff or wav. That means it will extrapolate the missing information in the MP3 and fill it in according to the conversion algorithm. You might as well start with the best source file you can rather than leave it to the program to “fill in the blanks”.

A legal note: You can use these speeches for educational purposes but be careful if you want to use them in a podcast. They may not be public domain.

Sources for speeches:

  • I went to the local library and borrowed a collection of speeches on CD/DVD. I could choose the ones I wanted to distribute to my students and download them in the highest quality audio format.
  • http://bclacademicaudio.blogspot.com/ This is the Bloomfield College (NJ) Library’s blog for audio & video files that may be considered “academic” in nature: lectures; readings; literature; and, discussions.
  • http://www.americanrhetoric.com/ A database of and index to 5000+ full text, audio and video versions of public speeches, sermons, legal proceedings, lectures, debates, interviews, other recorded media events, and a declaration or two.

Podcasting in the classroom

A little over two years ago, a friend showed me her iPod. I just couldn’t understand why she would listen to an MP3 instead of audio (more on that another time). She explained that she was listening to various NPR shows as she did on her daily bus commute to and from work. That was the first time I ever heard of a podcast.

Podcasting is hot and one of the best ways I can teach my students about the very basics of audio and audio editing. Students sit two at a time in my home made table top recording booth in an alcove in my classroom. I’ve got two AKG C3000 mics hanging from boom arms and connected to an M-Box. They record right into GarageBand and soon Logic Studio. They come up with the copy themselves and I ask them to limit their time to 12 minutes including music. They drop in their music, their friends music or the commercials they have made as a previous assignment. They then have to edit it all together and manage the volume. Forget about the ducking feature in GB! Have them use their ears and automate the tracks. I check EVERYTHING not just for volume and effects but I need to make sure it’s all rated “G”.

We got eight podcasts up and running and more to come this month. Check them out at:

http://167.206.79.135/staff/bfreedman/ghs/podcasts/Welcome.html