If you had told me three years ago that I would be writing a blog about using iPads to teach in a middle school choir room, I would never have believed you. My name is Susan Bujold and I teach choir.
Four years ago I was teaching choir to to fifth through eighth graders in a first rung suburb of St. Paul. I was dealing with a rapidly changing student population, worrying about my next concert, trying to find materials on a limited budget, wondering whether it was my middle school ear (hearing it the way I wanted it to sound) because I thought my kids sounded pretty good. I considered myself pretty good at computers – I could do what I wanted and needed to create written resources for my kids and then I would march down to the copy machine in the office and make hundreds of paper copies that I had to carry home when it was time to grade them. I had dabbled in GarageBand and felt comfortable enough to teach my students how to do Magic GarageBand .
I was competent enough with computers that colleagues would come to me for help with their Mac issues. I would text now and then but I did not have a smart phone… yet! I didn’t even have an iPod. Then came the announcement at school that we were applying for a federal grant to become an Environmental STEM magnet school. My principal bought our teachers iPod touches because – we needed to start getting into some of the innovative technology available. I took my iPod home and dutifully downloaded all (yes all) of the music apps available. I think there were maybe 30 or so? That spring we bought a set of 15 iPods for the music department. The kids were having fun with them but I am not so sure they were really learning much.
Realization One: For every app you find that is useful- there are a bunch that aren’t very useful and you will spend a lot of time trying to figure it out.
Next announcement- as part of the grant each one of our students was going to have an iPad to use at school and home. We were the only middle school in the country that was doing this. Made sense, we were an environmental school, this would save us lots of money on paper. I was pretty excited and started doing research on ideas for how to use the iPad in choir. I had my iPad roughly two months before my students had theirs. My plan: Jump In and Figure It Out as I Go
Realization Two: In my research I found that there were lots of ideas – but that’s all they were, ideas. I could find Music/Technology ideas, but they were for computers in dedicated music tech labs. Good information – not what I needed. My principal was telling me we were groundbreakers – he was right.
Three years ago was a big year: I got the iPad 1. This time when I started checking for apps it was in the hundreds and it still took a long time to figure out which ones are useful and which ones are a waste. I also started buying an iTunes card as part of my weekly grocery shopping. I also learned to read reviews and go to developer’s websites for information before I downloaded apps – it is much cheaper that way. I needed to figure out how to do this before the kids did. When the students received their iPads I spent most of my technology time teaching them how to do the basics: use email, remember passwords, what a url, that random tapping doesn’t always get you results.
Fast forward to now: My school is now an Apple Distinguished School. My students each have an iPad to use and my “jump in and figure it out as you go” philosophy of teaching with technology has become so much more refined – I still do a lot of figure it out as I go but I do a lot more plan it out because I know what I am doing. I use my iPad every day at school and at home. I use Google Forms and Docs, I have pdfs, I use groups to manage my students work on gmail. My students use their iPads in choir nearly every day. I make only a few paper copies of anything. I have learned how to be an Arts teacher in a STEM school without compromising any of my passion for music education or the quality of my program. I teach choir.
In my new technology life:
- I text as often as I talk
- I have several Twitter accounts
- I’m Linked In
- I follow blogs
- I have more than one Facebook page
- I have several email accounts for the different parts of my life
- I don’t laugh when someone says iPadagogy
- and the best part is that all of my calendars are synced
I do almost everything on a device. My handwriting is rapidly becoming horrible because I barely ever write anything anymore and I wish there were frequent user points for Apple device users. My life has changed so much that a when colleague recently suggested that I print something out for data comparisons, I was aghast: print something? – a waste of paper and I am not sure I have enough ink on my printer.
Realization 3: Others think I am an expert at this iPad music technology stuff and ask me questions. There really aren’t very many schools that have 1-1 iPads and many large ensemble teachers would like help implementing them in their choirs, bands and orchestras. At the TI:ME conference in Kentucky last year and at MMEA this year, music teachers wanted to know: what I do, how I do it, how will they do it, what not to do and the list goes on. A music technology contact said I should really start a blog – so here I go……