Monday, November 30, 2009

10 Activities to Help You Become a Tech Savvy Band Director

I had a wonderful opportunity early in my teaching to work with a colleague (a Baby Boomer) who loved technology.  He knew what he wanted the technology to do for him but often lacked the "how to" skills. Mentoring him taught me how to help others become more tech savvy.  Here are 10 activities to help you develop new ed tech skills.
  1. Observe a lesson taught by another teacher who can demonstrate true benefits from using technology (they don't have to be a music teacher.
  2. Introduce yourself to a student teacher in your building.  Talk to them about how they would use technology in a classroom setting.
  3. Have a conversation with a tech savvy band member on how they use technology as a student.  Pick one topic and ask them to train you.
  4. Jump right in and surround yourself with experienced ed tech users by joining your schools technology team.
  5. Carve out a small amount of time daily to participate in online blogs and social media conversations (like this one).
  6.  Write down three tasks that require a lot of time from you (examples:  Lesson Schedules each week, tracking grades, communicating with parents, grades/progress reports).  Ask fellow co-workers how they have made these more efficient and start to implement solutions with their help.
  7. Stay clear of the "anti-technology" mindset.  Students WILL use technology in their lives and jobs.  Learning to put it to use is not an option, even in music.
  8. Bring your band online.  Ask others, even students to build a documentary on your program.  The goal is to show the value of your program through video, sound and the distribution of information.  Through this process you can learn a great deal about how the digital age works.  You will serve as the production manager to ensure the message is correct.  Be sure to be hands on though so you can learn how to use the tools of the trade.
  9. Seek out other music teachers in your region who are using technology and spend a professional development day with them.
  10. Use technology for the students.  Keeping technology behind the office doors does not inspire growth like using it in the classroom.  Be brave.  Always remember, if something doesn't work, a student can fix it for you :-)
How about you?  What would you add?  


viaAcadmies provides opportunities for teachers to harness the power of educational technology.  Visit our site for more information on how viaAcademies can help you give your students additional reasons to help them reach their musical goals.  Contact us for school integration options and pricing.   

Thursday, November 19, 2009

“To Swab or Not to Swab?” That is the question!

By Judith D. Burke

As I think back on my years of teaching instrumental lessons, private instruction and my own personal playing, encouraging students to SWAB their instruments at times seemed to be an issue of debate.  After having the “germs growing and thriving in moist dark areas” discussion, most students are eager to get things dried out and hopefully lessen that type of “growth” inside their precious instruments. 

Many times after a lesson I might ask, “Wow, did you swab already?”  Any number of answers might be, “Oh, I do that when I get home” or “I left my swab at school “or the ever famous “my swab is in my dads car and he’s on a business trip and I won’t see him for two weeks.”   Since swabs are so inexpensive, I suggest having several.  One for dad’s car, one for the band room locker, one for home near the music stand area and one in the actual instrument case should do the trick.  After all these bases were covered, excuses were limited but still creative.  Some students feel it takes too long to swab.  Taking a timing of my personal swabbing effort, I noticed that at least ten seconds or less can do the trick.

Not only are growing germs an issue for the SWAB controversy, but mold growing on pads and in the case area can cause serious problems.  It is always best to eliminate these damp problems quickly.  The extra dampness can also cause wooden clarinets to swell and crack. Taking the extra seconds to swab your instrument can help keep it in good playing condition for many years.  No swabbing can cause unpleasant odors, eventually causing students to avoid playing their instruments altogether.  This can all be avoided by using the SWAB.

Swabbing during practice sessions is necessary.  More advanced students are usually playing for longer periods of time.  Condensation and saliva tend to bubble up through the tone holes or under pads making some very interesting “gurgling, underwater” sounds.  It is best to swab before this happens.  Each person has a different amount of moisture going through the instrument, so determining how often swabbing should occur will depend on the individual.

One year I decided to make swabs for my younger students.  It was during the Strawberry Shortcake and Spiderman craze.  I made swabs for everyone that promised to use them.  Younger students love this type of gift!  Doing whatever it took to make sure instruments remained dry was my mission. 

Swabs also need a little attention once in awhile.  Washing the swab with soap and hot water from time to time will keep it fresh and clean.  A clean swab will maintain its powers to keep your instrument moisture free.

So when asked, To Swab or not to Swab?  I will always say “SWAB!"


viaAcadmies provides opportunities for students to express themselves musically, share their performance and work with trained teachers.  Visit our site for more information on how viaAcademies can help you give your students additional reasons to want to practice and perform.

Friday, November 13, 2009

viaAcademies and the Warrior Run Middle School Unite

We are thrilled to announce our partnership with the Warrior Run Middle School, Turbotville PA.  Warrior Run will be rolling out viaAcademies to the middle school band students in grades 5-8.  I am so happy to be working with Mr. Robert (BJ) Hickey.  His forward thinking vision is always present.  When we began talking about what we could accomplish together, the partnership quickly evolved into reality. 

Over the next few weeks, we will be organizing a parent information and demonstration event to be held at Warrior Run.  As a new program offering, having the trust of the Warrior Run School District to provide opportunities to their students is such a great testimonial for all of the hard work the team has put into building our program.  Although the planning for our partnership has been fun, the joy came yesterday when I had the chance to train our student spokes person.  Alicia is a perfect model student for those yet to enroll.  

Warrior Run will be rolling out our program following our "School Partnership" integration model.  Mr. Hickey will serve as the teacher for the students in his program in the online courses. This approach gives Mr. Hickey the ability to support his students directly, track their progress and gain valuable information to support in-school lessons.  We've built unique classes for the Warrior Run students which allows them to stay together, working side-by-side with their peers.

Each student enrolled will receive a login to our secure learning management system.  Their login will provide them access to all of the content, videos, quizzes and tests to help them progress.  Each student will also receive a subscription to SmartMusic.  Our program uses SmartMusic to help students stay motivated to practice and to record themselves performing their practice activities.  After they have made their recording, students upload the recordings into our learning management system.  Mr. Hickey will have the ability to review the recordings and provide feedback to the students both online and in his in-school lessons.  

For more information on rolling out viaAcademies at your school, email me at: or call our offices at 570.437.8826.

Welcome to the Warrior Run Middle School.  Thank you for becoming a member of the viaAcademies family.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Giving Students a Reason to Practice

A recent question on Band Director started "Hello, I am in my 3rd year of teaching junior high. No matter what I 'teach' my students, they are not willing to put in any effort outside of school. Do you have any advice?"

We are often so concerned about what we teach our students, that we forget how important it is to inspire our students.  When we teach students, we certainly can convey our love for our art.  Our excitement for turning notes on a page into an expression of our artistic and personal emotions will come out in our voice, in our body language and in our desire to instill our knowledge in others. So in teaching alone, we can communicate our own personal drive and the joy sharing that drive gives us.  But witnessing that passion is not enough for our students.  I know many of us have poured our hearts into a lesson only to see blank stares on our student's faces.  Our love for music and the student's love for music are disconnected.

So what have we done wrong?  Why are our student's not finding the world of music as thrilling as we are?  The question is, "why are they not putting in the effort?"  I suggest the answer is simple.  Why do we all like to practice?  Why do we put significant effort into our own skill?  Because we have reason to. 

Those reasons include musical opportunity, performance diversity, exposure to others, and exposure to new music.  How many of us would perform 2 concerts a year, work on the same music for 10 or more weeks, participate in no other musical events, hear no other concerts, then play our concerts and claim our devotion and love for music? I know I couldn't.  I believe most professional players and educators would say the same.  Our love for our art comes form participation at many levels.  We are energized by surrounding ourselves with musical activities.  We practice because there is reason to.  

Giving student's a reason to practice will mean changing the way we think and work.  We must think of our teaching as the conveying of skills, that no matter how great we teach, it is not enough to inspire kids, giving them reason to "want to practice."  We must provide a variety of musical opportunities for them.  One of our local schools does an amazing job at providing opportunities.  The East Lycoming Band program provides numerous concerts by outside organizations, they encourage competition participation and they promote the thrill of being in their program on Facebook and social media. I also know they use technology tools to help kids, such as SmartMusic (viaAcademies is a proud affiliate of SmartMusic as well).  They truly think about their educational and inspiration role to ensure their students have reason to practice.  What this means for them is work.  Yes, that's right -- WORK!  It is hard work to turn ideas in reality.  I am certain if I interviewed them (which is a great idea for our upcoming PodCast) they would say they work very hard to provide the opportunities they do.

I am certain the students in their program know why they need to practice.  They may not actually think about it but they certainly live it.  Taking part in the variety of activities they are exposed to means the teaching part now has meaning.  And like most of us, I am sure they are inspired to want to practice, not just because the teachers say so.  

So why won't kids practice?  I suggest we continue to be great teachers while adding more of our attention to the opportunities we provide our students.  Their musical worlds can not revolve around a single teacher.  As teachers we will witness our students reaching their goals only after we open up their musical worlds through opportunity, giving them reason to practice. 


viaAcadmies provides opportunities for students to express themselves musically, share their performance and work with trained teachers.  Visit our site for more information on how viaAcademies can help you give your students additional reasons to want to practice and perform.  

Monday, November 2, 2009

What's In Your Teacher Toolbox?

It's time for an activity.  Imagine your instructional methodologies as individual tools in a teacher toolbox.  First let's look at the general "types" of tools in your toolbox.  For example, in a typical toolbox there may be screwdrivers, wrenches and hammers. Under each of these types is an infinite number of tools for specific jobs, even a few that seem to cross the lines between tool types.  The key to making sense of your toolbox is to start organizing all of your many tools into types.  

So how would you group your tools into "types"?  Here's an example.  Let's say as a teacher you provide group lessons, private lessons, small ensemble lessons, and supervised mentor lessons (kids teaching kids).  You could group these individual tools together under "Instructional Delivery Methods."  Each one of these tools is a way you can provide instruction.  So it makes sense to group them together.  Another example would be "Communications."  Under Communications, maybe you use progress reports, lesson rubrics, attendance logs and report cards.  Each one of these tools help you communicate to various audiences how well a student is performing.  Keeping with our toolbox analogy, we have now grouped together all of the screwdrivers and hammers.  Keep going until you have grouped everything as logically as you can.  If you end up with a few stragglers, put them into a miscellaneous group for now.

An evolving and growing area in my actual toolbox at home is "Support Tools."  My stud finder, my volt meter and my dimensional calculator are all tools that help me make decisions about my projects. Interestingly, all of these tools are rather high tech, digital devices offering a ton of information more quickly and with less error than the manual versions from the past.  Harnessing the innovation provided by these tools allows me to complete more complicated projects while improving the results at less cost.

Like my home repair toolbox, my music teacher’s toolbox has evolved over time.  What about your toolbox?  Have you adopted modern tools to address complicated issues, to cut down on error or operational inefficiencies or to increase communications and student performance?  As you search through your toolbox, assess where you have a strong tool set as well as where additions are needed.

Let's look at a few examples of tool types including Instructional Delivery Methods, Communications and a new one for this discussion, Assessments.

Instructional Delivery Methods -- Imagine if you had a way to provide easily accessible instrumental music instruction for your students?  How many students do you have that could benefit from supplemental instruction?  How many would benefit from working with a live teacher 1:1 outside of the school day?  We all know students who benefit from private instruction.  For many though, busy family lives, conflicting after school activities, private lesson fees, and teacher availability create road blocks to working with private teachers.  Our mission at viaAcademies is to be a tool in your toolbox to address those challenges.

Communications -- I once heard a teacher say "If you want to know how my program is doing, come to the concert!" While I believe they had good intentions, I don't think the message is all that positive at a time when sharing specific information drives good educational programs forward, demonstrates weaknesses, helps create solutions to underlying problems and helps build community support through program transparency.  The teacher who shared the quote above would have a really hard time building a supportive community only seeing the parents and families at the concerts.  Sending messages, engaging others for feedback, sharing student data such as grades and detailed teacher feedback are all specific and critical tools to have in your toolbox. These tools help you make decisions on how best to help your students.  The viaAcademies program provides up to the minute access to student data to you, the student and the parents.  Discussion areas and private messaging provide options to share information with as many or as few as you desire.

Assessments -- Time often works against us in instrumental music.  Few teachers point out they have too much time to work with students.  In an effort to balance performance skills with knowledge skills, it is easy to side step one or the other to create balance.  We know students must demonstrate knowledge of musical elements to be successful.  We also know students must have ample opportunity to receive valuable critiques from us as their teachers in order to hone their skills.  Add to that, a big unknown in our efforts to teach students.  When students  leave our in-school lessons, what do they do at home?  We like to think they will follow the practice assignments we give them and fill in their practice logs accurately.  But do they?  Why not eliminate the unknowns and provide the much needed assessment opportunities through one solution?  The viaAcademies program provides content on the elements of music as well as quizzes and written test to measure student mastery.  Each viaAcademies class includes 25+ playing assignments that are recorded and submitted for feedback from a viaAcademies teacher.  Or, if you decide to roll out our program at your school, you can serve as the teacher for the viaAcademies online classes and provide the feedback yourself, to your students.  We provide many options to integrate a new level of assessment into your toolbox.   

What's in your teacher toolbox? I hope this post provided you with some ideas on how to assess your current tool set and look at areas for improvement.  I look forward to your comments and questions.  As always, please let us know if we can help you, Make Music Click!