Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Music and Arts...Helping Answer the Question of Where Entrepreneurs Come From.

By Mark T. Burke

Last night, I had the pleasure of presenting the viaAcademies story to a team of leaders at Bloomsburg University.  The team included the Provost, Deans and Department Chairs.  My role in the meeting was to discuss our story to help answer the question "Where Do Entrepreneurs Come From?"  Why is this question important?  Entrepreneurs are key to driving our country forward.  New, innovative ideas help us escape from the "same old, same old" syndrome.  I believe few people feel as a nation we should generally just keep doing things the way we are, counting on our existing businesses to raise us back to economic health.  I would even say as a nation, we are depending on the Entrepreneurial spirit to create new businesses AND to help guide existing ones in new directions.  As evidences by their attendance, the Bloom U team agrees. 

Having spent my life in the "Creative" realm, I took this opportunity to share how educational institutions can build the entrepreneurial spirit in students and staff.  In order to produce entrepreneurs, schools have to understand the entrepreneur mindset and ensure their programs foster those behaviors and skills.  Here are few screen captures from my presentation focused on key entrepreneur characteristics. 

Music and the Arts are positioned well to produce entrepreneur minded students who in turn create innovations that make our world a better place.  Our programs by their nature open the minds of our students, develop discipline, create strong work ethics in diverse, adaptable humans. 

viaAcademies was applauded and recognized for our contribution to the entrepreneurial spirit within our community.  The whole team has yet to fully appreciate what we have done and where we have yet to go.  We are ensuring the Music and Arts community are thinking ahead of our current time, ensuring that generations to come will have access to quality Music instruction.  We have been applauded not for thinking narrowly within our domain, but broadly about why music is important and why those who work to become musicians can have such a profound impact on our society.  Specifically for the meeting last night, we were applauded for merging Music and Entrepreneurship into a story that inspired others to action.

I was invited back to help spread the word further and I am thrilled to do so.  I hope everyone in the musical community recognizes this as a stride forward for Music and music education everywhere.  Get on board, think innovation within your program, talk to us, talk to others...create the entrepreneurial spirit in your program. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Electives RULE....But Where is Music?

By Mark T. Burke

Small schools, small staff, small budgets. Add into the mix energetic, creative kids with TONS of varied interest.  What do you get? Unfortunately, you get the perfect picture of what many rural schools look like.  Kids with all kinds of interests and energy to put toward those interests sitting with their heads in their hands in classes taken...because "that's what was available."

The recently released report "Class Connections: High School Reform and the Role of Online Learning" Picciano and Seaman, paints a clear picture of how rural schools are using online courses to enhance their offerings and meet the needs of their students. The study surveyed 441 school administrators across the US from Rural, Town, Suburban and Urban school districts. In regards to the types of courses offered, 60+% said they were offering Elective courses.  That statistic is second only to the almost 70% reporting the use of Credit Recovery.  In regards to Blended style courses (online + face to face), Elective courses are at the top with 30+% reporting offering them. 

If you break down Electives compared to Credit Recovery, the report clearly shows that urban schools are using online credit recovery courses and rural schools are using online electives to help them meet their goals.  As the report demonstrates, "Electives" are considered Foreign Language and advanced Science and Technology courses. Shouldn't we be concerned that Music and the Arts are clearly missing from this definition?  The argument that music is a core subject and not an elective aside, most schools continue to treat and IDENTIFY music as an elective.  Until the "M" in STEM stands for Music, (see what MENC and ASCD is doing on this front), I believe we must fight the battle we have clearly in sight.  Music and Arts need to be part of a child's complete schooling and if for now, that includes them being lumped in as electives, then we know what we have to do.  We must ensure Music courses are talked about in regards to Electives and that they start appearing as online or blended offerings.

I believe that music teachers have all but been left out of school's virtual programs.  In fact, after talking to many that do have virtual programs at their brick and mortar schools, many have little or no idea what those programs offer.  The students within those schools are taking electives, but guess what...NOT MUSIC. 

So what's the solution?  First and foremost, music teachers need to get involved in their school's virtual programs. Talk to the local person in charge of supervising online students (often called a Point of Contact).  Talk to them about what courses the kids are taking, how many kids are enrolled and how much growth the school has seen in enrollments. Second, talk about about how engaged the students are.  Are they communicative, are they talking among peers, are they meeting deadlines for assignments?  Kids that are satisfied with their education are communicative, talk to peers and meet deadlines. If not, they need life brought into their online schooling.  This is where music teachers come in.  Three, look for ways to bring music offerings to these kids.  Contact us if you need help.

We need to work together to ensure music is part of the equation to provide well-rounded education to kids.  As music teachers, we can't sit on the sidelines and think online and blended education will not change the way kids learn.  If we do, the change will be that kids, in large percentages will not be growing through music.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Hey MOM, where's my horn?....I have a lesson today.

By Mark T. Burke

This is a s scene that sends bolts of career-ending fear though every music teacher. Why is it that kids seem so disconnected from their instruments between lessons?

I had a great conversation with Becky Ciabattari, colleague at viaAcademies about the key challenges music teachers face.  It was pretty easy to identify the number 1 issue....KIDS DON'T PRACTICE!  We identified 3 key reasons why kids don't practice. 

#1 -- Music is like swimming lessons and karate class, right?

Karate class every Tuesday provides students the opportunity to learn and practice new skills and techniques.  During class, students get expert advice and performance feedback from their instructor.  In addition, they get the chance to try their new skills during free time.  In between Tuesday classes, how much are students "practicing" Karate?  I believe most parents would say, not much.  Parents and kids count on the fact that when kids attend class each week, they will receive the instruction and practice time they need to grow their skills. Family lives are busy balancing a ton of activities, school and house chores.  When it comes to fitting everything in, everything has to have it's allocated time slot.  In this case, kids "Karate" on Tuesdays.
Becky and I have talked to parents over the last few years and see enough evidence to say with confidence, music lessons are approached more often than not, like Karate class.  When kids have lessons, that is their time to hone their skills under the guidance of a trained teacher.  Time spent on their own, between lessons is scarce.  When many music teacher we talk to say...KIDS DON'T PRACTICE...we need to find out why.  So we simply can't keep saying kids are lazy, kids aren't motivated, kids aren't....We believe kids and families have been trained, that music lessons are where kids learn to play their instrument, or sing or whatever. In between lessons is the time they do other things, like attend Karate class and take swim lessons.  When next week's lesson rolls around, they will find their horn and head to lessons.  This does seem to be a prevailing norm.

#2 -- Lack of Connection to Their Lives.

Music is supposed to be a personal, expressive, creative art. Over the years, teaching instrumental performance has been all about regiment, drill and practice.  Kids have to learn the basics to build any kind of foundation.  I agree with this for sure.  At some point, say year 2, things change for kids. Year 1 of learning an instrument can be fun just because it's new.  Year 2 can start to become "same old-same old" for kids.  Remember, their attention span and vision for the future is not the same as adults.

Our goal should be to create opportunities for students to perform in their communities.  Their community can be as small as their homes, their classrooms, their churches, their clubs.  Using technology is a great way to connect kids with performance opportunities outside of school concerts.  Also, using technology, we can show students how to include their personal performances into school projects, presentations, or larger compositions.  In the end, we may feel our school performances, band competitions and upcoming festivals are all the motivation kids need to want to practice.  Well, if many teacher we talk to say KIDS DON'T PRACTICE, and all of those types of events are part of that student's music program....WELL, then read on to point #3.

#3  -- We keep doing the same thing expecting different results.

When we talk to teachers who say KIDS DON'T PRACTICE, we find out this is not a new issue.  In many cases, seasoned teachers are witnessing this challenge and many will say...this has been going on for years.  The brave teachers, the ones who recognize they have to do something, something "game changing", they are the teachers who recognize that continuing to do the same thing will NEVER result in different outcomes.  Within our programs, if we continue to say, "go home and practice", see you next lesson...well...guess what?

When I say "game changing" I really mean cleaning house and building new program inclusions, rethinking what we do top to bottom.  If our music programs rely on kids practicing and we know KIDS DON'T PRACTICE, our programs are in jeopardy.

Pulling all three reasons KIDS DON'T PRACTICE together, I believe for many teachers (not all of course) their kids and their programs are forecasting the needs for them.  For them, it is time for a paradigm shift.  It's time to rethink music budgets, what we spend money on, where we spend our time, how much professional development we participate in, how well we integrate into the school and community, how well we connect with the musical lives of kids, how we provide resources and motivate kids, what resources we provide, when we perform and for whom, how we teach and on and on.

It feels like I've created more questions than answers.  The answers however lie within the conversation and the open sharing of ideas.  Those ideas come from a framework of issues, like the three above. That's a start and that is where we can begin.

Visit viaAcademies at for innovative music curriculum.  Also, contact viaAcademies regarding our Make Music Click professional development offerings.     

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Make Music Click...In-service Day in Central PA

By Mark T. Burke

Nineteen teachers from 5 school districts in Central PA joined us at the BLaST IU 17 offices in Williamsport, PA for a day of musical in-service.  We covered current topics and music technology including:

O'Generator:  African and Latin Percussion
Kaossilator:  Touch Pad Synthesizer
GarageBand:  Apple's music sequencer (MAC)
Mixcraft:  Acoutica's music sequencer (PC)

We wanted to provide a hands, informative and fun in-service for music teachers and based on feedback, we accomplished our goal.We witnessed some great project and lesson ideas from the teachers, many having never worked with the tools we covered. Congratulations and thank you to everyone for making this day a HUGE success.

For more information on our Make Music Click in-service, send me an email (Mark Burke).  You can learn more about viaAcademies by visiting our website at