Thursday, October 27, 2011

Hybrid Classrooms: TedX Style

By Mark T. Burke

Yesterday was one of the highlights of my professional career.  I was invited to speak at TedX Williamsport. Now, Williamsport and the surrounding area isn't HUGE.  So, the event didn't draw thousands or even hundreds.  I've spoken to much larger crowds, but this event was special.  The event was exciting for me because of what Ted and TedX events stand for. Ted = Ideas worth spreading.  This simple, powerful mission is what made the experience fantastic.

The organizers, BLaST IU17 from Williamsport followed a musical, creative theme throughout.  Local school groups performed during registration and at the afternoon break. Also, several presenters hold musical degrees.  However, none of the presenters offered a solely musical talk. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

I Do Floss Every Day Dr., HONEST I Do: The Importance of Continual Professional Development and Practice

By Mark T. Burke
Continual Professional Development and Practice

It takes me about 1 minute to floss.  Over the course of one year, I spend around 365 minutes, or 6 hours flossing. So, I guess it would make sense that rather than flossing each day, I could just wait until the day before my dental exam to floss for 6 hours straight, right? WELL OF COURSE NOT!  No one really believes this makes any sense.  The benefits of flossing come from performing the task daily.  The total time has little to do with the overall benefit. The real benefit of flossing is only witnessed when the task is performed daily, preventing "bad things" from starting.

The same principle applies to Professional Development for music teachers. Only participating in Professional Development once, twice or just a few times per year, is the equivalent of expecting positive results from flossing once a year.  By doing so, we prioritize "just getting it done" over the true benefits of Professional Development.

How can we adopt the "Continual Professional Development and Practice" model? 

  • Change Your Mind, Change Your Habits:  Have you thought about the serious consequences of not maintaining and growing your professional status?  Today's economy has changed the definition of job security.  Organizations hiring today want individuals at the top of their field, those who know the latest and greatest teaching strategies.  If you are secure, staying at the top of your game will help to keep you there. Once you're convinced that your duty includes Continual Professional Development and're ready for the next few steps.
  • Start Thinking DAILY:  Set aside time in your life for DAILY Professional Development.  If you need to ease into it, great, ease in, but do it.  Find a time, at least 15-30 minutes per day that is all yours.  This doesn't have to be a specific time, it can change.  For example, you may choose, during lunch, after eating breakfast, first thing when you wake up, right before bed, etc.  Those times can change, but the habit can be the same. 
  • Find a Motivator:  Everyone needs a rock, something to strong to count on each day.  I've found mine in a great online resource called  TedTalks are simply amazing.  Each day, a new talk is posted with thousands archived if you want to search for specifics.  I watch at least 1 per day.  They remind me that to impact great ideas, to expect growth in youth, that I too have to explore my own ideas and grow.  Your motivator may be a book, a blog, a website, or whatever.  The important thing is that the motivator also be a tool for development.
  • Share and Spread:  Social media makes it easy to share ideas.  If you're keeping your classroom methods and ideas secret, then ask yourself why and revisit "Change Your Mind, Change Your Habits."  Sharing and Spreading is a part of PD that has been missing for too long.  When we share an idea, it spreads, people talk, add to the idea, make it better.  Spreading and Sharing is living, breathing PD....much better than sitting in a auditorium full of people once a year to earn 6 hours of PD credits leaning about something that only remotely applies to music, isn't it?  
  • Think Prevention Through Practice:  New ideas are worthless unless put into practice. Practicing new ideas helps us master our profession.  We all tell our students how important practice is ... right?  Do you not tell your students they should be practicing their craft daily?  Hummm....a good prescription for us all don't you think? Going to work and doing your job is NOT practice, sorry.  Just like we tell students, Band Rehearsal doesn't count toward your own practice time. If we preach it, we should live it.
PD is under serious threat.  Budgets removed and in PA at least, the state requirement has even been lifted.  But, we as a professional community should not view these threats as reasons to NOT meet our own needs.  Today, Columbus Day 2011 reminds me of how fortunate we are.  Many of us have the day to participate in PD.  I know I am.  The SoundTree METOS is all day. I can't wait to hear from some amazing people.

Flossing once a year...gross!  PD once a year...ugly.  CPDP, the only way.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Did Steve Jobs Influence Your Musical Career?

By Mark T. Burke

It was 1993, I was out of college for 2 years, paying my dues as a substitute teacher, private musician, assistant this and that, and had just interviewed for a full time gig.  My soon to be wife and I had thrown caution to the wind and moved into a rental home, one we knew we couldn't afford unless I got the job.  The morning of the move in was the same morning as my interview.  So, it would have been somewhat easy to pack up again had the interview not gone well.  The interview had gone well and a short time later that day, I received the call's time to get to work.

My first teaching job was at a small school in Muncy PA.  The Muncy School District at that time was known for the arts, largely due to the efforts of Mr. Gary Steele.  When I first met Gary, he showed me this odd little computer he claimed could make music.  My college years spent loading DOS onto library computers that could do little more than BEEP and spit out text documents left me a bit skeptical.  The most puzzling feature was the square puck attached to a cable running to the back of the machine.  What the heck was that for?  Gary fired up the unit and reached for the puck.  It moved!  I mean, the little arrow thing on the screen, it MOVED with him as he slid the puck around the desk.  Within a minute, Gary was showing me musical notes on the small, colorless screen.  He then clicked the little puck and .... music!  The computer was communicating with the keyboard at its side and they were making amazing music together.

Well, that was it.  I spent the next 5 years ingesting all things about this little computer.  Of course, it was a MAC, a MAC Classic as we know them today.  After the Classic came several II's, c's, e's, 6520's, 6530's, Power Towers, a G3 all in one Multimedia and my 20 lb Mac Book. At Muncy, I had created a course for students revolving around Mark of the Unicorn Software, Mosaic and Freestyle.  We learned how to input music, set up MIDI devices, blend devices, record on DAT and more.  During that time, Muncy had rolled out the new school wide network, email, the INTERNET and shared server space.  Several MAC labs had been built.  All of this technology integration over just 2 years had created a real need for support, ideas, best practices and hand holding.

I was eager to help everyone who needed it. So eager, my passion for educational technology took over my desires to root myself in a musical career.  In 1998, my history with the MAC, changed my life. The potential to CREATE using these machines was just too strong for me to ignore.  I had witnessed the making of music as well as the shaping of an entire school.  Gary said something to me that has always stuck...he said one day while I was helping him figure out some issue..."I don't care about the function, I just want to create."  MAC's have always been about giving people the tools to create.  Let's not forget that should be the sole mission of any great technology.

I left teaching to pursue a degree and new career in educational technology.  During the two years in grad school, my MAC G3 helped me churn out educational programs, research and documents like a dream.  I was able to create video, yes, video.  I was one of the few who could make use of digital photos and wow...combine them all using MAC educational software.

My 7 years of total MAC immersion were some of the best years of my creative career. While the MAC had been absent from the corporate world I lived in for awhile, I am happy to be bringing Apple back into my reach.  While I believe creativity is only limited by the mind, not the machine, I owe much to Apple and of course the man at the helm for bringing the MAC to life.  Here's to Steve Jobs and his great invention, creativity, dedication and tenacity.  Thank you Steve.


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Me is Me and Teach is Teach

By Mark T. Burke

If you hear my voice on a it me?  If you participate in a lesson I teach virtually, is it me?  If I teach live, do you get more...ME, than if I was teaching online? I've made an amazing discovery recently.  After years of teaching and working both live and online, I've discovered that ME is ME and TEACH is TEACH.  I actually think I've discovered the answer to everything that's confusing about teaching and learning :-)

I was making a Screenr video the other day and had my transformational moment.  When I make a video (Screenr captures the computer screen along with my voice), I am pretty much ... ME. Nothing more, nothing less...just ME. The technology doesn't transform me from a feeble minded person into someone brilliant.  Please don't think I think I'm brilliant, but you get the point.

So why is this discovery transformational? If a brilliant teacher taught lessons using Youtube, would they still be brilliant?  I think most of us would say yes.  So, why are we judging the format rather than the teacher.  I hear people say..."YouTube lessons are ruining my chances of being a successful teacher" (this comes from a recent post on the NAfME LinkedIn group). Is YouTube itself the obstacle?

I've learned that if I am not brilliant, the cause is me.  I've learned that if I'm not doing a great job teaching, then I have only myself to blame.  Delivery tools are the conduit, the transport mechanism, not the differentiators we like to think they are.  They don't mask poor teaching and certainly can't turn less into more.

I will always be front of a class or in front of a camera....ME is ME. Good teachers strive to TEACH in whatever format they can.  When they are great, they are great and equally effective.  In other words, TEACH is TEACH.

Mark T. Burke is the founder of viaAcademies, one of the nation's first fully online music academies.  viaAcademies provides beginning instrument and Exploring Music (GarageBand and Mixcraft based) courses through several PA based networks including VLINC, a cooperative program from BLaST IU17, Sus-Q-Cyber Charter School and  Outside of PA, viaAcademies course are available through Cal-iQity

Learn more about viaAcademies courses at