Sunday, January 29, 2012

Pick and Pack Music Education

By Mark T. Burke

Let's go shopping. Visit any webstore you want.  Take a look through the available items, choose a few and place your order.  Now, enter your payment and shipping information....and SUBMIT.  Within a few days, the order arrives at your door and ... FANTASTIC... your widgets and wonders are yours to enjoy. On most occasions, this process works and we are satisfied.  Live is good.

Behind the scenes of this magical system of commerce and consumption lies a bewildering web of people skills, human labor, technology and automation.  It is this inside world that provides inspiration for today's post. Let's just start off with a field trip.  Watch this TedX Boston video...then come back.

What could we gain if we changed our perspective and approached our students as pickers rather than consumer.  How would this perspective change the way we think about curriculum, course offerings, skill acquisition? From this perspective, who are the real consumers of our music educational offerings? To help pickers fill orders, what would our delivery system look like?

Our store is open for, let's decide what we sell.

Please join in below or on my Facebook page.....

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Online Music Education's Elephant in the Room

By Mark T. Burke

Few can ignore the emotion brought on my watching a herd of elephants interact.  They are extremely social creatures. They love to play, touch and explore. Their social behavior plays a significant role in their longevity, as individuals and as a species.  Learning music has also benefited from social interaction.  Do we perform music to increase our social connectivity, or do we seek out increased social experiences to share our music?  Understanding social interaction is key to understanding best practice for online music education.

Music education, regardless of delivery, has to involve some level of social interaction for students.  Sharing music, sharing creations (other media), performing, sharing stories of musical heritage and collaborative creation are all activities found in high quality music classes. Online music classes and experiences should not be stripped of those activities based on the claim of value solely on inherent traits of online delivery.

Diving into how we can ensure quality social experiences in online music education, we'll first have to look at three learning environments.

1.  Supplemented Face to Face Classrooms (SFFC)
2.  Hybrid Classrooms (HC)
3.  Virtual School Learning (VSL)

These three environments represent the bulk of applications for online learning.  In SFFC's, a teacher teaches a class and uses online learning tools to supplement the curriculum.  In a HC, students participate in a near 50-50% split between face to face instruction and online learning.  VSL students attend school 100% (or near to it) online. As you can imagine, if viewed on a scale showing how social interaction is supplied, each environment would look as follows:

Of course, this chart makes some assumptions.  The first being that each environment is governed by educators who feel social interaction is important and second, the students who participate are not seeking a NON-SOCIAL educational environment.  In fact, this last premise led the development of many online learning models in the early days, many of which still exist.  While some K-12 students may claim they desire an educational environment devoid of social interaction at any level, I believe it is our job not to build systems that encourage or support that....that is another post altogether!

Back to the topic.  How can we build social interaction into online learning.

First, forget our outdated view of online learning, the systems that support it, pay models, teacher roles, compensation and grading...There...that felt good.  I needed to get that off my chest.  I believe this first step is HUGE, but needed and here's why.

I am being challenged every day to supply an online, music educational system that works...PERIOD.  However, too many systems are still routed in the traditional online model.  That model supplies pre-built courses, supported by 1 teacher who answers questions and grades an exam or two here and there.  They are paid per student or per hour for support and grading.  Well, frankly, that system, one that is mostly devoid of social interaction leaves little room for success in music education.  Therefore, in order to build a truly beneficial online music education program, many conventions must be put aside and a new way of thinking must emerge to support a new way of learning.

Sounds easy enough...right? 

The second challenge is to form a collective of educators with the talent, experience and here's the big one, the TIME to teach online.  The masters in our field are busy people with classes of their own, outside projects and active musical lives.  Again, this is why a revamped view of the teacher role in online education is needed.  While really talented teachers will not have time to take on a class of 100 students, they will have time to teach a session or two each week.  Placing responsibility for a class of students on more than one teacher ensures students get exactly what they need and want in regards to music.  Which brings up point three.

Next, online systems have to meet the desires of the students.  In face to face, we are very tolerant of varying student interests and levels of competency.  Online, we are not.  We generally put kids into courses with little pre-screening.  Think about music.  Kids can be successful in our face to face classes even if they don't accomplish all the projects or even if they do, may not complete them at the same level as other students.  However, online systems have not allowed for that diversity.  That, we must change.

Lastly, we must rethink performance and sharing.  Online programs generally provide independent instruction with optional social interactions.  I believe this is the number one cause of poor performance in online learning. Harnessing the power of social learning should be the key to online learning.  In fact, most of the instruction should be delivered through flexible social learning sessions leaving the students to access retrievable content on their own time as a supplement. 

The degree to which we incorporate the aspects of social learning depend on the environments as demonstrated above.  That's where too many variables and situation exist for me to write any guidance of value.  This overall challenge is one I am eagerly taking on for 2012.  If you read my post Online Music Instruction Vision for 2012, you know a bit about how I plan to accomplish my goals.

A key component to the success of online music education will be how well developers, schools, teachers and students harness the social aspects of learning.

Have an idea to share?  Want to become part of the team to deliver instruction?  Let me know.

Mark Burke is the founder of viaAcademies, soon to be Music Within Me....  Mark is an active online curriculum developer and innovation planner for K-12 organizations.  In addition to his work at viaAcademies, Mark is the author and Program Director of EYE, the Entrepreneurial Youth Experience, a fully online youth entrepreneurship program for high school students.  EYE is a program of the BLaST Intermediate Unit 17 in Williamsport, PA.  Follow Mark on twitter at "viaAcademies", LinkedIn, or on Facebook ( 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Flipping the Switch for Music Technology: Flipped Classroom Model

By Mark T. Burke

I'll confess, I am a bit of a Techy...yeah, yeah...hard to believe, I know :-)  In 1993, I started my quest to bring music to students through innovation.  At that time, tools like FreeStyle and Mosaic (MOTU software), systems like "email"(remember the early days of email in schools), and instruments that included keyboards without keys, drum pads, wind controllers and MIDI drum sets transformed my music classroom.  During those early days I realized a few important guiding principles that have served me well over the last 18 years.

Class time is WAY too short for me to spend it all lecturing.
Kids don't have music tech labs at home (really, they don't :-)
My creativity is dwarfed by the kids.

Educational initiatives come and go as will the phrase "Flipped Classrooms."  For now though, the phrase provides a brief statement that embodies a ton of principles, including the three I mention above.  The technique of Flipped Classrooms fits so well into Music Classrooms that I feel right at home discussing that fit.

If you missed the first two posts, Part 1:  The Benefits of Flipped Classrooms, and Part 2: Strategies and Educational Focus, go back and review those posts when you have a minute.  Today, I wanted to speak broadly about how Flipped Classrooms and Music Technology (and technology in general) can create amazing learning environments for kids.

In Part 2, I discussed a few examples of how you can Flip a class of one, such as a trumpet, voice or individual piano lesson.  To bring you up to speed quickly, Flipped Classrooms involve the transposition of what is typically done during class with what is typically done as homework. Content is therefore conveyed at home and hands-on work is done during class.  So, let's dive in.  First, we have to talk about how all of the amazing wisdom you impart on kids will be delivered in a much more efficient way than doing so during your limited, and incredibly valuable class time.

Content Delivery

Video:  It may seem obvious to think video is the answer to delivering content to students at home.  However, I don't believe making a simple video of yourself lecturing makes the grade.  Why do I feel this way? I have witnessed students who are "forced" to watch lecture style videos at home click PLAY and walk away.  Talking heads as they are called in the industry, are boring.  Kids find them boring, adults find them boring...they are boring!  So please, AVOID the temptation to think that all you need to do is setup a video camera and record hour after hour of you talking about the musical content.

Written Words: Written content is general king when it comes to delivering information in bulk.  Textbook companies count on that.  However, getting the majority of content from a book means you are turning over your instruction to a publisher.  In the end, why do kids need you if all they need to do is read a book or read page after page online?  Like video though, text is a must have delivery option for many learners.

Good delivery is additive....Include video, include text....and....(read on)

Interactivity:  Interactivity for students at home used to be limited to completing homework and bringing it to your class the next day.  The interaction occurred when you reviewed the student's work either as a class or individually. Interactivity is often left off the plan for creating content to be delivered at home because we are all trained to think in terms of the old homework model.  New delivery tools have significantly changed interactive options when delivering content. Keep interaction in mind as you plan how you will provide content for student outside of school.  Interactive elements can include on screen manipulatives, animations, scripted videos, more. 

Check for Understanding:  Checking for understanding is an important classroom activity.  Small quizzes embedded into content delivered to students at home can help them quickly assess what content they have mastered and what content they need to review.  Providing quizzes that are automatically graded means you don't have to grade them and ensures efficiency in a Flipped Classroom.

Pulling It All Together:  To successfully deliver quality instruction while students are at home, some type of learning management system is very helpful, not a requirement, but helpful.  By pulling all of the items mentioned above into some type of system, students have access to content as you want them to and delivered in the way you believe best.  Another option is to seek the help of an online curriculum provider (such as viaAcademies).  Our courses provide everything mentioned above and more. Discussing learning management systems is out of scope for this article as are tools to help you create interactive elements along with your written content.  The important take away is...when building content that students will access at home, it must convey meaning in a variety of modes.  Video is a great tool, but does not work for all kids.  Written content can be boring.  Content with no opportunities to check for understanding can get ignored and students can become discouraged.  To build great Flipped Classrooms, time and energy must be spent development great content. 

Classroom Activity Example

Let's look at a very practical scenario.  Mr. Brown is teaching the concept of dynamics to his 8th grade music class.  Just this past year, a 25 station computer lab was added to his room with Mixcraft installed on every computer.  Mr. Brown wants to maximize the time students have to use the equipment. However, he typically takes entire classes lecturing about topics.  He would normally would explain the concept of dynamics to the students, have them listen to several examples during class and eventually identify certain dynamic characteristics during a quiz or test. Although he started the year teaching the same way he had, he quickly realized this technique would not maximize the time students had to use the equipment.   

Mr. Brown decided to assign a section of course content covering dynamics for homework (he secured the content from an experienced content developer).  The students would log into the school website, access the class section and review the content that included all of the various types of instructional elements listed above. Student would review the class materials at home, at the library, during study halls, or come in after or before school.  To ensure students were covering the materials, the small quizzes helped Mr. Brown track their progress.

When students came into his class, Mr. Brown would assign a project (typically considered homework in his old method of teaching).  Using class time, Mr. Brown would circulate, helping students through issues as they needed his help.  From time to time, he would ask the class to respond to a question or two to check their understanding.  Before the end of the class, students were teamed up and given the opportunity to share their compositions.

This is a very simple example of how a Flipped Classroom could be managed.  It may not seem so far off the path from your existing music courses.  However, the key is, we can not forget that quality content must be provided to students for consumption away from the class.  Students can use their time as researchers and content consumers rather than struggling to apply their knowledge at home with little or no support and without the proper tools available to them in the music lab guided by Mr. Brown.

Summary:  Following the practices of a Flipped Classrooom, what age old struggles do you believe you can address?  Do you believe students will build musical knowledge to a higher degree in Flipped Classrooms than in standard classrooms?  Do you agree that students MUST develop skills around content acquisition and self directed learning in order to be successful?  Flipped Classrooms place the emphasis during teacher led sessions on guided, experiential learning.  Lectures are replaced with application activities.  Homework is replaced with research and content interactive activities.  More importantly, Flipped Classrooms give us an entirely different perspective on how to address weak areas of performance for students, often experienced over years and years of our own teaching.  We now have a fabulous tool to help us get past long held instructional challenges.

Whether you use available courses such as viaAcademies curriculum or decide to build elements yourself, consider getting in touch with viaAcademies.  We can help you develop materials for your Flipped Classroom.  Contact us today to discuss your unique classroom needs. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Strategies for Flipped Music Classrooms

By Mark T. Burke

I know it has only been a day since I started talking about Flipped Classrooms, but have you given some thought to how you can Flip your Classroom?  Yes...great, share a comment or two below.  If not....then maybe after reading this post you'll have an idea or two.

If you missed the first post, just look below or click here for Part 1: Flipped Out Over Flipped Classrooms. In Part 1, I discussed the many benefits of practicing Flipped Classroom techniques.  Let's dive a bit deeper and discuss a few strategies.  For today's post, "Strategies for Flipped Music Classrooms" I have added the subtitle of "Determining Existing and Desired Educational Focus."  I believe music classrooms are a bit more complex than most K-12 academic subjects in regards to determining how to Flip them.  I think we can all agree we are not a drill and practice curriculum (or at least, we shouldn't be).  Our goal is to help students think in order to build knowledge, like all subjects, as well as grow performance and expressive musical skills.

Consider a typical trumpet lesson for a 9th grade student.  The student comes to the lesson, gets out their instrument, warms up a bit, and then places their lesson material on a music stand.  Next, the teacher will talk to them about their practice routine over the past few days and ask the student to play a selected exercise or section of a solo or their band literature. The teacher will make comments based on the student's performance and give them suggestions for improvement.  The student will then attempt to incorporate the suggestions and the cycle continues until the lesson period ends.

What's the goal of a lesson such as this?  Maybe the goal is "improve the student's performance."  Or, maybe it's "build instrumental skills." Another possibility is, "demonstrate ability to play the music."  Well, in reality, this age old, apprentice model of teaching has served us well for centuries, but it is actually hard to nail down what we are really trying to accomplish.  For select students, this model works extremely well.  Having a mentor listen to and guide musical performance in the immediate can be incredibly beneficial....for some.  But, I think if we really dig deep, many of us would agree that for most students, this instructional model has little impact on musical growth.  So....what do we do?

Well, we must first think about the lesson I described above.  In this model, our role as a superior musician is evident.  During the lesson, we can clearly state the obvious such as, "You didn't practice very much" or "You still can't lip slur from C to E" and so on.  Musically, we can make comments such as "Your Dolce is a bit rough" or "Forte means FORTE!"  Through all these comments, we cover practice ethics, musical interpretation, fundamental instrumental and musical skills.  By the time the lesson is over, we have thoroughly demonstrated our understanding of music.  The student however...well, has not.

Now, I say all of this a bit humorously, but we must talk about it.  If we don't realize what our true purpose of teaching is, attempting a Flipped Classroom technique will not work.  Why?  Well, let's look at the obvious.  In our example above, what would the Flip look like?  The student was to practice at home and perform for the teacher during school.  If we flipped that, the student would play for the teacher at home and practice during school.  Without really adding to the instructional strategy, I believe everyone can see that would not really make sense.  We must think about our true purpose for teaching a particular class or lesson, then, we can develop some really exciting Flipped Classroom practices.

Let's focus on the trumpet student learning a solo.  While it is a grand vision that all players will some day be performers, we all know that is not the case.  So, let's pick an aspect of the experience that is really universally valuable...."Learning How to Learn New Compositions."  Now let's say for this trumpet player, that's our goal for a series of lessons.  By making that distinction in what our goal is for the trumpet student, we can create some amazing Flipped Classroom practices.  Our "desired educational focus" has now shifted to "Learning How to Learn New Compositions."  If each student could demonstrate skills in this area....WOW! 

By the nature of that focus, we have already Flipped the Classroom.  In order to work with a student on this area, our time with that student must be spent discussing and observing the process they used to learn the music.  Through those observations, we can directly connect performance level with preparatory practice.  In essence, we've Flipped the Classroom experience even before we actually did it :-)  Not bad, right?

Let's get down to brass tacks. What will you actually do?  A few days ago, I outlined an innovative activity based on the K'NEX Model kits.  The post, KNEX, the Musical Parts and Wholes described the idea of developing a "road map" for students to use to document their understanding of a new composition.  Through this process, they will learn the components (scales, arpeggios, terms, etc.) that make up sections of the music at a time.  By documenting the components, they gain an understanding of the skills they must master in order to play that section. Sections connect to sections and ultimately, the piece has been learned.  Using this activity is a great way to Flip the Classroom.  Rather than attempting to observe the results of a student's practice routine, have them create a system through which they can demonstrate it to you.  Then, during the lesson time, review their work on that project and have them perform within the context of that system.  Essentially, the students will be following your instructions while at home and practicing while at school....You've been FLIPPED!

To deliver consistent instructions on this assignment, make a simple document guide, record a video, create a screen capture or record a podcast.  I don't think spending time here in this post talking about the technology is all that important actually, that's why I saved it until last.  If you need help in this arena, give me a call or email.  Glad to help.  By the purist definition, Flipped Classrooms involve some type of distributive instruction so that students have access to your guidance at home. The important bit of learning here though is all of the information above.

So get a clear picture of what your educational focus is, then think through what is truly important for you to deliver to your students and what you want to observe them doing.  Flipped Classroom technique will come easy to you at that point.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's post, we'll talk about music classrooms where you have more than one student at a time.  Until then, enjoy getting Flipped!

Tomorrow's Post:  Flipping the Switch for Music Technology:  Flipped Classroom Model.

If you would like to discuss professional development or content development for your music program, let me know.  Visit to contact me, Mark Burke, or post on Facebook ( or Twitter ( 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Flipped Out Over Flipped Classrooms

By Mark T. Burke

Flipped Classrooms, have you heard of them?  Flipped Classroom techniques have the power to create amazing results for your students.  The idea is quite simple, take what you used to do during class and make that homework and take the activities you used to give as homework and work on them in class. Simple...brilliant...AMAZING!

Why do I love Flipped Classroom practices?
  1. The teacher role is strengthened.
  2. Time is used more efficiently.
  3. Peer learning is employed to a great degree.
  4. Project based learning is integrated more easily.
  5. The lecture is put to rest (Amen!)
  6. Technology is used for a real purpose.
  7. Knowledge transfer is the core of the learning process.
  8. Creativity is given time within the instructional process.
  9. Kids practice becoming stronger independent learners.
  10. Assimilation of information can be witnessed.
Over the next several posts, I will dive into Flipped Classrooms (FCs), looking at how the techniques can be applied to music classes (both general and applied). There are fundamental differences in the way music classrooms are traditionally managed so I think it's fair to say FCs aren't as cut and dry as say, Consumer Math.  Let's get rolling....

The topics I have in mind for this series are:

1.  Flipped Out Over Flipped Classrooms:  The Benefits of FCs -- done...let me know what you think.
2.  Strategies for Flipped Music Classrooms:  Determining Existing and Desired Educational Focus
3.  Flipping the Switch for Music Technology:  Flipped Classroom Model.

Already Flipped Out?  Let us know what you're doing in regards to FCs. 

Monday, January 2, 2012

2012 Online Music Instruction Vision

By Mark T. Burke

Mission:  In 2011, online music courses for K-12 students made waves. A few, brave schools and teachers, recognizing the benefits, took the initiative to learn more and subsequently, launched programs at their schools.  Students within those programs have started to reach new levels of musical understanding and performance.  However, the number of schools and teachers using the power of online instruction is low.  Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to further develop the integration of online music at schools and within communities around the country and beyond.  Your mission will ensure the Music Within every person can and will be heard.  This message will self destruct in 10 seconds.....10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1.... won't really self destruct.

Like all small companies, I can't spend 100% of my time focused solely on our "product."  In 2011, I had planned, and spent much of my time on outreach, professional development, speaking and being an evangelist for online and hybrid learning.  I also spent the year learning how music education is perceived.  I spent time diving into the RMM movement and gaining a deeper appreciation for the "other 80%", those students who do not participate in music ensembles within schools.  I also continued my work with virtual and brick and mortar schools.  I've had the pleasure of continuing my work OUTSIDE of music education as well, with my efforts to build a youth entrepreneurship program called EYE.  As part of those efforts, I've met many influential thinkers such as Dr. Derek Cabrera and Dr. Laura Colosi, authors of "Thinking at Every Desk" and creators of the DSRP thinking method and VMCL business organizational model.  I've also had the pleasure of working with innovators such as Don Brown, inventor of the Ab Roller and many other devices in most of our homes today.  I ended my year reaching a goal of mine to present a Ted Talk...Well, it was a TedX talk, and I am no less proud of it

Although I mention a few names above, I in no way discount the many other folks who helped me experience one of the most rewarding years of my life in 2011.  What Derek, Laura and Don represent to me however, are people who have learned a great deal about learning, society and service and have taken the time to boil down very complex systems into easy to understand models.  Using those models, clarity for 2012 has been building...and today, I'll share a bit. 

Big Bold Statement:  We should aim to harness the Music Within ALL!  Is the Music Within You strong? The music within me is strong.  The music within my wife provides her balance, grounding, expressiveness, kindness and compassion.  The music within her grandson provides structure within creativity and creativity in the wild and crazy world of being a 16 year old.  The music in my grandfather who started taking guitar lessons at age 77, gave him purpose, gave him a way to share, and smile.  I started viaAcademies because of  the "Music Within Me."  Before that, I started playing the trumpet in 4th grade because of  the "Music Within Me."  Later in life, I wanted to learn to play the saxophone because of the "Music Within Me."  It is this simple, very focused vision that will drive me forward in 2012.  That vision is based on  my belief that everyone looks in the mirror and says "I want to experience the Music Within Me", but to do so, they need help. 

In 2012, I will be changing the name of viaAcademies to one that describes a true vision, the vision that everyone wants their music within to come out.  This change is not in name only. This new vision will guide the mission of the organization, it will provide structure around what we will need the capacity to do to accomplish our mission and what we need to learn to do so.  To get rolling, over the next few weeks/months, viaAcademies will become "Music Within Me"  (   

This change sets the foundation for a much broader and exciting music education service.  First, the name is brandable, something all music entrepreneurs should pay attention to.  As we all seek to influence others positively and to do so we must clearly think about how music can become a more natural part of life and education.  Secondly, the name describes what I believe is a must in regards to music education growth.  Programs must reach out to all ages, all students, all adults at a personal, musical level.  Third, we must remember our goal as educators is not to keep our jobs, or ensure music program numbers stay high enough to warrant so many FTE's.  We must first and foremost be focused on developing musicians.  The numbers and program success will follow.  Forth, teachers must find the music within themselves and in many, many cases, they need to find it AGAIN.  After years of fighting the fight, music teachers often forget about the music within themselves.  I've already started coaching teachers in this area and look forward to growing this level of service in 2012.  Next, we all want to share.  Community and social learning is a strong urge within ourselves.  When we share, we are sharing part of ourselves.  Through sharing, we are teaching, and learning.  Music Within Me can and should become a format for social music education.  Lastly, technologies that we build must be personal, useful and powerful.  Focus must be on the end user, not the schools or the institutions, we should focus on the STUDENTS.

I am so excited about 2012 and what me and those I bring on board to help as members of the Music Within Me team in 2012.  As I've done for 3 years now, I will continue my bootstrap efforts by working within a world of limited resources and hard earned client partnerships.  We have much to work toward and now, we have a clear model to follow.

Best wishes for 2012.  What is your vision for 2012?