An Elementary Music Educator’s Response to “The iPad in the Music Classroom: Useful Tool or Expensive Toy?”
Dr. Jim Frankel recently wrote an interesting and thought-provoking post titled “The iPad in the Music Classroom: Useful Tool or Expensive Toy?” In this post, he poses several questions, some which include how iPads are being implemented and the purposes of these implementations. Jim’s article is a must-read for every music educator who is thinking about applying for grants to receive iPads or if an administrator is thinking about providing at least one iPad for his/her classroom.
As an elementary music educator for the past 17 years, 16 at the same school, I read Jim’s article with many responses flying around my head. I hope to address them with this post.
I begin by stating that music educators would answer his questions differently due to the grade levels they teach, the school districts they teach in, the access to technology they have at their schools, and the tech support they receive from their schools. I am extremely fortunate to work for a school that is very supportive of technology in the classroom and has access to many types of technology from interactive whiteboards, to interactive projectors, to laptops, to iPads.
Jim divides what he has seen educators accomplishing with iPads into three categories: “presentation device (where teachers are projecting their iPads on to IWBs or screens to teach musical concepts and students are consuming content), creativity tool (where students are using commercially available apps to compose music), and performance device (where students and their teachers are using instrument apps to play music or to practice).”
To address his comments and questions about the iPad as a presentation device, I compare this to those who have an interactive whiteboard and utilize it as a glorified projector. There is nothing wrong with that and when many novice tech educators receive an interactive whiteboard, it is beneficial for them to begin using it as a glorified projector. This is experimentation and for those who have had very little or no training with this type of technology, using it as its basic device is fine. Educators who are given iPads with very little training and then go on to begin to use it as a remote control for their laptop/desktop so that they can teach from around the room as opposed to in front of the board, is OK. Are there other tools that can produce this? Yes. However, if an educator receives an iPad and is trying to get to know it and how to utilize it effectively in the classroom, then beginning by using it as a remote control will assist the educator in becoming more confident with it. Finally, using ebooks or interactive books (I have used Dr. Seuss’s ABC) on an iPad projected onto a screen is a great way to read to the students with a nice, large visual. Basically, using the iPad as a remote is a great start.
To address the subject of the iPad as a creativity tool, Jim asks how can their creativity be shared? In an elementary music classroom, students could use educreations, a free app on the iPad that records their work as they create it. In my classroom, the students would be placed in groups, launch this app, create rhythm patterns in guidelines that I have set up, and record themselves composing the patterns and performing the patterns. Educreations records anything you place or write on the screen. I watched the Spanish teacher have her students draw items and describe what they were doing in Spanish. She would then play the video back to the students. They loved watching themselves create their work. This inspired me to begin using this app in my classroom. 1:1 teachers have used educreations to record themselves teaching certain musical concepts, which you can view on their website under “Arts”,so that the students can access them and come to class the next day ready to work because they viewed the lesson at home. This app also allows you to email any product to any student or parent or administrator. In addition, your school can create an account where all works would be shared online. That is just one example of this type of creating/sharing environment. There are more apps like this. Joy Tunes is another app where the students can practice their recorder skills in a fun way and their progress is saved, reported and can be shared online.
To address the iPad as a performance tool, in elementary music education, this has been a wonderful device. Virtual instruments can assist so many learners who require differentiated instruction. If a student cannot hold the mallets of an Orff instrument, then use one of the many xylophone apps on the iPad. If a student is allergic to drum heads (yes this has happened to me), then the student can perform on the iPad using one of the many drum apps. If a student cannot feel success performing chord changes on the autoharp, the student might find it easier to use the autoharp app that allows the student to use the autoharp with his/her fingers. Some of the young students are not very successful with changing chords on a guitar, but could easily do this with a guitar app. Jim questions where the repertoire is coming from, and at this point, most educators are creating them. In my case, I tend to adapt my own Orff arrangements.
In a recent presentation at the New Jersey Association for Independent Schools (NJAIS), the Spanish/Science teacher and I presented a session titled “Technology in Elementary Specials.” When we approached the subject of iPads, we divided the apps into three categories: Skill-practice apps (apps that allow students to practice a skill), product-based apps (apps that allow students to create a product), and student-centered resources (apps that allow students to access information). The skill-practice apps have been very beneficial in assessing students’ note-reading abilities, recorder abilities and more in my classroom. This is especially ideal for assessment in an 1:1 classroom. The product-based apps are the ones we promoted heavily in the session as having students create in the classroom also assists in assessment as well as project-based learning and more. The use of an iPad as a student-centered resource can be accomplished in many other ways with other technological tools, but is beneficial when you consider the iPad as a complete classroom tool.
Jim’s final question about schools making it difficult to obtain apps is a very realistic question. Schools can purchase numerous copies of the same app for numerous iPads at a good discount. However, schools are still looking into ways where each department has an iTunes account so that they can download apps without the support of the IT. Currently, many schools have to wait for the IT to download the apps to their iPads.
One other issue I read about is that educators are given iPads and are expected to use them with very little or no training. To this, I reference the SAMR model created by Ruben R. Puentedura. I first learned about this model during one of our school’s professional development days. This model encourages educators to go through steps from Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition for the way they teach with technology. I would also include Experimentation before Substitution as many educators need time to explore the technology before they can successfully utilize it. When training teachers to use the iPads in their classrooms, I often reference this model. It reminds the educators that they do not need to jump into the deep end of a pool with two feet when given new technological teaching tools because they can begin in simple ways so they feel like they are wading into the shallow end.
Jim’s article asks great questions and should be a must-read for all music educators. In addition, the comment section also has many notable items from educators that should be read along with the post.