Google Classroom, part one

Thanks in large part to a couple of presentations I’ve seen at conferences and district PD days, I decided to start using Google Classroom with my music technology class this semester. This series will track the successes and struggles of using Google Classroom, and hopefully offer some insight into the process for others considering adopting it.

Why Google Classroom?

My district is in its third year using Google Apps for Education, and Google Classroom (GC) seemed like a more logical choice for my music tech class than Edmodo. We’ve been using Edmodo for two and a half years now, and while it’s definitely a great product, GC seemed like an attractive option because of its simplicity and the fact that a student could potentially access materials for all their classes in the same place.

The initial setup

There are two options for getting students into your classroom. First, GC produces a unique code for each classroom. Students can log into their school account, head to GC, and enter that code to join the classroom. The other option is to log into your teacher account, and invite each student on your roster via email (this is the option I chose). This is a little time consuming up front, but it allows you to see which students have not read their invitations, which means you can always give those students a reminder or help walk them through the signup process.

The first assignment

Our first assignment was a simple one. Students had to create a brief ABA composition using Incredibox. When they finish recording, Incredibox spits out a link to their recording that can be shared.

On the teacher’s end, you can create an assignment right in your GC feed. You can attach a Google Doc, YouTube Video, link, or file to this assignment. Each student will see this assignment in their own feed, and will click on it to submit their assignment.

Once the student goes to submit their assignment, they have the option of attaching a link, Doc, or file before they click “turn in”. It was a relatively simple process for them to add a link to their Incredibox project and turn in the assignment. And I could open up the assignment in GC and see how many people were finished, which helps with scheduling and planning.

Grading and feedback are equally simple. If a student needs to revise their project, you can make comments and “return” the assignment without entering a grade. The student then has the opportunity make edits and resubmit. No matter how many times a student submits a project, you will only see their most recent submission, which cuts down on clutter.

First impressions

I’m really impressed by how simple and easy it was to get GC up and running for my class. Feedback and organization on the first assignment was great. The next test will be seeing how GC handles large MP3 files with our next project.


Why The Outcry Over ClassDojo?

This article from the New York Times was all over my Facebook feed yesterday and today. I can definitely appreciate the privacy concerns held by some teachers and parents. Part of the privacy policy says that users might see ads based on “personally identifiable information”. That understandably makes some parents and teachers uncomfortable. I’m definitely not a fan of classroom tools crossing over into marketing.

The privacy concerns are not what surprise me though*. Along with discussions about what ClassDojo is doing with student data, I saw several teachers criticizing it as an inappropriate classroom management tool. Some teachers on my feed were claiming that ClassDojo “embarrassed individual students”, and that it isn’t appropriate to “single out students for praise” (Are we supposed to only praise our entire classroom at once now?) In the NY Times article, Alfie Kohn argues that ClassDojo bribes students into compliance.

Those arguments seem to be making a lot of unfair assumptions about ClassDojo. Is it possible that ClassDojo could be used as a tool to embarrass students? You bet. Could you use it to set up a reward system that bribes students for good behavior? Absolutely. But, odds are somebody who is using ClassDojo for those purposes doesn’t have a great handle on classroom management without the app, either.

ClassDojo’s strength lies in its versatility. Yes, you can stick with the default behaviors and praise students for being on task or participating. And you could ding students for such vague behaviors as “no self-control” or “unprepared”. But that wouldn’t be the best way to use this tool.

Users can customize the behaviors in ClassDojo, and you are under no obligation to even utilize the negative behaviors. The first thing I did when setting up my account was to delete all of the default behaviors, and set up my own. Instead of things like “helping others” and “working hard”, I wanted to focus on recognizing musical skills. The behaviors in my classes are things like “good posture”, “good tone”, and “clear articulation”. They are tied to student understanding, and not their attitude and demeanor.

Teachers are also under no obligation to publicly display their classes. Worried about hurting a kid’s feelings because they aren’t receiving individual praise in ClassDojo? That’s fine, use the iPad app and keep the class off the projector. Even if you are the only person seeing the data, it can be a valuable tool to help remind you how students are progressing throughout the year.

Most of the criticisms I’ve seen levelled at ClassDojo can be remedied by adapting the tool to meet the needs of you and your students. The developers did a great job of creating a flexible tool, and the creativity of a classroom teacher can make it a very valuable tool. ClassDojo is not inherently good or bad, it is simply whatever we decide to turn it into.

*My intent here is not to minimize the privacy concerns, but rather address the criticism regarding ClassDojo’s effectiveness as a classroom management tool.

Michigan Music Conference: Day One

Today was my first time ever attending the technology pre-conference at the Michigan Music Conference. Not coincidentally, today was also the most informative and enjoyable day I’ve had at the Conference in three years.

The first session of the day was the keynote address, presented by Dr. Jim Frankel. Dr. Frankel spoke about different ways to integrate technology into the music classroom, be it through blogging, GarageBand, or cloud computing. I’ll post the list of resources from this presentation at the end of the conference.

Dr. Frankel showed us several examples of how to use blogs and wikis within the music classroom. It seems like such a small thing, but Dr. Frankel shared anecdotal evidence supporting his ideas. Students want to create content in the same medium that they consume, and thus tend to respond more favorably to things like blogging, Twitter and wikis.

In my notes from the first session, I have written, “Tech can enhance the music program by reinforcing what you’re already doing, or expanding creative opportunities for students.” This is a fantastic way to segue into session number two, presented by Mr. Kevin Saunderson.

Mr. Saunderson is a huge figure in the world of music, yet he was not a traditional music student. In fact, Mr. Saunderson had no formal training in music at all.  While some would consider this a serious limitation to somebody pursuing a music career, Mr. Saunderson considered it a gift to not be bound by the traditional rules when he was going through the creative process. With no formal music training, Mr. Saunderson was able to take the sounds and rhythms inside his head and become one of the Belleville Three, the pioneers of techno music.

It makes you wonder…how many Kevin Saundersons are walking through our hallways every day, ignored by the traditional music curriculum? Music wasn’t any less important to him than it is to you or I, he merely enjoyed expressing himself in a non-traditional musical manner. If we can make room for this in our programs, there’s no telling how many students we can reach, what deep wells of creativity we can tap into.

Mr. Saunderson’s session was a real inspiration, and should serve as a wake-up call to music educators everywhere. He accomplished great things musically because he merely had the freedom to experiment. No music teacher ever restricted his creativity, and as a result, his experimentation with melody, rhythm and technology have resulted in high numbers of album sales worldwide and a massive audience for his music.

More to come tomorrow, and a comprehensive list of resources will be posted at the end of the conference.

Talk is Cheap

In a previous blog entry, I spoke about the need to update the music education curriculum by expanding our traditional offerings. The best music educators are the ones that aren’t afraid to take some risks and offer single lessons or entire classes that are relevant to the modern world. These lessons might include the use of technology to accomplish a musical end, or the study of a modern genre of music.

Talk is cheap though, we need action. Here are some useful tools and resources for the modern music educator.


This is a site that allows anybody to create music using non-traditional notation. Once finished with their creation, users can share their music on Twitter or via email. It’s terrifically addicting, and allows students to experiment with both the rhythmic and tonal elements of music.

Eric Whitacre’s virtual choir project

Eric Whitacre is one of the most exciting composers in the business today, and has pioneered the concept of a virtual choir. He solicits YouTube videos of musicians all across the world singing his music, and then splices them all together into one video to create a full ensemble recording of the piece. He and his fans have already performed Sleep, and are currently working on Lux Arumque. It’s a great way to bring musicians who live hours apart from each other together on the same performance without the hassle of driving, securing a rehearsal space, etc.

YouTube Symphony Orchestra

This project is similar to the Virtual Choir, with a few key differences. Participants were asked to audition by submitting a video of themselves performing an excerpt of a piece commissioned for this event directly to YouTube. The audition tapes were judged by a panel of musicians, and then the finalists were voted upon by the YouTube community. Musicians from all cultures were invited to participate, making it a truly global collaboration.

The submissions of the individual musicians involved in this project were mashed up and posted on YouTube—exactly what’s done in the Virtual Choir project. Along with the video mash-up, members of the symphony traveled to Carnegie Hall to perform a live concert in April 2009, under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas.

Vermont MIDI Project

By far my favorite integration of technology in the music classroom. Composition students at public schools across the country write music, and then send their pieces electronically to “mentors”, who are established composers and musicians across the country. This project allows students to be very actively involved in the creative process of music, from ideation to composition to performance.


All of the resources that I’ve listed—and these are just a select few of my favorite—allow for collaboration, an important part of any curriculum. No teacher exists inside of an isolated bubble, but the nature of music demands some sort of collaboration, be it between teacher and student, composer and musician, or conductor and ensemble. Technology like Twitter and YouTube makes it easier than ever before to collaborate with musicians and educators from across the world. We should be taking advantage of that.