Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Singing Time: Embracing Appadiction!

Ms. Brigid and her kiddos!
Hello everyone!  Ms. Brigid here, from Merit School of Music 
in Chicago, IL. I have nothing to sell, but lots to share, though there is a special offer for you as a reader of Pre-K and Sharing at the end of the post! Over my many years as a visual artist, musician, and teacher, I have developed niches I especially love: Teaching English through music, Singing games and dances, Music and literacy, Singing books, and Music and technology. It is in the last area that I'll be primarily posting.

It's hard to believe that the first generation of iPad made its debut as recently as April of 2010 and changed life as we know it! By the following September, I had experienced iPads in action in Brian Puerling's pre-K classroom in Chicago. Brian left Chicago Public Schools shortly thereafter, and has since gone on to greatness as the author of Teaching in the Digital Age: Smart Tools
for  Age 3 to Grade 3, but his mindful integration of technology and the resultant opportunities for engaging young children (my people!) in new learning opportunities, ignited a passion and excitement for All Things Apple that still burns brightly.

By August of 2011, I had purchased an iPad2.  The wait was well worth it. The 2nd generation had a front and back facing camera, could record video, and with each passing day there were more available apps to download. I was well on my way to appadiction (©2013 Brigid Finucane – take that, Stephen Colbert!)!

While personal iPad use often tends to be self-directed and entertainment oriented, classroom use demands purposeful support and extensions of student learning. Contemplating options can be paralyzing! After much overthinking, I jumped in. One idea led to another, until at the end of my 1st year, I was confident about it's efficacy as a learning tool, and grateful for the many ways it made/makes my life easier. My music, (virtual) instruments, lesson plans, and whiteboard were/are always with me. I could/can also:
  •  seamlessly incorporate listening lessons, where students describe what they hear.
  • record students singing alone and together - voice or video. (document and assess)
  • enrich foundational vocabulary through targeted flashcards.
  • instantly answer "what's a ___?" query by searching camera or Google images.
  • create rhythmic or notated musical examples swiftly. 
  • make an instant record of who sits where - and who is who!
  • play a gorgeous background for the read-aloud I end class with - and more!
I have discovered - and will share in future posts -  excellent apps to:
  • present orchestra families with thoughtfully curated musical examples.
  • explore world instruments. Some are even linked to YouTubes of musicians playing. 
  •  introduce great musicians and music genres through YouTube videos - and more!
I teach smarter and traveled twenty pounds lighter!  And the experience has only gotten better! The keys: Purpose, practice, passion, and embracing the possibilities. 
©2013 Brigid Finucane:  APP: Decide Now!  (Screenshot)                     

Q: Do the children still use REAL instruments?  
A: Of course! 

Q: Is the iPad out the whole class?  
A: NO! It usually emerges once or twice to support the lesson.

Though iPads are a significant expense, it’s the ups and extras, aka the apps and in-app purchases, which will kill you! There are a million things to buy and download with precious little direction – and that’s the problem! I searched the web for recommendations –becoming ever more weary and frustrated by the “100 best apps for ________” articles that were proliferating like Internet dandelions. In the process, I discovered great resources like  
Cool Mom Tech and Tech & Learning websites. Both tend to be ad-heavy, but  the rewards are many!

Cool Mom Tech is a spinoff of CoolMom Picks, a breezy, free, email-based site along the lines of Angie's List - but for and about kiddos, the grownups that love them (not only moms), issues to think about and support, and, of course, stuff to purchase.

Tech & Learning is also subscription based, with accessible information that does not require an advanced degree in computer science! The blogs are terrific. Look for these writers:  David Andrade, Bob Sprankle, and Vicki Windman.

Paul Shimmons’s blog, iPad and Technology in Music Education and Joanna’s Music Blog (Adventures in music, parenting, and life) by Joanna Sisk-Purvis are highly recommended.

The Ultimate Reward – A Free App App with a Price Alert!
There’s seemingly an app for everything, including free apps, but the 
free App apps Holy Grail is Apple Sliced, also know as App Price Drops.

What makes this app different is the ability to research price history of a paid
app AND set price alerts. Price history research is key. If the last time an app has been updated or had a price drop was two years ago or never, it’s unlikely the price will budge.  If the price history shows fluctuation, there’s a good chance that waiting will pay off. Let’s look at one example: A Jazzy Daywhere I just missed a two-dollar price reduction!

The next step: Research price fluctuations, determine the desired price point, then click on
 Set Price Alert. Enter your email address – then sit back and hope.

When a price alert is met, Apple Sliced sends a cheery email,
Congratulations! The price alert you set for desired app has been reached and it is currently available for $0, with the appropriate link to iTunes.

Tech Tip #1: There is no way to tell how long an app will stay free.
 My recommendation: 1. Download      2. Assess     3. Delete if it doesn’t meet your needs.

Apple Sliced – App Price Drops and similar sites can swiftly populate your iPad, 
and you may find yourself with more apps than you can manage.

Tech Tip #2: Unless you’re among the fortunate few who have 64GB or 128GB iPads,
 it’s easy to hit your space limit, even with iCloud backup. What to do?
My Recommendation: DELETE!  Delete ruthlessly if the app:               
                                                              1. is used infrequently
                                                              2. can be replaced by a better option
                                                              3. is too darn big – think Garage Band 
                                                              4. is a stinker – and there are plenty out there!

Here’s the magic thing about apps: They never go away.*  Apps can be easily reactivated by visiting the Apple Store, finding the desired app under “Purchased,” and clicking the icon. That’s all there is to it!
*Full disclosure: There is a way, actually, but you have to really work at it!

But Wait, There’s More! – Three Apps for the Road
Some people can remember their first kiss. For me, that memory is forever lost - but I can remember my first app, a simple no-frills glockenspiel. Just the bars, ma'am, mallets not included! At the time, there were only a few xylophone / glockenspiel apps – now there are over 150 and counting!  Two of my favorites “xylophone” apps are pictured below:  AwesomeXylophone, and Tap and Sing byStorybots.

Awesome Xylophone exceeds the usual 8-bar range by almost another octave, AND includes sharps and flats. In “musicspeak,” the instrument uses a chromatic scale, like a piano, rather than simply the do – do diatonic scale (Note: Channel Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music singing the Do-Re-Mi song to have a diatonic experience).
Screenshot: Brigid Finucane
FUNFACT: Xylophones are actually made from wooden bars. Glockenspiels and metallophones are made of metal.  Most of the app developers are blithely unaware of this distinction, and lump metal and wood barred instruments together as xylophones. REALLY!

Storybots ranks high because of its amusement factor.  Silly robots, squawk out a tone on “la,” “bum,” note names, or do-re-mi (solmization)
over two octaves. Did I mention the robots roll their eyes, wave their arms and scratch politely to get your attention?  My kiddos go wild when the Storybotcome out to play!

Screenshot: Brigid Finucane

The final app I want to share is one that was recommended by one of my Merit families – and it has turned out to be one of my favorites: Kids Doodle.

This is a lovely, and easy, drawing app which offers different backgrounds colors and the option of a glow/ neon brush– my favorite!  The color changes each time a new line is initiated. Photos can be imported and drawn upon, and all can be saved in a “Gallery” for easy access. Best of all is the “movie” feature. Click on the old-fashioned movie reel symbol, and an animation documenting the evolution of your masterpiece will play! 
Here are some ways I’ve used it:
        1.                                                                           2.
        3.                                                                           4.
1. High & Low Vocal Glides. These can be drawn, then conducted, by student volunteers.
2. Visual Prompts for vocal participation in Remy Charlip's book, “Fortunately.” 
    When something fortunate happens, students call out “Alright” using their high voice.
    When something unfortunate happens, the students respond with a very low “Oh No!”
3. Rhythmic Writing Practice.  Like the vocal glides, the iPad screen is great for student
     practice – without the fuss of markers and excessive erasing time!
4. Song Directions.

                              Jump Josie                                       St. Saens Carnival of the Animals: Kangaroos
5. Drawing to music is another way to connect movement and visual arts to music.
These two student drawings were done after listening then moving to the music. Before the actual drawings are attempted, the whole class "air draws." Paper and markers are then handed out, and the children draw while singing (Jump Josie) or listening to music.  
Don’t forget the gallery walk afterwards! The drawings are left in their places, and students walk around the tables looking at each others’ work. I’ve done this with students as young as three!

Tech Tip #3: Apps come in two flavors – lite (free) and paid.  Both can offer opportunities for “in-app purchases,”  upgrading the app in ways that may be important to you, e.g., deleting banner ads, or offering more desirable options more backgrounds, sound effects, fonts, instruments – you get the idea. 
My recommendation:  The lite version of an app may be all you need. Progress to the paid version only if you use the app frequently, or it offers an important option. I finally upgraded to the paid versions of Kids Doodle because I grew tired of the banner ads.

Thank you so much for joining me on my first foray into blogging! It’s thrilling to be part of this new community.  Please feel free to contact me with any questions you have. I’m here to help!

I hope you’ll visit me next month, where I’ll be sharing books, music and apps to                                     support the Lunar New Year and celebrate winter.

                  Finally, I wouldn’t be the person I am without another important community –
The Children’s Music Network (CMN)an international group of socially conscious musicians, educators, librarians, families, songwriters and good people, who “celebrate the positive power of music in the lives of children by sharing songs, exchanging ideas, and creating community.”
 My friend, Carole Peterson Stephens, who posts on the 16th of each month is a member, as are others on this blog.  Please join us! 

As promised, here is the special offer –
A one-year membership for $35 (regulary $65!) if you join by January 5, 2014.
Enter “BRIGBLOG” in the promotion code box to activate the offer.

The on-line song resources, bi-annual journal, PIO, active list-serve and other resources have provided me with friends and songs from all over the world.
Happy New Year!  

©2013 Brigid Finucane  * 847-213-0713 *


  1. LOVE these ideas - can't wait to get the Decide Now app for my classes - I'm going to put in each child's name, and when we're doing something that takes turns, we'll spin the wheel! Excellent ideas, Brigid! Welcome to the PreK & K Sharing Blog!

  2. Great blog Brigid! I enjoyed it tremendously....but I'm still scared of ipads! Joanie

    1. The secret is starting slow - and building! Don't worry. I'm here for you!

  3. Darn, if learning is that exciting in pre k and k, how can the grade level teachers keep it exciting? What color and amazing teaching tools, thanks for sharing, pinning now, Carolyn

  4. Thank you, Carolyn!
    I think I must have subconsciously filled the post with color as
    a winter antidote! your fan, Brigid

  5. Great article, Brigid! Lots of information here ...
    I think I have to try the Kids Doodle app to start with; looks like so much fun - and reminds me of an old Sony toy the kids had long ago that connected to the television. We still have it around, but it takes a lot of fiddling to get it going again. Three cheers for for new technology!
    Looking forward to your next articles!

  6. Thank you! Remember that you can change backgrounds - or import your own image into the app.
    The neon/glow option is my fave, but the others are fun as well. Brigid


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