Pa. Teacher Recycles Smart Devices to Teach Music

By Marsha Keefer Beaver County Times
|  Saturday, Dec 28, 2013  |  Updated 5:47 PM EDT
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Teaching Music With an iPad

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Erik Kolodziej is always looking for ways to make learning fun to keep his pupils engaged.

He knows that rote learning, especially of fundamentals, can be boring.

And tools like flash cards are antiquarian to today's tech-savvy generation accustomed to and familiar with tablet computers and smartphones.

Kolodziej, a music teacher at Edgeworth Elementary School in the Quaker Valley School District, often follows teachers' discussion groups on social media to keep abreast of new instructional methods or downloadable software for electronic devices, especially those pertaining to music.

Plus, a colleague was giving good reviews of music applications on her iPad that she was using as a teaching aid.

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About the same time, Kolodziej was due for an upgraded smartphone. That's when his Cub Scout training, which taught him to be Earth's good steward, kicked in.

"A light bulb went off," he said. "I repurposed my phone for the classroom." If he had an older model collecting dust, he figured other people probably did, too.

He saw the potential of repurposing older-model phones and tablets that people no longer wanted as fun and functional ways for his students to practice rhythms and learn notes.

Pupils in primary grades today are already geared to technology and comfortable with it, he said. Integrating smart devices with established teaching domains makes learning "relevant to where they are," he said, but quickly added that these tools are not replacing standard teaching, but are used for practice.

Besides donating his old phone, Kolodziej acquired one iPad through the school district. He also bought a few used iPads and iPhones on eBay, but said he needs more devices so each child has access to them in the classroom.

Kolodziej is appealing to the public to donate their old iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches.

The iPhones and iPod Touches, however, must be generation 4 or later for the newer music apps to work, he said. All personal information should be deleted prior to donation.

The devices must be in working condition, able to be charged and hold a charge, and have an intact screen.

Kolodziej said he will reset the devices — disabling Wi-Fi, App Store, online and phone connections. He will manage their use and load them with the appropriate music apps.

So far he has five iPads and three iPhones. Usually, when curriculum materials are purchased, a class size of 30 is average.

"It would be ideal to have 15 devices," he said, as often students work in pairs.

Already, his pupils in first through fifth grades are off to the races using Flashnote Derby to identify note names. Learning becomes a fun game with this app that's based on a horse race. When a student correctly identifies a note on the staff, his horse advances, Kolodziej said.

Blob Chorus is another app he's using that trains the ear to identify pitches.

And his students, Kolodziej said, "are loving it" — and also doing better.

"It's a win for me and a win for them."

People can donate their devices at the Edgeworth Elementary School office at 200 Meadow Lane or contact Kolodziej at kolodzieje@qvsd.org.

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