Using An RSS News Reader and Blogs To Give Students Feedback on Assignments


Mr Reader Header

Mr Reader largeI have to say that one of the most used apps on my iPad is my RSS news feed app. It is through my RSS news feeds that I can follow an absurd number of websites, blogs, news updates and almost anything on the web that I am interested in. I used to go visit a small handful of sites every day hoping for the latest exciting news about various topics. That list grew too large and RSS is my answer to saving time!

I have settled on using MrReader Small IconMr. Reader (the best $3.99 you will spend in the app store!) finally after trying out about every one that is out there. To the right you see a screenshot of what that looks like when a student has posted their assignment.

Mr Reader ScreenIf you are note familiar with RSS News Feeds let me explain a bit – IF you have a website that is frequently updated then you simply add the address to that website into your RSS news feed. Then whenever there is an update they will show up in your news feed – no need to go check, no need to check to find no update and it when it does show up you will only see a small portion of the article allowing you to quickly skim over things you are not that interested in!

The really exciting part of using RSS news feeds as a teacher is using them to help me teach better! I now have all my 8th-12th grade students posting assignments to WordPress Blogs. We don’t do anything huge usually but as all students are required to write in ALL classes at our school, the blogs help me fulfill that requirement. More importantly it allows me to give immediate feedback as students do their work all without ever touching a pile of papers!

Mr Reader AnnotatedHere is the process…

1)Students create a blog at (free and easy!) They then email the link to their blog and I copy it, then paste it into the Mr. Reader iPad app. I also give it a better name so I know which blog goes with which student and ALSO assign it to the Student Folder. (I made you a nifty little video below so you can see that process as sometimes it is easier to see these things so go watch the video!)

2)I then give them an assignment like – write a reflection on our last concert/rehearsal/guest clinician.

3)They then write the reflection as a blog post on their own time OUTSIDE of rehearsal! I’ve found that most of my students can do it on their own devices – a huge advantage of using WordPress because their are mobile apps kids can download or the blogs can be accessed through most any device that has a web browser.

4)As soon as they post their blog entry I start seeing them show up in Mr. Reader.

5)I then leave comments giving them feedback about their work. Students can choose to post those comments so anyone can see what I have said or they can choose to keep my comments hidden.

6)Last step – enter grade in school grade book. I hardly ever make these worth a ton of points but if they are not in the grade book students don’t have the incentive to get them done usually.

If you want your students to write more, have a place to turn in compositions (they take picture and upload to their blog) or a place where it is easy to pass on feedback to them then this is a no-brainer! The process of getting students signed up for a WordPress takes one day in the computer lab. The process is simple and even 8th grade kids have no trouble doing this with your help of stepping them through it.

Even without having students writing blogs – I can not imagine not using an RSS News Reader to keep up on the days events! Seriously, this app allows me to work through 180 or more website updates every day. Because of the nature of the RSS feed coming through as a summary, it is so easy to skim over what I need to skip and focus on the important news!


Here is the video I promised…. and as always, if you have questions, please leave me a comment below! (which will then show up in my Mr. Reader news feeds and I will get back to you soon as I can!)

Save Time In Front Of Class With LaunchCenter Pro for iPad

Teachers all understand the importance of saving even a few keystrokes, a few seconds, in front of a class of middle students! The more that technology takes a back seat in a lesson plan the better off we all are. If the tech isn't bringing attention to itself but the students learning is front and center then the tech is in the right place.

That means that we must become very comfortable with the tech we are using, we can not be stumbling and fumbling to make things happen. It also means that any shortcut we can use to get technology working faster and smoother is a good idea.

Launch Center Pro for iPad and iPhone has a simple mission statement that fits the above criteria…. “Launch actions, not just apps!” Think about it…. Why do we launch an app in the first place? We launch apps to do things. That means that once the app launches we then start tapping more buttons to do that “thing”.

I message parents frequently but I usually wait until after class…. What if I could speed that task up and send a message faster? Would I communicate even more?

I like to tweet about exciting learning taking place in class but opening the camera, then taking a picture, then opening Twitter to send the tweet is quite a few steps. What if I could do all of that in one step? Would I spread more news about the learning going on in class?

What about taking attendance…. Open Safari, open bookmarks then finally tap the website for school attendance. How about jumping right there?

Well if those sort of thoughts entice you to rethink your use of tech then you need to take a look at Launch Center Pro… There is the iPad version and then the iPhone version.

Here is the first line from their website…., “It’s like speed dial for everyday tasks. Launch Center Pro saves you time by launching complex actions in a single tap.”



GarageBand Updated to support AudioBus

If you have not checked out your updates for your iPad apps GarageBand was updated today to support AudioBus! This is pretty significant. This indicates that Apple is throwing their support into the AudioBus app arena. Considering that Jack just announced their new app that is similar to AudioBus. If you want to read some more on Jack this is a good review….


Creating music with iPads

There have been some outstanding new developments in the world of music for iOS users this past few months!

First has been the actual release of AudioBus for iOS. As they say on the iTunes Store… This is a revolutionary new inter-app audio routing system allowing you to connect your AudioBus compatible apps together with virtual cables. In other words…. I can be playing a synth on my iPad, like Magellan, and record it into my MultiTrack DAW on the same iPad! This opens up very different possibilities of being able to record from a long list of currently compatable apps into other apps on one iPad instead of having to have two devices or using audio copy/paste. Check out their website for currently compatible apps as the list is changing almost daily!

In the late 80‘s I remember spending many hours programming keyboards for the ministry team at college that I was involved in. It was great fun to get inside of a synth patch and make all sorts of tweaks to it to come up with a new patch that was my own. Little did I imagine then, that I would be able to do this on an iPad with a color, touch screen! Check out the list of apps othe AudioBus page. I think there are some outstanding apps there that will make some outstanding music! Imagine if we could get these apps into the hands of our students in a non-traditional music class!

Audulus App

Another major development is the development of apps that allow your creativity to fly to new heights! One of those apps that blew me away today is Audiolus. Audulud is a modular synthesis app that is available for the iPad as well as the Mac. This app allows you to create synth sounds from scratch, one step at a time! I can not begin to imagine the possibilities of this app in a music class combined with science concepts being integrated all in one mega fun unit! Your science teacher and you, the music teacher, could have a hay day with this app! You have got to watch the tutorials on their tutorial page! This tutorial in particular floored me when I started to get a grasp on what this app is capable of…. I love how it starts with a demonstration of the outcome and then it takes you back step by step to build the patch starting from absolutely nothing! (Wait…. isn’t that the model for a great lesson plan?)

Lastly, I would like to leave you with a couple of great examples of amazing performances from people who are truly creating amazing music using iOS and iPads/iPhones. Both of these groups have active YouTube channels that I would suggest you subscribing to

The first person is Rheyne – Rheyne uses live looping with analog keyboards, USB controllers and iOS devices. The videos on his channel are all performed live! The integration he has between all the apps and devices is stunning! His music is digital and does not attempt to re-create an acoustic instrument performance!

The second group is the DigiEnsemble Berlin – This is a group of professional musicians trying to turn mobile devices into instruments. This group has music of both the electronic nature as well as classical and everything in between. You can see them recreating a classical string ensmeble using iphones and ipads for instance or performing Starlight (from the alternative rock band Muse) and then performing a magical, musical interpretation of Silent Night.

This sort of musical creativity needs to be taught in our schools alongside the traditional Band, Choir and General Music classes. Of course that means new classes need to be created and staffed! The biggest reason we need these sort of classes is that our students would be forced to become the innovators, the ones creating and designing the final product. There are not many programs like these in place yet so the development of this type of course is going to muddy water and the learning process will be messy. Let’s wade in and get dirty!


ForScore 4.0.1 has arrived!

If you are not aware of what ForScore is and if you are a musician I am surprised! Unless of course you have never thought about using your iPad to read your from. This is the very reason I first wanted an iPad so badly. I wanted all that music I usually carry around with me and have had to keep track of every year while teaching, to be in my iPad. ForScore is one of those apps I use to make this dream a reality.

Whether you are teaching music with your iPad, a performer using your iPad in concert instead of paper music or just someone who enjoys playing your instrument, you should have PDF music on your iPad! It’s the best!

For those of you who are users of ForScore already this is a great update, with things like:

  1. Setlist sharing
  2. More responsive annotations and page turns
  3. New multi-select menu
  4. Better Bookmark metadata editing and
  5. Better handling of non-standard and landscape oriented pages.

Many of these new updates are not things that would make you say “Oh, look at THAT!” when you open the app after updating. All of the updates are going to make your life easier though while using ForScore.

Here are a few screen shots and explanations:

Here is the main screen after loading up a piece of music…

The Pink arrow is pointing to a search tool to help you find music FAST. The yellow arrow is pointing to the new method of inputting metadata. The orange arrow is pointing to the toolbox that you used to have to dig into to edit metadata in the past. Jump down below this screenshot and I will explain further.

Once you get your music into PDF format and start putting it into your ForScore app you will find that soon there will be a bunch of music to wade through every time you want to find a specific piece. Although the search tool is not new to this update I have to mention it’s use because it is so very useful. There are multiple ways to organize your music and if you tap the little eighth note icon there are multiple ways to find pieces in that menu. It’s too slow though. When I want a piece of music I usually know the title so I simply tap the search tool and start typing the name and up pops a list of results (including a setlist even in the screenshot below!). It is fast and easy plus it looks really cool being all semitransparent like that! Take a look…

Now something else that is also now semitransparent is the annotations tool bar. This also looks very nice…

And finally for one of the new features. The PDF files you load into ForScore obviously all have a title associated with them, this should come as no surprise. Each PDF can also have other metadata associated with each file as well to help you in organizing and finding each song that you want. I have hardly ever used this metadata in the past for two reasons. First it was too hidden and was buried in the toolbox icon. Ok, Ok, I here what you are saying… HIDDEN? Two taps was all it took! I know but that’s my opinion. Now this excuse is gone because in each title there is now a drop down menu right in my face to input this metadata (check out the yellow arrow above.) That gives me this screen….

In OSX if you create a PDF file you are given the option to input Title, Author, Subject and Keywords. These are all the same sort of metadata but ForScore has renamed them to what you see in the screenshot above. This drop down menu also is where you will connect a song from iTunes to a PDF allowing you to play back a song while you follow along in ForScore. Saves you from having to hop out of ForScore app into the iTunes app. The song can play while you turn pages. If you happen to turn the page to a different piece that song would stop playing. I could never for some reason remember where to make association in the ForScore App. Now it will be much easier to remember.

One other reason I have not used this metadata in the past much is that ForScore doesn’t actually change the original PDF file to insert this metadata permanently. There is a great post about this and how to make sure you backup ForScore so your hard work entering this metadata does not get lost. Head over to the Technology for the Classical Singer Blog and read about it. No since in my describing this process when it is done so well at that post. You really should add that post to your RSS reader feeds by the way!

I am looking forward to the sharing features. UnRealBook from Aron Nelson has had features for sharing setlists and files now for some time. This feature is very useful if you are in that sort of situation where others are using their iPad to read music. UnRealBook does have the feature as well where you can use two iPads for your music. In other words you will have two pages of music spread over two iPads! The two iPads work in sync with each other and the pages turn appropriately. What fun huh? oops…. sorry this post if about ForScore.

The page turns seem faster too.

OK… well as I only now have 1.5 weeks until I go to Band Camp, no jokes about “this one time…”, I will be discovering more new features that I appreciate and will keep you posted. As always… leave comments below about what you discover – Share the Joy!

Now, my wife has made me a big bowl of popcorn, real popcorn too not that microwave stuff! So I must go find some movie to watch….. Hmmmm…. the new Thousand Foot Kructch live DVD or the Yanni Live concert from YouTube or maybe I should watch the Presonus webcasts series or maybe a real DVD Movie. decisions decisions…..