Essential Paid iPad Apps for Schools

I’m not a big fan of Top 10 lists but after a year of experimenting with apps on iPads at school, it’s getting to that time when decisions need to be made on what apps we will invest heavily when the App Purchasing Program comes into full effect in Australia, hopefully soon( Yes, rightly or wrongly, I have been running multiple copies of apps from one account for testing purposes, waiting for Apple to release its Purchasing Program so we can be 100% legit. If they had it in place from the start, I would have done it from the start.) So I’m starting to put together a list of what I think are the essential apps that are worth spending the money on for bulk purchasing.

In making my choices, I’m considering multi-purpose apps that can be used across all curriculum areas, apps that take advantage of the multimedia strengths and apps that can help us use technology in new and innovative ways that can change the way we teach, not just do it the same way with a different tech toy. Some apps are needed to handle the shortfalls of the iOS in a shared network setting and others are chosen because they can make the iPad interact with other tech in the school.

I understand that for some schools the cost for a large number of apps for a 1:1 iPad setup may become prohibitive but in our setting of sharing small numbers of sets, the price is controllable. I’m also from an era where we spent (and still do ) $1000s on Microsoft Office licenses that restricted us to using 3 programs with creativity limitations or $1000s on licenses to use a couple of CD-ROMS that quickly became obsolete. For far less and with free upgrades, we can buy a wide array of apps that offer great creativity options for different learning styles. So here are my essential paid apps, in no particular order. Feel free to agree or disagree. (Prices are in Australian $, similar but sometimes slightly  more expensive than US prices, despite our dollar being higher!?!) Get an app like AppShopper to keep track of sales – I actually bought a lot of these apps at discounted prices. Also, even though I haven’t had access to it yet, my understanding is that The Apple App Purchasing Program discounts prices when apps are bought in bulk.(These prices are current as of August 22nd, 2012. Prices do change.)

FileBrowser ($5.49)– effective access of school network for transferring files through open in… command, transfer of picture/video saved to photo library, views a large range of files. Here is a post I did earlier on this app, including video instructions. It’s the best solution I’ve found for working with our school’s network and is an effective way to get a lot of work created on our shared iPads onto individual student’s folders. It means we can delete work on iPads when they are completed, freeing up space for others to use.

iCab Mobile ($1.99) – full featured web browsing with great downloading capabilities( especially video) and sharing functionality . Great for capturing clips of the internet that could then be imported into iMovie to make documentaries. The collaborative research possibilities are endless with the range of sharing options. I wrote about this app in this post on Safari alternatives.

Notability ($0.99) – Low cost word processing (if you don’t want to spend money on more expensive word processing apps more compatible with Word) with sufficient formatting and image importing and labeling. Its main function is as a  full featured note taking app with-

  • in app web browsing and web clipping ( great way to collect websites and quickly access them
  • note synced audio that links audio to specific notes automatically – great for reviewing presentation notes
  •  simple drawing capabilities including graph paper backgrounds for creating hand drawn graphs and charts
  • efficient filing system for sorting and organizing notes including search. In a 1:1 iPad environment, this can enable Notability to replace multiple exercise books, with each subject having its own category for all related notes.
  • Good file transferring setup with automatic syncing to Dropbox and other options.
  • Can save as native Notability file to open on another iPad or as PDF or RTF ( which can then be edited in Word if necessary. )

GoodReader ($5.49) – my favourite PDF annotation app because of its extensive file system and sharing options. Can link to all major cloudservers, mail systems, WebDAV, etc. for sharing files with other students or staff. Save a truckload of paper by avoiding handing our photocopies ( that then get lost or damaged ). Set up folders in your favourite file servers that students and teachers can download PDF versions of anything you want them to read and work with. You can create Folders for arranging and storing files. A great range of annotation tools for taking notes on PDFs, including highlighting, multiple shapes, text annotation, underlining and arrows/pointers.

Explain Everything ($2.99)
This screencasting app is one of my favourite apps for use at school. There are free alternatives but they are linked to online accounts or lack saving options or advanced features. If you can afford this app over ShowMe or Educreations, get it.

  • Useful across all curriculum areas
  • Alternative to PowerPoint for Slideshow making (instead of buying an extra app like Keynote)
  • Great way for creating tutorial videos for flipping classroom
  • Can be used to record student work in any subject, including audio recording of the student’s thinking and explanation accompanying all of their drawing, writing, working out, notes
  • Can save as videos to photo library which is not an option in some of the free screencasting apps

SonicPics($2.99) – A really simple to use app for any age group ( Grade 1s have used it at our school ), SonicPics is a great way to collect photos together into one file and add commentary. Because of the portability and multimedia capabilities of the iPad, you can take it on excursions with junior grades, snap some photos and record the students’ comments right on the spot. Of course, you could come back and do the recordings in class. The fact that all you have to do is import photos and swipe from one to the next while the audio recording is operating makes this a breeze to operate. Great for language experience, oral language practice, recording ideas for writing, reflecting on and reviewing Maths experiences,working with children with special needs who may not be able to write but can talk about the pictures in front of them. a simple, must have app for me.

Strip Designer ($2.99) – I believe in the power of comics as a communication tool. This comic creation app is easy to use and offers a great range of creative options to allow children to plan, tell and retell stories, record reflections and brainstorms, organise explanations and procedures across curriculum areas, make posters… the list can go on. I love the Comic Life app too, especially the Mac version, and in some ways it looks more polished, but Strip Designer is cheaper and has more options. Features include:

  • basic drawing tools to create your own artwork for your comic
  • lots of photo editing and filter options to alter the imported photos
  • Multiple page creation to make a full scale comic book using a large range of comic panel templates
  • Text editing ( reshaping, resizing, colour)  to make graphic Titles
  • Highly editable speech bubbles and text boxes for recording ideas or narrations
  • “Stickers”  add graphics that enhance the comic’s story telling capabilities
  • Exporting options include iCloud, Dropbox, email, Facebook, Flickr, PDF export, emailing or export to iTunes Strip Designer file to edit on another iPad and save to Photo Library as image ( one page at a time)

iMovie ($5.49) – it’s not in the same league as its Mac Desktop companion but coupled with the built in camera and audio capabilities its a great, quick way to put together an edited video with basic titles, sound effects, back ground music and transitions. It’s easy to use once you work out its idiosyncracies ( it has a good help section that explains each function in detail). In a 90 minute class today with Grade 5 students, all students were able to record, edit and publish videos in one session with a five minute overview of features at the start. The students were absolutely absorbed in the process ( the grade tends to be a noisy bunch in general). Students from Grade 2-6 at our school have created iMovies this year with iPads in Maths, Religion, Inquiry, PE and Literacy. Multimodal texts are an important part of learning today and being able to create them, not just view them is essential. iMovie on iPad makes it easy for young students. I’ve just started investigating Avid Studio on iPad – it has a lot more features which I will probably find more useful, and older students might as well – but for simplicity and expediency, I think iMovie is worth the cash.

Creative Book Builder ($4.49) and Book Creator for iPad($5.49) – I put these two apps together as they both create ebooks – Creative Book Builder has more features and a workflow more suited for older students ( late elementary/primary or middle school); Book Creator can be used even by Kinder/Prep students. I think both (or either) of these apps are essential in today’s classroom where we are trying to make writing more authentic by providing an audience to our students. Students at my school from grade 1-6 have already published ebooks across a range of curriculum areas and seen their publsihed books being read by other students in other grades on the iPads. It’s a great incentive to the writers to see other people read their books. We can even email the books to parents to read on their iDevices at home. Both apps allow text, photos and video to be included in the books. Creative Book Builder lets you include weblinks, glossaries, tables of contents, charts and tables in your books. This allows students ( and teachers) to create complex non fiction texts.

Numbers ($10.49) – Apple’s iWork apps are all useful but a little costly buying all three. Notability can do a good enough job as a word processor, Explain Everything can be a Keynote substitute. Numbers, though, as a spreadsheet app is necessary. It’s not a perfect spreadsheet app and is no Excel in terms of overall features but then I’m talking about students not office workers or adult professionals. Spreadsheets are underused in Maths classrooms often because Excel is full of functions that make it too complicated. I love Numbers’ simplicity. I’ve been using it a lot with my extension Maths group recently to support problem solving and modelling using graphs. They have been absolutely engaged in using the app and love how they can easily make several separate charts for related tasks on the same page. The touch screen workflow seems to come easily to them as was dragging graphs and spreadsheets around the iPad screen. Having easy access to an app that can quickly create data and graphs for analysing in all curriculum areas is a big advantage. Critics of Numbers have to stop evaluating it at an adult level when talking about its use in education. I think its a winner, especially in Primary and Middle School grade levels.

Wolfram Alpha ($1.99-drop in price recently from $4.49) – A powerful app for searching for information. Click here for more info about this app – it has too many features to explain. For Maths, though, I find it indispensable.

Garageband ($5.49)– As a Music teacher among other things, I love this app. But it can be used for so much more. Students have used it to create Radio programs, mixing different recordings of news, interviews, competitions, talkback, music ( created in Garageband or imported in). The drag and drop UI of Garageband makes this process so easy. Other students have used it to record songs they have written as creative responses across subjects, adding voice and music. Other uses have been Readers’ Theatre recordings and recording children read for assessment and feedback purposes. And yes, I have also had students create their own multi instrument musical masterpieces in music workshops. For  creative purposes, Garageband is a must have.

SplashTop (Currently $7.49 but was $0.99 last month – keep an eye out for price drops because it regularly changes) – A great app for wirelessly accessing and controlling a computer from your iPad. Great for moving around the room and letting  students control what’s on the interactive whiteboard your computer is connected to. Needs the free Splashtop Streamer installed on computer

Reflection/AirServer Not  iPad apps but an app to install on your whiteboard-connected computer. This is a much cheaper option that Apple TV. It allows you to project any iPad screen in the classroom onto the whiteboard. Students in my grade have loved showing their work on their iPads with a simple swipe and click on the Airplay button. More info on their websites. ( click on the links at the start of this  paragraph.)

These are my must haves. I love Art Rage ($2.99) for realistic artwork and Snapseed ($5.49 now but I got it for free – watch for sales) for easy photo editing if you want other creative options. I’m sure different teachers have different favourites and I’d love to hear about other essentials from readers. Technology is not cheap but sometimes if you want the best, you have to pay for it. ( Total cost of listed apps at current prices $64 – with an eye on sales you can get much cheaper). I wouldn’t go into an iPad classroom without these.

COMING UP – Essential Free Apps.

Digital Portfolios – is Blogging a good option?

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

A couple of things happened last term. My school finally took the plunge and allowed the Grade 6 students to replace their file books with digital portfolios as a means to collate their work to share with their parents at home and during parent/teacher interviews. The other thing was that a small group of teachers dipped their toe into class blogging. By the end of the term, we ended up with two problems – How do we create the best Digital Portfolio and Do we want to really blog?

Let me explain.

During my ‘Techie Brekkies” before school, I introduced blogging to a group of interested teachers. They had lots of questions and not all were answered but we ended the couple of sessions with setting up blogs, but apart from one grade level who used their blog for Camp updates and reflection, not much happened after the meetings. Then I introduced Edmodo and it seemed to be a more useful and easier to set up option. Edmodo now has full adoption across all Grade 5/6s as a collaboration/work sharing/assessment and class organisation tool. It was seen as more relevant than having a class blog at this stage in the development of the teachers involved. ( Note: the whole “Techie Brekkie” thing went into hiatus during report writing season and so there was no follow up to blogging session. We’ll pick it up again next term).

In terms of the Digital portfolios, there was a push for them last year in the 5/6 area but because they were just an add on to the  school wide  file book/work sample policy, they were not fully embraced by teacher or student. In 2012, however, change came about and the Grade 6 students moved from paper based file book to digital portfolio. They adopted Powerpoint as the platform ( not my personal choice nor my decision to make) and then last term decided they would  export them over to Sliderocket so that they could be accessed via the internet at home. It was soon apparent, though, that this was a fail as a workflow as the export experience didn’t upload attached files or links. This was compounded by SlideRocket’s sudden policy change which locked the children out of accounts ( hence my recent posts about Web 2.0 for the Under 13s).

When this happened, I started thinking of alternatives. The teachers initially decided to stick with PowerPoint but start a new portfolio ( the originals quickly became bloated, growing to unmanageable sizes that took forever to load over wireless networks – need to invest in video compression software!) I started thinking of blogging.  From reading about blogging over the last year, however, from the likes of Kathleen Morris, Linda Yollis and Langwitches Blog ( who seem to respected in the field of class blogging) and reflecting myself earlier in the year in this post (and here as well),  my quandary is that I may be blurring the lines between blogging and digital portfolios. Am I rushing the students and teachers into blogging by attaching the importance of the official digital portfolio to it without going through the process of preparing them for blogging as outlined by the aforementioned “experts”?

Nevertheless, today, I am pushing ahead with a “Pros and Cons” list to help me decide what the best choice might be from my point of view. Obviously, I would like feedback from you, my readers, on what you think is the best option. It’s a work in progress and would like to hear suggestions from you for both the pros and cons. 

PROS FOR BLOGGING AS DIGITAL PORTFOLIO

  • “Anywhere, any time access” to their work for composing, editing, publishing and sharing with their parents. One of my problems with the whole twice a year file book access is that parents aren’t kept informed on the progress or quality of their children’s work. With the blog as portfolio option, the child’s work is more transparent and because the parents can see the work during all stages of the year, children may be more motivated to work at the standard Mum and Dad expects of them.
  • A bigger audience for greater purpose and motivation. Opening up their work to a wider audience puts the responsibility of quality back on to the students. It should also motivate them to publish quality work as well since it is being viewed by others.
  • Feedback and collaboration. Through moderated comments, parents, friends and the wider world audience can provide feedback, encouragement, praise and advice. With access controls, individuals can be invited to collaborate on posts under the supervision of the teacher to ensure collaboration goes smoothly. Shared posts can be linked to each others’ blogs so that the work can be shown to both students’ parents and audiences.
  • Controlled environment and ease of communication between teacher and student. With student blogs linked to a teacher blog, teachers and students can control the level of privacy and access to their work. Students can save their work as unpublished drafts and teachers can review their work before they go further. Students and teachers together can make decisions about which posts go public and which remain private. This gives a student control over what he/she wants to publish to a wider audience while still being able to show their parents all their work.
  • Wide range of publishing options available through uploading, hyperlinks and embedding published work from other web tools. One of the time wasting tasks I have seen through the PowerPoint Digital Portfolio option is organising file storage, folder structures, hyperlinking to files, linking to work published with software not available at home and the resulting broken links when all of these tasks are completed effectively. An online version with links controlled by the blogging platform and a central storage area coupled with the ease of linking and embedding to work that exists on the internet, not in random folders spread across the school network is a more user friendly option. Having the online option may also encourage students to try out more web tools for composing and publishing their work. It may move them away from just typing words out in Microsoft Word and onto Prezis, comic strips, slideshows and audio presentations that can easily be embedded in their portfolio blog.
  • Purposeful blogging. I’ve checked out a lot of student blogs in my research for setting up blogging at school. While there are some outstanding examples from very talented student writers, there are also a lot of blogs out there that don’t meet the standards and guidelines outlined by the blogging experts above. Like a lot of technology, many teachers never progress their students past the experimental stage and we are left reading unedited “my Favourite……” posts by the truckload. Using the blog as a digital portfolio gives a consistent purpose to what is being posted and students won’t spend time wondering what to write next.
  • Part of whole school program, not an added extra. A digital portfolio blog would include work from all areas of the curriculum and would encourage publishing of work in the Arts, Sport, Mathematics and other subjects besides Literacy which can dominate a blog as the “writing subject”. Hopefully, this would encourage the use of technology for reflecting upon and showcasing learning in the non text based subjects.
  • Consistent, purposeful reflection across all curriculum areas. By using the blog as a digital portfolio, students will have an accessible place to store their reflections on learning side by side with the actual work they are reflecting upon.
  • Easy to use publishing and organisational platform. Thoughtful tags to identify each post, organised in Portfolio categories ( subject areas ), pasting the embed code or link from work done on another web tool – and we’re done. A simple to organise workflow that allows easy access to all files with a simple click on a link.
  • Home/School Link. On top of the connection between school and home available to the parents through the blog option, the maintenance of the blog becomes purposeful homework in all curriculum areas.
  • Teacher Accountability/future direction. Access to student work is soon to become part of our Educational landscape in my system. I can already access individual files of my own children’s work, albeit work that is uploaded and commented on by their teachers in their own time. Having the blog as a digital portfolio easily accessible by parents places some onus on teachers to be consistent and up to date with their assessment and feedback, which helps with teachers planning for children’s learning and improvement.

CONS OF BLOGGING AS DIGITAL PORTFOLIO

  • Rushed process without preparing for the responsibility of online publishing. This is not a problem with blogging itself. Rather it’s more a problem with moving straight into using it as a Digital Portfolio platform without having already having experience in blogging. When we adopted Edmodo, there were plenty of teething problems with getting the students to use it appropriately ( that is now ironed out). Morris, Yollis and Langwitches all emphasise the need to for a gradual release of responsibility and training in posting and commenting. Having said that, as a Digital portfolio, the work that is published on the blog will be controlled in some way.
  • Maintaining feedback. There is a danger that teachers will find it too difficult to maintain the same level of feedback and commenting over the duration of the year, considering the public nature of the blogging platform.
  • Negative feedback. How students react to possible feedback of a critical nature is something to consider. Does the digital portfolio component of the blog remain separate from other posts through privacy settings?
  • Separation of Teacher/Student/Parent Comments during the composing process and once published. How do we manage the situation of comments from teachers at the composing/editing stage being misunderstood by parents? Does the student want their classmates’ comments being seen by parents or vice versa? Should the teacher comments be privately viewed?
  • Making a blog “all work and no play”. When you look at successful blogs, they’re about building relationships with audiences, being free to publish posts of your own choice, having fun with the layout, plug ins etc. By making it the Digital Portfolio, you run the risk of sucking the joy and freedom out of blogging and making it all about school work.
  • Access/Connection issues. 90 students simultaneously trying to blog at school can play havoc with the wifi. We run the risk of making the students’ work inaccessible during high traffic periods. Not all students have easy and regular access to the internet at home.
  • Quality control/Teacher accountability. Keeping track of 30 student blogs is no easy task. If students have publishing rights, unchecked work might slip through to public viewing and cause concern for teacher responsibility. Teachers who aren’t confident with technology may find the blogging platform difficult to manage.
  • The linear blogging structure. While tags and categories can make linking to individual post simple, the scrolling, back dated, linear structure of a blog is not always the best way of presenting a large body of work.

I personally think my pros outweigh my cons, although their are some definite issues to address. But I’m a prolific blogger and a confident user of web tools. That doesn’t make it the best choice for everyone. I know there are alternatives but I haven’t experimented with them as much as blogging. As I said earlier, I would really like some feedback from others who have used Digital Portfolios with their students. Do you use blogs or something completely different? What have been your issues and challenges? Please leave a comment and join the conversation. I’d really appreciate it.

The problem with underage bias in Web 2.0 tools for schools

The online world of 2012 is a very different beast to the Internet environment of the late 1990s and and early 2000s. Social networking didn’t exist beyond email and chatrooms, dancing baby animated GIFS predated cats playing pianos on YouTube and publishing on the Web involved uploading fairly static webpages using basic WYSIWYG HTML software like Pagemill. Children,educational institutions and government bodies were new to the whole Internet craze and when nasty popups linking to porn and violence began proliferating, it was a natural and necessary reaction for adults To want to protect our innocent children.

Out of this environment of fear and uncertainty rose two laws in the USA that today have a huge impact on education today – CIPA and COPPA. ( Disclaimer – as an Australian teacher, I had little knowledge of these laws until only recently. I don’t profess to be an expert and would be happy to hear from US readers who can explain them more thoroughly). Circa 2000, when these laws came into effect, they made sense. Today, though, I think it’s time for a rethink. Prevention, banning and blocking needs to be replaced by education, engagement and appropriate use encouragement.

I’m writing about this because of recent events at my school. Last year, a tech savvy group of Grade 6 students started presenting their projects using a number of web 2.0 tools they were using at home. At this stage at school we were only dipping the toe in the water with online tools and at first glance, teachers and students were very impressed and wanted to follow the lead of these trailblazing students. It was only after I checked these sites’ terms of use and privacy policies that I discovered the constraints of using some of them. We knew Facebook was off limits to under 13s ( not that the children were necessarily following that rule at home with or without parental approval) but it didn’t dawn on us that these great educationally appropriate web tools were classified under the same umbrella as the social networking giant.

Fast track to 2012 and much investigation and rewriting of school acceptable user policy later, we had employed a range of web 2.0 tools that we had permission for children to use. Then out of the blue, one particular site changed its policy Terms and our students were locked out of their work the day before an assembly to present their work! We contacted them and were informed that because they were under 13 they were not allowed to use the site. We hadn’t broken their original policy but for some reason, even though we had parent permission, they were no longer allowed access.

So this is my beef. Back in 2000, children needed to be protected. There were no education programs dealing with digital citizenship teaching the children how to behave responsibly. Filters needed to be put in place to prevent risk taking students from accessing inappropriate material. There wasn’t much else for students to do on the Net other than look at stuff and play some Flash games. Fast forward to 2012 and the Internet is now an ever changing hive of engaging educational activity. Collaboration, publishing, blogging, video conferencing, researching and so on keep the students too occupied in real tasks for them to waste their time googling unnecessary pictures. (Yes, I know some still do, but hopefully you get the point.)

Educational authorities are espousing the importance of a 21st Century education but apparently that only begins when you become a teenager. Personalised learning is supposed to be about meeting the needs of the individual student but laws limit a 12 year old to Dora the Explorer and ABC for Kids while his 13 year old friend is creating powerful, interactive, collaborative projects online that are wowing classmates and teachers alike. I understand the privacy protection. As a parent, I put a lot of effort into teaching my children as they grew up about what they could and couldn’t do online. Now they’re both teenagers whom I can trust to behave appropriately.

And that’s my point. In 2012, it should be about teaching the students AND their parents ( and in many cases, their teachers as well ) how to exist online. I believe it is far more effective getting younger children to learn ‘on the job’ so that responsible digital citizenship is second nature to them once they reach 13. Waiting until they’re 13 and throwing them in the deep end without supervised training is a poor substitute.

Education in responsible use is the way we are heading in Australia. We still have our filtering ( which is still a necessary precaution) and our government is going too far down the filtering path for ALL Internet users, so I’m not preaching about a superior government here. But programs to educate responsible Internet use while being able to take risks and learn how to deal with problems are better than prohibition. Having said that, educational leaders here still make their own choices about how far they want their schools to go online but guidelines are guidelines, not restrictive laws that prevent potentially great products from being created.

I know US Congress has its hands full at the moment with more important matters, but any time education is on the agenda, can the conversation go beyond standardized testing, teacher layoffs and education budget cuts and move on to amending COPPA and CIPA to match current practice? It just might free up teachers of younger students to do great things with greater access to great tools.

So what do you think? Should Under 13s have more access to web tools? Or should we continue to protect them from a possible inappropriate animation or slideshow? Join the conversation.

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The Literacy Shed – A great new resource for Visual Text Literacy Teaching

screenshot of Literacy Shed homepage

Every now and then you come across a resource that makes you go “Wow! How useful is this?” Thanks to one of my teacher colleagues, I have had the chance to explore one such website. The Literacy Shed,created by UK teacher Rob Smith, is a fantastic resource for Literacy teachers looking for short video clips to support their teaching.

The site is organised into 24 different ‘sheds”, each providing a selection of quality visual texts (mainly 3D animations) accompanied by very useful teaching notes outlining how you can use the clips in exploring themes, characterisation, narrative, plot, mood, use of audio, body language, inferences,deductions, predictions  – the notes cover just about everything. It’s equally useful for reading comprehension and writing development. The use of the resources also go beyond just Literacy. Many of the resources are also useful for Humanities subjects as well and Smith points these links out in detail. What I especially enjoy is the number of foreign animations that expose students particularly in USA and Australia, my home, to different cultural and creative perspectives beyond Hollywood story telling.

In the table below, I’ve shared the different areas (sheds) of the site. As you can see, a large number of story genres are provided. Following the table I’ve provided an example of teaching notes that accompany a video clip.

The Fantasy Shed The Other Cultures Shed The Ghostly Shed The Inspiration Shed The Moral Shed The Picture Book Shed
The Great Animations Shed The Love Shed The Fairy Tale Shed The Inventor’s Shed The Reading Shed The Poetry Shed
The Adventure Shed The Mystery Shed The Film Trailers Shed The Fun Shed The Lighthouse Shed The Flying Books Shed
The Resource Shed The Blog Shed The Non Literacy Shed The Weblinks Shed The Literacy Shed Home Contact Us

Teaching Ideas (based on the animation Alma – a chilling Doll story


Let the children listen to the soundtrack of the film, turn off IWB, can they guess what kind of film this is? Thriller etc?  What moods? There is quite a lot of suspense etc.

Children could predict what happens at certain points e.g. what will happen when she goes into the shop?

Children could ask questions at specific points e.g. Why is the town empty? Why does the doll just look like her? Where is the shopkeeper?  What does he do with the dolls?

The children could write a sequel to this film perhaps changing parts of it.

Can the children draw/describe what they think the owner of the shop looks like? Maybe produce a wanted poster.

Here is some fabulous work create by the Year 6 class at Greenfields Primary School.

http://www.mapleclassgreenfields.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/story-writing.html?m=1

These are tremendous stories with some very sophisticated plots and sentence structures

Children are becoming more and more tuned into visual texts in an increasingly multimodal media-rich world. Storytelling for children today is more about movies, animations and interactive digital books. Just providing the written text alienates a large proportion of your class. The Literacy Shed provides a wealth of resources that will engage students and the teaching ideas shared on the site will develop a range of high calibre literacy skills. I recommend this site to all teachers ( mainly aimed at Primary/Elementary schools but still relevant for older children in Middle School) who are looking to use more visual texts in their lessons.

The iPad as a research tool

I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog lately reflecting on Big Education ideas. During that time, my little buddy the iPad has felt a little neglected and unloved. So I thought I’d get back to talking about everybody’s “favourite little tablet that could”. Today, I want to explore the possibilities the iPad has as a tool for researching information. As I’ve said many times, what I describe here can be done on laptops but the purpose of this post is to show how the iPad can be used for all tasks if you have decided to use iPads as your main computer. Having said that, there are some iPad specific functions and apps that for me offer a superior experience.

One criticism of the iPad is that it has the “one app open at a time” limitation. This can make it less that ideal for research. The desktop interface of regular computers allows you to have a webpage open alongside your word processing program. However this is now possible with a couple of integrated browser apps. PaperHelper is a split screen browser app that allows you to simultaneously view web pages and take notes at the same time. The app has a note taking screen side by side with a browser ( you can select which side of screen depending on your preference ) and provides tools for transferring website addresses to the notes page with a sale click. The browser has 5 favorites buttons that you can customize to link to preferred websites that you are using during our research for quick access over multiple sessions. You can use it in both landscape and portrait, depending on your preference. While it makes the browser screen a little small compared to normal iPad usage, it still provides you a window bigger than an iPhone screen and you can of course zoom in easily. I find it quite useful when wanting to copy and paste notes from Internet articles. The app also allows you to open and save your notes in word processing apps like Pages or just save the text to Dropbox or other file saving apps.

WikiNodes is a different way of browsing and collecting information from Wikipedia. Instead of presenting Wikipedia in its standard web page format, a specific topic is expanded out into key sections via a concept map type interface. Every time you select a ‘node’ it expands out into more connected topics. Each node map gives you the specific sections within a Wikipedia article as well as related topics. It is a nice visual way if laying out the information that suits today’s visual learner and the way it generates related topics can helpc students expand their ideas. You have the option to view the article within the node or view full screen via Wikipedia.

A welcome extra feature is how WikiNodes allows the user to save, store and organize information from the Wikipedia article. You can store written or audio notes about each topic you are exploring, set tags and labels to organize notes, share your information via Twitter, Dropbox, Evernote or email and view all your notes linked to a topic via a presentation the app creates for you.

Notability, which I’ve mentioned in previous posts, is a versatile note taking app that I think has some useful features for research. If your research involves listening to lectures or presentations to gather information, Notability enables you to take written notes while simultaneously audio recording the speaker. You can also take photos directly from the app while the recording is continuing. The beauty of the note taking and recording combination is that the app automatically links the written notes to the recording so you can go directly to what was said when you wrote a specific note. I think this would be useful during practical experiments in the classroom as the students could record their thoughts while taking photos of their experiment stages. They could then work back through their written and audio notes for revision. For children who struggle taking notes, having the audio available means they can write less then review the audio for what they missed. Alternatively, the teacher or more able student could share their notes with children who are unable to take notes due to learning difficulties.

An additional feature of Notability is the ability to browse the Internet within its own browser. Users can then save a web clip of the site they were reading within their notes that take them directly back to review the information. This is more efficient than copying and pasting web links or bookmarking sites outside of your note taking file as yoou have it readily available within our note taking area and it gives a visual reminder of the website as well in the form of a miniature screenshot of the website.

Often research involves using specific articles that are given to us to read. If you can download or convert them to an editable PDF file then you can use a range of PDF annotation apps on the iPad to make notes directly on the file. My app of choice is GoodReader, which I have used since I’ve had my iPhone and then upgraded to the iPad version. I’ve always found it easy to use so haven’t sought alternatives. GoodReader enables the user to highlight, write text notes, underline or strikeout words and phrases and draw a range of basic shapes directly on the article text. You can save the annotated file for later use and transfer it to virtually any cloud service like Dropbox, Box and GoogleDocs as well as WebDAV servers and email accounts. Notability can be used in the same way but it’s more of a freehand annotation experience, whereas GoodReader annotates accurately. Reading and annotating is also great in iBooks as well, with the added feature of all annotations being saved in a single space for easy access and reading.

Automatic news curating apps like Zite and Flipboard are great ways to have quality articles delivered straight to your iPad without any searching. Zite in particular is very useful in finding news reports, web sites and blog posts that are tailored to your interests. Simply enter your specific topic and it is likely to be a category contained within Zite. Examples include Urban Planning, Climate Change, Tennis, learning, Australian History, Drawing, and so on. The suggested articles are refreshed throughout the day and can be shared with others through a large range of social media sites and bookmarking tools. Flipboard can be set up as a magazine style RSS feed reader, allowing the user to read and share any collection of news articles or blogs. It can be customised to create direct links to specific blogs or newspapers and have all the most current article fed to a single icon that is linked to that site.

Both of these apps offer possible solutions to the aimless Google searching that happens in classes around the world because they filter out a lot of the useless links you get in Google and other search engines. Zite can also be used to automatically search for related articles or other entries by the same website or author.

Both Instapaper and Diigo are available online from any internet enabled device but they also have dedicated IPad apps or bookmarklets. As bookmarklets, Instapaper and Diigo allow students to save websites for later study. Instapaper’s added bonus is that it saves sites for reading when no Internet connection is available which is useful when students may not have wifi access but want to continue their research.The app allows users to create folders to store related articles together to enable easy retrieval.

Diigo’s strength is its social bookmarking capabilities. Students can share bookmarks in a common group as well as annotate and highlight pages straight in the website they are reading collaboratively with others. every time the Diigo iPad bookmarklet is activated, the highlights and annotated note reappear, regardless of what iPad or any other Diigo linked Internet device you are using. This kind of shared note taking allows students to collaborate in real time on any any research task involving reading information online. Diigo has an iOS app that can be used to quickly access your tagged links, although it lacks the ability to search via tags. I prefer to use the Diigo link within the bookmarklet.

Another useful bookmarklet that can help sort and store research information links to Scoop-it, an excellent magazine style website curation tool. Once you create a free Scoop it account, you can use the bookmarklet to quickly add sites to your Scoop it page. One of the benefits of using other users’ Scoop-its is that they have done a lot of the searching for you, saving you the hassle of trawling through countless Google search pages to find something useful. Scoop it has a search feature that can lead you to curated pages on the topic you choose and you are likely to find useful references on someone’s page. Pearltrees and Pinterest are other curation sites that offer similar opportunities but I am yet to explore them as options.

Tools 4 Schools is a relatively unknown app that is a collection of graphic organizers that allow for focused note taking for specific purposes. It’s useful for students who need some scaffolding in organizing their thoughts during research. Completed organizers can be emailed to others to share notes collated on them.

20120512-203332.jpgThe App Store is of course flooded with a huge range of reference apps that relate to specific topics. The beauty of this source is the price of the apps when you compare them to reference books providing similar depth of information. Also,the interactive multimedia nature of these apps make them an easier to follow option for many of today’s learners. There are too many to list here but here is a good link to another website that mention some of the better apps.

There are other great options for research on the iPad but that’s enough from me today. If there are other options out there, I would love to hear from others. Join the conversation.

Making infographics the easel.ly way

Infographics have become a very popular means of communication recently and in an earlier post, I discussed the potential uses for them in education. While viewing my Scoop-it feeds today, I came across this brand new Web tool for creating infographics called easel.ly.

It’s still in beta form but is free to test out. Being in beta form, it is obviously not 100% ready for prime time and incomplete but in a quick play with it this morning, I like what it has to offer.

It’s a drag and drop interface that allows you to drag ready made themes, objects, text fields and insert your own images to create an info graphic that looks as professional as the ones flooding the Net at the moment. There is an extensive collection of icons, graphic elements, maps etc although it lacks in a feature for creating and editing graphs ( there is one area graph you can drag on that is not editable but this shows that it is probably coming in the future ). Everything is very easy to edit and includes colour, layers, resizing, duplicating features.

With visual learners everywhere in our classroom, we need to think about presenting data in a variety of ways, Infographics is one option. You could use expensive, complex graphics software or something simple and free like easel.ly. I encourage you to give it a go.

The power of Social Networking in Grade 6 with Edmodo

I had a big week in class last week. As I’ve said earlier, my role this year in the 5/6 level has led to me being, among other things, a support teacher in a variety of curriculum areas. The week just past saw me taking workshops and lessons across Reading, Writing and Inquiry. I had a similar role last year but always felt like I wasn’t accepted by the students as their ‘teacher’ because I wasn’t always around due to my other responsibilities. It was only late last year after I attended a Tech Conference and was introduced to the potential of Edmodo that I was able to make a real and lasting connection with the Grade 6 students in a real way. After the conference, I was asked to take a Literature Circle group by the Grade 6 teachers and I quickly saw Edmodo as a vehicle I could use to work with them outside of physical contact time. It worked really well as a test case. This year, with that experience behind, I decided to go full steam ahead with every workshop and lesson group I plan.

At the moment I am involved with the Grade 6 students in a Ballad Poetry workshop ( I wrote about that last week), an Inquiry workshop investigating the issue of Urban Sprawl and a Reading Comprehension group with both Grade 5 and 6 students. ( I haven’t signed the Grade 5 students up with Edmodo yet).

Each of the Grade 6 groups are connected to each other and myself through an Edmodo small group within the main Grade 6 group. I decided to use small groups so that it is easy just to switch groups of children in and out of focus groups rather than give them codes every couple of weeks to join new groups. It has also allowed the other Grade 6 teachers to create and manage their own groups easily while also having access to their students who are working for me.

What I have found already is how engaged the students immediately became the moment they were given the opportunity to use a social networking environment. Children who never open their mouths in discussions were suddenly asking and responding to multiple questions from teacher and student alike. Students who rarely express opinions were involved in debates, linking to websites and Youtube videos to back up their opinions. Individuals who in the past have found it difficult to submit any work on time were uploading multiple revisions of assignments after getting timely feedback. This is just a snapshot of the response I, and the other teachers who quickly jumped on board over the course of the week when they saw the initial response from my groups, received during the week. I want to go into a bit more detail about each group interaction now.

URBAN SPRAWL INQUIRY

I began this inquiry workshop with a shared text outlining the basic premise of Urban Sprawl. What I did differently from the past was I allowed the children to sit with laptops beside them as we read the text. They were allowed to use Edmodo to post reactions, new learning and questions that arose from the content of the text. I had worked with many in this group last year in a variety of settings and some rarely provided any feedback or made any meaningful contributions. It was these very students who became key contributors to the conversation here. The freedom to use Technology and their natural environment of social networking/chatting opened up channels of communication that traditional chalk and talk or rotating brainstorm sheets didn’t engage them in.

One student’s question led to multiple responses from others that deepened the inquiry beyond my initial goals. Questions about the content enabled the group to post new concepts to investigate within the broader topic. As a result, within 3 sessions, I have teams of children investigating issues of traffic and transport, access to facilities like education and hospital services and the pros and cons of megacities, all without me suggesting any of it. I strongly believe based on past experiences without technology that this would not have happened without my encouragement if we had just read the text.

The engagement was evident when they posted their own links to Youtube videos of local politicians talking about Urban Sprawl issues, Annotated Google Maps showing distances from outlying suburbs to city hospitals, and links to maps of train networks as they discussed online the inequalities of train travel for some outer suburbs. I’m away with the Grade 5s on Camp next week but I know that I leave this group with a shared understanding of the issues to discuss with other class members without me being there. HAving said that, as an ubergeek teacher, I have also said I will be checking in via my iPhone or iPad from camp to see what they are doing and would be available to support them online if necessary.

BALLAD POETRY GROUP

I spoke at length in my last post about this so this is more of an update of how these sessions have progressed. All students have taken the opportunity to post attempts on Edmodo. Admittedly, there has not been much interaction between the students in this case but they have appreciated the timely feedback to their questions ands attempts from me. As a result, some (but not all) students have posted drafts of verses for me to feedback on and then responded with edited posts. Each student has uploaded their ballad plans for me to have access to, enabling me to provide advice directly to them. The fact that using Edmodo means submitting digital texts means they are more willing to edit their work instead of rewriting entire texts each time if done via pen and paper.

On Friday, we collaboratively drafted a rubric to support them in their writing but I took it away to polish it up and structure in more detail. There was too much of a delay for some who wanted access to it straight away ( One girl posted a request for it at 7 am Saturday morning) and so one of the students took it upon herself to post a link to an online study guide about Ballads which was quickly appreciated by others through replies. Again, while I’m away on Camp, I promised them I would continue to check in and provide feedback to them, something I couldn’t have done in the past.

THE READING COMPREHENSION GROUP

I had two aims for this group. One was for instant responses and shared feedback on comprehension questions in an open forum. The other was to encourage independent editing and revising of work through the Assignments feature of Edmodo.

We started this group work with a shared reading of a newspaper article, using 3 Level Guide statements to encourage conversation on the article. The children were asked to justify the accuracy of the statements by providing evidence in the text. By having the article linked to our Edmodo group, the children had quick access to the article for cross referencing and were able to copy/paste quotes to back up their arguments. By posting their responses online, we could challenge each others opinions instantly, either through verbal feedback with our online conversation on the iWB or through posting replies either during the group session at school, or as often occurred, continuing the discussion online at home. This challenged the children to question their responses and also to provide further explanation rather than the quick responses we often get through one off replies in standardised tests or one session tasks. The inclusion of social networking tools gives that extra think time and the opportunity to add to your opinions after hearing what others have to say. This helps to develop a deeper level of thinking than we get from one chance only tasks.

As a follow up task, I set them an assignment to submit by the end of the week. I made it clear that I wanted them to submit their drafts online through Edmodo’s Assignments section and that I would respond quickly with feedback and expected a second ( or third) edited response. The students responded positively to this and all but one of the 15 students gave me at least a second revision, responding effectively to the feedback in both structure and additional detail. I’m a strong believer that word processing tools should be used at all stages of the writing process as it encourages students to make revisions if they don’t have to do complete rewrites of handwritten texts. My role as the teacher was to give timely feedback so that they saw the worth of early submission and multiple revisions. All the students who participated fully produced a final copy at the expected level.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Part of adjusting to the concept of 21st Century Learning or Contemporary Learning  (whatever you choose to call it) is playing to the strengths of your students. Social Networking is ingrained in their way of being so it use seems like a no brainer that we utilise that in our teaching. The increased engagement I have seen in just one week of using Edmodo with this years’ Grade 6s for the first time makes me even more convinced of its merit. If it gets more than just that usual 20% who contribute to every lesson involved then it has already made a difference. From what I have seen in this short time frame, along with last year’s experiment, it does a lot more than that.

I’d like to hear from other teachers of your personal experiences of using this type of social networking in classrooms, both successes and challenges ( it wasn’t perfect -one child did manage to post a picture of a mouse on a mouse during the Urban Sprawl lesson!!). Join the conversation.

Writing Ballad Poems through ICT tools

After a lot of administrative work last term, I’m finally back regularly doing what I like best – teaching. In my role ( one of many ) as a Lead Teacher supporting the 5/6 Team, I get to teach small groups of students in workshop environments in areas of need and/or choice. This term, the Grade 6 students are beginning their writing workshops by focusing on different narrative forms. As a songwriter, I’ve written many songs in the Ballad style, telling stories through song. This was a natural fit for me to take on a Narrative Workshop based around Ballad Poetry. Combining my talents in writing and ICT, I have decided to heavily incorporate Web tools to teach this unit. Here’s a rundown of how I plan to do it.

My main tool for delivering this unit of work will be Edmodo. I’ve created a subgroup within the main Grade 6 Edmodo group specifically for Ballad
Poetry. Before the lessons even begin next week, I have posted links to Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, a YouTube video of the Ballad of Paul Bunyan for an American ballad example, a site showcasing all the ballads of Robin Hood as an introduction to how traditional ballads as story telling originated and a link to a website that has a published version of ‘Banjo’ Paterson’s “Mulga Bill’s Bicycle”, ensuring the students are also exposed to our native Australian ballads. During the next 3 weeks of the unit, I will be encouraging the students to post their own search results of ballads so that they can be exposed to a wide range of the ballad poem form. I think exposure to examples are important in any writing unit, especially in a form they are not accustomed to.

A final link I have provided on the Edmodo page is a excerpt from the Simpsons’ episode, “Bart the Daredevil”, in which Homer goes hurtling down a slope on a skateboard and over Springfield Gorge, with disastrous results as always. When I read and chose Mulga Bill’s Bicycle as an example ballad, my mind immediately flashed to this episode as it related beautifully to the experience of Mulga Bill crashing his bicycle in similar circumstances. I felt that the students would need a contemporary link to this century old poem, and despite the objections of some in educational circles to the Simpsons, I get great engagement from my students whenever I use the cartoon as a crossover into other literature and thematic discussions.

My plan is to begin the unit reading Mulga Bill’s Bicycle and break the poem down into a sequential series of events. I’ll then present the clip of Homer’s disastrous skateboarding experience and do the same breakdown of events. Using the stanzas in the Paterson poem as a guide, we will co-write a ballad of Homer Simpson’s Skateboard. Here I will introduce the students to another Web Tool I like using for quick and easy collaboration – WallWisher. I’ve embedded the shared Wallwisher Pinboard into a post on Edmodo already. The students will review the Simpsons clip while working collaboratively on building the ballad in WallWisher through post-it notes of individual stanzas of rhyming verse. As they experiment, we’ll be able to see everyone’s attempts on our interactive whiteboard. As each stanza appears, we’ll be able to arrange them into a sequential order to tell the story.

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This way, I’ll be able to emphasise the idea of freely writing parts of poems that flow easily from your imagination instead of being stuck on a particular part and not progressing. By using the post-it notes on WallWisher, we will be able to manipulate individual verses and insert new ideas that fit when they arise. By having the board embedded in Edmodo, we will be able to continue this collaboration beyond the classroom lesson time for homework during the week or during independent writing time.

Once the students start drafting their own poems, we will use Edmodo as a collaborative platform for supporting each others’ writing. Children will be encouraged to post their drafts for others to comment on, allowing them to get assistance from myself or classmates if they get stuck for ideas, rhyming words, rhythm and structure. Once their drafts are ready, I will ask them to submit the writing through the Assignment feature of Edmodo. This will allow me to annotate their work with my suggestions and note, but not correct, grammatical/spelling issues ( correcting doesn’t teach them to edit independently).

We’ve identified that this cohort of students is reluctant or lack skills in editing their writing. I want to address this by allowing them to draft, edit and get teacher feedback through ICT. It means they don’t have to rewrite texts completely, instead just making changes where necessary. I’m hoping this will encourage them to make several revisions to their text, rather than the draft/correct/publish cycle we have perpetuated too much as teachers. Edmodo’s Assignments allows for several revisions to be submitted with the ability for teachers to feedback on each new attempt.

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Early on in the unit, we will be co-creating a rubric that will guide the students in composing their ballads. This will be posted to Edmodo so they can constantly refer to it as they are drafting and be aware of expectations as well as the structures and features to include in their ballads.

Finally, I’m going to spend a short time near the end of each lesson ( one hour duration ) presenting publishing options. I’ll be encouraging but not requiring the students to consider multimedia tools to present their ballads. By the time the unit is over, I would have already seen and assessed their ballads through the Assignments submissions process and as a result they will already have a written option available. I want to encourage the idea that publishing is not just for the purpose of handing up work for the teacher to assess. We should celebrate the creation of the ballad through a movie version, a multimedia slideshow, a comic strip, a blog post for others to see and comment on, or maybe turn it into a song Mr G style!

I’m looking forward to how this process will pan out. If it goes to plan, I hope that other teachers will try out the lesson structure and the use of Edmodo to encourage better editing of written work by students. I’ll return to this post at unit’s end to reflect on how it went. In the meantime, I would love to hear from other teachers about how you have used Edmodo or similar Web Tools to track writing progress.

Future Proof Education – Learn

All of this change in the way the world operates means we have to change the way we learn and the purpose of learning at schools. The world we live in today is so different even to 5 years ago. The pace of change post-smart phone/tablet/web 2.0 is unrecognisable. We have to change education to prepare for this new world that will be unrecognisable in another 5 years from now.

The Prezi covers the following areas under the umbrella of Learn:

  • Formulate a learning plan
  • Synthesize the details
  • Information literacy
  • Formulate good questions
  • Reflect and evaluate
  • Meta cognition (know what you know)

This is how I finished off my last post on Future Proof Your Education, an analysis of an excellent Prezi on the topic. I finished by saying this section deserved a separate post as there was much to discuss in this section. After all, we are in the business of Learning (there’s no ‘teaching’ unless there is learning!) 

The focus of this final section of the presentation is clearly on the changing responsibilities of the active learner in the education process. The actions of the ‘dot points’ listed above are the action of the student. Yes, as teachers we are still part of this process and we have to teach/guide/facilitate the children in our care to become skilled learners with the ability to manage their learning. However, in the 21st Century learning model, which is about skilling up children for a world they have to be active in, the baton of responsibility is handed over to them. They have to learn to formulate a plan. They have to synthesise the details of all that information in front of them. Questions need to be formulated by them. They have to reflect on their what they have been involved in and evaluate how they learned and performed. So what do we need to do to ensure they become successful 21st Century Learners? Here are my thoughts.

Formulate a Learning Plan

This is not easy for children (or adults for that matter, which is why we need to start early with our students). Planning takes time. Time, however, is something we don’t always have when we have the pressure to achieve x amount of learning outcomes in x-3 amount of time. If we are going to teaching children how to plan for learning, we are going to have to be brave enough to let go of some things and make time for this important stage.

Now I’m not for one moment going to suggest our students have to formulate a learning plan for EVERYTHING that happens in class. There are some givens across curriculum areas that we as teachers still need to manage for the sanity and benefit of all involved. This is about planning major projects driven by the students interests. Planning and organising major projects are quite possibly the jobs of the future so we need to give them experience in how to do it.

We need to guide them through the use of graphic organisers that help to layout their ideas and track their progress. There needs to be a place on these organisers for the student to record their successes and challenges ( and time given for them to do that) We need them to organise a timetable or schedule of work so they can plan for when, where and how they are going to achieve their goals. Tech Tools have a role to play here. Collaboration using shared calendars or GoogleDocs or Edmodo, for example allows for both teachers and fellow students to provide feedback on an individual students plan. I know I’m a “paperless society” tech geek but I keep track of students work so much more effectively online when I can check in on their work at any time, not just during that two hour project block. When I worked with a Literature Circle group on Edmodo last year, the amount of work we did together while we were at home was of great benefit.

Even outside of major projects, students need to identify learning goals for specific strengths and weaknesses and learn to write SMART goals to achieve success. Again this takes time but it will benefit them in the future if they can learn how to manage their learning.

Synthesize the Details

As I mentioned in the earlier post, we are bombarded by a limitless supply of information through the mass media. When I was a child (back when the world was in black and white 😉 ), information was in black and white too. The teacher gave us the text and we accepted it as fact. In today’s world and the near future they will be working in, students are and will be confronted by hyperlink after hyperlink of fact and opinion. It is hard for educated types like us to separate the good from the bad, let alone expecting children to do it.

All the more reason why we need to spend a lot of our time in class giving our students the opportunity to ‘synthesise’ all the details. While in the early grades, we can only expect them to follow one line of thought, for older students we should be presenting multiple points of views or sources of information in multiple formats (video, audio, text, graphic data) so they are constantly making connections and summarising ideas. Working collaboratively using tools that allow for sharing ideas, students can build from the ideas and opinions of others and support each other in making sense of the endless stream of information they face. All with our experienced support. Which leads to what I think is the most important part of the whole “Future Proof Education” presentation – Information Literacy.

Information Literacy

This is the video from the Prezi that really struck a chord with me about how different Information Literacy is from the traditional literacy we have always taught and experienced at school.

Traditional literacy is words and pictures – mostly words. The words on the page say it all. To find information, you looked in the contents page or for more specific information, the index or the glossary. If you needed help, you went to the librarian who would look it up with you. This all worked when everything we needed to know or was allowed to know was contained within the walls of a room with shelves of books in them. This is not the world today and it certainly isn’t the future of information. Unfortunately, too many teachers ( me included until recently) still stick to the literacy model they are used to.

Digital literacy is a whole new ball game and we as an education system have to be better prepared for it if our students are going to deal with information overload. We talk about how kids just plagiarise information from websites like Wikipedia because it just easier and they don’t have to think. Well, maybe they do that because they are not digitally literate. In my recent defence of Wikipedia, I talk about how we need to teach them about how to use Wikipedia so they don’t just copy.

This video tells the story of the evolution of information storage and retrieval. The new way of organising, sharing, accessing and finding information is about tagging keywords, social bookmarking (Diigo, Delicious), iPad apps (Zite) and websites (stumble upon) that send us information based on what we tell them we are interested in. We don’t find information; information finds us.

Writing information is not about copying or rewriting text and writing a bibliography or footnotes anymore. Digital Literacy is about hyperlinked writing; pulling together sources of information and building them within your writing to give readers access to your sources so they can form their own opinions. Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano in her Langwitches blog, reflects on the complexity of hyperlinked writing and how we need to teach it in our classrooms – worth a read. Web 2.0 tools like Storify let you write by pulling sources from other Social Media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Flicker and Instagram as well as the general internet. Curation tools like Scoop-it and Pearltrees allows you collect websites on related topics and write your own summaries of each entry, while allowing others to comment or use your sources. This is the new literacy we have to get comfortable with as teachers so that we can get our students to use them effectively. As I’ve often stressed in this blog, they’ll pick up the technical aspect quickly; we need to guide the usage.

Formulate Good Questions

Of course, none of the information literacy will be of any use if we don’t teach the students to formulate questions worth researching. Terms like Rich questions and ‘fat and skinny’ questions are all about learners thinking about the type of question we ask. Fact based questions or yes and no answers are easy to find on Google and were often the type of questions I did so well at when I was at school. And yes, as a Trivia champion I still love the fact I can recite 80% of the capital cities of Africa but this isn’t getting me a job in the future. Asking good questions so that we can dig deep into issues, challenge the status quo, develop our understanding of current events, challenging what is being said in the media (right wing and left)  and having the questions that will help us find the correct information is vital to learners. Using a tool like Weiderhold’s Question Matrix  will help children develop rich questions. So will letting them ask questions all day, challenging them to go further if it is not a rich question. Collaboratively working with others and getting challenged by co-workers will also allow this type of richer questioning to occur, as long as we are there to guide them. Which again is why the use of online collaborative tools is important again. Getting involved in the conversation at any time is vital for teachers. Our contribution can’t end at 3:30 in the afternoon.

Reflect and Evaluate/Metacognition

Finally, the learning process is not complete without reflecting upon  and evaluating our learning. Again this is no easy task and again takes time we don’t always have. But as I said at the start about formulating plans, we have to reflect. Why do keep wondering why our students don’t retain what we “teach” them but don’t allow them to reflect on and evaluate on their learning. Maybe we can find time to do this if we didn’t spend all that time doing revision before tests. Maybe they’d remember the stuff after the test if we let them have time to reflect on and evaluate their learning. Maybe homework should be reflection and evaluation and not revision. Maybe blogging about what we have learnt during the day is more practical than doing a worksheet for homework. Maybe 5 minutes of structured reflection time during and after lessons with children recording individually or as a class online on blogs or Edmodo so they can refer back to the reflections in their own times will give us the time to do it. Maybe collaboratively doing this reflection will enable metacognition to take place and get children to recognise what they do and don’t know.

Final Thought

21st Century Learning is not easy, especially if we continue to have pressure from 20th Century curriculum. Learning, though has to be the focus and if these points are what learning is about, we have much to do. These are my thoughts, some based in practice, some in theory. I am interested in the opinions of others and finding out how others are going in the quest for true 21st Century learning. Join in the discussion.

iPads (or other devices) and Literature Circles – co-starring Edmodo.

Literature Circles Projects
http://www.flickr.com/photos/chowd/488098373/ CC Licensed

Literature Circles have been around forever. Done well, the strategy is an effective way of engaging children in reading, while teaching them specific skills and behaviours we use when immersing ourselves in a text. With clear foci during the instructional part of the Literature Circle session, teachers can direct children to use these strategies to improve their comprehension and how they respond to text.

One of my main concerns ( and the concerns of many I have worked with in implementing Literature Circles) is monitoring the independent reading and meetings as well as the work done by children in between sessions. Technology can play a big part in this and can also be used to enhance, simply and streamline the whole process. This is where the iPad comes in. ( I’ve been neglecting the star of Mr G Online for a while as I’ve been reflecting on education overall). With its ability to act as the actual book ( or text in general), its connectivity and collaborative capabilities and the tools and apps that it can add to the mix, the iPad can be the all-in-one Literature Circle Experience. Using Technology as the tool for creating the preparation for the discussion means there are opportunities for the teacher to check in on the potential online discussions that may occur and have access to the prep work the students have done for the discussion. Read on to find out how the iPad can be used in each of the roles in Literature Circles. Of course, this can mostly be done using laptops or desktop computers as well but the “iPad as book and personal immersive device” makes for a better experience in my humble opinion. With no iPad access, though, you can still do it almost as effectively.

The Organisation
Traditionally, from my experience, students have a quick meeting to decide how much of the book they will read before the discussion meeting and what role/s each member will prepare for during the discussion. Also from my experience, this is sometimes rushed and individuals forget what was organised. Last year, I began organising Literature Circles via Edmodo. During the meeting, group members would post their roles in the Edmodo group environment and record what their reading goal was. No one had excuses and if a group member was absent, he/she could access Edmodo to find out what to do, how much and when by.

Now that Edmodo’s iPad app has been updated with access to GoogleDocs and the iPad’s camera roll, posting documents on the site is now quite easy. Having access to other group members’ contributions to the Literature Circle discussions means more opportunities to prepare for the meeting. This kind of collaborative environment also means the students can contribute to all roles rather than just doing theirs. I think this is better in the long run.

In terms of accessing the books, Kindle books and iPad books are often similar in price to physical books and especially in Kindle’s case, often cheaper. I’m not going to discuss how many copies to buy vs how many iPads. That’s up to your conscience and understanding of Purchasing Agreements. However, if I buy 8 books to share amongst 100 students in rotation, I should be able to do the same with ebooks. Consideration might also be made for using audiobooks for readers who need support. There are a lot of interactive read along books on iTunes as well for iPads which could be good choices for struggling readers.

The Reading Experience
iBooks and Kindle for iPad are the two big players here. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Kindle has a greater range of books and is generally cheaper; iBooks is more integrated with the iPad system so is easier to import other texts into the app for reading and to actually download the text from within the app. Both have great highlighting and note making tools and built in dictionaries. There are two camps when it comes to reading;the “I love turning real pages and holding a real book” people and the “ebooks are so much easier to use” group. You can make that call yourself but for the purpose of this post, I am in the “ebook” camp. By having the text on the iPad, students can easily bookmark multiple sections to refer back to instantly rather than dog-earing every second page of a borrowed book. Any highlighted text can also be saved and accessed, shared via Twitter ( for those with access) for others to access. Words can be looked up and marked via the built in dictionaries. Information or specific text  can be searched for within the text or outside the text via Wikipedia or the internet in general. This allows for quick access to resources that can enhance the comprehension of the text. Multiple shorter texts like PDF files can be accessed through Dropbox or GoogleDocs for all readers quickly instead of wasting photocopying and readers still have annotation tools available through dedicated PDF reading apps like GoodReader or Notability (my personal choices).

Discussion Director
Students can access key instructions on the role of the Discussion Director from attached files either within iBooks/Kindle/GoodReader or via

Coveritlive chapter discussion embedded in Edmodo

Edmodo. This access eliminates the excuse I have often received that the student wasn’t sure way to do. Discussion questions can be posted on Edmodo for teachers and other group members to access before the meeting. This gives them the opportunity to prepare for the questions rather than going in cold without knowing what to consider. It also provides the chance for teachers to support the Discussion Director in framing the questions for quality discussion prior to meeting to help ensure there is opportunity for real thinking rather than the students getting hit with yes/no questions.

Alternatively to Edmodo, students could use the iPad’s VoiceThread App to set up the questions for discussion. This gives options for video or audio responses for those who prefer that kind of response. The Coveritlive app  is another opportunity for multimedia discussion opportunities. Both of these options allow for participation by students who may be absent on the day of the discussion meeting. Of course, absent children could also participate in the meeting via Skype on the iPad. All of these options are of course available through other devices but the simplicity of access to them via the iPad makes it more conducive for the discussion to flow successfully.

Vocabulary Enricher (Word Wizard)
After highlighting the words or phrases in the text, the Vocab Enricher can use either the inbuilt dictionaries in the iBooks/Kindle text or any downloaded dictionary app on the iPad if he wants to copy/paste the information to present to the group. The student could take screenshots of the relevant highlighted pages and upload these to Edmodo for the others to see. This allows the students in the group to be prepared for the discussion by knowing which words will be referred to and will be able to highlight them in their own text beforehand. It means they can also read the words in the context on the page rather than just getting a list of words to think about. You would need to stress that they don’t rely on the dictionary as the purpose is to read in context first.

Cunning Connector
Using VoiceThread, Coveritlive, a shared Popplet or a GoogleDoc, the Connector could pre post the connections she made to a specific part of the text or provide a range of text sections the other students could connect to. Other students could add pictures or video/audio/text comments for a richer experience.By doing this collaboratively, the other group members could contribute to this role and build more connections than the initial Connector made. For me, this is where I would like Literature Circles to go – rather than individuals being assigned a role, everyone takes on multiple roles which then just become reading behaviours to use when reading any text at any time. All of the connections presented in the collaborative document would then be presented at the discussion meeting to be talked about further. At this point I’ll say that some could see this process of online participation is eliminating the need for the Literature Circle meeting. I don’t agree with that. From my experience last year, when I trialled this type of approached with a group on Edmodo, the collaboration online encouraged the children to be more prepared and at the meeting they were more tuned in because of the preparations beforehand. They had more to talk about rather than less. The connections were built upon through feedback which then made them make deeper connections. It allowed me as the teacher to participate and encourage the deeper thinking through making my own connections and asking the students questions.

Summariser
Creative options for more engaging summarising of the text could include Comic strip apps like Strip Designer and Comic Life, both of which can export to Camera Roll for easy importing to Edmodo. The Book Trailer option in iMovie could be a fun and inventive way to share a summary of a chapter. Of course, simple text based options through a basic posting on Edmodo ( others could add replies to improve the summary) or previously mentioned options like Voicethread and Popplet could again be used to summarise.

Having the digital text available at the reading stage also allows for highlighting key ideas as the Summariser reads. He can then go to the Highlighted text section in iBooks or Kindle to view all of his ideas together in a sequential order, thus making it a simpler task to summarise the text.

Literary Luminary
Like the Summariser, having the digital text available at the reading stage  allows for highlighting potential  sections of text as the Literary Luminary reads. She  can then go to the Highlighted text section in iBooks or Kindle to view all of her ideas and then select the one that stands out the most. The presentation of the idea can use the same options previously discussed.

courtesy of Evernote support page

Awesome Illustrator
Using any of the painting/drawing apps on the iPad, the illustrator can come up with a creative presentation here. Exporting the picture to Camera Roll and then to Skitch provides an opportunity for the Illustrator to add annotations like questions or highlighted components  to his artwork. This can be posted to Edmodo for the other group members to analyse in preparation for the discussion.

Travel Tracer
The Travel Tracer could organise the path of the story through a Popplet (or other mind mapping app)  or  a comic strip to present a more visual itinerary. If the book is related to actual locations, the tracer could plot the journey out on a GoogleMap using the MyMaps app. This app makes using Google Maps editing tools easier to use on the iPad than using the Internet version. The tracer can add pictures and text to the map explaining the journey taken during the story. If the map is shared with others, they can also make their own edits through the app.

Final Thoughts

Literature Circles don’t NEED iPads or other computers in order to be successful. I’m not arguing that. This is about enhancing the experience and appealing to the desire for children to engage in more creative ways to share their knowledge. For me, it addresses my concern that sometimes Literature Circle meetings have occurred without a lot of depth in preparation and discussion. Using Edmodo as the collaborative conduit between group members and teacher makes sense to me. It worked effectively last year as well. Adding the iPad as the one all-encompassing tool streamlines the process for me, despite the fact that nearly every suggestion I’ve made can be done successfully with alternatives (often cheaper). So what do you think? Good idea or overkill? Look forward to feedback.