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.

Alternative iPad Browsers with tricks Safari can’t do

Educational Flash web sites aside, the iPad is a great device for browsing the internet. At the heart of this is Apple’s flagship browser, Safari. Overall, Safari is a capable browser on the iPad but there is some functionality missing from the app when compared to its big brother on Macs. Fortunately, iOS has enough tricks available for third party apps to fill in the gaps that Safari for iPad doesn’t address.

Here are three alternative browsers that I use regularly to perform tasks I think are necessary for educational use and general use that I can’t do using Apple’s default browser.

iCab

This fabulous app has become my default browser on my iPad. It’s as quick as Safari, as consistent in rendering and loading websites as Safari and has all the functions of Safari. But it adds so much more.

The big winner for me with iCab is its ability to download videos, including from Youtube. It means you can download videos to watch offline, add to iMovie for editing and reuse in presentations. This is particularly useful in a school setting. It is as simple as touching the video and a popup command appears as shown here.

Once the video is downloaded, it can be added to the Photo Library on the iPad by going to the Downloads icon and saving to Library. From here is becomes accessible to any app that uses videos. UPDATE: Unfortunately, this feature has been removed on request from Apple. Apparently, it infringed on App guidelines. 

Another great feature of iCab is its multiple search engine access. It comes installed with the major search engines plus Wikipedia and IMDb. You can add your own search engines simply by going to your chosen site ( e.g. Creative Commons search) and adding it to the list in the Settings. When you go to the Search field, all of the available search engines are available for the user to choose, depending on the type of search needed.

A third feature that is useful in iCab is its sharing and downloading options. By default, all you can do in Safari is Tweet on Twitter, email and print.iCab spoils you with choices.

You can share to your linked Diigo, Delicious, Pinterest, Facebook or Stumbleupon accounts, add files and web pages to Evernote or save sites to your Google Reader, Instapaper or Readability accounts. You can also save PDFs straight to the Goodreader iPad app, convert simple text based webpages to epub or PDF ( not always reliable) and open up locations quickly in Googlemaps. You can also add Web Archives directly to Dropbox as well as take Screenshots and save to Photo album, the built in Downloads folder ( and then open in other apps), save to clipboard and then paste in apps or save to Dropbox. This makes iCab a very useful research tool on the iPad, far exceeding the capabilities of Safari. The only draw back is its $1.99AU price tag ( hardly a bank breaker!)

Diigo Browser

This is a great browser for annotating web sites during research. Through an unobtrusive floating toolbar on the side, you can access annotation tools that overlay the website currently open. Annotation tools include square, circle, arrows, straight and freehand lines, smudging and text tools. You can change the colours of each option.

When you have finished, you can crop the page and take a screenshot of the page, saving it to the photo album, email or Twitter.

Similar to iCab, Diigo browser also has a lot of sharing options not found in Safari, including Diigo ( strangely not as effective as the iCab Diigo tool ), Evernote, Tumbler, GoogleReader, Instapaper and ReaditLater as well as Twitter and Facebook. Combined with its annotation tools, this makes Diigo Browser an excellent research tool for students and teachers using an iPad ( there is also an iPhone/iPod Touch version.) Its free too.

Photon

The Photon Browser, is the best of a range of iPad browsers for accessing Flash Websites. While it is well publicised that iOS devices don’t support Flash websites, Photon does a fairly good job by accessing servers that stream Flash functionality back to your iPad. Because of this streaming method, the whole experience is a little delayed and at times choppy. Nevertheless, it does work in may cases. Videos work well, Flash games are reasonable and even some Web 2.0 tools used in schools are useable. I have tested Prezi, Voki and Glogster with Photon. Voki works quite well ( albeit a little slowly as I mentioned).Glogs can be viewed with full functionality and editing Glogs is possible but not easily. Prezis can also be edited but with some difficulty. Viewing is more enjoyable using the dedicated free iPad Prezi Viewer app, which also allows for some basic editing ( but not creating). I’ve also been able to view Flash based Wix websites created by teachers who use Wix for gamification in education.

To access Flash websites, click on the Lightning Bolt icon in the top right hand corner.
This begins the streaming session using the flash compatible servers the app connects to. When in “Flash” mode, the app provides a keyboard that works with Flash functionality ( you can switch to an alternative game keyboard for Flash games ) as well as different mouse like functions via dedicated buttons.

Beyond its Flash capabilities, Photon doesn’t provide anything to rival Safari as a general purpose browser. There are separate iPhone and iPad apps, meaning you have to purchase separately. The price itself is also an issue. (AU$5.49 iPad, $AU4.49 iPhone. Using AppShopper, I was able to take advantage of a drop in price to $0.99 in 2011). So you have to consider whether the cost is worth the good but not great Flash capabilities. Rover is a free browser that successfully accesses Flash educational sites ( many are natively linked to the app ) but doesn’t work very well with Web 2.0 tools and complex Flash websites in my experiences ( I have heard others have more success.)

For just a small investment you can turn your iPad into a more effective browser with some alternatives to Safari. You would like to think with its apparent dedication to education, apple would add some of these features to future Safari versions. In the meantime, try these three browsers out. There are a lot of other Browsers on the App Store. You might have tried others that have unique features useful for school. Feel free to leave a comment to let us know about more alternatives.

UPDATE: 26/7/2012 A couple of comments about how go get video from iCab to photo library. Hope this screenshot helps.

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My iPad – the “nearly a PC” for teaching

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Clearly from reading my blog, you can work out I love my iPad. Hopefully, you can also tell from reading my blog that I am also not a slavish “Apple Fanboy” who never finds fault with the product. Over the last year, I have been experimenting with the iPad extensively ( some would say obsessively) to see if I can completely do away with needing a laptop and relying exclusively on my ‘magical tablet’. As a teacher with ‘many hats to wear’, I rely on access to many computer dependent tools to complete my day to day responsibilities. What I have concluded is that if I was completely independent in carrying out my teaching, I would be almost laptop -free. Because I have to work within the constraints of a shared school environment, though, the iPad still had a little ways to go before it can completely replace my trusty MacBook Pro.

Assessment
Because of its portability and multimedia functionality, the iPad is a great tool for assessment that has streamlined the data collection process in many ways. As a busy teacher and parent, the iPad has given me mo opportunities to access and input data wherever I am ( even during my son’s weekly basketball training )I can take written, audio and photo notes within the same program, whether Notability, Evernote, TagPad or any other similar note taking app and have access to a range of data on a given student. Using ShowMe, Educreations, Explain Everything or ScreenChomp, I can get a student to visually show their thinking in a recorded format and keep that for later analysis. I can use the assessment tools on Edmodo‘s iPad app to mark Student’s submitted work and do text based annotations through the assignments annotation tools. I can record, sort and analyse assessment data on spreadsheets using Numbers or Office2 HD. I can access the school’s shared Google Docs Online Assessment tool and record comments and scores for students I teach. So using just my iPad I can function very effectively in terms of assessing students, however…………

The actual user experience of Google Docs spreadsheets on iPads is a pain and most teachers at my school would not put up with the glitchy workarounds I use to make the assessment spreadsheet we use on laptops workable on the iPad. Proprietary software like school reporting programs and on demand testing programs generally won’t work on an iPad without mirroring from another computer (which obviously means still needing the computer!). Spreadsheet apps have limitations that don’t recognize high end functions on Excel which means some spreadsheets become unusable if originally created on a Windows/Mac computer. Therefore, in terms of individualized assessment procedures that collect really useful data, the iPad can be a standalone tool. Sharing school resources? Not so much.

Accessing and saving Files at school
Proxy server issues with certain apps like Dropbox and Evernote aside, which apparently will disappear when a new system is commissioned next term, accessing, updating and saving files has not been an issue. I very rarely use my laptop to read, edit or create documents anymore, unless they were created with a program incompatible with iPads. The teachers I work with use a combination of Google Docs, Dropbox, Edmodo and our school network to save their documents, all of which are accessible through my iPad through the Internet, their own iPad app or through Filebrowser for network and photo library access. All the apps I use can access these options either through the Open in… function, syncing options or in the case of Apple’s iWork apps, through Dropbox/Googledocs access via Otixo’s webDAV service. The only app that is problematic is GarageBand, which I still have to use iTunes file sharing with. ( Email is a poor option as is YouTube or Facebook for primary school setting). While sometimes I have to perform digital gymnastics to access some files via two or three apps like Goodreader and Filebrowser, it works for me. I’m going to do a post soon on Filebrowser specifically, partly as a lesson for my staff but also to share its features. There is also the option of using sendtodropbox service for apps that only use email for exporting. I really like it. Therefore, in my experience in terms of accessing compatible files, I can virtually put my laptop away and rely on my iPad.

Creating and Presenting Content
Despite protests from some in the anti iPad blogosphere, the iPad is indeed a fine content creation tool. I get the complaints about the keyboard ( personal preference and typing skill dependent) and the switching between screen issues ( I admit this bugs me) but that aside I think the complaints come down to what field of content creation you are in and how text typing dependent it is.
For me I can create everything I need to support my teaching on my iPad.
Attractive multimedia heavy documents and presentations are easily created through publishing apps like Pages, Keynote, ComicLife, Strip Designer, SonicPics, iDraw, Explain Everything et al, iMovie, GarageBand .. The list goes on.
PDF annotation of texts for class note taking can take place using PDF apps like GoodReader or iBooks on an interactive whiteboard or projector/TV. Books for sharing can be created using Book Creator or Creative Book Builder. Lesson content and collaboration can be covered with the Edmodo app or Coveritlive.

The biggest omission on the surface is the lack of compatibility with interactive whiteboard software such as ActiveInspire on Promethean Whiteboards. A plugged in iPad does not interact with the boards like laptops do because the touch based driver doesn’t support iPads ( any chance in future Promethean et al?). If I want to create flip charts, I still need my laptop to run ActiveInspire, however….

There are iPad based options with and without laptop. AppleTV is one solution. No computer required, but an expensive option if you need one for each whiteboard in your school. A relatively recent and cheap solution is the use of AirPlay compatible software that turns your Mac or PC into an AppleTV solution. Reflection and AirServer (PC and Mac) allow flexible projection of iPad screens onto the whiteboard through a connected laptop, including audio, all wirelessly. OS 10.8 for Mac ( Mountain Lion) will have the feature built in. With this feature, all the functionality of all the apps on the iPad appear on the whiteboard’s screen, giving it far more interactive possibilities
than a pen that has to touch the screen. Multiple iPad screens can be projected side by side for student sharing of their iPads. This could cut the cost of buying interactive whiteboards altogether and replace them with iPads and cheaper projectors and screens. The other option is using Splashtop Whiteboard (price has gone up since I bought it) to control the laptop screen through the iPad.

Of course the other elephant in the room in terms of sharing content with the iPad is the whole Flash issue. It’s not going away yet and I have covered this issue in an earlier blogpost this year. You can read that here to get my view on that. At this stage, yes I still need laptop access for some flash based web tools ( but I can use the school’s computers for that and leave mine home. )

In finishing, the question remains – How close to replacing a laptop with my iPad in my work environment am I ? ( I stress my environment because it is not feasible for all ). Not completely yet. And some of the workarounds I pull out to make some of the above possible is too much of a pain for less resourceful people. There are many days, though, that my laptop does remain in my bag untouched for the whole day. If I get AirServer installed on our school laptops connected to the whiteboards (at the moment I rely on my own ) , my laptop will barely see the light of day at school.
I’m not abandoning the Mac platform. There are tasks I would always prefer to do on my Macs. I just want to carry less around at school and if the iPad can be relied upon all day until I get home to my Macs, I’ll be happy. It’s close to fruition.

Obviously the solution is not for everyone and I would be interested to hear from others about their iPad experiences. Join the conversation.

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School iPad Program – not as easy as I thought!

One term into the official launch of our iPad program, I thought it would be opportune to reflect on the successes, failures and everything in between. I have to admit, as a self professed, but not certified, iPad/Mac “expert” and ‘All Things Apple’ zealot, things haven’t gone as smoothly as I’d hoped. I would like to blame it all on our proxy server, but I suspect Apple has something to do with it too.

THE SETUP

I set up our iPads before Apple’s Configurator software for managing iPads came out. Regardless, the initial set up was pretty smooth. I set up the base iPad configuration on a targeted iPad and backed it up to my dedicated Mac Mini iPad machine. (Last year, when we trialled a small set of iPads with teachers, I was stuck using an Acer PC Laptop. Windows + iTunes + iPad ≠ smooth management. I strongly argued for a lone Mac to maintain my sanity in dealing with our iPad setup this year.) I set up all the apps in designated purpose built folders, created the school network connection, connected to iCloud, configured the network app FileBrowser to connect to our school network so we could access files and thought everything was ready to go.

In the main it was fine. I set up each of the remaining 34 iPads from the backed up iPad configuration using a 7 port USB hub. I know you can sync more than that with the Mac, but the 7 port hub was bought last year to work with the Windows ‘solution’ ( I was lucky to get 3 connected at one time!) and I never got around to buying a bigger one for this year. In the end, the delay in waiting for the Restores to finish before I could start the next installation meant having 16 plugged in would have meant a lot of waiting anyway. The whole set up took about 2 days to finish and was pretty painless; I had one error on one iPad that I had to reinstall but other than that each iPad’s installation went flawlessly if not a little long in duration but that was because I installed too many apps (more on that later). About a week later, Apple’s Configurator was released. ( missed it by that much!)

The hassles came in the weeks to follow. Due to a lack of forward thinking on my own behalf, there were several configuration set ups I didn’t think to do on the base iPad “image”. It was only when the iPads started being used and teachers and students wanted to email documents that I realised that I had not set up an email account on the iPads. Orginally I hadn’t considered it because of the perceived hassle of everyone wanting to use their own email on a shared iPad. That wasn’t going to work. However, we still needed a system to email work in apps that didn’t support other solutions. In the end, I set up a dedicated account in our school internet-based mail system just for the iPad ( with my account as the forwarding address in case inappropriate mail was being received) so that anyone could SEND emails to their own accounts to be opened on other computers. I also soon realised that I had inadvertently set up the FileBrowser app’s network access and the Edmodo app under my name so that any user on any iPad was logged in as me! All these settings had to be individually changed to fix that obvious security hole. Fortunately, I solved this quickly through the use of my newly appointed Student ICT Leadership team who spent an hour with me changing all the settings. Before you worry about the handing over of responsibility to students, none of this required providing sensitive information to them. I actually recommend training up a small group of students to help with non-critical management that doesn’t need passwords or the like – they’re easier to train than most adults as long as they are trustworthy, which mine are under supervision. They have also helped me with setting up numbered wallpapers for better identification, folder creation and maintenance and other simple management tasks.

MAINTAINING THE SETUP

The next issue to arise is the updating and installing of new apps and system updates. Originally, I had set up the iPads to sync and update wirelessly so that I wouldn’t have to manage that constantly. Unfortunately, I found this too be less than ideal for a number of reasons.

I’m not sure if it was because of our proxy server being mean to iTunes, the wifi being overloaded and inconsistent or a combination of both but I could never get the iPads to consistently sync. Some iPads would end up with newly purchased apps automatically installed while others wouldn’t. Some iPads would backup and update apps while others would deliver error messages to iTunes. Often, someone would open up an iPad to use an app they had previously used to find it in a longstanding waiting to update state, rendering it unusable. Then the emails from the Office complaining about the bills for exceeding our monthly downloads started coming. So I went back to physically connecting the iPads to iTunes and manually syncing for app updates and loading of new apps. This has proved to be less problematic and allowed me to keep all the iPads consistent in setup.

Having said that, with the number of apps I have loaded on iTunes , the download limit for the school is still being exceeded and I’ve resorted to taking an iPad home and updating there with my unlimited iTunes download account and then syncing the updated apps back to the Mac Mini at school. This is clearly not a viable long term solution as I won’t be around at the school forever and my home account can be relied upon as a management system. My ICT leader just informed me this week that the download cap issue is being fixed so that is one problem solved for us but is still a consideration for others to deal with .

Just as frustratingly problematic has been upgrading the iOS system software. As soon as I had set up all the iPads at the start of the year and rolled them out for use , the 5.1 update was released. Sometimes in schools, upgrade cycles are delayed because the benefits of upgrades are outweighed by the hassles of interrupting the workflow of others when dealing with a large scale deployment of devices. From personal experience, though, upgrading iOS was a walk in the park so I decided to do the upgrade straight away. Apple’s own upgraded apps wouldn’t work without the update anyway.

Well, again, not sure if it was proxy problems or trying to manage too many devices from a single computer but it wasn’t smooth sailing. Waiting for each iPad to install, load and restart before the next update cycle for the next iPad could begin meant a lot of wait time. iPad management is not my full time job so this was a time issue that could effect teachers in other schools who also become the iPad person. Occasionally updates would fail and you would have to start again. Once or twice, I’ve discovered one or two iPads in a set not up to date. For some reason, again possibly the proxy server problem, I couldn’t update wirelessly so I’ve just taken them home to run the update. As I mentioned earlier, I haven’t used Apple Configurator software yet because I haven’t had the chance to interrupt the workflow of iPad use to reconfigure the whole set up. Reading some reviews, it seems to be a good solution so will see how that goes at end of year when I reimage and set up for 2013.

GENERAL USAGE
Once all the setup hassles have been tackled, I can at least report the general day to day usage has run smoothly. In our case, all the iPads are centrally stored in one locked cupboard in my office. I set up a borrowing system on GoogleDocs that the teachers use to book out sets of iPads for timetabled sessions. We have five sets of 7 iPads in transportable kits. Instead of spending money on expensive sync carts, we decided to buy dish washing racks from the local hardware store and attached a powerboard to each rack. The iPads fit snugly in the racks and can be easily carried from office to classrooms. There are teachers who don’t like the hassle of “collect and return” but for charging, syncing and security reasons, we want all the iPads in a central locations at the end of the day. Each iPad is also assigned to an individual teacher so they can take one overnight or on weekends to explore. They have to sign an ipad agreement before this happens to ensure due care is taken. There have been occasional care issues with the return of the sets. It would be nice to see teachers take the extra 5 minutes to ensure the cables aren’t tangled or crossed over and the iPads are put neatly back in the racks.

There was a suggestion that the iPads should be available to only the junior grades since the senior grades had access to so much technology and the juniors didn’t but I pushed for a trial period of P-6 access. I didn’t want the situation of 35 iPads sitting idle waiting for the juniors to use them while the older children were hanging out for a chance to get their hands on them for valid reasons. As it stands, everyone is using them fairly consistently and there are still days when some sets don’t see the light of day. More training sessions are needed to showcase their potential use, Once that happens more frequently ( report writing time has delayed that in recent weeks ) I’m sure we’ll see empty cupboards.

FINAL THOUGHTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
After reading this you could either be doubting my supposed credentials as an iPad blogger or hesitating to tackle large scale deployment of iPads. Hopefully you won’t do either of those. Despite the hassles, the general experience has been a good one. My biggest mistake has been trying to do it all on my own. As a lifelong Apple user, I’m used to working out issues by myself but on a big scale you need support. Have a look at Configurator in the Mac App Store. Call Apple. Talk to others in the same situation.

Plan. Have a clear plan for what you want on each iPad. Make sure you know what you want in terms of network settings, mail settings, apps, restrictions and so on before you set up the iPad image you want to use. Think about how you are going to manage the upkeep long term and have an organized plan for that. Do your research. Make sure you have all infrastructure in place that can manage your plan effectively. Know what your school’s Internet usage is. Know how your security setting like proxies are and how they may affect your plan. ( ICT leader has just met with new Education Office expert who informs us that new system coming will solve the proxy problems we have – double Yay!!) Know your budget and for those outside USA, know that the Volume Purchasing Program is on its way and we will need to be stricter on our app purchasing and deployment.
Plan.

I would love to hear from others their success stories and frustrations. This time two years ago the iPad was just a personal media device intended for individual use. In a very short time it has become a must have educational tool without a perfect system to make it happen. It’s no that simple yet.

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Hands On Maths with the iPad

Earlier in the year, I wrote a couple of posts on the iPad and Maths Apps. I questioned whether there were apps out there that went beyond number facts drills and calculation games. One of my readers of those posts, Melissa,  let me know about a group of apps called Hands on Maths. This set of apps provide a range of digital versions of hands on manipulative tools that are needed to develop important Mathematics concepts and skills. I am in no way suggesting that they replace the physical tools entirely but they do provide always available, easy to manipulate tools that are linked to independent investigations generated by the app itself.

These apps include digital versions of geoboards, counting charts, Base 10 blocks, attribute blocks, fraction strips, grids, coloured tiles, abacuses and other maniuatives that support the development of basic number and spatial concepts.They would be particularly useful in supporting individual and small group learning plans for students who need visual aids and teacher aide intervention. Each app is customisable and allows for different skill levels and different types of tasks within the same app through a simple user interface. The settings are changed through the “cog” icon, the activities are accessed via the arrow icon and there is a home button to return to the beginning. There is also a tutorial included to explain the use of each app.

What follows is a brief overview of some of the Hands On MAths apps available on the iPad used on how I have used them. For a more expensive look at the apps before purchasing them ( each app is $1.99 AU or the equivalent in your country) the company Ventura Educational Systems has an excellent website providing detailed information about all their apps, including downloadable PDF instruction guides. I wish other app creators would provide this much information about their apps so that you could make informed decisions about purchasing.

BASE 10 BLOCKS

 Hands On Maths:Base 10 Blocks is a virtual mamipuative app that allows you to explore both whole number and decimal place value using the familiar base ten blocks, known in some countries as MAB. It also allows for addition and subtraction of numbers with and without regrouping. It is limited to 3 digit numbers from 100s through to hundredths. It works through simple dragging and dropping of block into a work space and the values are automatically generated as you build the numbers. A useful feature is built in that allows for groups of smaller values to automatically transfer into the higher value accompanied by an arrow that shows where the values transfer to. ( e.g when you make 12 tens in the tens place, it will change 10 tens into a hundred and leave the remaining 2 tens intact). this works in the decimal format as well. As I said in the introduction, I’m not suggesting we do away with the physical block usage as many younger mathematicians in training need to manipulate physical models. Where digital virtual manipulative excel is in instant feedback, quick turnaround of use, instant access and reuse and unlimited resources ( we often run short of blocks in whole class settings). Together with discussion with a teacher on a one to one or small group basis while manipulating the virtual blocks, I see this as a good tool for working with at risk students. I like that the app allows for the use of decimal place value as well, even though here is a school of thought that we should use different models for decimal place value. Me personally, I like to maintain the link between the base 10 system across whole and decimal numbers to show the consistent relationship.

INTERACTIVE HUNDREDS  CHART

The Hands On Maths Interactive Hundreds Chart is a counting board which you can set up starting from 0 or 1 and use to investigate, explore and discover number patterns and sequences. Users can mark out multiple counting sequences using different tools including crosses, ticks, circles and squares( transparent, opaque and solid) of different colours. Using these tools, students can discover patterns, common factors and multiples, predict the next few numbers in the sequence by studying the pattern show so far. They can create their own or follow sequences given by the teacher or other students. Used effectively, much discussion can be generated about number sequences as a precursor  to Algebraic patterns through visual representation. Again the advantage of the digital tool is the quick turnaround in exploring patterns and the instant reuse of the board.

INTERACTIVE COLOUR TILES

Hands On Maths Color Tiles has a huge range of options for developing important Mathematical concepts. The tiles can be used to create arrays for exploring multiplication and division. Addition and subtraction can be explored by adding or subtracting tiles by dragging on or off the workspace. These operations mentioned are supported by a built in pad that supports the calculations being done with the tiles. This pad can be customised to show fractional. decimal and percentage proportions of tiles on the workspace as well. There are also built in grids that can be used to support calculations or be used as graphs or co-ordinates. Symmetry can also be explored through symmetrical grids that create duplicate reflections vertically, horizontally or both as you place tiles on the grid. By exploring this app you will find more and more applications for the range of tools it provides. Read the PDF guide that is available on the website listed above. It gives further ideas. The moe I explore it the better opinion I form on this app. Check it out.

OTHER NUMBER BASED APPS AVAILABLE IN THE RANGE

There are a number of other apps in the Hands On Maths Range that address number concepts. I’ll provide the links here and direct you again to the company’s website so you can check out for yourself what these apps offer.

Number Sense provides ways for exploring whole numbers, fractions and decimals

Number Balance can support the introduction and development of equality, equations and algebraic thinking by providing a balance tool that enables you to crate equations that equal different value combinations on either side.

Tangle Tables and Multiplication Toolkit both give many opportunities to explore basic multiplication concepts in a hands on, concrete way.

Hands On Maths also has a number of apps that support the teaching of geometry and other spatial concepts. I’ll discuss them in a later post.

When I first discovered these apps, I thought they were nice little activities for the juniors to explore. As I explore them deeper, though I can see their applications in higher grades as well, used creatively and in context. In tutoring middle/high school children on the side, I get frustrated by the lack of hands on explorations of concepts by teachers in these schools. I can see a place for some of these apps in the right  context.  I recommend that certainly elementary/primary school teachers give these apps a go. Even if you don’t buy them, check out the company’s website ( I have absolutely no affiliation with them – I just discovered the site today file researching for this post). You might find some great applications for using the real versions of these virtual manipulatives that you can use to improve your maths teaching.

 

The iPad and Maths – Are we there yet? Pt 2 (non Math apps do the job?)

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Can ubergeeks like me find Mathematical applications in the non Maths apps on the iPad? Skitch app and Leaning Tower of Pisa meets angle measuring

My last post focused on the state of apps related to Numeracy education and concluded that the iPad has a fair way to go in how it is being utilized to develop number skills through the current crop of Maths applications. On the whole, there are too many apps focused on rote learning and simple number facts and equations. Having said that, I actually believe the iPad has much to offer teachers and students in Mathematics. However, don’t go looking for the apps in the Education section of the App Store.

I’ve always been a big proponent of making Maths real in the classroom. Yes, every teacher out there wants to make Maths interesting and relevant for their students but sometimes this just comes in the form of “Real life Maths” textbook problems. The danger of Apple’s foray into textbooks on iPads is that we will continue to get the traditional textbook experience with the bells and whistles of interactivity and ‘magic tablet dust.’ The good news from my perspective is that the iPad already is ready to replace textbooks and make Maths an engaging real world experience. What it takes of course, as I have been pushing in this blog since its inception, is quality teaching practice coupled with great, easily accessible technology. And it comes not from Maths apps but the already available, successful apps across all walks of life in the App Store.

Screencasting/Whiteboard apps
Whether you choose Explain Everything, ShowMe, Educreations or ScreenChomp (depending on price, features or usability), using these apps to record children’s learning is a killer feature of the iPad for me. Yes, we can sit them in front of Khan Academy or YouTube and get them to watch someone else teach them how to do Maths but any good educator knows that students learn more by participating in the teaching and learning process rather than being passive receptors of information. With these apps, children can record visually and with audio the strategies they use to solve equations, real problems, geometric tasks, statistics, virtually any Maths task and share with others in the classroom.

If you are lucky enough to have access to an AppleTV and a full set of iPads, the whole class can switch from one student’s iPad screen to another to participate in an engaging real time discussion without waiting for their turn on the interactive whiteboard. Their recordings can be saved and posted to blogs or other online options to share with outside audiences, with possibilities of feedback or collaboration.

This kind of use of the iPad would do far more for developing deep understanding and granting access to authentic assessment than any textbook. It would also encourage the less confident students to share their knowledge without getting up in front of the class. You could just watch their recordings and comment later.

Drawing Apps
Doodle Buddy is a popular app already being used by many students for a variety of reasons. It has many possibilities in the Maths Classroom. Younger students can create pictographs by using the stamp tools to record their survey results. It can then be used to develop more “mathematical” visual representations by drawing around those pictures to make column graphs. The app comes with special backgrounds, one of which is a dot grid. Students could use this to draw paths following directions, create shapes and angles and use it to create line graphs as well.

A more complex drawing app is iDraw. This application can be used for shape exploration using its tools to create transformations through rotations, reflections and resizing. Scale concepts can be introduced and area and perimeter explored through drawing plans of houses, gardens, playgrounds and the like.

iDraw

Further engagement could take place through a specific house design app called Home Design HD, which not only gives you a wide range of tools for precision drawing and measuring of house plans but also converts the plans into 3D models.

With the Skitch app, students can import pictures then use annotation tools to divide them into grids to make arrays, plot a path on a map screenshot, annotate graphs, draw angles on an image then measure with a real protractor. They can use this for real trigonometry problems instead of detached examples from textbooks.

Video Apps
Children can become engaged in sharing their Maths understanding by making learning videos with iMovie, recording entire lessons with concrete materials as support for presenting what they have learnt.

iMotion HD is a time lapse/stop motion animation app that could be used to record shape transformations made with real materials then played back and slowed down to discuss the transformations as they happen. Time lapse photography with this app could be used to record experiments related to measurement and time relationships then played back at different speeds to explore how long it took for ice to melt, for food to cook or a snail to travel over a certain distance. Possibilities are endless for authentic learning here.

Navigation Apps
Imagine exploring average speeds by looking over the results of a car trip, run or walk recorded with an app like MotionX GPS. The app can present its findings in graphs showing distances, elevations, speeds and maps (with wifi). By looking at the break up of the distances travelled and the time taken, engaging authentic discussions can take place about what caused the fluctuations in times taken to travel certain distances, differences in elevations and how that affected the journey, all real life applications of Maths. At a simpler level pedometer apps can be used just to track distances and times on shorter walks around the school to support earlier estimations of distances/lengths

Other Measuring Apps
The Theodolite app mimics the function of a real theodolite and can be used for real angle readings to determine the height or distance away from an object. Just like my earlier Skitch example, this could be use for practical applications for geometry and trigonometry that written problems in a textbook can’t compete with.

Clinometer, Gigantic Compass, Multi Protractor and the Best Ruler are tools that can replace traditional tools for measuring angles, directions and lengths while also providing quick reference to real numbers that can be used for relevant equations. Clock Pro HD provides a range of time recording tools that can be used for many tasks in a creative Maths environment. There are a range of conversion apps that can be used to support work in measurement tasks.

Wolfram Alpha is a workhorse app (Google on steroids)  that can do just about everything in Mathematics information that will support  all areas of Maths. Just read the description on the store to find out more. Here’s a detailed review from YouTube

Cat Physics

Games
Use physics based games like Angry Birds (does anyone need a link for this!?!), Cat Physics, PocketTanks and Super Stickman Golf to explore the use of angles then apply them to the creation of real life models. YouTube already has examples of Angry Birds Physics lessons here. The beauty of Cat Physics is that it shows the path after completing each level so you can actually measure the angle you used and then try out the real model you build. Pocket Tanks actually gives you the angle you are using. Playing these games can inspire students to test out other real applications for angles like golf club design, ramps, pinball machines, mini golf courses and so on.

Yahtzee, Monopoly and Solitaire games all have great possibilities for developing number concepts. There are also dedicated dice and decision making apps like DiceBag, Wheel of Chance and Undecided that can be used to enhanced Probability lessons.

Maths is all pervasive in our lives. So are iOS devices, be they iPods, iPhones or iPads. All it takes for the iPad to become an essential tool in the Maths Curriculum is creativity in finding Maths in our daily lives and using the related apps available. So while I bemoaned the lack of creativity in Numeracy related apps in my last post, I finish this entry confident and excited about how the iPad can make Mathematics an exciting experience for students across all grade levels. A lot of what I have mentioned here may not be staring at you in the face when you look at your country’s Curriculum standards or national standardised tests. But I don’t mind that. Get kids doing real maths, make the links to what the Education Departments want and it will all take care of itself. Be brave, but above all, be creative and real.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of apps or ideas. I would like to hear from others how they have used apps in Maths lessons. I haven’t mentioned spreadsheet/graph making apps like Numbers or Office like apps because we’ve been using them for years. I’m looking for something new.

Are iPads cybersafe enough for school?

As Internet use has exploded over the last decade, the biggest issue for education has been how to protect our children from the evils of the Web. And for the most part it has been well meaning and justified. We’ve always battled with bullying issues at school but it’s been taken to a new level with the Facebook/SMS generation and their out of hours cyber bullying. Stranger Danger and neighborhood safe houses can’t protect Emily from her online ‘friend’ who later turns out to be Bill, a 50 year old pervert with a pigtail fetish. We used to send the kids to bed when their was an “interesting foreign film” on TV. Now they can see far worse on any website with more Xs in their title than XeroX! Protecting the innocent is a lot harder than when I started teaching pre-Internet.

To combat this, schools had to resort to proxies, filters and monitoring software. It stopped the kids from seeing the bad stuff, wasting their time on the stupid stuff and allowed ICT co-ordinators like me to check whether Johnny was wasting valuable school bandwidth searching for shooting games to play during wet day programs.

Then along came the iPad. Completely new system designed for personal consumer usage. Through the power of coolness, the magic of Apple and that damned usability factor that made it so necessary, this truly personal tool has made its way into the multiuser, sharing world of the school. Does it play by the rules of what protective schools want? Without spending a fortune on new systems, can we trust the iPad to be a cybersafe computer?

I’ll be upfront here. In my previous posts, I’ve spoken with some authority as an expert iPad user and contemporary tech teacher of the 21st century. In this area, I’m asking as many questions as answering them. I’m asking for some help on this because I haven’t found all the answers ( and neither has our IT guy). So I’m just going to be bringing up what I see as issues, what I think about them, suggesting some ideas and sharing some possible solutions I’ve found with the little research I’ve done so far.

Proxy servers and iOS.
My great dilemma at the moment. As a former school Internet administrator, I get why we need a proxy server. Sites need blocking and monitoring. We need to protect the young kids from surprise viewing of inappropriate sites. We also need to stop older students from trying to find those same sites. Some educators and IT guys blogging on the net want to get rid of proxies. To makes life difficult sometimes. I’m not one of them. But it makes life with iPads a pain. Safari and Mail talk to proxies through iOS settings fine. Blocked sites are still blocked. Monitoring still work. Pre iOS 5, no apps worked with Internet. With iOS, most proxy issues were resolved – with one very major omission for us anyway. Dropbox. Download yes. Upload a big no. Importing into other apps yes. Exporting from other apps to Dropbox no. You get the picture. It makes for a half solution to the whole file management/sharing issue I’ve discussed earlier.

Now if you can live with that and find other solutions to Dropbox, life with iPads continue happily and you can skip this. If like a lot of schools I know, you want Dropbox, you have two options. Difficult workarounds that I’m not familiar with and would really like some help in ( HINT:really need the help if you have solved the Dropbox/proxy issue – PC server, not Mac unfortunately). The other solution is to bypass the proxy. Bypassing the proxy though, then opens up the Internet and disables all that monitoring/ filtering software that has made us feel comfortable with letting the students roam freely online all these years.

No proxy – what now?

Use the iPad but not the Internet.

Definitely an option. There’s a lot more to the iPad than internet browsing. If you focus on iPads in Junior Grades, use the wide range of reading, word study, story writing, or AV Recording apps and leave the Internet alone. Alternatively there are dedicated browser apps with built in web filtering designed to block sites that are deemed inappropriate. K9 Browser(Free) is a good solution if you want students to use the internet safely. You can disable Safari in the Restrictions settings and use K9 instead. It is however, too limiting for older students. There is also the problem of disabling mail links since they only work with Safari.

Teach responsible Digital Citizenship
You can look are the lack of internet security ( related to monitoring/blocking sites ) as a great teaching opportunity. There are many educators in the blogosphere that believe instead of blocking and limiting access to the Internet we should be developing an understanding of what is safe, responsible use of the internet. Often, the children are left unsupervised at home online, viewing anything they find, writing and uploading anything they want to on Facebook and YouTube. We may be the only resource available to them who can guide them to think about what is appropriate behavior. We can be there for them when they find something unacceptable and turn that into a teaching moment. We can show them better alternatives available to replace their unacceptable choices. So an unmonitored, unfiltered iPad isnt an issue in this world of openness and digital citizenship building. I agree with this in principle but am unconvinced everyone can handle the possible problems that arise.

iPad monitoring software is available
There are software options available that can replace the functions of the proxy server while still allowing the iPad to fully function with all Internet reliant apps. I haven’t used them but list them here for you to investigate yourself. The biggest issue for me is it becomes an extra cost and another program to monitor. In the end it just may not be worth the effort and price.

So where does this leave us?
If you are required to maintain a proxy server, are happy with using Safari and Mail for Internet based file sharing, , accept that some apps that sync with the Internet won’t be 100% functional and are more interested in the other uses of the iPad besides websurfing, then there is no real issue.

If you don’t wan’t to compromise, take the risk of bypassing proxies or maybe stick with laptops. The iPad can’t do everything, wasn’t designed to do everything. What it does, it does brilliantly. As an Internet device in the consumer world it’s a winner (Flash limitations aside). As an Internet connected device in a school setting, it has its limitations. Decide what you want. Do you think the iPad is cybersafe enough? Have I over reacted? Are there solutions I’m unaware of? Does it really matter? Comments welcome.

Can you share iPads – the case for Yes.

PART TWO – the case FOR Sharing
In my last post, I sort of positioned myself in the “iPads can’t be shared” camp. When the boss first asked me about the possibility of getting iPads into our school, one of my first concerns was ‘ for sharing or individual use’. As teachers trialled them last year, they passed them among some eager students and came to the belief it was fine to share them with children who wanted to use them. Everyone has different opinions on the matter. Depends on how much you believe the kids could or should use the iPad. Reality in our situation though is that we are not going 1:1 so sharing is the only option. That being the case, we have to find solutions to the problems I discussed in the previous post.

Dropbox
This is the most obvious and best solution. For those who don’t know, Dropbox is a cloud based network with dedicated mobile and desktop apps that make saving files as simple as saving to a standard file folder. If you want more info, look it up.
With the Dropbox app installed on an iPad, children and teachers are able to save their work from many ( but far from all ) apps and if there is a compatible app on a computer, open it up there as well. Dropbox integration is available in most publishing apps (Pages, Numbers and Keynote being big exceptions) and a lot of other content creation and file sharing/reading apps. You can save attachments from your mail, the internet and other apps as well.

In some apps, like Notability, my favourite note taking app, even have automatic syncing to Dropbox. In my personal use, Dropbox has been a great way of accessing saved files. It is definitely a way of saving and opening files outside of the iPad file system.

However, there still are issues using Dropbox to support shared iPads. The hassle of having to login and log out of the Dropbox app every time a different user wants to access files could make it difficult for easy use. Some students and teachers may forget to do this and save their work in someone else’s folder. The fact that not all apps have Dropbox integration results in inconsistent access. The biggest problem at our school is that Dropbox doesn’t fully function over a proxy server setup that most schools in my system use. You can download your files but you can’t save to Dropbox. I’ve heard some schools have found workarounds to this but we haven’t solved it yet.

So is Dropbox a solution to sharing apps? Sort of – yes.

Googledocs.
Another possibility for sharing is Googledocs. Many publishing apps have Googledocs integration so files can be accessed and saved in the same way as I described in the Dropbox explanation. Same problems arise as well. So again, Googledocs is a “sort of – yes” solution.

Network accessing apps
There are a number of apps that allow you to access the file structures of our computers or network servers. my favorite app, and the one I use successfully is called FileBrowser. It allows me to login to the school network and my computers at home and access any files that the iPad can open. With compatible apps, you can also copy files back into the file system. When it’s possible, it’s a good solution. However, like all of these options, not every app allows you to use Filebrowser to save back, although you can pretty much always open files already in FileBrowser in any app ( except Apple’s own apps like Pages.)

iCloud
No. Least useful option. Good for syncing between personal iOS devices but that’s it. Apple has to do better here. At least integrate Dropbox with your apps. Feel free to disagree.

Email
20120123-195115.jpgMost fiddly but most reliable sharing option. Every content creation app has an email option. As long as your school allows children to email, this will work. It’s just a lot of steps to get access to a file. Having said that, five years ago, it’s what we all did.

Printing
Not quite sharing but obviously a way to hand completed work to someone so you don’t have to keep the file on the iPad. Printing difficulty is another of the criticisms of the iPad which I’m not going to argue about now. It can be done. While there are ridiculously few AirPrint compatible printers currently in schools, my advice is get one Mac on the network ( if you’re getting iPads I strongly advise having a Mac a your syncing computer; Windows and iTunes have a testy relationship at best) and spend $20 bucks on installing Printopia ( click for info). I’ve used it at our school without any problems.

My final solution – don’t care.
Seriously, if you just want to share the iPads and not worry about who’s accessing what, then there is no problem to begin with. If you decide that the iPad will  not be the main content creation device at your school and will be used for specific purposes it best suits, then it’s not an issue. At our school, where the 5/6 students have access to about 100 laptops and desktop computers, the iPads can exist happily as a specific use device.

However, if you are seriously considering iPads as replacements for shared computers and not value added devices, you will need to consider the issues I have raised. Can you share iPads? Sort of. It’s not my ideal setup but it’s something I’m going to have to come to terms with in my current situation (and get that Dropbox issue resolved!).

Again, I would like to hear from others who have successfully shared iPads in their school environment or others who have solved their sharing problems with solutions I have mentioned or ones I haven’t.

 

Web 2.0 = iPad fail?

One of the biggest moves we made in the 5/6 level last year was the integration of “Web 2.0” tools into our teaching and learning practices. Many of the tools entered the classroom psyche through tech savvy students bringing in presentations made at home that wowed adult and child alike. Other tools were introduced by teachers after discovering them on the Net themselves or through my recommendations on our Edmodo page.

Once the students were introduced to them, the ‘digital natives’ took them on board and before we had a chance to ‘check the site policies’, we had projects presented through Glogster, Xtranormal, Prezi, YouTube as well as iMovies from the “Mac Kids”. And the quality and depth of their work was outstanding and engaging! So the last thing we want to do is take these tools away ( although once the dust settled and I had the chance to check the site policies, some of these tools were supposed to be out of bounds for our “Under 13s”. This is something we will have to deal with this year with some deft policy/user agreement and parent permission note writing!)

Which once again brings us to Part 2 of “Do we NEED iPads?” titled “Web 2.0=iPad Fail?”.

Probably the single biggest criticism of the iPad since its birth has been its inability to work with Adobe’s Flash technology. So many interactive websites use it for their animation, video and content creation tools. While a new standard known as HTML5 is slowly being embraced on many major sites like YouTube and many big news websites so iOS users don’t miss out, in the Education Website world which we live in, Flash dominates. Javascript is also an issue.

The problem is that so many sites that the children started using last year for their projects and presentations DON’T work on the iPad. Glogster? Useless. Prezi? No go ( the iPad has a Prezi viewer app but students need to create them first ). Xtranormal? Nope. On top of that, popular sites like NLMV for Math Manipulatives and Jenny Eather’s Maths Dictionary for Kids are also non-functional on an iPad because of Flash and Javascript incompatibilities. Lots of sites the students find with Google for research or online Maths and Literacy games end up having a ton of Flash based animations that bring up blank pages and expressions when visited on iOS devices.Even sites that just offer file uploading options don’t work with the iOS file system.  It might be OK for Steve Jobs RIP and my fellow Apple disciples  to tell us “Flash Sucks” and they hardly notice it missing in their world but in the educational world, it is quite pervasive.

That being the case then, is the iPad too crippled a device to invest in when so much of what is on the WWW for education is out of reach? Short answer – No. Long Answer – No with a bit of Yes and Maybe thrown in the mix.

What the iPad lacks in Web 2.0 access it easily makes up in alternatives through its Apps. To begin with, some Web 2.0 tools have now released their on iPad apps so that they can be used anyway. VoiceThread is a good example of this; Popplet and Coveritlive are others. Any unqualified to speak, anti-iPad blogger who is still pushing the “iPad is for media consumption, not creation” line is completely unaware of the huge array of apps that children can use for content creation. Apple’s own iWork apps ( Pages, Numbers, Keynote) as well as iMovie and Garageband are great, easy to use tools that produce fantastic results for students. There are now ebook creating apps like Book Creator, Demi Books Composer,and Creative Book Builder and other creative options like StoryPatch that make great books for others to explore. Creative visual story/animation/comic apps abound that give children great scope in presenting their learning. Try out some of the following:

ToonTastic  SockPuppets  iStopMotion ( yes its on the iPad)  iMotion HD  Animation Desk
PhotoPuppets  Comic Life  Strip Designer  ScrapPad

Then there are the photo editing apps like Snapseed, Iris and Pixlromatic that are so easy to use and produce great results and Screencasting apps like ShowMe and Explain Everything that can be use to demonstrate their learning in so many ways. Not to mention all the Maths and Literacy apps that easily match the stuff on the Flash Web.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the Web apps like Glogster, Prezi and Xtranormal. So do the students. I want them to use them. Eventually, many of them will convert from Flash to HTML5. Rumour has it that Glogster is close to doing so. Others will follow. We hope.
From what I hear from others on PLNs I’m part of, a lot of these sites are blocked by a lot of schools anyway. That’s a shame but helps my argument. At our school, iPads or not, they still can still use the web tools with the access to laptops and desktops they have anyway. So we can have the best of both worlds. My point is though that the iPad can offer plenty without the Flash dependent world of Online Ed sites. My argument in my last post was that the iPad had to be a different experience to warrant the cost anyway.With the app model instead of Web 2.0, they are.  So does No Web 2.0 = iPad fail? I don’t think so. But what do you think? Is no Flash a no iPad for you?
Next up: my biggest challenge. Can we share iPads?

We already have laptops. Do we need iPads too?

When the 210 members of 5/6 Learning community moved into our $3 million gift from the BER government program last year, we walked into a facility with a dedicated computer lab with 30 desktop computers, a “Learning Street” and classrooms with another 30 odd desktops, 3 laptop trolleys totally 45 laptops, 11 iWBs and free access to a range of flip cameras, digital cameras and microphone recorders. During the year, all the teachers received personal laptops and an iPod Touch as well, which students were also able to access. That’s a heck of a lot of tech compared to previous years.

The question was then asked – what about iPads? Despite the fact my personal iPad was forever by my side in all learning and teaching settings, I still found myself asking – We already have laptops. How is the iPad going to be a better experience? Do we need yet another ICT device to add to our collection of gadgets? So let’s then look at the argument for more laptops rather than iPads.

During the year, the laptops became indispensable aids for learning for our 5/6 students. The open spaces of our new building allowed the freedom for children to find a quiet place for independent research or content creation while also being able to easily bring their work on the laptop to any available teacher or other student for feedback or support. At other times, small groups would gather around a laptop and collaborate on projects, brainstorm ideas, edit each other’s work and present their work quickly with each other. The students had easy access to web 2.0 sites for content creation and were able to independently integrate AV recordings with their work. The students were free to use any technology that was available and many were at a level of expertise beyond the teachers in the level.

So the freedom, portability and sharing argument in support of the iPad is covered by laptops here then? They were already getting their work done effectively? Access to already available digital AV recording devices made creative work a snap? (access to software and web 2.0 tools will be covered in a separate post) If we are going to spend up big again, surely we should continue along the laptop path. It’s worked so far so “Why get iPads?”

“The court would now like to present its case in defense of the iPad”

For me, one of the biggest advantages the iPad has over the laptop model is ease of use and accessibility. The touch interface and app system makes it so easy to access learning tools. On a typical laptop set up at school , you have to open the lid, turn it on, wait for it to load, log in to your account, click on the Internet shortcut or scroll through levels of start menu items, type in the website address or click on the bookmark to get access to Google Maps for example. On the iPad , you click on the home button, hit Maps and you’re there. Want a dictionary? Same. Calculator. Tap-tap-on! Need to find a bible reference (work in Catholic school)? Ditto – just hit the bible app icon and you’re in. 20120120-000248.jpg The time saved using iOS ( or even, dare I say it, Android ) can really add up in a busy day at school. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but the instant access to the specific task oriented app is a winner and a time saver. Even the instant “touch what you need” interface as opposed to scroll and click system of standard computers makes a difference. Also, returning to work later on in the day is as simple as returning to the app, not logging in again, finding the program and looking for your file on a laptop.

Another no contest is the access to AV tools on the iPad. Sure, laptops have built in microphones and cameras but using them is way more cumbersome. The laptop camera is really only for face to face video conferencing and recording tools that are preinstalled on most laptops are unsatisfactory. Of course, we have the cameras and microphones at school to do the job but by the time, you connect to the laptop, Windows goes thorough its ‘Wizard’ magic and you wait for a GB or two of video, photos and audio to copy over to the computer and then find it in the software you use, anyone on an iPad has finished their project before you have started. In today’s visual learning environment, this is a huge advantage.

Viewing media or work on an iPad is also superior to the laptop experience. The full screen set up on an iPad coupled with the touch interface of flick and change makes viewing photos, websites, texts and documents much easier than the scrolling method of standard computers. The multitouch resizing and panning enables focusing on specific parts with great ease. In terms of sharing and collaborating, the physical size and design of the iPad wins over the limitations of the vertical one sided viewing experience of the laptop. Laid down flat, anyone in a group can see the screen and passing it around is so much easier than a heavier, flip top laptop. Inputting anything on a laptop means complete control over mouse and trackpad/mouse. On the iPad, any touch will do. These might seem like little things but especially for little children, it makes a difference to their learning experience.

Laptops have never been great for reading. Yes, clearly we do read text on them constantly, but I have to say, since I’ve had my iPad, I barely use my MacBook or iMac for any reading or research. Let’s face it, we like to hold what we read. we want to focus just on the text, not all the other distractions on a laptop. Reading on an iPad or any other tablet for that matter is just like holding a book – with added advantages. As a learning experience I love being able to access a text on the iPad with an app like iBooks or Kindle for ebooks or Goodreader for documents and be able to annotate, highlight, look up definitions all with simple touch.
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Some would argue that without the ability to have two apps open at the same time side by side it’s harder to take notes from the Internet. That’s true but there are now apps for that anyway. I suppose it is personal preference for some but for me, the research/reading experience on an iPad kills the laptop again.

Final point for me to make is the one issue that Apple products rarely if ever win – affordability. As a long suffering Mac man in Australian schools, I have always lost out with the number crunchers in the PC v Mac debate on sheer dollar numbers. However, the 32 GB iPad cost the same as the laptops we have at school at present. The bigger deal for me though is the price of apps. Putting aside the plethora of excellent free apps as a basis for the argument, I’ve always been amazed at the amount of money spent on software licensing for multiple users on school computers. Mac or PC, the prohibitive costs of software puts so many potentially great programs out of reach of the students and teachers. So much money and effort is put into turning what is essentially Adult Work software (AKA Microsoft Office) into useful children’s software that there is very little left for other software. Without web 2.0, we would probably have about 6 useful pieces of software on our laptops. That’s all we can afford other than crippled demos.

Apps on the other hand are ridiculously cheap. Even if we have to purchase an app per iPad every time we download, it’s not even close to the cost of licenses on computers. Yes it’s extra money buying new software instead of installing already owned software on new laptops but eventually upgrading comes at a cost anyway. IPad app upgrades are free. So many more options are accessible for such small cost on iPads (and yes other tablets too but I’m arguing on behalf of Apple’s tool here) that it can greatly impact on learning opportunities. 50 different 99¢ or $2-3 apps x 100 iPads would still be cheaper than a Microsoft Office or iWork upgrade. In my opinion, in a battle between laptops and iPads on price alone, Apple finally wins a cost war.

So that’s my first post on “do we NEED iPads?” I think I’ve convinced myself that the iPad can be a different and better learning experience to add on to our already impressive ICT inventory. If its a choice between new laptops or iPads, I’m going with the iPad.

But what do you think? Have I been too negative towards laptops? Is my iPad bias showing too strongly? Please leave a comment to add to the debate. I am very interested in other opinions based on different experiences. This is only the first round. I’ve still got the other six points from my original introductory post to raise. Some of them are harder to argue. Hope to hear from you.