Google Apps and Collaboration – a TeachMeet Melbourne Perspective

As I said in my last post, I presented at the October addition of TeachMeet Melbourne. With a Google Summit happening in Melbourne this week, the focus of the meet was Google Apps and Collaboration and lots of first time TeachMeeters attended as a result of being in town for the summit.

Apart from my presentation on Google Maps in Education and related websites that incorporate Maps, there were sessions on Google+ Hangouts, Google Drive and Sites for portfolios, YouTube Video Editor and Collaborative Video recording, Google Calendar appointment slots and a nice intro from Chris Harte about Teachmeet history with a focus on sharing ideas, not apples ( with a hint of a dig aimed at apple with a capital A, I think:P). Finishing the night off beautifully was a heartfelt reflection on the need for looking after ourselves and each other, in itself a form of collaboration (minus Google!)

Below is a collection of tweets from the meet that may inspire you with new insights or encourage you to explore our new learnings further. My twitter tag is noticeably absent from the list – I was too busy as the official timer on the night and possibly got too comfortable on the very oversized beanbag I reclined in for the duration ( the free beer didn’t help either!) Enjoy!

Why we need more visual texts in our teaching and learning

20130616-085350.jpg

Found this fantastic infographic touting the success of infographics. Reading it ( or more correctly, viewing it) immediately focused my thoughts on the use of visual texts in classrooms today. Click on the screenshot above to view the animated, interactive info graphic that presents  13 reasons why we should use infographics ( or visual texts in general). Unlike other infographics I link to on Mr G Online, I’m not going to discuss the specific points presented – that would be contradictory to the message of the infographic. I’ll let you get your own meaning from it. However, I am going to reflect on how it made me consider the use of visual texts in education.

If we take at face value the research this infographic is based on, human beings are, at heart, visual learners. Our first written languages were image based (hieroglyphics). Our first recorded historical artefacts are cave paintings. Before the Bible was printed, the story of Christianity was predominantly told through Church Art. Museums are based on our desire to see artefacts firsthand.

I in no way want to devalue the importance of reading. Making connections with the printed word promotes creativity and imagination as we strive to interpret the  detailed writings of an author. Words allow us to add our own meaning to written texts rather than have an artist’s or film maker’s interpretation forced upon us. Reading is vital for learning and engaging with the world.

Having said that, though, Literacy Education has been dominated by the written word, and to a lesser extent, spoken word in the form schooling has taken over the 100-200 years of formal education as we know it. In recent curriculum documents we have seen viewing make its long awaited debut, but it still seems to be a poor relation compared to the other strands of Literacy. Improvements are being made, but as teachers do we fall back to written and spoken texts because its easier for us?

Screen Shot 2013-06-16 at 11.02.57 AMIf our brains are visually wired, then it makes sense that we visually present information, instructions, new learning, methods. If half our brain capacity is involved in visual processing but we present our lessons verbally or in written text form, how much are we getting through to our students? If 70% of our sensory receptors are in our eyes, then why do we persist in TALKING so much as teachers? How much more learning could take place if we had much less word based instruction (written or oral) and much more Visual instruction, considering we can make sense of a visual scene (0.01 sec)  so much more quickly than a spoken or written scene.

I’m not saying teachers don’t use visuals – I’m saying we need to A LOT more.

 

 

 

  • In Mathematics we take away the visual representations far too early in our quest to rush in Screen Shot 2013-06-16 at 11.02.25 AMthe algorithm and written methods. Singapore’s visual pedagogy in Maths Education is an example of how it should be done.
  • Textbooks include plenty of visuals but are still dominated by the written text in putting forward the primary content. The visuals seem to be add ons. It should be the other way around. Start with the visuals as the primary content and support it with accompanying text.
  • How often do we complain that our students don’t follow instructions? Or that they don’t remember anything we taught them? How often are these instructions 10 minute monologues based on fifteen points teachers think are important to get across but in reality have no hope in getting across to overloaded children’s memories? Is ‘teaching’ verbally for 10 minutes resulting in students ‘learning’? Yes it takes more time to create and then present a visual alternative but do we waste even more time repeating lessons or instructions that would have been delivered more effectively with visual elements.
  • In our quest for improved standardised test scores, we cram more literacy lessons based on written texts at the expense of the Visual Arts. We spend countless hours teaching children to comprehend worded Maths problems but ignore how much visual representation of number concepts can improve their problem solving techniques.
  • “Flipping the classroom” has its pros and cons. Like any pedagogy it can be done well and poorly. But if at its heart is the ability to provide relevant, purposeful visual resources that can provide  a learner with extra support outside and within the classroom environment, we can’t be doing a bad thing.

Screen Shot 2013-06-16 at 11.01.48 AM

The world of our students IS overloaded with information. The expectations of our curricula are overloaded with information. How we present that information then is important. If it is primarily written and verbal we may well be banging our and our students’ heads against the proverbial brick wall if, despite the best of intentions, that information is not filtering through the brain’s barriers to processing and retention of information. We owe it to ourselves and our students to dig deeper into the theories and statistics highlighted/implied in this infographic to ensure we are giving everyone the best chance to learn. What do you think?

TouchCast – interactive, browsable web in a video – insert possibilities here!

 

For a fully interactive version of this video, go to the Touchcast website and see it in action.

Just when I thought the Explain Everything iPad app was going to be my ‘go to’ app for everything in Education, this new app comes along. Touchcast (App Store link) is described as ‘the Web in a video’ rather than video on the web. It creates fully browsable, interactive videos that embed everything from websites, Twitter feeds and Youtube videos to polls, quizzes and news tickers inside your video creation.I’ve only just started experimenting  with the app and am yet to create a completed video, but I’ve already started getting a feel for how it works. Like all iPad apps, its dead easy to use. Using it effectively and with purpose is the crucial step.

While the above video and product website gives you a fair intro to the use of Touchcast, I’ve taken some screenshots of the app to show some of the features available. I have tested most but not all (greenscreen for one – sounds like a winner if it works well!).

newtouchcast

When you open the app, a number of themed touchcasts ( News, Business, Sports, How to, Review, Travel Diary) are available as well as the option to create one from scratch.

createnewtouchcast

If you select a theme, the option to add the title and search terms is provided. This creates the Touchcast title automatically and adds relevant content related to the subject to be used straight away, as seen below with the inclusion of a news ticker from Google News, a Twitter Feed and News Headlines. You can delete these if you don’t want them. Deleting content is as simple as selecting and dragging the thumbnail at the bottom to a ‘magically appearing’ trash icon.

autocontent

If you create a Touchcast from scratch, all the tools are at the bottom of the screen. The basic tools are Camera, The Record Button, Effects, Whiteboard, Titles and vApps.(see below)

tools

There are many title styles to choose from but all have a similar look to the Titles seen on TV programs

titleoptionscameratools

One of the most powerful features of the app is the capacity to add vApps. These are the interactive, live and embeddable extra content elements that can be added to your video as you record. Ideally though, you would add and prepare all of these elements before recording. The screenshot below shows all of the vApp options. It’s an impressive list of options that can help create a truly interactive and educational experience in the school setting. Imagine an interactive presentation that calls up web pages, images, polls,quizzes and rating systems, slide shows from Flickr, working GoogleMaps. There is certainly potential for overkill from both teachers and students but the possibilities for screencasting/flipped lessons, multimodal presentations, digital story tellings, project presentations, reports, reviews, surveys are there to be considered.

vapps

Once a vApp is created, they appear in a thumbnail view at the bottom of the screen and with a simple touch they can appear and disappear from your video at your discretion. As I said earlier, by preparing all of the vApps you require before recording, you have great control over their use during the video creation process.

Another useful feature in the Educational setting is the Whiteboard. You can call up multiple whiteboards and switch between visible boards to record notes or invisible in order to draw or type directly onto the video or images

whiteboard

To help with the flow of your recording, Touchcast comes with a built in Teleprompter. This is found in the Camera tool.This allows you to write a script to follow as you record rather than umming and aahing your way through your video. You can alter the speed at any time. Also within the Camera tool options is the ability to swap between front and rear cameras

teleprompt

Special effects include a Green Screen option ( will check this out when I get access to my GReen Screen), video filters for different effects and sound effects such as applause, laughter and emotional expressions ( a bit cheesy, but some will like it!)

effects

filters

soundeffects

Opportunities for digital literacy and multimodal learning abound in using this app but there are some limitations that are not obvious until you start using the app.

 

  • First there is a 5 minute limit to the length of the video. Probably not a bad thing as you could fall in the trap of going overboard. Also this 5 minute limit doesn’t restrict you from pausing the video and viewing the interactive elements and multimedia content ( e.g. the embedded YouTube clip can be as long as it is in its source location). 
  • While you can save your project along the way as you add in all of your extra elements, once you start recording, you cannot go back and edit or continue. Once you start recording, you can pause but if you want to stop or exit the app, you can only save as a non editable video not as a project. I hope they can change this option in the future. You can re-record the video if you make mistakes and restart without losing all of your vApps, however
  • Another limitation is that the only additional video you can add is through the web. You cannot add your own video (only photos)  from the iPad. This is probably reasonable, considering the file sizes this would create. You can always add your video content to a Youtube account and then add it.
  • As this is a very recent startup, at present it is a free account for users to experiment with. At present, this means a maximum of 60 minutes of video on their site. There are plans for paid accounts in the future but as it stands now, 1 hour is it. Of course, you can store videos locally on your iPad within the app, but you can’t save to Camera Roll. You can export to a Touchcast account on their website, share via social media and post on YouTube. Be warned, though, the YouTube video is only a video – there is no interaction. That is only possible through Touchcast. However, for presentation only purposes with all the content included, YouTube export is a way of storing more content if you dont need the interaction.
  • As with most Web tools, the Under 13 caveat applies. There are some features you woud want to monitor.I have emailed Touchcast for clarification on whether it is OK to set up a teacher controlled account for students to post content from their iPad app. I’ll post their answer if and when they reply.

While it’s early days in my experimenting , I’m really excited about this app. The use of it can really encourage creativity, problem solving, planning, and a range of digital literacy skills. Like any tool, we need to make sure purpose comes before play. There is more to ed tech than engagement. We want it to make a difference. Check it out. It’s a free app but you do need to set up an account (not a lot of info required – user name and password). Would like to hear from anyone who has used it and appreciate ideas on how it can be used for educational purposes. Like most tools on the Web, they don’t start out aimed at schools, but we tend to find a way to embed them in teaching and learning.

CUE13 – Keynote: Kevin Honeycutt – Trends, Tools and Tactics for 21st Century Learning

Everyone has their favourite inspirational speaker. Every teacher out there has probably seen Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talks and every school leadership team has a playlist of YouTube videos of their latest guru. This morning I just happened to discover this guy through a Scoop-it page I follow – Kevin Honeycutt. I didn’t know much about him but I do now that I’ve watched this video.

His comedic style will keep you listening through this presentation but don’t be fooled by his boyish behaviour. He has a serious message to get out there. He draws you in with his personal story which is an inspiration to every child who has struggled and every teacher who has struggled to deal with them. Then he hits you with cutting observations about the state of education and how we can better it. And don’t think it’s all about tech – the teachers that saved him didn’t use tech; they cared. Of course in amongst all the anecdotes is some sage advice on how we can use tech to improve the learning along with changing the environment and, above all, the relationships.

Take the time to watch this – it deserves more than the 654 views it has at time of writing. (Video and sound quality isn’t perfect but bear with it). If you want a quicker introduction to Honeycutt than this 45 minute video, try the one below. Similar message in less time but not as inspirational.

iPurpose before iPad


The two above images are good examples of purposeful thinking about iPad usage in schools.

One, a screenshot of an oft-used tool known as iPad As.. by edtechteacher.org, focuses on what the iPad can be used for and provides links to various apps that can be utilised for those functions. It goes without saying that it is a very useful website for schools thinking about iPads. It provides nutshell explanations of a number of apps that relate to each iPad as… category as well as pricing. It’s a good introduction into the functionality of the iPad that counteracts the misconception of iPad as consumption NOt creation tool.

The other, The Padagogy Wheel, is one of many variations on applying Bloom’s Taxonomy of skills to iPad apps. It develops from the general learning action verbs/skills we want our students to acquire to technology based activities that relate to these skills and finally to a selection of apps that can support this development.

Both tools have supported my reflection on iPad use in school and are worth checking out in detail. Having said that, though, I feel they both fall short in what is needed as a resource for implementing iPads in education. iPad as… does a good job at presenting uses for iPads in school – what they can be used for – but doesn’t really provide depth about the skill development that can arise from their use. It’s still action/activity emphasis rather than pedagogical/learning emphasis. It’s great to know that you can create videos, and it describes what the app can do,  but how will this improve learning and what learning will it improve is also a priority iPad schools need to address. I think it also pigeon-holes apps as one trick ponies – I’d like to emphasise the apps that can be used to develop many skills.

The Padagogy Wheel provides many links between skills and tech activities but doesn’t really address what iPad apps address which skills and activities specifically other than lumping them into a particular category. It too, tends to classify the apps as one trick pony options rather than seeing them as multiple category options.

Don’t get me wrong, I think both are great tools but there is room for improvement in creating a tool for supporting time poor iPads in Schools implementers in planning, selecting, justifying and integrating iPad apps in education.

Which leads me to attempt a herculean task… I’m going to try to blend the best of both of these resources and address the short falls I have mentioned by creating my own resource. But it’s going to be a work in progress for a while and I hope to get support from Mr G Online followers, subscribers, users and casual visitors.

I’ve started creating a table of important skills, some derived from the Padagogy Wheel, and actions, some derived from iPad As… What I am planning to highlight is that there are many apps that can be use for many purposes and for developing many skills. For example, I have already added “Explain Everything” to 9 categories as I see it as a multifunctional app and one worth its price because of the educational benefits it provides. Over the coming months I plan to add text descriptions to each category to explain how the apps listed address the skill or action they have been linked to and may also link them to other online sources that show them in action. I’ll also provide direct links to the App Store, as I always do on this blog when I mention apps so you can check them out yourself if you want.

Now this sounds like a big task and it is. So I do need some help. What do I want from you? Anything you can give. Just add them to the comments of this post.

  • Examples of apps that help to develop specific skills
  • Additional skills I haven’t listed here
  • Examples of apps that are multifunctional.
  • Explanations of good pedagogical practice with apps. Don’t worry, all credit will go to you when I include your suggestions.
  • Links to blog posts, websites, Youtube tutorials, open wikis, nings etc that promote good practice that I can link to from here.
  • Examples on add ons like bookmarklets for curation sites, websites that work well with iPads ( Flash-free) that can still be categorised under these headings for iPad use.
  • Spread the word regularly through Twitter, Facebook, Curation sites like Pinterest and Scoop-It to keep educators coming back.
This post will look messy for a while as new ideas get added. A blog may not be the best storage place for it in the long run. If I actually get the support – and it’s likely I won’t – and it grows I will probably move it to a separate website for better functionality. It may well be better as a wiki but  I didn’t want to move away from Mr G Online unless I needed. For easy access in the meantime, I will add this post to my main menu at the top of the blog so you can come back to check revisions. I will be planning weekly updates at least, more if I get regular contributions I can just copy and paste in from the comments.
I really hope I can get this off the ground. From reading so many blog articles, I can see there is a huge need for clarity in using tech like iPads. If you have been a regular reader of Mr G Online, you would know I am a big proponent of Pedagogy before Technology. That’s why I want iPurpose before iPad. Hope to hear from some of you soon.

 

IPAD AS VIDEO CREATION IPAD AS AUDIO RECORDING

iMovie Pinnacle Studio VideoScribe HD iStopMotion GarageBand  TagPad  Evernote  Notability

Explain Everything Art Maker Animation Desk iMotion HD AudioBoo
 Whether creating live action videos with iMovie and Pinnacle Studio, animated stories with iStopMotion, Animation Desk and iMotion HD or how to tutorials with Explain Everything, the iPad is a great tool for video creation. Creating videos with these apps develops organisation and planning skills, supports story telling skills in non writers and enhances creativity and problem solving in many ways.
 IPAD AS BOOK PUBLISHER  IPAD AS DIGITAL STORYTELLING
StoryWheel
Book Creator Creative Book Builder StoryWheel    Sonic Pics Explain Everything Toontastic Storify
Video Scribe HD
Providing opportunities for authentic writing with a real audience outside the classroom, publishing real books using the iPad can improve motivation and actual writing skills. With sufficient access, tech based writing can employ the editing capabilities to encourage children to write without worrying about rewriting from scratch. With the real possibility of publishing books online or in the iBookstore for others to read, children will be encouraged to put more effort into editing and improving their written work. The possibilities for multimedia additions allows for more creativit There are more ways of telling stories these days than text and pictures. Some students have stories inside them that don’t get shared because of a lack of writing ability. Let’s give them opportunities to tell stories orally until they are ready to write so that they can develop their imaginations and story telling for when they are ready to write. These apps all allow for alternatives to traditional writing texts, either through combining audio and images seamlessly in a variety of formats
 IPAD AS GRAPHIC NOVEL CREATOR   IPAD AS READING SUPPORT
 Strip Designer Comic Life     Book Creator iPrompter Creative Book Builder iBooks
Explain Everything
Creating stories with audio, highlighted annotations, vocabulary support through linked dictionaries, scrolling screens provides support for students who lack reading skills. Getting children to record themselves reading gives them feedback on their progress as well as support for independent practice.
 IPAD AS COLLABORATION TOOL  IPAD AS PRESENTATION TOOL
Edmodo VoiceThread Skype Evernote Keynote  VideoScribe  Haiku Deck   VoiceThread
Instapaper Whiteboard Popplet Comic Life  Explain Everything  Skitch   iPrompter
  IPAD AS A WRITING TOOL  IPAD AS BRAINSTORMING TOOL
Comic Life  Writing Prompts SpellBoard Tap Dictionary iMind Map 3D  Popplet  Skitch Inspiration Maps Lite
Notability
Notability Whiteboard
  IPAD AS INFORMATION COLLECTOR  IPAD AS INFORMATION MANAGER/ORGANISER
 
 Evernote Edmodo   PollDaddy Socrative   EverNote  Edmodo Pinterest  Instapaper
Notability
Notability  Notability
 IPAD AS NOTE TAKER  IPAD AS PROBLEM SOLVER
 Notability Hopscotch
 Skitch  Evernote  Notability    Wolfram Alpha Numbers  Hopscotch
 IPAD AS GRAPHING TOOL  IPAD AS RESEARCH TOOL
Wikinodes Notability
 Numbers  Wolfram Alpha  Doodle Buddy    Wolfram Alpha PollDaddy  WikiNodes Notability
 IPAD AS DATA COLLECTION TOOL  IPAD AS A ROLE PLAYING TOOL
 
Edmodo  PollDaddy   Socrative Numbers  Edmodo   Puppet Pals    
TagPad Evernote EasyTag
IPAD AS A CLASS MANAGEMENT TOOL IPAD AS AN ASSESSMENT TOOL
ClassDojo  Notability
Edmodo  Socrative   ClassDojo   Explain Everything   Edmodo Socrative  Notability 
IPAD AS A MAPPING TOOL IPAD AS A CALCULATING TOOL
Screen Shot 2013-04-23 at 8.32.29 PM   
Routes Explain Everything Skitch Geocaching Numbers Wolfram Alpha MyScript Calculator
MyMapsEditor
My Maps Editor
IPAD AS DEMONSTRATION TOOL IPAD AS COMMUNICATION TOOL
Skitch Explain Everything  Skype    Edmodo  Skype
IPAD AS AN ARTISTIC TOOL IPAD AS A DESIGNING TOOL
ArtRage Garageband Snapseed RoomPlanner
ArtRage GarageBand  Snapseed iStopMotion Skitch  Explain Everything   RoomPlanner iDraw
Phoster ScrapPad
IPAD AS AN EXPERIMENTING TOOL IPAD AS A DEBATING TOOL
Hopscotch  
Explain Everything   Numbers Hopscotch     Edmodo  VoiceThread Skype  iPrompter 

 

 

 

Maths Maps – an engaging way to teach Maths with Google Maps

It’s been around for a few years now and had plenty of interest from around the world already, but Mr G Online has only just discovered Maths Maps. From first impressions, I am absolutely blown away by the idea. The brainchild of leading UK educator Tom Barrett, (now based in Australia), Maths Maps uses Google Maps as the launching pad for Maths Investigations.

Barrett’s vision was for teachers around the world to collaborate on building Maths Maps, examples of some seen in the screenshots on the left. Here is a brief description of how it works from the Maths Maps website.

Elevator Pitch

  • Using Google Maps.
  • Maths activities in different places around the world.
  • One location, one maths topic, one map.
  • Activities explained in placemarks in Google Maps.
  • Placemarks geotagged to the maths it refers to. “How wide is this swimming pool?”
  • Teachers to contribute and share ideas.
  • Maps can be used as independent tasks or group activities in class.
  • Maps can be embedded on websites, blogs or wikis.
  • Tasks to be completed by students and recorded online or offline.

The collaboration aspect worked like this: ( again from the website)

How can you contribute?

  1. Explore the maps below for the ideas already added, follow the links to open them in a new window.
  2. Send me details of which map you want to edit and your Google email address and I will add you as an editor, follow the link from the email invite.
  3. Click on EDIT in the left panel.
  4. Zoom close to the city and it’s surroundings. (Don’t forget Streetview)
  5. Find some TOPIC ideas you can see.
  6. Add a placemark (use the right colour for the age group it is best for – see purple pin)
  7. Explain the activity in the description.
  8. Change the title to show how many ideas there are.
  9. Send out a Tweet or write a blog post to highlight this resource andencourage others to contribute.

For those of you who have never edited a Google Map before, you need a Google account to do so. Here is an annotated screenshot that shows the basic layout of the Edit stage. I know I say it a lot to colleagues who don’t believe me, but it is very easy to do, like most Web 2.0 tools.

I’m not sure I could handle the world wide collaboration long term but I think this would be very manageable at a school level if you could get together a team of teachers willing to contribute. To me, it is a great way of presenting worded problems in real life contexts. On one level, with the emphasis on teaching children how to analyse questions for standardised tests, this would be a more engaging way of presenting the problems to the children. On a more creative, engaging level, it provides opportunities for linking Maths to real problems, not just questions out of a textbook or practice test sheets.

Beyond the question level, it provides opportunities to investigate all Maths concepts as you can see from the screenshots above. Adding the investigations to an always available Google map means students can access the problems anytime, anywhere and can work at their own pace. I always see tech solutions for recording work for students to complete as a benefit, not extra work. Instead of photocopying or getting children to copy down unfinished problems in a rush before leaving, the work is stored online. It means it can be shared with other classes as well.

The image here shows how Maths Maps was set up to add problems and investigations for all grade levels so collaboration can take place across levels, allowing for differentiation possibilities. Barrett just colour coded the placemarks to match a grade level.

If students have access to Google accounts, it is a great opportunity for them to create their own investigations, taking it to a higher thinking level for them. Students in higher grades could create maps for lower grades to investigate or for their fellow classmates. If nearby schools wanted to join in, they could and, of course, you could go the Maths Maps website route and find some schools outside your area to collaborate with and learn so much more about the world.

Of course, there is no reason why it has to be limited to Maths. You could do the same investigations with geography heavy novels, historical events, geography investigations, anything you can link to real locations. It’s certainly open to a lot of possibilities and, while I know it’s easy for me to say, it doesn’t have a huge learning curve and, with collaboration, shouldn’t take too much time to create. If you are going to type out some questions and print out on paper anyway, it will not take much more effort to create this far more engaging option instead.

Here’s a direct link to one of Barrett’s embedded Maths Maps, 27 Measures Activities in Madrid. You can explore this in detail and get a greater sense of the range of real world Maths you can find in real geographic locations.


View 27 Measures Activities in Madrid in a larger map

And, since I’m one teacher who always has to practise what I preach rather than just post ideas from others, here’s my first attempt at starting a Maths Map around Melbourne – unfinished and early days but might test it out with a few of my colleagues and the Grade 5/6 students.

View Measuring Melbourne in a larger map

Questioning our Questioning!

Answering Questions

My school has done a lot of work in developing questioning skills to support teaching and learning. The idea of “fat” and “skinny”/open and closed questions has been emphasised in student research projects and discussion building. “Enabling” and “extending” prompts is our current focus in Mathematics differentiation in particular to cater for the needs of the wide spectrum of skill levels.

One aspect we haven’t covered enough as a school that I have always seen as an area for improvement is how teachers elicit responses from the students themselves during lessons. This is something I always emphasize in my role as a mentor for graduate teachers. One of the easiest traps to fall into as a teacher is assuming your lesson has been effective because there was ‘lots of discussion’ and ‘student participation’. The students “seemed to understand because all of my questions were answered.” However, through closer scrutiny, this usually translates into ” the top 10 smart kids/teacher pleasers answered all the questions while the rest added to their doodle collection or planned their lunchtime activities while staring at the oval out the window.”

Targeted questioning addresses this issue in different ways. I model to my graduate teachers the art of catching students, especially the reluctant participants, understanding something during the lesson. I then ask a question directly to those students, knowing they can answer the question. This builds their self esteem because they are prepared for the answer and encourages further participation.

In preparing lessons for Literacy using the “Reading to Learn” program/strategy, one of the key factors for success is creating differentiated questions that involve all students in the discussion and comprehension of the text being explored. For the less able readers, prompts are prepared to direct them to specific sections of the text while extension questions encourage the higher achievers to share their knowledge to support the comprehension of others. This kind of targeted questioning enables full class participation. The fact that students know that a question will be directed personally at them rather than the ‘get out’ clause of ‘hands up who wants to answer’ places expectations on them to follow the text and think about a response at all times.

And then there is this YouTube video I’ve just come across thanks to my good buddy Zite. This takes targeted questioning to another level. Created by Jim Smith, a teacher for Derbyshire, England, it explains a process for planning a structured approach to asking your students questions. Without going into too much detail ( Jim’s gone to the effort of making the video to explain it, after all!), it involves knowing your students’ capabilities and preparing questions geared for different levels of understanding on the topic you are teaching. Then it comes down to knowing which students to direct the questions at.

It’s a form of differentiation we as a school are becoming more familiar with but the process Jim goes through is, for me anyway, quite effective and should be of great benefit in any classroom. Initially, it would take quite a bit of preparation, but if we aren’t going to use questions effectively to target student needs, preparation is necessary. This looks to be a good process to follow. Here’s the video. Feel free to share your opinion.

S.P.A.R.K.L.E. Teaching Practices to Remember

20130323-154613.jpg

Found this on Zite today courtesy of Eye on Education. Sometimes we need a bit of a reminder during planning to keep our lessons refreshing and engaging. While there is nothing groundbreaking in the ideas behind this infographic, it’s a useful little tool to have handy next time you fall into the trap of preparing dry, lifeless lessons.

And while I’m just about over educational acronyms, I quite like this one – S.P.A.R.K.L.E.
Sharing Powerful Activities Really Keeps Learners Engaged.

AirServer – 30 Apple TVs for the price of One (and instant sharing and engagement in the Classroom)

This is not a Plug. I actually happily used AirServer’s competitor, Reflector, before I discovered AirServer, and it has some features AirServer lacks ( namely the ability to record the iPad screen in action on your computer). I also am a happy owner of an AppleTV at home.

What is your tech of choice for getting groups of children interacting with technology? Interactive Whiteboards? I was a big fan early on. I used to prepare my whole day on my computer at home with all my lessons set up on the software available and come to school all ready to go, After a while I saw a teacher ( or an individual student – maybe two) standing in front of an expensive whizzbang electronic version of a blackboard, doing the same chalk and talk method we’d been doing for decades. A lot of money invested, not sure if it was value for money. What about Apple TV? Much cheaper than iWBs, able to mirror iPads on screen, pass the iPad around to engage children in the learning, but still only one at a time. You still need a screen, TV or iWB, and it’s still a fair investment at $99-$129 ( depending on country) per Apple TV.

Last year, I discovered a better AND cheaper alternative. First it was Reflector, then AirServer. Both were originally Mac OS X only apps, then limited PC versions without audio, but now regardless of operating system you get the full feature set. So what is AirServer? ( I often assume everyone in Tech and using iPads has heard of everything I use but I always discover it’s not the case.)

AirServer is basically a MAC/PC app that turns your computer into a mirroring device for iPads, iPhones and iPods ( depending on the version you have) as well as Mac Laptops running Mountain Lion . Your entire iDevice screen appears on the computer screen and whatever you do on the iPad et al, is seen AND heard on the computer screen. Connected to a iWB, data projector (and speakers) or LCD TV, an AirServer enabled computer becomes an Apple TV. The creators were, and probably still are, more interested in marketing it as a way for iPads to replace Wii/Xbox/Playstations as a game console on a big screen, but I see it as a far greater tool for education, IF you are serious about iPad implementation at your school.

 Compared to Apple TV, or a iWB with software included,AirServer + iPad has several advantages.

First the price. Check the screenshot above. $3.99 per computer! For that price, we are virtually fitting out our whole school with Apple TV functionality for the price of one Apple TV.

Portability and ease of connectivity. Last year, when we first started using iPads in the classrooms, if we wanted to show what was on the screen, we had to attach an iPad VGA connector to the VGA cable and remain tethered to the iWB. With AirServer, you just swipe up ( or double click Home Button)swipe across on the iPad App switcher bar at the bottom, hit the AirPlay Button and the iPad is on the screen. You can even do it from another room.

Multi-view. This is the ‘game changer’ ( ugh! I swore I’d never use that cliched buzzword but…). The biggest difference between Apple TV (0nly one screen at a time) and AirServer is the fact that you can mirror multiple iDevice screens on the computer/iWB/TV screen at the same time. Instead of waiting for control of the whiteboard pen, students and teachers can just project their iPad screen straight onto the larger screen. No longer do we have to wait for the teacher of student to finish writing on the board and then getting out of the way so we can actually see it. The work that is done on the iPad screen can be instantly shared without wasting time reproducing it on the iWB. Time saved, time used more productively. This has so many possibilities in the classroom.

  • A Maths classroom where multiple strategies created by the students are shared simultaneously and discussed.
  • A Literacy classroom where students can share their notes, collaboratively write paragraphs, edit shared texts and compare choices, or share drafts for others to read to feedback on, with the writer making real time changes as the feedback comes.
  • Multiple videos showing different views of the same event or object.
  • A music classroom using Garageband with children combining different instruments at the same time to create a digital orchestra,combine parts of the same song for harmonies or multitrack experimentation or simply share their individual creations wirelessly.
  • A Science classroom where different observations, diagrams, videos of experiments are shared and compared.
  • A video and text can be played simultaneously to compare and contrast how a particular part of the story is portrayed in different media.
  • Ideas can be shared concurrently instead of waiting for turns, allowing students and teachers to focus on a specific point of their choice rather than waiting for turns.
  • Collaborative teams presenting the work without having to spend time cobbling all their individual efforts together into a single PowerPoint/Prezi etc. Each student can just mirror their iPad on the screen at the same time and control a video, audio clip, slideshow, comic strip, ebook, themselves.

Multiple iOS devices on the one screen

I could list many more possible uses but I’ll let you brainstorm for yourself. Feel free to share here. Remember, all the screens are fully operational at the same time. That includes App switching, multiple audio,video and game playback at the same time, file editing, and with very little lag time ( depending on your wi-fi quality, of course.) I have mirrored seven iPad screens on the iWB at the same time but there comes a time when they get too small to view. Of course, you can select a single screen to enlarge to full screen, while the others remain connected in the background, waiting their turn to take centre stage. (UPDATE:apologies for being slightly misleading here: while this is certainly a very useful feature on Mac computers, this enlarging function doesn’t seem to be available on PCs. Hopefully, this will be added in a Future update. I spend most of my time on Macs with AirServer and I will update if other features aren’t available on PCs at our schools. Sorry for the misinformation. Should have checked)
It’s easy to set up, a couple of swipes and clicks to activate and cheap compared to the alternatives. Reflector, which I discovered before AirServer has similar functionality plus the ability to record what is mirrored. The big difference, and its not a plug but reality, is the price difference.Individually, there is little difference but when it comes to bulk purchasing, $3.99 per computer versus $55 for 5 computer licences made AirServer my only choice in the end. Both are great, though, and have the potential ( I hate using that word but….) to make a big difference to educational technology and education in general if done properly.

Download AirServer and give it a go. You can download a 7 day trial for free to see if it works in your school environment before you spend the money.

And again, please add your suggestions to my list of uses by posting a comment.

Is it the iPad, the apps or the user?

Technology has been trying to ‘revolutionize’ education for a long time now. The mistake we’ve been making all along is placing all of the focus on the least important component of the revolution – the tech itself. It’s where all the money goes and then what? Nothing left to actually ensure it’s going to make the difference we want, with the the people we want to impact – the teacher and the student. It’s happened all throughout education tech history in recent times. The film projector, the photocopier, the typewriter, the desktop and laptop computer, data projectors, interactive whiteboards, digital cameras were all heavily invested in ( and many still are today ) to bring engagement and improved teaching and learning to the educational world….But talk of the revolution is still going on.

And now we have the tablet. The iPad has begun a new “education revolution” and now the obligatory opposition tech companies have joined the battle. The question has to be asked – are we again starting from the wrong end of the battle lines? Is the iPad (inserted alternative tablet if so desired) the real catalyst or is there so much more to this than money spending school systems can see beyond the new and shiny?

It’s why I ask the question: Is it the iPad, the App or the User?

The iPad

What is it about the iPad that has enamoured so many in the Education World? Spare me the trollish jibes about Apple’s Reality Distortion Field and slavish fanboys. Educators aren’t that shallow. There is something about this tablet, originally aimed squarely at the consumer, that lends itself beautifully to educational pursuits. The desktop computer, for all its power and potential, leaves the learner anchored to a desk and reliant on other tech tools to increase its functionality. The laptop improved on this with its portability but it still lacked flexibility and true mobility as well as clunky touchpads that lacked precision.

Then came the tablet. Yes, Microsoft predated Apple with a tablet but the iPad brought its use into the mainstream. In a school setting, it brings big changes to the learning experience. It takes mobile learning to a level far beyond the laptop. Its tactile interface brings the learner in direct contact with the screen with positives and negatives. The touch screen allows for direct drawing, handwriting and screen navigation beyond the capabilities of a mouse of trackpad. The built in A/V capabilities, in particular the front and back facing cameras for photo and video, adds one stop access to multimedia use that adds engagement and creativity that other computers can’t match. Its ‘always on, instant save’ nature means instant interaction, replacing the wait time that can slow down learning in class. And its unique lack of filing system, while a fault for many computing traditionalists, makes accessing work for younger children in particular far easier than combinations of menus, commands and hierarchical folders. The touch interface makes it a familiar experience and easier for children to pick up experiment and learn to use ( although this is not always the case for adults with computer behaviour engrained in their physical memory.)

That in itself, though, falls far short of what is necessary for an “Education Revolution”. Beyond a web browser with its well documented Flash deficiencies ( whether we like it or not, educational web 2.0 tools are dominated by Flash ), basic A/V viewing and editing tools, an e-book/PDF reader, a text messaging system, a VERY basic text editor in Notes and some time management tools, what you get out of the box has serious limitations. So obviously, to get closer to revolutionizing education, we need to tap into the vast system of the App Store.

The Apps
“There’s an App for that!” has become part of the English conversation. While early on, we were inundated with countless games, social apps and a mind boggling selection of skills and drill apps of dubious value, it wasn’t long before every possible educational opportunity could be addressed by an app. For years, many schools have been hamstrung by expensive software packages tied into bulk user licences that added up to hundreds sometimes thousands of dollars, preventing us from going beyond the internet and the obligatory Microsoft Office package. True, there are a great number of Web 2.0 tools that have brought creativity and collaboration to the classroom, but while some are free, many expect yearly licences from schools to use them.

As I have written in my post “Essential Paid iPad Apps”, for a reasonable cost (obviously some will disagree),especially under the half price VPP system, the limitations of the ‘out of the box’ iPad transforms into an all purpose teaching and learning machine. Suddenly students have access to video editing, animation creation, ebook publishing, comic book production, digital storytelling in many forms, annotation tools, note taking, audio recording, collaboration tools, painting and drawing apps, content curation and news feeds all at the touch of an icon. In a 1:1 environment, the user has all of this stored within the apps he uses, making for efficient use of time and a non-reliance on accessing messy network folder hierarchies.

But………and it’s a BIG BUT…..

All the tech tools in the world mean nothing if they are not used effectively. Too often over the last 2 years, I have seen way too many examples of half finished, poorly edited creations in the name of “experimenting with the apps”. That, however, is as far as it goes. The lesson is about the app, not the content or the skills that needed to be developed to make a real difference. This is why the role of the User becomes Number One Priority.

The User

No amount of tech or any other educational innovation can make a difference if the users aren’t prepared to take advantage of the opportunity. The so called “digital natives” in our classrooms may have grown up using technology but it doesn’t mean they know how to use it to its full potential. Teachers have a great opportunity to revolutionise education with what has become available but just because their cupboard is full of iPads (or laptops, digital cameras etc, etc) it doesn’t mean the revolution will happen.

Politicians need PD. Leaders of Education need PD. Teachers need PD. Parents need….whatever we call PD for parents. Students need to learn what  is possible with what they know.

          • Facebook/Twitter/Social media in general isn’t just for organising parties, telling us where in the city you are having dinner or writing funny responses about awkward situations. If that is all educators, students and the community think its for, they won’t use it to collaborate, to share, to investigate, to innovate.
          • If teachers aren’t shown how iPads or any other tech tool can improve their current practices and given time and support to gain confidence in their use and possibilities, they will continue with whole class instruction, worksheets and textbooks and every other practice that worked for them in the past.
          • If we only focus on the tool and not the purpose for using it, then we will still get substandard essays and projects – they’ll just look better.
          • If we spend all of our time talking about increased engagement in class because of iPads, but don’t evaluate the improvement in learning, nothing has been accomplished. After all, a 15 year old can be engaged in an all night movie or video game party. Doesn’t mean they’ll learn anything.

I said at the start that Educators aren’t shallow. We can, though, still get caught up in the latest craze, whether it’s the latest buzzword or the next great tech tool. This Education Revolution has been talked about for a long time. We need to focus on the teaching and learning, the teachers and the learners before we focus on the tools. Instead of investigating and experimenting with tablets and apps, let’s make sure we  investigate and experiment with the pedagogy that’s need to make the difference. Let’s put the user first.

What’s your experience in your schools? Are you planning for change or just having tech thrown at you with the hope that something will stick? Join the conversation.