3 iPad apps for volume and surface area investigations

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This week, Grade 5 began a unit on Volume, Capacity and Surface Area. On a weekly basis, I take combined groups from the 4 grades consisting of the higher achievers, while the classroom teachers concentrate on the mainstream group and students needing more individual instruction to achieve success. I made a conscious decision this week to focus on using iPads with my group to explore both volume/capacity as well as surface area.

I chose 3 apps to assist me in this learning experience – Think 3D ( free version) and Skitch, which are both free apps and Numbers ($9.99- $4.50 through the Volume Purchasing Program if 20 or more bought). Note: you could substitute the currently free CloudOn app, which is basically a server based Office app, or Google Spreadsheets, a free component of Google Docs/Google Apps for Education.

In the past I would have run this lesson using a limited number of connecting blocks and would have asked the students to record their observations in their exercise books. In using the iPads and the selected apps, I wanted to trial how this type of investigation could be enhanced and improved upon by using technology rather than traditional tools.

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The lesson began with the following premise. Each pair of students ( didn’t have enough iPads for 1:1; would probably work in pairs regardless to encourage collaboration and discussion) was to create a cuboid or rectangular prism with a volume of 72 cubes using Think 3D. In the past, students would have used a limited supply of blocks and would only have had enough to make one model. Using the iPad app, they were able to explore multiple ways of making a 72 cube prism with a limitless supply of cubes with a simple touch of the screen adding or deleting  a cube to the prism each time.

Another advantage is that, while there are many benefits in physically seeing and touching a real 3D object rather than a 2D representation of one on a screen, the ability to rotate the prisms on the iPad to view the different surfaces with a simple swipe made for easy investigation and no chance of the object falling apart and needing to rebuild, thus saving time for more analysis.

Using Reflection on my Macbook ( also available for PCs), the children were able to mirror their iPad screens on our interactive whiteboard and share all of the possible prisms and cuboids. This allowed for easy comparison and discussion without having to move our models around as we would have in the past.

The next step was to save the models as images in the Photo library on the iPad so that we could import them into Skitch, (an annotation app linked to Evernote.) As you can see from the image below, the students were able to clearly label the dimensions of their prisms and record surface area measurements as well. The use of this app enables easy collection of data for assessment rather than the rather difficult alternative of taking photos with a camera and writing notes about each photo. It also makes it easy for the children themselves to keep records of their work and thinking, an improvement on the lesson for both teacher and student. They were also able to swipe back to Think 3D to manipulate the prism to investigate the dimensions closely during the annotation stage.

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We then opened up Numbers to systematically record and calculate the measurements using spreadsheet formulas. Being capable students, they already knew how to use the L X W for area and L X W X H for volume formulas. I wanted to skill them up in using spreadsheet formulas to make quick calculations so that more time could be used for analysing the measurement data and the 3D models.

The spreadsheet was laid out so all possible dimension combinations discovered by the students were recorded. We then inputted a volume formula to verify each prism had a volume of 72 cubes. We then used formulas of our own creation to calculate the surface area of each prism. Once one formula was created, we were able to copy and paste that formula for each prism to calculate each prism’s surface area. Once we had all of the volumes and surface areas, combined with the 3D models, students were then able to make informed conjectures, observations and proofs about why certain prisms of the  same volume had varying surface areas.

While I am not saying I haven’t taught this lesson successfully in the past, using these apps and the iPad allowed for more direct and focused engagement from all students. Previously, the recording of data would have been a whole class event, which I always feel has the potential for disengagement as children watch others do the work. Having limited resources in terms of blocks, early problem solvers are left waiting for others. With the use of Think 3D, they were able to continue on with their own investigations rather than waiting for another pair to make an alternative model.

With today’s lesson, the children were actively involved in all aspects. They had opportunities to explore as many options as they had time for, they inputted all mesurement data, they annotated all of their images, which enabled them to consolidate and record their thinking more efficiently. The technology used also enabled them to save a permanent record of all the work they did today, whereas in the past, it was lost once the cubes were packed up. I  think this is a good example of how technology, and the iPad in particular, can be used for greater engagement and deeper thinking in Mathematics. Yes, all of the steps in the lessons could have been done without tech or iPad specifically, but I don’t think it is as effective.

The iPad competition: sell us the educational advantage, not the tech specs

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During the week, I attended an ICT Network meeting. A Lenovo sales rep attended the middle session to spruik their latest products, including a laptop/tablet hybrid, which we could at least see and their latest Windows 8 based tablet, which we couldn’t because it has not been released yet. Later in the day, one of our network leaders spend some time showing us the new Windows 8 on his laptop and his Samsung Galaxy (whatever the small one is called).

As I sat there respectfully paying attention, I spent most of my time thinking why do proponents of iPad alternatives spend so much time selling the technical specs that outmatch the iPad and so little time telling us how their preferred product will improve the way our students will learn compared to the iPad.

I’m not trying to be cute here – the iPad is not a perfect product by any stretch of the imagination.( I’d really like a file system structure built in. And a a way better management system for deployment school wide) Despite the Apple themed header of this blog and the heavy emphasis on the ipad, I’m neither an Apple Evangelist nor a “refuse to use Windows” fanboy. My point is this. The iPad clearly got a substantial jump on its rivals and have a major presence in a lot of schools. By now many schools have been using the apps that have to varying degrees changed teaching practices, improved engagement and provided new ways of demonstrating learning. They would have worked out how to get content to and from the iPad without USB connections for data sticks or cards. Many schools would have made substantial investments in iPads and apps. Inboxes are crammed, Scoopits are inundated and Twitter feeds are awash with countless articles on the success stories of iPads in schools (as well as the problems, to be balanced).

In this environment, the iPad opposition has to do something more to sell themselves. What is it they’re selling to schools?

The half laptop/half tablet mutant – if you want something to work like a laptop, get the laptop! We have iPads and laptops. We know the difference. We use them for different purposes. Sticking them together and carrying around both at the same time just seems pointless to me.

Tablets with real keyboards – I know there are plenty of iPads being attached to keyboards. I get it ( but don’t see the point personally). But it’s not Apple’s selling point, it others. The opposition, though, make it one of their main selling points. Again, tech specs. Again, if you want a physical keyboard, get a laptop.

Windows 8 – not going to turn this into a Apple/Microsoft thing. I’m only talking about tablets. I regularly use Splashtop to access my Macs on my iPad. It works for a quick connection to do a few tasks on my Mac from another room but using a full computer desktop system on a tablet is not a great experience. I also occasionally use CloudOn, the online version of Microsoft Office. Again, it works and all the features are there but I can’t last five minutes using all those tiny icons and menu items on my iPad using my finger. The touch interface is a pain with a menu based scrolling window system. I know Windows 8 has the whole tile based touch interface. On a Windows tablet, that makes sense and will make it as user friendly as an Android or iPad. But I keep hearing about how it’s going to allow for a full Windows experience. The demo I saw this week was about how you can switch the tile based interface over to a “more Windows 7” look. So again I ask, if you want the Windows look so much, just stick with a laptop/net book.

Tech Specs – Android vendors have been using this for years with their phones and more recently their tablets and for many it has worked. But a USB port isn’t going to transform learning. An SD card slot isn’t going to engage an 8 year old. Near field communication chips wasn’t on the mind of this primary school kid who made this Solar System video using Explain Everything and iMovie on his iPad. Tech specs may excite the technicians and techie teachers at school but the students just want a tool they are familiar with and use to help them learn. I’m not saying Android and Windows tablets won’t do that. I’m saying no one is selling how they can. They’re just selling the physical features. Physical specs of computers and tablets don’t help us learn. Usability, accessibility, portability and useful software do.

Apps – other than portability, the ease of touch for young students and the integrated audio visual tools of tablets, for me it’s all about the apps. Apple makes the iPad, but dedicated developers make the apps that make it worth having. We’ve used them, advertised them, rated them and there’s a truckload of them ( a lot not worth having of course.) Android has plenty of them too, many of them the same. It might be that I’m not looking, but it just doesn’t seem to be as important to Android vendors to push the apps for education as it does the tech specs. I would actually like to see a Galaxy in action being used for classroom purposes so I could make a comparison. If any readers can direct me to good examples I’m happy to take a look. Same for Microsoft’s Surface. Of course that will take a while because there are next to no apps at the moment – they’re at the iPhone 1 stage of development. Yes, you can use Office, I assume. But we’ve been using that for 20 years in school. Has it really made a difference? If you are going to sell me an alternative to the iPad, give me something groundbreaking in EDUCATION, not something I’ve been using for two decades on a different screen.

Microsoft cornered the market in PCs years ago and won’t get passed. They have business covered. Android will continue to win the numbers game ( but not profit ) in mobile phones. iPods crushed all opposition in the music player market. That’s all irrelevant though here. Ultimately, despite its substantial advantage at present, Apple may get surpassed in the consumer tablet market by Android or, who knows, even Windows 8 tablets in the future. In schools, though, I hope it’s because of a compelling educational argument. We’ve already spent the last 20 years filling up schools with labs of computers that were never fully utilized. I hope we don’t end up with schools full of tablets bought because of tech specs and technician preferences. Hey, I don’t want schools full of iPads that aren’t being used effectively either. All I’m asking is that companies and tech leaders pushing for iPad alternatives start selling the educational benefits of their products not just the price or physical features. We want products that will help us learn. Apple hasn’t got that 100% right either. Lets make sure these things improve education. That’s the bottom line.

Technology – Providing Incredible Opportunities for Students whether we want it to or not

We hear bad stories about young people using technology, especially the internet, at a monotonous regularity. YouTube is awash with ridiculous copycat videos of boys putting themselves in danger. Forums are flooded with a steady stream of insults and rumours from teenagers protected by anonymity. As teachers, we are constantly dealing with reports of cyberbullying on Facebook and Twitter we have no personal control over. If you believed the media shock jocks, every kid on the internet is either an idiot or in great peril.

But I want to tell a different story starring my daughter, her best friend and a small group of friends ( including my opportunistic son!). This is a completely different story that highlights the amazing opportunities that today’s available technology offers our students. It’s also a story about how, if given the freedom, children will take what we ‘make’ them do at school and take it to a whole new level that the limited minds of us teachers don’t even plan for. It explains why student led learning can be a success if we don’t restrict our students from going beyond our stated objectives. It shows how true engagement doesn’t need a teacher or a classroom for children to achieve great things and how technology can allow young students follow their dreams without the restrictions we had in the past.

It begins with a simple project for my daughter’s Studio Arts class. They were asked to create a short Horror film for their major term project. That was the only requirement. My daughter and her friends, from this point on known as BatFilms Productions. ( long story I won’t go into – suffice to say I am listed as ‘Lucius Fox’ in my daughter’s address book)  could have just coasted through the class this term, like apparently some students did, cobbled together a few clips on the computers at school and handed in a bland DVD in a plastic bag to get their ‘At Standard’ mark and go back to studying for their Maths and English exams. That’s all that was expected of them – a video.

Instead, this is what happened. The formed BatFilms Productions. ‘Best Friend’ (who in the 10 years she’s been coming to our house I have never heard utter more than one sentence at a time yet was the star of the movie)  set herself the task of writing the script for the 9 minute ‘epic’. ( the script does not get handed in to the teacher). My daughter started work on the Film Poster and DVD sleeve cover ( also not expected) using her favourite app on her iPad, ArtRage. She is also a budding artist, having attended an after school art class since she was 8. She paints with both natural media and digitally on the iPad, all in her spare time, completing works of art for family members on a regular basis.

Over the Term 3 holidays, while most of their class mates were hanging out at resorts, shopping centres or in front of the TV, Batfilms Productions got together on a Thursday for an all day, all night rehearsal and filming marathon – during the holidays! My kids came home just before midnight, exhausted but excited. “School work” was the highlight of their holiday – and my son wasn’t even part of the assignment. He just went to be the cameraman but is now an official member of Batfilms Productions. Of course by this stage, it had moved beyond school work. A passion had been ignited and it just continued to grow.

While Daughter, who inherited her father’s tech geek gene, got to work on the film editing and production, piecing together hundreds of clips of outakes, bloopers and useable video, Best Friend started thinking about publicity. She set up a YouTube Channel ( not part of the assignment and not connected to the school component at all) and a Twitter Account (again, not part of the school work). Best Friend’s Cousin, also a member of BatFilms, started working on the Film Trailer on iMovie ( also not part of the assignment requirement) and Daughter decided to add a professional edge to the opening credits using another iPad app Intro Designer (she upgraded to the full paid version to get the Horror Movie template ). When she found out about Bsst Friend’s YouTube/Twitter idea, she decided to use her Weebly account to create a Website to advertise Batfilms and their future plans.

Back at school, they discovered their clips weren’t opening on the school computers. Daughter calmly announced she would take them home and convert them ALL on her MacBook using Handbrake. When they viewed the converted files back at school, they noticed pixelation in full screen. They could have accepted mediocrity – at this stage some students hadn’t even filmed their scenes yet – but instead Daughter took them all home again and re did the whole conversion process at a higher resolution setting.

After all that not for extra credit effort, the film was finally completed. It was only now that I found out all they had to hand in was a video. Everything else was their own choice. They handed the movie in completed but all the teacher got was the DVD. What they kept for themselves was a film trailer, extras sections with bloopers and outtakes, a professional standard DVD sleeve and Film poster, and the potential for a real audience through their YouTube Channel, Twitter account and website, none of which would have been encouraged by the school.

What also came out of this was the genesis of a film company with plans made by a group of teenagers to create  more films together. Best Friend already has a script on its way for Movie number two, the completed movie Midnight Man is on Youtube, the Twitter account @BatFilms has started attracting followers and the website tells the story of the fledgling crew and their plans.

The movie itself is pretty good for a bunch of teenagers’ first effort. Me being me, I offered some constructive criticism, suggesting it needed some background music for mood. Daughter said they’d do that for the NEXT movie. Yep, they’re more interested in improving the next movie, the one they have DECIDED to do in their own time, no the one for school.

So what is the message of this story for me as a teacher? Well, there’s several.

  1. Our students are capable of so much more than what we expect of them. They’re not really motivated by grades; they are motivated by engagement. Their reports will probably have the same At Standard score as the slackers who are still working on their films. But BatFilms don’t care. They’re working on their next movie.
  2. As teachers, we need to broaden our learning outcomes and assessment. All these students will be assessed on is the video under the umbrella of Studio Arts. But what else have they demonstrated? Collaboration, entrepreneurism, initiative, teamwork, commitment to excellence, independent learning, communication skills, visual arts, planning, time management and preparation. One of the strengths of Primary School is that your teacher takes you for all classes so she can possibly credit you for all this. Secondary school teachers with their single subject focus may only focus on their narrow subject based outcome. We need to credit our students for unintended outcomes.
  3. We need to know our students’ passions and interests and give them opportunities to grow. The Studio Arts teacher should let the Drama Teacher, the English teacher, the Art Teacher,  the History teacher, the ICT teacher all know what these students are willing to do. Given the opportunity, these kids would put together a great interpretation of Romeo and Juliet or a World War Two battle through the sheer engagement of digital media, showing more understanding than their standard written essay. What they got out of this experience will not show up in a two hour exam.
  4. ICT provides opportunities that us teachers never had when we were students at school. We are limited by our own experiences. We shouldn’t limit our students’ possibilities. Instead of dwelling on the fake death reports and insults on Twitter, explore the possibilities of connecting to promote creative pursuits and worthy causes at school. Use blogs and websites and Youtube. Which leads me to ….
  5. Trust that students can use the Web constructively and responsibly. BatFilms is not a secret project. They are loving that the geeky father is promoting them on his longwinded, highbrow educational blog. Daughter told me straight away that Best Friend had set up the Twitter account. All the parents were asked by the children for permission to set up the YouTube Channel and Twitter. I’m following @Batfilms and Daughter has already blocked a follower who was promoting inappropriate material for them. Daughter is already a Weebly veteran, having set up a website Gleje Comics, displaying her comic strips series and soon to be released animations. She registered her site on the Comic Book Archive to promote it and has followers. ( She’s aiming for a career in computer animation.) They are responsible kids whose only interest in the internet is promoting their talents. Give students the opportunity to be responsible and creative and they will become good digital citizens.

So let’s not limit our students. Let them explore every possibility and bring their own goals along. If we are not getting the best out of them the traditional way, we need to try it their way. Trust technology to open up those possibilities. They’ll do it without you anyway. BatFilms did. Wouldn’t we prefer our students to put in all that effort and be rewarded and acknowledged for it at school as well as outside? Wouldn’t it be better to tap into that energy and enthusiasm and be there to add our experience and knowledge to the mix to improve the experience? I’m reading enough about how we don’t need schools or teachers as we know them anymore. We do. Students still need us. But we need to meet them in their world and support them there. And for those who want to dwell on the students who didn’t make the same effort to argue against the engagement factor of technology, go ahead. I’ll focus on the positive story of BatFilms Productions.

P.S. Please check out the video. They’d like an audience. And Daughter’s comics too.

Pain and Remedies of Sharing iPads in Schools

NASA Visualization Explorer (iPad app)

There is no end to the uses of the iPad in education. I’ve discussed that ad nauseum on this blog. As a learning tool, it has the potential to make a great positive change to learning. The only problem is Apple designed it for individual use. Schools are designed for ( or budgeted for) shared use. Conventional wisdom is for iPad use to occur in a 1:1 or BYOD Environment. In the best case scenario,  I wholeheartedly agree. Unfortunately, financial realities will often dictate that sharing is the only viable option if we want our students to enjoy the benefits of the iPad. It can be done effectively – I’ve shared my thoughts early in the year about the pros and cons of shared iPads – but doesn’t happen without some time consuming workarounds. What follows is my take on the pains (and remedies) of sharing iPads in a rather large Primary (elementary) school.

If you have your own iPad, privacy, safety and security boils down to deciding to use a passcode to lock your iPad screen and, if required, being connected to your school’s network filtering system. In a shared iPad environment there is a truckload more of procedures, policies and effort involved.

In our situation, the iPads are mainly for the students but I have assigned each of the iPads to a teacher for overnight borrowing. This allows them the opportunity to explore the preinstalled apps and experiment with how they can use the iPad in their classes. With the iPads being shared with students from Prep to Grade 6,though, we need to be careful with what teachers leave accessible on the tablet. Because of this, we had to adopt a borrowing agreement for teachers to sign. It covered accountability for damage, stipulations that all work done on the iPad be removed, limits on sites visited on the browsers, and most importantly, returning it the next day so the students can access them. The restrictions have limited the borrowing by teachers during the year, especially the need to clear them of all work. Getting teachers onto options like Dropbox, which is accessible through most of the apps we use would alleviate the pain, especially now that it is finally working at school, but that’s another PD program in itself.

Our school has had issues with using a proxy server with iPads since we’ve had them. With multiple users trying to log on to the internet using their own secure username and password, we had issues with Safari staying connected to accounts and  apps randomly trying to connect to the internet via repeating login screens. We have recently switched over to ZSCALER which not only has solved the proxy conflict with most apps, most notably Dropbox and Evernote, but has also made accessing the internet with multiple users more secure. Each time a user has log on since ZSCALER, there has been no issue with Safari staying connected to a particular user’s account.

However, a new issue has arisen, albeit with a solution already worked out. ZSCALER works with an initial log on via a designated username and password per computer. This works well on computers that allow for individual user accounts. The problem with the iPad is that there is a single user set up , not logins. This means that whoever logs in to ZSCALER on the iPad first stays connected to their ZSCALER permissions. Even though each additional user can log onto their personal internet account, their access is dictated by the permissions of the first user. This is fraught with danger if the first user is a teacher with full access and then a Prep student gets it and no sites are blocked!!

The intial workaround is to go into Safari settings and clear the History and Cookies. This resets ZSCALER and allows for a new login. The problem with this solution is that we don’t want the students messing around with settings. What we’ve decided to do is create a single student user account that contains all the permissions appropriate for students and login into all the iPads with that as a one off. Then they can be left alone. Teachers will have to live with the restrictions.

One successful remedy we have working consistently well is accessing the school network. Using the iPad app FileBrowser, which I outline in this post, everyone can log on to the network and access their files, which can be opened on the iPad if a compatible app exists. With most apps accessing FileBrowser through the Open in… function, users can also save their work back to the school network. The added bonus of FileBrowser is that it can access the iPad camera roll so any image or movie saved by apps there can be copied to the network through the app. The only issue is making sure everyone logs out of the network when they finish using Filebrowser ( this involves a simple click on an electric plug icon). This is one success story with sharing iPads without any lasting issues.

The most obvious problem with sharing iPads, and yes I know it has been discussed at length on countless iPad flavoured blogs, is the lack of file system and autosave/store within app functionality of the iPad. It’s great for its original purpose of easy access for the intended individual use scenario. For shared environments, it creates a mountain of files stored by potentially hundreds of users. Will other users delete/ overwrite or edit the file? Will we run out of storage space because of the number of photos, movies, animations, comic strips, documents, drawings, ebooks etc floating around all those apps waiting to be completed?

Again, all of this can be dealt with through a number of file sharing or transferring methods. I’ve already mentioned the successful use of FileBrowser. Dropbox or Google Drive access is another good option, emailing files is often used by those less adept at using newer methods. The biggest issue is consistent adoption of these methods. Often students and teachers save their work to one of the above options but still leave the original copy on the iPad. This leads to a build up of files that no one is certain are safe to be deleted. It will take time for everyone at school to get into the routine of transfer then delete, but it is a workable solution.

Funnily enough, for many at school, the biggest issue of sharing has nothing to do with the limitations of the technical side of the iPad. It’s simply the access to them. At present, they are stored centrally in one place in a set of carry trays. For some, and it is a reasonable complaint, it is difficult to carry them across the expanses of our rather large property to their class rooms, especially the juniors who can’t rely on the little ones to help carry them. On top of that, some still find it a technical chore to use the online borrowing system I have devised. And of course, 35 iPads for 760 students ‘aint’ exactly 1:1!

Having brought up all these issues, though, doesn’t downplay the successful use of iPads that have taken place this year. Many videos, ebooks, slideshows, digital stories, audio recordings and comics would not have been made without their introduction. Junior grades without the widespread access to other technology enjoyed by the senior grades have been given greater opportunities with ICT as a result of the iPads. Engagement in learning has undoubtedly been enhanced. With plans for more, access will become less problematic. With our proxy server issues over, we can set up cloud options for transferring files and continue to improve in our use of FileBrowser and deleting files when finished with them. We will always be a shared iPad environment. We will make it work.

What stories do you have of your shared iPad experiences. Please leave a comment to let us know. Join the conversation.

The iPad – What it should and shouldn’t be for Education

This blog originally started as a reflection journal as I begun a pilot program for using iPads at my school. My early posts ( check January and February posts ) were discussions of the pros and cons of iPads. As the year has gone by and I have more time to research, read other iPad articles and experiment more with apps and with the students using them more frequently, I’ve had time to reflect on what iPads are offering schools. I’m not going to debate what model of iPad program to commit to – 1:1 or shared. I’m simply going to concentrate on what I think schools should consider before committing to iPads at all.

What you should use iPads for in schools

Multimedia content creation
I am so sick of the tech press misrepresenting the iPad purely as a content consumption device and complaining that it is not for content creation. I think they confuse content creation with publishing their articles with a traditional keyboard. On the contrary, the main reason schools should invest in iPads IS Content Creation. I’m not talking about Word or PowerPoint documents. That’s 20th century publishing that was meant for office workers and businessmen in the first place, not school kids.

What the iPad offers to children is the ability to capture, develop and publish their learning in the creative, engaging, multimedia way they experience the world. Traditional keyboard/writing based computing held back younger students and limited older ones. Now they can take pictures, record their voices (VoiceThread,GarageBand), create videos and slideshows(iMovie, SonicPics), annotate diagrams (Skitch), explain and record their learning in screencasts (Explain Everything, Doceri, Showme), use animated puppets to tell stories (Sock Puppets, Toontastic), create comic strips or whole comic books ( Comic Life, Strip Designer) combine text,freehand drawing and pictures in mind maps (Popplet, iMindmap) and publish interactive, multimedia books that others can read on their iPads (BookCreator,Creative Book Builder). All from the one device without having to connect any other tech up with wires and search for the files. The iPad is the ultimate one stop shop for student content creation that goes well beyond what they were capable of achieving easily just a couple of years ago. The beauty of all these apps is that they are multipurpose apps. They can be used in all curriculum areas and their uses are only limited by your or your student imagination. A Word Document could only do so much. Multimedia apps can allow for so much more scope for learning.

Portable, anywhere, interactive collaborative learning
The beauty of the iPad is its portability and use anywhere capability. Desktops anchor you to a desk and isolate you from a group. Laptops are still too cumbersome to carry around and the built in cameras and microphones are too restrictive. The iPad frees you up to use it anywhere any time. On a field trip/excursion? Take the iPad along with you and do all your work live and instantly. Take pictures and record a commentary for an instant report. Record footage of your physical activity in PE classes and play back for instant feedback on your performance, in slow motion with iMotion HD. Create a documentary on the spot with the video camera and iMovie. With wifi available, report live from an event with FaceTime or Skype. The physical makeup of the iPad makes for a more social sharing environment that isn’t as easy or effective in a lab of desktops or the one way screens of laptops. The tactile nature of the touchscreen brings students together and the multimedia capabilities can be shared by a group.

Social, interactive Reading the “digital literacy way”
One of the best activities on an iPad is reading, but not in the traditional sense. If you just want to read, get a book from the library – it’s cheaper. Reading on a iPad is a much richer experience and can enhance the educational experience in schools. Reading in iBooks allows you to highlight passages and record annotated notes which are then stored and organized in a dedicated bookmarked section and look up definitions without flicking through a dictionary. Using PDF annotation apps you can do limitless note taking without running out of space on the page.

While you can do the same on a traditional computing device, the use of social bookmarking tools and curation website bookmarklets make collaborative reading a far easier proposition, simply because of the book like experience sitting with an iPad gives you. Having students sitting in a group using Diigo’s shared annotation tools allows for both real conversation and tech based note sharing that can be referred to later. It also allows for collaboration with students outside the group which widens the community of learners you can work with. Individually, finding sites to share with others and then posting them on Scoop-it, Diigo, Edmodo, sharing via Twitter or other social media sites via bookmarklets, share buttons or through apps like Zite and Flipboard just seems more natural on a touchscreen tablet rather than on a mouse driven computer.

Other

Check out my other posts on Writing, Maths and Literacy ( in the Categories section on the right) for my other uses for iPads – I don’t want to repeat myself too much. Suffice to say, the iPad has the potential to change the way we learn and teach if we take the time to research and investigate what others are doing. I have curated a wealth of resources for you to use on my Scoopit page linked at the top of my blog page as well as in my Diigo Bookmarks under the iPad tag also accessible above.

The iPad, however, is not perfect by any means and does have limitations to consider. There are some things it can’t do at all and many things that are best done on other devices. Read on for what they shouldn’t be used for in schools.

What you shouldn’t use iPads for in schools

This list is more about poor decision making about getting iPads rather than the iPad’s lack of ability to manage the task. It’s also more applicable to a school setting ( i use my iPad for a lot of things completely un-school related, which shouldn’t be a factor for getting them for school) and why you are choosing iPads over other computing options. If it can’t do the task as effectively as a “computer”, if it isn’t going to be an improvement and make a profound change to how you use tech in education, if it isn’t going to be any different to what you are already doing with desktop or laptop computers, then consider whether the iPad is really what you want.

Traditional word processing
Don’t get me wrong. I use my iPad for about 90% of the word processing I do. Most of this blog has been published using my iPad. Having said that, if you’re going to jump on the bandwagon and buy iPads and then complain about not having Microsoft Office on it, or that Pages messes up the formatting of the Word Document you just imported or you don’t like the touchscreen keyboard for typing, you haven’t thought about why you want iPads. If all your students do with tech at school is publish stories and reports in Word, then you will find your iPads being underutilized.

Replacing books just for reading or lightening the load in your students’ backpacks.
Personally, I read a lot on my iPad. But, as I outlined in the “What you should use iPads for in Schools” section of this post, I don’t just read with my iPad. Once again, it is a wasted opportunity for changing the way you foster learning in your school if your main reason for buying iPads is to replace books/textbooks with ebooks and PDF scans of textbooks. This does not enhance learning. This does not change the way you teach. Just reading books on an iPad makes no difference to education. It may be advertised to consumers as a great e-reader, and as a way of carrying around a truckload of books to read on a vacation it’s great, but if schools are going to invest vast amounts of money on iPads only to fill them up with ebook versions of novels or PDF copies of chapters from their Maths text books so our children can prop them up on a table while they complete Exercise 7A of the Quadratic Equations Chapter in their exercise books, we’ve missed the point.

If you have invested a lot of time, effort and money in Web 2.0 tools or educational management systems.
While there is much press about the demise of Flash support for mobile devices ( Android included ) and the rise of HTML5 sites, the vast majority of educational sites on the Internet are Flash or Java based. While many are free, educational versions of these sites usually cost a fair investment to use with large numbers of children. iPads don’t support these tools well. Yes, there are workaround solution in the form of dedicated iPad browsers like Puffin and Photon that use server based connections to provide useable Flash experience on iPads, but they are serviceable at best and inadequate or unusable at worst. While I have no experience of it, Moodle is widely used in schools as well and does not play well with iPads. Interactive whiteboard software like Promethean’s Activinspire doesn’t have an iPad version so you can’t create or edit flip charts on iPads with their software. So if your school has invested heavily in Web 2.0 tool licenses, Moodle like systems or have spent the last 5 years training you to make interactive whiteboard flip charts, consider the wisdom of moving to an iPad only set up.

Are you a Google Apps for Education school?
This is open for debate as I have visited schools that are 1:1 iPad schools who use Google Apps. From my experience, the user experience is not good enough. Maybe for word processing it’s functional but the Google spreadsheet experience is woefully inadequate on the iPad. If you have made a big investment in Google Apps, I’d stick with netbooks/laptops.

Website design/blog management
Web site building tools on the web like Weebly or Wix are useable and most of the publishing work of blogs can be done on an iPad. However,if you have an ICT course that is heavily involved in website building or you need to edit graphic elements or widget components of blogs, iPads don’t handle the task completely and you’ll need to stick with traditional computing.

Dedicated specialist software compatibility
Without listing them, there is obviously a huge range of software for specific purposes that aren’t supported and are unlikely to ever be supported on the iPad. While it may seem bleeding obvious, schools need to take this into account before dedicating their entire budget to a 1:1 iPad program.

Final thoughts
I started the year thinking the iPad was the one stop solution. I’ve come to believe now that a multi device option is preferable. 1:1 iPads would be great in an ideal world but the financial reality for school with substantial investments in other tech already doesn’t make it practical for a complete change. My school already has a lot of laptops and desktops in use. They are used for many valid purposes such as those listed above. It’s not reasonable to think we would replace all our resources with just iPads when there are good things already being done with them. So we are going down the horses for courses route. More iPads are likely to be purchased next year and used for all he great multimedia purposes outlined. Web tools, research, Flash and Java Ed sites, word processing, blogging, compatibility issues will continue to be addressed with our computers. I’m starting to think it’s the best of both worlds.

But what do you think? Have I under or oversold the iPad? Are there compelling reasons for iPads in education I’ve left out ? Are there other reasons for not committing to them? Share your thoughts. This is far from an exhaustive post. Join the conversation.

Maths Extension – engagement with nrich and Edmodo

Earlier in the year I wrote a post titled “Maths Extension/Enrichment with Edmodo“, outlining my plans for an enrichment/extension program for high achievers in Maths at school. It took longer than anticipated to get started but from the start of Term 3 (July), I met with 5 Grade 6 students, 8 Grade 5 students and a couple of very bright Grade 4 boys on a weekly basis for an hour. ( Another teacher does the same with Grade 3 and 4 students ).While we can argue that research suggests mixed ability groupings are more beneficial ( for the rest of the week, these children work in that environment), I am in no doubt that the program has been a resounding success and a great sense of engagement and enjoyment has been felt by all involved, including the Maths teacher!

Whether it is enrichment, extension or a mix of both, which was a point of contention with some readers back in the original post, I am not sure. Regardless, some great mathematical thinking is taking place every week between an enthusiastic, engaged group of students.

The weekly lesson itself takes no time to plan. I simply upload a problem to the MEP (Math Extension Program) Edmodo group at the start of the week so the students can check in for some preparation time before we meet. Don’t get me wrong, I know exactly what I want out of the lesson when I select the problem and I send a post lesson report to the classroom teachers outlining what we did. The beauty of what we do, though, is that we don’t know what will result from the lesson until it is over. There is no chalk and talk, no pre-task explanation of what to do, no expectations that we have to solve it at the end of the hour. What you will see is a group of mathematicians sitting around together, sharing strategies, discoveries, questions verbally, through demonstrations on the whiteboard or via iPads or by posting on Edmodo.

What has improved throughout the term has been their problem solving skills, collaborative discussions, use of technology aids to organise and simplify the process ( Numbers on the iPad  has been a real winner, using formulas to test and monitor conjectures, as has Explain Everything to record ideas and share via the whiteboard) and most importantly, their ability to articulate their thinking and learning, both their successes and failures ( something they haven’t experienced much beforehand).

A great example of the whole process is our last learning experience, which lasted over two weeks. Most of our problems have come from the well established Maths Enrichment website, nrich. ( another worthwhile site is New Zealand Maths ). The beauty of nrich is the incentive to have your solutions published on their website, giving bragging rights to those who succeed, either partially or fully ( more on that later) Our last problem before the holiday was Summing Consecutive Numbers. The problem is presented via an introductory video that explained the nature of the  task. Each student had their own iPad ( its only a small group – we could have used the laptops) so watched it independently. After a two minute debrief to make sure everyone understood the task, we went straight into solving the problem. Beforehand, though, we made a pact that we would publish our solution on nrich, which always had to be posted by the 21st of each month, which just happened to be the last day of Term 3 ( we had previously missed deadlines or solved old problems, so this was our first chance.)

What was great about this particular problem was that the task itself was simple to start with – just adding numbers – but discovering and proving patterns and formulas was a real challenge that need real arguing and collaboration. During the first hour, the students were so focused on discovering patterns. Every idea they had, no matter how small, was posted on Edmodo. This proved to be an important step as the following week we were able to refer back to all of our discoveries. LEt me interject here and state that I was an active part of this as well. Before the lesson started, I was none the wiser about the solutions so I became an authentic learner with my group, making conjectures and testing theories side by side with them. (I talked about the importance of being a learning role model in a previous post). Some children used Numbers spreadsheets to arrrange the numbers into common sets as we investigated, others jsut used pen and paper while others used Explain Everything to brainstorm every idea they had. At the end of the sessions, we had over 60 posts on Edmodo and had made some amazing progress and they continued on over the weekend and into the following week determined to meet our deadline.

The following week, we met with all of our discoveries articulated on Edmodo and we were ready to write our Proof of the Summing of Consecutive Numbers. The final result was exceptional and is published below for your viewing pleasure.
Consecutive Numbers Proof
I showed their classroom teachers and my fellow MEP teacher and they were blown away by the depth of articulation and understanding in the submission. I merely guided them through the process of writing the proof but it is all their work (some sentence structures needed some modelling). To a person, they all requested a copy to put in their blogs and digital portfolios and now wait excitedly for the news it is posted on nrich’s website next month. Regardless, I am going to showcase their effort at the School Assembly, much to their satisfaction of being recognised for being mathematicians.

Being such a successful and rewarding experience, I then started thinking – should this just be the domain of the MEP group? Why can’t the other students in their grade follow the same process? It’s not as if they don’t do problem solving based tasks. This task in particular could have been entered into by ALL the students at different levels and the MEP students could have worked with the others to extend their thinking. The more I work with my group, the more I realise this model of collaborative problem solving should be done more at school. Sure, some of the less able students would not have arrived at the sophistication of thinking these high achievers attained but they could have contriubted to the adding and would have discovered some of the lower level patterns.

I think we have to stop thinking that not all students can enter into these tasks. Nrich is full of problems for all ability levels. Its my new goal to attack at school. I still think these MEP students deserve their time together to work with like minds. But I also think everyone deserves the experience they are getting. It’s what a differentiated curriculum is all about.

iOS 6 update bonuses for education ( not for tech heads)

iOS 6 has finally arrived and all the tech press will be ranting and raving about Siri improvements, Passbook, Apple’s new maps and whatever Android has that Apple hasn’t done yet. I’m more interested in improvements that have gone largely unnoticed that mean a better experience in a school environment, especially one like mine where we are using iPads in a shared device situation.
This is what I like so far.

Browser photo uploads.
Finally, we can upload photos and videos from the camera roll on the iPad onto websites. This will make publishing blogs and websites a reality on the iPad. Previously this has been a real drawback at school. Students would create some great work in iMovie, Comic Life, SonicPics etc. or take/download some photos then have to go through the time consuming process of transferring them to a a desktop or laptop computer before uploading their creations to their blog or website. now, through an updated Safari, they can add their work straight from the photo library as they would on a computer. Sadly, you can only upload photos and videos. You still can’t upload documents, but it is a big improvement in the workflow.

iWork apps and transferring elsewhere
For as long as I have used an iPad or iPhone, I’ve been able to transfer or save most document based work created on my iOS devices to Dropbox, Evernote, PDF apps or even the school network through the Open in…. Function of iOS. Bizarrely, and damned annoyingly, the one exception to this rule was Apple’s own iWork apps – Pages, Numbers and Keynote. Apple’s stubbornness in making iTunes Sharing, iCloud or iWork.com ( along with email and WebDAV) the only options made working in a PC centric environment difficult with its otherwise superior apps ( compared to other Office compatible apps). Well, Alleluia, Praise The Lord, Cupertino’s engineers have finally added Open in Another App as an option. Combined with DropBox, Google Drive, Box, or Filebrowser ( for school network connections) we can now easily save our Pages/Numbers/Keynote Documents to other apps or locations so that we don’t have to rely on using the same shared iPad all the time. It also means we have backups elsewhere in case other users accidentally delete the file on the iPad. Would be nice if they could next add the same feature to GarageBand and iMovie so we can back those files up as well.

Improved Open in…. Functionality
While I loved using the open in function to transfer or save my files to other apps or locations, I was still sometimes frustrated when I could select my preferred app or network. Previously, the list of options was limited to 10 apps and sometimes the random order of the function meant even though I wanted to save to Dropbox, the list would have other compatible apps for a PDF or document listed in the ten and Dropbox would be inaccessible. Apple has finally fixed this ridiculous limitation by allowing for unlimited options in the open in menu. They have changed the look of the selection box and allowed for a swipe action to take you to a second panel of options. Now I can be confident of always being able to select my preferred choice for transferring from one app or location to another.

Updating without passwords
As the tech admin in charge of keeping the iPads up to date ( I was the holder of the school account password) it was very time consuming and frustrating to be solely responsible for updating apps on the school iPads and iPods. I know I could run updates by syncing the iPads To iTunes on the computer but that just seemed unnecessary and a waste of time ( wireless syncing seem to be a problem on our network – possibly a proxy problem). Now that updating apps no longer need passwords, I can rely on the other teachers to do the updates themselves.

Improved ( but still not completely fixed ) proxy bypassing or access.
This is not a problem for everyone but it certainly has been for us. Early iOS iterations would not allow any apps requiring Internet connection ( most notably Dropbox and Evernote ) to function over a proxy server. More recent updates have allowed downloading from Dropbox to access files but not uploading. Same with Evernote – syncing didn’t work. Dragon Dictation wouldn’t work either because it needed to connect to a server. With iOS 6, I can finally sync Evernote at school, which is good news for teachers would have been using Evernote for assessment records but being annoyed by the fail to sync messages at school. Unfortunately uploading to Dropbox is still not working. I haven’t tested Dragon Dictation today – will update with answer tomorrow. We switch to a new proxy system in the next couple of weeks which is supposed to fix the issue but no guarantees. In the meantime, at least Evernote is working and maybe an updated Dropbox app might fix the problem by taking advantage of iOS 6s new, supposed global proxy connection.

UPDATE:Guided Access

read this article that explains tbe benefits of Guided Access for special needs students like those with autism and also to prevent cheating. 

They’re the main improvements I’ve noticed so far – it’s only been a day. It’s good to see a native Clock app that can be used as a timer, stopwatch, alarm and world clock – all useful tools in a school. Saves spending 99 cents an iPad for a fully functional alternative. You can also import songs from itunes straight into Garageband and then into iMovie – good for adding soundtracks to videos.

One drawback with iOS 6 on iPads is the (probably temporary) disappearance of a native YouTube app – iPhone/iPad app is available from App Store and Google but not for iPad yet. 3D maps are a nice improvement in the new Map apps for exploring different cities in class, too.

Have I missed anything else useful for school situations? Drop a comment if you have noticed something else. I’ll continue looking in the meantime.

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.

Transferring files to and from iPad using FileBrowser

Many users bemoan the lack of connectivity when discussing the iPad. True, I would love Apple to include native wireless networking similar to the Mac Finder that has access to all files on either iPad or Mac/PC. There are very useful options out there, however, that do the job very effectively. My favorite app for connecting to computers without iTunes or a cable is FileBrowser (available as a universal app for both iPhone/iPod Touch and iPad ).

I’ve been using Filebrowser for a long time and I find it great for transferring work to and from any computer that shares the same wireless network as my iPad or iPhone. It is very simple to set up – all you need is file sharing/network name of the computer you want to access and the username and password for connecting to the computer. At school, I had no problem connecting to a Windows based server with security settings without the IT technician’s assistance. (For full set up instructions and user guide, visit the app creator’s website. They will also give you good email support if you need it.)

Many apps will open in …. Filebrowser, especially PDF and document apps ( annoyingly Apple’s iWork apps don’t – wish Apple would make their apps more open to sharing options; clearly the system allows it when all other apps do   UPDATE – As of iOS 6, Apple’s iWork Apps ( Pages, Keynote and Numbers now work with FileBrowser as well as DropBox and Google Drive). This enables you to transfer a Word-compatible document or PDF file to your computer or workplace network. Any app that can save its content to the iPad’s photo library as a movie or image is accessible to Filebrowser network transferring as well. This is what I want to share with you today.

Working in a school with iPads shared with all the grades, it is important that students and teachers can easily transfer their work from the iPad to the school network. It doesn’t take long for an iPad to fill up if photos, comic strips, movies, slideshows and the like from 28 different grades at left languishing on it. While you can connect the iPad to a computer via USB connector, it can be inconvenient and timeconsuming, particularly with iTunes file sharing as an option for documents. Sure, Dropbox can be used in many cases but not every grade or teacher is using Dropbox at school at present. So a good option for transfer is FileBrowser.

While not as easy as drag and drop or using Save as…’ , the Filebrowser system is a simple matter of selecting, copying and pasting. I have had the opportunity to show some of my staff through morning training sessions but to assist in school wide adoption, I have made this video tutorial using the Explain Everything App and posted it on YouTube.

While it is aimed at my staff, the steps outlined are relevant to any setup you may have. It is predominantly about transferring photos but the same steps are required for saving any document. I hope you find it useful if you are considering this as an option. If you have found other options for network connectivity with the iPad, I would love to find out about alternatives. Filebrowser is not free ($5.49AU at present, but has been as low as $2.99) so will set back a school a bit of money when deployed to a lot of iPads. For me, though, it is worth the money, certainly for individual iPad users who want access to their computers.

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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