My iPad – the “nearly a PC” for teaching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coveritlive chapter discussion embedded in Edmodo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

courtesy of Evernote support page

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

Getting teachers on board the iPad Express

Technology has been with us since I’ve been a teacher. I started my career succumbing to the alluring aroma of the Gestetner (Ditto/Banda/spirit duplicator) machine and its purple stained sheet. Then the photocopier arrived and we didn’t think it could get any better than making copies of a page for every child. The reality is that many teachers still rely heavily on the immediacy and simplicity of the photocopied black line master provided by someone else. It is far less confusing that all that technical mum jumbo introduced with the computer in the 90s.

The challenge then with the iPad is like anything else computer related. Can we get the teachers on board? Regardless of Apple’s PR machine telling us how magical and simple it is, despite the fact a toddler can pick one up and play games without batting their cute little eyelids, the fact remains there are still many teachers who haven’t embraced laptops after 15 years of exposure let alone a completely different system present in the iPad. Already inundated with training in new Maths and Literacy methods, weighed down by the pressures of Personalising learning and continuous assessment, asking the reluctant techno phobe to spend time learning the tricks of the wonder tablet can be a big ask.

So how do we do it? For successful integration of iPads in classrooms to happen, you have to convince the classroom teacher that it’s worth the effort. In no particular order, these are my suggestions (with a little help from my blogging friends).

Get Leadership on board.
Sometimes it’s easy for leaders to see or hear about something and want it to happen. They then pass it on to the next level with the specific expertise in the area to make it happen. Nothing wrong with that.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/yourdon/5131417568/

That’s distributive leadership and in theory it works effectively. The problem arises when there are so many initiatives within a school there is a battle for ‘airtime’ to get your ‘baby’ in the spotlight at staff meetings, planning days, and so on. So, for me, it becomes really important that if the iPad is to become reality at the school, the leadership of the school have to live with it as well. Staff have to see the leaders of the school embrace the iPad at the school. The leaders have to initiate conversation about it. They have to be seen using it and talking about how they can see it being used in their area of expertise. Everyone expects the ICT leaders to do it. They’re experts – it’s easy for them. But if the previously reluctant literacy or numeracy co-ordinator presents a staff meeting using the iPad as a tool, if the principal shares a reflection made using an iPad, maybe, just maybe, the unsure members of the staff may have a go at trying out this new device.

Early testers
You can’t expect everyone to jump on board just because you’re excited. Everyone has their own stuff to do and won’t take the time to try something new just because you want them to. From my experience, compliance doesn’t work. Teachers go through the motions in public or give it a go for the required time, then go back to their preferred way of being when no one’s watching. Hey, I’ve done it, so let’s not kid ourselves.

A far more practical way is to get the Willing involved. Get a small group of early adopters together, preferably one from each level if you can, and build their capacity for using the iPad. Give them the chance to discover new ways of teaching with it. Provide opportunities for them to share their ideas with their colleagues. Some team teaching/collaboration could show the reluctant how the iPad can work with their students. Of course it won’t be all plain sailing. They’ll get distracted by the gimmicky. They’ll misunderstand what some apps can do. They’ll be unsure of all the possibilities. However, over time, with support, I think it will work.

Professional Development
Obviously not the typical “everyone sit in front of an interactive whiteboard and watch how great this is” style of PD. The introduction of ICT tools need better than that. I’m talking about continuous, regular, “hands on” collaboration. One of my favorite bloggers, Henrietta Miller, introduced me to the idea of Techie Brekkies.

The stark reality in schools is that staff meetings are almost fully booked before the year begins. In competition with Literacy, Numeracy, Inquiry, Administrative matters, and all the other stuff that just has to happen, ICT would be lucky to get a couple of meetings a year. So you have to be smart and creative. Techie Brekkies are a way of getting teachers together informally to learn, share, collaborate in small doses on a single topic voluntarily. (more detailed info here courtesy of Henrietta). We started late last year. We had some good ones. We had some bad ones. This year I hope to be more organized and offer a more structured program in collaboration with what teachers want. we have to get the timing right as well so more will commit. But I see it as vital.

Finally, the real experts – the kids!
Teachers want the best for their students. There’s no doubt about that. If, and to be honest it’s still a big if, the iPads could make a big difference to their learning, teachers will want them in their rooms. So what better way to get teachers on board than to get their class to convince them.

20120128-104308.jpgDon’t let the teachers hang onto the iPads too long. Get them in the hands of those we are supposed to be buying them for. As I mentioned in my “no web 2.0 = iPad fail” post, web 2.0 tools exploded in Grade 6 last year because the kids were already using them at home and introduced them to classes through their presentations. Children find this whole technology thing a lot more natural than most of us adults. While we are muddling around trying to work out whether to pinch, swipe or double tap, they have probably already half finished their animation or movie on the iPad. left alone, children experiment instead of panic. They try instead of give up. So give the iPads to them. Either way it will work out. If they love them and embrace them, then teacher will want them in their room. On the other hand, if we discover they are not as excited about them as we thought they would be, then we will quickly find out we don’t need to blow $30000 on equipment we don’t need.

As an aside, I hope to work with our school’s newly elected student ICT leadership team along with our ICT Leader to develop capacity in using ICT in all classrooms. If it gets off the ground ( and we haven’t had the discussion yet as a school so it may not), I can see this as an opportunity for these students to be a great support in testing iPad apps out and sharing with the school. We may even get them to start a blog like me to help out the school community. Just a thought but you have to dream.

It’s all fantastic for school leaders and individuals alike to have great ideas. However, without the teachers being on board with the idea, it never works. So, if you’re planning on implementing some kind of iPad program in the future, consider these issues carefully.

To be honest, I’ve only lived through a fraction of what I have discussed here. The majority of it is hope and theory. I’d love to hear from other schools who have actually gone “whole hog” with iPads or just started smaller programs as well. How did you do it? Am I making sense or well off the mark? Leave a comment and join the conversation.

Do we NEED iPads?

Those who know me are aware of my great cynicism. I always focus on the possible negatives before I look at the positives. It’s why my Year 11 English teacher put me in the debating team. I have challenged every educational initiative introduced in the last 25 years before I have accepted or rejected them.

Which leads me to the iPad in the classroom. While I am a huge fan of the device now, this time last year I had no intention of having one and only became addicted because of a generous gift. Of course I want the iPad to be a success at school but I can see a lot of issues that should be addressed. So in true Mark Gleeson fashion I am going to convince myself that my school needs iPads by convincing myself and you that my school doesn’t need iPads! (here’s hoping I lose!)

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Here are the main points I’m going to argue on behalf of my school

  1. We already have laptops. How is the iPad going to be a better experience? Do we need yet another ICT device to add to our collection of gadgets
  2. A lot of the latest and greatest web 2.0 apps are flash based and don’t work on iPads. Are we limiting our children’s access to what is needed?
  3. The iPad was designed as a personal device. Can we get the best out of them if the students have to share them.
  4. Do teachers need to believe in the benefits of the iPad for them to be successfully integrated into our school curriculum?
  5. Can we ensure their safe and responsible use without the ability to monitor activity on iPads?
  6. Where’s the proof they will improve learning and engagement?
  7. Does the school need clear criteria for investing in iPads?

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to attack each of these issues. Feel free to join in the conversation.