Tailor Made ICT PD for Staff

Sometimes we need support getting to ICT heaven!

In an earlier post on Teacher Technology PD, I mentioned 5 key ingredients to support the important development of Educational Technology in schools.

  1. PLTs dedicated to Technology integration into our teaching practices
  2. A constant focus on Technology throughout lesson and unit planning
  3. A restructuring of the role of ICT Leaders/teachers in schools
  4. A greater focus on Technology in Teacher Training programs
  5. A commitment to Technology Professional Development courses on an equal footing with Literacy and Numeracy Projects.
Obviously, I have no influence over the last two points, which are system wide initiatives. It is the first three that we can make a difference at individual school, and possibly, district level. In another post, I reflected on my dreams for this year in ICT at school.
  • Collaborative, ‘always on’ staff communication. In short, I dream of school system wide adoption of Edmodo, GoogleDocs, Dropbox and Diigo.
  • We have the hardware, let’s ALL use it. In short, PD has to be regular, consistent, continuous, collaborative, hands on and purposeful (linked to teaching and learning practice)
  • Student-led ICT development and  improvement. In short, establish an energising, active and supportive Student ICT Leadership team dedicated to the ongoing adoption and growth of ICT in our school
At the time, I thought they were great ideas that were unlikely to be implemented but we’ve made some real progress at the leadership level since then and I am really excited about the upcoming term at school. A commitment to ICT PD  for 2012 has been made and several initiatives are on track.

 

As part of our Contemporary Teaching and Learning Project, each Grade Level has taken on a project to trial and implement new learning and teaching techniques. A couple of teams have chosen ICT as a focus. This means a number of PLT sessions and extra planning time will be dedicated to planning for ICT at the classroom level. One team has chosen Web 2.0 tools and have already had a session with the ICT team to discuss their options.

 

What was exciting was that in that initial session, we quickly moved into a discussion about how the ICT can be used to improve learning. We discussed possible uses within the Grade Curriculum and finished the session with a clear plan for what we wanted to do. This is what I meant when I said staff meetings couldn’t meet the needs of individuals or specific teams, The level of professional educational discussion we had would never happen at a whole school meeting. Within this PLT environment, individuals were able to open address their strengths and weaknesses, set goals for themselves ( within the group were early adopters willing to try anything and self professed technophobes who had a great desire to improve and use ICT effectively but didn’t know how to start.). By the end of the session, they had a chance to explore some tools we had discussed could address the educational outcomes we had developed and are ready to go next term.

 

Encouragingly, ICT has also found a place in the PLT timetable. Teachers also communicated in the survey mentioned below a desire for sections of Curriculum Planning/PLTs to be dedicated to ICT integration with input from ICT team members who can attend for short amounts of time. This will require communication of planning focus so ICT team members can come prepared to contribute effectively.

 

Outside of the PLT/Planning, we agreed upon the need for further training in specific Web Tools, ICT usage and iPads/iPod Touches/Interactive Whiteboards. Again, we identified that there was a need for more than the occasional staff meeting or relying on teachers to train themselves. With less involvement in actual classroom teaching this year, I offered to take on a role in developing targeted PD for the teachers. I wanted it to address their needs so I sent out an online survey to identify what the teachers wanted. I also linked the survey to a page that outlined what each PD area would involve. From the survey, I was able to identify key areas the staff were interested in. The main areas were Blogging, iPad/iPod Touch, Assessment, Edmodo, Web 2. 0 tools and Special Needs and ICT. A majority of staff were willing to commit to at least fortnightly sessions and many to weekly. I’m now in the process of sorting through the survey data to plan the sessions, ensuring I cover everyone’s needs and time commitments. I have also started to develop a separate blog ( not live yet but will link later) that will provide information about each session, tutorials from the Web and a space for staff to ask questions and provide feedback. It’ going to be a lot of work but I’m excited, especially that some staff members have also offered to lead some sessions themselves.

 

On top of that, I’m also genuinely excited that Leadership is making a commitment to take on ICT more proactively. We will be including sessions in our meetings to develop awareness of the tools as well as attending the PD sessions with the staff. It was recognised that as leaders of curriculum areas, we need to have sufficient knowledge of how ICT can have an impact in our expert areas. We have made an initial commitment to forming a group on Edmodo and exploring how that can enhance our communication as a Leadership team.

 

Finally, the ICT leader and I have finally met with the Grade 6 Student ICT Leadership Team. It was an interesting beginning. They started out rather cautiously and predictably talked about having competitions for ICT products as their main goals. They seemed very unsure what their purpose was because it was the first time we had formed an ICT team and previous Student Leadership groups had been more involved in organising events than making real change. Gradually though, we managed to get them talking about their desire to learn new ICT tools and wanting to teach others. They started identifying purposes rather than tools, which was a great step to take in the space of a single meeting. Suddenly promoting the school, collaborating, creating content, blogging, website development and the like started springing from their minds. We also got a good commitment from the vast majority of the team to give up some of their lunchtimes to achieve these aims. It’s early days but I think there is great potential in this group for real change led by the students.

 

So what started as a pipe dream at the start of the year has become a reality. Hopefully we can maintain the commitment throughout the year and notice a real change by year’s end. In the meantime, I’d like to hear from others how they have taken on the responsibility of building capacity in their schools. Join the conversation.

Maths Extension/Enrichment and Edmodo


Addressing the needs of all students in your Maths Classroom can be a real challenge. Do we stream based on ability? Do we use collaborative mixed ability groups? What’s the role of rich,open ended questions and differentiated curriculum? How do we pitch to the middle 50% but still cater for the upper AND lower 25%? It’s a challenge I’ve been grappling with for 25 years. Recently, I’ve been considering the use of Edmodo to provide access to extension and enrichment Mathematics opportunities for the more able students in the classroom. ( For those unfamiliar with Edmodo, click here for a description) This is my plan. I would be interested in feedback on its potential effectiveness before going further with it.

Identifying the target group
This is not a simple task. The standard method these days seems to be the standardized test. In Australia, we have NAPLAN, the yearly national assessment task targeting Years 3,5,7 and 9. Debating its merits here is not my intention today. I see its usefulness in quick identification of the higher achievers in a current group of students. I would then administer the next level test to these able students to gauge how far their abilities extend beyond the current class level. For example, after selecting a group in Grade 6 based on Grade 5 results from the previous year, I would give them the Year 7 test. Using data analysis, I’d identify their strengths and learning needs for future programming and targeted areas for extension and enrichment.

This would only be a starting point. Standardized tests are a narrow form of assessment that don’t necessarily identify fully the student’s need for extension in Mathematics. I’d continue to evaluate the children within and outside the extension group. I’m sure during the year I would identify children who could join the group for extension in specific areas they excel in. The beauty of using an open, collaborative, independent learning platform like Edmodo is that students can opt in and out of specific tasks or units of work.

The Edmodo Extension Maths Program
This is how I envisage setting up and running an Extension Program in Mathematics within the standard classroom environment.

First I would set up a Maths group for every student in the class. I wouldn’t want the Extension group to stand out from the crowd by having sole access to Edmodo for Maths. I would use this area to post problem solving tasks that the whole class could engage with, links to quality Maths sites that students could use to consolidate understanding in current units and revise past lessons as well. I would provide opportunities for discussion of strategies used, allow children to share their understanding, ask questions that both teachers and students could answer and share with the class. I’d allow for the possibility of using iPad apps like ShowMe or Explain Everything to post audiovisual explanations or lessons created by teachers or lessons. I would also post resources children could access to support them while working independently. The extension group could have a lead part in sharing their expertise with other classmates in this main Edmodo group. they could even create their own mini “Khan Academy”.

I would then create a subgroup within the main Edmodo group for my Extension/Enrichment group. I envisage this group being formed from able students across all classes in a particular grade level, possibly across several if there are able students in lower Grade levels who could qualify. I would plan for this group to access materials and concepts beyond what is available to the main group but accessible through the same platform as everyone else.

Obviously there would need to be some significant planning and negotiation with all class teachers to ensure this worked within their programs. consideration would have to be made about how these students would participate in both the extension sessions and regular class lessons. I see this happening in a number of ways.

Option 1. The students begin the lesson with the rest of the class. When they have received enough instruction on what is expected of them, they move on to completing required work for their class teacher independently, leaving their teacher to work with those who need support. When they complete the set task, they submit it on Edmodo through the assignment section and then enter their Edmodo Extension Sub group to collaborate on the higher level tasks assigned by me. They communicate with each other either personally if in the same grade or via posting their strategies, solutions, suggestions, questions, comments on Edmodo for the rest of the Extension group to respond to. Their work will be completed digitally and submitted through the Assignments section of Edmodo so that I can feedback and collaborate with them on the tasks.

Option 2. Alternatively, for one session a week, the group would meet with me and work on high level problem solving tasks and extension work related to the unit of work their class in currently involved in. Using online enrichment programs like the website nrich, the group would be collaborating on problems, sharing their possible solutions and strategies not only with each other but by submitting group or individual solutions on the nrich site for other like minded students to collaborate on through global forums. I envisage opportunities for the students to use technology such as screen casting computer programs or iPad apps I previously mentioned like ShowMe to record their solutions and strategies audio visually. Using a site like nrich, which would allow them to self select problems to solve would give them the freedom to challenge themselves both individually and in teams. It would also give them the option to opt in and out to return back to their class if they choose to.

Option 3. A third model could be a choice of making daily decisions to complete regular class work as homework and deciding to work in their extension groups or individually on Edmodo on a daily basis. As their test results would have already indicated in being selected for the program, they have most likely mastered the skills being taught in the regular class program and a simple completion of the tasks for homework would satisfy their class teacher’s need for evidence they have understood that area so they can report on it later in the year. This option fits a Personalized Learning model commonly encouraged in today’s schools and would allow the student to remain engaged in Maths at or beyond their level rather than going through the motions of completing simple tasks.

How Edmodo would help me implement this program

  • All links to nrich and teacher/student created work would be posted on Edmodo, with individual entries tagged or saved in libraries so that students could always have easy access to the tasks.
  • The collaborative nature of leaving instant comments and feedback allows the group to stay in contact with each other outside of school to continue their problem solving together. This could become engaging homework, with the teacher able to remain in contact and feedback on the work they post on Edmodo.
  • Each member of the group can work on their own problem solving and submit it to me or their teacher independently of the group for personal feedback before sharing with group if they choose to.
  • The function of the Assignment process in Edmodo allows for children to receive private feedback and allow the teachers to collect, collate and mark each submission, enabling effective assessment to occur at all points in the program. Teachers can submit rubrics and criteria for marking the work on Edmodo so the students know what is expected of them. I have had success with such use last year working with a Literature Circle group.
  • The fact that all students from the classes are also using Edmodo for their Math work as well means that all students can easily be given the opportunity to opt in to or out of the Extension group at any time without any extra planning or organisation by the teachers. I think this would be an important option as it would encourage other students to take on the challenge of extension tasks if they choose to.
  • Other teachers can be given co teacher status and become involved in the program, either as observers or contributors. This would allow for professional feedback on the suitability and effectiveness of the program.

These are my initial thoughts and obviously this kind of radical change to the status quo of primary schools as I have experienced them would involve leadership, class teacher, parent and student discussion. I need to think through this more and would appreciate feedback from others on how they have managed the needs of the more able students in their classrooms. I would really appreciate readers leaving a comment and contributing to the conversation of extending and enriching the learning of the able mathematician.

A break from iPad talk – Open letter to our Grade 5/6 students this year about Blogging

Ready to send to the students when school is back in the swing of things and Canberra Camp is over. What do you think?For teachers reading this, you may have already read something about blogging 7000 times on the Internet. Forgive me. Kids, this is for you.

Why do YOU write? Is it because you HAVE to? Is it because your teacher has to have a piece of writing by the end of the week so they can do your reports? Maybe it’s to show your teacher that you understand a topic. That’s a good reason. Sometimes you write to inform other children in the class about a topic you have researched. Another good reason. There are probably LOTS of reasons why we HAVE to write – we go to school!

Now put your hands up if you write because you WANT to. (pause to allow time for children to raise their hands before reading on). If you didn’t put your hand up, that’s OK. No doubt, you’re not alone there. I don’t always want to write. I think sometimes we don’t want to write because we see no purpose to it. ( Before we go any further, just want to remind you that at school, you still HAVE to write, OK? I am still a teacher after all.) Anyway, my point is I think a lot more of you would WANT to write if we could give you some good reasons to write. That’s why I want to talk to you about blogging.

Perhaps you don’t know what blogging is. Blogging is a writing publishing platform on the Internet that allows ANYONE to get their message across to the world. In other words, it gives you a world wide audience. You can share words, pictures, videos, animations, quizzes, polls – anything – and find out what other people think. There are obviously lots of rules we need to go through before we start this blogging thing but we’ll go through those later. Let’s just get back to blogging.

Here are my reasons why I think you should consider blogging.

Audience. Blogging means people other than your teacher, a couple of classmates in a conference and your parents when your file book comes home at the end of the term, get to see what you have to say. Think about that. A reason to write because others WANT to read it. A reason to write about your passions and interests that your teacher and Mum might not find interesting but 100s of children around the world find fascinating.

Sharing your knowledge. Guess what? You know stuff. It’s hard to let everyone know that sometimes when you have to stick to topics in class. When do you ever get the chance to share your knowledge of African capital cities? ( OK, Mr G, this isn’t about you, move on.) Or, your skills in playing a sport, your expertise in making animations? Blogging let’s you share this knowledge with others interested in the same thing. People learn from you and in return you may learn something you didn’t know. Since I’ve become interested in blogging I have learnt so much about Web tools, teaching methods, Maths and iPad ( yes, that’s right – I’ve learnt something from others about Maths and iPads. Shocking!) I’ve taught others too through my blog. It’s a nice feeling. And I want to keep doing it.

Purposeful homework. Your blog could be your homework. Teachers get to see it. Others, including your parents, get to see it. You can toss ideas around with your friends online to support each other. The dog can’t eat your homework! ( boo! Bad joke alert!)

Reflective thinking. “OK, so this is starting to sound like school work now, not writing because I want to.” I hear you say. But hear me out on this one. Seriously, you should WANT to think. It helps you learn and improve. Writing a blog gives you a chance to write down your thoughts. Spending the holidays starting my blog on iPads in Schools has really enabled me to clearly think through what I really believe. Without writing the blog, I would not have a clear plan in my head. I would not have come up with half the ideas if I hadn’t spent the time thinking and writing. Give reflective thinking a go. After a Maths class, spend some time writing about what you just went through. It will help, trust me.

Feedback and collaboration. At school, you get, at best, one chance a week to get some real feedback about your writing and thinking. If you’re lucky, your teacher will give you advice and 3 or 4 classmates in a conference might as well. On a blog, your writing is there for everyone to comment on. Your teacher, your friends, your family, a scientist from Germany, a sports coach from Brazil. Who knows? If it’s good, they’ll tell you why. If it needs work, a random student from the UK is more likely to give you honest feedback than your best friend will. Maybe other teachers from around the world will give you added feedback to support your teacher’s advice. It happens. You can also start up shared projects through your blog. It really can be a great opportunity if you want it to be.

It helps you feel good. Sometimes there has to be selfish reasons too. I have to be honest. I got a huge ego boost this week when I saw my blog appear on Google Search, Scoop-it and Zite Magazine’s Top Stories section on my iPad. Watching 33  countries’ flags appear on my blog and seeing the views counter tick over from 800 to 1400 overnight gave me a buzz. It’s a far better feeling than seeing your writing sitting on your teacher’s desk for a week or waiting 5 days for a response to an email you send to your colleagues. Knowing that other people want to read your work inspires you to want to do more. Especially when they tell you. So go ahead, kids. Do it for the attention… But do it well or you’ll lose your audience.

There are a lot more reasons for blogging than this but it’s a start. Of course we can’t do anything without the go ahead from school. There are a lot of rules and permissions and other important necessary stuff to go through before we can get started. You can get it going, though, if you tell us you really want to do it. So I ask you – do you want blog? There are massive numbers of kids out there on the Internet doing it right now. If you want to join them, let us know and we’ll see what we can get started.

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.

Web 2.0 = iPad fail?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We already have laptops. Do we need iPads too?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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