Oct 222011
 

Ok it is official. If this iPad thing doesn’t kill me, I will be ready to do a marathon by the time June comes around. At first I thought it was just me and my lousy lesson planning (still a strong possibility) but I think it might just be the nature of the beast. Having a classroom full of kids working on iPads is a high energy, high mileage endeavour. This past week felt like I was running summer day camps for 8 – 12 year olds again or herding cats.

Part of the issue is that, I haven’t standardized much of what we do in class. Certainly my lesson is the same for everyone but when I turn the kids loose to do work on their iPads, that lesson can be interacted with in 30 different ways. This of course is the beauty of the iPad, everyone’s experience with the curriculum is different but it can also be head spinning .

You now have 30 different possibilities in the hands of your students, not that all of these possibilities need your attention, it certainly generates a lot of questions.

As we move along with this project, I am sure we will find ways routinise our classroom activities in a way which make it easier for a teacher to answer the multitude of questions that crop up during a class. With that said, I also think that regardless of what we do to standardize the iPad classroom, it will remain a busier learning environment than a “traditional” learning space.

With all this said, in an effort to make things a little easier for everyone, I am trying to implement the following.

  1. Try to keep activities tied to a single app, 2 at the most.
      • Multi tasking on the iPad is cumbersome at best so keep it simple until kids become proficient with their device.
  2. Try to ensure every student uses the same app so their experience with the content or activity, will be consistent.
      • If you are using a classroom set of iPad’s, set them up all the same so the kids are experiencing the same thing.
  3. If possible, demo any activity you are doing using an iPad rather than a computer.
      • Although you would think students could differentiate between one device to another, some have some difficulties with the difference between the two. Keep your demos as close to what they will see on their own device as possible.
  4. Scale Activities.
      • Just like a Physical Education class you have to build lessons that match skill levels and move from the bottom up
      • One of the errors I made right out of the gate is that I assumed the kids would be proficient at using the iPad… Boy was I wrong.
  5. Screencasts
      • Creating Screencasts to which kids can refer at any time. This has been working well in my my regular classes so far and once I can start screen casting my iPad it will be fantastic teaching tool in the iPad classroom.

As iPad use becomes more popular and its use more ubiquitous. I am sure there will be an app or two, that will help teachers and students be more efficient with their class time. It is only a matter of time. In the mean time we will muddle along break new ground with what we have at our disposal.

Something I would like to see is LanSchool improving their iOS product to include some of the same features that their wired network product has. Specifically, the Send & Collect feature, ScreenFeed and Screen Blanking. These three tools would go a long way in creating a learning environment that was a little more unified and a little less freestyle. I will coin the term for this type of App right now. From this point forward, they will be called Unified Learning Environment Apps or ULEA’s

Until then, I am looking forward to my 4 hr marathon completion time this spring.

Oct 152011
 

Nothing to report here… Just some fragmented thoughts and whatever’s. A bit of a schizophrenic week actually but that has been my element these past 15 years of teaching.

The iPad group didn’t move the earth or cure cancer but we did have some progress with assignment submission using WordPress blogs.  It was a bit messy to start but I think we have turned the corner on our work submission woes. Outside of that, there was nothing exciting to report from the iPad front.

What did happen which was of note is that I had a wee bit of a revelation.

This “Ah Ha!” actually originated with my “regular” kids, specificaly my classes with a significant number of ESL kids who seem to always be lost in my class. Try as I may, it is very difficult to help these kids keep up with the curriculum and I would (on occasion) lose sleep, thinking about how to deliver content in a manner which would allow them to absorb the information at their own pace.

It was only this week, that I came to consider the possibility of screencasting as the answer to my problem. A visual snapshot of the critical elements of my lessons,which  a student  can refer to at any time. I make the screencasts available through YouTube and my students can use them complete an assignment at there own pace. It was a stroke of delayed genius! Admittedly the videos I have produce so far are rather crude but I think they will become far more polished and useful as time goes by.

Now this, in and of itself, is not all that special. Teachers have been screencasting lessons for a number of years now. What is more important however, is that I started to think about how I can do this with the iPad kids. As intuitive as the iPad and all the apps my be, sometimes people still need instruction. The complexity gets ramped up when you are using more than one application at at the same time so being able to capture a video on how to use these apps would be great.

Currently there is no way to create a screencast of an iPad and considering the restrictive nature of Apple products, being able to do this would be significant. We had all hoped that iOS5 would provide us with this functionality and it has come close but it stops short of allowing a teacher to capture lessons and spin them into an instructional video. With that said… I think I may have stumbled upon a screencasting solution for the ipad. It won’t be simple but if it works, I will be able to create 720p screen casts of my lessons using the iPad and post them to YouTube.

Unfortunately, I will have to drop a couple hundred bucks to see if my idea works… but if it does? It will open the door for some serious advancements in the use of the iPad as an instructional tool. Stay tuned to see if my idea works.

Look Out Future Shop… Here I come!

Update 

Well the good news is that I can do it! The bad news is that I am going to have to wait until I can get my hands on a little piece of technology that will allow me to send the image from the iPad to the capture device.

 

Oct 082011
 

For the past 4 weeks, I have been standing on my digital soapbox sharing my opinion about using iPads In The Classroom and for the most part, response has been good. It certainly hasn’t hurt my ego getting quoted and re tweeted but do we really want to hear about what I think? What about the kids and their thoughts? So this week is a little snip-it from the kids and what they think about iPads In The Classroom Thus Far.

I put 5 questions to the kids which they could choose to answer or not. Most of the kids abstained but the small sample gave me a pretty good idea where we currently stand and where we have to go in the future. Here is a sample of their answers.

Why did you join the iPad class?

    • “My handwriting is horrible and I hoped this would allow me to avoid having to hand in assignments done by hand”
    • “Because I love to use technology” X 5
    • “I thought it would be pretty cool to use technology so ofen and associate the ipad with school and its so awesome that we have this technology available. Also i have a bunch of friends in the cohort.

What do you like about the iPad class?

    • “I like how it’s relaxed and done on computers since I can type faster and have freedom to search things on the internet.”
    • “I like the fact that I can go on the internet to research n a project and not have to go to the computer lab. I also like the fact that I can access my classmates comments and thoughts when we have a discussion in class “
    • “I like the fact that we are actually using a pretty big variety of apps and the teachers are also involved with the ipads.”
    • “Doing our assignments online,so that we can finish or hand in it at anytime.”
    • “We’re able to get information instantly”

What is bad about the iPad class?

    • “The major thing is sometimes it is annoying when you are trying to listen to the teacher and other people are playing on their IPads so the teacher has to stop the lesson to get their attention”
    • “Too many people playing games and making the teacher wait.”
    • “It is stupid the way we have to hand stuff in!!!”
    • “The biggest issue is that there’s are some things that you need to have an app for but one isnt available. Or its too expensive or its not a good app.”
    • “We spend a lot of time on technical stuff rather than the real topic.”
    • “you can get very distracted, trust me I know”

Is the iPad class different then what you thought it would be?

    • “It’s different because I thought we wouldn’t be using things such as twitter because it’s not always the safest thing to have.”
    • “It is basically what I expected but the classes seem to move slower than in the regular class.”
    • “All the handing in stuff with different apps.”

What should be done to make it better?

    • “Maybe make sure that before starting the lesson everybody has their iPad covered or flipped over so their would be no interruptions.”
    • “Use only ONE Program to hand things in with!!!”

    I have to say, I was surprised by their responses. At least one kid will usually throw me for a loop when I do things like this but there is nothing here that we could not have predicted. What I am most pleased about is that there doesn’t seem to be anything grievously wrong here. It looks as though we only need a few tweaks here and there and get this flippin “handing assignments in” thing figured out. Perhaps the solution to most of our issues would be solved with an Android iOS with Google Docs integration and things would be better?

    Anyhow, my wife is sitting on the couch wondering why I am ignoring her on this Friday of a Thanksgiving (Canadian) long weekend so I must depart and enjoy Family, Friends and the gifts I have in the little world I live in.

    Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

    Cheers!

Sep 292011
 

What a great week! Glad it is over and I can get ready for a great weekend but not before I throw up a new post.

If you read last weeks blog, I am sure you are waiting on baited breath to hear how this weeks meeting with the iPad teachers went. As far as meetings go it wasn’t too shabby and as it turns out, the past three weeks with the iPad kids went quite well too. As expected, everyone had both positive things to say and some frustrations to report.  Unfortunately this blog post will focus on one universal frustration which has dogged all of use these past three weeks.

Virtually every teacher at our meeting had the same niggling question. What is the best way to collect work from the kids? We have all struggled with trying to find an effective way for kids to submit completed assignments. As I had said last week, we have all resorted to having the kids email their work to us but the consensus is that another way has to be found.

The whole thing serves to illustrate just how important paper has been in sharing information over the centuries . Paper is a simple and effective way to transfer knowledge and demonstrate understanding. Paper has been the common currency of education and part of the the daily transactions between student and teacher for generations. It would seem however, that this important part of the educational process was not identified by the good people at Apple. It is my opinion that this is something that the iPad MUST be able to do before it could be considered an educational tool.

Now don’t get me wrong, it is undeniable that the iPad is a powerful learning tool and we are finding new and exciting ways to use it on a daily basis BUT the inability to easily complete the most basic of transactions between student and teacher, suggests that the ipad wasn’t really designed as an educational tool.

What we have discovered is that the iPad is fantastic for dispensing information to the user whether it be text, video or audio. Students can even produce some cool stuff to prove that they have acquired the concepts we are trying to impart but it is that missing link between student and teacher. The centuries old exchange which makes up the economy of education has somehow been overlooked or perhaps purposely left out by Apple.

By meetings end, we had decided to approach Apple directly to see if they had an “educational expert” on staff who could address our frustrations and perhaps suggest some solutions. As of Friday at 3 PM we have not heard back but we are hopeful.

So, as of weeks end,  I remain thankful that I have been given the opportunity to break new ground in the rapidly changing landscape of education. With any luck, if I continue to bellyache on a weekly basis, I may even influence the way we teach children in the years to come.

 

 

 

Sep 232011
 

Well we are three weeks in, our routines are entrenched (kinda), the curriculum is flowing and summer break is a distant memory. This coming week will be our first scheduled check in with all the iPad teachers and I am looking forward to finding out how things are going.

For the most part, it would appear that things are going fairly well. At the very least, when an administrator walks by the classroom, the gentle glow of the iPad shining up on the students faces creates the illusion of engagement. I am not sure that this is what was imagined when the word “enlightened” was coined but somehow it is strangely appropriate.

What I do know for certain is that kids are getting work done and with surprisingly little fuss or muss. To be honest, I envisioned being in a constant battle, keeping kids on task and off Angry Birds but it really isn’t working out that way. Certainly I have kids playing games instead of doing their work but they are isolated incidents and hardly difficult to control. I have far more difficulty in my other classes with kids squandering time on addicting games in a networked computer lab, where I have complete control of each and every computer.

I think the difference is that because the iPad is application based, the ability to transition quickly from classwork to game and back to classwork is clumsy and inefficient. With a computer, this transition is much faster because almost everything is browser based and switching between tabs is quick and seamless. The result is that the iPad student is locked into one task at a time, therefore eliminating the tiring game of catch me if you can.

The biggest issue around distraction comes from getting the kids to listen for instructions and pay attention to what you are doing at the front of the class. As a general rule, when I talk, I like their attention. What I have to do is get the kids to turn the iPad face down on the table or put the cover on but it is astounding how quickly 25% of kids will be back on the device. As Stuart Shanker would say, they have some difficulties with self regulation. I have yet to master how to get the kids to resist the urge to play but I am working on it.

As for how I am distributing curriculum using the iPad? I am using the Edmodo App and for the most part it is pretty magical BUT there is one glaring shortcoming. Students cannot turn in completed work done on the iPad to Edmodo. This is more of a shortcoming of the iPad, as it is the way Apple has created the device but it is a pain in the backside regardless of whose shortcoming it is. I have been reduced to getting kids to email me the assignments but this is messy and time consuming. Kids can still link to an on line document and submit that but then you are defeating the purpose of having Apps like Pages or Keynote. I am investigating options such as Google Docs, Evernote or simply blogging an assignment but in my mind it is defeating the power and the purpose of the iPad and its Apps.

Finally, I had a little bit of a Twitter breakthrough this past week using the iPads, which was really kind of cool. I have used Twitter before to participate in various current events over the past year and I set my classes loose on a our Province’s Administrators during their 2010 BCPVPA conference but I haven’t used it as a question answer medium within a regular class. I have always been a bit hesitant about letting kids loose in this manner but this past week I had the kids fire up questions and observations they had about a documentary we were watching using Twitter and it worked phenomenally well. I find our iPad cohort a pretty tight lipped group but the twitter thread generated some great thoughts and questions which spun into a fantastic post viewing discussion. Twitter served as a fantastic discussion starter and I will definitely be doing this again.

So this is my third week. Nothing earth shattering or shocking to report just steady as she goes. At this point I cannot make any definitive statements about whether iPads are good bad or indifferent, they just are, and only time will tell if they are the panacea of an education system in transition.

Check Out: iPads In the Classroom – Assumptions

Sep 182011
 

I find it quite interesting when the conversation about education and technology comes up amongst educators. There is usually a variety of opinions on the topic with regard too its value in the classroom along with a broad spectrum of comfort levels in using it, ranging from no way to every day.

Weaving its way through this conversation is the assumption that kids are far more skillful in using technology then their teachers. It is an assumption which creates apprehension in educators and creates a digital divide (real or imagined) between Teacher and Student but it is an assumption that is quite frankly, incorrect.

Certainly there are kids out there who are incredibly proficient in using technology in constructive ways and I have few of my own that amaze me with their ability on a daily basis but for the most part, these individuals are in the minority. The rest of the student body know how to use their digital devices but only for the purpose of consuming digital media. Texting, game playing, video watching, socializing… The majority of these activities are consumptive in nature and by no means denote a “skill” in any way shape or form.

I feel that it is safe to say that the majority of kids are not using technology for any substantive utilitarian purpose. In fact, the majority of people regardless of age, never use technology in a manner which is anything beyond a reactionary relationship between user and device.

This error in assumption is currently being played out in the iPads In The Classroom trail I am involved in. Twenty five students who we assumed would be quick to pick up on or already have the knowledge to be productive in an educational setting, has fallen a tad short of the mark.

This is not to say things are hopeless. We have made some progress in getting things up and running and we have had a really cool twitter driven discussion about academic success but there are still some surprising “gaps in using the apps”.

The most common issues so far involve rudimentary user skills.

  • Linking third party accounts with various apps
  • Sending Email attachments
  • Familiarity with services such as twitter and drop box
  • Attaching links to assignments
  • Saving images from the web
  • Imbedding images to presentations

In addition to not knowing how to do these basic things, frustration amongst the iPad cohort is quick to set in when they can’t get things to work. The past two weeks of this digital immersion experiment has solidified my opinion that assuming that all kids are digital savants is simply wrong.

Educators need to understand that kids (as a whole) are not as well versed with using technology for functional purposes as we might think. We need to teach them the difference between consumption and production on a digital device. In traditional education terms, it is the difference between reading a book and writing a book. Being able to read and understand a message within a text, does not mean that you can write and effectively convey a message of your own.

It has become obvious to me that the biggest roadblock to creating effective digital learners lies in the assumptions we make about students innate ability to use technology for an educational purpose. Hopefully, we can begin to break this mold and begin to move ahead in creating a digital learning environments that are absent of these counter productive assumptions.

See iPad Experiment

Sep 142011
 

OK so perhaps “Great” isn’t the word to use here, especially since using iPads in the classroom is no longer bleeding edge but it still has some cache in the education world. Perhaps what is more remarkable is that I have somehow finagled a spot as one of five teachers who are giving these little technological marvels a trial run in our classrooms.

Five teachers and a single cohort of twenty-five students have agreed to make the ipad the center of their educational universe for one year. With iPad in hand, we have gone into a digital never land and hopefully we will return a little wiser for the experience.

Now of course, it is too early to tell how things will play out in the next 10 months or so but thus far, things look promising. Kids are certainty enthralled with their new toys, I mean learning tools! The teachers are enthusiastically taking up the challenge of using the iPad as an instructional / learning tool, now all we have to do is get some curriculum across to the kids.

Fortunately for me, Planning 10 is not one of those courses that has a standardized test attached to it. Sure I have to hit the curricular objectives along the way but I have significantly more latitude in my delivery and content I use. My colleagues on the other hand, have to please the testing gods or there will be hell to pay so they might be a little more restricted in their use of the iPads.

I suddenly find myself in the enviable position where I will be able to try all sorts of different things in the way curriculum is delivered and learning is demonstrated. If something is an epic fail, we simply dust off the digital debris from the attempt and move on. In fact, I am kind of looking forward to the failures as much as the successes. I don’t think we have enough failure these days, besides it sure is far more interesting then succeeding all the time.

It is going to be fun, a little stressful but most of all it will be a good experience so stay tuned for more adventures in iPads in the classroom. With any luck we might all learn something from “The Great(ish) iPad Experiment”