Dec 142012
 

ecodadsI had a very interesting conference call this week, with a gentleman named Michael Leifer. He is the Co Founder of an organization called EcoDads, which has been “recently made an Advocacy Network Partner of the California Environmental Protection Agency’s (CA EPA) groundbreaking Education and the Environment Initiative Curriculum (EEI) for K-12th grade students

Michael had contacted me to see if I would give their new app a gander and share my opinion, a dangerous thing to do since I am after all, the Eeyore of Edtech. Try as I might, I have a tough time giving ringing endorsements of anything. I have test driven three apps in the past year and not a single company has used my feedback in their promotional copy. I am starting to get a complex…But I digress.

During my perusal of the new EcoDads app, two things struck me. First and least significant was the interface itself. It was simple, easy to navigate with plenty of multi media elements to mix up content delivery. What I really liked was the use of interactive visuals, which included a nice landmark identification task. There was also a manipulable, 360 degree image from the top of the Golden Gate Bridge and a cool time-lapse video of the bridge at night. Although none of the media elements within the book are new, in and of themselves. It is the intent with which they come together, that makes this App a diamond in the rough.

This leads to my second observation…

The most interesting thing I noticed, was the content itself. Since the app is delivering content for a Californian audience, they focused on using local environmental and geographic information. This means that students are using material they can identify with and perhaps interact with on a daily basis. The goal of the EEI Curriculum, is to get kids to be aware of their own environment so they are more apt to Act locally and think globally, around environmental issues. What the EcoDad’s app is doing, is attempting to facilitate a functional learning relationship between the classroom and the great outdoors.

Michael hopes that the app will help teachers and students

  • Explore the natural environment in their region..
  • Identify the various flora and fauna in their region.
  • Determine if the natural elements of their region, are being used appropriately.
  • Discuss solutions to environmental issues in their region.
  • Develop action plans that foster environmental stewardship.

In order to accomplish all this however, the app will have to become much more than it currently is and from what Michael was saying, development has only just begun.

In discussing how to improve the app and allow kids to engage with their local habitat, we discussed a number of improvements which will be coming down the pike. The most exciting of which, was the ability to customize content to fit the region being studied. If a teacher could customize content to suit, THAT would be MAGIC! The key to engaging kids is making the information relevant. If kids are looking at environmental issues in their own back yard, they are more likely to become stewards of that environment.

Some of the additions we discussed included:

  • A field notes feature
  • A Picture sharing function
  • A geocache feature
  • An ask an expert function
  • A collaborative space for compiling and sharing information

There is so much more that this app could be and from what Michael was saying, it is headed that way. I am looking forward to seeing what this App evolves into as it moves ahead, especially if its reach goes beyond the state of California and up into my neck of the woods.

Currently, EcoDads is doing a Kickstarter campaign trying to raise capital, to move their App Development beyond the product they currently have. Check out what they have on the go.

Aug 262012
 

To start off, I will get straight to the punch and provide many of you with the answer to the single most frequently asked question about Content Management Systems for Education. NO YOU CANNOT UPLOAD FILES FROM YOUR IPAD TO EDMODO!

In the past 3 weeks 80% of all all keyword searches that point to my blog are asking this single question. What this suggests to me is that there are a large number of teachers looking for a Content Management System or CMS for their classroom this coming year. So a new blog post was born.

Over the years I have dabbled in many CMS’s but for any number of reasons, I have always moved on in search of something better. I have even tried to create my own classroom CMS but didn’t have the skills to create a site that could do everything I wanted it to do. To date the single most powerful Education CMS I have ever used, was Moodle and I would still be using it today were it not for the fact I had to host it on my nickle.

Last year I gave Edmodo a whirl and without a doubt it is no Moodle but it is trying and I quite liked it. Its interface is easy to use and there isn’t much of a learning curve in getting up and running. It seems to have been designed with the Luddite in mind or at least with an understanding of where the average Luddite is coming from

The other thing about Edmodo is that they are constantly improving their platform, adding new features and improving functionality but the single biggest problem with Edmodo is… yes you guessed it! YOU CANNOT UPLOAD FILES FROM YOUR IPAD TO EDMODO and I have my doubts that you ever will unless Edmodo sells its soul to the Devil or Apple, whichever comes first.

If you are hell bent on using edmodo and are running an iPad class, the Edmodo App is wonderful and I have no complaints. The way I get around the file upload issue is to have the kids post their work on a blog or in a google doc and have them submit the web link to their work. As long as I have that link, I can evaluate it. It is a wee bit of a pain but it works in a pinch and once you have the kids set up to do that, it is easy. Another option is to have the kids move the file they were working on with their iPad, onto a computer and then they can upload the document to Edmodo.

Some other nifty things you can do with Edmodo include marking and annotating students work online, provide parents with access to their child’s “learning environment”, create work groups, create discussion threads… and there are more features being added on a regular basis. Oh and it is FREE!

In my humble opinion, Moodle is still KING of the education CMS’s but the problem is that it requires some expertise, time, a host and a myriad of other things, which the average teacher off the street does not have at hand or have the time to acquire. If your school district will host a moodle site or already does, giddy up!

What I am not sure about however, is whether Moodle is iPad friendly or not. I have not tired myself but I have gotten a number of mixed reports on its functionality on an iPad. If you are running an iPad classroom next year, you might want to research other possibilities. If your kids have laptops or work in a computer lab, Moodle’s power and functionality is unparalleled.

I was asked to Beta Test Go Class last year but I unfortunately never got around to it. I did play with it a bit and from what I saw, it looks to be a slick little iPad friendly interface. Like Edmodo, Go class is designed with the average non tech geek teacher in mind. Getting things up and running looks to be fairly quick and easy.

What I like about Go Class is that it structures individual lesson planning into three tabs ShowExplain - Ask. On the student end, the final product is clean and straight forward to use. You can even assign time limits on the task, see who has completed their work and provide formative assessment from your instructor dashboard. Just remember that Go Class is still in Beta stage but I think it is worth taking a look at.

UPDATE! Stop the presses! I have just been informed that there is a new Education CMS in town called Schoology. My first look was brief but it looks like it might be a winner in its own right. Right off the bat what I notice with Schoology is their App center and within that App center is Blackboard Collaborate, which is the industry standard for presenting content to people who are not sitting right in front of you. The integration of this App alone is a HUGE Plus, especially for those who are running a 100% online course or even a blended class.

In addition to Blackboard, Schoology has a reminder app to send kids reminders about due dates and tests via text messaging. They have a Turnitin.com app and selection of other interesting apps I have never hear of. Along with all the cool apps, Schoology has all the functionality of Edmodo and Go Class. It may be worth some serious consideration for those who are looking for a Classroom CMS.

These four are the only iPad friendly CMS’s for education that I am aware of but there may be some others which have slipped past my radar so be sure to keep your eyes open for others and share what you find.

The other thing educators have been doing to accommodate iPad use in the classroom is building individual lessons or activities around individual apps such as Evernote or Edublog. To be honest I have not used either in class but there are lots of teachers who do and both have an active community of educators who are more than happy to help you out.

Edublog actually operates on the WordPress CMS. For those of you who are not familiar with WordPress, it is the best blogging platform out there, even my blog runs on it. Edublogs has taken their site one epic step further than mine however and added a plugin called BuddyPress. This allows teachers to manage users within a class or a school.

I have seen this particular platform used very successfully in elementary environments including my own children’s school. Teachers use Edu Blogs to get kids discussing topics online, providing links to resources and information and giving kids a safe and secure place to write online. To get all the features, you would need to run a full-blown Edublog site and would need a subscription. It is not necessarily affordable for an individual teacher but there is a fee schedule for schools. Pricing

To get a better idea of what you can do with an Edublog site check out Ten Ways To Use Edublogs To Teach

Evernote has been the darling of the APP world almost right out of the gate. I have used if for personal note taking but I have not used it for my classes. I have read about others who have done it very successfully and Wandering Academic did a great post on how Evernote can be used in the classroom.

What I like about using notebooks, is that kids have a far greater responsibility for what it is they do or do not do. In many ways it is not that much different then a paper notebook. With an all in one CMS, a teacher can keep constant tabs on what a student has or has not been doing but not so much with an app like Evernote.

Like Edublogs, you will need a subscription if you are going to run your class with it. A premium subscription is only $45 a year but they also do site licences and group pricing to help manage the cost.

So there it is, my two bits worth on Education CMS’s. There is just so many products out there, it is impossible to have tried or even know about them all. If you know of a product that you like or would like me to investigate for you, let me know.

One final and important note. There are some significant concerns in many countries about privacy laws and the protection of student identities and personal information. Before you start using any app where a students personal information is being stored outside of your school network, make sure you have the support of your administration and an appropriate use policy is in place. Make sure parents are aware of this policy and that they are ok with their children online. In some cases, you may simply not want to use an app because you do not have control over the information.

Aug 132012
 

I spend a lot of time reflecting about my use of iPads in the classroom and I have gotten a lot of attention and positive feedback about my glass half full approach to evaluating these marvelous little devices. Lately however, I have been getting asked “What are your favorite iPad apps for classroom?” and My response isn’t much more then a very thoughtful “ummmmmm?” This is mainly because the list is rather short and hardly impressive and it is strangely missing most of the big names in Apps for Education.

What follows is a short list of My 6 favorite iPad Apps for the classroom. Some cost a few bucks and that might be an issues for those of you who are running a BYOD program. For those of you who’s program uses school owned iPads, you might be able to get some bulk pricing if you contact the vendor. Most developers would love to get a school using their product and would be happy to cut you a break on their App.

Finally, keep in mind that this list is by no means intended to be the last word in Apps for educators. Also keep in mind that I am a Social Studies, Work Experience, Alternative school teacher so I probably don’t use the same set of Apps that a Science or Math teacher would use.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for some more reviews on Apps for Pro D and other School related stuff. I just have to get around to it :-)

My Favorite Apps
My Favorite Apps

Clibe - $4.99

I love this App even at its price. I was lucky and got my hands on it when it was still free but I still think it is worth if for the purpose of journaling in the classroom. Students can paste images, draw or type on the digital pages and it is a very cool way to get kids writing and putting down their thoughts in a variety of ways.

This a cloud based app so it requires a free membership with Clibe so students can share their notebook with you. It is secure and easy to use and I am confident you will enjoy using it.

Inspiration Maps - $14.99

Inspiration maps has been around for a while and used in many schools already but this past year they released the iPad version and it is FANTASTIC.

Disclosure statement

- I was one of the Beta Testers of this app but really... it is Fantastic!

Unfortunately I was asleep at the switch and I didn't get my hands on the "thanks for helping us out" version of this app so I have to come up with the $14.99 if I want it for myself :-(

It is great for Primary and Senior High School. It makes outlining papers, projects and presentations a breeze and best of all it can be exported to a variety of formats so you can work with the exported document on a desktop.

There is both a free and a payed version so you can give it a spin before you buy.

Edmodo - FREE

Edmodo is a simply brilliant Content Management System for education. I used it for all my classes last year and it makes digital distribution of your course a breeze.

Unfortunately, the biggest drawback of Edmodo is that you can't submit completed assignments from your iPad. A student has to email the assignment to themselves, then log into Edmodo on their computer and then upload the completed work to Edmodo. It isn't the end of the world but it is a pain. It is my hope that one day Apple frees up the iPad file system enough, that Apps like Edmodo can be fully functional but in spite of that major short coming, I still like it.

Other features include: Access codes for parents so they can see what their kids are or are not doing, a annotation feature so you can mark online and the system is scalable so it can be used for your classroom or an entire school district.

Canadian teachers need to know that there are some questions whether using this system is in violation of FOIPA or not so be sure to check with your administrator before implementing.

Teacher Kit - FREE

This App is a teachers best friend. With Teacher Kit can create a class roster and add student pictures using the iPad camera. (For those of us with failing memories it is a god send)

With that roster you can then create seating plans. You can take attendance, do your marks, make notes on student behavior and achievements... It is just fantastic.

My only regret is that it doesn't integrate with our school network so that attendance and marks get automatically updated but who knows? The company is continually making improvements to the App, so perhaps one day it will all be possible.

iMovie - $4.99

The new iMovie App for the iPad is definitely a step up from the original iPad App. Although it is not as powerful as the desktop version, it is powerful enough to provide teachers and students with simple easy access to video production. No longer do you have to send kids home to edit and produce a final product. It can be done all in one class.

I cannot say enough about using video as a learning tool and now it is so easy and accessible, there is no reason not to use it!

Comic Life - $4.99

Comic life a nifty little app which allows kids to create their own comic book using images they take or from stock photos you provide. It is a great way for them to start learning about developing dialog and plot lines, in their stories.

I even ran into a teacher who used it for a short story unit where kids created their own graphic shorts. Beyond that... It is just simple fun.

Hoot Suite - FREE

Hoot Suite is an invaluable resource for the frequent twitter user. As a teacher you can keep track of the feeds you create for various classes, provide classroom updates for parents, answer questions outside class time... The possibilities are endless.

Personally I use it more for professional development and personal communication but there are just so many uses for twitter in the classroom.