Friday, November 30, 2012

A Connected Classroom

I had some requests over the past week to talk a little bit about how I use technology in my classroom.  For some background, I teach at a 1:1 iPad public high school in Knoxville, TN (L&N STEM Academy).  Every student and teacher has an iPad, every teacher additionally totes a MacBook Pro, mostly because we don't have set classrooms and thus desktops don't work well for us.  I think we have  4 computer labs besides this (not positive), most of them Mac, one PC.

The iPad is I think something of a controversy in some circles.  It has the faddish cache of being the hot new thing that will revolutionize education, which naturally just raises some hackles.  There is the closed system part of it which rubs a lot of people the wrong way philosophically.  And they are not cheap by any stretch, and so a lot of folks would argue that you could do the same things cheaper.  That is possible, and there are definitely limitations that bug me sometimes, but not as much as I once thought.  Once in a while we have to bust out the Airs to do something that requires Flash, but 99% of the time, the iPads are an enormous boon.

Let me do a quick rundown of how a typical day in one of my Chem classes might work and how we would use the technology.  Students come in and I have their daily seating assignments up on the Smartboard, so they look at that and sit (I actually teach in the lab, which is great for grouping, but terrible for other flexibility.)  I give them a brief rundown of the day just to reiterate what they already know because most mornings, I've sent them an alert on Edmodo to remind them what is up.  Their iPads ding wherever they are, they log in, see what is going on and maybe do some las minute prep if need be.

So once they are situated, I typically have them pull up the sheet for whatever activity we are doing from Edmodo (or occasionally I email it directly to them.  Here is the first thing that I love a tablet for:

  • Almost no paper use.  Since they can write on the iPad, whether with finger or stylus, I don't hand out much of anything.  There are a few paper periodic tables around so that they don't have to flip back and forth in apps when using them, but other than that, they work directly on the ipad.  I know they could type in a Chromebook or something, but there is something about writing it out that is pretty necessary for me in my class.

To do this, they can use a variety of apps, but my favorite is one called Notability, which allows them to import and to export to a ton of place, allows them a variety of paper backgrounds, and even lets them record audio if they wish as they are writing.  It's not a screencapture app (later on those), but it is invaluable.

This is going to sound like a minor thing, but the ability to change the color of your writing utensil on the fly is amazing, and makes it soooo much easier to pick things out on the page (errr....screen).

Saying that Notability allows for import/export brings me to my personal rule #1 with most apps:

  • Apps need to have Dropbox/Gdrive/Evernote integration and the ability to email products.  Since there is no real built in file management in iOS, we need some way to save things other than the photo roll (which works in a pinch, but is inelegant).  To all educational app makers out there for iOS, if you leave this off, even if I love your product, I can't really use it if we can't manage the files on the iPad, and loading them to your proprietary site is not a substitute.  These are the student's files, they need to have them. (ThreeRing is a great example of an app that I would use the heck out of, but the lack of this and upload from the iPad makes it a deal killer)
  • This of course would mean that you need to have Dropbox/Gdrive, etc on your iPad, indispensable, I can't believe when students or teachers at our school don't have it.
That;s the boring stuff though, the real heart of where the iPad (or I suppose any tablet, I can't make that call) shines is in immediate content creation.

We've used iMotion HD to make stop motion videos of processes:

(Yes, there are errors, but you get the idea)

My kids have made a lot of screencasts of stuff this year, though I hate that we have to use the free stuff that doesn't let you download it in most cases.  But good free programs are Screenchomp, ShowMe, Educreations.   I use Explain Everything because even though it is a paid app, it has the import/export that I insist on.

CamScanner is another app that is absolutely vital, especially if you have kids whiteboard (or blackboard with neon!) as it lets them actually capture their results.  It keystones it to straighten it up, brightens if needed and then you can export as jpg or pdf.  (I use it every single day, kids often)

I'd also note that just having a camera with them in the device they do everything with leads to some very cool stuff.  This is from labs just submitted yesterday.  This is in addition to all of the pics they have to take showing the process of just about everything they do.  They got the image from google earth and then annotated it with where they took their soil samples.

As I said, they take pics of just about everything they do throughout the year, and then they pull them into Pages and integrate them right in to whatever project or assignment they are doing.  This would be possible with a laptop, but more manageable without, and could definitely be done with cameras, but then there is a lot of file shuffle required.

I didn't even really get into the fact that I use Google Forms for most of my assessments and they take these on their iPads.  This is great because last year, when I was not in a 1:1 environment we had to try to pass phones around or sneak in to the computer lab.  This could be done on anything, not just a tablet of course.

These are some of the non subject specific ways we use the iPads every single day.  I tried to focus on student use and not the uses like me using the Apple TV to transmit to the screen while I roam around the room and all of that goodness.  Hopefully this gives some insight and I look forward to questions!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing. This iMotion HD sounds very interesting indeed. I agree with your #1 rule for apps. Curious why you mention that the computer labs are "(not positive)". Also curious about "Almost no paper use." Do your students have notes or make notes? Or is what they create their note or sample of the content? For assesment/evaluation, what are they reviewing? Some really good ideas here - I'm going to go look at a few things right away, starting with CamScanner. Thanks again.

    James McKirdy (Hamish_McK)
    Ottawa, ON Canada