Thursday, February 16, 2012

How iPads have already made our school better (and most people don't even have one yet)

Our school officially announced our 1:1 iPad program for the 2012-2013 school year. We were covered in our local newspaper ( and this has generated some discussion.

As I have been very involved in our preparation I feel defensive about what we have done. I read some of the article comments and the negative ones really stick with me. I want to argue and explain why this is a good thing. A lot of the comments are about using electronic textbooks. I understand the allure of that. Other comments are about why a different device would be better.  I understand that also.

I think that many of these people are missing some of the best things about our using iPads and being a 1:1 school.

I want to share a list of some of benefits that I have seen.  What is particularly interesting about this list is that most teachers don't even have an iPad yet (maybe 5 out of 100) and our student population of 1700 is sharing only 200 iPads.  These are benefits that I have seen just as we are preparing to get iPads.

1. Collaboration among teachers - I have seen and participated in collaboration among teachers of the same class, teachers within the same department, teachers of the same grade level, and even teachers who have no connection other than they work here and are interested in doing new things. The amount of collaboration I am seeing is tremendously encouraging.  I have been teaching for 12 years and I have taught in several different schools from grades 6 to 12. Nowhere have I seen as much sharing and collaboration as I am experiencing this year.

2. Teachers teaching teachers - Teachers have been empowered to share what they know and how they are teaching with their colleagues.  Before this year, faculty in-service days had been "top-down" style. Someone would talk to us (oftentimes a consultant who had been hired to speak) and we would listen and then they would leave.  Now teachers are planning and leading the in-service days and we are learning from each other and gaining a new appreciation of the expertise of our own colleagues.

Also, teachers with varying levels of technology expertise are sharing. Some people are very tech savvy but even teachers who are new to these tools and techniques are willing to share their own successes.

3. New teaching styles - More teachers are moving away from lecture and worksheet based instruction. Even without having iPads for each student yet, this transformation is already happening.

4. New role for students, opportunity to teach teachers - Students are being given the opportunity to act as leaders within the classroom. Many teachers are looking to students to help problem-solve tech issues or suggest tech ideas and this gives them more ownership of their own learning. Hopefully this will continue in the classroom into areas outside of technology use.

5. Facilitating communication using new tools - Teachers and administrators are starting to use new ways to facilitate communication.  We are cutting down on the use of paper and increasing our use of tools like Discussion Forums and Google Forms to brainstorm ideas and provide feedback.

6. More collaboration with other schools - We have eagerly sought out other schools who are doing similar things as us.  Some of these are Catholic schools like our own but we have also benefited from discussions with colleagues at public schools. It feels like we are opening up and joining together in a common mission, rather than closing ranks and treating each other as competitors.

These are just some of the changes that I have already seen. The learning experiences of our students and the culture of our school is advancing rapidly. What is it going to look like next year? I don't know, but I'm very excited to find out.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Workflow: How do students submit iPad work?

One of the simplest ways for students to submit work from their iPads is to use email.  However, if you have 120+ students this can make a big mess of your email inbox.

Here's another way to do it:

This method requires a bit of initial set up but once you have everything you need ready, its pretty simple.

Step 1: Set up a dropbox account. It is free and easy and super useful.  Your students will thank you for teaching them how to use it. You should also install the dropbox app on your iPad.

Step 2: Set up a sendtodropbox account. This is free and simple. You will then have an email address to which you can send files and have them added to your Dropbox.  Many apps don't require this step, they will allow you to upload to your Dropbox directly.  However, some apps don't play as nicely with Dropbox (i.e. Pages) and you will need this eventually.

Step 3: Copy the link. In the Dropbox app you want to select your document and then tap the link button (it looks like a piece of chain). Then choose "Copy Link to Clipboard."

Step 4: Paste the link into your Google Form. This step requires that you have already created a Google Form and put it somewhere that students can access it.  I like to put my Google Forms on my Google Site.

Step 5: Open your Google Spreadsheet to access the student link and record comments and/or score.

I know there must be an easier way to do this.  But this is the best I've got for now. 

Any suggestions and/or feedback is appreciated!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Using Flash on the iPad - Puffin and Rover to the Rescue

In my role as a technology trainer at a school that is preparing for a 1:1 iPad roll out next year I constantly find myself defending the iPad. When I was first asked to do this job I thought I would be teaching people how to integrate technology into their lessons using the iPad, not working as an iPad apologist. I didn't choose the iPad instead of laptop, that decision was made before I was part of this team.

Does that mean I think the iPad is the wrong choice? No, it doesn't. I really like it a lot.  In the future I will write a blog post about why I like the iPad.  But this is not that post.

One of the most common concerns I hear about the iPad is that you can't access Flash content on it.  I used to share that same concern.  There are many valuable Flash-based videos that are currently only available in a Flash format. The solution to this problem - Puffin Browser. This browser app does a great job of displaying flash videos.  We have been using it for months with great success.

However, Puffin does not handle Flash-based games. This is especially frustrating for me as a Government teacher because one of my favorite sites is iCivics (if you have never seen this site, I highly recommend it). iCivics has lots of great games where the player pretends to be everything from the President to a lawyer arguing before the Supreme Court. The drawback to iCivics has been that it is Flash based.

Then along comes Rover. I discovered the the Rover App a couple months ago and it has been one of the highlights of my year (this seems melodramatic but I REALLY like iCivics).  Rover allows you to access Flash content including Flash games. It takes a little practice to get used to and it isn't perfect yet, but they are constantly working to improve it.

I am not sponsored by them, I do not know anyone who works there, I have no interest other than wanting to be able to use Flash on my iPad.

If you are in my position and are constantly bombarded by people frustrated by the inability to use Flash on the iPad, tell them about Rover. That's what I do.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

First Time with iBooks Author - Student Saves the Day

On Wednesday some of my administrators asked me to prepare a presentation for a group of parochial school (K-8) principals who would be visiting on Monday. They wanted me to show how were are currently using technology in the classroom.

And they wanted to see the first draft of the presentation by Friday.

And I wasn't going to be at school on Thursday because a group of us were going to visit a school that has already implemented a 1:1 iPad program this year (we are doing it next year).

And someone suggested that I use Prezi, which I've seen, of course, but never actually used myself.

And someone else suggested I include something about iBooks Author.

I thought that last part was kind of funny.  I mean, iBooks Author is like 2 weeks old, right? Luckily, as soon as it was announced I scrambled around campus for a computer that I could install it on (my classroom computer runs Snow Leopard, not Lion yet) and started playing with creating books.  The next day I took about 20 minutes to show a student (Jake) how to use it and asked him to start playing around with the program. This student has one period where he is an assistant in our tech office and whenever it looks like they don't have much for him to do I try to steal him to help with my stuff.

So I spent about an hour on Wednesday learning how to create a Prezi and collecting some work samples to use for my presentation on Monday.

Then on Thursday, as we are in a van driving up to visit the other school, someone bring up iBooks Author again. I realize that if I'm going to present something about it on Monday I'll need a sample.

From the back of the van I emailed a friend in the tech office back at school and asked them, "if Jake isn't busy, can you have him make an iBook?" It could be about anything, as long as I would have a sample to share. 

Well, good ol' Jake came through for me. He created an iBook about how to use iBooks Author. It's simple, highlights some of the key features of the program, and best of all, was done in less than an hour. (Download Jake's book here - you'll need an iPad to view it).  By the time we got back to campus he was ready to show it to me.

In order to show it in the Prezi I made a short video of myself flipping through the pages:

I think its important to point out that Jake is not a computer geek. He's plays ice hockey and manages his friend's band.  Jake does not normally spend a ton of time in front of the computer. I think he signed up to be a tech aide so he could do his homework at school. And yet he was still able to pull this together for me.

I think this shows just how easy iBooks Author is to use.  I can't wait until I have time to start creating my own books with it.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

New Faculty Training Model

(When I started blogging my goal was to post once a week.  That has turned out to be much harder than I thought.)

Last week we had a half day faculty training day.  This day was unique for us because faculty members were allowed to plan and run the training sessions. We were broken up into grade level teams (9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th) which made 4 groups of 20-25 teachers.  Each group had two faculty leaders to organize their team's meeting.

I was very excited about this and got right to work planning our (12th grade) meeting along with my co-leader.

I wanted to provide an opportunity for teachers to share how they had been using technology in their classrooms this year. During most of the previous training sessions the presenters were hand-selected and I thought we might be missing some really cool stuff that others were doing. Two weeks before the training date I sent an email to all of the members of my group asking what they were doing in class with technology. If ANYONE responded, I followed up and personally asked them to share. I didn't want to only see teachers who were experts and were very comfortable with how they were using tech.  It was important to also see teachers who are tech novices share what was working for them at their current level of expertise. 

By communicating directly with some of these teachers I was able to provide encouragement and find out what help they might need from me to present (i.e. have an iPad to VGA adapter available). I wanted their experience to be as comfortable as possible so that they would be willing to share again and so that others would be willing to share in the future.

I scheduled 10 minutes for each person. I made this clear in the beginning because I did not want to have a step by step clinic on how to use the tech, I wanted it to be "show-and-tell" style. I thought this was good because we could see many teachers present in a short amount of time and they didn't need to prepare a whole 30-40 minutes. I told them to shoot for 5-6 minutes of show-and-tell and use the remaining time to answer questions and allow for discussion of how this could be applied to other classes and disciplines.

Because this was our first time using this system, I didn't know exactly how much time we would actually use. So I scheduled my self and my co-leader for the end of the day. This way we could fill in extra time if the earlier teachers went short. Also, and I think more importantly, we could cut ourselves out if we were running out of time.  This way no one would have hurt feelings as we knew we might not get a chance to share before the day even started. As it ended up my co-leader was able to present but I was not. That is fine because there will be plenty of opportunities for me in the future.

At the end of our session we conducted a feedback survey using a Google Form. My co-leader was kind enough to prepare this before the meeting and we had enough iPads available for everyone to use and fill out the survey right away. This served two purposes: 1. we were able to easily get immediate feedback in an organized way and 2. we were able to model the use of Google forms for the teachers who had never seen it before.

How did the teachers feel about the training day? We received very positive feedback.  Just as we had hoped, many teachers responded with requests for more training with some of the tools presented that day.

How did the admin feel about the training day? I believe they liked it as well because twice I have heard them brag about it to people from other schools.

Have you done anything similar? Do you have any faculty training successes to share?