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iPads in my classroom… now what?

July 26, 2010

I’m very fortunate that I’ll have access to a classroom set of ipads this fall.  It’ll be the first investment in ipads for the school.  The challenge will be to make the best use of them possible.  These are my thoughts so far (in no particular order), but I’d love to hear what others are planning or any suggestions people might have for best use.

smartNote screenshots

1.  Note-taking and practice problems– I’ve looked at a number of note-taking apps and it looks like Smartnote ($2.99) will work best for me.  I like the idea that I can provide a framework (outline or activity) in the form of a pdf and these can be downloaded to the ipad, marked up and annotated, and saved on both the ipad and in a Dropbox account of the student’s choosing.  This app also has the added feature that ‘notebooks’ in the app can be password protected so that students sharing the same ipad can protect their work from other students.  They can also upload or share their work with me in a shared dropbox folder.  I’m hoping this all works out.  It’s not as easy as using google docs to share work but I’m sure we’ll be able to get into a workable routine.  This is likely to be a daily app.

iLab: Timer screenshots

2.  Lab tools – right now there are some great calculator apps and timers.  I’m currently using TouchCalc (free) and iLab: Timer HD. (   Both of these are great for the lab.  SpaceTime is also a great app which I think could replace their TI-whatevers for only $20 or so.  (It perform all the trig and calculus functions and creates beautiful graphs, but you wont’ be able to bring it into the SAT or AP exams).  There are also some limited measurement tools right now – like Multi Measures HD ($0.99).  I’m sure that more will follow.  Pasco has also developed an interface to use their lab sensors using the Sparkvue app.  Since I don’t have Pasco sensors, I’ll have to wait for Vernier to get on board or for the next budget cycle.

3.  Analysis and Writing Tools – I’m hoping that I’ll be able to use the spreadsheets and forms from google docs for students to input, and analyze data and to communicate results.  I know they can’t create a form on the ipad right now, but they can certainly input data and access and edit the spreadsheets.  They can also write up their lab results.  For this, I expect to use Office2 HD. ($7.99)  This is a great way to access google docs and although it’s limited in terms of the tools available, it should be sufficient for classroom use.  I’m not too enamored of the the iworks apps only because its so darned difficult to share the documents the way I need to.

4. Simulations and Creations – Unfortunately, there are gobs of physics simulations that I won’t be able to show on the ipad since they are predominantly flash animations.  There are, however,  lots of demos on youtube that we’ll be able to use as illustrations or discussion points.    There are also some interactive science apps, but none that I’m in love with.  I do have “G” ($1.99) which illustrates gravitational forces between planets.  For now, I’ll just be using youtube or other online videos until I find some good apps.  On the creation side, I expect to use things like Reel Director (with photo editing in Photogene ) to have students create video responses. Unfortunately, this might be too time consuming to do in the classroom.  We’ll see.

EMD PTE screenshot - Periodic Trends

5.  Research and Resource – I expect to have pdfs (which I create), and CK12 textbooks (free) loaded on iBooks for student resources.   In addition, students have the internet at their fingertips if I want to direct them that way.  In terms of apps, as a chemistry teacher, I  love the periodic table app  EMD PTE (free) which gives a wealth of info about the elements and periodic trends (with some interactive features as well).  I might also load the Wolfram Alpha app ($1.99).

6.  eClicker interactions – I like the eClicker Host ($9.99 for teacher) and eClicker (free for students) apps for doing on-the-fly and planned clicker questions.  At this time, it only accepts multiple choice and true-false type questions.  It might be nice to have the capability to input numeric data at some point, but for now, its a nice  way to have classroom clickers without needing an additional piece of hardware. (This system also works without a classroom set of ipads – students can use any device that connects to the internet.)

7.  Moodle/Webassign assignments – I use the online homework system called webassign for practice problems in chemistry and physical science.  There are times when we are working on these in class or going over some of the problems.  They will have quick access to this as I place the shortcut on the ipad desktop.  I’ll also have some assignments on moodle but the rich text editor is not available on mobile safari so this may not be the best use, but it will still be good to follow other links and possibly some hotpotatoes activities I’ve created on my moodle page.

So that’s what’s planned.  (We all know what happens to plans.)  After looking at my list, I see that I’m going to have to introduce the kids to some of these things slowly so as not to cloud the subject with the tools.  To be effective, the technology will need to be viewed as no big deal.  It took a few months for my students to get used to gdocs, but I recognized that once they started using it for things outside my classroom, it no longer was a hurdle but a useful method of collaborating…  Any thoughts?


iPad – 10 Things

May 18, 2010

I could hardly contain my excitement over getting my new iPad…. it seemed like forever for the end of April and my new toy to arrive.  Now that it’s here and I’ve had some time to play here are my initial thoughts from a classroom teacher’s perspective.

1.  Love the instant on. When we use the computers in the classroom, we lose precious time in signing out computers and waiting for them to boot up. Being able to turn it on and put it in sleep mode instantly is a great time saver.

2.  Hate that I can’t edit in google docs.  I use google docs frequently and I was very disappointed

that the editing capability was not available on the iPad’s Safari app.  The Office2 HD app does enables limited editing.  However,  I frequently use the comment feature on google docs to grade and edit student work. This remains missing.

3. Love the size. I can tote it in my purse or pack it in my bag – no worries at the airport or in the Barnes & Noble – its always with me at the ready… oh wait… the bookstore?  What?  Will I still be going to the bookstore?

4.  Like the reader – but where are the books? I suppose I’ll still be rummaging around the bookstore after all.  If all I read were bestsellers or classic literature, I’d be happy with ibooks, but I like some books off-the-beaten-path about say, Buddhism or gardening or education… and where are they?  Amazon doesn’t have them either.  I want ALL books to be available electronically.  Why is this so hard?  They must already be in electronic form somewhere so… what am I missing? – Oh, and I like the bookmarking and annotating but some things seem to take a few seconds to load (my CK12 books) and I want it to move to position instantly like opening a bookmarked page in a physical book.

5.  Like that the ‘flash issue’ is a non-issue – for me at least.  There are few things I’ve come across and actually needed that I was unable to view.  So far this is not an issue and I can’t see it being one for my students (well maybe for the physics animations… boo)

6. Love the beautiful resolution – Yeah, so I’m no tech wizard and maybe I’m not saying this right but… wow! the images look awesome! I love watching my missed Lost or Modern Family episodes on such a wonderful display.

7.  Dislike the way we buy apps –  I’m perpetually broke (especially when I spend my hard-earned cash on gadgets like these) so when I go to buy an app, I really would love to see what I’m getting before plunking down the money.  I would love to see a short video of the app in action before I buy… I’d also like to be able to sort apps in the iTunes store by their ratings.  Given the thousands of apps, maybe a better search function would help too.  Amazon does a great job in providing search, sort and review capabilities and I think Apple could take a lesson.

8.  Ambivalent about the camera – I know lots of people are disappointed that no camera is installed.  I don’t do much videoconferencing or use video on skype much so I’m perfectly fine without the webcam feature.  If I really want to connect video – the adapters will be fine for me.  At this point,  I do most of my video work on the iMac  and I can share my work onto the the iPad in any number of ways if I need it.

9.  Dislike that even with the VGA adapter I can’t mirror the screen. The VGA capability only works with some applications…it’s not like the adapter on a regular computer.  I’m not certain that this is a huge problem for me but when training students it sure would be nice to be able to at least emulate the app on the projector.

10.  Love the touch screen – it has an organic feel and is more fun than using a mouse. It will take some getting used to particularly with the typing as I definitely use the feel of the keyboard to tell me where my fingers are… can’t get that with the ipad… It’s also weird to go from ipad typing where words are finished for you (like contractions) then moving back to the keyboard where they’re not.

Working with the ipad has forced me to think about how I work and what I really want in a mobile computing device.  I’m getting used to flipping between apps, but the app environment is still awkward to me.  I used to say that I was a multitasker but, truth be told, I’m really just easily distracted.  Maybe I would be better off not having six programs open at once.  I rarely use more than one or two at a time.  However, I like the drag and drop of a desktop and miss that in the iPad.  I also want a fully functional  internet and ‘cloud computing’ capabilities.  I miss my toolbar addons like Diigo and Evernote.  Don’t get me wrong, I love having a mobile device that I can see clearly and use for access to information but I will need to do something with the information too.   iPad is a great start with tons of potential.  I look forward to seeing how others will be using these in their classrooms.

In Defense of Books…

May 16, 2010

Today I read this twitter post…

“I feel horrible for kids who have history teachers that use a textbook. Someday they’ll realize that’s why kids aren’t engaged w/history.”

….and it made me feel horrible.  Now I don’t teach history, but I know people who do.  Some of them use books and are absolutely wonderful teachers, others use them and are not as wonderful.  From this anecdotal evidence, I would conclude that the use of books is not the determining factor in whether students are engaged with history.  Am I missing some well known study that disputes this?

Please tell me that we aren’t swinging the educational pendulum so far from center that we are going to criticize teachers for using books.  It seems to me that books can be a very handy thing in education and, if used properly, one can learn a great deal from them.  In fact, one of my favorite things is to have a student bring up an example of something they read in the textbook.  It means they READ!  and…. they tied it to what we were doing in the classroom. To me, this is a wonderful thing — something to be celebrated.  Are we seriously going to start saying that textbooks should be… burned?

Don’t get me wrong, I am very anxious about the future of textbooks and have some suggested improvements for the way they are  produced/used.  My sense is that for k-12 education, textbooks should very soon be free and electronic.  They should be free because there is no knowledge in a textbook which is not generally accepted and already available in a variety of reputable forms on the web. I know that wikipedia already offers a function in which you can generate your own textbook by selecting materials from the site.  There are also any number of epub services in which you can generate your own ebook.  Already, I’m sure, there are many teachers and professors who are making use of these services for their students.  (There may be inherent problems with this if used irresponsibly, I admit.)

Secondly, by making these books electronic, we open up limitless possibilities.  We have the capacity to make these documents virtually come alive by embedding in them all sorts of videos, tutorials and interactive images and practice exercises.  I would love to have my textbook in a form that I can post my own annotations and links in a way that makes it personalized and relevant to my unique classroom.  I would actually pay money for having an ebook like this (at least for now).

Whatever the form, however, textbooks are generally produced by experts in their fields and provide an excellent resource for students.  Learning to learn from reading is an vital skill and should be encouraged whether it be from textbooks, articles or websites.  I defend any teacher who chooses to use them in support of an excellent classroom.  Perhaps the problem the twitter post was trying to rail against, is the boring teacher — not the boring book.

About these digital natives…

May 16, 2010

Now I’m no genius, but I’ll poke around in a software program to explore the features and figure out how to do what I need to do. I’ll research when I have a question and ask around on the internet until I figure it out or I’ll find a better program.  But my students?  I expected them to be the same.  I expected them to be comfortable with searching out information on the internet and using logins and links and bookmarks etc.  I mean, they’re in high school, right?  They’ve been doing this for years – they grew up on the internet right?  They should be able to work circles around me with technology.  And maybe a few of them can.  But I am constantly stunned with the apparent lack of skills in the general population of students.  I’m not talking about the “computer nerds”, just the regular kids who still spend a significant portion of their time on the computer.  When I ask them to use an open source program or to use my moodle page to pick up or submit their homework, suddenly they become completely flummoxed?   “What?  Username? Password?  My internet was down.  How do you expect me to be able to handle all that?”

Hmmm… is this a ruse?   My students can remember all the cheats for their playstation and xbox games and the usernames and passwords to their game sites and facebook but seriously, internet for education?  This must be some kind of joke, right?  That’s not what the internet is for…it’s for stalking friends and enemies and playing games and laughing at others in their unfortunate youtube videos…

I’m honestly distressed at the lack of willingness on the part of students and parents alike to allow the internet to become a featured player in education.  I know this is not across the board, but there seems to be a disconnect between parents and students who collect all the blackberry’s and iphones  and netbooks and laptops  they need to stay socially connected, but then complain or express concern when they actually need these same tools for education.

No, I don’t get it.    I really don’t.  I know that some people come to technology more slowly, but when students are using the exact same technology everyday to amuse themselves, that argument just doesn’t hold water.  It’s something else.  It’s change. ” It’s not what we used to do.  It’s not what we did when I was growing up.”  Maybe it’s  more than that…maybe technology is making the educational process so transparent that students, parents and teachers alike are afraid of making their work and responsibilities visible to the entire learning community. Hmmmm…..

A note from the teacher on your first day…

August 3, 2009


Students and Fellow Travelers:

I’d like you to use your imagination for a few minutes before we begin.  Imagine that you came here of your own accord, no one forced you.  You came because you wanted to.  Imagine that there were to be no grades, no awards, no special recognitions.  Imagine that the college of your choice or was waiting for you on the other side of this swamp we call high school.  They know that you are on your way and are certain that when you reach them, you will be fully prepared to take on all the gifts and challenges they have to offer you. There will be alligators in the swamp, no doubt, but you are not alone.  You travel with all of the other people in your life and everyone in the group, including you, has a contribution to make.

Now expand your imagination.  The swamp is no longer high school but your life. What waits for you on the shore is not college but your endless possibilities.  There are still alligators.  There will always be alligators, but you are not alone. You travel with all of the other people in your life and everyone in the group, including you, has a contribution to make.

Now ask yourself, was the reason you came here to fight alligators? Or are you here to get to the other side of the swamp?

What’s Hot and What’s Not in Education

July 26, 2009

In an effort to wrap my head around what’s coming down the pike in education, I started a list of what’s hot and what’s not in education.  I would love to have others add to the list or argue with what’s already on there.

What’s Hot

What’s Not

Goals Standards
Flex books, ebooks, online content Textbooks
Tutoring Lecturing
Work Stations Lecture Halls
Collaboration Working alone
Project Schedules Bell Schedules
Inquiry Taking notes
College credit AP courses
Mentoring Testing
Teacher evaluations Tenure
Projects Worksheets
Online Courses 8 o’clock classes
Design Schools Engineering Schools
Tables Desks
Assessments Evaluations
Students Unions
Service learning Service Requirements
Waves emails
Creation Memorization

Pedagogy of the Oppressed???

July 14, 2009

So, I just finished reading the book Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire and it made my head hurt.  Maybe it was the heavy handed writing style, maybe it was the repetition or maybe it was just the ideas he presented, but I was  mentally drained when I was finished.  The thing is, even though this book was written over thirty years ago, I can still see places where his ideas can find a fresh audience (it found me, at least).

Now I know that I am WAY oversimplifying his ideas, but this is what I’ve come away with:

  1. The oppressed cannot be educated/liberated by the oppressors as their liberation must come from themselves and cannot be a gift given to them by their oppressors.   “Pedagogy which begins with the egoistic interests of the oppressors ( an egoism cloaked in the false generosity of paternalism) and makes of the oppressed the objects of its humanitarianism, itself maintains and embodies oppression.  It is an instrument of dehumanization.”
  2. The oppressed must become conscious of the vulnerability of their oppressors and in their own abilities.  In order for the oppressed to become liberated or “more fully human”, they must first recognize their oppression and commit themselves to transformation.   They must also be wary in their liberation not to take on the role of oppressors themselves.
  3. All people are liberated both the oppressed and the oppressors when people become more fully responsible for their own liberation or in this case their own education.
  4. The current system of education is a banking system in which teachers are the depositors and students the receptacles.  The outcome of this method of pedagogy is that students are adapted and managed to “fit” into the status quo and are not encouraged in authentic inquiry and invention.  Thus, students lose their creativity and their humanity.
  5. A meaningful education occurs through dialogue and interaction.  “Education which is able to resolve the contradiction between teacher and student takes place in a situation in which both address their act of cognition to the object by which they are mediated.”  (As I read this, he is suggesting that both teacher and student should join in the act of investigating a particular subject and that both voices must be valued.)

The first three of these ideas might clearly bring to mind Iran and other developing regions of the world, but the last two strike very close to home.  I know that I’ve been guilty of the banking system of teaching in my own classrooms while I try to “get through” the material. Does that make me one of the oppressors?

As an AP Chemistry teacher, these ideas are particularly timely in that the College Board is planning a revision in the AP test that will mark a distinct difference in the way we teach chemistry.  The POGIL project (Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning) seems to be a one of the guiding forces in this change (although I can’t really say who is guiding whom).  POGIL is built around the idea that students should be given a model or body of information to explore and that they can discover, through guided inquiry, the concepts of chemistry.

This is exactly what Freire talks about in his book – his ‘problem-posing’ education.  Hmmm…  This same model will be driving change in both the Biology and Physics curriculum and will soon be applied to the algebra curriculum as well.   Don’t get me wrong, I’ve used the POGIL approach in a number of activities and I really like them.  The students also comment on their improved understanding as a result.    I wonder, though,  what caused this philisophical shift now?  Are we recognizing that students moving into the sciences have a deficit when it comes to creative problem-solving?   Yeah, this sound like a good topic for my another post.