Saturday, August 13, 2011

iPads + Google Site + Google Forms for the win!

I have a pretty sophisticated Google Site that I've built over the last three years for my classroom, and I use it daily for instruction and parent communication. Many of the activities that I ask my students to do online are connected through this site in some way, so I wanted to make sure that it would be compatible user-friendly with the iPads. Here's a tutorial on how to access such a frequently visited website with students and some of the special features such use could create.

Step 1: Go to the website.
In this instance, my website is located at

Step 2. Click the button immediately to the left of the browser bar, and select "Add to Home Screen."

Step 3. Find the new icon for your webpage as the last icon on your last page of apps.

4. Hold your finger on the icon until the page of icons begins to shake and they have the "x" symbol in the upper left corner of each icon.

5. Drag and drop the website icon into the bar at the bottom of the screen.

6. Press the home button to save your changes and stop the apps from wobbling.

The shortcut will now appear in the bottom row regardless of what page of apps the students are on.

One thing that I love about Google is the ability to create forms through GoogleDocs. I can create assignments that include fill-in-the blank, multiple choice, check box, short answer and long answer type questions. I can make some questions required and other questions optional. I can then link the form to my website, and students can answer the questions and submit their responses to me electronically.
Here's an example of a Google Form that's already linked to my website:

All of their responses are sent to me in a spreadsheet which gets updated in real-time. It's great for quick assessments as well as projects that students have a larger window of time to complete. I also like to use Google Forms for parent surveys on my website.

I tested out my Google Form using the iPad, and it was very easy to use. This will definitely be a tool that I incorporate into future assignments. I'm also thinking that I may design a quick parent survey for curriculum night, and let the parents answer the survey using the iPads.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The iPad Experiment - Day #1

Yesterday, I received my iPad cart fully stocked with 30 iPads and a laptop that acts as the hub for syncing the devices. Today was the first day that I attempted to use the devices with my class. We spent about 20-25 minutes discussing the iPad Driver's License requirements and reviewing the rules for iPad use. The students were very excited about the opportunity to use the devices, and they asked a lot of good clarifying questions about the rules. I then gave the students about 30 minutes to just explore the iPads and play with the apps that I'd downloaded.

The Good
1. I like the iPad cart overall, and I think that it has great potential as a classroom hub. It is so efficient at syncing the iPads, and it makes managing the devices far less cumbersome than I'd anticipated. The cart doesn't take up a lot of real estate in my classroom, and it's easy to move around. It locks easily, and the back lights up to show the numbers of the devices that are plugged in. It makes for a really well-organized system for managing the iPads, especially since all of the students are given numbers and assigned a specific device to use each and every time. As long as they put it in the right spot, I should be able to gauge how well they've been put away pretty quickly.

The Bad (a.k.a. the issues that we'll need to work on...)
1. The cart is a bit cumbersome for plugging and unplugging the iPads. Rather than having the standard iPad plugs, the cart has special cords that plug into the hub to allow for multi-unit syncing and charging. They don't fit into the iPads super-smoothly, and they can be a challenge to navigate. Several students were getting frustrated with them today, and I had to explain that this was a learning experience for all of us. Through much trial-and-error, we determined that the best way to put them back in was to plug the device into the hub, and then rotate the iPad into its slot. When students tried putting the device into the slot before plugging it in, they had a much harder time getting the plug to attach correctly.

2. Not all of the devices synced correctly the first time. On several of the iPads, students could see the icons of all of the apps that were loaded, but when they tapped on the icons, the app would begin to load and then crash. We had to re-sync those devices, and then they worked. All of that was fine, but it was frustrating for the students and me because it was time consuming, and they were all very eager to use their iPads. We were also a lot slower at pulling them out and putting them away because it was our first time, so it just compounded the inefficiency of the process.

3. Not all of the iPads were synced the first time, period. Many of them appeared to be plugged in, but they hadn't connected completely, so they didn't get synced. I learned today what to look for and that I'll need to carefully check the device list to make sure I have all 30 devices connected. It also seemed to matter that I ejected them one by one through iTunes after the sync and before the students took the iPads out of the cart.

4. Volume controls matter! The students are going to get the earbuds for the iPads so they can listen to their apps and work independently, but we didn't have those today. I asked the students to mute the devices so that they wouldn't disturb others around them -- some of the apps are very audio-rich! We figured out, though, that we need to have the volume on when the students return their devices to the cart so we can hear the chirp that tells us the iPad is plugged in correctly.

None of these issues are all that significant, but they're definitely things I didn't anticipate going into the learning experience today. As always, troubleshooting on the spot doesn't always yield the most efficient solutions, either. The students were wonderfully patient throughout the process even though some of them really only got about 10 minutes to explore their iPad. I was also so busy figuring out the technical aspects that I didn't really get to see what the students were doing with the iPads or how they were using them. Now that we've got some of these issues worked out, I'm planning to give the students another opportunity to explore the iPads tomorrow, and hopefully everything will go more smoothly. Once we've got some of these kinks worked out and the students have had an opportunity to "play" with the iPads, we'll really begin to dig into using them for social studies. I'm planning to start those lessons next week.

Breaking the News...

Last Friday, I shared with my 4th graders the news that we are piloting 1:1 iPads in our classroom this year, and the announcement was met with a great deal of enthusiasm. We brainstormed rules and guidelines for using the iPads, and we discussed some of the potential problems we might encounter. While this was happening, the students passed around my iPad to take a look.

Part of it may be the age-level that I work with, but the students were very hung up on different scenarios for how they could "break" the iPad and strategies for how to avoid that. I was eventually able to convince them that I wasn't concerned so much about them breaking the iPads (despite some of the creative scenarios for iPad destruction they generated!) so much as I was worried about the iPads misuse. We came up with several ideas for rules, and eventually I helped them categorize these into 4 big catch all rules.

1. Treat the iPad with respect and care in how you get it out, move with it, use it at your seat, and put it away.
We talked about how this meant putting it in the right place in our iPad cart, setting it up at desks in a way in which it won't accidentally get knocked off, avoiding work near food or drink, cleaning the iPads, etc.

2. Only use the iPad for its intended educational purposes. When in doubt, ask your teacher.

This is our "don't do YouTube and random internet searches" rule. We talked about how they could ask themselves "Would Mrs. Eber be okay with me doing this?" and if the answer is "no" or "I'm not sure," they should either stop themselves or double check it with me. We also talked about how this means that they have to finish assignments before they can move onto playing educational games or using other apps.

3. Keep the iPad in the same state you found it. Don't add or delete apps or change your iPad in a way that will make it differ from everyone else unless it's part of an assignment.
At some point, students will be given assignments to change their desktops using a social studies related picture, and we'll also learn about using folders. But for now, it's helpful to have the iPads match. That way, when I want them to use a particular app, I can say that it's on Screen #3 and not have to waste instructional time waiting for them to figure out what folder they moved it to. This will also facilitate a conversation about good ways to organize apps. I know some classes using iPod Touches last year had a student categorize apps in folders called "Apps I like" and "Apps I hate," and I'm hoping to avoid those not-so-universally-descriptive categories.

This rule is also the rule that covers the idea that even if you have an iTunes account or know your mom or dad's password, you may not use it on this device.

4. Be prompt in following all directions while using your iPads.
We talked about how this rule is intended to mean that when someone is presenting or giving directions, they need to stop what they're doing and listen. Or at the end of the lesson when I ask students to put away their iPads, that doesn't mean to do so after they play one more game. We talked about how they're more likely to get more time with the iPads if they're following directions, so we don't want to abuse that privilege.

Right now, students have "learner's permits" for iPad use as we learn more about the ins and outs of managing these devices. In a couple of days, students will earn their iPad Driver's Licenses, and they'll have these out on their desks anytime they are using their iPad. If they break one of our rules, they'll have their license suspended, and they'll lose out on the iPad privileges that day. That won't mean that they lose out on participating in the lesson; they'll just need to follow along with what their neighbors are doing on their iPads. Then, the following day, their iPad license can be reinstated.

We may need to add more rules, but these seemed to be broad enough to catch the biggest issues we're likely to confront. As always, however, I'd love feedback. What ideas or additional rules might we need to use these devices effectively? Leave me a comment with your thoughts!

The Quest for Free Apps

As we continue to prepare to launch the iPads in the classroom with our fourth graders, I've been tasked with finding as many useful free apps as possible to load onto our iPads. Free is good. We like free. But free also means weeding through a lot of mediocrity to find the gems.

Let's start with "How NOT to find the great apps" (a.k.a. How I regretfully spent one half hour of my life...)

Just like when you go to the mall, there's a real temptation to browse and do some window shopping in the app store. The list of the "Top Free Apps" can be helpful, and you can break those lists down into smaller categories like education and productivity. Again, that's helpful. It's a good way to get started and get the basics, but we're piloting these iPads for Social Studies -- predominantly early US history and government topics -- and those topics aren't exactly rolling to the top of most people's "gotta get this app" list.

Highlights from this search include:
Productivity Apps
- Adobe Photoshop Express
- Calculator for iPad
- Doodle Buddy
- Dropbox
- Evernote
- Evernote Peek
- ShowMe Interactive
- Skype for iPad

News Apps
- CNN App for iPad
- Fox News for iPad
- NPR for iPad
- NYTimes for iPad
- USA Today for iPad

Reference Apps
- Google Earth
- HowStuffWorks

Book & Multimedia Apps
- BrainPOP Featured Movie
- iBooks
- PBS Kids Videos

- Spell the States

A reasonable start, but not great on the Social Studies content -- especially for the standards we're studying.

I decided to reach out to my friend, Google, and I did a couple of searches for social studies apps for the iPad. In doing so, I found one particularly great resource: Teach With Your iPad wiki - This wiki is a fantastic resource for anyone considering the use of iPads in education. It breaks down into specific content areas (e.g. Social Studies Apps), and it shares images of the icon, the title of the app, a brief description, and cost. In addition to steering me toward several great social studies apps, I also found a great visual that shows how to access Bloom's Taxonomy using different apps. There are many great app-finding resources on this page as well. It's really one stop shopping.

After about an hour and a half of effort, I was able to get 53 free apps downloaded. Few were social studies specific, but many were ones that I could see as being useful in the classroom for a variety of engaging projects. As we delve deeper into the pilot, we'll begin searching for more specific apps aligned to our social studies standards, and we'll begin to acquire more of the paid apps through volume licensing.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...