Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Apps for the classroom

When I first got my iPad last year I was inundated with advice about which apps I should download. This information was coming from recommended lists online, professional development and colleagues who were also new to BYOD teaching. 
I have since discovered that teaching with BYOD is not about the apps, just like teaching with paper is not about the felts and coloured card. The number of apps you use in your teaching will be minimal compared to the number of apps students use. Moreover, they will be much more adept at teaching themselves how to use them. So don't re-invent the wheel!
In terms of apps that teach skills or content, you will probably discover what works for you along the way. Having said this, I have found that skills & content apps are largely geared toward pre- and primary-school learners. In the secondary classroom it's not about using apps to rote learn through game-based learning. It's about enabling students to present their learning in any way they wish, which is exactly what the SAMR model encourages.
Here are a couple of apps that I recommend you get yourself familiar with as they will help you be a more organised teacher. 


Edmodo is marketed as 'the Facebook for teachers and schools' but it is so much more than that. I use it as a way to disseminate information to my students through links to websites and documents as well as a way to share tasks and set deadlines.

Sharing a video with students

I really like the ease with which I can start a conversation among the students.

Starting a conversation about research topics

You can create classes and sub-groups and your students join up. Parents can also create an account and see what students are doing across all of their classes. I am yet to find out how many parents use this and how valuable they find it but I aim to ask parents at our next parent-teacher interviews.
There are apps within Edmodo that you can use to support your BYOD teaching, but I have found it does not work smoothly enough on the iPad to use it in this way so I recommend at looking into this on your computer. Either way, this is something for individuals to explore and find out about for themselves.
Of course, Edmodo is not the only student management site out there. Here is a list of alternatives and Hapara is a paid-for student management site that works directly with Google apps. I can't speak to any of these, but I think it is important that each teacher be able to choose what works best for them. Some schools are moving towards have all teachers and students on the same site to make it easier for administration and for the students. It is important to remember that you can only lead a horse to water and if a teacher (or student) is not comfortable with the use of a particular platform they just won't end up using it. If a school is going to push for the use of a particular site or tool, they need to provide not only professional development but non-contact time so that teachers can explore these tools without pressure.

Google Drive & Docs

The second tool I use is Google Docs & Drive. This has revolutionised the way I provide feedback for students and in a very small space of time. Just bear in mind the Drive and Docs are two separate apps and you do need both. It's like a folder in your computer, then opening the document in Word.

Providing suggestions of texts to view alongside The Hunger Games

Modelling how to discuss cinematic techniques

I always hated giving written feedback as I find it time consuming, it leaves with me with poor posture and a sore hand and shoulder. But now that I can type my feedback and provide links to sources on the internet, I am writing the feedback I have always wanted to write! All of a sudden I am...
1. praising much more, even for the smallest thing like correct punctuation or a nicely used word
2. able to connect the student with all sorts of information on the internet. I haven't done the following yet, but I bet I can connect students to a specific video I have made that can help them work through a problem
3. much more willing to model to the students what I would like them to do (see the second image)
4. challenging students more and finding it easier to extend those who need it. Typing these comments makes it so much easier to challenge students' assumptions and question their points of view

Organizationally the process has further benefits.
1. Under 'general feedback' I can see the progress the student has made over time, instead of this being spread over several different drafts on refill
2. All the students' work is in one folder (per piece of work), alphabetised. It's so beautiful! I would take a screen-shot but then I'd have to blur out all the students' names so it seems a bit pointless.
3. I know exactly who has done what and when. Talk about accountability! Well, more on that later...

Docs & Drive are just one of the options for managing and marking students' work. There are a range of options out there; see here, here and here. My suspicion is that none of those alternatives will be able to do everything that Docs does, and that's because Google is definitely trying to woo teachers. While I'm wary of companies like Apple, Google and now Facebook (well, Mark Zuckerberg anyway) getting so involved in education, but part of me thinks we should all milk it while it's there. It's not like my teaching will come to rely on Docs and Docs alone, but it does allow me to do what I want at this point in time. Adaptability is the name of the game.


Speaking of giant companies getting involved in education, iBooks is a damn good app. Not only can I read a book, I (and my students!) can also...
1. Highlight and define or search a word

Defining a word

Searching the frequency of a word in the text

 2. Highlight and write a note (for me, comprehension questions, for them, comprehension answers!)
Writing comprehension questions to myself as I read the text

3. Highlight and search a quote. For example:
Searching a block of text

Search results from block of text

iBooks connects students to a whole world of information. Suddenly, when they are unsure, they can access help in a discrete and efficient way.
All the notes you accumulate can be accessed in chronological order, connected to the quote you have highlighted, and can be shared if a student has missed any lessons.

The beginning of all my notes on Juno of Taris. This is where students' notes would also be stored when they go through the book answering questions.

Once again, if you are anti-monopolies, I'm sure there are many perfectly good book reading apps out there but iBooks does what I want it to do so I'm satisfied for now.

So these are the three apps that I use which help me organise my teaching. I'll talk to apps I use for content and skills next time. One thing that it is important to make very clear about Edmodo and Docs & Drive is that, even though I am recommending them for use with a BYOD class, I almost exclusively use them on my laptop. That these three apps are also browser based is an obvious strength.
All of this might seem counter-intuitive - why have an iPad if you aren't going to use it? When teaching, a question we ask ourselves everyday is "What learning outcome to I want to achieve right now?" And that learning outcome almost never has anything to do with me and in my BYOD class always everything to do with the student using their iPad to modify or redefine their learning.

I would love to see your comments and questions below, especially if you use alternatives to any of these apps. I've been having a little trouble with comments showing up due to 'captcha' (the random letters and numbers to make sure you're not a robot) so please make sure your comment actually appears!

Whāia te iti kahurangi ki te tūohu koe me he maunga teitei
Pursue excellence – should you stumble, let it be to a lofty mountain

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