Teacherbytes Blog


Santa Brought You An iPad, Now What?

Right before the holidays a teacher friend told me about an iPad she received through Donors Choose and now wants to know what apps to get for the classroom. Well here is my response (with my friend's blessing). Listed below are the iPads Apps I find most useful as a teacher. Please note these apps are general for teachers of any subject and/or grade. You will need to learn how to navigate the App Store if you want these or subject specific apps. Also, for those who found an Android tablet under the tree please consult Google Play for these or similar apps. Now on to the list (in alphabetical order):

Display Recorder: This app is a must for teachers interested in flipping the classroom or just recording lessons. It is easy to use and you can export movies to the Photo Roll for editing in other apps.

Dropbox: Most teachers I know create files across different platforms. Now that you have an iPad you will find yourself creating documents, presentations, movies, and other files you will want on your school computer. Dropbox allows you to store files in the cloud and on folders you place on every computer you wish to use. The files will then sync across all the devices. No more looking for that flash drive.

Edmodo: This is the social network for the classroom. Students and teachers can communicate and share files securely over this network. The iPad app closely resembles the website except the app allows access to your Camera Roll so you can post pictures and videos.

Educreations: This app is a whiteboard you can scribble on while you record your explanations and more. One creative teacher uses it to create presentations by adding photos and text.

Evernote: Probably the best note taking app hands down. You can review your notes across any platform and on the cloud. Other features are taking pictures, creating links to websites, and many apps and hardware import information into Evernote. This is one of the few apps I pay for annually.

Genius Scan+: For the times I need to go from hard copy to digital copy Genius Scan+ does what I want. I just snap a photo of the document and Genius Scan+ turns the document into a PDF file which I send to Dropbox.

Google Drive: If you have an Edmodo account then you need a Google account to create and share documents with your students easily. Photos and videos can also be added to Google Drive. This is a good compliment to Dropbox.

iBooks: One day iBooks may actually be useful for reading books but for now I mainly use it for storing PDF documents downloaded from the Internet.

iMovie: Whenever I need to create a quick and simple multimedia video iMovie is where I go. Just drop in your photos or videos, add titles and music then share it. Say good bye to Live Movie Maker's complicated process for making a movie.

Keynote: This is probably what all presentation should be, simple but elegant. Easy to use but there are powerful tools that will make your presentations come alive. One pleasant surprise was adding video to a presentation and have it play. Now Keynotes can be saved as PowerPoints straight from the iPad.

Lesson Plans: Need to submit or post lesson plans? This app creates detailed lesson plans easily which can be printed or emailed. The fields can be customized to whatever format you need (mine is set for GANAG with a couple of more fields). Also, lesson plans can be copied if you need to modify a plan for differentiation or other needs.

Pages: Another easy to use iWork app by Apple. This word processor can do just about anything you need on paper and now you can save files as Microsoft Word documents.

Skitch: There are times photos need to be marked up and Skitich allows you to do just that.

Snapseed: While iPhoto is a good app for editing photos, Snapseed does the same and more with photos for free.

Team Shake: Need to quickly create teams for group assignments? Add the names of your students then figure out how many teams you need then let Team Shake do the rest.

If you plan on showing any of your creations to your students on the projector then you will need to invest in a VGA adaptor for your iPad.

Let me know if there is an app you believe should be included in this list. I hope you enjoy using your new iPads or other tablets in the coming year.


Welcome to the Big Leagues Meat!

If you wondered where I have been the last several weeks, I recently completed my first course in my doctoral program. The title of the course was Theories and Research in Educational Psychology but it easily could have been Let's See What You Got 101 or You Really Think You Can Write? 101. While I never claimed to be the world's greatest writer I did consider myself better than the average bear. Notice I wrote did instead of do in that last sentence. My first couple of course writings left me wondering if this doctoral thing was a huge mistake. I expected comments such as poor paragraph transitions and a tendency for wordiness. Comments about lacking a vocabulary and "you should read the APA Guidebook" that left me reeling. It was like looking at my A- Master's thesis after announcing I was going to present it to World War II symposium: bleeding like a stuck pig with all the red ink on it.

After reading the professor's comments I took my dejected self to our school's high-speed, low-drag, often imitated but never duplicated Literacy Coach. This is the woman who taught me how to teach middle school students when I started the Computer Technology program. After crying about how my life was over, she peers at me over her reading glasses and tells me "It seems like this professor wants to see if you have what it takes to go to the next level." In all of the years of her giving me advice I never expected that. She also told me to read my work to myself and quit whining. Great, now I have two people kicking me in the seat of my pants.

After my pep talk, I figured I needed to do something because regardless of the outcome I still must repay the student loan. I took my friend's advice and worked at improving my writing. Needless to say my writing and grades improved along with the professor's comments each week. Now I have the confidence to move forward. Another big help in improving my writing started in 2006 when I started a blog called "Teacherbytes". That experience has been invaluable because I kept practicing my writing. So if you should be thinking about going back to school after a few years do yourself a favor and start writing a blog because the practice will payoff. Imagine what might have happened if I had not blogged over the last few years.


Curriculum Neutrality

'.neutrality.' photo (c) 2010, amish.patel - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/I am starting a Theories and Research in Educational Psychology class and one of the first assignments is to discuss whether there can be curriculum neutrality in education. The idea of curriculum neutrality is when the teacher attempts to not to place any of his or her personal, political, religious, or moral beliefs when developing curriculum for their classes. This poses two interesting questions:

1. Is curriculum neutrality possible?

2. If curriculum neutrality is possible, is it desirable? 

Personally, I say no to the first question. Curriculum will always reflect the values of the teacher, school, and community. Watch what happens whenever mentions teaching sex education at a school board or PTO meeting and you get my meaning. On the second question, if the teacher does not go overboard then yes. I have always tried to be a moral compass for my students so they would have an example to follow. All of the teachers i know always want their students to do the right thing. Sometimes it is the teacher who is the only one to provide that moral grounding and that is unfortunate.

How would you answer these two questions? Discuss!


Crossing Over

The past couple of weeks I took my first steps in reaching out to other teachers for the purpose of doing a Cross-Curricular project. The group I identified was the sixth grade Math teachers. My plan was simple, teams of students would create instructional videos demonstrating how to solve a type of math problem chosen by their Math teacher. The videos would be the Paper Slide because they are simple and quick to create. Next, I met with each teacher to explain the project and see what problem they wanted see their students to explain. Once I had the problems, it was time to organize the students into teams and give them their assignment. I grouped my students in class according to the team they are on to make this organization easier. All I had to do was use Team Shaker on my iPad to pick the teams at random. Once I informed the students of their teams and task to perform they were off. 

Imagine my surprise when our school's Math Coach, Kim, stopped me in the hallway telling me she heard about my project and offered her help which I readily accepted. Was I glad for her help because I have trouble adding 2+2 (three right?) and even more grateful when she answered my students' questions I would have had trouble with. 

The teams were given storyboard templates for them to design the slides they would use for their video. Kim and I moved around the students offering bits of advice about both the math and design of the slides. The students were also encouraged to show their storyboards to their math teachers to make sure they were correct. The students were very enthusiastic about the project and I had very little trouble keeping them on task. The biggest problem I saw, like their presentations, is they wanted to write every instruction down on the slides. I had to keep reminding them to just pick a problem and write the individual steps in solving the problem on each slide. I further explained one of the team members would explain what is going on while another team member was videotaping and another was working the slides. 

My students are almost finished with this project. Once a team tells me they have finished a video to my specifications (it has to be sharable), I come look at it. If there are any problems then I explain that the team needs to try again with the corrections I suggested. When I am satisfied, the videos are to be sent to their Math teachers via Edmodo for their evaluation and I enter my grade in the books. Once we are finished, I plan on going back to the Math teachers to see how things went and how this project could be done better next time. 

Was this project effective? One student came up to Kim and I to tell us this project was harder than she thought it would be. We asked why and she replied that that she had to know more to explain how to do a problem than just solving the problem like she normally would. Kim and I looked at each other and smiled. Mission accomplished!

Here is a video on how to create a Paper Slide Video.



Hello 911? What Tech Do I Need For a House Fire?

Hello, 911? My house is on fire. I had to make this dreaded phone call right before Memorial Day. Fortunately for my wife's sweet tooth I spotted the blaze in our garage on my way out for ice cream. After getting everyone one out of the house and calling 911, I had the presence of mind or stupidity of grabbing both my MacBook Pro and iPad as we were leaving. I figured I would need the devices to communicate with the insurance company, family and friends, and others as we picked up the pieces. A note on safety: Both devices happened to be close at hand and I did not grab the chargers. Do not stay in a burning building to collect valuables, get out immediately! They can be replaced, you cannot. Hours later, the American Red Cross put us up in a hotel for a few days to give us time to start working out the claim with our insurance company. The first thing I did was to get on the computer and start the claims process. It turned out this was the first of technology needs I would have in the three months my family was out of the house as it was being repaired. Here are the technology items I found useful:
Laptop Computer: This was the key piece of equipment I needed to communicate with my insurance company. Emails to claims adjusters and scans of receipts and other documents had to go through my MacBook Pro. Also, it helped in communicating with concerned family and friends through email and Facebook. The photos I uploaded to my website of the fire damage and repair progress also had to be done on my laptop. The family was staying in hotels so the ability to watch videos on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video saved our sanity when there was nothing on the regular television.
iPad: The iPad came in handy in taking notes about repairs and replacing items. We had the document of items that were to be replaced and the values loaded so we could reference it whenever we were in a store. Sometimes we took pictures of damage, repairs, and items were were considering purchasing but not too often. I did come to like using iPhoto to process photos that were taken with other cameras. A sketch app came in handy when drawing what various rooms looked like and how new furniture could be placed. When it was bedtime, the White Noise app helped us drift off to sleep. Finally, when the MacBook was in use or impractical, we could watch video and communicate via email or Facebook.
iPhone: We had to temporarily suspend our account with our telephone service so the iPhones were our means of telephone communications. The cameras on the phones were also very handy for taking necessary photos as well as using Facebook.
Handheld Scanner: Insurance companies love their documentation so a handheld scanner is a must. We purchased a VuPoint Solutions Magic Wand but I wished I could have shopped around a little more. The Magic Wand was inexpensive but it only scans JPEG files so information from receipts could not be transferred to a spreadsheet app. There are scanners that can transfer this information and it will save you lots of time in the long-run. However, for what it does, the Magic Wand does it very well.
Camera: Again, documentation is key when working with insurance companies so a camera is another must. While I did take majority of photos with my iPhone, several were taken using a Nikon D5100 DSLR. The photo detail is better and the zoom lenses do a better job than the iPhone. Also, become familiar with photo enhancing apps such as iPhoto. We realized a mistake when my son claimed his new car stereo was not on the inventory of lost items. Fortunately, we found a picture that included the stereo and forwarded it, along with an enlargement, to our adjuster.
Other Items: I mentioned a sketching app that we used to help pick out furniture. If you can actually get an app that helps draw rooms to scale it would be helpful. Also, learn how to create a screenshot on the iPhone or iPad by simultaneously pressing the home button at the bottom of the screen and the on/off button at the top. I noticed some crown molding was off so I used a level app to check. Sure enough it was off by about 1.8 degrees. I was wondering how to prove this to the contractor when I saw the bubble could be frozen and I took a screenshot. When I emailed the photo to the contractor, I was imagining all of the curses he would say when he saw the email. Later, when I asked him about this, he told me he actually thought it was cool and downloaded the app for himself. Finally, we used Awesome Note to create a folder so we could note down information on items such as ceiling fans and blinds so the contractor could purchase them. Awesome Note allows users to email out notes directly from the app which was another handy time saver. My Livescribe pen was useful in recording notes taken during various conversations and allowing me to keep a digital record or share the information.
I hope you never have to go through the experience my family went through this past summer. However, it pays to be prepared for things such as fires, tornados, floods, hurricanes, and other means to destroy your home. As I have learned, it pays to make sure technology is part of your preparation plans. At least, you can point to my experience whenever students ask, "When will we ever need to use this stuff?"