Podcast on EdReach

Recently I had the opportunity to be a guest on the EdReach Mobile Podcast. Regulars Chad Kafka and Tammy Lind grilled me like rack of ribs on how I have used my classroom set of iPod Touches, how I’ve set them up, and what types of tips and tricks I’ve found on my path to iTouch enlightenment.

Give it a listen on the EdReach site, or check it out in iTunes here.

If you’ve used iTouches in your own classroom, and if you have any tips or tricks of your own, please, leave a comment below.

Your Classroom iTouches Really Need A Case

Nasty, just nasty.

Last year I wrote a grant to get a classroom set of iTouches.  The iTouches were a hit last year and I look to further implement them effectively into my classroom for the upcoming school year.

When I received them, I also got a Bretford Power Cart to house the classroom set in.  The Power Cart works really well for charging, syncing, and safely securing the iTouches.  So what don’t I have?  Cases.  I need cases.  Initially, I didn’t think I would (and, of course, it raises the cost of the investment) but starting year two, I can really see that I do.  Here’s why.

Protection

Although the iTouches are solidly built and I haven’t had one broke yet, students do allow the iTouch to “slip accidentally” or “bump” it off their desks on “accident”.  A simple case would prolong the shelf life of the hardware immensely.

Germs

The Touches can get down right nasty.  I’m not a germ-a-phobe, but with multiple grimy 8th grade hands pawing at the iTouches, they do get a lot of finger smudges on them, and the stickers start to peel off them.  Which leads me too….

Identification

Who am I, really?

The backs of my iTouches have two things: a sticker that identifies what number the iTouch is (which is then assigned to a student), and a district applied sticker a bar-code number on it.  Both fall off over time with normal wear and tear, but both are important for different reasons.  The district sticker is an obvious indicator that it’s school property, and can be tracked more easily.  The other iTouch number lets me know which student should be using which iTouch, and, helps the students match their Touch in the appropriate tray in the Power Cart.  The headaches could ensue if the Touch has neither of these.

Please don't take me out of the classroom. Please?

While it’s obvious that protective cases are meant to protect what’s inside of them, from a practical standpoint, they are well worth the investment.  If you’re investing in a classroom set of iTouches, you may not think you’ll need them, but if you elect not to get them.  You’ll be sorry……at least I am.

The Case for a Student UI

By all accounts, Apple’s iPad is already a huge success. Pre-orders soared and it’s Apple sold a gazillion within the first few days.  I’ve posted in the past about whether or not I thought the iPad would be a successful tool to use in the classroom. It might be, it  just might, but ultimately, I think it’s success largely depends upon how well students are able to navigate it.

If you have fingers, you can navigate an iPad, but then what?

One of the biggest mistakes that can be made when introducing a new technology into a classroom is to assume all students know how to do what you’re asking them to. Students (especially this generation – insert symbolic individual letter here) are fairly adept at figuring these things out on their own. A lot of them are used to handling a new gadget and have some rudimentary understanding of how UIs work, but not all. That’s part of the problem though. Does the UI of a device have to be overly complicated to be great? And, if the goal for students using the device is to improve student success, do we really want them to hit the ground stumbling as opposed to running?

This brings into question the effectiveness of having the iPad as the defacto learning gadget of a classroom. Students all know how to use their fingers, so the idea of simple gestures like swiping and pinch-to-zoom should be second nature, in theory. But then what? If it’s really hard to open an ebook and annotate that book once it is open, is it worth it to force students to learn a completely new process?

I want my students to be able to pick up a device and have more familiarity with something they already know how to do without a gadget, like writing. That’s why I’m currently batting my eyes at the pretty girl across the room who goes by the name of Courier.

Courier is the still unofficial tablet product rumored to be created and released by Microsoft. Based on rumored leaks, the Courier can do everything the iPad can do but (from my classroom centric vantage point) better.

See, the Courier is designed to look like and act like a book or journal as it is. In addition to having multi-touch capabilities like the iPad, it also has a stylus input. Speaking for my classes alone, my students aren’t taking notes with their fingers, they’re using a pen or pencil. And (if recent potential demo video are to be believed) the pen/stylus does so much more than just draw.

Although the interface and the learning curve of the Courier might seem steeper, I think the payoffs might actually be greater.  There seems to be a lot more potential with interactivity and the device that goes beyond fingered brush strokes.

I already have a classroom set of iTouches, so the need for something “simple” is already met. What I want is for my students to create and read, something – I have a sneaking suspicion – is better suited for the dual screen format of the Courier.

If it ever exists…..of course.

iTouches in the Classroom: Now What?

This week I had the pleasure of receiving some very important shipments to me at school, namely a classroom set of iPod Touches.  I was fortunate enough to receive these iTouches from a grant I had written a number of months ago.  Here’s what I’ve got (so far):

I don’t have any cases for the Touches, at least not yet anyway.  I’m a little concerned on whether or not they’d fit nicely in the Sync Cart.

Bretford Power Sync Cart
Mario Cart for iPods

So now, the challenging (but exciting!) task at hand is to figure out the logistical side of setting these up.  The key areas I’ll need to explore are:

  1. iTunes Account – Normally when setting up an iTunes account, you need a credit card to do so.  Obviously, I don’t want to use my own personal credit card, nor do I really want to rely on one school account I may not have access to.  I’ve heard of a way to set up an account without submitting a credit card initially and then purchasing apps solely by way of gift cards, but I also need to consider how other teachers might have access to this account.
  2. Syncing 33 iTouches – I’ve read that you can sync up to 5 iPods/iTouches on one iTunes account.  I hope I’m wrong.  If I’m not, this could become problematic.
  3. Classroom Guidelines – No other classroom in our school has a set of iAnything, so creating a classroom policy on how best to use these do-dads falls (happily) on my shoulders.  Since iTouches are an expensive and desirable investment, I’ll need to make sure all of my T’s are crossed and my lower case j’s are dotted.
  4. Go Shopping – I know there are billions of apps out there, I know.  But I want to be intentional and realistic about implementing these in my class for the rest of the year, which is – oh bye the way – only about 2 months long.  So, I want to pick and choose things that will actually be useful for classroom instruction and student learning, not just play Bejeweld for 4 blocks a day.

So, Educators, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your advice!

Analysis: Google Teacher Academy

At the beginning of Dec. (’09) I attended the Google Teacher Academy in Washington D.C. My intent on going was to: A) learn more about the offerings of Google and gain a better understanding of how I could use Google apps in my 8th grade U.S. history class, and, B) pick the brains of fellow educators from around the country who are also doing great things with technology in their classrooms.

Worth it. Totally worth it.

The entire experience was the best professional workshop I’ve attended. Ever. Unlike a lot of workshop/conferences I’ve been to, GTADC equipped me with tools I can use in my classroom today, and it allowed me the creativity to think about how I could implement these skills into my curriculum.

Some of the highlights:

  • I teach 8th grade U.S. history, so the implementation of Google Maps AND Earth was phenomenal.  The point is not to just show students places on the earth, but to interact with them and expand them.  A presentation on Google Lit Trips sealed the deal for me.  Instead of just showing where battles of the Civil War were, I plan on having students add details into Earth about the surrounding areas and putting the battles in chronological order.
  • Speaking of the Civil War, how cool would it be to see a 3D modeling of Antietam, Gettysburg, or any other battle site of the Civil War?  SketchUp would allow me (or the students) to create one of these and bring the battlefield to them.
  • In past years I’ve set up a wiki from PBworks for a collaborative project where students research different events that followed the writing of the Constitution.  This year, I’m determined to use Google Sites.  My students already have Google Accounts, so there’s really no point in using a new service where they’d have to remember a brand new login and password they may use only once.  Plus, since their login will work with Google Maps, Docs, etc., there’s near limitless possibilities for embedding these existing tools into their own site page.
  • Since I don’t teach math, I’ve stayed away from using Google spreadsheets a lot because well, math is icky.  Really, it is….  After having a grand tour of it however, I’m ready to sing its praises.  While I’m not too interested in plotting and graphing points along an X and Y axis or managing different mathematical formulas (icky, like I said), I am interested in seeing different statistics from different countries over time.  Life expectancies, GDP, literacy rates, etc., are all different things one could graph into a Google Spreadsheet.  AND THEN, you can insert a gadget into that spreadsheet to make it look really cool and give it some animation over time.  AND THEN, you can insert that spreadsheet into a site or have multiple students collaborate on it.  Really cool stuff (and not icky at all).
  • Because of a generous grant in our district, I will soon be receiving a classroom set of iPod Touches.  In between guest speakers and breaks at GTADC, I spent a lot of timing picking the brains of teachers (like him and him) who know what they’re talking about and teachers who can help me make this leap.  Although it wasn’t sponsored  by Google, networking with so many fellow educators from other points on the map was really encouraging and inspiring.

I could go on and on about the awesome things I experienced, but sooner or later I’d run out of bullet-points.

The last thing I’ll say, is that before attending, I was skeptical.  And perhaps maybe even a little cynical, and I know I’m not the only educator out there who’s ever had this sentiment. Even though I wanted to go and applied to go, I was leery of drinking the Google Kool-Aid and having them use me as a conduit to hook my young and impressionable students into using their free products for life.  After I got there and went through the process, it became evident to me that I should really use these Google Apps for Education for what they are: products (FREE products mind you) to help students become engaged and learn.  What’s wrong with that?  Why is the outcry not as loud for text book publishers who have been price gouging school districts for decades?  Microsoft has been doing this for years, and even Apple fanboys have to admit that Apple’s expansive play into education is rooted in turning a profit first and providing an educational experience second (seriously, if nobody made any money in it, no company would ever bother with us plebes in the lowly public sector).  So, if Google is going to offer me and my students something for free to make their learning experience that much better, I’ll take it.

After all, when I was in high school we only had Coke machines, and now I prefer Pepsi.  Turns out I can make decisions for myself.  Who knew?

iGot iT!

Through a generous grant from HEF, I was notified today during class by a gigantic, over-sized check that I had received my grant proposal for a classroom set of iTouches.  I’m thoroughly excited about the potential to engage students in new and exciting ways using the iTouches.  In addition to the maps, web browser, calendar, and media playing capabilities on the iTouch, there are numerous apps out there that will have very positive effects on student learning.

Is there an app for learning?

Do you know of any apps out there that will magically turn my classroom into the new Happiest Place on Earth?  What apps should a social studies teacher get on day one?  Add feedback and win one of the iTouches!

*Author’s disclaimer:  I will not give away any iTouches.  I’m lied.  I will however take a picture of them and you can touch your computer monitor, if that makes you feel any better.