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.


iTouch the Oregon Trail

It’s been a while. I haven’t written a post in a coon’s age, so forgive me if I forget how to do this.

Currently in my 8th grade U.S. history class, I’m teaching students about the Oregon Trail.  To tell the story of the Oregon trail, I have found that it works best to tell it as a story (and for that matter, history is always best conveyed as a story, but I digress).  In the past (ironic) we’ve taken turns reading journal entries from people who were actually on the OR Trail.   True story accounts of the hardships people faced as they made the long and arduous journey west in search of land and opportunity and, yes, guided by the tenants of Manifest Destiny.  While we read through the journal entries, I show pictures from the trail from that time period. The goal is to make students understand the experiences pioneers went through while on their journey.  A sound objective, but one that has been feeling a bit stale.  Typically, a few students love to read the stories while others students zone out.  The engagement level can drop.

So, in an effort to regain my student’s attention and focus, place a higher priority on individual participation, and be more efficient with the overall lesson, I decided to change the way I do this lesson and make audible recordings of the journal entries and have students listen to them on our classroom iTouches.  This grabs their attention a lot more (especially when Mr. Freeburg does his “voices” of road weary travelers).  I used Gold Wave to record the twelve or so different journal entries and then transferred the MP3 files to iTunes.  When students finish listening to the stories from the trail and they take some notes, I had students pretend as if they were actually on the OR Trail themselves and create a digital postcard they would send back east.  To do this, I used the Bill Atkinson PhotoCard Lite App, which allows you to make digital postcards on an iTouch.  I preloaded the iTouches with about 34 pictures from the OR Trail.  Students self selected which photo they wanted to use, filled out requisite information using a rubric I had given them.  These were then posted to Picasa (using our district’s Google Apps account), and I linked a Picasa album onto my Moodle page.

Westward Ho!
Tales from the Oregon Trail

The end result?  Students were far more engaged with this particular assignment then they had ever been in the past.  The product they created for me to assess their understanding of the trail was more dynamic and richer than what we had done in the past as well.  Student’s loved it, and I had a blast grading their postcards.

To take the to another level, I wish I was able to find an 8th grade U.S. History teacher in Oregon who I could connect with and have their students comment on the postcards my students made and vice versa.  Oh well, maybe next time…..



Commenter Nathan makes a great point.  I should have allowed them to play The Oregon Trail game.  Well….I did, I totally forgot about that part of the day.  And, unsurprisingly, the students loved playing it.  There’s not enough time to play it in it’s entirety during one class period, but they still love it.  What’s more, there is an astonishing amount of real historical facts in the iTouch game.

The Oregon Trail on the iTouch. Student boredom has just died of dysentery.

Thanks for the reminder Nathan!


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.


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.


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….


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.

Et Tu, Courier?

Well, I guess I was wrong.  I was uber pumped about the potential of a device being worked on deep within the confines of Redmond , but it looks like the fabled Courier – like the Loch Ness, Unicorns, and Leprechauns before it – is just a myth.  Something that will never happen.  At least, not as it had first appeared.

After retiring, the former President of Entertainment & Devices Division at Microsoft, Robbie Bach, said that it was mostly a research and concept piece.  You know, much like my the volcano I made in 5th grade.

Just because it's not "real" doesn't mean it wouldn't be awesome.

The good news (if there is good news) is that Mr. Bach sees that elements of the Courier could be used someday.

Bach:  Well, Courier — Courier, first of all, wasn’t a device. The project and the incubation and the exploration we did on Courier I view as super important. The “device” people saw in the video isn’t going to ship, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t learn a bunch and innovate a bunch in the process. And I’m sure a bunch of that innovation will show up in Microsoft products, absolutely confident of it.

The thought of what Courier might be able to do in the classroom intrigued me greatly (and still does).  But, until a product like this ceases to be vapor ware and becomes a reality, guess I’ll just have to be content with my iTouches (which I am).

(For the full interview with Bach, check Tech Flash here)

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!

iPad vs. iTouch: Classroom Throwdown

Steve Jobs would like me to believe the new iPad will change my life.  I’ll never get another ailment in my life, I’ll never need to change the brake pads on my Mercury Sable, and my cup will overfloweth.  The iPad is not just the device I want, it’s the device I need.  Why?  Because Apple says so, apparently, and the great Sage of the technology universe has told me I need it.  Maybe I’ll buy an iPad eventually, but the more immediate question for me is, do I buy iPads for my class?

What kind of devilry am I up to? Read an eBook on the iPad to find out...

See, not that long ago, I applied for and received a grant to purchase a classroom set of iTouches.  I was all set to order the iTouches, but I decided to hold off until the mega Apple event slated (pun intended, of course) for January 27, 2010 A.D.  Like everyone else on planet earth I was expecting Jobs to unveil a tablet device.  But, what I was really hoping for was a refreshed iTouch.  Specifically, I  was hoping Apple would include a camera, which would open the door to a lot of really cool possibilities in a classroom setting.  Seriously Apple, you can fit a video camera in the Nano but not the iTouch?  Really?

Alas, they didn’t.  At least not yet.  But I can’t wait until August, I need to make a decision now.

So now the internal narrative becomes iTouch or iPad? iDon’t know.

To be sure, the iPad is a very intriguing piece of hardware.  It appears to do a lot of things well.  It might be really great for me, but will it be great for my classroom?  Although it’s big and beautiful, I think a strong case can be made for a classroom set of iTouches as well.




For me, this is probably the single biggest reason to buy the iPad.  The idea that I could download a bunch of books onto one tablet as opposed to having a giant bookshelf full of large cumbersome and heavy books is a very attractive idea.  Cost wise alone, I’m guessing that I could replace all of my textbooks with iPads and find a cheaper yet still effective eBook for my curriculum and still have change left over.  From what I’ve seen on video, the UI of the iPad as an eReader looks really, really smooth and natural.  It may take a while to get a student familiar enough with a Kindle to use it effectively, but nearly every kid ought to be able to figure out how to swipe their finger to turn a page.


The blessing and curse of the iPad, is that it’s essentially an iTouch on steroids.  The blessing side of that coin is that it can run all the apps an iTouch can.  So, anything I was thinking about doing in my class with an iTouch, I could – in theory at least – also do with the iPad.  The apps become a nonissue, and, I would be shocked if some enterprising soul didn’t take advantage of that screen real estate and develop some killer educational apps for the iPad.


No Multitasking

I suppose I can accept that the iTouch can’t multitask, but the inability of the iPad to multitask is ludicrous.  Imagine I wanted my students to explore battlefields of the Civil War in Google Earth then write a post about it in a class wiki or blog.  They couldn’t do both at once.  I teach 8th graders.  They’re not perfect, they forget things and they want to explore and create. A lot.  The ability to freely switch back and forth between two applications is necessary.  Heck, I need to switch back and forth between multiple applications at once.

No Flash

The iPad is touted as having “the best web experience ever”.  That is categorically bollocks.  The best web experience, is on a laptop or desktop.  If I can’t play Adobe flash video files, that means I can’t access 70% of video content on the web.  If I wanted my students to watch a video from CNN.com about the tragedy in Haiti, they couldn’t do it.  Now I understand that I couldn’t do this with iTouches either because they also do not support flash video.  But the iPad is much more expensive.  Do I really want to shell out that much more money?  We already have laptops.

Limited Input

I honestly think a student cold type on an iTouch faster than on an iPad.  The iTouch is smaller, and therefore fits in two hands easier.   I don’t see a student typing on an iPad with one hand unless they’re hunting and pecking, it’s too large for that.  It is possible to hook up a keyboard via Bluetooth or buy the keyboard dock, but again, that’s going to cost more, and if that’s what I want, why not just use a laptop?  There aren’t any USB ports either.  So whatever is created by a student has to be created on the iPad and shared over the web.  This isn’t a totally awful idea, but think if you wanted students to make a video.  They can’t do it because there’s no camera.  They also couldn’t upload anything to the iPad because of the USB omission.  Blech.


An iPad is larger for obvious reasons.  I can easily envision students sitting at their desks using an iPad.  But, that’s the problem.  What I can’t envision, are student’s carrying these all over school.  I’m already fearful of having kids sitting on the floor with these or knocking it off their desk.  The whole point of an iTouch, is it can fit in your pocket.  It’s small.  It allows the owner of said device to go wherever they want with it.  If my student’s are going to be confined to a classroom, wouldn’t it be smarter for them just to use a laptop?

It’s not a fair comparison to pitt the iPad vs. the iPhone.  I think that’s just a bit apples and oranges.  But, a case can be made for the iTouch vs. the iPad.  Here’s the crux of the contention: the iPad can do everything an iTouch can do, and a bit more (Books, in particular).  But can the iPad do those things so well that because of the cost I’d want to get half a classroom set instead of a full classroom set of iTouches?  Especially when I can check out a laptop cart from our media center that can do all of these things and much, much, more?

iDon’t Know.