Welcome to Jennie Magiera's Technology in Education Blog:

Redefining the (digital) Classroom

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Friday, September 30, 2011

Promethean + iPads = ???

Today my Promethean Board was installed! I spent long hours after work trying to figure out how to operate this newest addition to my digi-classroom. Thanks to the aid of my good friend (and co-worker) Autumn Laidler and my other good friend, Google, I began to learn the basics. As we explored the different features of the board, we wondered aloud about what effects it could have - positive and negative - on our students' learning.

My Worries...
As a math teacher, I love to have miles of whiteboard space so as to allow students to work out problems without erasing... this way they (and their peers) can see the journey of their thinking, find mistakes and amazing pathways to solutions. I worry that this board will cause us to lose out on this facet of my math classroom.

Also, will I be "stuck" in the front of the room?

Will the technology become my focus instead of the math?


My Hopes & Ideas...
In response to my worry regarding the room becoming too teacher-centric, I turn - once again - to our iPads. I plan on using the Splashtop app (currently on sale for $4.99 for a limited time) to not only untether myself from the front of the room, but also allow to students to interact with the Promethean Board from their seats. Imagine we're investigating a math problem as a room, and a student wants to share his/her work. In a few moments, they can take control of my computer and show their work on the board. Moreover, they can then screenshot that work and email it to me so I can have a visual record of their participation.

As Autumn and I talked, we discussed the great opportunity in capturing lessons that occur on this board. I am hoping to experiment with Quicktime Screencasts to achieve this goal. When the lesson begins I'll start the screencast so that as I teach the lesson, I'll capture the student interaction, teacher/student modeling, discussion, work, etc. on the board... then upload this video to Dropbox for students to view. Absent students can see what they missed and present students who need a second look could also access this resource. Moreover, teachers from other grades (or in schools with more than one math teacher per grade) could see this lesson to consider vertical alignment and strengthen our PLC.

Finally, there is the simple plus of having a projector and board in my room at all times now. Now I can easily display student Keynotes, share annotated PDF files, Toontastic projects and ShowMe videos for our class to view and discuss!

All in all, I feel a bit like I did when I started the iPad grant: excited and terrified... though perhaps on a smaller scale. I have lots of ideas but also lots of worries. Of course, I'll continue to post as I try things out, inevitably make mistakes... then try something new.

Teachers who are already doing amazing things with interactive whiteboards... I beg you to share your ideas and expertise below!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Student Reviews of Annotation Apps

Today I had several students try out Explain Everything, Noterize and one continue with neu.Annotate PDF. They used these apps to complete their unit review practice at their seats. Below are examples of their work and reactions (as well as my final determination on which app to use).




Using Noterize





Unfortunately there are no screenshots of this app in use because if the app window closes accidentally (which happened to BOTH students using it), you LOSE ALL OF YOUR WORK! They were so upset about this, but being resilient scholars, they were both happy to start over with a new app.

*****
Student Reviews of Apps
(From above)
Reviews on Noterize:
"I like that you can change the pages and you can do what you want to do on that page."
"I don't like the size because when you are in the middle it is humongous and I don't like the marker and pencil because I don't know which one is which." -5th Grader

Reviews on Explain Everything:
"I like the colors and the questions."
"I dislike the eraser, the movement, the buttons on the side, another things I don't know the name of. When you zoom in, it messes up your whole thing because all the pieces of my writing move around for no reason. It is really hard to erase because sometimes you don't get to erase things after awhile. I hate it and I never want to use it again. I like noterize or newannotate better." - 5th Grader

"[I like] That you get to do all of your problems just like noterize and i think it's cool."
"[I dislike] how you erase. It it's very irritating to me about that app. also like when you try to answer a question all the stuff moves and it's so annoying and irritating to me." - 4th Grader

Reviews on neu.Annotate:
"I like this app because you can do math boxes on the iPads and you can learn in a different way."
"The thing i dislike about is how the way you have to write and it's really hard and the eraser doesn't work sometime when you try to erase things." - 4th Grader

*****

Based on the students reactions and performance on the apps, I think I will use Noterize for the foreseeable future. While the screencasting function in Explain Everything is very cool, the lack of functionality for my students makes it impractical to use. I also tried PDF-notes 2.0.0, but again - the functionality (and ads) once again leave neu.Annotate in 2nd place and Noterize in 1st. Thanks again to Steph Meewes for showing me that Noterize is free!


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Whetting your APPetite Vol. 9: Update on Screencasting & Digital Math Workbooks

Two new screencasting / annotation apps have caught my eye, one free and one paid. Both offer solutions for some of the problems I addressed in the cons section of the post "Pros and Cons of Digital Workbooks." Many thanks to Stephanie Meewes in Chicago for pointing out that Noterize is free. I was under the silly impression that it was $3.99. What a happy surprise!

Below is an overview of each app so you can decide if the free version will work for you. (Sadly, I think I'll have to cough up the cash for the paid version... but am not too sad because it offers some amazing opportunities for my students!)


Noterize, FREE
Noterize shares many of the same features as neu.Annotate PDF, and many more! This handy little app - which costs the same $0.00 as neu.Annotate - but also has palm protection and the ability to include voice recordings to your slides. Furthermore, it allows users to upload their annotated pages through email, Google Docs, Facebook, Twitter, Box.net and Dropbox (neu.Annotate only allows for email). When saving the document, you can also annotate the file name, which is great when you have many students turning in the same file.

Downsides: You can't do a full screen recording with video on Noterize. You can only do audio - which isn't half bad, but the visual annotation capture can be incredibly powerful when students are working through math problems (see below, in review of Explain Everything). Also, the audio can only be shared through Docs Folder (which you access through iTunes) and cannot be uploaded to Dropbox. This makes it difficult to access these recordings from a class set of iPads. After this reflection, it seems that Noterize is parallel to to neu.Annotate in all aspects except the fact that the upload function is much better. If choosing between Noterize and neu.Annotate, I would definitely choose the former.




Explain Everything, $2.99
($1.49 through volume purchase if you buy 20+ units)

Explain Everything has, well, everything. It has all the features of Noterize and neu.Annotate PLUS all the features of apps like ShowMe and ScreenChomp. Yes, that's right: Students can screencast their work as they write! As they solve mathematical problems, work through misunderstandings, and persevere towards a solution, they can now capture their thinking both through live recording of their writing but also as they think aloud!

In the previous post about digital math journals, I mentioned that I don't want to watch 93 videos of my students' work daily. Well, that is still true - however now they are available in case I want to. Students can record their work as they work, but simply send me the image. If, while grading, I decide I want more information about how the student came to this answer, I can go to that child's iPad and watch the screenrecording, or request that they send it to DropBox. Explain Everything doesn't require a document to begin writing, so I can also use this app to replace ShowMe. One app, two applications! Love it! As with Noterize, this app allows a myriad of upload options: Photo Roll, Email, DropBox, Evernote. As mentioned above, the user has the option to upload only the image, only the movie or the entire project.

Downside: This app costs money :(. Also, there may be too many features. I like how simple ShowMe and neu.Annotate are - they allow kids to get in, do what they need to do, and get out. Explain Everything allows students to very easily delete the actual PDF image, rotate it, shrink it, etc. This may cause issues for those with some motor disabilities. However, I think I can overcome this latter downside through careful modeling and practice with my students. I can overcome the first mentioned downside through careful begging.

Downsides, continued: After working with app some more, I have found two more issues: You cannot change the file name as you upload to DropBox. Not terrible, since I can have kids write their names directly on their work, but it would be helpful if you could change it. Also, when uploading the image, it only uploads the image you can see on the screen. So if the kids are zoomed in, that's all it will upload. I will have to train my students to zoom out. 



Saturday, September 24, 2011

More Support for Bretford PowerSync Cart

Earlier this year I wrote about my struggle with the Bretford PowerSync Cart. Well, my friend Bruce Ahlborn shared this incredibly helpful resource for those who are trying to wrangle a cart of their own (from Julene Reed, Director of Academic Technology at St. George’s Independent School). Many of her syncing suggestions are the same as those shared in my previous post, however she offers a plethora of other helpful tips -- such as disabling automatic updates (and thereby halting 30 annoying popup windows when you connect your cart). That tip alone made my day - and this document is overflowing with other amazing tips! Thanks to Julene for creating this awesome document and Bruce for sharing it with me!

One tip I would add: If you don't need the iPads to be individualized (i.e., they can have identical images and identical content), then don't rename them after the backup (as the document linked above suggests). I left all of mine named "NTA313"; now when I buy a new set of apps through VPP or want to upload a video to all, I just plug them in and they all sync simultaneously without me having to do anything. Just be sure to select "sync new apps automatically" on the apps window and "sync 5 newest movies" on the movies window. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Pros and Cons of Digital Workbooks

For the past few weeks, our class has been experimenting with digitized versions of our math program's workbooks. After gaining permission from the authors, and having already purchased print materials for each child, we began to create PDF versions of the student lesson pages. Utilizing the free app neu.annotate PDF, kids scribed answers directly onto the page and were able to zoom in to gain extra workspace. Then they emailed the files to me using a generic email address programmed into the iPad. (This way kids do not ever have access to this account aside from within the app; they cannot send other messages or check email from this account.)

After two weeks of experimentation, here are the pros and cons we've experienced:


*******

PROS
- More workspace on the page - since students can zoom in, they can complete a lot more calculations in a lot less space.

- Students are able to change colors as they work. This way they can denote fractions more clearly, change colors to represent place value or operation, and are being more cognizant of how color can have a symbolic role in their math communication.

-  I am able to get all of their work via email, give feedback on the same page using neu.annotate PDF and return the work to them via iDisk or Edmodo. This way I don't have to take home STACKS of workbooks / journals to grade at home -- or collect the journals from student bins to stay late and grade at school.

- Students LOVE it.

- Since neu.annotate allows you to add pictures, students can add photos from the web to illustrate real-world mathematics. i.e., In a geometry lesson, students could find examples of concentric circles, etc.

- I can add my own PDF activities to the iPad for students to complete without having to make photocopies! Saving paper!


CONS

- As a math teacher, I LOVE to see erasure marks. They tell me a kid is being thoughtful about their math process, checking their work, finding mistakes and fixing them. If I look carefully, I can also see what original mistake they made and how they fixed it. (Or sometimes, they started with the right answer but changed it.) When students use digital tools to write, I lose this step. :( Screencasting on apps like ShowMe can help me see students' thinking, but I won't want to watch each child's entire process of completing a workbook page or activity on a daily basis.

- The turn in system isn't perfect. I have to open 92 emails to see all of their pages. This is A LOT easier than going through 92 100-page workbooks, but it is still cumbersome. I am hoping that I can find a work-around for this (or that publishers just create a digital platform for their curriculum that embeds a sleeker teacher-student interface).

- One can't guarantee that everyone will get permission to do this with their curriculum (due to copyright laws, etc.). However, if that is the case, supplementary materials - especially those teacher-created - are ripe for the iPad and this app!

*******

As we continue to explore, we will share more pros and cons. Until then, please add your comments if you've tried this. How has it worked for you?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Quick iPad Management Tips!

Here are some helpful hints for your classroom iPad device management:

- If you want to see what recent apps your students were using (to make sure they were on task, etc.) - simply double click on the home button (the only button on the face of the iPad) and a dock will appear. This dock lists the apps that were opened in chronological order (with the most recent being the one farthest to the left).

- If you want to multi-task between several apps, you can double click the home button from within an app and tap an app from the bar below. This app is still "running" and therefore none of your progress will be lost. (This is helpful if students are filling out an exit ticket and want to switch screens to look up a word, or use a calculator -- when they switch back to Safari, their form will not have reloaded and they can continue from where they left off.)

- If your student is trying to type in a Google form and the keyboard keeps disappearing this means that there are too many windows open. Tap on the icon on the top left of the screen that looks like a box with a number inside of it. This will show you all running Safari windows. Close all of the unneeded windows and you'll be able to type again.

- If your students are accidentally deleting apps: Go to the settings, tap "General", then tap "Restrictions". Enable Restrictions and toggle "Deleting Apps" to the off position.

- If you want to disable built-in iPad apps (i.e., Safari, YouTube, Camera, FaceTime, iTunes) that can't be deleted from the normal home screen: Go to the settings, tap "General", then tap "Restrictions". Enable Restrictions and toggle the unwanted apps to the off position.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

ShowMe More Math Metacognition!

As we continue to explore how to increase students' math metacognition (see previous post on this topic), I am finding my iPads more and more invaluable. I've been working with two similar apps shared with me by the great folks at the ADE Institute: ScreenChomp and ShowMe. I started with ScreenChomp as I preferred its interface for my 4th and 5th graders, but have been recently learning towards ShowMe as it has a larger workspace.

Both apps offer the same basic audio and screen-recording features. I've been folding a routine into my differentiated math group time in which students receive a real-world math problem and solve it orally and visually utilizing one of these apps. They then post their response to my page on the app's website (set to private) and I am able to assess them at a later time as well as send their responses to classmates to view, evaluate and respond.

Here is an example of one student's thinking. I love how she starts, backtracks, gets a bit confused, regains her thinking path and perseveres through the problem. This authentic think-aloud paired with a visual workspace gave me an amazing assessment opportunity; it allowed me to accompany this young lady on her mathematical problem solving process and understand what she does and does not understand. Now consider the fact that I have 7 such videos from this period - created simultaneously while I was pulling differentiated math groups. There is almost no way I could have sat in that single 60-minute period and listened patiently to each these students think through this problem. Yet now I can listen and re-listen to assess their thinking - then archive that thinking to track their problem solving progress throughout the year.

My next step is to tie-in Edmodo. I plan to have my students embed these videos - or at minimum link them - on our class page for their classmates to view and leave comments. One of my professional goals this year has been to increase student self-efficacy in the classroom; I want to see each child take more ownership of his or her learning journey. I think this is a great way to make more transparent their own thinking - and the thinking of their colleagues. Once thinking becomes more transparent, they will be better equipped to understand how they think and how others may think differently - or similarly. Through this understanding I believe my students will be able to set more thoughtful goals from themselves as mathematicians.

As a part of this effort, one of my student math groups has begun to brainstorm ideas for rubrics with which we can assess this activity. As we work together to develop this rubric, I will definitely post it here!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Digitize to Improve, Not Just Because You Can

As we travel down the road to a digital school, I find that I frequently need to stop and reflect on the decisions we are making. A recent mistake I've discovered is digitizing just because you can. In this I mean that I have caught myself teaching an entire lesson, creating a new routine or utilizing a new app simply because it is "cooler" than the old fashioned method. However, upon further inspection, I find that the end benefit for the students is no greater than the "old" method. In fact, there are times I read a tweet or get an email about a new app or new use for the iPad, Promethean Board or laptop in the classroom - but then realize that this new method provides no improvement on what had been done before aside from novelty. Therefore, when making a decision on whether to digitize a component of my students' experience, or purchase a new app, I am continually reminding myself: If it doesn't make things better, is it worth it? Additionally, just because it's digital, doesn't necessarily make it better. While thus far most situations have proven that digitizing content and delivery yields improved learning experiences for my students, I know that this is not always the case and therefore a moment of evaluation is warranted.

This comes into play greatly when reconciling our curriculum with our iPads. In many ways, I have found that not only can iPads coexist peacefully with our school's curriculum programs, they often enhance or evolve them. As written in previous posts, I've used apps like Screenchomp (or ShowMe) and Keynote in concert with websites like Edmodo to push my students' mathematical thinking to new heights. However, there are times in which I come across into a fork in the road. These are the times when I have to decide between the curriculum and the technology. In most cases, I can envision a way in which they could be combined to improve each other... if the publishers and authors could create a digital enhancement of the program. However, I am separated from this solution by time (for the program to be developed and released) and money (to purchase this program). In the immediate meanwhile, I must determine how to best educate my students sitting in my classroom today.

One such example are the Everyday Mathematics math boxes. These practice problems, found in the program's daily lesson structure, have been carefully created and structured through years of research on math education. They serve the purpose of spiraled practice throughout the curriculum so that students receive repeated exposure to important concepts throughout the years. After I received the iPads, I found that differentiating spiraled practice opportunities with them could be extremely effective - using web-based programs such as Study Island and mathematics apps. Yet while I received the gift of expanded technology resources in my classroom, I did not receive the added gift of an expanded math block. Therefore, something had to give. Sadly - this was math boxes.

Recently I started worrying that by sacrificing the math boxes I was fatally wounding the integrity of my math program. Was my replacement activity - iPad-based spiraled differentiation - equal to or greater than the impact that the math boxes could provide? My selection of the apps and website targets was not research based, but did offer a level of differentiation and immediate feedback that the math boxes could not. I have experimented with the concept of using PDF versions of the math boxes and allowing students to use a program such as neu.Annotate PDF to fill them out and submit them - but then I am faced with yet another question. Would digitizing the math boxes improve them somehow, or would I be doing this solely to make them iPad-friendly? Once again, as I explore these questions I  keep the simple thought in mind: If it isn't making it better, is it worth it?

I haven't finished grappling with this question. I am going to try both for the time being - a mix of iPads and digitized math boxes -- mixed with some paper and pencil math boxes. I am going to look at variances of student performance, student engagement and my ability to provide meaningful feedback. I am also going to weigh the benefits of any successes or improvements with the time and effort it takes to digitize these experiences (vs. simply opening a math journal). I am working with my professional learning community / network to explore these questions, and more. My end goal is of course to ultimately effectively utilize the technology in my classroom and create the best possible learning experience for my students.