Monday, October 29, 2012

Everything you ever needed to know about but didn't know where to look

The good folks at have put together a very comprehensive help page for using the site. Getting showbox for pc started as well as running reports are all covered and an in-depth teacher's guide is available for download. There is even a section for parents.

IXL User Guides

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lunch and Learn #2: Five key elements to understanding iPads in the classroom

[caption id="attachment_69" align="alignleft" width="300"] putting iPads to use on a Kindergarten shape safari[/caption]As we start to have more access to iPads in our buildings, it is important to take some time and spend it not so much on learning what buttons to push but discussing key elements that can go a long way in determining how successfully we put these devices to work for us. As I wrote in the Grand Rapids Press last year, iPads don't improve education. Teachers and students improve education with iPads.

Tom Daccord at Edudemic posted a great article (thanks for sharing Abby Perdok) in late September entitled, "5 Critical Mistakes Schools Make with iPads (and how to correct them)". I don't want to just rehash Tom's ideas here but his piece shows us that the devices have been in schools long enough that we now have critical accounts of what works and what not to do with them. Let's look at five elements (some similar to Daccord's) that can help us get the most of our investment in this highly engaging technology.

1. Understanding Apps: When it all boils down, there are basically two kinds of apps. There are "knowledge in" apps and "knowledge out" apps. This is true with any website...okay, educational ones but...I'm not even going to finish this thought. I think you understand the logical consequences. As I was saying, any website or technology tool does one or the other. Kids go to websites on lighthouses to learn facts and deepen their understanding of these structures' history and roll in the world. They then can go to something like and create pictures to share their knowledge. lets them post pictures and give narration. A number of iPad apps like the Voicethread and Screen Chomp apps do too. Just because there isn't an app for a specific part of the curriculum, doesn't mean that an iPad can't still be extremely effective. Have kids put knowledge into their heads and then choose a "knowledge out" app to let them share it in spectacular ways.

2. Getting App Savvy There are thousands upon thousands of educational apps in the Apple App Store. Apple has a webpage dedicated to highlighting a handful of featured apps but to really dig in and find out what teachers really find useful and what kids think, check out these sites: and is the brainchild of a group of teachers from Mexico and has contributors from across the globe reviewing apps. Things are nicely broken down by a ton of different categories so you can search by subject or grade level but also by higher order thinking skill. is another site "by educators for educators" (my tagline, not theirs). It has plenty of app reviews from teachers and students, but iEar (i Education Apps Review) also features a number of audio selections like interviews with app developers or ideas for implementing certain apps or techniques in your classroom.

A couple of iPad apps can be especially helpful in developing your savviness. App Shopper helps you find apps by subject matter but will also watch the prices of apps. Many times developers will run special promotions where they drastically slash the price of an app and sometimes make them free. When that happens you will receive a message from App Shopper to go and scoop up the app. App Price Drops is a little more stripped down in features but helps you find the deals, especially free apps.

3. iTunes is far more than music It always surprises me how many people don't rely heavily on iTunes for adding content and organizing their iPads. Yes, it is nice to be able to download and install apps from the app store on the fly through the device and it is fairly easy to create drag and drop folders on the device as well. It can be faster though and in many cases a lot easier to do that work while plugged into iTunes. Using iTunes also lets you add all kinds of your own specific content to the devices for student use. Educational movies, audio books, and anything in .PDF form (see earlier post for a how-to) can be placed on the iPad but you have to use iTunes in order to do it. A screencast will be coming that shows each of those processes in detail. Most importantly, every time you sync you diminish the severity of potential disaster by creating a backup file. If your iPad was damaged or lost, a replacement could be synced with your backup and you could start right up where you were on the old device.

4. It just feels right Through all of my experience of working with kids on iPads, there is a constant thread that is present. The iPad's user interface is incredibly intuitive. You just swipe and tap, drag and move. Many argue that kids are wired for the iPad. Much of that is likely true due to the prevalence of technology in our world, but I am starting the think that the iPad is far more wired for kids than the other way around. Apple is cracking the code on the best possible tablet, but Apple is also cracking our code for how we most naturally work and interact with a device. Here is how 5th graders explain this.

5. Think Different It is great to start out by concentrating on things you normally do in your classroom and finding ways to replace those tasks with the iPad. Chances are you will find higher levels of student interest and more engagement. Don't stop there though. Start to ask yourself, "What if? What if instead of typing animal reports, we made videos? And then what if we used those videos to teach our lower elementary reading buddies about the animals". Share your ideas with your colleagues and challenge them to ask, "What if?". Soon we will be watching our students do things we hadn't ever dreamed possible.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Google Has It

Here are 3 minutes and 49 seconds of awesome from a dynamic West Coast educator. Diane Main sums up extremely well in this parody of Adele's "Rumor Has It" all of the advantages that Google Apps can provide a teacher.

If there is something you see in this video and want to know more about, then let's use it as a springboard for some one-on-one learning.

Great work @Dowbiggin

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Put a Genius Bar in your classroom

"I'm done. What do I do now?" is an age old question. I am sure teachers all the way back to Ancient Greece probably heard it too.

In Infotech the standard expectation for completed projects or work is to go and explore other links I have posted or to work in an application that interests them and doesn't disrupt; sorry Photobooth. Late last year though I tried something a little different when it came to wrapping up big projects.

At an extra table in the library we set up a Genius Bar. Yep Apple, I am not even disguising it and am blatantly using one of the anchors of your retail stores. Every Apple store has a Genius Bar and offers how-to and fixit advice for all of their products. Now, every major project in Infotech has a Genius Bar where students that are finished with the project can serve as the how-to guides for those still working.

Helping others finish when you are finished is a teaching technique as old as the "What do I do now?" question but there is something electric that happens when you deem students geniuses and give them their own operating space where two or even three kids together can help solve problems. It really creates that same kind of energy you feel when you walk into an Apple Store. Here, kids with questions get up and move to the Genius Bar and find who out of the group can best help them. Usually they pair up and head back to the student's seat to take care of the question. This also seems to change the perception of the advanced student who resents having to always help the strugglers when he or she finishes. Maybe it's just being called a genius but I really think it is the opportunity to work in a collaborative environment as a leader that helps him or her feel less like a crutch.

Here is the basic procedure I use:
• I set up the Genius Bar on the days I am "hoping" we wrap up projects. Some projects seem to need multiple "wrap up days".
• The initial set of geniuses are the students that are finished already when 2/3 to 3/4 of the class is still working. I always have this first set show me their projects to insure projects are really complete and were done with quality.
• When other students finish, they become geniuses too and are available to help. They need to show me their work too.
• It is important to watch for "the point of diminishing return", the point where you have too many geniuses to really be helpful anymore. At this point I make the option of "independent exploration" available but allow multiple geniuses the chance to work together on something.
• Everyone who finishes adds his or her name to the genius list. This includes the last kid finished.
• I thought I would have to worry more about students wanting the geniuses to do their work for them instead of just providing support but after only a brief explanation, everyone has understood what this model can do and what it shouldn't do. This is just one spot where I have been pleasantly surprised through this implementation.

I have had great success now wrapping up video projects in second grade and landform collages in fourth grade with this model. It teaches students how to work collaboratively in a super-charged environment and it provides lots of motivation for that student that would let a project linger on all year if you let them. Implementing a Genius Bar doesn't have to technology specific. Try it for any project at any grade level. I think it would shine in a readers' workshop setting or science lab as well.