About a year ago they started mentioning that classroom technology was expanding. We have our interactive whiteboards, now it was time for iPads and netbooks to enter the fray. I cringed. Mostly in a "one more thing to worry about" sort of way. Nowadays, it's not so bad. After spending a summer ruminating about how the heck you make 4 iPads work for 30 kids and then finding a way to make 4 into 14, things started to click in place.

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You're Doing It Wrong

Getting students to the task should be frictionless, or as frictionless as possible. It should also enhance what you're doing and not be TFTS (technology for technology's sake). This is what I'd call the paper test. If you ask yourself "can I replicate this with paper?" and the answer is yes, rethink the lesson, or stop forcing the issue. There are natural avenues for iPad use. Typing up notes is not one of them.

  • Ok kids, go to my edmodo page and...
  • Ok kids, create a log in for this website and...
  • Ok kids, sign in to your e-mail account and...
  • Ok kids, take a picture of your work to e-mail me and...
  • Ok kids, watch this instructional video and...
  • Ok kids, I want you to take notes and...
  • Ok kids, open this e-textbook and...

Why am I hating on edmodo/e-mail/logins? Well, they create friction. You know some kid will forget the password. You know edmodo will pick the wrong time to be unresponsive. You know some kid will have no idea how to attach a picture to e-mail. Then there's this ball of absolute ridiculousness. 23 steps to distribute and collect an assignment (a PDF of a worksheet no less)! Running to the copier and collecting the papers is the better choice. You want the time spent with the technology to be time spent learning/doing and not fiddling/troubleshooting. The first time I waited ten minutes for a netbook to login was the last time I booted the thing.

A lot of people get real excited with the concept of ShowMe. There are merits to having a student learn how to teach. But is dictating a lesson to an iPad enhancing the activity? Could they do that with chart paper? Could they do that in small groups? And isn't the idea that math is mastered through a headless narrator just reinforcing that thing we don't like to talk about? Also, have you tried sharing stuff with ShowMe? Logins! Hooray!

Oh, and Geogebra is a disaster on iPads (blame Java). Desmos is ok (logins!), but they need a native app desperately. The sooner you accept what iPads don't do well, the sooner you dive into what makes them shine.

Get to Work

Getting to the assignment has got to be the fastest part. A Dropbox or iCloud is key to quick starts. I have a Dropbox account (separate from my main one) tied to each iPad the students use. Once I have the images/PDFs together, it's as simple as putting them in a well-named folder on the Dropbox. I spend a few seconds showing the whole class where to find the file, and the task is underway. If I want them to assemble data in Numbers, I prep templates for them in advance. Each iPad is tied to the same iCloud account. Creating a spreadsheet on one propogates it to another. Because Numbers is quirky, I prep a template for every group that will need one, named appropriately (time taken = time to prep 1 template + time to hit copy x times). If you're more a Google Docs kind of person, Google Drive for iOS has been making progress. I need to re-examine my use of Numbers though, this year it set off the TFTS beeper.

For collection, iCloud auto-updates progress. A group says they're done with their spreadsheet, a tap later and all iPads (and my computer) have their data. I had students upload videos to Dropbox. It was easy. They spent longer picking out their best video.

Know what kind of device ratio you need. Creating videos or taking pictures is an easy 5:1 idea. Reading notes? Sketching? Researching? 2:1, TOPS. I mean it.

Chill Out

Some restrictions are going to be necessary. Once you sign into an iPad with an Apple ID, you can disable the ability to make account changes (preventing a kid from signing in their account). You can disable e-mail. You can disable messages. You can disable deleting apps. You can disable FaceTime. You can disable the camera. You can set a passcode for altering the restrictions.

No matter what you do, kids will find a way to fiddle. They are curious, they want to fiddle. Don't discourage this (provided the task at hand gets done). If they open Facebook, kindly tap the tab closed and have them move along. Do not lose your mind. If they take goofy pictures with their friend, delete it later when class is over. Do not lose your mind. A good way to reduce that sort of thing is to enable Photo Stream. Any iPad signed into a given Apple ID will auto-share any photo taken, making a public projection (from your iPad) of that goofy photo very easy. Seems to do the trick.

Do not think you have to use the iPads every day. If it takes two months before you find another way to compliment a lesson, so be it.

Sharing

Determine a way to share results. A student will assign value to an activity if they know others are going to see it. If the task involves one student typing some notes on an iPad that no one will ever look at, it doesn't inspire quality products. SketchBook Express is iCloud enabled, Photo Stream quickly displays photos taken by anyone, Dropbox gives you a central point to view video. Or invest in an iPad AV Cable or AirPlay solution. Show the students you are interested in what they are making and that the exercise is not TFTS, never to be discussed again. Do not have them submit electronic versions of worksheets.

Experiment

There are no magic apps. Do not repackage an old way of doing things in a shiny digital wrapper. Do not make them download your PowerPoint to read for homework. Think fast, how many times did you read those Chem 101 notes you downloaded in college? Or listen to those English lectures you recorded. Yeah.

As much as I liked the process of self-teaching, it could've been replicated with pencil and paper. But I had to learn that lesson by trying the idea. Do something unique. Taking pictures, making vidoes, learning sophisticated search techniques, running statistics through WolframAlpha are just some of the activities that are new and novel. Do not ban WolframAlpha because it gives them the answers, show them how to verify what happened. Teach them how to read the high-level vocabulary WolframAlpha uses in its results. Show them how to graph an equation with a Google search. Find a way to integrate your content into a new way of doing things, don't force students to digest a PDF of your perfect worksheet you made 5 years ago. Early in the year I kicked myself for giving students too much information. Learn to take facts out of the problem. Present the kids with just the question you want to answer. Teach them how to fill in the blanks and then give them the internet to do so.

On my mind currently is polar equations. Their graphs are pretty, the traditional TI-84 way of examining their graphs is not. Giant color displays give my students a new way to explore these. I have no idea if the iPad will enhance the experience, but it won't hurt to try.

Conclusion

Where I think a lot of iPad activities stumble is the idea that you should use them to consume a worksheet/website/video, things that paper can replicate. Where an iPad in your classroom shines is when you start talking about what kids can create. We spent the first part of the century getting teachers the internet in their classrooms. Now every student is getting a chance at that experience. Teach them how to use it. Don't assume they have any idea what's going on because they're young and you're not. Instead of putting a bland right triangle on the board, make them go find some. Instead of analyzing some bland quadratic equation, have them create one. Teach them how to sketch. Teach them how to go CSI Miami on a video. Teach them how to take a screenshot. Teach them how to teach someone else. Let them play with the camera. Show them all the crazy ways to interpret Maps. Shoot, have a discussion about how an iPad works in the first place.

Lastly, know when to keep the iPad in the cabinet.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon
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I've written here and there about all the random toys in my room. You may have noticed the TVs in my photos or heard about the small mountain of iPads I've assembled. In response to some questions, I decided to pop open Illustrator and fiddle around making a diagram. So here's an idea of how everything is wired up in my classroom. The cables involved occupy a tub of significant size when it's time to pack up every May.

Click for big. (13.1MB PDF)

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This didn't happen overnight, obviously. Roughly:

  • Septebmer 2010: bought my own printer
  • March 2011: stop using school-issue laptop
  • May 2011: experiment with the use of a Wacom tablet to teach
  • August 2011: start teaching from my podium
  • October 2011: webcam document camera
  • November 2011: first TV
  • December 2011: got an iPad 2, begin contemplating
  • March 2012: second TV
  • May 2012: bite the bullet and upgrade my Dropbox
  • July 2012: bought an iPad 3, designated iPad 2 for classroom service, iCloud becomes viable service, put an SSD in the MacBook
  • August 2012: new speaker system (well, old receiver and new bookshelf speakers), receive school-issue iPads
  • September 2012: third TV, bought another iPad 2
  • December 2012: iPad mini donated, bought second iPad mini

It's been a very long project, and I doubt I'm done. I've also become a pro at buying and running really long VGA cables. The next step would be finding a way to obsolete the 4:3 projector in the room and use a large (~60") TV in place of the ActivBoard. It would prevent the TVs from having to display a stretched picture and give me some more board space (1920x1080 vs 1280x1024). Of course my desk and podium monitors would have to go widescreen as well, sigh.

To answer "How can you afford these things!?": I coach high school and middle school soccer, drive a school bus, tutor kids from other schools on the side, hoard gift cards and birthday cash, keep an eye out for deals and view it as a long term project. A little here, a little there.

Questions welcome.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

If you want to up your game, but don't have the dispoable income to do anything really crazy, may I suggest a very cheap asset. I bought a scanner a couple summers ago and it comes in handy all the time. If you don't have one yet, I have no idea what you're waiting for, they are so inexpensive. Mac OS X even has a scanner friendly app pre-installed that allows output to PDF. Windows probably has something similar, but I have no idea. Even with the amazing things computers can do, sometimes you can do something faster by hand. Especially true if you spend most of your creative energy in Word. I know the drawing tools are pretty good, but probably not as good as you would like. A nice high-res scan of a hand drawn graph can really be the key to a nice product. Two examples from this year. I was going to be out and didn't want my Pre-Cal kids to languish. They had work from the previous day to finish but I knew it wouldn't take the whole time. So I prepared some notes on tangent functions for them:

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Now, I don't know about you, but when I'm out it's usually unplanned and I don't have a lot of time to prepare what will be needed. So I had a choice. Knowing full well that when I'm out only 40% of what I want gets done, should I spend the 15 minutes to write these out, 20 minutes to type them out, and find something to make nicely labeled tan(x) graphs with (15-30 minutes)? Or spend 15 minutes writing it and 2 minutes scanning it and e-mailing it to my student teacher?

Second example came from a second self-teaching exercise. I wanted them to determine how to solve logarithmic equations. I wanted to have examples. I had limited time. Formatting a typed step-by-step example was doable, but would take way longer than I had and I couldn't annotate as well as I wanted (kids like arrows, you see). A few minutes with a pen and I had what I wanted. You owe it to yourself to get a scanner. And one day, spring for a graphics package that will help exploit it.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

With my own productivity, I can never have enough open space. I have to be able to see as much as possible and put things where they can be found. I have a real problem with losing track of something if I can't see it. Since college I have loved loved loved huge flat tables as workspaces. I have two such desks at home. My "desk" at school is just an IKEA kitchen table I found. I don't do drawers. I forget what's in them.

Same works for computers. I've watched people generate tests and other school materials on tiny screens and it just drives me nuts. I have to be able to see the whole thing. Needless to say, I don't do a lot of creating on laptops. The year and a half or so when I didn't have much choice but to generate stuff on my school issued laptop didn't yield the best results.

So if you toil along on a tiny laptop, I urge you to consider the benefits of a bigger screen at your main point of production. Keep in mind I'm a crazy person, so you don't have to get this nuts, but just for a visual:

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Click for bigger. When you're generating 600dpi graphics that pop on a test paper, this tiny 1024x768 stuff doesn't cut it. You realize that's the native resolution of an iPad, right?

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

Do you teach from a computer? Do you hit the power button and have enough time to run to the copier and put your lunch in a fridge before it reaches the log-in prompt? The first step in regaining some sanity is to roll your own teaching station. The second is to invest in a solid state drive. In a couple years this discussion will be moot, as solid state storage is trickling into more and more computers by default. But if you're sitting there aggravated at the 30 seconds Word takes to launch in the middle of the lesson, this is the upgrade for you. Prices have been falling for the last year. I bought a 256GB Crucial M4 in June for $250 and it's already gotten cheaper.

I'll let the results speak for themselves.

Traditional spinning hard drive:

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And the magic of solid state:

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This small purchase easily added 2 years to the life of the laptop I use. Think of me next time your standard issue is giving you fits.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

The overall theme this year is how to have the maximum impact on my very full classroom. Three of my five classes have a student in every single seat in the room. One teacher standing in the front of the room has its limits with a group in the 20s, you're even more isolated when it's an audience of 30. Lots of kids have vision problems, I should say lots of people have vision problems. Teenagers with vision problems are my concern, and those teenagers with vision problems hate wearing their glasses or they broke them or they keep them at home or whatever. Through an interesting series of events, I have distributed many redundant screens throughout the room. The biggest problem with one board and 30 kids is the number of heads between me and the board. Front two rows? Great. After that? It becomes an interesting game of squinting and bobbing and double checking things with my neighbor. Writing something on the lowest reaches of the board is basically telling 60% of the room "haha, not for you!" Armed with a massive VGA splitter, cheap IKEA tables, and an eagle eye for discounted, used TVs on Amazon, 15 kids have direct line of sight to a screen, the rest only have one head in front of them. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves. I took a picture from a seat in each of my six desk groups.

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Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

My quest to trick out my classroom continues. Amazing things are in store.

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Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

I've mentioned before that I have a lot of students this year (27 per class average) making visibility a problem in the dark recesses of my room. With the kids piled on top of each other, those stuck in the last row do an awful lot of stretching to see, especially when I write on the lowest 1/5 of my board. Enter my solution:

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People who know me aren't surprised, but yes, I might be a crazy person. The setup is a 1080p 32" television that was marked "Used" on Amazon, but was brand spanking new. To enable the use of my podium, I had installed a 4-port VGA splitter already, so this screen takes up the 4th port on that splitter. A 50' VGA cable, cheap IKEA table, and cord proctector later, the back of the room isn't so terrible anymore.

The top picture was taken from a desk up against the back wall of the room. Normally this kid has to look around 4 or 5 people in front of him to see, and you can imagine how difficult it is to see anything in the bottom reaches of the main board. Now this kid only has to fight one person for a decent view. I increased the distance between the front two rows and the last two rows a bit to increase the reach of this new screen. I'm hoping it's a beneficial addition. Pretty sure the kids will flip out when they see it.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

Document cameras are a classroom feature from a bygone era. Well, a transitional era. Teachers had computers, but projectors will still way too expensive and creative tools weren't cheap enough to do everything digitally. I still can't quite do everything digitally, though I'm getting close. So in the few settings where you could get a projector, a document camera lets you show off something you typed, student work, etc. They are large, very expensive, and require that you dedicate the projector solely to it while presenting.

I rigged up a cheaper version that lets me open a video window on my computer for a live look and whatever is under the lens. Combine that with annotation software, and now I can scribble on top of video. Just how I want to use it is still in testing. But like most of the new things I've come up with, I have to know it's there subconciously so that somewhere down the road I can cash in on random ideas. Ideas that used to stop short at "but I don't have a way to DO that." 

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Materials:

 The latest version of QuickTime allows you to do simple movie recordings which means you can see what the camera sees at any given time. I needed the lamp because my projector is a little dim and gets used in a well-lit room, so a little backlighting helps. Having the video window open is a tad processor intensive, so I try not to do a lot while using it. The video quality is nuts, and could make for a good recording tool down the line. Most of my ideas involve show and tell situations where normally I'd hold something up that maybe the kids in the back can see, maybe not. Throwing it under the camera should help that.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

If you're anything like me, a lot of times you're creating your own resources or printing a copy of the test to run off the night before so there's not a scramble the next morning. Whatever it is, chances are if you're a teacher, you print stuff, a lot. Many years ago I was in the same situation in college. You take enough engineering labs, you get accustomed to 20 page print-outs. Marketing would tell you that inkjets and their expensive refills are The Way. Not so!

99.999% of the things I created in college were black and white, so 8 years ago I invested in a LaserJet 1012 that I found on sale. They do exist! HP always has one low-end model around which is not low-end. Often times they'll go on sale ($120 or even $99 compared with $149 retail). Yes, refills are $80/pop but I've only done that 3 times.

School has a couple laser printers per department in each department office. Super! Except if you're on the other side of the world from the department office.

So I wandered around Best Buy and found a LaserJet 1102 (the current low end) on sale for $99. Saves me on a regular basis from the inevitable horror that is not making enough copies of a test/worksheet.

Why do this and other crazy things like the podium and a high-powered markup language for my tests? I sweat the small stuff like razor sharp text.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon