Many years ago there was a question about how you plan. To force better diligence on my part, I had developed this system that involved a couple notebooks and a big calendar.

Towards the end of last year, I finally scrapped this sytem after five years. Why? Primarily because I'd worked through the issues that forced me to it in the first place. Namely, learning how to script my time, remember finer details, and getting good at my content. As it stands now, planning a decent 50 minutes isn't as hard as it used to be. In some conversations with people while out and about at conferences, you just accidentally become really good at planning.

This year I went all digital. A 12.9" iPad Pro took the place of the paper.

My planning has three elements: scheduling, formal write up, and product list. I use Notability on the iPad and the built-in system Notes app on my computer and iPad. Notability is set to back up all my notes to Dropbox so I can view them on the computer if necessary, and the Notes app auto-syncs between iPad, computer, and phone.

Previously, I'd use a paper calendar to make broad strokes about what I wanted to cover on a day. The calendar was marked with holidays and grade entry dates to help me plot out assessments in a reasonable manner. Then I'd take a notebook and script out each day of the week. Now with the ability to super zoom in on the iPad I can wrap both of these tasks into the calendar. Each day has the script written with different color codes for assessment (red), homework (blue), and classwork (purple). If I forget something, thanks to the Dropbox back end, I can pull it up on my phone for a reminder before class starts. I do this super frequently. Previously I'd do the same thing with my script notebook nearby.

Once I have the week planned, I scan the scripts for assignments I need to make. Am I assessing? Need to make that. Am I giving classwork? Should check to see if a previous one works or if I should edit it (which, when you have two weeks off for a hurricane, the answer so far is "LOL, yes you have to edit it"). Something something Desmos? Probably should figure that out.

I keep the "to make" list separate from the "to do" list as that includes other random parts of the job (answer this email, order this thing, sign up for this thing, etc).

After all that's figured out, I write up formal lessons for documentation. I keep these in a Google Doc that are shared with my department chair and appraiser. Objectives, language goals, and a brief run down go here.

I have really liked this system because it forces me to go through the week a few times while planning, better committing those plans to memory. I've passed most of the content hurdles now, so I don't have to keep as many detailed notes about how to cover a topic.

I use plans from previous years as reference, but I never blindly copy and paste. Often I'm able to reuse passed assignments with minimal efforts, but each year is different that they usually deserve something unique for the moment. As it was described to me a long time ago, if you force yourself to throw everything away and start over, you will become really good at your subject matter, really fast.

And finally, other than plotting some assessment dates in advance, I never plan out beyond a week. There's too much uncertainty in a given week. Things might need to push. Something might go faster than planned. You might have a better idea by Wednesday. Making a semester's worth of copies doesn't happen around here.

AuthorJonathan Claydon

A brief description of the tools that power my classroom. This is in addition to assumed stuff like word processor and spreadsheet.

PDFPen: Edits and creates PDF files. Useful for adding images to problem sets.
LaTeX: The pretty way to typeset equations. If you've had it with Word nudging your equations in random directions, you might like this.
Adobe Illustrator: High-res vector images that don't look like garbage when printed. Great for making posters.
Pixelmator: Simple image editor that powers the red-boxed children in my photo gallery.
Dropbox: C'mon. Duh. I pay for the pro version which was kind of pricey for 100GB, but they've since made it 1TB.
Final Cut Pro X: I don't make a lot of movies, but it's necessary for our goofy class films.
Rdio: I know Spotify is the cool kid these days, but I've been a subscriber since 2011 before there were other options. And it still carries Taylor Swift. So there.
AirServer: Mimics an AppleTV on a desktop computer allowing you to display iPhone and iPad screens.
Aperture: Technically discontinued and soon to be replaced. I take my classroom photos using my phone and Aperture has hooks into iCloud putting the pictures on my home computer instantly. Less clumsy than iPhoto.
DeskScribble: Annotation on top of the desktop.
OmniGraphSketcher: Allows you to create a graph of any shape or size when you don't want to figure out the equation that's necessary. Recently open sourced.
SketchBook Pro: Primary method of delivery. I use layers like different pages.

AuthorJonathan Claydon

A niche use case, but a neat feature. If you need to demonstrate something from an iPad, iPhone, or iPod, running the app AirServer on your teaching computer is the way to go. It acts like an AppleTV without the need for a physical AppleTV or switching projector inputs or any of that mess.

There's irony here somewhere

There's irony here somewhere

But, your school wireless network may not support it, or like me, AirServer misbehaves from time to time and you need a back up.

On the off chance you teach from a Mac, and on the off chance you recently updated to the latest OS X, you have a built-in option now.

Step 1

Plug your device into the computer using a USB cable.

Step 2

Open QuickTime Player and select "New Movie Recording"

Screen Shot 2014-10-25 at 12.06.27 PM.png

Previously, this was a way to record using any built-in cameras or USB cameras attached to your computer. Now, it supports iOS devices as external "cameras," designed for recording the screen of the device, but also handy as a document camera if you open the camera app.

Handy for recording a workflow for your students (it will grab audio from your computer microphone). Handy for a wired document camera solution without the need to fiddle with your projector.

You could also connect a random student iPad and show off something if that's your thing. And yes, the window will change its aspect ratio if you rotate your device to landscape.

Requires the device to be running iOS 8, and the Mac to be running OS X 10.10 Yosemite.

AuthorJonathan Claydon

Calculus is my giant scary project this year.

For once, I'm doing something super traditional. Relying on published resources. I am not the biggest fan of textbooks, our standard issue Pre-Cal book in particular. For years and years everything I produce has been independently created. Kind of necessary if you do crazy stuff like make your own Algebra II curriculum. I made LOTS of things.

Given the formulaic nature of the AP Exam, wandering off in my own direction may not be advisable. Thankfully, I only had to buy one of the books you see here. The AP workshop I attended over the summer was free book after free book, plus the one adopted by my school.

Breaking the traditional lecture format of AP classes, that's the real goal here. These books? I can work with these books.

AuthorJonathan Claydon

A followup to my iPad implementation. Here's how I get a new iPad integrated into my fold.

Sign In to the App Store


I disable auto-downloads because you may want to test an app before putting it on all your iPads. Other iPads tied to this account will grab the app at an unspecified time without telling you. Later we will set a restriction that will prevent a student from signing you out.

Get Your Purchases


Anything you've purchased with this Apple ID will appear on the "Purchased" tab in the App Store. A cloud icon means the app is not currently installed. Tapping it will begin a download. The App Store requires your password before this can happen, and that authorization will expire after a period of time. A student cannot grab any of this stuff if the authorization window has expired.

Set Up iCloud


Your iCloud ID is the same as your Apple ID. This enables document sharing (Documents & Data) between copies of apps and sharing photos quickly (Photo Stream). The mail/contacts/calendars/reminders stuff can be disabled. By default the iPad will backup user data when plugged into power. This only saves user created data. Apple automatically keeps track of what apps are credited to your account (or music/movies you've purchased) and you do not need to back them up.


Now to enable Restrictions. It's under General and you have to scroll a bit to find it.


By default, everything will be grayed out when you enter.


Tapping enable will prompt you to create a passcode. This is different then setting a passcode for the lock screen. If you ever want to change a restriction, you will need to enter this passcode. I would not recommend setting a passcode for the lock screen because inevitably students will figure it out unless you are really crazy about unlocking the devices for them. Unfortunately, there is no restriction to prevent setting a passcode for the lockscreen. Some clever student may do this to you. The iPad will have to be restored to remove the lock screen code.


The first group of settings will enable/disable a limited range of device capabilities. If you disable FaceTime and iTunes, their icons will disappear from the home screen. Enable them to make the icons return. Siri settings only appear on the iPad 3/4/mini. If you're really worried about students getting other apps onto the device, you can disable installing apps and re-enable when you want to add something. Though it's a bit tedious.


These are the restrictions I have set on my devices. I don't mess with content ratings because I've disabled the iTunes store entirely. Now scroll down to the account section.


Each of these will prevent a student from changing account information. The corresponding icon in the sidebar will gray out when you disable changes. It cannot be accessed without disabling the restriction by having the restriction passcode. You cannot remove the Mail icon from the homescreen, but with account editing disabled, the app will prevent the student from adding an e-mail account to the device.


Once you get a feel for what needs to be done, a device can be set up in about 10 minutes. App downloads take time and you'll need arrange them on the home screen, but the settings portion is easy. You'll need to do a few things like sign in to Dropbox (and give it access to photos) if you've installed it, enable iCloud in apps if they aren't by default, but that can be done quickly. Once I have all the apps downloaded I launch each one to make sure it's ok. I have less than 10 apps on my student iPads.

AuthorJonathan Claydon
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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

AuthorJonathan Claydon
5 CommentsPost a comment

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)


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.

AuthorJonathan Claydon

There is a quantity of x iPads in your room. Maybe you have one yourself and have items you want to demo, or videos you want to show, or maybe you teach from it (it can be done). Or, maybe you're lucky enough to have some student ones. How do you show off work? A lot of the traditional methods involve a clunky save, attach to e-mail process. Or maybe you have a Dropbox and you have them save and upload it in there. Either way, a little clunky, and a little time consuming to determine if the students put the work in the right place. A solution for this sort of thing is AirServer. It piggy backs off of Apple's AirPlay technology that debuted with the AirPort Express in...2004 (originally called AirTunes). What, you thought it was the iPad? AppleTV? Nope. You know, before iPhones or iPads were a thing and iPod screens were black and white. It was a dark period.

Nowadays, wireless bandwidth is such that you can send video via AirPlay (officially you are only supposed to transmit to an AppleTV or AirPort Express or licensed AirPlay speaker) and it's not a gimmick or half-baked. It's pretty mind blowing to watch.

Anyway, the question of sharing work that's done on an iPad. The foolproof way is an iPad VGA adapter. That can be a little tricky if the projector in your classroom doesn't have multiple inputs or you aren't comfortable swapping out VGA cables, or aren't willing to figure out to integrate a KVM switch. You're also limited to the length of your cable and the cable on the iPad side of the equation likes to pop out in my experience.

AirServer offers a little more flexibility in this regard. You install the app on your main computer (there's a Mac and Windows version), and it shows up as an AirPlay source to the iPad:


The result is a perfect replica of the iPad screen on your desktop computer. It can be made full screen if you so choose:


If you don't have an iPad and perhaps just have an iPhone or iPod Touch, these devices will still work with AirServer. Regardless of device, the camera is in play and will stream video to the destination screen without issue (provided there's enough breathing room on your network). Earlier in the year, one particular group of students got into a heated battle of Inverse Trig War. I tied my iPhone to the computer and did a "live broadcast" from the table. Not sure how to describe how like "what the heck did I just do?" this experience was.


I haven't had much trouble with this when using it in the classroom. All the student iPads comply pretty well. Though I do have the VGA cable as a backup. My only tip if you're going to have AirServer running is to set a password (can be done within the Preference/Options of the app). Otherwise any iOS device can hop on if the connection is free. Three times I showed something via iPad, disconnected it, forgot I had AirServer running and at random some kid's music collection started to play. It was pretty funny once I figured out what happened (I suspect the culprit was in the room). But for the unitiated, it can be a bit unsettling.

AuthorJonathan Claydon

This year we reshuffled our Algebra II curriculum to better match the topic targets of a new state test for the subject. It has really uprooted the traditional order. This year is totally trial and error because we have no idea how fast we need to go or what aspects of a topic are more important than others (Texas has yet to release any decent info on the content of this test and won't for a few more years). In addition to try and build better lessons and integrate all these fancy iPads, I'm trying to keep track of what has worked and what hasn't. A sample:


In particular I'm trying to keep track of activities so I can keep the variance up. Posters are great and all, but 5 of them in a semester is a little much, so other methods should be considered. I'm trying not to pull punches, because I'm not going to remember what sucked a year from now.

Even if you aren't reshuffling your curriculum, it couldn't hurt to think about what you've done just for the sake of trying to remember everything and to see if your routines might be a bit dull. This also helps me see how well I'm doing with compelling openers. For instance, I was nothing but problem sets for the first two weeks of school, what a way to make an impression. The openers also got more traditional after Halloween, about as far as you can get on end of summer adrenaline.

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:


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.

AuthorJonathan Claydon