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

putting iPads to use on a Kindergarten shape safari
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 Kerpoof.com and create pictures to share their knowledge. Voicethread.com 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: Appitic.com and iEar.org.

Appitic.com 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.

iEar.org 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.

Lunch and Learn #1: Getting Creative with Images and Working in Word

Thanks to everyone at both schools who stopped by for our first Lunch and Learn of 2012-2013.

We discussed some free online sites that let you have fun and express some creativity with everyday images you take before finishing up with some tips on using them in Microsoft Word.

Photofunia: This site lets you upload any photo and feature it in all kinds of scenes and backgrounds. Here I made myself look like I was being spray painted on an outdoor wall. Photofunia keeps adding more and more scenes. Be aware that some have gotten increasingly violent so it might not be somewhere to send younger students. There is nothing gory or offensive, just the presence of some weaponry. It is addictive though.

Photofunia.com

Pixlr.com: Here is another easy to use site for adding a little flair to your images. There are three levels from which to choose on the home page. The middle choice “Pixlr Express” is the quick and easy choice for adding borders and stickers to your images. It also lets you make photo collages in literally seconds. Here is one I did in less than a minute.

Pixlr Express image

We wrapped up the lunch hour by doing a little work in Microsoft Word’s “Publishing Layout”. It is under the VIEW menu in Word. The big advantage we discussed for this layout method is the ability to organize and control a newsletter all through floating text boxes and inserted images. Also under VIEW is control over your toolbox. When you click on your “Object Palette” you have direct access to your iPhoto library. When out saving images for clipart, why not use Safari? It has one major advantage over Firefox and Chrome. With a CTRL-Click or right-click (for you two button mouse users) you can send those images directly to iPhoto and have them one click away in Word. Below is an example of how that looks.

Organize clipart in iPhoto and it is just a click away in Word

The next Lunch and Learn is set for October 17 and 18. The topic will focus on how to manage your iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches through iTunes. See you there.

Tip #3 Using the readability feature in Microsoft Word for Mac

Thanks to Ellen Berens for sharing this tip with the Blue Star staff today.

Microsoft Word will gauge the reading level of any document. It is one of those features that isn’t turned on by default but easily added to the Spelling and Grammar tools.

This feature is especially useful when insuring that your students of varying reading ability are able to understand the selections you give them to read. It is also important to insure that the materials you are sending home aren’t written at too high of a reading level. This isn’t to assume our students’ parents don’t read well. This just helps you keep your newsletter from being too wordy…and nerdy.

Here are Ellen’s instructions. I also created a screencast showing visually how to use the feature.

1. Open a word document, scan some text, etc.

2. Click on “Word” at the top of your screen.

3. Click “preferences.”

4. Click “spelling and grammar.”

5. Check the box next to “readability statistics.”

6. When you want to check the reading level, run spelling
and grammar check. Once you are done, your reading level
will be displayed.

For the YouTube video below be sure to watch full screen so you can see the menus clearly enough.

Tip #2 Saving a document as a .PDF on a Mac

There are a number of advantages to saving a document from Word or Pages as a .PDF, especially when you want to share it or keep it on a mobile device. You don’t have to depend on your recipient having the same application or version of the application to read it. Graphics stay where you want them and most mobile devices handle .PDF files quite easily.

If you have ever gone to your FILE menu and looked for an option to save a document as a .PDF you have come up empty. It is somewhat counter-intuitive to click the PRINT button but that is what you have to do.

1) Click PRINT under FILE or do a Command-P. I still mentally think of it as Apple-P.
2) Look at the bottom left corner of the window for the PDF button. Click it.
3) Click on “Save as PDF”.

There are also a number of shortcuts that you can use from this menu as well. You can mail your .PDF. This is great for sending your newsletter to your principal or emailing a document to parents. You can also send .PDFs to iTunes. Huh? It might not make sense on the surface but iTunes will organize your .PDFs under Books. When you sync your iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch you can then have all of those documents handy in the iBooks app. I keep different schedules and lists of meeting dates handy with this feature. It is also really great for taking things like A to Z Reading books in .PDF form (used legally with a subscription) and putting them on an iPad or iPads for students to use.

Here is a screenshot of the .PDF menu that you can access from a PRINT screen.