Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Hindsight may be 20/20, but Planning is Everything!

One thing we are discovering when we plan lessons that incorporate the iPads, is that we need a clear vision for the teacher's plans for the future of the projects. We need to understand how we plan to share this project, with whom, and why.

No longer is it assumed that every final project will be shared on paper, or using glue, tape, or paint. We are even trying to think beyond the printer as the final resting place for student work. Thus far, printer access is only available at Lower School if a document is sent to a teacher and then printed from a faculty laptop. The challenge is to understand how we want to share the projects before they are created, so that we are having students work with apps that interact well with each other, or apps that allow us to upload, embed, and share our work online. 

Once again, it starts to sound as if this article is going to be "all about the apps". But while it seems that you can't discuss teaching and work flow with iPads and not include apps in the conversation, this is another case where, at base, it's all about the planning, the teaching, and ultimately, the learning.  What it really requires is understanding the apps you have available - how they function, how they interact with each other, and how they are shared. You combine this understanding with a clear vision of what the end goal for the project is. With that in mind, you must use reverse engineering to walk backwards through the steps to the starting place. Most importantly, the lesson we learned with technology years ago still stands - try it first! It's not the iPad's or the app's design at fault if the project doesn't end up where you hoped, that fault lies with a lack of planning and careful, step-by-step testing to see if the goal can be met in the least complicated, most satisfying way possible.

I say all this in response to several projects we have launched this fall that have taken us by surprise, and in the end required compromises and work-arounds.

First, there were the research papers that the fourth graders wrote so comfortably in IA Writer which has an expanded keyboard that includes arrow keys and punctuation. However, the teacher planned to print these projects and IA Writer does not include formatting capabilities, so she was unhappy with the look of the final piece. Our work-around was to copy and paste the completed writing into Google Drive, format the document there, and share it with the teacher. This saved her inbox from a flood of documents to download, and since it is in the cloud, it preserves the project for the student as a portfolio piece. Was the teacher annoyed by these extra steps? Yes, but we also clarified her goals too late in the project. We will be prepared to streamline the process the next time. 

Next, a fourth grade teacher wanted to give feedback on student work using a screencast. She chose Explain Everything, uploaded each student's writing project to her iPad, and talked about the writing as she circled corrections, etc. 24 students later she came to me asking how she could share these files. Uploading each as a video to YouTube was too arduous a process, and this is not a product for the ages, just editing and writing suggestions. Explain Everything doesn't easily embed at this point, so there wasn't an obvious way to share them with students.  Our solution was to email them to herself, and upload each file onto her Haiku (LMS) page. Students were able to open these on their iPads in Explain Everything and hear her thoughts. Another decent work around - but next time she may use a different app e.g. Educreations, which would upload directly to the Web.

Most recently we had the challenge of the First Grade Book Creator project. The teachers wanted to share books that the students had already made on paper by photographing the illustrations and having the first grader read his story into the audio files in Book Creator. After long and careful recording sessions, the books were done. Then the teacher asked me if we could create QR codes to put on the real books so parents could access the recordings. Unfortunately, while Book Creator projects can be exported as .pdfs, the audio isn't supported. The only solution was to upload the .epub file to Haiku for parents who own devices that can read .epubs. Not the best work around. In future we may use Explain Everything for this project and upload them to YouTube. 

With hindsight being 20/20 we can see all we have learned through these experiences. What this doesn't solve is the hours of teacher time and anguish when we realized the plans they had didn't match their methods. I am proud of my bold teachers who venture forth to try something new, and want them to be successful every time. Therefore, the planning process will now include a clear, thoughtful discussion of the end goals, and include clarity about the limitations of the apps we are considering.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Advice to Hesitant Teachers: Think of iPads as Super-Powered Crayons

This letter was sent to me by a retired teacher from our school, Virginia Singer. She had a chance to use iPads with her first graders last year, and has been reflecting on the experience as she watches us include iPads increasingly authentically and successfully in our program. I like her analogy of iPads as "super-powered crayons"!

I have been pondering your challenges as you encourage more teachers to try iPads with kids. I wonder if years ago when kids first started bringing crayons to school there wasn't some of the same hesitation to include them in the classroom. There was, and still is, a kind of magic associated with new crayons—the potentials they offer, the very newness of them. It is almost impossible not to open the box immediately and get started. iPads, in a very general way, are much like that box of crayons. For kids they are irresistible in their newness, their potential and their mystery. Probably when crayons first came to school many teachers thought them frivolous, a waste of valuable teaching time and they saw no way for these colorful sticks to promote learning. Nowadays, every child has crayons! Classrooms use those 8, 16, 24 and even 64 different colors in so many deeply educational ways: recalling a field trip, detailing the fall trees on the playground, mixing the colors, noting the nuances in the various shades of blues, greens and oranges. Kids illustrate stories they have heard or read, predicting the outcome, adding a new ending, becoming authors themselves. New characters emerge through drawings. Crayons stimulate kids’ thinking not just in the regular classroom but in special classes, too. Kids use stick figures in P.E. to demonstrate a variety of activities and to illustrate how to resolve conflicts that invariably arise. Crayons allow kids to show how music makes them feel, what an instrument looks like or sounds like—how many keys or strings or pipes. Colorful renditions of nouns or emotions make learning another language easier and certainly more visual. Crayons are scientific, too, producing different results when they melt, freeze, blend or drip or whether they are used vertically or horizontally. Crayons show up throughout the school.  In the nurse’s office they allow kids to depict how an accident happened or hostilities got started. They also provide a way to get through a difficult time—after throwing up or scraping a knee, crayons can help the child feel better—a wonderful tool for soothing physical and emotional trauma. 

            Think of an iPad as a super potent box of crayons--a small container full of potential, innovation, color, sound and magic. An iPad doesn't need a set of instructions or a disclaimer. Just hand one to a child and see what that young student discovers. That iPad can sing, draw, store information, play games, show how to do a card trick or challenge  a student to solve a puzzle. It can literally open doors for children,  and windows as well. It is an encourager and an abettor. It is a camera and an encyclopedia, a dictionary and a series of tasks. Just as the box of crayons  offers ways for a child to investigate, create, experiment, record, delve, doodle, test, affirm, examine, explore, study, probe and discover—so, too, does the iPad, but with far more flexibility and promise—(and a higher price!)  I realize there are many differences between the two, but I think their similarities could be exploited. Neither crayons nor iPads take the place of real experiences with a wonderful teacher. Books, blocks, math games, excursions and collaborative projects are the essence of education. We recognize the limits of crayons –they don’t replace trips, science experiments, singing, jumping, building, gardening, painting or curling up with a good book. Neither do iPads.  If we think of iPads as crayons with super powers we might be more comfortable including them as another classroom tool.

                                                                          Virginia Singer