Thursday, July 26, 2012

Why iPads?

I have been asked recently both why I think an iPad pilot project is important and how I will know if the pilot was a success.  These are the central questions, aren’t they?  They should direct the entire project.  In this post, I’ll start with the “why?”
The reason why to use iPads in school will differ from school to school and district to district.  As one example, PS10 in New York, one of the first districts to roll out teacher iPads, adopted teacher iPads to save paper (the pilot showed that the district did indeed save paper, but also showed other important benefits). 
For me, the reason to have iPads is to teach digital literacy, a skill it is imperative for our students to develop to live well in the 21st Century.  Today’s 5th graders will be living and working in a world of digital text.  In fact, many -- maybe most -- of them already are, as they text, watch youtube videos, interact with Facebook, and surf the internet.  Our students must know how to intelligently read digital text, write digital text, and manipulate it.
Not surprisingly, the importance of digital media shows up clearly in the newly adopted Common Core standards for the English Language Arts.  As most know, the standards were developed top-down.  The writers first looked at what skills students need to be career-ready, then worked backwards through the grades to see how these skills should be developed year-by-year through a student’s educational career.   One of the specific portraits of career readiness revolves around the use of technology and digital media:

Students employ technology thoughtfully to enhance their reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language use. They tailor their searches online to acquire useful information efficiently, and they integrate what they learn using technology with what they learn offline. They are familiar with the strengths and limitations of various technological tools and mediums and can select and use those best suited to their communication goals.

Here are some excerpts from the 5th grade standards to show how this portrait is developed in 5th grade:

Writing (Production and Distribution of Writing)
·       W.5.6. With some guidance and support from adults, use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of two pages in a single sitting.
Writing (Research to Build & Present Knowledge)
·       W.5.8. Recall relevant information from experiences or gather relevant information from print and digital sources; summarize or paraphrase information in notes and finished work, and provide a list of sources.

Reading Informational Text (Integration of Knowledge and Ideas)
·       Draw on information from multiple print or digital sources, demonstrating the ability to locate an answer to a question quickly or to solve a problem efficiently.

Reading Literature (Integration of Knowledge & Ideas)
·       RL 5.7. Analyze how visual and multimedia elements contribute to the meaning, tone, or beauty of a text (e.g., graphic novel, multimedia presentation of fiction, folktale, myth, poem).

Speaking and Listening (Comprehension & Collaboration)
·       SL.5.2. Summarize a written text read aloud or information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
Speaking and Listening (Presentation of Knowledge & Ideas)
·       SL5.5. Include multimedia components (e.g., graphics, sound) and visual displays in presentations when appropriate to enhance the development of main ideas or themes.

We are now required to teach our students to read, write and use digital media.  We need to teach these three skills at school, not only because it is our job to teach our students to read, write and present well, but also because, in the case of digital text, our students’ parents may not know these skills themselves. Some of our students’ parents consider themselves digital dinosaurs, some don’t have access to digital media at home, and some don’t know how much time their child is involved with digital media.  
At the moment, our students get one hour a week in the computer lab, and many students miss half of that period attending instrumental music lessons.  Having iPads in the classroom will give students much more time to read, write and present digital media.   A few simple examples of ways of reading, writing and presenting by iPad are listed here, but the possibilities are only limited by a teacher’s ingenuity.
Students can use the iPads as e-readers to read any of the many books available for iPad, including those in Amazon’s Kindle store.  Most of these books are less expensive in digital form than in book form.  In addition, thousands of books are available to download for free.  Project Gutenberg alone has 40,000 free books available, including Grimms Fairy Tales and Anne of Green Gables
Increasingly, even text materials are being made available for free, including some appropriate for 5th grade.  K-12 Handhelds has a growing elementary library.  Titles for language arts include Types of Poetry, Types of Poetry 2, Poetry Anthology, Writers’ Style Guide for Students, and Writing a Research Paper.  Titles for math include Exponents, Decimals, and Distributive Property.  These digital texts include interactive elements; for example, in Ratios, students can solve ratio problems, then click to check their work.  All of these books could be used to supplement and expand our adopted texts.  Perhaps even more important is the move by major textbook companies to produce interactive textbooks, which will include rich digital media.
Students can also use the iPads in class to conduct research, much as they would in computer lab.  They can learn how to interact with the internet safely and efficiently.  They will also need to learn about plagiarism and compliance with copyright laws as the ease with which they can cut and paste items from the internet increases.  Although there is a doctrine of educational fair use, which may protect students from copyright violations when they are doing a project for school, many of our students are creating digital media outside the school grounds.
Using iPads and the Pages app ($10), students will be able to generate essays and journal entries much as they could with pencil and paper, but using iPads will also allow students to add digital content to their writing, if appropriate.  For example, students can use a simple app like Popplet Lite (free), to brainstorm and pre-write.  When they make a mind-map digitally with an app such as Popplet, they can also insert images to expand upon their thinking.  For example, when learning the word “contemplation,” they can take a photo of a friend in contemplation to illustrate the meaning of the word. 
As students write using iPad apps, they will create digital text for an increasingly digital audience.  The Scribble Press app is another free app which students can use to write a book, using typed text, drawings, imported images and stamps.   Their work can then be published as an e-book or emailed to share.
With their iPads, students can create traditional presentations, such as slide presentations using Keynote ($10), or posters using Pages ($10), but another use of iPads is for students to present their work in class or to an internet audience.  IPads can be mirrored so that a student’s iPad screen can be shown at the front of the classroom.  A free app, such as Educreations Interactive Whiteboard, can be used for a student to show her process for solving a math problem on the whiteboard at the front of the class while she works at their desk.  The same app can be used for students to create short screencasts of their work that can be posted to a class blog, used as an assessment, or shared with another student who might have missed class.  Using Board Cam Pro ($2.99), teachers can use their iPads as roving cameras to share student work, for example to show different groups’ results when working on a science experiment.  The teacher is no longer tethered to the front of the class, but can move freely around the room.
Students can use their iPads to work with audio as well.  For example, using a free computer application Cinch and the Cinch app for the iPad, students can record themselves practicing their poems for oral presentation, then review these recordings with peers or their teacher to see how they can improve before making a final presentation in front of the class.
Of course, these are only a few examples of how iPads can be used to read, write and present digitally.  There are whole websites dedicated to subsets of these skills, for example, David Jakes' resources for digital presentation.  If a teacher is willing to dive in and learn with her students, I think learning with iPads can be an engaging way to teach and learn these vitally important 21st Century Skills.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Mini-podcasts are a Cinch, maybe

One of the things on my digital literacy checklist for this year is to make audio recordings of our students as they do their three oral poetry recitals.  The more I consider doing mini-podcasts, the more excited I get about it.

Audio recordings will help teach students speaking skills.  Last year students practiced their poems at home, then did a single presentation to the class.  This was an opportunity for students to speak in front of the class, but didn't allow for much teaching.  I want a way to let students hear themselves, get some teacher recommendations for improvement, practice for a day or two, then (hopefully improve and) recite for a grade. I especially hope that this will help those students who are reluctant to get up in front of the class because they will be able to hear their improvement.

Teaching students to do some mini-podcasts will also expose them to a type of digital media they may not know about.  They may well listen to and create podcasts in their future lives outside of school; recording and listening to their poetry recitals now will be a quick and easy introduction to podcasting.

Also, audio recordings will be a nice souvenir of 5th grade for families.  There is a reason we teach Family Life in 5th grade.  Our students really change over the year!  This may be the last year some of them sound like young children.  It might be very nice for families to have recordings of those young voices to remember when their 5th graders head off to college.  I know I cherish the audio recordings I made for my husband's travels when our children were toddlers.

Until today, I had the idea of the recordings in mind, but had only gotten as far as wishing there were an app for that.  Now, I know there is one.

Today, as I was reading the e-book Playing with Media, by Wesley Fryer, I came across a solution that I want to try.  He recommends opening a Cinch account at, then using the Cinch app to make audio recordings.  Sam Gliksman, also recommends Cinch and has helpful recommendations in his article, Give Your Students A Voice With Micro-Podcasts.  Notably, Sam Gliksman warns that the default public setting should be reset (by clicking the lock icon next to the folder) and the geotagging turned off (if you are using an iPad or iPhone).  Both comments are very good advice for elementary school.

This evening, while working on my computer, I quickly opened a Cinch account.  Before I even got an email confirmation, I had a Cinch follower.  Neat.  I discovered that it is easy to set up additional accounts, so I can quickly create account "folders" for each student.  I'm not sure yet, but it may be best to make each account private when it is created.  I made a Cinch to file in my main folder and have not been able to make that one folder private.

It was easy to make a Cinch recording.  I think I did everything correctly, but my recording remains pending.  I'm guessing that isn't supposed to happen.  I have emailed Customer Service . . . and am reminded that I am learning along with my students!

The next morning, there was an email from Amy from Customer Service.  She said that when there is a pending note, the Cinch recording hasn't finished uploading yet, and she recommended rebooting.  I did that to no avail.  Looks like there's a glitch somewhere.

There's good news too, though.  Since I plan to do the Cinches on our class iPads, I downloaded the app, did a quick recording and it worked.  Time spent, less than 2 minutes, including getting the app from the App store.  Score one for the iPad! 

I'll revise the poetry lessons to let the students and families know that we will be using Cinch on the iPads and we're ready to go.  

Maybe I should warn my family that I'll be using them at Cinch guinea pigs for the rest of the break.