17 iPad apps for teachers #RGCdevicetrial

Tomorrow I hand over the iPad to a colleague, so I’m signing out of all linked accounts and removing whatever personal data I can.

I’ve also purged the apps installed and categorised them so the next person using the iPad isn’t overwhelmed with pages upon pages of apps to investigate. Here are the apps that survived the three weeks:

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When designing the timescale for each part of the device trial I thought three weeks would be enough. Judging by the feedback received from my colleagues it can either be too long (for example if they don’t like the device) or not long enough!

Some highlights:

  • Being able to create documents with the Pages (£6.99, link) app has been great although I do agree with reviews about its value for money. See my previous blog post about how I used it with my Higher Computing class.
  • I had really hoped to make better use of Explain Everything (£1.99, link) but, most annoyingly, I found it wasn’t able to record browser screens that contain HTML5. My planned walkthrough of Snap! on the iPad for the blog is still on the to-do list…
  • …Synchronised to-do list app Remember the Milk (free, link) to be exact. I use it as I’m still not 100% happy with my Evernote workflow (especially using the web version we access at work) as the searches suggested by The Secret Weapon do not always work. Remember the Milk is on my Android phone, in the Chrome browser on my laptop and I’ve made good use of it on the iPad too.
  • That said, Evernote (free, link) has been fantastic for helping me carry less paper around. Using the iPad to quickly scan documents (from my notebook) into an Evernote note has been a real eye-opener. At the moment I don’t have a notebook at all, but I feel I still need a small amount of paper to jot ideas down quickly.
  • Being able to create Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents is still necessary and given that it’s a three week trial I’m not going to throw away years of knowledge in an attempt to break away from Microsoft Office. I’ve used CloudOn (free, link) quite a bit although you have to be online to use it so I’ve made best use from home. It is fairly fast, allows quick sharing of files (great for discussing prelim marks over the weekend with your boss! Sorry…) and keeps documents compatible with the desktop at work.
  • Marking music has been essential and I’ve enjoyed the Podcasts (free, link) app. However apart from that I didn’t use it nearly as much as I had envisaged. I realised that I listen to most of my podcasts on the train or walk home and the form factor of the iPad doesn’t suit. Time to transfer what I’ve downloaded onto the Samsung Galaxy Y…
  • I never thought I would type this but my other half has made good use of the Kindle (free, link) app. Strongly against eReaders in the past, she was convinced to try reading on the iPad as her book group choice was 20p on Amazon and out of stock in the local libraries. Her feedback was that the iPad felt cold and it was a bit tricky to hold while in bed, so she would choose to have a suitable case to protect it if dropped and to make it more enjoyable for the reader to hold.
  • For image editing, Aviary (free, link), Luminance (free at the moment, link) and Snapseed (free, link) have been great. I hated the Photoshop app – everything seemed to require an in-app purchase – and it was quickly deleted.
  • iDownloads+ (free, link) allows iPad users to manage downloads and extract compressed files. I found this especially useful when looking at the Computing At School site, with email and also to access my zip files on Dropbox (free, link) which has always been a favourite app of mine since the days of the iPod Touch 2G!
  • Programming on the iPad was covered in an earlier blog post, but I still want to recommend Pythonista (£2.99, link), A.L.E.X (first 25 levels free, link), TouchDevelop (web link) and Snap! (web link). Textastic (£5.99, link) looks great for creating code but I haven’t yet had time to use it fully. Something else for the to-do list!
  • GoSkyWatch Planetarium for iPad (free, link) is such an amazing app to use. I downloaded this for my three year old son and he found it really easy to use. I don’t think I could use it to enhance my teaching, but it definitely enhanced our learning!
  • Flipboard (free, link) is such a beautiful app, full of interesting stories to inspire and inform your lessons, that I’ve just spent ten minutes reading it instead of finishing this blog post! Oops…

Using an iPad and Pages app to improve student attainment #RGCdevicetrial

Recently my Higher pupils sat their Computing prelim. In previous years I have gone through the marking scheme question by question, describing the ‘best answer’ where possible and highlighting which my students answered a particular question well. Unfortunately their peers rarely see these answers, so have to rely on what I say or put on the board.

This year as I marked the prelim I created a spreadsheet showing how many marks each candidate gained for each question (using the CloudOn service for iPad). I do this to help me highlight areas of development when discussing prelim performance with individual students, but this year used it to help create a document the whole class could use:

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Part of the document, shared with students via our Edmodo group

The document replaced the marking scheme and allowed them to see the ‘best answer’ as written by their peers. There was one occasion where no student managed to achieve full marks for a particular question so I selected the best answer from the class and added some suggestions for improvement.

It was very easy to create using the Pages app for iPad and, although a little time-consuming on my part, took as long as going through that section of the prelim with the class. The advantage here is that I know all pupils have a permanent and consistent revision aid and I can use it when working with individual pupils on their areas of development. I also hope to use it next year to prepare students for their prelims by getting them to assess other student answers.

I entered the questions into the Pages app first, then used my spreadsheet to identify which student answer to add into the document. Taking photographs of their written answer using the iPad rear camera was so simple thanks to the ‘tap to focus’ feature and I was then able to crop the image quickly in Pages. The document auto-saves, which was very useful later in the process as the iPad ran out of memory a few times and crashed the Pages app. It caused a nervous moment the first time it happened but, once I was confident no information had been lost from my document, I put up with the inconvenience until all questions were associated with an image of a pupil answer.

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Exporting the document from Pages as a PDF file was a straight-forward process, however the file size was a whopping 40MB! The file can be sent to a variety of apps as a Pages file, PDF or Word document. Uploading that size of document from a home Internet connection takes a long time, especially galling when I compressed the file on a desktop PC to 1.4MB using Adobe Acrobat. If anyone has worked out how to compress PDF files on the iPad I’d love to hear from you.

Once complete I shared the document with the class via Edmodo. I immediately made use of it by setting homework with similar questions. The average score in that homework was over 30% higher than their prelim score. In a few cases it was over 50% up! Obviously you have to take into account the fact they had access to their textbooks and the Internet while completing the homework task, but I feel that this type of document has definite value in improving student attainment.

Programming on an iPad #compSci #RGCdevicetrial

At the start of the #RGCdevicetrial I was very cynical about the effectiveness of iPads in education. I did not think they were suitable for use in secondary school classrooms. I saw them as content consumption devices, tailored for personal use only, and an expensive gimmick destined to gather dust in a department store cupboard (much like the iPod touch devices bought en-masse a few years ago).

I’m happy to state that I was wrong. For me, the iPad is a very strong contender for not only becoming the device of choice at our school but for eventually replacing desktop PCs in the Computing classroom too.

Like many others I thought it wasn’t possible to program on the iPad. I’d heard about Scratch being removed from the App Store and, whilst working on a successful Internet Safety project at Inverurie Academy in 2011, had fought a battle of wits with XCode to create and install a series of simple apps on the aforementioned iPod touch devices. I didn’t want to rely on having a spare Macbook sitting around for pupils to code on, in a language that was fairly impenetrable, just to be able to use the iPad in a Computing Science classroom.

However, after speaking to Fraser Speirs at a SCIS event in Edinburgh a few weeks ago, I realised that it was possible. He told me about Pythonista, which allows you to create command-line or graphical programs straight on the iPad. Fraser also told me that he pays for processing time on Amazon servers and gets students to upload code from their iPads and execute it remotely. The extra benefit of this, he says, is that his pupils have access to the same programming environment regardless of their location. It allows them to continue coding at home on a task they may have started in school.

For early stage programmers one app that helps build coding foundations through sequential instructions is A.L.E.X. I downloaded it whilst setting up the iPad for the #RGCdevicetrial and accidentally syncronised it with the iPad Mini which was being used by the ICT specialist in our primary school. She loved the app so I gave it a go last week while learning more about how an iPad mirrors to a data projector using Apple TV. There were young pupils in the playground outside with their noses against the window as they watched the robot move through the levels.

This morning I spotted a retweet by Dawn Halybone and had to investigate further:

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Snap! is a web-based drag and drop programming language developed at Berkeley. Very similar to Scratch, you create programs by associating scripts with sprites on a stage. It runs through a browser so you have to be online to use it however it looks very stable on the iPad. Even though the most recent Scratch beta is also web-based, it does not work with the iPad due to the fact it needs Adobe Flash to play content. I wasn’t even able to access the code screen on the site so, for the moment anyway, Snap seems to be the only option.

Do you know of any other apps or websites that allow programming on the iPad? Please share!

Getting ready for a safari

Tomorrow I take my laptop, preloaded with Safari Photo Africa – Wild Earth, to the Junior school to immerse the class in a scenario closely linked to the work they are doing with their primary teacher. I only have an hour with them, so want to make sure everything is set up to work as quickly as possible.

Originally I had wanted to make use of a Nintendo Wii with Wild Earth African Safari but this was not possible (or affordable) as a proof of concept in the timeframe available, so I found an old copy of Safari Photo Africa – Wild Earth for PC and installed it on my laptop.
It looks brilliant when displayed on the data projector and allows the players to take part in a virtual animal photograph safari – taking shots for magazine articles. The photos taken in the games are automatically saved to the user’s My Pictures directory on the PC, meaning that they can be used in other applications at a later date. I think this is also possible in the Nintendo Wii version of the game but imagine it’s a little trickier to get the images onto a PC.

 

When you complete an assignment your photos are inserted into a magazine article = instant reward!

 

The main advantage of a Nintendo Wii over a laptop is that the wireless wii controller supports exploration of the game by groups of learners sat in front of the SmartBoard. I’ve read posts by Dawn Hallybone and Nicky Newbury who maximise the interactivity of the class by pairing up learners and having one pupil move and the other take the photographs. The laptop could allow this but would mean a lot of moving around and swapping places, so I wanted to try and find the best way to interact with the game wirelessly. There is a GyroMouse in my classroom but no sign of drivers or installation CDs and I wanted to be able to use the keyboard wirelessly as well. Then I remembered reading about using an iPod Touch as a wireless mouse and found Logitech TouchMouse, an app which not only allows users to control the mouse pointer on the PC using the portable device but also access its keyboard. I installed it and after a little bit of fiddling with Windows 7’s firewall settings (you need to allow it to access the Private networks, not Public – go through Control Panel for this) I got it to work!

The only issue with using the iPod Touch as a wireless controller is that it needs a wifi connection that is shared with the laptop to communicate. This is a real issue in school where there are no wireless routers and a very tight rein on network security. When I was Mobile Learning Leader for Inverurie Academy I investigated using the school’s MacBook White to set up ad-hoc wifi networks to allow iPods to access the Internet. There was little success with the Internet-access part, but the iPods were all able to communicate with each other. If only there was a way to do this in Windows 7 I thought – and luckily enough, there is!

After a little Google searching I found Virtual Router – a freeware program which allows your laptop to be set up as a wifi hotspot with the intention of sharing its Internet connection with other devices. Set up is incredibly simple – you give your ad-hoc network a name and a password and it uses WPA2 encryption to ensure no rogue devices interfere with the laptop!

“at this moment i am typing part of my blog using the ipod touch wireless keyboard – i have turned off all connection to the INTERNET and only had to restart the logitech touchuse wireless server!”

It seems to work best if you access the iPod app before starting the Logitech TouchMouse wireless server. If you don’t you may find that the devices don’t connect.

Unfortunately although the keyboard presses do get sent to the laptop, using the keyboard for games control seems impossible. Neither Logitech nor HippoRemote Lite allowed me to control the game character so I may need to allow one child to use the laptop. This may mean one learner is looking at the laptop screen instead of the SmartBoard but if I can position the laptop in a suitable place it may be a minor issue.

I ran through the first assignment on my own and it took about 40 minutes – too long for the lesson tomorrow but if I can set up saved games to allow the class to jump in at appropriate points (meeting the elephant herd for the first time, giraffes grazing, the swimming crocodiles around the elderly elephants) I feel that the class will be able to generate excellent material for their podcasts.

If you have been using computer games to augment your teaching and learning I highly recommend you visit the Consolarium site. This service, offered by Education Scotland (new name for LT Scotland) aims to explore and share how the appropriate use of computer games can have a positive impact on teaching and learning. It has received international praise and attention, and for good reason.