Prospecting For Treasure

Always prospecting for the next treasure of an idea.

Getting to Know the iPad

I have been a fan of my netbooks since I got one a year ago. This summer I am learning to use the iPad. Which one is better?

Yesterday, on my photo blog, I posted a photo of my Acer Netbook and the iPad, with excerpts of this post. I immediately received responses on Twitter, so I decided it’s time to finish pulling this piece together and get on with it. 

My school purchased a ten pack of iPads to be used in the classroom, and we received them just days before school was dismissed for summer vacation.  I checked one out for the summer, and I have been trying to work with it as much as possible.  A friend told me that I would fall in love with it the moment I touched it, and I want to love it, but I just don’t yet. Frustration has prevented that from happening. 

I love the ease of carrying it with me. It is thinner and even more lightweight than my little Acer netbooks, so it can easily slip into my bag.  At this point in time, however, I still find my netbooks much easier to negotiate. The familiar is always easier, so I have forced myself to use the iPad, and through use, things are definitely getting easier.  I still have some serious concerns, however, about its adaptability to the academic tasks I need it to do

For classroom projects, I often place shortcuts on the desktop to make things easier for the kids and myself. You can put shortcuts on the desktop with the iPad, and it appears that we could use it to write on our blogs at Kidblog.org.  Some of the websites we like to use, however, like Storybird, require flash and do not work on the iPad. The Animotos on our class wiki do not show up or work, and neither do some videos, however I have discovered that if you use the app for Animoto, you can view an Animoto.

I am struggling with logistics of making the iPads work with our other available equipment. How do you print from iPad if you don’t have a wireless printer?  We have Pages installed on them, which is a word processing app, and I wrote most of this blogpost using the iPad.  While this app does not have the number of options that more sophisticated word processing programs offer, my students would be unlikely to utilize those anyway.  I was able to e-mail the document to myself in a word format, and then open and save it to one of my other computers, where I can print it.  This isn’t, however,  an easy or practical way to handle documents written by 29 students.  I’m also concerned that It does seem kind of sensitive, and I found myself ending up places that I hadn’t intended.  I am worried about students losing the work that they have spent time writing.

I thought that maybe using Google Docs would be a better idea, but I discovered that while you can open and view a Google doc, you cannot edit it or create a new one.  

If I put a Word document in dropbox, will I be able to work on it on the iPad?  I am excited that I can download an app for dropbox.com on it. That would enable me to make photos and other documents available for kids to use.   But first I have to convince my school district to unblock dropbox.

I do think additional apps will add to the usability. Since it does not belong to me, I have to have permission to add apps and download books onto it.  I am trying to select apps that support our academic goals.  I am planning to add the following:

  1. Multiplication by Sierra Skyware, Inc
  2. Math Master by Tapware
  3. Math Quizzer
  4. School Notes Pro
  5. Textropolis
  6. Spell & Listen
  7. Popmath Basic Math by popsoft
  8. Monster Mix and Match, by Critical Matter
  9. Things for Ipad

 

You can read more about these apps by reading: 

FREE iPad Apps for Educators and Parents

40 Amazing Ipad Apps for Kids

20 Amazing Ipad Apps for Educators

And thank you very much to Joe Fahs,( @Mpondo on Twitter) and other members of my PLN who shared these with me.

I do enjoy reading my Google Reader on the iPad, and if I had any good books downloaded to it, I’m sure I would enjoy that.  One thing I can tell you.  Even though I may have mixed feelings about the iPad, the kids will love it.  Twice now I have had people approach me at Caribou Coffee, my favorite hangout, and ask about my iPad.  I put it in the hands of a fifth grade girl who came over with her mom, and she absolutely lit up.

I’m writing at Caribou Coffee right now.  When I was deciding which computer to bring with me, I settled on my Acer Netbook.  I knew it would be easier to write, edit, and add photos and links.  So I’m still not in love with the iPad.  I’m having fun with it, and it’s okay as a supplemental computer, but it certainly isn’t the most versatile one that I own.

In the photo above, the design you see on the iPad was made using the Glow Doodle app.  This is one that I know the kids will like.

June 30, 2010 Posted by | Education, Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

The Kids Present Their StoryJumper Stories

Each student presented and read their StoryJumper story to the class.

Tuesday was our last full day of school, so that was the day for the kids to present and read their StoryJumper stories to the class.  I wrote about writing with StoryJumper in an earlier post.  I wasn’t sure how this was going to turn out.  Everyone had been very excited and interested in creating these books, but there was also a lot of talking, which isn’t surprising during the last three weeks of school.  In fact, there was so much talking, that when I had checked on their progress about a week before, I was disappointed to see that most weren’t very far along.

Each person presented and read their StoryJumper book out loud to the class using the digital presenter. By the time the first three kids had presented their book, I was on the phone calling my principal to see if she had time to come up to see what they had done.  She is in our rooms frequently throughout the day, so she had been checking on their progress throughout the writing process.

Many of the kids were not finished, which is okay, because they can continue working on their books during the summer.  Even so, they had pages of writing, with illustrations to enhance their story.  My little authors really knocked my socks off.  Their stories were interesting, with good plot lines.  In fact they were interesting enough to hold the attention of the class while all 24 people presented.  Our Special Ed teacher, with whom I collaborate, pointed out that if we had asked the kids to write a five  hundred word story, they would have had a fit, but that’s really what they did, and they had a ball doing it.

We decided that next year we will devote some time to letting the class explore the mechanics of creating illustrations using the backgrounds and props, before they actually begin their books.  Creating their illustrations took much longer than I anticipated.  At the risk of thwarting their creativity, we may also talk about how to select backgrounds and font size so that the pages can be more easily read.

I always do a lot of writing with my students, but this year we have definitely surpassed anything I have done before, and that is largely because of the technology that we have explored and utilized.  We’ve written comments on our class wiki.  We’ve used Wallwisher, Storybird, KidBlogs, and now StoryJumper.  It has particularly made a difference for my struggling writers.  Using the computer removes any roadblocks caused by the physical act of writing.  It also makes reading their work so much easier.  This was apparent when every single student, including those with writing IEPs were able to read their StoryJumper book aloud to the class.  Is their writing perfect?  Is every sentence capitalized and punctuated correctly? Are all words spelled right?   No.  But they are writing, and I couldn’t be more please with their progress.  We are definitely going to do this and more next year.  I will be introducing blogging and digital story writing much earlier in the school year.  Imagine what we can accomplish if we have all year to explore and grow!

June 12, 2010 Posted by | Education, Uncategorized | , , | 1 Comment

My First Year of Teaching With Technology: Where Do We Go From Here?

It is the last week of school, and this is a great time for reflecting on and evaluating the new things I have tried in my fourth grade classroom this year .  It is also a  time for making plans for next year.  I am amazed by how much my teaching and personal life have been transformed by my venture into using technology in my classroom.  It all started last summer with an on-line technology class, Using the Internet in the Classroom, and has continued throughout the year with my continuing professional development via Twitter.  At the beginning of the year I was trying something new almost every week, to the point of exhaustion.  Since January I have continued to explore new resources and new ideas, but at a slightly slower pace. 
 
By far the best thing we have done this year is the blogging, which is interesting since that is where I began.  The way I’m utilizing blogs has changed greatly since last April when I set up my classroom blog, Ms. Day’s Fourth Grade.  Our very first blog post was last May, following our annual field trip to Living History Farms.  Keep in mind that prior to that, I did not know what a blog was, and I wasn’t exactly sure how to approach classroom blogging, but my goal has always been to keep the kids writing.  I started out by writing a question and having the kids respond through a comment.  This worked ok, but it didn’t keep my students’ writing at the forefront, and they had little flexibility in deciding what to write and therefore, little ownership.   At the beginning of second semester,  I began having the kids write as the  “Guest Blogger” on our class blog.  We were working on opinion pieces so they were to write on a topic they felt strongly about.  This worked for some kids, but not for others. 
 
Then I learned about Kidblog.org   and after spring break, every child began to have their own personal blog.  I have seen real improvement in their writing since we began this latest venture.  It has also been very gratifying to receive the feedback and support that we have, from their third grade teachers, parents, our principal, and members of my Twitter PLN.   The kids have been excited about their blogs, but I was really hoping,  that more kids would go on-line from home to write on their blogs, or that they would write additional posts when they had free time at the computer center.  I have had only two students do that. 
 
I know how I feel about the things we have done, but I’m not always sure how the kids really feel, so I decided to have the class complete a survey about the technology we have used this year.  I created it on a Googleform and embedded it in our ReadtheWeb Class Wiki.  That is something else I learned this year, and I blogged about it in my post, Using Google Docs to Create and Embed an On-line Quiz.   As I was getting ready to analyze the data, I clicked on summary, and accidentally learned it was already done for me.  I often learn by hit or miss.  I am so glad I decided to survey the class, because I have really enjoyed seeing what the kids have to say.

Students were asked to rate each website on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1=I didn't like it and 5=I loved it.

They have really liked the Kidblogs, Storybird, and StoryJumper.  When asked what was their favorite thing that we did involving technology this year, one student wrote, “I liked the StoryJumper the best, because I love to write and the StoryJumper brought out my best story yet.”  How could a teacher not love a statement like that. 
 

No doubt about it, they love our class wiki with all the links to games and other resources.

Our ReadtheWeb class wiki is very popular.  Our wiki has pages for different subject areas.  With the help of teachers on Twitter, I have collected links for math and language websites here.  When students do not have a specific assignment at the computer center, they may use the wiki to play games, which build reading and language skills.  We have a link to the wiki on our class website, so students can also go on from home.  Someone said, “I like the ReadtheWeb wiki, because I got to play fun games, and learn at the same time.”  
 
When asked “What did you learn this year about computers and/or the internet, that you didn’t know before?  One of my students said, “I learned that there are kids’ blogs.  I only knew about websites for adults only.” 
 

Our webquests were not nearly as popular.

Not nearly as popular were the webquests we did.  The kids have better memories of “Mountain Trek” which was our first technology experience, than they do of the American Revolution webquest.  One of the things I liked about a webquest was that it controlled where the kids went on the internet.  I felt that it kept them more accademically focused.    I asked the kids if they felt 4th graders were old enough to do their own research and find their own websites, because this is a direction that I think I will be going next year.  I am very interested in learning about Glogs, and having kids collaborate on Googledocs.  I have seen examples of these from other teachers on Twitter, some from kids younger than mine.   I am thinking about having kids take more control of their research. 
 
One student responded with, “Yes, because there are some things that we cannot find on the websites you give us.”  Another said, “Yes, because if they do that they will not be bored, plus they will learn more, also.”  
 
Next year I want to do more in the way of  teaching actual computer skills;  helping kids to learn how to use search engines, upload photos, and add links to their blog posts.  I think all these things will make the things we do more personal and meaningful.  I think their Kidblogs could become a personal portfolio for each student.  It would be great to have kids present their work to parents at parent teacher conferences. 
 
When I asked the kids about what they have learned this year, someone said, “I learned how annoying technology can be sometimes.  But it can also be fun, if it works correctly.” 
 
Boy, isn’t that the truth!  We have three aging Dell desktops, an ancient Dell laptop, and five — year old HP laptops for 24 kids.  Next year I will have 29 students.  I am concerned about how to make this work with five more kids. One of the laptops is designated for a special needs child who will be in 5th grade next year, so there will be one less computer.   This cart of laptops is actually for the entire school, but they have been housed  in my room most of the time, since only one other teacher has shown any interest in using technology.  While I keep sharing the things I am learning with my colleagues, I also worry what will happen if anyone else on staff gets the technology bug.
 
My school has just aquired ten new IPads.  One of my projects this summer will be learning how to use them.  We can have a lot of fun with those.   But I’m wondering if any of the other teachers will be interested.  It would be fun having someone to share ideas with face to face, but with such limited resources, it would be hard to do the things I have done this year if I had less access to the equipment.  
While equipment concerns are sometimes frustrating, I have learned that once you start on this technology trail, there’s no turning back.  For me personally, incorporating these new ideas into my classroom has revitalized my teaching.  I am excited about the things we are doing and learning, and I know I communicate that enthusiasm to my students.  So many times this year I have begun lessons with the words “I want to show you something  I just learned.  It’s really cool . .”   So no matter how many kids we have, and how little equipment, somehow I’ll make it work.  There’s no stopping now!
 
 
 

June 6, 2010 Posted by | Education, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 8 Comments