I’m a big believer in teaching yourself how to do things based on your own interests. For the past decade, that’s been photography for me. i was quite content to putter along as I was, but my wife gave me a Christmas gift last year of class from Camera Eye Workshops. I’m glad she did. The class helped me break through a wall I’d hit, refining my focus on the things that more strongly interested me. Special thanks in particular go to Angela Mittiga, who facilitated the class and really helped me better understand the storytelling aspects of my photography. Thanks in part to her guidance, I had two photographs in an art show this year.
As we start to get into the rhythm of the school year with the 1:1 iPad program, and as I also use the iPads with other grade levels on an ad hoc basis, I find myself coming back to certain apps over and over again.
For me, the apps that are most useful are those that are the most flexible. If you have a limited amount of funds for iPad apps, don’t spend it on content apps! Spend that money on stuff that you’ll be able to use not just in one class, but in every class all day long. Here are my nominations for the three apps that you should buy first for your school, whether you have one iPad or 1:1 iPads. At $13 total (half that with volume purchase!) you’ll be set up to have your students become lean, mean, creation machines.
Explain Everything ($2.99/$1.49)
Do you want your kids to make a collage? How about a presentation? Do you want them to demonstrate their understanding? How about make a quick audio recording over an image? What about all of the above? Explain Everything will do that for you. This app is amazingly useful and flexible for a wide range of activities in every subject area. I’ve used it with students from kindergarten through fifth grade, and have used it or will be using it soon in social studies, science, language arts, math, and art classes. I know there are a ton of screencasting apps out there now, some for free, but Explain Everything has unmatched functionality that makes it worth the cost.
This app was the number one app that first really excited me about the potential for using iPads in the classroom. In my first year as a tech specialist, I basically had to teach myself how to make videos, since I had limited experience and didn’t want to try and teach it to the kids without knowing what I was doing. I got a pretty good handle on it, but despaired a bit, because it took so many steps and pieces of equipment that I didn’t have in order to do it right with the kids. The iPad with iMovie changed all that. One device that lets you shoot, edit, and publish? Yes please! The newer trailer functionality has made it even better for taking care of some of the steps for the kids and showing them what it takes to make a good movie.
Book Creator for iPad ($4.99/$2.49)
I love this app because it’s a great platform for creating full-blown multimedia ePubs on the iPad. Not only can you include text and pictures, which are pretty standard protocol, but you can also record audio and insert movies. It’s an incredibly powerful app with a deceptively easy to use interface. I’ve had students in the first grade easily creating their own eBooks that include their own pictures, words, and voice. I’m looking forward to opening that up to including their own videos created in Explain Everything and iMovie with my older students later this year. It also supports exporting to PDF if you don’t need the audio or video and want something that looks nice for printing.
Honorable mention goes to Drawing Pad ($1.99/$.99), which is the best art app for elementary school I’ve found yet, but you may want some more advanced options depending on how your students will use it, or you can find some perfectly acceptable free options as well. There’s also my favorite elementary app, Toontastic ($9.99/$4.99 or free to start) which does a great job of teaching digital storytelling skills.
Submitted for your approval:
And before somebody else needs to point it out:
Now that I’ve survived September, it’s time to look forward to this Fall’s upcoming Professional Development events I’ll be attending and/or presenting at:
I spend a lot of time thinking about my job and how I could do it better.
Two quick stories about how that’s been working for me this week:
I met with my district science specialist, Sean Musselman, yesterday to talk about an upcoming fourth grade unit. We’ve actually not really had the chance to plan much of anything together since he started working here last year. All I really knew going into this meeting was that we needed to change some things up from the way we’ve traditionally handled it in the past from both a science and technology angle. He asked some great questions to get us thinking, shared more of what the actual science was behind the unit, and started bouncing some ideas off of me. I bounced them back with some refinements. Then my librarian, Laura DElia, came in and helped us pull the last few strands we need to tighten up our instructional components. I had a game plan for my instruction, Laura started pulling together resources, and Sean promised to come back with an exemplar for the final product.
Total time: 20 minutes. I had a great consultation session with great people I work with.
This afternoon, I went to meet with a second grade teacher about a different upcoming science unit. She had contacted me, looking to introduce some of the new tools we’re using this year and to come up with a good use of technology to tie in with the science unit. We had done a project last year that was good, but not quite great in my mind. I shared my ideas for how we could expand on what we had done before, and how some different tools would really help us to turn the project into a powerful assessment tool for the science unit. We came out of that meeting with a plan that will introduce her students to some great technology use that she’ll be able to take advantage of all year long in different settings and an assessment for the unit which will have the kids writing and speaking more and testing less. While there, we also batted around a couple of ideas for how she could use iPads in her class as a station, and got some labels printed.
Total time: 20 minutes. I felt like I was really able to respond to her needs and help design something meaningful for her students.
Education needs more consultants. Not the traditional expensive ones who come from outside the district to tell everybody how to fix everything they’re doing wrong, where wrong means not in the way the consultant thinks people should work.
No, we need to find ways to get our best teachers into positions where they can have an impact on other classrooms, working with teachers to come up with joint strategies that will help improve practice for teachers and outcomes for kids. If you’re an administrator, how are you getting your best people into positions where they can have that larger impact? Those are the people you should be asking to run professional development. When a teacher needs assistance with math or reading instruction, who do you turn to for help? Where are your scientists and social scientists filled with knowledge that you turn to for guidance in these extremely important topics?
While it’s nice, these don’t have to be people who have that as their sole job function. Find ways to get those teachers release time so they can help out. Figure out ways to meaningfully recognize their expertise and to unleash it into other classrooms in your school.
Every building has its experts. Is yours taking advantage of them?
My, how things have changed. Last year, it took me weeks to push 60 iPads out to my building. This year, it took me less than a week to push out 140 iPads! That was also a week where I was teaching and working on other things in the building. If i dedicated time exclusively to the task, I’m sure it would take even less.
All of this is thanks to my new best friend for getting things set up, Configurator. But first, a bit about how we’re managing devices this year.
While I could use Configurator to manage and supervise every single thing on all of the iPads, I didn’t particularly want to. We’re doing a pilot with just six classrooms for me to worry about right now, but I’m trying to think ahead in terms of how this program is going to scale. In due time, I expect every student in my building (300 students) to have their own devices. That’s an unmanageable situation unless I devote my time purely to that, and I’d much rather be teaching. So we decided on a process where the devices will be managed from each classroom teacher’s laptop through iTunes. A word of warning: iTunes on Windows kind of sucks. Except without the “kind of.”
First up, here’s the steps for how we got the apps on teacher laptops ready to go:
Now that the iPads were ready for the kids, we had to get them to the kids and complete a final step of installing a profile with restrictions on the iPads.
So now the students are completely ready to rock. Next post in the series I’ll share some of the apps we’ve installed.
Today I handed out 100 iPads to teachers that will shortly be in the hands of students.
This is huge, and so my job has just become bigger and more interesting than I entirely anticipated when I became an elementary school Instructional Technology Specialist.
In the hopes of making something of this journey, I’m going to do my best to document as much of what I’m doing this year as I possibly can.
Before I get there, though, I’d like to take a look back at how I made it from fresh on the job to running a 1:1 pilot for my district.
Needless to say, it made me hungry for more. Fortunately, the documentation I did helped convince the Powers That Be that giving us in the elementary school a bunch of iPads would be a good idea.
The following school year, every student in the high school got an iPad. I got 60. Hey, it was a start.
I took plenty of time last year to try lots of different things with the iPads in all grade levels, from centers at the youngest grades to whole-class creation projects with students at a variety of grade levels. I documented a lot of the creation stuff we did in my ePub collection.
Getting a good feeling about the way things were headed, and potential increases in device numbers, I started talking with my principal and some of my staff about the possibility of going 1:1. Hearing positive things, I then worked with my librarian, Laura D’Elia, to put together a proposal for launching a pilot 1:1 program. Here it is, minus a few details like specific device numbers:
I was pretty excited to find out the proposal was accepted, with us going 1:1 this year with all of our fourth and fifth grade classes.
This summer, Laura and I then ran a couple of days of professional development for those teachers to start preparing them for the year ahead.
That brings us up until last week, when I received the iPads. Next post in the series I’ll document the prep work I did to get the devices ready for he students and talk about how we’re managing them this year. Spoiler alert: Configurator made it way easier than when I did it last year.
For your consideration: the syllabus for the first grad class I’ve ever taught. It’s an online class through Antioch University New England, in their Next-Generation Learning concentration for experienced educators. Overall I’m proud of this. It started off as being way too structured, then I went totally in the other direction. This syllabus presents a somewhat reasonable balance between the two ends of the pendulum swing.
The funny thing about how I went through that pendulum swing is that old habits die hard. it’s been ten years since I finished grad school myself, and I’ve since been pretty firmly enmeshed in much more progressive thoughts on education. Yet when it came time to take my first crack at course design, I went back to the same old thing I was used to from my grad program. Oh sure, it was strongly influenced by one of the better classes I took, but still. In my mind, the hyper-structured, lots of tasks grad class was the way things were supposed to be done. I give a lot of credit to Laura Thomas, who didn’t rebuke me for that first shot at it, just reminded me to actually practice what I preach. She gave me the permission I needed in order to come up with this course design. Also huge thanks to Laura D’Elia for being a sounding board and reminding me at the last minute to do things the better way.
For me as an educator, this is a valuable lesson. Sometimes students are so used to doing things the old way that they need to be reminded and cajoled into doing things in newer, better ways, or else they’ll fall back on old habits. no matter how obvious we think we’ve made it, sometimes we need to explicitly give our students permission to do the things they’re most excited about doing.
And if you’re paralyzed by a voice in your head/It’s the standing still that should be scaring you instead/Go on and/Do it anyway
I got a little (just a little) pushback from a coworker yesterday for my recent blogpost in which I had stated that I had lied to my prospective, and now current, administrators. To refresh, when asked what job I was looking for, I described my ideal job, not the minimum one I would be willing to take. It’s a matter of interpretation of the question, I suppose.
Also a matter of hyperbole. I use hyperbole more than anybody else in the universe as people who follow me on Twitter are already most likely aware.
Here’s the interesting thing: I’m generally a super-cautious person. It’s the kind of stuff that’s ruled my life. If there’s a safe route to take, I’ve generally taken it.
That all changed about three years ago, though.
I’m thankful every single day that I went to BarCamp Philly and met the people that would become the Edcamp Philly team. Not just because of the opportunities that it’s provided to me, but because it showed me that when those opportunities spring up, I should take them, because, amazingly enough, I’m more capable than I had previously thought.
I went to a workshop earlier this year on using Improv techniques in the classroom. It was a great couple of days. One of the things that we talked about is how in Improv, the biggest rule is that you always say “yes” to the situation before you. As soon as you say no, the whole thing falls apart.
I realized how very much that has held true for me since I started working on this Edcamp thing. That’s the moment at which I stopped saying no to the challenges before me and started saying yes to pretty much every new opportunity that’s been put before me.
Just about a year ago, I said this:
It seriously came out of nowhere, but I realize now that it’s the same thing as always saying yes. If a big idea occurs to me, or if I’m approached with an amazing opportunity, I still take the time to think about it carefully, as is my nature. But now that careful thought isn’t really about whether or not I should attempt the task placed before me, it’s about strategizing and figuring out how to make it work.
That’s not to say that I’m not freaking out the entire time. As I said in my ED Talk writeup, I was very shaky right up until I went into the talk itself and all the way through it. But I knew that I had to make the attempt.
Three years ago, I was, quite frankly, very dissatisfied with my job. I was pretty good, but I had felt myself stagnating in the work for the previous year or so already. I wasn’t growing anymore, and that terrified me. Stagnation to me felt like a first step toward burnout.
Just the act of committing to putting on Edcamp Philly changed all that. During that year, I started dipping my toes into providing professional development for my staff. I met the people from Burlington, and they believed that I was capable of taking on this new task of being an Instructional Technology Specialist when, internally, I wasn’t so sure, but I was willing to try.
While I had serious struggles that year, by the end I knew that I was definitely in a place that would provide me tremendous opportunities for professional growth and was firmly within my own interests. I had my first taste of presenting at a conference that year, and even though I got terrible reviews from some people, I knew that I enjoyed it and could get better.
That summer ran my first workshop for somebody other than my school district, and I helped recruit some great people into my district.
Year 2 as an ITS for me was about pushing myself even more both in my school and outside of it. We established the Edcamp Foundation. I presented at MassCUE and (gulp!) EduCon. I spoke in front of 600 people at the Coalition of Essential Schools Fall Forum and didn’t die.
This Summer I spent more weekdays either attending or providing professional development than not. I worked with people from Burlington, Antioch University New England, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, and EdTechTeacher. I cowrote an article on Edcamp that should pop up somewhere in the near future.
This coming year, I’m launching a plot of 1:1 iPads with my fourth and fifth grade teachers. I’m going to teach an online grad class for the first time ever. Both of these things are going to be terrifying and new and I can’t wait to see how they go.
I’m listing this here not to brag, but because I constantly think to myself that if this stuff is happening to me, it could happen to anybody. I’m not the greatest teacher on the planet in any sense. But with a little bit of luck, a lot of work, and taking opportunities when they present themselves to me, I’m in such an amazingly different place now than I was just three years ago.
And, again, I’m just so thankful.
I’m thankful to my amazing wife, who supports me in everything even when she tells me I work too hard. I’m thankful to my Edcamp Foundation board members who took me along for the ride with them and then entrusted me with the Chairmanship. I’m thankful to my district administrators who placed their faith in my abilities two years ago and continue to do so to this day. I’m thankful for amazing coworkers who will try new things with me and push me to be a better teacher. I’m thankful to my students for making me smile and laugh and furrow my brow and worry. I’m thankful to the people outside of my district who have brought me in to run professional development for them. I’m thankful to the Edcampers around the country that have welcomed me with open arms. I’m thankful to the people online who take the time to read the things I write here and on Twitter.
I’m thankful for a fulfilling life as a teacher.
Yesterday I was presented with a possible huge new opportunity. I’ve done a bunch of hemming and hawing and hedging my bets so far. But at the same time I’ve been thinking, and plotting, and figuring out how I could make it work.
I’ll probably say yes.