Choosing the device

We’re considering going 1:1 iPad with our KS2 children from September, but the question is about which particular model to go for.  We’ve been using iPad mini with children for the last three years now, and it hit the sweet spot in terms of its size, price and weight. To go 1:1, we’ll be looking at an operational lease, but there is a bit of a tough choice to make about the exact model for the budget we have. Here’s a table to explain the problem…

iPad Model Storage Lease length Positives Negatives
iPad mini 2 32GB  3 years  + Good amount of storage  – Older hardware so will feel old at end of lease
iPad mini 4 16GB  3 years  + Fast hardware  – Storage space will fill up quickly
iPad mini 4 64GB  4 years  + Fast hardware
+ Great amount of storage
– Can hardware last four years?

Perhaps, when it’s presented like that, the solution is obvious?

Quicker and Easier on iPad

At the end of last year, we did some monitoring about how Showbie was being used in our school. One of the insights from that was all of the work that was done in Computing could be done quicker and easier on iPad rather than using an iMac.  In our school, children have a timetabled ‘Computing’ slot when they get to go and use the iMac suite.  The children do enjoy it, but in this increasingly mobile age, children are just not as familiar with using a mouse and keyboard, let alone using an arguably more complex desktop operating system that is OSX. Perhaps they just need the practice, but actually the iPad allows children to achieve remarkably complex things (visual programming, video creation and editing etc.) with relative ease.  If we add in the simple but powerful e-portfolio workflow that Showbie offers for iOS, iPad increasingly comes up tops when compared to Mac.

So, what apps do we use for Computing on Mac and how can iPad replace/improve them?  Is it possible to go ‘iPad Only’ with Computing?

Email

We use LGfL’s London Mail to provide safe and restricted access to email for students during certain Computing units. It’s hosted by Microsoft and is accessed via a web browser.  It works fine on Mac as well as iPad, but on iPad it’s super easy to screenshot learning and add it into Showbie.

Visual Programming

We already use Hopscotch, Kodable, A.L.E.X. and Daisy the Dinosaur on iPad to teach coding using pre-programmed blocks.  On the Mac, we use Scratch, a great coding environment created by MIT. There is a (literally) junior version of it called Scratch Jnr, which is suitable for younger children but unfortunately they haven’t released a full iPad version yet.  However, there are other alternatives out there, such as Tynker.

Typed Coding

When we developed our Computing curriculum a few years ago, we included a strand which focused on getting children to type in computer code, starting with learning to type, then moving onto languages such as LOGO and Python. You can get typing apps for iPad, and even ones for LOGO and Python. Fun as it has been to introduce these to children, I think that they might be just a bit too tricky for Primary aged kids, so instead we’re going to introduce some more fun iPad coding apps.  Like Floors (which allows you to design your own platform games…)!

iWork

Pages, Numbers and Keynote are as fully-featured on iOS as a Primary school kid would need, so no contest there.  And are arguably easier to use.

iLife

iMovie on OSX is powerful, but it does add so many steps to the movie-making process: capture video on another camera, then import into Mac, then edit. iMovie for iPad is so simple and easy to use to use, with the advantage of being able to do everything on one device.

LEGO WeDo

The only sticking point was LEGO WeDo, a simple programmable LEGO kit.  WeDo 1.0 runs of a wired USB hub to connect the motor/tilt sensor/motion sensor.  However, LEGO have recently announced WeDo 2.0, which connects via Bluetooth to an iPad…yay!  I recently had a play with it at BETT and it was really great.

So, I think that going all-in on iPad for Computing can work!

An App for that

From attending different iPad in Education events, the message has often been to limit the number of apps you put on iPads in the classroom: a few apps used well is better than zillions of apps. We’ve been doing this in my school – choosing the key creative apps and training teachers how to use them effectively.

The downside to this is that it’s easy to stop exploring for what’s new and making the most of the huge wealth of educational apps that there are out there!  So recently, I’ve been trying out a few more apps for iPad. Here’s some I’ve found helpful!

ClassDojo

This is a fun behaviour management app for the classroom, allowing you to give out (and take away) points to children in your class depending on their behaviour/work. It’s fun, quick and easy to use.

QR Code Reader

QR codes can be seen as a bit ‘Android’, but they’re actually really handy for quick linking to websites and different online resources. Teachers find or upload resources to the Internet, create a QR code for it and then children can easily access them via their iPad.

Showbie

Showbie is like the glue which can join together digital learning on iPad in the classroom.  It’s easy to set up, simple to use but very powerful for assigning, submitting and feeding back on learning. Support is also great!

Green Screen

This app basically allows the iPad to do chroma-key green screening (or any colour of your choice) straight on the iPad.  You set the background image or video then layer up live or recorded video on top.  Fun!

Book Creator

This is a super simple app for creating eBooks directly on iPad, including adding sound and video. It’s very friendly for children to use and really is a blank canvas for creativity (and includes lots of fun and wacky fonts!).

One Best Thing

As part of the Apple Distinguished Educator Institute last summer, we were all set the homework of creating some resources to share best practice with teachers. We were given three options to choose from: Community Engagement (ADEs collaborating with museums/libraries etc. to create resources), Lessons for the Classroom (an iTunes U course that demonstrates how iPad can work in the classroom) or One Best Thing (a multitouch book sharing one way that Apple technologies have made a difference in the classroom). For ADE newbies, we were recommended to do ‘One Best Thing’, so I decided to do one about using Explain Everything as an Interactive Whiteboard.

 

It’s quite a short book, but is now published on the iBook Store, so do take a look!

Introducing Showbie

We’ve started using Showbie in my school.  Which feels a bit like saying, “Hey, guys, did you know that they’ve invented colour TV?” Or, “I finally had a ride on one of those new-fangled horseless carriages…wasn’t so bad.”

I’m not sure when Showbie was first launched, but it’s definitely been vaguely on my radar as a paperless classroom solution for iPad ever since the magical tablet first appeared in 2010. Since then it’s become a de-facto app solution for managing digital workflows in iPad schools, even appearing as number 4 in a Top 10 list of apps as votes by ADEs in the Summer. However, I’ve always dismissed it as being useful in a Primary school that wasn’t 1:1 with iPads, so haven’t given it much consideration up until now.

However, last year a brilliant Apple Distinguished Educator Julian Coultas came to visit our school to suggest ways that we could take our iPad journey further, and he mentioned about Showbie. We were increasingly hitting the problem of how to evidence, record and generally deal with the digital content that was being made in lessons using iPad. Lots of interesting learning was happening in classrooms using technology, but it was often hard to tell this looking in children’s books.  Some teachers were willing to go through the laborious process of printing off children’s work and then sticking it in books, but most were not: why make a lively, engaging iPad lesson into a laborious bureaucratic chore? Plus, how exactly does one go about printing a video?

Instead, Showbie offers a solution to three interrelated but distinct problems:

  1. Digital portfolio – keeping a record of children’s learning. With Showbie, each pupil has their own account where iPad learning can be handed into. This then creates a record of the learning process on iPad, complete with comments and dialogue between the child and the teacher.  And with the latest version of Showbie, there is even the ability to create ‘proper’ student portfolios!
  2. Managing ongoing projects with shared iPads. Once work-in-progress has been saved to Showbie, a child can then log into Showbie on any iPad, re-download it and then continue.  With shared iPads across year groups, then avoids the issue of children having to remember the iPad they used the lesson before.
  3. Distributing resources/documents. Showbie makes it easy for teachers to distribute documents/images/instructions to children for a given lesson.  We’ve already got a generic email account setup for each class set of iPads which currently offers a lo-fi version of this – teachers can email images and web links to a set of iPads – but Showbie adds more power and flexibility.

We launched all this a week or so ago, complete with some class demos and a staff meeting from Julian, which unfortunately coincided with a horrendous Showbie outage. Despite being entirely unable to even log into Showbie to show them, teachers seemed really up for the solution Showbie offered to the problem of a student e-portfolio/continuing work on a shared iPad/distributing content.

Since then I have been working my way around classes to give brief Showbie demos so that both children and teachers feel confident in the workflow (which, after enrolling into a class, is basically: log into Showbie, do you work, ‘Open In’ Showbie and hand work in at the end of the lesson, and then log out of Showbie).

In order to make the creation of student accounts manageable in a large school, we’ve gone for the paid ‘Pro School’ account. The guys at Showbie have been incredibly helpful and supportive and have ironed out any issues we’ve run into.

The Digital Divide

I had the enormous privilege of attending the Apple Distinguished Educator Institute in July, a week of inspiring professional development and hearing from amazing educators from all over EMEIA (Europe, Middle East, India and Africa). Not very surprisingly, many people came from schools that had some sort of 1:1 iPad programme. They could tell stories of the creative and innovate things their students were doing with technology, and more importantly how learning and future life-chances were impacted.

I’ve wanted to have a 1:1 iPad programme at my school ever since I heard about Fraser Speirs‘ pioneering work in his school in Scotland.  Research since has shown that giving a computer to every student has a measurable impact on their education, and so that question is now whether schools should go 1:1 but just when and how.

My problem is the later two questions. Working at a large state Primary school, there is a big budget but there are also a lot of students for it to go between.  With the government busy cutting budgets further, spending money on ‘luxury’ Apple tablets can seem a bit rich.

What I noticed at the ADE Institute was the high percentage of attendees from either International or Secondary schools, which tend to have more money to spend on iPads. I don’t begrudge this, but I do wonder about the digital divide: should children’s opportunity to be part of the learning revolution depend on their parents’ means or have to wait until they’re older?

Talking to people who’ve walked this path before me, it seems that there are two options:

  1. Inspire those in leadership to take a longer and harder look at the 1:1 possibility. In the scheme of things, an iPad for every child isn’t dirt cheap but is affordable: the money is there, but is being spent on the wrong things (photocopying!).
  2. Make the most of what we have. Julian Coultas has done some brilliant work on how to effectively use 8 iPads in a class of 30 children. 1:1 might be the ‘best’ way, but a smaller amount is not worthless.

Appreciating Apple TV

At our school, we’ve mostly used Reflector as the way of doing AirPlay mirroring from our iPads into a large projected image. This has worked well when using old-fashioned VGA projectors and a 4:3 image. However, the connection can sometimes be unreliable, which is probably down to network/wifi issues. But, due to the advantages I’ve previously outlined, Reflector seemed a better choice than the main alternative: Apple TV.  Apple TV is a little black box that works (amongst other things) as an AirPlay receiver for content from your Mac or iOS device.

However, after some discussion with some fellow ADEs, I’ve come to appreciate the advantages that Apple TV has over Reflector.

  • It’s Apple’s AirPlay mirroring solution, rather than a third-party reverse-engineered hack, so that means it’s more likely work more reliably.
  • If connecting to an HD device via HDMI, setup is super simple.
  • You can have one-time device authentication, where a new AirPlay connection requires entering the on-screen passcode. This stops accidental AirPlay connections (thank you Early Years!) without having to remember or share a password.
  • Peer-to-peer. Which is amazing! With a lightning connector iPad, it uses Bluetooth to set up a direct wifi connection to the Apple TV, thus bypassing the local network and so reducing the network load.
  • Modern macs can AirPlay to Apple TV. I’m interested what impact this will have on its use in the classroom, is it makes it the same class citizen as the iPad.

Here are some things I’ve discovered to make setup easier:

  1. Turn on Conference Mode so that it shows instructions for AirPlay mirroring, rather than the normal grid of video apps.
  2. Turn on device authentication to make peer-to-peer AirPlay connection work.
  3. Have a wired Ethernet connection to the Apple TV to reduce load on your wifi.
  4. Do a restart on the Apple TV after setup to make the changes take effect.
  5. Make sure it’s an HDMI HD display your connecting to, either a projector or a TV. It just doesn’t work very nicely with old school VGA projectors, even widescreen ones.

What’s New in Managing Apple Devices

If you manage iPads or Macs at any sort of scale, then do watch this video from WWDC: What’s New in Managing Apple Devices.

Here’s a summary of some of the cool stuff that made me particularly happy…

No Apple IDs to install apps

If an iPad is Supervised (set up with Apple Configurator or DEP), you will be able to push out apps via your MDM without the need for an Apple ID on the device.  Which is pretty cool!  The app gets assigned to the device rather than a person.  The installation, updating and management are all controlled by your MDM.

Push out iOS updates

In iOS9, you will be able to push out iOS updates.  This is good news for me, as I’m still trying to get teachers to update their iPads from iOS7!  Via an MDM, you will be able to schedule updates to happen, e.g. when the device is plugged in at night.

Fix wallpaper, passcode and device name

A new MDM restriction means you will be able to lock the wallpaper, prevent a user from adding a passcode and stop the device name being changed.  This is very handy for shared devices in a cart-based deployment.

New Apple Configurator 2

They’ve ditched having a database (that gets very big and is prone to corruption) and are instead keeping ‘tags’ stored on the devices themselves.  The demo looked quite nice and I can see it being handy for those synced-via-cable cart deployments.  Apparently, you can also enrol a device via DEP using Configurator too, meaning a lot less tapping on devices.

There were lots of other nice features, so do watch the video or read a summary here (Amsys) or here (Enterprise iOS).

I like the fact that Apple are no longer insisting that the best and only way to use iPads in a school is 1:1, but are rather accepting that having a shared cart of iPads might actually be ok and are providing tools to help manage iPads in that way.

It’s a shame I won’t get to play with this stuff until we’re substantially into the new academic year, but I guess that is the life of an educational technologist these days!

Getting Caching Server working on LGfL

Caching Server is a cool part of OS X Server: once you turn it on, it basically becomes a local cache of the App Store (Mac and iOS), keeping a copy of downloaded apps on your local network.  This results in faster app downloads, as they’re coming from within your network, and less use of your broadband connection.  Which is nice.

Unfortunately I’ve never been able to get it to work as my school is part of London Grid for Learning (LGfL).  LGfL is a broadband consortium, which allows schools to buy broadband at much cheaper rates because the LGfL trust has built a lovely big network (with the help of Virgin Media Business) just for schools in London. With an eye to safeguarding children, this network is built to be very safe and secure.  The upshot of this is that our little Mac server is buried deep within the network behind many firewalls and switches and routers and so on.  Which has meant that Caching Server hasn’t worked, as it needs to sit pretty close to the open Internet.

Until Yosemite that is.

We recently had our server updated to OS X 10.10, and with that comes some improvements to Caching Server.  One of these is the ability to set the public IP addresses/ranges that will use the Caching service, thus making it all work.

Here’s how:

  1. Open the Server app and click on ‘Caching’. Turn it on.
  2. Click on ‘edit’ next to where it says ‘Permissions’.
  3. On the drop-down menu next to ‘Serve clients with public addresses’, choose ‘on other networks’.
  4. Click the plus in the box below and add the public IP address of the server.  You can find this out by clicking the server name under ‘Server’ in the sidebar.
  5. Enter in the public IP address for all LGfL-connected, which is 5.150.101.173.  Apparently!
  6. You then need to set some client configuration on your DNS server.  Our DNS is on a Windows server, so I click ‘Client Configuration’, choose ‘Windows’ as the DNS type and then copy the command.  I then open up the Windows server, type ‘CMD’ into the search box to open the command line, then copy the command.

And that seems to do the trick!  Lovely.

Casper Suite

We’ve just had Casper Suite installed at my school. Part of the installation process is a three-day ‘Jump Start‘ where a highly experienced trainer (in our case, two, as we had someone shadowing) guides you through installing the software and the processes involved in setting up and running it.

So why Casper suite? Over the years, we’ve ended up using a range of different systems and technologies to manage the Macs and iPads in school. The Macs have been managed with an OSX Server running Workgroup Manager, plus a few scripts written by our Apple Reseller and the use of Munki for managing software installs and updates. With iOS, we’ve used Meraki, making use of the VPP programme and managed distribution, as well as Apple Configurator for class sets of iPads.

This has worked pretty well, but I knew we needed to move away from Workgroup Manager. Since 10.7 Lion, Apple has pushed the use of Configuration Profiles instead of Managed Preferences. Technology-wise, it isn’t a straight swap, as there are things you can do with MCX that you can’t do with profiles, and vice versa. But with 10.10, Workgroup Manager no longer even exists (even though the 10.9 version still works!), so I knew we had to do something. Casper suite was well spoken of, properly supported OSX as well as iOS, and seemed to have some cool features.

The main drawback of Casper Suite is the cost: as an educational customer, you only pay for support per device, which works out pretty cheap. But you have to pay for the three days of ‘Jump Start’ before you begin, which is not cheap! However, I calculated that it works out about the cost of a case per device, which isn’t so bad. An iPad without a case is pretty hobbled, and I’m sure Casper will add a depth and richness to our deployment.

The Jump Start went pretty well, and we managed to get everything working by the end of the three days. I did finish the three days feeling overwhelmed with everything there is to do (sorting out all the configuration of the Macs then imaging them all, plus redoing all the iPads), but I think it will come together over the next half term.

Here are some of the highlights so far:

  • Casper Focus: allows a teacher lock all the iPads in a class to a particular app or webpage
  • Self service: dishing up apps, books and in fact most things to users
  • Deployment Enrollment Programme (DEP): iPads get automatically enrolled to Casper and tied to a certain user out of the box
  • Composer: a powerful way to package up Mac apps, including the ability to fill the user template and existing users’ preferences
  • JSS: the fact it runs as a web service, meaning that Macs don’t have to be bound to an OSX server any more
  • JAMF Nation: a community of helpful geeks who are there to help find solutions to problem

I’m not sure it’s the right solution for small primary schools, or places without an onsite Mac geek, but I think it’s going to work really well for us.