iPad Next Steps

So, it’s been about a month since we’ve enforced using an iPad to teach with rather than the use of a ‘Smart’board. Some teachers love and some are not so sure. The keen ones tend to be those new to the school (and so perhaps expecting to have to do things differently than before) and those who hate it tend to be the old hands.

Here are some of the things people miss:

  • On screen timers. I know the iPad has a timer app, but you can’t have a timer in the corner of a screen in Explain Everything.
  • Being able to watch YouTube videos easily. The iPad YouTube app sucks when it comes to AirPlay mirroring, so teachers are having to switch to Safari on the Mac.
  • Having a decent surface to write on. Some classrooms have separate whiteboards (of varying quality) whereas others are using flip charts a lot.
  • AirPlay mirroring isn’t always the most reliable thing in the world.

One solution to some of these problems is to add web browsers to Explain Everything and then add web timers designed for iPad. Handy!

To fix the other issues will probably involve getting decent whiteboards everywhere and installing new wifi.we shall see…

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Early Doors

Kids have only been back in school for three days, but things seem to be going ok with the Great Smartboard Experiment.

Here are some things I’ve noticed:

  • There have been no complaints from teachers (well to me anyway…!) about the lack of Smart Notebook. There was a lot of  murmuring before the change about how it would be such a disaster etc., but now we’ve begun, it seems that teachers have found that using Explain Everything and a mirrored iPad isn’t so bad after all.
  • Some of the die-hard naysayers of Explain Everything have even told me that they love it!  Things like the laser pointer are really handy.
  • Nearly all teachers are giving Explain Everything a go.  I noticed that one teacher was using their own MacBook and Notebook on the first day, but it turned out that they had just forgotten to bring in their iPad that day…
  • Continuing staff training is still needed, such as with getting the hand of AirPlay mirroring or making use of how Explain Everything stops the iPad display from going to sleep.
  • Sometimes just using the Mac and PowerPoint or Safari and YouTube does the job fine.

I probably should do some more in-depth enquiries into what’s working for teachers, and what could work even better.  In many ways this is quite a seismic change to classroom practice and I think it will need continuing vision-casting and support.

Explaining Explain Everything

Today, as part of some INSET, I did some training with staff on how to use their iPads instead of their SMARTboards. It started off with some explanation of the reasons for the nice away from Notebook, and then some time exploring features of Explain Everything. We had two streams: one for those completely new to the app and those with a bit more experience.

I took the group who’d already had some training. These were the teachers who weren’t new to the school and so there was potentially resistance to this change. But I think people were reasonably open, particularly when fears were assuaged with cool things like importing/exporting to our school shared drive via WebDAV and “triple tap to overlap”. Oh, and capacitive styluses!

We shall see how it all goes as term begins…

Thoughts on Notebook

As I’ve mentioned before, from September we are getting rid of SMART Notebook in our school and unplugging all the the SMARTboards. This is not a move without controversy and so there is a certain amount of vision-casting that will need to be done with staff to explain why this happening.  To help me get my thinking straightened out with it all, I thought I would do a preemptive response to possible/probably questions about it all.

I don’t see what’s wrong with Notebook

In our school, about a quarter of the installed boards are so old that they are no longer supported by SMART and so don’t work.  Another quarter are non-SMART interactive LCD displays that can’t be touch enabled and still use Notebook (due to licensing issues). Of the other half of boards that are reasonably new and should (in theory) work, a good proportion of them suffer from some damage to the surface which means they are pretty unusable on a day-to-day basis.

So the options are:

  1. Carry on as we are, with a few pioneers using Explain Everything on a mirrored iPad to give true interactivity, with everyone else using Notebook as a glorified slide deck
  2. Replace all of the boards with new SMARTboards
  3. Ditch SMART Notebook and unplug SMARTboards and move over to mirroring iPads using Explain Everything
Option Pros Cons
1 Teachers already know what they’re doing. Previous years’ resources can be reused. No or limited interactivity. Costs involved with updating Notebook software (which will inevitably need to be done following OSX upgrades) – an unknown, but could potentially be £kkk.
2 Teachers already know what they’re doing. Interactivity is restored. Very expensive and means budget cannot be spent on other stuff, like more class sets of iPads.
3 Reliable interactive surface is the iPad. Can make use of all the power of the iPad in the classroom, through camera, microphone etc. Taking the school forward rather than sticking with a fading and disrupted technology that is the SMARTboard. Teachers have to learn a new tool. Previous years’ resources cannot easily be reused. Potential opposition from staff!

Ok, so I can see that we need to make a change. But can’t we just keep Notebook anyway?

What is interesting is that we’ve had a year of this situation, and only a few teachers have taken up using an iPad instead of Notebook on the Mac.  Teachers are busy people who have got plenty of other things to think about, and I guess tweaking your pedagogy to incorporate new technology isn’t high on the list of priorities.  But if we don’t make a move, we may suddenly hit a brick wall in the future.  Say, for example, Notebook 11 doesn’t work on OSX Yosemite come Autumn.  Do we hold back our Macs to keep Notebook working?  Or pay lots of money for licensing the newer Notebook?

What’s so great about using a mirrored iPad and Explain Everything?

  • Cameras = visualiser anywhere in the classroom
  • You can teach from any point in the classroom – no wires!
  • You can teach facing your class
  • No need to align your interactive display on a daily/hourly basis ;-D
  • Cool screen recording stuff
  • Multi-touch interaction of onscreen elements
  • Using a user interface that is designed for touch

How can I write?

Classrooms have all got some other form of whiteboard/flipchart if you want to do some proper modelled writing.  But for scribing stuff, we’re investing in some proper capacitive styluses for teachers to use.

How can I share files across my year group?

We have a webDAV server that is accessible in and outside of school using the normal secure logins.  This allows you to open Explain Everything files from the shared drive and export them back there again.

What if I desperately need to open a Notebook file from previous years?

SMART have an online version of Notebook at http://express.smarttech.com where you can open files from your computer.

Choosing the right app

I love using Explain Everything for my teaching as it gives rich interactive-whiteboard-like functionality using an iPad instead of a clunky and often unaligned ‘smart’board.

However, today I discovered it’s not always the best tool to use with kids. In my music lesson we were listening to different sounds, and I wanted an app that could just be written on, much like a drywipe mini whiteboard. You can do that with Explain Everything, but it’s just a bit too complex for using with Year 2 kids as you can easily have the pen unselected and then end up moving all the items on the screen around instead.

As an alternative, I quickly downloaded Educreations (which is free!). This app offers a stripped down set of features and allows you to just use your finger to draw with on the screen. This worked much better.

I also had a go at using Socrative to do a class quiz. You have to set up a teacher account (which you can do online) and then you just give your room number for children to log onto your quiz. Children then answer the questions and get immediate feedback.

I’m realising more the power of the App Store in education. It can take a bit of thinking to discover the best app, or combinations of apps for a job, but once you do it leads you to all sorts of interesting places.