Friday, April 27, 2018

Your iPad is your doc camera

In a classroom where we need to make things visible for all of our students, or when we want to model a process for students, nothing beats a document camera.  They give us a live video feed that we can quickly and easily project to the class.

And the great news -- you already have a document camera available to you. It's your iPad.

Paired with an Apple TV and Airplay (for a wireless experience), or even hard wired into a projector, the camera app on the iPad gives us a live video feed that can be easily shared with the class.

The process is easy. Find, make, or buy a stand that will allow you to be hands-free with your iPad with whatever is below (or in front of) the camera. Then simply connect it to the projector and open the camera app.

The trick is finding a great stand at a great (or no) price. You can buy iPad doc camera stands, but if you look around you'll probably find exactly what you need in your classroom or around the house/apartment.

The stand at right meets all of the requirements.


  • The stand must be sturdy. iPads are expensive, and setting them on a wobbly stand where they may fall is not a great idea!



  • It has openings at the top to safely set your iPad on while allowing the camera to peer through.



  • It lifts the iPad up from the "stage" below so you can fit objects of various sizes underneath.



  • There is a clear working area underneath to fit the demonstrator's hands. This is especially important when annotating text or "modeling" for students.


So go ahead. Look around. What clever ideas have you had for making your own useful iPad document stand?


By the way, this is a GREAT design challenge for students. Set forth the design parameters (something similar to what we outlined above) and let students start thinking creatively.



Start thinking smaller with technology

Nobody likes to use technology when it slows us down. In fact, one goal for meaningful tech use is enhancing a learning experience while keeping the technology seemingly invisible. When technology does that for teachers and learners, it is worth its weight in gold.
However, when we reflect on the ways we most often use technology, the tools are often utilized as a capstone to learning -- a final end product. And that, while a really great way to use technology, well that can be cumbersome, heavy, and can ultimately slow us down.

While summative assessment is certainly an appropriate use of the tools students have, it doesn't take full advantage of what the tools offer us. In these cases, technology use becomes an event, not a way of doing our daily business.

The challenge is to find ways to use the efficiency and mobility of the iPad, along with its built-in tools, to get students interacting with and sharing their thinking daily. The goal is to make sure every student participates, every student engages, every student does the hard work of thinking, all while making a teacher's work in the process more efficient and timely.

Here are ideas you could use to think "small" with technology use in order to incorporate it into your daily learning plan. And the best news -- these tools are on your iPads already. No download needed!


Prior Knowledge & Post Reflections with Camera
In order to activate prior knowledge, educators often use a call and response with the class or group. This only gives some of the students an opportunity to engage their brain and show what they know.

Instead, have every student turn on the video camera on their iPad. Speaking in a six inch voice (direct students to talk into the microphone of the iPad for better audio), have every student record 30 seconds of video explaining what they know about the topic.

At the end of the lesson on the topic, have students listen to their original recording. Ask them to reflect on two key questions: 1) What do I know now that I didn't know earlier? and 2) What questions do I still have about this topic?

They could now share with a partner for a quick turn and talk session.

Finally, have the small group film one final 20 second video using the camera app. They will record the answers to these questions: 1) "One really important thing we learned today about this topic was..." and 2) "One question we still have about this topic is...".

Students can now AirDrop the video to their teacher as an exit ticket, and the teacher can quickly review the student's thinking and questions.

Low Tech to High Tech Reflection with Markup
In most classrooms some amount of work is done on paper. Paper is a wonderful tool for learning. Of course, like anything, it has limitations.

In this technique we start from paper. We have students doing work and showing their learning on paper (this should feel fairly familiar).

Next we organize a quick museum walk or have students find a partner. The goal here is to have students look at each other's work in order to challenge their own understanding of the skill/topic, and to offer feedback to each other.  Using their iPad, they will take photos of at least one other student's written work (you may need to teach them how to focus and take a good picture).

Then, using the Markup tool in Photos (the place where your photos go on your iPad after you take them), have the students annotate their thinking over the top of the photo to determine key points about the work. This would be more efficient and meaningful if the teacher could provide some guiding questions for the feedback.

Finally, students can meet to share their thinking with the student who they are offering feedback to. They can AirDrop their annotated image to each other to serve as guidance as the student goes back to make changes to their work on paper.

Capturing the Learning Process
If the focus on the learning process is the key to the work students are doing, then let's use technology to help capture the process over time. This technique works whether you are working with non-digital tools (paper, construction materials, art materials, etc)  or working digitally.

The teacher starts by outlining the rules. Over the next period of time, students will hear a timer go off sporadically. This timer will be set by the teacher. When the timer goes off, the students simply need to snap a photo of their work at that time. Stop what they are doing momentarily, take a picture, and then get back to work.

Using the timer on the teacher's iPad (and AirPlay if an Apple TV is available in your room), the teacher will set the timer (you will have to determine the appropriate interval -- not so often that it interrupts thinking, but not so far apart that student progress will not be measured). As the teacher moves around the room and students work, the timer will keep pace. 

When the timer goes off, instruct students to capture their work using the camera, and then get back to work. The teacher will then reset the timer for a new interval (not all intervals have to be exactly the same).

Repeat this until the work period has completed.

Next, ask students to open the Photos app on the iPad. Have them start on their first photo of their work, and then scroll through. With each photo, ask the students to reflect on the process and what changes from photo to photo.  Maybe they will watch their drawing or artwork come to life. Maybe they will see their writing process unfold. Maybe they will identify their note taking or annotation process.

They could share this reflection with a partner. They could use the Markup tool to annotate the changes. They could video record their reflections of the process. For more advanced users, you could use either full iMovie or iMovie trailers to document the learning process as well.

Any way it is achieved, the goal is to have the students reflect on their process, to think about what they did and how it impacted their final product, and to ultimately change their process (or understand their process) so they know themselves as learners.


Friday, April 20, 2018

Technology is not optional: Students NEED help to develop technical skills

The skills students have traditionally needed to be employable and successful at work are as important as ever. These are often referred to as soft skills, and as reported in this LinkedIn article, for entry level positions they were recently ranked in importance by potential employers in the following order: 1) Communication, 2) Organization, 3) Teamwork, 4) Social Skills, and 5) Punctuality.

However, with the changing shift in the business landscape spurred by technology, two keys shifts are happening in what employers are looking for in potential employees.  One key shift is that more technical knowledge and skills are being required in ALL aspects of work.

By technical, we mean highly technical. Potential employees are increasingly being overlooked if they do not have skills such as an ability to collect and analyze data, write computer code, strategize how to best reach an audience digitally, and to quickly adapt to new digital tools and skills related to a rapidly changing job description. Many organizations have studied and reported what employers are most looking for, and regardless of who is reporting the findings, these seem to be pretty consistent themes. For further exploration, check out these articles from Forbes and Monster

Further emphasis on how important these very technical skills are to employers can be found from a statement published on Fortune.com, in a 2016 article former General Electric CEO, Jeff Immelt said: "If you are joining the company in your 20's, unlike when I joined, you are going to learn to code. It doesn't matter if you are in sales, finance, or operations. You may not end up being a programmer, but you will know how to code.

It is clear that there is strong trend in employment; there is wash between the always necessary soft skills employers have long valued and the technical skills that employees need to do their job in a highly technical society.  Even for employees in roles that are outward facing and customer focused, these people are far more likely to be communicating digitally, meeting via web conference software, and building digital training platforms for clients and customers. A blog post from LinkedIn identifies that these skill sets no longer independently exist, but instead merge together into the skills that employers most need from their future employees (our students). 

And the reality is that these are skills our students do not inherently, natively have by being born in an era of cell phones and social networks.

Our System is Ready to Support This Change

The School District of Waukesha has been preparing for this shift in needs over the past seven years. We are ready and able to support the need of all teachers and students as they prepare for a future that requires each of us to have both personal and technical skills.

Hardware Facts:
Waukesha is a 1:1 iPad district. Students and educators K-12 in our system have access to iPads, and most of them have the ability to take these tools home nightly. This has been the environment within our system for all of our schools at least three years, and in some of our schools for five years.


Software and Apps Facts:
We have a core set of high quality apps available to every student and every teacher. Apps like Notability, Explain Everything, Book Creator, iMovie, GarageBand, and others. We regularly assess these tools, select and add new tools as needed, and offer students and teachers software that will allow them do the work they need to do to adapt teaching practice and learning outcomes. Additionally, we are a Google Apps district K-12 and almost all of the Google Apps work seamlessly on the iPad. 

Network Facts:
Waukesha's network and infrastructure is incredibly fast and robust. Our up time on technology to the district is above 99% for internet connectivity. We have deployed a wide ranging wireless internet that serves the farthest reaches of most of our buildings, from hidden back corner classrooms, to gymnasiums and athletic fields, to  outdoor environmental education spaces and the planetarium, to our Waukesha Public Library. We have one of the most wide-reaching and robust networks for a K-12 system in the state.

We Must Make Shifts in Practice to Embrace New Reality

We no longer live in a world where adopting technology as a part of our daily educational practice is optional. Students need to learn academic content, develop soft skills, and develop technical skills that will prepare them for their lives ahead. With the systemic changes made in our district to set the table for meaningful technology use, most barriers to adoption have been removed. The only barrier that still stands largely in the way of adoption, then, is our own decision to shift our teaching practice.

For educators, it is no longer acceptable to simply opt-out of technology use in the classroom. The stakes are too high for students if we choose not to give them these experiences.

And assuming that students simply have the technical skills they need because they were born with technology -- well, that can debunked within a few minutes simply by asking students to do certain learning tasks with technology that focus on productivity, creation, and collaboration. They need support, encouragement, and advice on how to use technology purposefully and meaningfully, even if they are confident they know how to actually use the software and push the buttons.

Educators are at a point of decision: will we make the productive, meaningful use of technology in our classrooms a priority? Will we prepare our students for college and careers by challenging them to develop the soft skills needed while using the technology that will shape their future lives? The only thing stopping us from doing this today are the personal barriers that we have put up for ourselves. And the good news: when you are ready to take the next step and give kids these experiences, there is a team here to support you!

And the very best news: every day professionals across our system ARE making the decision to give our students these kinds of experiences. And kids are responding, developing the skills and gaining knowledge they need for the future, and becoming more ready for whatever futures are in front of them.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Simple tools, deep impact

Mental "ruts" are tough to escape!

Sometimes we get into a rut (a pattern of thinking/behavior that has become dull, unproductive, and difficult to change), and it takes a little push to help us get out.

When it comes to thinking about how to use technology in our classrooms, we can get into some common ruts as well.  Here are some common ones.
  • We may get in the rut of always searching for a new app to do something we could easily do with other apps we already have. 
  • We may get stuck thinking about only using technology as a culminating, end-of-unit, large project.
  • We may get stuck in the rut of making student demonstrations of learning more complicated than they need to be.
If you are stuck in any of these ruts, here are some tips to help nudge you out. 
Stop looking for new tools and apps. Use what you already know and have available.
As an example here, we will just use the camera that is already built into the iPad.

  • The "Time Lapse" mode on the iPad camera is a powerful way of seeing change over long periods of time. Any kind of change that can be viewed.  Have the students turn on their time lapse feature on the camera, hit record and start seeing the world in a very different way (a way we often do not get to see).
    • Brainstorming and mind mapping
      • Want to see the thinking process? A whiteboard, markers, an iPad camera in time lapse mode will give you a full (and quick) run down of the thinking a student or group does.








  • Using the photo mode on the iPad camera is a great way to capture snapshots that students can later reflect upon.
    • Capturing and annotating over printed materials and written work
      • We do not advocate a paperless work environment. Paper is a tool in our learning process. But using the camera to snap photos of our work gives us the ability to "archive" teachable moments. And with the newest updates to photos, students can now "annotate" or draw right over the top of these photos. Using the Markup tool in iPad's photos app (learn how to markup photos), students can synthesize their thinking around that photo today, or in the future!

  • Using the slow motion mode on the iPad camera allows us to slow down time (the opposite of time lapse). If you are something that happens very quickly, using slow motion will give your students a chance to see what happens when we can slow things WAY down. And you will definitely get a laugh at it!
    • Inquiry, anybody? 
      • Instead of a list of ideas, I'll let your imagination run wild on this one. Just watch the video (above), think about your students, and know that they can create videos of this type with their iPad. What questions would they ask? What answers would they find if they created these kinds of videos in slow motion?


Do not wait until the end of a unit to find ways to utilize technology. Use technology throughout the process of learning.
iPads are great for culminating projects. But they can be great for daily use, for capturing the process of learning, and to prepare for a culminating project as well.


  • Using the iPad to record and then later review thinking can be  a powerful way to help students get ideas flowing. Using the video camera on the iPad (even if the student's face isn't in the shot) is one way to just get kids talking about their thinking or ideas while maintaining a record for their later review.
    • Pre-writing: Just hit record
      • Flip to your camera app and select the Video mode. In this case, what is on the screen isn't important. It's the audio we are using here. Have students talk to a partner about their research, their ideas, their questions for an upcoming non-fiction topic they are just beginning to explore. What is the storyline of their fiction piece? Be sure to have an iPad nearby, listening intently, recording their every thought.  And when we get to the next phase of the writing process, have them go back and listen. Now they can synthesize their initial thoughts. We know that this metacognitive task of thinking about our thinking is at the core of meaningful learning. We are just employing our iPad's camera and microphone to record, hold, and replay those thoughts for our students.

Aim for simplicity. Too many expectations, too many rules/details, and too many limits will only allow students to give you what you asked for, but not what they are capable of doing.
 This one does not tie to a specific tool or idea. In fact, just the opposite. Often we spend so much time outlining the "must do" and "must use" of anything we ask students to do that we actually end up limiting our students' potential. Instead, let them know what they must show us they know or are able to do, and then make them choose HOW they will show us. Sometimes you will be underwhelmed. Sometimes you will be amazed. And in both scenarios there is something to be learned by our students!


Thursday, April 5, 2018

Consider the Benefits: What students need versus want

Every teacher and parent knows one universal truth:
One role adults play in children's lives is directing them toward that which they need, even if it isn't necessarily what they want.
That is the kind of thing that you can say to almost anybody that is responsible for children and they will nod in agreement.

This week  I had several conversations with educators who shared that something they were trying out in their classroom wasn't exactly what their students wanted to happen. With my lens in technology, you can be sure that these issues revolved around pushback from students in using tech for teaching and learning.  I believe that we should take our students opinions and ideas into consideration when developing our learning environments and plans.  However, my challenge to these teachers, and to all of us is to ask two simple questions:

  • Why are the students pushing back on this practice?
  • Are they getting something they need, even if they don't want it right now?
I'll use an example of one of my former students.  I did a lot of project-based learning in my English classroom, and we used technology quite often (NO, not every day! And that is okay!).  She was adamant that my teaching style and use of technology did not fit her learning style, that she learned more in other classes, and that she hated having to use technology in her classes.

I spoke with her regularly about what I could do better, what I could change, how I could better meet her needs as a student. I asked her why it was not working, and I even made some of those suggested changes. But I did not back off of my students taking greater ownership of and responsibility for their learning. I also did not back off of my belief that learning to use the tools we had available gave my students a voice beyond the footprint of my classroom walls, and taught my students how to use technology to be creative, collaborative, productive, and efficient.

In her senior year (when she was no longer in my classes) we were talking and she shared with me the underlying issue to why she complained so often (and loudly) about my class. In summary, she was frustrated in my class because I changed the routine of school. She was really good at playing the game at school. She sat attentively. She showed up on time. She took the notes and completed the homework. She answered questions when asked. 

Her frustration with my class was that those things alone were not enough to get her the results she wanted -- an A in my class.  She was good at writing papers and taking tests. When she had to learn how to use iMovie to make a movie trailer in class (it was much harder then), that stretched her skills.  When she had to moderate her group book discussion and record it for a podcast, that was a new skill that she had never developed before. When she had to write reflections as she read a novel on the class blog, and then comment on other people's reflections by challenging their thinking, that intellectual discourse in a public venue was new and uncomfortable. As she said, "Your class was really hard. I actually had to think about doing what I was doing before I did the work."

The lesson I took from that student is that sometimes our students push back on what is happening in class, and we need to listen and consider what they are really saying. And sometimes we need to weigh that against what they are getting from the activity, use of the tool, or instructional method we are using. 




When the instructional benefit to students is essential your students' success or growth, sometimes we have to offer students what they need, even if it isn't exactly what they want.