Using the Ipad as a Personal Response System in the Classroom: A Look at 2 Apps

Ipad and Laptop

TechGeekTeacher's Ipad and Laptop

Putting eClicker and Socrative Through a Workout

As I have mentioned before, one of the things I immediately wanted to do in my classroom when we started our 1-1 Ipad pr0gram this past fall was find a way to have my students take quizzes and tests using their Ipads that gave them some immediate feedback and save me some time grading. While I still haven’t found that magical app that will do absolutely everything I want for absolutely free–or at least really cheap–I was presented an opportunity to take another stab at this particular wish this week.

An administrator at my school recently asked me if I was familiar with the eClicker app. I said that I had installed it back during the summer, but I hadn’t really tried to use it that much, but would be willing to give it a try because I wanted to try out another app that was similar and pretty new to the app scene.  So, I decided that I would put both Socrative and eClicker through a trial by fire in all of my English classes. My plan of attack was to administer 2 quizzes to each class where they would use each app for one of the quizzes. While the quizzes weren’t the same, they did cover the same material.

Before administering the quizzes, I decided that the most crucial criteria was stability/reliability, ease-of-use (for the students and teacher), and flexibility (in terms of options). Here is the break down of what I noticed about eClicker and Socrative before I had my students take the quizzes and then after all my classes had used them:

What eClicker and Socrative have in Common

  • Both are Personal Response Systems/Smart Clickers: Students can use them to enter responses to questions which can be projected onto a screen
  • Both Require a Student App and a Teacher App: The student app for both only allow for responses to questions. The teacher apps allow for the creation, editing, and management of quizzes. I will say that when it comes to making the actual quizzes, it is much easier to do on a laptop.
  • Both Utilize a Website: The websites for both apps store the quizzes and allow editing, creating, and managing. Both apps sync with the website so that the individual questions and question sets are consistent.
  • Neither App Requires a “Server” Type App: This is pretty straight forward; once you have the teacher app and the students have their app, you are good-to-go–no need to install a server app on a laptop to act as a go-between since both apps work on your local wi-fi network.
  • Both Allow for Categories and Tags: Being able to put quizzes into categories is pretty handy, but being able to put tags on individual questions is really helpful because you could build up a large question collection over time and use that to change things up on old quizzes or make new ones.
  • Quizzes Can be Taken Using a Browser: Both systems allow students to take any quiz using a web browser–that is nice to have if a student doesn’t have his Ipad for some reason.

Some Differences between eClicker and Socrative

  • Cost: While the student app for both is free, the eClicker teacher app costs $9.99. Socrative’s teacher app is free.
  • Types of Questions: Both apps allow multiple choice questions. Socrative offers open-ended questions and eClicker does not. eClicker can put photos and drawings into questions which Socrative doesn’t.  Socrative features a team game mode and exit ticket mode and eClicker doesn’t have either of these.
  • Quiz Reports: eClicker reports can be emailed–but they are plain text files. Socrative will email reports that are in a spreadsheet and much easier to read.
  • Running the Quiz: While both systems have a student and teacher app, Socrative will allow a quiz to be started from the website while eClicker’s quizzes have to be started from the teacher’s Ipad. This may be a factor in what I noticed about stability/reliability which id discussed below.
  • Pacing: Quizzes on Socrative can progress according to a student’s own pace or by the teacher tapping the button to go to the next question. In eClicker the quiz questions change at a predetermined interval (which can be changed). Because the quiz had to be pushed from my Ipad, everyone had to be logged in and ready to go before the quiz could begin. With Socrative students didn’t have to wait on their classmates to login before they started.
  • Stability/Reliability: This is easily the most important piece of the puzzle for me. If I am going to use any kind of system, it has to be dependable and rock-solid in terms of reliability. Socrative was clearly better in this category. eClicker was a problem in every single class because students would disconnect or the app would freeze. In one class we never got to the point where the students got to actually take the quiz with eClicker. Before everyone could get logged in and I could launch the quiz, half the class would disconnect. And when they reconnected, the other half would drop out. In the other 3 classes which actually started taking the quiz, 3 or 4 students would freeze or disconnect in the middle of the quiz. This was never a problem with Socrative. When I asked each class which app they liked better, they all chose Socrative–probably because of this one problem area.

The Bottom Line

For what I want to do in my classroom, Socrative is the clear choice at this point. While it may not have absolutely everything I wished, it does enough that I can feel comfortable using it for some of the quizzes I give. Since it is a fairly new app, I hope that a future update will introduce the ability to include images with questions. I also really like the fact that it is totally free–I hope it stays that way.

I also wish that eClicker was more reliable and that I didn’t run into so many problems with maintaining connectivity with the students’ Ipads. I really like having that picture option. But with so many students getting disconnected it presents too many headaches at this time for me to use it. I hope they fix that in the future.

What Personal Response Systems or Smart Clickers do you use in your classroom? What system would you recommend? If you have used eClicker or Socrative what has your experience been?

As always feel free to leave comments, or questions. If you like this post or site, like it on Facebook, follow it on Twitter, subscribe, or share it with someone. The more, the merrier.

Link of the Week: Hack Education

Pile o' Paperclips

Pile o' Paperclips

A Blog for Teachers and Tech

I suppose I should start this week’s first post with an apology for last week. I only created one post last week because I was overcome by spring-break, the end of the grading period, and our final yearbook deadline. So please forgive my dear readers.

Since my first two post for Link of the week featured the authors Neil Gaiman and Orson Scott Card, I thought I would offer up something a little different this week. So, with that in mind, I thought I would provide a link to a blog I find very useful for information relating to technology use in education: Hack Education

Hack Education is a blog by Audrey Watters who, among other things, is a tech journalist and freelance writer. The blog provides very good insight into technology-in-the-classroom issues as well as looks at new technology that may be useful to students or teachers. I first ran across the blog because it sometimes pops up in my list of articles in Zite. After reading a couple of the articles, I bookmarked the site, subscribes to the RSS feed so that I wouldn’t miss a thing.

Hack Education also offers a weekly podcast–but at this point in time I haven’t listened to any of those because podcasts aren’t my thing usually–just to be honest.

Anyway, I enjoy the blog and hope you will as well.

 

As always feel free to leave comments, or questions. If you like this post or site, like it on Facebook, follow it on Twitter, subscribe, or share it with someone. The more, the merrier.

Link of the Week: Hatrack River

A Stack of Books

Some book on one of my classroom bookshelves

Another Favorite Author

Recently I decided to begin a weekly feature wherein I wrote a short post about blog or website that I particularly enjoy or find useful. This week’s post is the second in that series.

I chose the website of another favorite author, Orson Scott Card, as this week’s link. I decided to focus on Card’s website because of a recent incident involving  a who read from Card’s most famous book Ender’s Game being put on leave because a parent said it was pornographic. So, in response to what I consider the most ridiculous piece of news in awhile, this week’s link is for:

Hatrack River The Official Web Site of Orson Scott Card.

I became an instant fan of Card the first time I read Ender’s Game. I went on to red the sequels and the companion Shadow series; all of which served to solidify my status as a Card fan. For several years I have had my students read Ender’s Game and it may be the book they have enjoyed the most. It is a rarity for any of the students I have taught to say they did not enjoy the book. Many of them go on to read the other Ender books on their own. I can’t think of any other book I have ever used that fosters such interest or engagement.

Your's Truly with Orson Scott Card

Your's Truly with Orson Scott Card

I first ran across Card’s website when I began using the novel in class, and I also became an instant fan of it. While the bulk of the site is devoted to Card’s books, there is a section devoted to recent articles he has written as well as another section of research materials for students and teachers. The research section is what makes this site really stand out for me and I always recommend it to students who sometimes decide to write about Card or Ender’s Game for an assignment.

So, from a teacher’s standpoint it was an easy decision to make Hatrack River this week’s link. You should check it out sometime–it is worthy of a visit–or several.

Have you used any of Card’s book’s in your classroom? Which of Card’s books have you read? What is your favorite?

As always feel free to leave comments, or questions. If you like this post or site, like it on Facebook, follow it on Twitter, subscribe, or share it with someone. The more, the merrier.

Classroom Technology: What the Students Say

IPad, Apps, and Stylus

An Informal Survey

In a previous post I wrote about an informal survey where I planned to ask my students their thoughts about technology in the classroom. So, I decided this post would be about the students’ responses to my question. I didn’t conduct this as a formal essay where they could score things on a Likert Scale or choose from an array of responses to a number of questions; so, there won’t be any spiffy-looking pie charts or bar diagrams. I basically just asked the students to write a journal entry in response to the following:

How would you like to use technology in your education? Think about daily tasks as well as larger projects. What other technology–software, apps, hardware, devices–is out there that could be used? What technology do we already have that may be underutilized?

I tried to keep the question as wide-open as possible just so I could see what kinds of responses the students would give. As I said in the post where I discussed my plan to do this, I was hoping for some ideas that I could immediately us–but I wasn’t expecting that. I think what the students wrote did just that; I didn’t get any ideas or suggestions that I can immediately put into action. But, I did get some that provide some food- for-thought when it comes to planning for the future.

So, here is a run-down of their summarized responses separated into some basic categories.

Devices/Hardware They Wanted to Use

  • Phones-especially iPhones: The students who mentioned using phones said they wanted to use them to access information since they already use them for that outside of school. They also mentioned that they have their phones with them at all times.
  • Kindle: A lot of the students said they wanted digital textbooks in some form or another; but only a small number mentioned using a Kindle specifically
  • Video Cameras/Digital Cameras: This was another commonly mentioned item(s) among the students.
  • Ipads: Our school already has a 1-1 program using Ipads but they all wrote about their use of them. Almost all of the students said they liked using them. They also said 1 or 2 other things about the Ipad that I will discuss later in the post.
  • Laptops: A large number of students said they would like to use laptops–especially Macbooks. Several of the students who said they like using Ipads also said they would prefer using laptops. One student said that Ipads seem more “game oriented” and laptops had more of a “work feeling.” I thought that was in interesting view.
  • Console Gaming Systems: While only a few students mentioned using specific games systems, those that did said they could be used for educational purposes. But, none of them provided any specific examples or ideas of how to do that. I tend to agree with the thought that games–and even video games–can be used for educational purposes. For instance, I can imagine an assignment that has students write about how the world presented in a game like Assassin’s Creed compares with historical information. English teachers have an advantage in areas like this–we can easily adapt just about any topic into some sort of writing assignment.

Activities Wish List

I wasn’t really certain what to call this category but the idea or items listed here have to do with what my students said they wanted to start doing, or doing more frequently with technology and their schoolwork.

  • Photo Editing: Several students wrote that they would like the ability to do photo editing tasks as part of projects–or even have classes dedicated to photography and photo editing with Photoshop or similar programs.
  • Video Conference: Some students thought it would be educational to use Skype to talk to students in other schools or countries. Some students also mentioned using Skype for sick, or absent students.
  • Videos instead of Lectures: I found it interesting that some of my students were proposing a “flipped classroom” approach without using the actual term that is so hot and trending right now in education circles. A few of the students who mentioned video said the video would let them get a lecture at their own pace.
  • More research: Some students said that they wished they had more assignments that required them to conduct research on the internet now that they had the Ipads in class.
  • eTextboks: Almost every student who gave some kind of serious answer in their response mentioned that they wanted to use digital textbooks.
  • Apps for Grades: Some students wanted apps that would let them check their grades from their Ipads. I believe this is offered by some grading systems, but the service we use at our school only offers an app for faculty to use.
  • Interactive Whiteboards: The students who mentioned Promethean Boards or Smart Boards–any kind of IWB really–said that THEY wanted to use them instead of the teachers mainly using them.
  • Assessments: Another frequent “wish” students discussed in their responses is that they wanted to use the Ipad to take more tests and quizzes. This is also something I want to do as well.
  • Social Media: One student who wrote about this summed it up by saying they should use the websites they use every day in their life outside of school. Another student suggested using Twitter to discuss different topics in English class. Other students mentioned site like Reddit and 4chan.
  • Blogs: Some students proposed using blogs to turn in their assignments instead of paper or email. They thought this would make it easier for them to keep track of  and be aware of the assignments they had completed.
  • Virtual Dissections: A few students said they would prefer to do virtual dissections as opposed to the real thing.
  • Connectivity/Collaboration: One of the things that some students felt was underutilized in terms of their Ipads at my school is the ability to connect to other Ipads in order to do some group projects.

What Students Like about the Ipad in Class

  • Allows for more ways to take notes: Some students said they took photos of notes and others recorded audio as alternatives to the traditional writing.
  • Better ways to organize all their work for different classes
  • Having everything in one place–notes, assignments, planners, presentations, their work, etc.
  • Their grades improved: While this certainly isn’t the case for every students, there were some who felt that their grades improved from using the Ipad. I will hazard a guess and say that it is due to the organizational aspect many students liked.

Some Surprises

This last list is for some of the things students said, admitted, or suggested that surprised me in one way or another.

  • Powerpoints are overdone: Some students felt these are used too often and a few even said they felt like they weren’t very good at using them when giving a presentation.
  • The Good and the Bad of Technology and the Ipad: Several students said that technology made education less boring; and just as many would often go on to write that it could also be a distraction.
  • Real World Applications: One student wrote that however we use technology in the class its use should be geared towards real world applications they will face in their future. I thought this was pretty forward-looking for a teenage student to write about.
  • Tools don’t benefit the student: Another student wrote that is didn’t really matter if they used a laptop, or Ipad, or some other gadget. What really mattered was the software, apps, and services they had access to and what they were asked to do with it that really benefited them. I was really blown away when I read that.
  • Use the Ipad for the traditional school-wide announcements: Probably the most unexpected suggestion on how to use the Ipad came from one student who said the administration should use the built-in Messages app in iOS5 to make the announcements that usually come over the PA system. I just thought this was a really good idea that I like a lot–it might be a bit tricky to pull off though.

So, those are some of the things students mentioned in response to my question about how they want to use technology in their education. It certainly isn’t the most scientific approach, but it does give me some things to think about.

What do your students think about technology in the classroom? What types of tech do they want to use? What types do they use?

As always feel free to leave comments, or questions. If you like this post or site, like it on Facebook, follow it on Twitter, subscribe, or share it with someone. The more, the merrier.

Textbooks on the Ipad: McGraw Hill Physics

My iPad 2

Taking a Looking at One of the New iBooks Textbooks

A couple of weeks ago a colleague came to me and said that the administration at our school wanted us to take a look at some of the new digital textbooks offers through iBooks. I’m sure both of us would have preferred being able to play around with some really slick, cool, feature-laden digital Literature textbook. But that isn’t an option at this stage of Apple’s push into the textbook world. So, we decided to look at a couple of the science offerings. Because she also has a degree in Biology, she decided to look at McGraw Hill‘s Biology textbook. You can read her thoughts on that book at her blog awritablelife. You really should check it out; she is far more eloquent than your’s truly.

I opted to check out McGraw Hill’s Physics Principles and Problems because I was a physics major in a former life.

First Impressions

Once I had the book installed on the Ipad, it just took a few swipes and taps to learn how to navigate through this new form textbook. The first major thing I noticed is that there are some differences when looking at the book in landscape (horizontal) mode vs portrait (vertical mode). In portrait mode I would get a table-of-contents when I performed  pinching gesture on the screen. The sections within a chapter could be viewed by tapping the arrow for a drop-down menu.

Using the same pinching gesture used in landscape brings up a side-scrolling, thumbnail view of the pages for a chapter. You can also side-scroll through the chapters in this orientation and vertically scroll through a list of topics for each of the chapters as you come to it. As I played around with the book for awhile I realized that I preferred the landscape view better because there are images that only appear when the book is oriented this way. Additionally, the other graphics used throughout the book seemed more prominent and part of the text as opposed to their smaller, thumbnail versions in the margins when using the vertical orientation.

Interactive Features

Perhaps one of the biggest promises, or selling points, advocates of digital textbooks point out is that the new era of textbooks will offer features not possible with traditional print textbooks. The McGraw Hill Physics book offers lots of images that you can enlarge for a better view along with interactive images that are usually used to animate some physics principle. Some images are actually slideshows. I frequently found myself tapping on every image I ran across just to see if it did something else. Just having the possibility of something extra existing beyond the surface invited exploration and engagement. The book also has embedded videos throughout the book. Entering the term “video” into the search tool returned 25 results labeled as enrichment videos.

Another feature in the book is that each chapter has a set of built-in study cards covering essential terms. What makes this function even better is that when a student highlights text, it automatically gets saved into the study cards for that chapter. The highlighting function is very easy to use and appears to be the same as with other books in iBooks: if you tap and hold on a word, you can select some options from a menu which allows for the highlight color to be changed and/or adding a note linked to the highlighted text. If you hold on a word and just slide you finger across the words, you automatically highlight, or underline,  them with the last color used–I found this to be easier than highlighting on a Kindle.

The search function for the textbook works just like it does for any book on the major ereaders–it allows you to search the web or Wikipedia for your search term.

The interactivity of the book is also seen at the end of each chapter section where students can take a section self-check quiz consisting of 5 questions. An 8 question assessment practice can be found at the end of each chapter along with a standardized test practice. In addition to these self-grading checks, there are traditional static assessments at the end of each chapter.

Some Basic Info

While interactivity and video in a textbook are the flashy, shiny items that we look for when first navigating through a digital textbook, it is the content that is the really the heart of any textbook. The McGraw Hill Physics book does have this as well. The book is divided into 30 chapters as follows:

  • A Physics Toolkit
  • Representing Motion
  • Accelerated Motion
  • Forces in One Dimension
  • Displacement and Forces in Two Dimensions
  • Motion in Two Dimensions
  • Gravitation
  • Rotational Motion
  • Momentum and Its Conservation
  • Work, Energy, and Machines
  • Energy and Its Conservation
  • Thermal Energy
  • States of Matter
  • Vibrations and Waves
  • Sound
  • Fundamentals of Light
  • Reflections and Mirrors
  • Refraction and Lenses
  • Interference and Diffraction
  • Static Electricity
  • Electric Current
  • Series and Parallel Circuits
  • Electromagnetic Induction
  • Electromagnetism
  • Quantum Theory
  • The Atom
  • Sold-State Electronics
  • Nuclear and Particle Physics

Admittedly, it has been a long time since I have looked at a Physics book, but these topics do seem to cover the basics I would expect in a high school physics text.  Each chapter also has the lab experiments and practice problems you would find in a traditional print textbook. I wish I had access to a current print copy of the McGraw Hill Physics textbook to see if both versions were the same in terms of organization, experiments, and practice problems.

Some Cautions–and 1 Curiosity

While there are many good, or even great, aspects to the textbook, I think I should mention a few things I noticed that did give me pause (these are in no particular order):

  • It took some time to download. It took me about an hour to download; whether that was due to its large file size, or traffic, I can’t be sure.
  • The file size of the book is big. 1.22 GB to be precise. Some of the other new textbooks in iBooks are over 2.5 GB. A student with 4 or 5 textbooks in their iBooks library may find themselves running low on available space on the Ipad. I would think the file sizes will increase as publishers optimize their offerings for the higher resolution screen of the new Ipad.
  • There are typos. While I gave up hope of ever finding a completely error-free book of any type a long time ago, I thought I should point out that I did find some typos.
  • Some reviewers say they found errors in the section self-check quizzes. I didn’t notice any errors in any of the quizzes I tried, but since I did not try every single self-check quiz in the book, I thought I should mention this also.
  • Missing Video. One of the first experiments in the book gives instruction to watch a video–but there is no video provided. That seems like a pretty serious error or oversight.
  • Teacher Edition? One question that kept coming to mind as I looked through the book is “What does a teacher do about a teacher’s edition of thetextbook?” There isn’t one in the iBooks store and I haven’t been able to find an answer online so far.
  • Why is Everyone in the Videos British? This isn’t so much a caution, but a question born of curiosity. Given that McGraw Hill’s corporate headquarters and office for the education division are in New York, along with the fact that the textbook incorporates US National Standards in the book, I just found it odd that everyone in the videos were British. There isn’t really anything wrong with that, it is just something I wasn’t expecting.

Final Impressions

Overall I would have to say that I liked the textbook. The portability, ease of navigation, tools, and interactive features sold me on this 21st century textbook. Even with the cautions I mentioned above, this seems like a pretty good textbook to me–especially for a first attempt at a tablet friendly version of a textbook. I can only imagine that better versions of digital textbooks will be developed as publishers push into digital platforms. The one thing that will lead to the inevitable adoption and spread of digital textbooks will be the price. I would imagine that it would be hard for an administrator to pass up a $15 science textbook.

Yes, for schools that do not have a 1-1 iPad program getting an iPad for every student and then buying a digital textbook would be more expensive than just buying new, traditional, print textbooks. But for schools planning on starting a 1-1 program, why would they get the iPads and stick with a print version of a textbook? That would mean they are spending more money. As for schools that already have a 1-1 iPad program, it would seem pretty hard for them to pass up a digital version when it comes time to adopt new textbooks for a subject.

What are you thoughts about digital textbooks? What are your impressions of the textbooks for the iPad?

As always feel free to leave comments, or questions. If you like this post or site, like it on Facebook, follow it on Twitter, subscribe, or share it with someone. The more, the merrier.

Educational Videos on the IPad

IPad, Apps, and Stylus

Educational Videos are Everywhere

I’m just going to do a short post today because I am working on a couple of longer posts for Thursday and Friday.

Over the last couple of weeks it seems that you can’t go too far while surfing around the internet without running into another announcement about a new site or Ipad app dedicated to educational videos. Seriously. It is no wonder that the concept of the “flipped classroom” is such a hot topic.

While the amount of video players available for the Ipad would make for an impressive–and lengthy–list, here is a list of 4 of the most prominent, or promising sources for watching educational videos on the Ipad. The 3 apps and 1 website listed here are all free.

  • Khan Academy The increasingly popular education video site recently debuted its app for the Ipad in Apple’s App Store.
  • Smithsonian Channel This app gives you access to streaming HD videos from the Smithsonian Channel. You can choose between featured videos or creating your own channel based around content areas that interest you. Some of the videos are short segments pulled from longer programs and some full-length videos of entire shows are featured.
  • TED Great videos of some of the world’s leading thinkers in just about every field.
  • Youtube for Schools Youtube has created an option for educators to use in the classroom that limits the content to educational videos while getting rid of the videos that gets Youtube blocked at many schools.

Personally, I like using videos in the classroom because they usually grab the students’ attention. I have used videos for everything from King Arthur, to author biographies, to full films (when covering some basic film study with a college credit class). As much as I have used them over the years, I have always thought that I could use them better, or in a smarter way. But, access has always been a problem. Some options require having a subscription to a service while others required just buying the video outright.

My hope now rests with the seemingly increasing number of free options making their way to the web or the app store. I should probably start investing some time into researching for specific videos that apply to my classes to use in the future. That will probably take some substantial time to do, but at least the future is looking is looking brighter for the options to choose from.

What educational video apps or services do you use in the classroom? How do you integrate videos into your classes? What do your students think about the use of video in the classroom?

As always feel free to leave comments, or questions. If you like this post or site, like it on Facebook, follow it on Twitter, subscribe, or share it with someone. The more, the merrier.

Blog Link of the Week: Neil Gaiman

Pens and pencils on my desk

Pens and pencils on my desk

I spend a lot of time reading. Big surprise big surprise since I am an English teacher. One thing I have noticed since starting this blog is that I read more and more material that is online. Whether it is surfing around looking for inspiration, or information, or interesting blogs, the list of blogs and sites I like to revisit continues to grow and grow. With that in mind, I thought I would start sharing some of my favorite links to various locations around the web. This post is the first in what I intend to be a regular, weekly feature.

As a reader, English teacher, and wanna-be writer, words hold a special power over me. Well, saying that it is the words that have the power is probably a bit misleading. The real power comes from the ideas–and the transmitting of those ideas from one person to another through markings on a page, or screen. It should come as no surprise then that writers grab my attention rather easily. Some more than others. Professional writers who give us a glimpse into a life filled with writing usually make it into my bookmarks or favorites folder. And that is where I am going to start this new weekly feature, with the author Neil Gaiman.

Here is the link to Gaiman’s blog: Neil Gaiman’s Journal. His official website can be found here: neilgaiman.com. I must admit that I didn’t really visit either of those two sites until I started following Gaiman on Twitter.

Gaiman frequently tweets and updates his blog. So, getting a glimpse into the life of a professional writer is pretty easy and entertaining with his tweets and posts. He covers just about everything–from his current projects to things that inspire him.

So, whether you are looking for inspiration, insight,  or entertainment, visiting Neil Gaiman’s blog is a sure win.

Which writers have blogs that you like to visit? Which authors do you follow on Twitter?

As always, please feel free to leave a comment, ask a question, give some advice, or tell me to shut up. If you like this post, or blog, please follow it on Facebook or Twitter, subscribe to it, or share it with a friend. The more, the merrier.