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.

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.

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.

A Great New IPad App for Students and Teachers

IPad with Khan Academy App

Khan Academy for the IPad

Sunday evening saw the release of the Khan Academy app for the Ipad. As soon as I ran across the announcement that it had been released on the App Store, I immediately installed it because I knew a lot of students and teachers would be interested in it. I wonder if it is a coincidence that the app’s release came on the same evening that Khan Academy was featured in a story on 60 Minutes? Probably not.

As a teacher I find the whole idea of Khan Academy very exciting. There is no doubt that it is a great resource for students and teachers. It is also understandable to see how Khan Academy has really set a fire under the concept of the “flipped” classroom. As an English and Journalism teacher, I am bummed out that there really isn’t anything there for “my” subjects. Maybe that will change in the future–I sure hope so. But despite the lack of videos for English or Journalism classrooms, the app will surely be a major resource for many students and teachers when it comes to Math and Science–with some Social Studies thrown in there as well.

As for the app itself, the biggest benefit are that the videos are downloadable so students can save them on the IPad and watch them whenever–even if they aren’t connected to the internet. Another plus is that Khan Academy probably isn’t blocked at most schools like Youtube. I tried out a couple of videos after I installed it and it worked really well. The videos loaded pretty quick even over my not-so-great broadband card. I also liked having a transcript of the video’s contents on the screen which would scroll along as the video played. The controls are pretty easy to figure out and anyone who has played a video on the IPad shouldn’t have a problem figuring it out. Below is the screen as I was watching a video about SOPA/PIPA. Please excuse the quality but I can’t take screenshots on my IPad at the moment because when our school set them up over the summer the one for me was given a profile that locked out the screenshot function–and now no one can figure out how to get rid of the profile because it is encrypted. At this point it looks like I would have to do a full wipe of the IPad to get rid of the pesky profile.

A shot of the Khan Academy app running

A shot of the Khan Academy app running running on an IPad2

So far the videos listed in the app’s main menu cover the following areas:

  • Math
  • Science
  • Humanities & Other
  • Test Prep
  • Talks and Interviews

Under these main categories you can choose video which cover the following:

  • Arithmetic and Pre-Algebra
  • Algebra
  • Geometry
  • Trigonometry
  • Probability
  • Statistics
  • Precalculus
  • Calculus
  • Differential Equations
  • Linear Algebra
  • Brain Teasers
  • Vi Hart
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Healthcare and Medicine
  • Cosmology and Astronomy
  • Computer Science
  • Physics
  • SAT Math
  • GMAT
  • CAHSEE
  • California Standards Test
  • Competition Math
  • IIT JEE
  • Singapore Math
  • History
  • American Civics
  • Art History
  • Finance

Under each of those there really are too many subcategories and videos to list here; but you get the idea.

One weird thing i noticed when looking through all the categories and subcategories is that when you get to the Art History section and begin looking through its various listed eras is that there aren’t any videos actually listed. I am not sure if this is a bug or something to come soon.

Overall I think this is going to be a great app for students and teachers which will only get stronger as they add to the number of available videos and functions for the app. If I was a Math or Science teacher I would probably add this to my list of favorite apps. If they do ever add some videos for English, Grammar, Literature, or Journalism, I may end up adding it then along with my list of apps I use in my classroom.

What are your impressions of Khan Academy? What do you think of the app? What are some subjects you wish they would add?

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.

Tuesday: 5 Favorite Blog Posts

My clean iPad screen

My clean iPad screen

For today’s post I thought I would do a quick roundup of some blog posts that caught my attention at various times throughout the day.

Anyway, these are just a few posts from other blogs I found interesting and thought I would share. Enjoy.

10 iPad Apps Every Teacher with a Blog Needs

My iPad

My iPad

Apps for the Blogging Teacher

In previous posts I have thrown out lists of my favorite apps, apps for teachers, apps for yearbook staffs, and websites for yearbook advisers and students. So, today I thought I would post a list of apps that teachers with blogs might find useful since a great deal of teachers use blogs in the classroom, run their own blog, or do both.

When I started thinking about the iPad apps to put on the list, I decided that I would include apps I use to create posts or pages, help manage the content, or find and store ideas. So, for better or for worse, here it is:

  1. Blogsy ($4.99) There are times when I don’t feel like sitting at a desk or having my laptop restrict my positioning on the couch. So, when these moments hit–and they are becoming more frequent–I can use Blogsy to write and publish my blog posts. It is a pretty cool blogging app that supports multiple blogs for platforms like WordPress, Blogger, Posterous, and Typepad just to name a few. It also makes it easy to insert photos and videos from Picasa, Flickr, and Youtube even if you have multiple accounts at those sites. This is a pretty handy, robust little app when the full-on couch potato mode kicks in.
  2. Diigo Browser (free) A nifty little browser app that lets me highlight and make notes on material from web pages and then save them to my Diigo account. I originally set up the Diigo account to experiment with social bookmarking, but it quickly dawned on me that I could use in conjunction with my blog as one more weapon in my arsenal of tools that lets me save bits of the web for ideas.
  3. Feeddler (free for lite version, $4.99 for Pro version) Whether you follow a multitude of blogs for personal reasons, or need to keep track of student blogs, an app for RSS feed aggregation is a must in my book. This one is my personal favorite.
  4. Twittelator ($4.99) If you use Twitter in conjunction with your blog at all–be it to promote your blog through social media or to simply provide some additional, quick content, Twittelator is an easy app to use for whatever your Twitter needs may be. It is a really nice looking app and is very good at switching between multiple Twitter accounts.
  5. Dropbox (free) I’ve said it before and I will say it again now: I don’t know how I would get through a typical day without using Dropbox. I move a ton of stuff between my laptop and iPad. If you need to do a lot of file juggling, this is the way to go.
  6. Photoshop Express (free) I have been a heavy Photoshop user for years as a result of being a yearbook adviser. And I will admit the idea of using anything with the name “Photoshop” on anything other than a full-blown desktop or laptop still seems strange. That being said, if you need to do a quick crop, noise filter, or other basic adjustment to a photo on your iPad, this app easily gets it done. That is pretty handy if you want all of the photos to be yours so that you don’t have to worry about copyright issues.
  7. Pages ($9.99) As far as my blog goes, Pages comes into play because I keep a list of possible blog topics that I add something to almost every day. I started the list on my laptop using Word, but I decided to upload it to my Dropbox just so that I can get to it on my iPad. Pages lets me add to or edit the list if I don’t have my laptop with me when an idea strikes.
  8. Zite (free) The last 3 apps on the list all fall into the category of apps I use to find and store inspiration or ideas. The Zite app creates a personal magazine for me from a list a topics I choose. I read through it everyday at some point and when I find an article that strikes a chord I can either email to myself or save it using Instapaper or Read It Later. When I run out of memory on the iPad I am sure it will be because of all the articles I have saved after finding them on this app.
  9. Pinterest (free) This app is for the latest hot trend in social media. Pinterest is the fastest growing social media site that has come around in awhile. By letting members clip–or pin–bits of web sites to personal boards they share with others, Pinterest enables people to become curators of information on the web. This app lets you access your account so you can look at what you or your friends have put on their boards–another place to go for ideas and inspiration. Some experts in the Social Media field are saying Pinterest is becoming just as vital to blog promotion as Twitter and Facebook.
  10. Springpad (free) This is the newest app to make it onto my iPad. Springpad is another app that lets you save bits of the web to an account which you can access either through the app or through a web browser on a computer. The twist that Springboard brings to the game is that it tracks prices of all sorts of things–music, movies, books, restaurants, etc. It also has a built-in barcode scanner function if you need to find out prices. While bar code scanning might not affect me that much, I can see how some blogging teachers might find it useful. Oh, Springboard also has a built in audio recorder that could be pretty useful for a blogger.

Well, there it is. I have no pretense that this list is the end-all, be-all list of apps for teachers with blogs. So, if you are a teacher who blogs, what apps do you use or suggest? If you are a blogger of any sort, what apps do you like?  Please feel free to comment, like, or share this post as you see fit. Thanks.

13 Apps I Use as a Teacher

iPad 3G and iPad Wi-Fi

Image by Yutaka Tsutano via Flickr

Just the other day I posted a list of the iPad Apps I use in a personal capacity; so, I thought I would make a list of the apps I regularly use as a teacher. These are in no particular order.

My Favorite Teacher Apps

  1. Goodreader: This is just an awesome app for reading and annotating PDF files. I can give feedback on student essays, mark up pages from the textbook, present documents with the projector and write on them. I use this every day for something. This has been a big part of my attempt to go paperless in my classroom.
  2. Feeddler Pro: I use this RSS feed aggregator to easily track all of my students’ blogs for my classes. I group them by period and can tell by looking at the list for each period who has posted their assignment. I can then drill down from the app and go to their blog if I need to.
  3. Calculator Pro: I like having a big honkin’ calculator right there whenever I need it. This one is pretty handy. I got the pro version just so I wouldn’t have to look at ads.
  4. Dropbox: This is another app I use everyday. It makes moving files from my laptop to the iPad so easy. Not having this app would seriously diminish what I do everyday. I always have to move something.
  5. Pages: At first I was a little skeptical about a word processor on the iPad, but I find myself using this more and more.
  6. Keynote: I just like the simplicity of this Powerpoint alternative.
  7. Splashtop Whiteboard: I have an interactive whiteboard in my room. So, I hook up the laptop to the board and projector-run the little Splashtop piece of software on the laptop-fire up this app on the iPad and–Boom–I can write or type on the board from anywhere in the room. Plus, I can control my laptop from anywhere in the room.  Definitely one of my favorite apps.
  8. Kindle: I use this for just about all of the additional readings like novels that I assign.
  9. Instapaper: I use this to save articles I find on the web I think about using for class.
  10. PDF Printer: I got this out of necessity. As I mentioned above, I use Goodreader to provide feedback on essays. Well, at the start of the year I found myself in need of this app to convert their submitted files into a PDF just so I could get them into Goodreader and use all of its tools to write on their submissions.
  11. iPad Mail: It may seem a bit silly to include this on the list, but I like being able to see all the folders for my school account and the gmail account I set up for collecting homework at the same time. It also makes it very easy to move things into different folders, or even to the other account.
  12. Safari: I like the built-in browser Apple has on the iPad. So far I haven’t felt the need to use another browser app.
  13. Notes Plus: I am constantly jotting down things and this app fills the bill. I can sort things into different notebooks and I really like the handwriting ability.

Well, there it is: my list of favorite apps as a teacher.  There are some others I use, and I am always trying out new ones, but these are the ones I use regularly, if not daily.

Let me know which apps you like to use. I am always looking for the next great app.