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.

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.

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.

3 Ways the iPad Can Improve Your Classroom

IPad, Apps, and Stylus

IPad, Apps, and Stylus

Every teacher wants to improve the life inside the classroom–for both student and teacher. While I do not consider myself an expert on using the iPad in the classroom, I thought I would post some ideas about how it can improve some aspects of life in the classroom. The following suggestions come from my experiences thus far with using Ipads in my classroom. At my school we are almost 3/4ths of the way through our first year with a 1-1 iPad program with our students.

Better Classroom Management

One of the impacts the iPad had on my classroom that I noticed is that it got me moving around more. By using the Splashtop Whiteboard app to control my laptop and thus control the interactive whiteboard in my room, I can move around the room more and monitor my students’ activity. Just the simple act of not having my back turned to the class helps keep students on task. Being able to more around more also allows for more 1-1 interaction with students who might have a question about something being discussed or on the board. Any teacher will tell  you that being able to keep an eye on what is happening in the classroom is a good thing. The iPad definitely helps with that.

Improved Assignment Collection and Distribution

In a previous post I’ve written that one of the first things I wanted to try with the 1-1 iPad program at my school was make my classroom as paperless as possible. I am still sticking to that move and don’t see any way I would go back to handling my assignments the traditional pen and paper way. The biggest benefit when it comes to distributing assignments digitally through email is that students who are absent get the assignment faster. They don’t have to come track me down and get a slip of paper in order to get their assignment–it is already in their inbox.

Emailing the assignments also allows the students to plan ahead with a little less stress when they know ahead of time when they will miss class. Recently a senior came to inform me that they were going to be absent later in the week. As he started to ask what assignments he would miss for that day, he stopped himself before finishing the question and said, “Wait. I’ll just be sure to check my email and get it from there.”

As far as collecting assignments goes, having every assignment turned in as either an email or a blog posting cuts down on the size of stacks of paper on my desk. Usually the only stack on my desk is a test or quiz. To keep track of blog assignments I use Feeddler Pro to aggregate the feeds from my students’ blogs. I have them sorted into class period and can tell who has posted the assignment with just one quick glance.

Most typical homework assignments are turned in via email. By using a Gmail account set up just for homework,  every assignment is available for review whenever, and wherever, internet access exists.  Gone are the days of lugging home stacks of homework to sort through. Setting up folders (labels in Gmail) keeps things organized and setting up filters to auto-sort incoming emails really saves a lot of time.

Implement Student Portfolios

I’ve always loved the idea of having student portfolios. I’ve never been crazy about–or very good at–keeping up with them. Folders and binders take up room and are a pain to look through. Bringing the iPad into the classroom makes the creation, storage, and review of portfolios a lot easier to implement. In fact, it is almost impossible to pass up the opportunity. Just by having students use their iPads to turn in their assignments via email which I  then sort into folders, I unwittingly created portfolios for every student. I have every assignment every student has turned in for the whole year available with a couple of touches or swipes on the iPad screen. That can come in pretty handy when it is time for parent-teacher conferences.

Having assignments on a blog is also pretty handy. The research project for my senior literature class is going to be on the students’ blogs instead of being submitted in a folder or binder. No need to worry about where the projects can be stored.

Having assignments on the blog also can help with parent communication. Twice this year I have had a parent ask about a low grade for a blog assignment. I was able to send the url for the student’s blog to their parent as part of the response I emailed. This allowed the parent to see for themselves that the post was either late or was not done.

Another option some teachers use for creating student portfolios is Evernote.

At the start of this post I stated that I don’t consider myself an expert at using the iPad in the classroom–I am always looking for new ways to improve any aspect of my students’ experience in my classes. So, if you have any ideas on how to do that, please share them.

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.

My Dirty Little iPad Secret

My clean iPad screen

My clean iPad screen

I guess if I was going to file this post away in a filing cabinet, it would have to go in a folder labeled “Confessions”. I freely admit that I am a bit of a strange guy. Especially when it comes to some things. There are aspects of my personality and how I do things in regards to certain situations that don’t correspond in a neat, tidy, linear 1-1 fashion to similar situations in other aspects of my life.

The case in point here is my iPad screen. Or, more precisely, my almost OCD-like compulsion that my screen be sparkling clean at all times.  This is definitely one of those areas that doesn’t track with other areas of my life. Anyone who knows me can tell that I am not in any way fastidious about how I dress, my housekeeping, or my car.  But, for some strange reason, my iPad screen has fallen into that strange, Twilight Zone-esque category of things that just have to be a certain way.

Given the way that the iPad is designed to work, I fear this could be the proverbial straw on the camel’s back. All this swiping, tapping, and pinching may push me over a smeared, smudged, finger print covered edge into the loony bin. But I won’t go without a fight.

I am almost always armed with some sort of electronic friendly moist towelette, microfiber cloth, or fancy looking dust swiping device of some sort.  Oh OK, I’ll admit it–I usually have all 3 of those things within easy reach. And a stylus.

My preferred form of electronics dusting towelette is actually ones that come in individual packets. The ones I normally use are actually for eyeglasses–at least that is what it says on the box. They do an excellent job: no streaking-very nice. I once tried some that came in a large container and was supposedly meant for gamers; they were marketed towards gamers for certain. I hated them. They left little fibers all over the screen. It was agony.

This week I decided to try some that came in a large container that also had a micro-fiber cloth in a special compartment in the lid. Wet clean and then dry. It is heavenly. No steaks or fibers anywhere. My only complaint is that I can’t get the towelettes to stay poked-up through the X-shaped slot on the dispensing side of the lid.  But I may be able to live with that.

In class one day I asked a student to show me something on the iPad. When they held the device up, I found myself looking at a screen encrusted with what can only be described as Cheetos dust. A substantial layer. Thick. Formidable. And alive with finger prints. I still have night terrors about that moment.

So there it is: my dirty little iPad secret. I have iPad clean screen OCD. Oops, gotta go. I think I see a smudge.