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?

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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
  • California Standards Test
  • Competition Math
  • 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?

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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.

Friday’s App: Stuck on Earth

IPad, Apps, and Stylus

IPad, Apps, and Stylus

A Coincidental Discovery

I like Fridays to be easy going and laid back. So, it is in that spirit that today’s post debuts. One subject that I have not written about yet is photography. This is a subject that plays an important aspect of my teaching life and my personal life. I have always been a bit of a camera nut, but once I became a yearbook adviser my interest in photography went into overdrive.

Over the years I have spent an obscene amount of time on the internet looking for tips and techniques to help me become a better photographer. I scour website after website and devour article after article in an ongoing pursuit to capture that one great image. So, I am always on the lookout for whatever may help me in that endeavor. And that is what this post is really about: a recent finding.

About a week ago I was reading a photography article that Zite collected for me. The article was some blog’s weekly roundup post and it mentioned the app Stuck on Earth from Trey Ratcliff. The name sounded familiar, but I couldn’t immediately place it and decided to install the app and try it out. Once the app was installed, I realized why Trey Ratcliff’s name sounded familiar.

A couple of years ago I was invited to chaperone the senior class trip to Disney World. In preparation for the trip I dug around on the internet looking for tips on photographing fireworks. One of the sites I ran across was Stuck in Customs…by Trey Ratcliff. Even you have never visited this site, you need to go there…NOW. I would honestly recommend this website for anyone. If you are a photographer, then you will find the tutorials–especially the ones about HDR–very helpful. If you just like to look at INCREDIBLE images, then you will enjoy the site as well. And who doesn’t enjoy looking at incredible photos? One word of warning for my fellow photography hobbyists out there: the website will make you feel totally inadequate.

About the App: Stuck on Earth

My curiosity about the app Stuck on Earth came from its description in that article as a tool for discovering places to photograph near the user’s location. That immediately appealed to my ongoing–and highly procrastinated–desire to “just go wondering around sometime and take tons of photos.” Once I installed the app and started playing around, it fed that desire to just wonder around taking photos like someone had thrown gas on a fire.

Stuck on Earth is a visually beautiful app–even before you begin looking at the photos. Hands down, t is one of the best looking apps I have on my iPad. The app gives you a map of the Earth which you can scroll and zoom around on to the destination of your choice. Map markers then populate the map with attached photos which you can browse through. For example, if I zoom the map in on Nashville, TN markers start popping up with photos. I can then look at all of the photos associated with a particular marker–let’s say: the Parthenon in Centennial Park. I can then browse through a collection of photos users have taken at the Parthenon and see what notes they have written on their photo. The app will also give me directions to a location if I want them.  I think that is pretty handy since I am fairly directionally challenged and usually don’t know how to get anywhere. I need a planned route when it comes to things like this.

All of the photos I have looked at for various locations are extremely good–it doesn’t look like just any old photo makes the cut to be in the app. Apparently the photos are chosen from a curated Flickr community with editors.  To me that just keeps the inspiration level high for the photos–and that is what I want. I want to be inspired. Plus having the photos and locations so readily available enables me to try and replicate the shot.

One aspect of the app that I have not explored much is the travel side. Users can create and save trips for destinations which are shareable with other users.  There is also a travel guide voiced by a professional actress. I usually have the sound turned off on my iPad so I really can’t say much about what the travel guide does.

Although I got the app for personal use, I do see how it could be used by students. If a student was doing some type of project where they were learning about some local location, this app could be very useful. It can give them photos to look at so that they know what to look for and it can give them directions.

If you are a photographer looking for inspiration, a traveler looking for a destination, or just someone who likes to look at great images, then Stuck on Earth is a must-have app.

What apps do you use for photography? Feel free to comment with any ideas or suggestions; I am always happy to get feedback.

iPad, Apps, and the Yearbook

My iPad 2

My iPad 2

Using the iPad in a Yearbook Class

It seems pretty obvious to me that the iPad has impacted my English classes the most so far. The 1 -1 program allowed me to move towards a paperless classroom mainly by changing the way I distribute and collect assignments in those classes. While ideas on how to use it in an English class came pretty fast and furious when the administration announced the plan, ideas on how to use it in my journalism class, and, by extension, the yearbook were a little harder to develop. In a lot of ways they still are.

But it is the possibilities of how the iPad might provide some change in the journalism class, the yearbook production process, and the yearbook itself that keeps whispering in the back of my mind. I can’t quite make out the whispers, but I think they are hinting at some big changes in the future.

While I have already mused about what the iPad and ebooks might mean for the yearbook of the future, I still want to figure out some ways to use it now that engages my yearbook staff more, makes their tasks easier, and transforms our yearbook. Is that too much to ask?

I suppose I have a hard time envisioning ways to use the iPad to do a lot of yearbook tasks in a new way because, in some aspects, our yearbook program has been pretty tech centered for years. Many of the practices that are new to my English classes this year are an old hat in the yearbook class. The staff creates the book online. I send messages to the staff via our yearbook company’s online program. The staffers write all of their articles on computers in the lab. They save them on the school network and email them to me. Bringing in the iPad doesn’t seem to offer anything that warrants changing so far. As for the biggest and most important activity: creating the page`s, that can not be done on the iPad because our online design program requires Flash.

Despite my desire for a game changing impact involving the iPad and the yearbook, I do recognize that there are some apps that yearbook staffs may find useful.`So, think of the following as possible starting points while we wait for the revolution.

iPad Apps for Yearbook Staffs

  • The iPad camera: While the built-in camera on the iPad too isn’t all that great for yearbook purposes, the photos it takes can be used on a spread if you keep them small. My staff sometimes uses these when a small mugshot is needed to go with a quote. They also use it to make videos for something new we are trying–more about that later in the post.
  • Notes: The biggest plus for this app is that it is built in. So, if a student doesn’t want to buy an app for taking notes, this will work. As for how staff members might use it, Notes is good for writing to-do lists for their assigned spreads or writing out interview questions.
  • Pages: The staff can use this solid word processing app for writing articles. Setting up questionnaire handouts is another good use for this app.
  • Notablity: If staff members want to invest in a more robust app for taking notes, this is a good one to get. With handwriting recognition and audio recording options available, this app is good for interviewing people.
  • Smugmug: My staff uses this app to quickly view photos we store in a Smugmug account. It definitely makes life easier when several people are trying to choose photos at the same time–no need to worry about printing contact sheets or fighting to get on the one computer housing the photos.
  • Flickr or Picasa Apps: The adviser for my school’s elementary yearbook uses Picasa to easily get photos from parents. If you want to give crowd-sourcing a try for more photos, then setting up an account through either Flickr or Picasa may be a good option. There are a multitude of apps that can access either of these photo sharing sites, so choosing which to use probably boils down to personal preference.

Apps for New Yearbook Features

It may seem a little strange to list video editing apps when talking about yearbooks, but I am mentioning them because of something new my yearbook staff is trying for this year’s book. We are going to use QR codes in our book to add an interactive element and expand coverage.  We haven’t announced this to the student body; so–sshhh–it’s a secret.

We decided to create QR codes that students can scan using their iPads, or smartphones, which will then take them to collections of extra photos, videos, slideshows, polls, our yearbook’s Facebook page, and possibly a yearbook Twitter page.  So, these are some apps that can come in handy for a staff wanting to try something similar.

  • iMovie: Apple’s video editing app makes it easy for staff members to edit video anywhere they go. They don’t have to be chained to a desktop in the lab.
  • Avid Studio: Avid’s video editing app was recently released and comes with some pretty high expectations.
  • QR Code City Scan: This is the app I installed in order to test things when we started discussing the possibility of using QRC codes in the book. It is reliable and I haven’t had any problems with it at all.
  • QR Code Generator: This is the app I use to make the QRC codes which will appear in our  yearbook. I had never used a QRC code, much less tried making one, when we started down this path and I was cranking out QRC codes within 2 or 3 minutes of installing it. Once the code is ready, I save it into the iPad’s camera roll; then I just email it to myself and upload it to our online yearbook program from my laptop.

Well, there it is. Some possible ways to use the iPad and apps in conjunction with the yearbook. While most of the apps listed aren’t the sort of game-changing event I think may be in the yearbook’s near future, they are at least a start.

What apps does your yearbook staff use? What are some apps that you think can be helpful for staffs putting together a yearbook?  Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Input and feedback is always welcome.