Saturday, January 4, 2014

Eight Questions I Ask Before an App Can Stay on Student iPads

For the past couple of years I've been really fortunate to have access to iPads in my classroom.  The increased access to this mobile technology has provided my students with that many more individualized opportunities to show and share their learning.   Now if you're new to this blog you may not realize that student choice and voice is something I believe very strongly about. Very strongly.  This means I am constantly looking for apps that  allow my students to learn, show, and share their knowledge in innovative ways.  As a result I purchase and download many, many iPad apps for my work iPad. I take them for a test drive sort of speak before they make their way onto the iPads my students have access to.  The reality is very few apps I test drive end up on my student's iPads.  But why?  Below you will find some of the questions I ask (and why) before an app will make it on my students iPads.  I am hoping this information will be of benefit for both teachers purchasing apps for their students, and developers creating apps for students.  Here are my top eight questions.

1. Does the app promote consumption or creation?

I hear over and over again how iPads are so easy for children to use.  In some ways I agree because it is not hard to tap an iPad screen and make things happen.  But where I cringe is when I see how iPads are being used, particularly in a classroom.  iPads (and I'd think most mobile devices) are powerful tools in the hands of children so it's so frustrating when I see them being used at the simplest level.  When I look for iPad apps for my students to use I want an app that my students can create with.  I want an app where they tell it what to do, vs the app dictating what the child should do.   Eg. I much prefer apps that allow my students to create content, and not just answer questions that are thrown their way. The creation apps are my apps of choice vs the consumption apps.

Now please don't get me wrong, my students do use consumption apps from time to time too. We use them to learn sight words, or to practice math facts  but we use creation apps far more often. Far, far, far more often. Most of our creation apps can be used in a variety of settings, vs consumption apps which typically have just one purpose.

2. Does the app let my students enter at their just right level?

Nothing frustrates me more than having a levelled app, and having the app expect all my students start at the same starting point.  When I make this remark to the app developer I'm often told not to worry, they can pass through the initial levels quickly. Imagine walking into a new library and having to read every book below your reading level in order to get to the books that are at your just right reading level.  If an app offers levels, I want my students to choose the best level for them and that best level isn't the same for every child in my class.

3. Can the app be personalized?

I love it when my students can add their own content to a "drill and practice" type app.  There are a couple of really great word work apps we use where my students can add their own personal words to practice and learn in an engaging manner.  If my students can take a simple app and personalize it for their individual learning needs, I'm more likely to keep it.

4. Is the app simple enough for my young learners to use independently?

This year I teach 24 six year olds, on my own.  Like a typical grade one class, my students have  a variety of strengths and challenges which I do my best to meet individually.  With 15 boys and 9 girls my room is a very active place for learning.  I also try extremely hard to provide my students with choice of tool to learn, show, and share their knowledge.  If an app requires a lot of my time and guidance for my students to be successful it's an app I more than likely will  stay clear of it.  If it's an app that, after a quick demo, my students can use, for the most part, independently, I'm all over it.  Having said that, there are many fantastic apps out there that are just not the best option for my young learners.  For an app to get on the iPads my students use, it has to be age appropriate for my students too.

5. Where does the app save what is created?

A lot of what my students create on their iPads is uploaded to their individual blogs through the KidBlog app.  As I said before the more my students can do with out my help, the more I'm freed up to work more closely with my students.  The KidBlog app, and so many other productivity apps, easily upload from the iPad camera roll so I'm always looking for apps that save seamlessly there.  This includes apps that create images or movies.  For images my students can easily take screen shots if this isn't an option, but for videos this needs to be an option.

Some apps require an account to save to their websites.  I don't have a problem with setting up a class account for all my students to share their work too, but if I have to download from that account to have the work appear on their blogs I'm not interested at all.  In addition I live in British Columbia, Canada and we have the toughest privacy laws in Canada, and more than likely North America.  In order for me to use an app with my students that stores information on a site away from the iPad (i.e. on a server some where in the world) I need informed consent from my students' parents to use the site. So if I need to create an account and log on to use an app, I'll think more closely before I agree.  Informed consent adds another variable for me.

6. Where does the app share to?

My students know to look for the little box with the arrow pointing out from it.  For some apps that is how they get their creations into the camera roll. For other apps that icon produces a whole bunch more options. My class most often needs to be able to share to the camera roll, dropbox, or twitter.   Some iPad apps provide a link to a website where the content is stored.  While this is okay (when I have permission to store my students' work there) it's not ideal for my young learners.  The iPads we have access to don't have e-mail on them so it's not an option we have available to us so if emailing is the only way we can share content, I'll run from the app for my students.

7. How much space does the app take up on the iPad?

If an app is really large in size, and is taking up a lot of space on our iPads it better have a good reason for that space.  Space is very precious because once an iPad is full, an iPad is full.  I used to have a lot more interactive books on our class iPads, but I've since removed many because they were taking up way too much space.  I love when I find a great app that takes little space. Love, love, love it!

8. How much does an app cost?

I won't lie, if there is a good free app that does pretty much exactly what I want it to do the likely hood that I'll spend money to buy the upgrade is limited.  Money is tight and so it needs to be spent wisely.  Having said that there are apps that I will pay for because there is nothing like them in the free realm.  I appreciate quality and functionality and I will pay for that.  The more versatile an app is - i.e. one that works for a variety of age levels with out being too complicated for younger learners, and too young for older learners, the more likely I will invest in the app.

Of course before I add any app to the iPads my students have access to I need to have a need for the app.  An iPad can be fully functional with just a few open ended creative apps. I'll admit we have too many apps on the iPads we have access to now, but most if not all apps are used, some just more regularly than others.  I also find different students work best with different apps and I want to provide them with the choice of app that works best for them.

I'm curious, how do you choose which apps to add to your mobile devices?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

My One Little Word for 2014

Photo Credit: linh.ngan via Compfight cc

In 2013 my one little world was BALANCE to help me regain it after my world exploded in 2012.  You can read more about my 2013 word choice here.  

As it turns out 2013 was an even crazier year for me than 2012 which meant the word BALANCE was more important than ever.   I tried hard to keep BALANCE at the front of my mind and I really appreciated when my friends would remind when I was obviously showing signs of imbalance.  

So how did I do with the goals I set in 2013?

  • better BALANCE the time I spend between work and pleasure < I probably worked more than I should have, but when ever I had the opportunity to socialize outside of work I took it. 
  • better BALANCE the time I spend between inside and outside < I still need to get outside more particularly since I know I'm happiest when I'm outside in nature.
  • better BALANCE the time I spend between being active and being at rest < The first half of the year I wasn't as good as I could have been but the second half I was much better. I  returned to swimming, found a friend to run with, and attended weekly spin classes.  Unfortunately I was also dealing with very unhappy lungs, and feet issues which meant I was not able to be as consistent as I would have wanted.
  • better BALANCE the time I spend on line and  off line < Definite fail here but when I was  with  friends my device was kept out of site. My biggest problem is when I'm at home my devices are usually on and really close by.
  • better BALANCE the time I spend between saying YES and saying NO (or at least thinking a bit longer before saying YES so quickly) < I was successful here. While I took on a few projects that had me completely over whelmed, the results of my hard work and concentrated effort reaped huge growth for me. 
  • better BALANCE the number of projects I get my class involved with (not limiting but thinking about before moving forward with them) < I definitely did better here.   I started involving my students more in the decisions of which projects we were willing to take on. I also started created projects that we wanted to do instead of what others had created. When I'm in control of a project it is much easier for me to keep balanced.
  • better BALANCE the foods that I eat - thankfully I really love healthy food but even too much healthy food isn't a good thing. < I weigh pretty much the same as i weighed this time last year. That's probably not a good thing but I am making better choices about the foods I eat.
  • better BALANCE myself. < I know I've improved a lot this year, but I still have so much more room for growth. Being single means I have a lot of extra time on my own and I really enjoy learning and reading educational blogs. So I spend a fair bit of time doing that, which puts me off balance. Hmm.  Maybe I need a lot more help here.

2013 was an excellent year for so many reasons but it was also filled with some struggles and challenges.  I improved my exercise regime but it is no where near where I know it could and should be.   I have been extremely fit (a five time Ironman finisher) and I know how great I feel when I am  fit so I have no excuse other than focussing too much of my time on my career, and not enough of my time on me.  In addition in 2013 I finally faced the fact that I needed to change schools after 18 years. That was by far the hardest things I've done in a  very long time.  Tons of tears were shed in the process but four months into my new school I  have no regrets.  The move has taken a huge weight off of my shoulders that I didn't realize was there and I am enjoying the "new beginning".   

Photo Credit: ...anna christina... via Compfight cc

Unfortunately despite trying really hard to be more balanced  I still have a long way to go.  In fact it was tempting to keep the word BALANCE for 2014 too but I didn't.   My word for 2014 is LIVE.  In 2014 I want to LIVE more. I will continue to put my all into my job, but I want to give my leisure time the same about of respect it deserves too.    My career is in a place that I am fortunate to have wonderful opportunities coming my way but my personal life is lacking. I will continue to take the opportunities that come my way both personally and professionally, but I want to create more personal opportunities so I can get back to living my life more fully.  I will take more time for me, for my friends, and for doing the things that I love away from my job.   I am going to try harder to put the stresses of work aside more often and just enjoy living again.  In 2014 I am going to LIVE more completely.

Now I'm curious will you come out to play with me and what will your word be for 2014?

*Update - The more I think about my word the more I think about what Dean Shareski said about taking life less seriously.  My work is important to me but I need to get out there and smile, laugh, and be silly a whole lot more both at and away from work. Who wants to join me?