Monday, December 31, 2012

Classroom Worklflow Preparations

It appears fairly certain that the middle school where I teach will be shifting to a 1:1 Ipad environment in early February, 2013. To take as much advantage as I can of the potential of the new devices, this shift requires some rethinking of how my classroom workflow will be organized.

Currently all homework is accessible via our class website and if the assignment is not via a Google Form, a paper copy of the assignment is distributed. Going forward, I plan to place any non-Form assignments in PDF format in a shared Google Drive folder with view only permissions. This will allow for the ability to annotate/do the assignment using the Notability Ipad app and then send it to me via a shared student folder on Google Drive. The Ipads will not be going home with the students so those that do not have access to the Notability app from home will likely still have to hand in a paper copy of their work, (until a suitable "PDF annotation in-a-PC environment" solution can be determined). Any Google Forms homework will continue to be accessed though our class website.

I am currently planning on having my students use Evernote and/or Skitch for their class notebooks. I tested the feasibility of this method during the holiday break and it seems promising. I was happy with the seamless connection between the Skitch and Evernote apps and how easy it was to put any work created in Skitch in a specific Evernote notebook. The ability to draw in Skitch will help with any work/notes that require diagrams or symbols that would be hard to type. I plan to use the Show Me app or the Explain Everything app in the place of individual student whiteboards. Apple TV or the Reflector app will be used to mirror and display this student work to the entire class in near-real time.

I know it is impossible to anticipate everything that can be improved, from a workflow standpoint, with the IPads but hopefully this will be a reasonably manageable and productive change. Am I missing anything?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

They won't have to ask that question

This post may be a bit scattered but that is how my thoughts have been since I learned of the terrible news from Newtown, CT Friday afternoon.

Teachers know the rhythms of a school day and how a school is set up. We can understand in a more direct sense what it might have felt like for those who survived and perished on Friday. They understand how closely in our hearts we hold the children we teach... that they have become our children too. The feelings I have when I visualize what occurred in Sandy Hook elementary school are powerful and difficult to shake. My heart goes out to those in Newtown that have to deal with these feelings and the reality of losing a loved one more directly.

I have no profound solutions to share regarding the tragedy. I have read the Twitter snippets that cite the virtual elimination of these types of tragedies in the UK and Australia after weapons bans were instituted. I guess, you could probably place me more on the overhaul of our mental health system side of the ledger however. If you have ever had the experience of watching a loved one struggle with mental health issues, of having to see them wait days in the ER for a placement in an inpatient unit to receive acute care, and then experience how hard it is to procure and maintain adequate outpatient care, you know what a sham our mental health system is in this country. And how secret that fact is. There are troubled souls out there among us and the more we can sweep it under the rug, the better. Of course until it comes bubbling up. Maybe the UK and Australia also provide significantly better health care services for their citizens. I don't profess to know or have any answers.

School is in session tomorrow. Hopefully by then I will feel more ready to be with my students. I will be positive, keep to the usual classroom routines for much needed structure, and be more aware of how they are feeling. Depending on what questions come up, we may talk about probability and statistics and how safe they are in school, the number and type of safety precautions that are taken, how much their teachers care for them.  But some of the illusion of security that I felt I provided my students when they are in my charge has been taken from me, from all of us, by this tragedy. And right now, it is not such a great feeling.

Seventh graders possess an interesting combination of naivety and "street smarts" - for lack of a better term. They are beginning to understand that things that grown-ups tell them or plan may not be fully accurate or foolproof but still want to, need to, believe that we can protect them. This past week at our school we had an unplanned fire drill and a planned Code Blue/lockdown drill. Both went without incident. And after each one, the usual questions came, especially from the children who have watched way too many action movies designed for adults. Mr.Vitale, what would happen if a fire started in the hallway first? Mr.Vitale, what would happen if someone pulled the fire alarm but was waiting for us in the hallway? Mr. Vitale, what would happen if someone came into our school with a gun and shot their way into our room? Very sadly, they won't have to ask that one tomorrow.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Reflection App vs Apple TV

I have mentioned in a previous post how pleased I was with the use of the Smart Notebook Ipad app and the Reflection mirroring software. This week, I wanted to try using the Apple TV mirroring software via Airplay as a comparison for the mirroring of my Notebook lessons.

I used the Apple TV mirroring software exclusively in my class for the past three days. Independent of the other great features that Apple TV comes with, the experience I had with the mirroring of my Ipad was quite positive. The wireless connection when using Reflection often drops out, about once per day or so, which is tolerable as long as the connection can be quickly restored, but is annoying. I had no loss of wireless connectivity for the three day period when using Apple TV.

The Notebook Ipad app worked just as well with the Apple TV. There were a couple of instances where something that I wrote on the Ipad did not show up on the mirrored image but after erasing it and starting over, it appeared. I am not sure if it was the Notebook app or the communication with the Apple TV. It was a very minor glitch.

In addition, I happily discovered that if you run something on the Ipad that has audio associated with it while it is mirrored with Apple TV, the audio runs through the speakers of the device you are mirroring to, not the IPad speakers. Quite a nice feature.

The Airplay software with the Apple TV, has the ability to issue temporary passwords for screen sharing with other IPad users without affecting the primary password. This will be quite useful when having students show their work to the class. The Reflection app does not currently have this ability which means you would have to share the primary password with any student for their work to be displayed.

The last positive feature. The Reflection app requires a laptop to be the middle man in the mirroring process. (Ipad to laptop to projector). Using Apple TV, does not require this, so your laptop is free to be used for other tasks.

If you are lucky to have access to both mirroring applications, my suggestion is to use Apple TV for Ipad mirroring.