_Student response systems can play an important role to drive instruction, engage students, and provide feedback. Teachers who are lucky enough to have several iPads or iPod Touch devices in the classroom can leverage several different applications to quickly gather information before, during, or after lessons. Even if there are only a few devices, lessons can be designed to allow students to respond as a group. Here is a brief explanation of four different applications, from most complex (highest learning curve) to easiest to use.

Edmodo - This application requires teachers to sign up for an account and establish a group page. Students use a code that their teacher provides to sign up for an account and membership to the group page. Edmodo is an extremely useful tool, with dozens of features, but a s a means for instant feedback, teachers can use the polling tool to quickly gather information. Ask a question and provide a set of choices and ask students to select their preferred answer. The polling tool will not be able to provide information about which student provided which answer, but it will help identify misconceptions, gather opinions, and take a quick vote. Asking students to write a short note and direct their post to the teacher works well because the site populates the posts in real time. Ask students to be reflective and tell what they learned during the lesson. 

Google Forms - Teachers can use their district Google Docs/Drive account to create a form that can be used for a quick assessment. There are a couple of tricks to make it easy for students to submit their answers. First of all, the checkbox at the top that protects requires users to sign in first must be unchecked. If you need to track the results, use the first field(s) of the form to collect students names or ID numbers. Google Forms create a really long, complex URL that is impossible to get to without a direct link. Create a QR code from your favorite QR code generator so students can scan the code and get to the right place quickly. (TIP: First use Bitly.com to shorten the URL. Generate the QR code from the shortened URL or make sure the QR code image is really large and students get their device up close to scan the code correctly. The longer the URL, the more complex the QR code, and the more chance for error during scanning.

Socrative - This tool also requires teachers to sign up for an account. It will just take a few minutes to prepare a quick lesson. From the website (or the teachers' app), teachers develop a quiz or a poll, add a few questions, and get a code to provide the students. Students use the student Socrative app to access a particular quiz or poll from a number that is assigned. After they submit the answers, teachers can access the results. This tool provides all the features a sophisticated student response system for FREE, including the ability to track student progress and download the results on to their computer.

Mentimeter - This tool is fairly new and it would be an excellent way to gather the status of the class quickly. The user does not need an account to create a poll. Type a quick question for student feedback. At the very bottom, right corner - look for the tiny little QR code generator button. Out pops the QR code, making gathering feedback from the group amazingly fast. If the student devices do not have cameras, texting the answers works well too.
For all the years I worked with 4th graders, I helped them write research reports on animals. We selected some web resources and they used various books and found information about the animal of their choice, including characteristics, habitat, diet, and behavior. The report usually took the form of a five paragraph essay including some pictures copied from the Internet. Eventually, the students were allowed to create a PowerPoint presentation and instead of paragraphs, they regurgitated facts in bullet points - no more than six per slide.

Using Diary of a Spider as a mentor text for books created by the students took a much more interesting and authentic approach to writing animal research reports using the iPads!  After they did some research on their favorite animal, the students wrote a "diary", writing in first person as the animal of which they researched. Each page of the book, created in Book Creator for iPad, included an illustration and a short text passage that carefully embedded a fact about the animal, including diet, habitat, behavior, or interesting facts. Many students recorded "sound effects" to add interest for the reader. After all the book were complete, students used the class Dropbox account to upload their story to share with classmate and download all the other stories to the iBooks library on their iPads. The spent some time reading and enjoying each others' hard work. The resulting project is particularly creative and fun to read!

Step into our 4th grade classrooms during Reading class and you'll see student engaged in conversation about books. At one table, the teacher is with four students. They are engaged in a lively conversation about the story they are reading using the strategies of reciprocal teaching . The teacher is holding an iPad in her lap, strategically positioning the camera to face the group. At another table, a group of four students hover over an iPad watching and listening intently to a video on an iPad. The video was recorded yesterday by the teacher during their conversation with the teacher. As the students watch the video recorded the previous day as they summarized, predicted, clarified, and questioned aspects of the story they all read together. As the students watch, they reflect on what they see in the video and document on a large sheet of paper the comprehension strategies they see themselves using. In addition, they respectfully talk about the conversation itself. It took my breath away as I watched these children discuss the discussion itself. They watched for how many times each of them spoke, how many times they used questions to get others to speak, how complete their answers were, how loud their voices were, did they answer in complete sentences, did they interrupt each other, and if the discussion got off topic, did they bring it back around as they made real world connections to the story elements.

There was no embarrassed giggles and the students approached the task in a very matter-of-fact way. Keeping in mind that they are around 10 years old, I questioned the teacher on how long it took the students to take such a business-like attitude about this activity. "Not long," she replied and pointed out that some students don't like to see their faces so she carefully positions herself and the camera to respect their sensitivity. I was so impressed with the value of this opportunity - providing direct instruction on how to engage in academic conversation.

Before iPads - students met in small groups and talked about their story. With iPads - students can be reflective learners who are responsible for their
The question that always arises with regard to the iPad is whether it is more of a content consumption device or a content creation device. Of the nearly 60 apps that were selected to start the iPad project, 30 apps are apps with which students can create, communicate, collaborate, tell stories, and demonstrate what they have learned across all curriculum areas.

QuickOffice allows students to open, edit, save and send back via DropBox documents that are compatible with Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel. The user interface is very simple and intuitive for even third graders. Students open the QuickOffice app, sign in to their teacher's DropBox account, locate the writing prompt or other work meant for editing by the student. They finish the assignment, and then either keep the work on their iPads for future reference or turn it back in to the teacher using DropBox. Students can create original works also, including presentations demonstrating what they have learned in a content area. As they integrate text, images from either the camera or taken from a web resource, students can create a visual representation of what they've learned.

PaperPort (formerly called Noterize) is an incredibly versatile application. Students can import PDF of a worksheet, graphic organizer, writing piece or any other curriculum content. They can then annotate the document using the highligher (6 colors), text (typing), and pen. One of the most powerful features is the voice recorder which works as a speech to text feature, automatically typing what is said as it's made by the same developers as Dragon Dictation or Dragon Speak on the PC. Finished work can be sent back to the teacher through DropBox (email for the audio files).

Notability is another note taking application that allows the user to hand write, type, draw, annotate, insert media, and record voice. This app also integrates with DropBox for import and export of work with the teacher.

Digital Storytelling
StoryPatch is a favorite app for students to use their creativity to write original stories, retell stories as a reading comprehension assessment, or to demonstrate what they've learned in a content area. The app comes with hundreds of images to illustrate stories and also allows for original works created in other applications and saved in the devices photo album. This app really inspires creativity with students. In addition, another important feature is the build-in story themes and series of questions that builds a story based on the student's responses. This could be used for students as they learn story elements.

Book Creator is one the easiest to use story telling apps available. The student navigates page by page as he integrates images from the iPad Photo Album (which could be from the camera, orginal works drawn in a drawing app, or obtained from the web) along with text and audio to create a simply presented story. One of the best features of this app is that the finished story converts to an epub format that is read in the iBooks app. Students can share their work through DropBox.

Puppet Pals is a very popular application that allows for lots of creativity as students create a puppet show using any number of several character and background choices. This particular version of Puppet Pals allows the students to create their own characters from their's or their friend's picture taken with the iPad camera. There is limitless possibilities for story creation.
Just in case you are wondering what almost 900 iPads look like, here's a picture of the boxes that Matt and Keith stacked up in the kitchen of the Tech Center back in July. The boxes were stacked up about 6 foot high. Each box contains 10 iPads. The iPads have been engraved with CCSD15 LCLT, which indicates the funding came from the ISBE Low Cost Laptop grant.

After they arrived, we just stared at them for a while. Several decision had to be made. We got a little help from Patrick, our sales rep from Apple and the Apple systems engineer, Scott. We came up with a system that we are pretty confident will be efficient and work well. It's important to note that District 15 is the FIRST LARGE DEPLOYMENT of it's kind in the state of Illinois. Chicago deployed 700 last year, but to 35 different schools.  They'll be working with 5000 this year, but as if this posting, haven't received all of them yet. However, we were the first to get our order, so we are at the front end of the learning curve, for even Apple. Much of what we've done to get them ready for our students is based on piecing together a lot of information from smaller deployments. It's been an adventure!

Just in case you are interested.... here's how it went!

Step 1 - Unpack the boxes. That took a couple of days. It seemed like forever until it looked like we were making a dent. As the 10 pack were taken out of the boxes, the serial numbers were placed in the tray. That's how we entered the devices in the asset management system.

Step 2 - Two labels were put on each iPad. One label is the bar code for asset management system. The LRC teachers at the schools can use the Destiny system to check out the iPads to the individual students and teachers using this bar code. The other label is the name of the iPad. For example VL-147-IA7 means Virginia Lake, room 147, iPad #7. Each iPad has to be numbered so Tech can tell which iPad is which in the network, just like what's done with the computers.

Step 3 - Covers were placed on the devices. Each grade level was assigned a different color. I really wished I had a choice in colors, but it was very difficult to find a vendor who could sell us 900 covers. We were lucky to find a really nice man in California who could supply us with the number of covers we needed for around $4 a piece. He sent them to us very quickly and even covered the shipping cost. The only catch - I didn't have any choice on colors. I put red covers on the iPads for 3rd grade; blue covers are for 4th grade; white covers are for 5th grade; and the 6th graders get black covers. Teachers get a nice cover that folds over the device and has an easel to stand it up.

Step 4 - Eight MacBook laptops and Bredfort carts were purchased for the 2 schools. These special carts and laptops are used to manage the iPads. The carts are equipped to take up to 30 iPads, hook them up all at the same time using a USB cord to the laptop. The laptop uses iTunes to manage the software, the applications, and "push" updates to the device. Each of the eight MacBooks has an iTunes account - one for each grade level for each school. The iPads were loaded into the Bredford carts. The first thing we had to do was use a piece of software provided by Apple to update each device. We've only had these things in for a couple of weeks and already, the operating system needed an update. After the update was complete, we downloaded from the iTunes store around 60 different applications to be "synced" to each device. Then, each iPad was provided with the selection of apps. After the apps were loaded, then each device had to be named (VL-147-IA7) and another piece of software was used to assign the network settings so it can get to the Internet from our wireless. From start to finish, it probably took a couple of hours per each classroom set of iPads.

Based on the process to get the apps on the devices, we have to make a few restrictions. This is a work in progress, but basically this is where we have to start:
  • Each grade level/school has an iTunes account - for example, vlios5@ccsd15.net.
  • No one, including teachers are to download apps using their personal iTunes accounts.
  • An initial selection of apps have been put on the devices, but the expectation is that we'll purchase more apps throughout the year.
  • Free apps can be downloaded to devices for evaluation purposes. Cost apps can not be downloaded as there is no credit card associated with the account. (Going forward, we will work together on a system to purchase applications.)
  • Periodically, the class sets will have to be placed in the syncing cart. This is necessary to update applications along with syncing new content.
  • Class sets will be kept in a locking box that is being especially built for each classroom. These boxes will also provide a way to charge the devices.
Tools for the 21st Century Classroom

Within the few weeks, hundreds of laptops will be delivered to all our classroom teachers. This shift from desktops to laptops will allow elementary instructional classrooms to receive 2 additional student computers. Within the next several months, LCD projectors and a sound system will be installed in each classroom. Finally, by the end of next year, document cameras will be deployed as well.

The primary focus of these digital tools will how they will directly impact instruction. Teachers will love the mobility of the laptop and how lessons are enhanced by the highly visual and interactive document camera. The potential for engagement of the students will be incredibly powerful, as our children live in a media-rich world and rely heavily on visual sources for information and understanding. As these tools help us shift the use of technology, particularly the computer from a productivity tool to an instructional tool, there are a few important things to consider.

Classroom setup
The teacher's computer is no longer strictly a productivity tool. Initially, classroom teachers' laptops along with the docking station will be placed on their desks. Many teachers have their desks positioned in the back of the class and out of the way of the students. However, in a few months, the docking station will also be connected to an LCD projector, sound system and a document camera. Teachers may have to rethink the placement of their desks or come up with an alternative surface to place the laptop/docking station so they can be in a position to interact with the students and allow for optimal classroom management. You don't want to be projecting media from the back of the class and talking to the backs of your students' heads. 

Student engagement
The addition of this new technology into instruction will require a great deal of flexibility and "thinking outside the box". It's important to recognize how students become actively engaged in the learning process when visual media is used to reinforce concepts, and support comprehension. The availability of the Internet creates endless possibilities as teachers access images, video, maps, graphs, virtual tours, and other primary resources. In addition, access to teacher examples and student work helps visually demonstrate the process for writing, solving a math problem, or doing a science experiment. Keep in mind that students can lead instruction by using the document camera to manipulate objects and explain what they are doing. Using technology to devote more class time to students demonstrating their thought process, sharing their work, and gaining confidence in their abilities directly impacts student achievement.

Unexpected benefits
  • Decrease in copying expenses as content can be displayed on the projector
    • Place 1 copy of a quiz or worksheet that was scanned in and have the students write their answers on a piece of paper
    • Overhead transparencies are no longer needed as the computer/document camera can project the content (use the copy machine to create a scanned file)
  • Use the image capture feature of the document camera
    • show the steps in a process, various drafts of a writing piece, or create an image of an object that can be uploaded to the teacher's website as a study guide or incorporated into a test - using a picture of exactly what the students saw during the lesson
  • Provide much needed background knowledge, particularly to our ELL students
    • demonstrate experiments in 3D - dissecting a flower, examining an insect
    • accessing real world examples from the Internet or by using manipulatives
There are so many wonderful examples of the digital tools of the 21st century classroom. I can email you some handouts that I've obtained from other schools if you want to explore this topic further. In addition, if you teach in a classroom that already has these tools, please email me your reflections about how they have impacted your students' learning. I would like to compile some documentation about some of the great things our district teachers are doing with technology to enhance instruction!

Web resources





Have you heard of Wordle? During the presidential campaign it became pretty popular with the press. Wordle creates a visual representation of text. The frequency of a word in the text shows itself in the size of the word. The bigger the word, the more frequently it is used in the source text. The online program allows the user to paste a bunch of text (any text) into a field and then when submitted, in a few seconds, a visual like this one appears.
I've been asked to talk a little at the elementary Language Arts teachers' meeting. It's really hard for me to say "just one thing", but I'll create this post to help me focus :). Our district has 5 Flip video cameras for check out. They are really easy to use and there are so many ways to use this kind of technology in the classroom. Just so you know, once you are sold on using the Flip - Terry Clarke from Carl Sandburg Junior High recommends you but a few Vado video cameras. Here's a link to where you can get those for around $40! Take a look at this presentation. It's a collaborative effort of several teachers to show at least 40 ways to use a little video camera in your class!
There is a great deal of research which points to the benefits to a group when the members have the opportunity to engage in another level of collaboration beyond the face to face meeting. Positive results can be achieved if the members have a common purpose and clear goals. The availability of Ning can be a wonderful opportunity for creating on online community. Ning is an online platform for people to create their own social networks, which is a way for people to connect and collaborate together, working toward the same goals but perhaps different contexts. For example, administration can implement a Ning when they are looking for ways to network and collaborate across all schools in a large district. Collaboration in a professional learning community is one of the essential features of this online tool.

The value of the tool is only as good as the participants make it. Members will be compelled to participate when there is good information available that will help them do their job better or consistent interaction such as comments to a blog post or responses to a forum post. In order to really understand it's value, members shouldn't view it as "just another thing to do", but as an extension of what's already being done. When groups are already meeting face to face on a regular basis, specific goals emerge and follow up becomes important. That's when the asynchronous nature of communication can really enhance the development of ideas and making plans for follow up.

This tool is not without it's issues, although the issues are not so disruptive as to discourage the users from participating. First of all, it's important to note that Ning is not Facebook, but it's open to any group of people, not just educators. Some content or subject matter may be offensive to some. In addition, Ning is open to spam in the form of unwelcome requests for membership from people who are trying to gain exposure for commercial purposes. Access to the content and membership can be carefully controlled by the privacy settings, invitation only, and the ability to moderate by the Ning organizer. Finally, unless the organizer pays for premium service, Ning includes Google ads on the right column of the page. Some find the ads distracting.

Check out these rich communities that utilize Ning to collaborate with educators all over the world that have been set up by an organizer to share resources or help facilitate support for it's members to enhance their teaching practices:
Smartboard Revolution - share tips and resources on using interactive whiteboards in the classroom
ISTE Commnity - The International Society for Technology in Education organizes this site for it's members to collaborate
Teacher Librarian Network - developed for teachers and school library staff
The English Companion - very active community of English teachers who are there to help others
Classroom 2.0 - extremely large group of teachers who interested in using technology in the classroom, a great place for beginners
Fireside Learning - an opportunity for anyone to reflect on teaching practices and anything about education
Gifted Education - a community of teachers who are intereted in helping each other when working with gifted students
Art Education 2.0 - a global community of teachers who use Ning to facilitate the use of new technologies in Art class
I'll admit it - my experience with Interactive whitboards is pretty limited. Since the past several years of my career have been spent out of the classroom, I have never prepared a lesson or used a whiteboard with students. I've seen presentations and I've even taught teachers how to use them, basically - but I haven't spent a great deal of time designing lessons like I have with every other technology application known to man. When I did some research to prepare some resources for this site, I've decided I don't really need to design lessons. There are so many great teachers who have been working with this kind of technology and are passionate about their value in the classroom. Don't ask me for a lesson plan, ask Jim Hollis or any of the enthusiastic educators who partcipate in the Smart Board Revolution Ning! I compiled some sites on the Interactive Whiteboard page on this site, but it's by no means exhaustive. If you think I missed any really important sites, please pass it along!

One thing I know about SmartBoard (not to endorse any particular product) is that with their software comes over 6000 pieces of media. The first thing you should do with your board (regardless of the brand) is check out what comes with the software! Based on your learning objectives, find graphic elements and prepared activities that built right in. You could create or adapt using what's already there before you even turn to the internet for lessons. You should absolutely check out the network of educators for tips an tricks. That might be the most valuable information for a beginner.

My goal: Use the interactive white board to present at my next professional development workshop. Wish me luck.