Bye Evernote, I am moving to OneNote

I never thought that this day would come. I have been a staunch supporter of Evernote since it began. It was a wonderful program that solved my need for electronic organisation of my work and home life. When people offered OneNote as an alternative, I was the first to dismiss them. Yet, now, as Evermore becomes increasingly more expensive and cuts down features even for paid accounts, I needed an alternative.

I went back to OneNote, a program I have not used in a couple of years, and found an entirely new product. The clunkiness and bloated features were gone. They had been replaced with a sleek and very user friendly program that fit my needs exactly.

The one feature that I absolutely adore is the ability to organise my page however I like, just like on paper. I can bring in my excel document with my students reading levels, connect it with my notes on their reading, and place the reading levels and report grades comparison image right next to it. On Evernote, these elements would all have to go down the page, rather than next to each other.

On top of that, OneNote has all of the features I loved in Evernote: I can add tags, search all of my notes, and organise my notes into notebooks and sections.  Can even colour code my notes in OneNote, which makes finding things lot easier.

I have only been using One Note for a week, so it will be interesting to see if I come across any limitations with it as my use continues. I have not moved my most important data over from Evernote yet, but think I deifnitely will be in the come weeks. I simply can’t justify paying an increasing amount of money for features available for free elsewhere! Especially when OneNote is becoming a more superior product for my teaching and reporting needs.

Seesaw: the Ultimate Digital Portfolio and Reflection Tool

Seesaw is the kind of app I have been waiting for. All teachers know that student reflection is important and that timely feedback is paramount, but both of these things are notoriously difficult to track. I needed something that showed my students the progress they had made, allowed comments on their work and did not require my students to be over 13 to use!

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Seesaw Landing Page

Let’s start with the QR code sign in. I know that a teacher must have been behind this particular feature, because only a teacher who had faced 25 simultaneous questions about ‘Which one is my user name?’ and children’s password typos would include it. Once you sign up and add in your students names, you are sent a QR code poster that allows the children to sign in. They just need to find the app and point the camera at the QR code and away they go! I have never had this many 7 year olds sign in this successfully all at once before.

Moving on to the incredibly simple layout. They layout (below) makes this app incredibly easy for everyone to use, including early readers who can use the images as a guide. It includes everything you need to create a fantastic digital portfolio, with no superfluous buttons to be accidentally pressed. In our very first half an hour session with Seesaw, none of my Year 2 students needed help with choosing the correct icon – they all just used the simple text and images to discover it by themselves. This gave me a lot more time that I could then spend assisting students with improving their content, rather than just solving technical issues.

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Of course, not all of the reflection work I need students to document can be photographed or typed. Sometimes they will create work in other apps that they would also like to reflect on. Again, that is not a problem in Seesaw. Students just need to click the share button in almost every app to export their product to Seesaw. My class tried this with Book Creator, and it worked so quickly that we even had time for them to leave feedback on their classmates’ work. If you are not sure how to export from any particular app, Seesaw provides a fairly extensive list of apps and instructions on how to export products from them into the students’ portfolios.

The final aspect of Seesaw I love, is that it is so easy for students to share their work with their parents. If they have an iPad at home, parents can download the Seesaw Parent app to view their child’s work. Alternatively, they are always welcome to use one of the class iPads before and after school to view what their child has been doing in class. It is very easy to filter the children’s work so that a parent can only see their child’s work. it would be perfect for student lead conferences, as it is easy for students to show their progress and their reflections on what they have learnt through each task.

I will definitely be posting in the near future on some of the ways that I have used Seesaw in my classroom. Until then, how have you used Seesaw with your class?

EdTech in the Early Years

Over the last year I have been very much out of my comfort zone. After years teaching senior primary (11-13 year olds), I am currently teaching the younger years. I am thoroughly enjoying the change, and the fresh challenge that it has brought to my teaching. It has given me a whole new appreciation of where my older students came from, and love seeing how fast they grow and learn at this age.

One thing that I have had to change dramatically, though, is my approach to technology. Previously, I established classrooms where students had freedom to choose the technology based on what they wanted to achieve. We also spent a lot of time discussing cyber safety and ensuring they understood their rights as digital citizens. Here are some of the things I have found work when integrating technology in the early years.

1. Confidence is everything

It is amazing how quickly a teacher or parent’s anxiety around technology can transfer to a child. Many children who are otherwise very confident become hesitant around technology because they have been told multiple times not to click anything. There is no bigger barrier to using technology in the early years than a students’ lack of autonomy. If you have to log in every device for 25 students, there will be no time left for the actual lesson.

That said, I am aware that safety is obviously a concern for younger students. Once you have explored an app or site, though, and deemed it appropriate, there should be no reason why children can’t explore within that one place themselves. Give them the chance to try and choose which button to press themselves. Once they know which ones not to press (any that close that particular app or site) then their learning process is a lot faster, and they can begin helping each other.

2. Set the right barriers

That all said, a teacher or parent can only give room for a young child to explore technology on their own if the right safety barriers are in place. While they are not perfect, a good Internet filter and adblocker are vital. They are only part of the cyber safety story, but a vital one for young children. If children end up in an app or website they don’t recognise, ensure they know to first stop, and check with an adult. This happens far less than you would think, but if children know what to do then they are less likely to end up somewhere they should not be. It also helps their freedom, as they can explore what different things to within an app or site, but then if they end up somewhere unfamiliar, they know they have support.

3. Establish one tool at a time

When teaching older years, it was not uncommon for me to introduce two apps so students could use them together to create a superior product. It did not take me long to figure out that not only should I only teach one app/website at a time, but even that tool may need to be broken up into several smaller lessons, depending on it’s complexity. The students were then able to use that tool for a couple of weeks to become comfortable with it before moving on to a new tool. If you move on too quickly, students may forget how to use the first tool, meaning you have to spend time going back and revisiting it from the beginning – not something that many teachers have time to do!

4. Allow ‘exploration lessons’

This is vital at any age. Whenever you introduce the basics of a new tool, students (and adults!) will naturally want to have a go themselves. This is very useful, because it allows students to remember what each button does and how to use it (especially for students who are not yet confident readers). Once they have had a go, they are then ready for another mini-lesson on how to use the more complicated aspects of the app. I have introduced quite a few new apps to my students using this method, and it has worked wonderfully. Sometimes the students will even find new tools that you haven’t explored, or think of a new way to use a known one! It helps them to become confident users, which is absolutely a priority when teaching children to use technology.

Apple Distinguished Educator Institute 2015 – A Reflection

I have started this reflection several times since arriving home from the ADE event in Singapore, but it is incredibly difficult to explain the experience. Several of my colleagues have asked what I learnt, or what I ‘get’ from becoming an Apple Distinguished Educator, and I find myself stumbling over words. It feels something like Taylor Mali, the teacher whose spoken word piece ‘What Teacher’s Make’ shows just how many elements can be squeezed in to that one seemingly innocuous question.

The one thing that I ‘got’ from ADE can be summed up in one word that does not seem impressive when justifying a week overseas: relationships.

Yes, I heard from engineers and product managers for iMovie and iTunes U. Yes, I had my photograph taken by the amazing photographer Bill Frakes. Yes, I have access to discounts and a few free goodies. But really, these are just icing on the cake. My most precious memories are talking to teachers from Malaysia, China, America, Korea, New Zealand and sharing ideas with them. Making connections with teachers from around Australia and knowing that we will continue to share, collaborate and innovate together. There are already plans for meet ups, conferences, start ups that over time will evolve and become amazing, not because of the tech, but because of the people behind them.

I have been asked why I want to align myself with a brand, and had people question whether teachers should become aligned with business. Some of those questions should need a post of their own, but really the short answer is I have not aligned myself with a brand, I have aligned myself with a way of thinking. I have aligned myself with people who are as passionate about education as I am, and can see that the current model is failing. I have aligned myself with a movement that is determined to bring innovation, creativity and the love of learning back to the education system. I am just lucky that Apple provide products and opportunities like the ADE institute to help us make that happen.

 

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ADE – Creating Community

 

Apps for a One iPad Classroom

Over the last year I have gone from BYOD classrooms, to one-to-one iPad to a class with eight shared iPads. Having spent most of my teaching career in classrooms where every student had a device, no matter what that device was, it was quite a mental shift now teaching with only 8. With 27 students, that means that even 1:2 is not possible. As such, I have had to change my teaching approach and the apps I am using with my students. Here are come of my favourite solutions for teachers with anywhere from one to ten iPads for their class.

Plickers

This has quickly become one of my favourite tools. In my one-to-one classrooms, I always loved Socrative for quick formative assessment. For younger students, I loved the polling feature of Edmodo (which remains my favourite LMS for primary schools). I have seen non-tech solutions to formative assessment, but they were all a lot slower than the instant results that graphed on my computer. Enter Plickers.

Plickers is a formative assessment tool that you only need one device to use. You print out QR codes that you give to the students with the letters A, B, C and D around the outside of the square. You then present a multiple choice question to them, using the Plickers app on your one device, and they select their answer by holding up their card with the letter of their answer at the top. You then use the camera on your device to scan across the room, collecting all of your students’ answers in about twenty seconds. The results are then tabled for you in the Plickers web app. Check out a visual of how it works below.

 

Voicethread/Book Creator/PicCollage

These are very common apps that come up on most one-to-one iPad lists. I love them in my shared iPad classroom though, because they allow students to create something amazing within a short amount of time. My Year 3s are still learning about sharing with most things in their life, and find sharing the iPads particularly challenging when they all want to use them! As such, I love apps that students can use easily, mostly independently and quickly. That way, I can set up rotations and everyone can use the iPad within an hour and a half session. These apps are also great because students work can be joined together once they are finished, creating something that we can share when parents come in to the classroom.

 

Google Drive

My school is not a Google Apps school yet, and it is challenging for younger students to save their work to the school server from the iPads. My solution is that I have created a Google account just for school, and have signed in to all of the devices using that Google Apps account. Now all of my students can save and back up their work to Google Drive, in their very own folders. This is a lifesaver in many ways: it means students don’t always have to work on the same iPad, they have a back up of their work, and we do not run out of space on the devices (which happens very quickly when saving more than one child’s work on one iPad!). It is also much easier to upload to Google Drive from most apps than saving to the school server.

 

Do you work in a one iPad or shared iPad classroom? How do you develop student learning with the device(s)?

Taking Action Beyond Raising Money

Very often, when schools talk about ‘taking action’ in the classroom, they are talking about raising money. While occasionally raising money is a good solution (and, potentially, the only solution), it is not a viable way for classes to take action as a part of every topic. Even if only one class in a school used raising money as the only form of action, by the time they finished four or five topics, the parents and community would not be well and truly finished with fundraising! Taken to a school-level, it is absolutely unviable.

And yet we know that taking meaningful action that connects students to their local and global community improves engagement and learning by making the topic and skills relevant to their lives. So how can we bridge this disconnect? Here are some suggestions on how to take action in your classroom, without asking for money.

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Raising money is not the only way to take action!

Sean Ganann via Compfight

1. Other types of donations

Money is not the only type of donation many charities will take! One of my best experiences in the classroom was helping my students run a book drive, to collect books for children in detention centres. We ended up receiving over 1500 books!

Charities like Vinnies and the Salvation Army also welcome donations of clothes, blankets and household items. Many households have items that they have been meaning to give to charity but just haven’t got around to it yet. Alternatively, most charities that work with homeless people will have some type of drive to collect cans of food, especially in winter and at Christmas. You will be amazed how much your class can collect for charities if you ask for goods rather than money.

2. Connecting students to people

Taking action does not always have to be collecting for charity either. Sometimes, connecting students to other people can be equally as effective. This may involve taking the students on an excursion to a nursing home or to see veteran’s to hear histories from real people. It may mean connecting with scientists or people from other countries over Skype/Google Hangouts to ask the questions they have to an expert. Connecting to others is one of the most powerful things we can do; students can take action by learning to how to make meaningful connections.

3. Teach others

We know that our students have learnt something if they are able to articulate it well to others. Why not put this in to action by planning a Science Fair, or another type of expo, where students have to explain what they have learnt. You could even invite parents and grandparents along for an added dimension.

An alternative to this is for your students to teach what they have learnt to a younger class. It could be a short event that just lasts one lesson, half a day or a full day of activities and learning.

4. Plan a special day

Take the students out of the school setting for the day, if you can, to fulfill an action plan based on their learning. Studying the environment? Organise a clean up day around local beaches or parkland, or participate in National Tree Day. If your students are old enough, talk to your local volunteer organisations who work in similar areas to your topic of study. Most places would love 25 helpers, even if it is just for the day.

5. Plan an event

Your class could also organise a school event, raising awareness rather than money. There are people in the world who have to walk for miles four or five times a day for water, and students could organise an event for their class, year level or even whole school to walk that distance to increase empathy and understanding. Older students could participate in something like the Two Dollar Challenge to begin to understand the challenges for the homeless or people living in third world countries.

6. Ask your students!

Finally, ask your students for their ideas! In my experience my students always mention raising money first, but when we unpack it further they come up with amazing ideas together that I would never have thought of by myself. I have seen schools where it was the students who pushed for an improved recycling programme, and rain water tanks to decrease the school’s water use. Ultimately, if it comes from them then it will be more meaningful than anything else.

Have you assisted your class to take action without raising money? I would love to know how in the comments.

Edmodo: My LMS of Choice

Over the last few years there has been a proliferation of learning management systems. Edmodo, Schoology, Moodle, Canvas, Blackboard, Docebo…and that is just a handful! Some are free, some paid, each seems to offer very similar features so when you begin to use them it can be incredibly difficult to choose between them.

I have used several of these over the years now, and have found myself coming back again and again to Edmodo – the benefits to the teaching and learning in my classroom are just to significant to ignore. Here is why I will continue recommending Edmodo to teachers and schools:

Edmodo new

1. Works with children of all ages

Part of the reason for this, I believe, is that I am predominantly a primary school teacher. Edmodo can be used with 5 year olds as easily as with 12 year olds, and it’s features are advanced enough to cope with demands of high school students as well. I have used it with students up to 14 years olds, but other teachers, such as Bianca Hewes, have used it with senior high school students with great success. This allows Edmodo to be a whole school solution, no matter whether it is a primary, secondary, or P-12 setting.

2. Easy for ‘non-tech’ staff and parents

In every school I have worked in there are a large number of staff and parents who ‘don’t do’ technology. Edmodo is the only LMS I have found that has been taken on by these teachers and parents enthusiastically. Because Edmodo is clear and relatively intuitive to use, most people can use it’s basic features with little training. After a couple of short ‘techie brekkie’ sessions, I found that even the most hesitant staff began to use some of the more advanced features of Edmodo, buoyed by the fact that it was easy to follow, and any mistakes could easily be reversed. This ease of use meant that it is easily adopted as a school-level.

3. All of the tools I need, none of the tools I don’t

As a classroom teacher, there are certain tools I need and requirements I have – collaborative spaces, privacy for student safety, ability to easy receive and provide feedback on student work. Other features are added bonuses, such as badges, storing resources and good tech support. There are lots of features, however, that I don’t need. Plugins, developer tools and the ability to personalise the code are great for universities, but not for a school wanting an easy-to-implement system. Edmodo gives me and the teachers I work with access to all of the tools I need, without giving me a headache trying to work around unnecessary, university based tools.

4. Works across platforms

Uploading student work from the iPad to Edmodo was a nightmare a couple of years ago, but with the updates over the last two years it is now a breeze. Students can upload their work on any device, and I can view it and provide feedback whether I am at school on my Mac, at home on my PC or on the road on my iPad. It doesn’t matter if my school is BYOD, or if we choose to change hardware in the next year or two, all of our information we remain on Edmodo, despite our individual or school-based technology choices.

5. Parents love it

I have had more parents connect to their child’s Edmodo account than with any other platform. Edmodo makes it ridiculously easy for parents to only access the information that they want to see: feedback on their child’s work, whether their child is submitting work and any communications from the teacher. There is no superfluous information and nothing that will waste parents time. In thirty seconds they can check how their child is going and any relevant classroom information, rather than having to go searching for it throughout pages of irrelevant information.

The Best App for Digital Portfolios in Primary Schools

I have spent no insignificant period of time over the course of my teaching career looking for the perfect app to act as a digital portfolio for my students. I searched for apps, went to conference presentations about ePortfolios and even tested a couple in the classroom, but never found one that suited my purpose. I could not find an app that was easy enough for young students to use, while being powerful enough for the older students to reflect on their work in detail.

My perfect portfolio app allows students to do the following:

  • Store a range of media, including text, videos, images and sound.
  • Provides a space for student reflections
  • Easy to present during three-way conferences/parent teacher interviews
  • Easy to search
  • Simple enough for young students to use

When I taught grade 6, Google Drive was fantastic as a digital portfolio, but it was not a whole school solution as it was too difficult for younger students to add content to their folders. I tried a range of ‘portfolio’ style apps, but they were all disappointing. They either did not work well with other apps or they did not provide students with a space to reflect on their learning.

 

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This year, however, Book Creator has been my teaching lifesaver. It is amazing! Students of all ages can learn to use it, and the features allow it to become as simple or as complex as the student (or teacher!) would like. It works with every app I need it to, and can easily be exported as an iBook to present student work beautifully. Students can search their iBook for a particular piece of work, or particular topic, so you don’t need to spend a lot of time searching through pages of work to find a specific piece.

My favourite feature, however, is the ability to ‘hide’ a sound behind an image. This makes both student and teacher reflections a breeze. Students can place a verbal reflection behind their work, so the image becomes interactive when exported to iBooks – the reader simply taps the image, and the reflection plays! Students can also add a picture of their teacher, or a similar image, to the corner of each section of their book and the same feature can be used to add teacher reflections and feedback.

Overall, I will definitely be continuing to use Book Creator, and will recommend it to other schools. It does exactly what I need it to, easily and quickly. I am very glad I started to use it!

How have you used Book Creator in your classroom? What apps do you use for your digital portfolio?

 

Getting Girls Coding: The Final Frontier?

Today I held my first Code Club at my current school. I have held coding clubs under various guises before, so when 15 boys and 3 girls came in I was disappointed but not particularly surprised. Once again, girls were outnumbered 1 to 5.

This is something that has continued to frustrate me as the ‘techie’ female teacher. Not only are women underrepresented in the STEM fields, and in ICT in particular, but that this segregation is happening very young. It is not at all surprising that girls are not going on to STEM careers when they are even underrepresented in STEM extracurricular activities from the age of 9, 10 and 11.

There are obviously a number of factors that contribute to the small amount of girls and women who choose to participate in STEM activities and, eventually, careers. In my particular situation, however, is is doubly as frustrating. These girls do have female role models involved in STEM in this school. A number of the people working in the technicians’ office are women, and they currently have a female ICT teacher (albeit for a limited time).

So what else is going on? I know it could be any number of things – not seeing ICT as a welcoming environment for girls, not thinking that they are capable, lack of confidence, never seeing ICT as an option for girls in popular culture and media…the list goes on.

In my experience, however, girls equal boys in loving to create using ICT. In class they love using different apps to express themselves, to create eBooks and videos and music. If given the opportunity they would stay inside at lunch to continue to create using technology. But the minute it becomes coding, they leave. In ICT, you can not be more creative than when coding: you have complete control over your creativity, rather than being limited by a software.

Unfortunately, I do not have a simple answer. I suspect that there is no one answer, given that the issue is caused by a number of factors. What I will do is continue encouraging girls to pursue their interest in STEM, hopefully set an example by being a woman whose passion is technology, and continue searching for ways to improve the current situation.

Starting the Year for Technology Success!

This year is proving to be quite different to the others in my teaching career. I have moved states (although I think I remain a Victorian in my heart!), changed from the public to private school system and am acting in the role of Head of Learning Technology for the term. Suffice to say, the learning curve was quite extraordinary but I am now settled in for a fantastic term of teaching and learning.

My new role means that I have spent the last week and a half in and out of different classrooms ensuring that technology, innovation and creation are hopefully on the forefront of people’s minds as the year begins. Here are some of the things that I have learnt about setting up the year for success using technology.

My classroom for Term 1.

My classroom for Term 1.

1. Make sure the expectations are clear from the beginning

Can the students have games on their iPads? Can they use their devices however they like after they have ‘finished’ their work? Are there any times when they cannot use their device and have to use their workbook?

For better or worse, each school environment has different rules around how students are able to use their device. Some schools require that student work is recorded in their books most of the time, while others are more fluid in their blending of the traditional and the innovative. Many of the behaviour management issues I see that are caused by technology can be avoided if the expectations are clear. There are lots of procedures that are taught in the beginning of the year to make sure the class runs as smoothly as possible – add in your technology routines and you will find that a lot of the classroom management issues will not arise later on.

2. Hook the students – and the teachers – in early.

Yes, students need to know how to use Pages/Word and how to print. But these skills will come if you provide them with rich learning experiences that allow them to play with the technology. Using technology should allow students to create things that were not possible ten years ago, to think outside of the square and connect their learning to the world outside school. It should allow them to have a deeper understanding of the content and better thinking skills as they get to manipulate the information, not just remember it.

In order for this to happen, however, you do not need to start with the boring stuff! Create a lesson that allows students to get to know each other using an interactive quiz, using Keynote and iMovie. Explore cyber safety by filming a role play of what to do if you are the target of online bullying. Give students an hour of ‘tinker’ time, a chance to get to know the different apps and programs available on their devices. All of this will give students an idea of what is possible using technology, so that when it is time for them to use it during a unit, they know they are not restricted to word processing and the lower stages of Bloom’s taxonomy.

3. Set up the basics

Are you using Google Drive this year? Take fifteen minutes to make sure all your students can access their account and can access documents you share with them. Do your students have email accounts? Take five minutes to make sure their accounts are connected to the default mail app so that they receive notifications.

These tasks don’t have to be done at all at once. Spend five or ten minutes each morning for the first week setting up two or three of the main tools you will be using, and you will avoid most of the issues arriving when you are teaching and go to use those tools.

4. Create classroom  ‘techXperts’

Teachers are busy, and it is easy for technology to be seen as just one more time eater. In most classes there are at least a couple of students who love technology and would be happy to help you out. Even as someone who loves technology, I have ‘techXperts’ in my class to help trouble shoot and offer suggestions. They may help out with a common error message, or suggest an excellent new app for their classmates to try. I have found some of my absolute favourite apps through students who were exploring the App Store for fun after school. They’re an excellent way to make sure technology is saving time, not wasting it.

5. Try at least one new tech tool in the first five weeks

It is easy to start the year with the best of intentions to try that new idea, or test that new app, only to have time slip away from you. Make a plan to try one of the new things you learnt about over the holidays in the first few weeks of school. It could be as simple as introducing a new app to your students to a larger project, such as implementing Project Based Learning or trying the flipped classroom. Introducing it at the start of the year stops us as teachers form falling back on the same patterns that we use each year, and puts us in the mind frame of innovation to hopefully continue throughout the year.

 

What do you do at the start of the year to make sure your use of technology and innovation is successful?