September 30, 2012

Simple Apps Are Best

I did not have my students use their iPads a lot last week. It's not like I totally gave up...but I was gung-ho on teaching my research unit, which I always believe to be something that should be reviewed at the beginning of the year, but with connectivity issues, my colleague, Mrs. E. and I decided to go ahead with the novel we would normally do about this time of year. Research will be pushed back a bit.

We had school-based testing to complete this week, and I showed the students Discovery Education's The Clone Age to scaffold for The House of the Scorpion, so we just did not break iPads out much.

I did try to use Socrative to do the pre-reading anticipation guide. I thought it would be a fun way to start some discussion when we could see a chart of everyone's responses. Of course, we had wi-fi issues, and our district's Internet, in general, was sluggish for a few days, so it was not as much fun as I thought it would be. I tried to get students to discuss a bit despite the technology fail, but everyone really wanted to try to the program to work so they could answer the questions, so many were distracted. Yeah. I caused that distraction.  Oy!

On a happier note, Mrs. E. and thought that we might be able to incorporate more vocabulary this year with the vocabulary text we have. It tends to consume so much of our class, and we don't have enough books to send home (and have them come back so we can use them for year to year), so it's tough when it takes them a whole class period--and maybe more to copy down their words to they can study--that's not even the time to work with the exercises! With the shortage of paper, it wasn't like I was going to make copies either. PLUS, I always thought that it was best to have them create notecards so they could practice at home. So, anyway, we found that Quizlet  already had the vocabulary from out text loaded. Furthermore, Quizlet had a few other games/activities that student could play, including one where the definition is presented to them, and students have to type the word. Yeah! Spelling practice, too!

Okay, so seriously. It's not that big of deal, right? Well, we had a bunch of students saying how much it helped them--they would just come up to us out of the blue to tell us, too! The proof is in the pudding. I took a little poll where I asked who used it and who thought it helped them prepare for the quiz we took on Friday. Nearly all hands shot up. After the quiz, I asked a few students who had bombed the quiz if they used Quizlet, and NOT ONE OF THEM had. Except for those fools, the students did really well on the quiz, and they were quite proud of themselves.

I know I'm hardly tapping into any higher thinking skills here, but you know, the iPad is a tool, and we found some use with it last week. Maybe it's going to be baby steps for me.

September 22, 2012

iPads Transform Learning, right?

This was the longest week ever!

My school was chosen for a 1:1 iPad program. This was the first week that students had them, and was it a crazy week! I was disappointed to see that the students did not receive the Gumdrop cases that they are suppose to get (lost in a typhoon somewhere?) and the lightweight silicone covers on the back offer little protection. I've been freaked out watching how some handle their iPads. Okay, just trying to ignore...

When we teachers initially received our training, the district trainers, one of whom piloted a program in him classroom last year, suggested that we try for 2 days a week of usage in our classrooms. Most teachers at my school jumped right in and have been using them everyday. Some are more innovative than others, and I can honestly say that I have not used mine in much of an innovative manner. I haven't been using QR codes to send my students on an exciting adventure, and I haven't had them record movies of their vocabulary words. I'm just no fun at all.

I was particularly excited on the day we were reviewing how to create interesting leads, and instead of having them copy down a day's lecture of notes, I sent them PDF files that they imported into Notability. I went over a few of the common lead types and warned them of pitfall--like how asking stupid questions as a lead is not an effective approach--but for most of the class period students were working on answering the question, "What are the qualities of a good lead." I should preface that they also brought in interesting first lines from novels, so they could steal ideas from writers, as often the same techniques can be used in fiction and expository writing.

It worked out so well that I could give them materials, without maxing out my 1500-copy-a-month limit and time to do inquiry.  The students nailed in on the head with describing what makes great leads. Unfortunately 25% of them were not able to create interesting leads for their own essays, so that was a bummer that it did not sink in...I guess iPads cannot solve everything.

As cool as that one day lesson was, it failed on so many levels because not all of my students were able to connect to the wi-fi to grab the materials I sent to them. EPIC FAIL. In my 2nd period class, students are typically never able to connect. In my 3rd period class, about halfway through the class students are able to connect. That was the pattern for most of the week, except on Friday when my 3rd period class, which is my biggest and rowdiest, could never connect.

The wi-fi issue has concerned to us since the first day we heard that we were getting this program. We had a 1:1 laptop program with the magnet students a few years back (we've since put those on laptop carts that all teachers take turns using), so technology is not a new thing in our school. We are all too well aware of the PITA it is to use technology that will not connect to the Internet. We were assured that things would be beefed up.

Well, I'd like to know, where's the beef? Although I can think on my feet when technology fails, I'm finding it so much more challenging with the iPads. With the laptops, when the wi-fi won't work with random students, I've learned to hard connect students to Ethernet ports, of which I created stations with cords for all 8 of my extra ports. I could send materials with a simple USB drive if needed. With iPads having no connectors and converters that work with these two methods, I can't even begin to troubleshoot my own problems like I have in the past.

We need the stupid wi-fi to work.

Honestly, I'm ready to leave the Mac Cult after this week, but I'm obviously so entrenched, there's no way out.

It's only week one. Maybe things will get better. I was ready to jump into my research unit next week. I recorded some of my lectures so I could flip my classroom, and I had great activities planned to get kids researching on topics they would choose as we learned the ins and outs of effective research online. (Actually getting to practice it in class is something we typically never have time for.)  Instead, I'll be starting the novel that I had pushed back until closer to Christmas.

I am as disappoint as the students will be, but my hands are tied. I can't waste class time trying to get kids connected to the Internet.

As of Wednesday, I'm thinking about a nice cushy job in the rural Pakistan. Pencils and chalk, baby!