At the most recent CUE Rock Star Teacher Camp I was listening in on a group of teachers from St. Rose school in Paso Robles, CA. They are considering a 1:1 program and debating the merits of various devices. I started a 1:1 Ubermix Netbook program at my school and have realized more than a few hiccups on the road to implementation. I jumped in the St. Rose discussion and asked how they plan on using the devices. Much like my own experience they were starting with the device and not the pedagogy.
I’ve found our 1:1 program to be a game-changer, that is if you allow it to be. Some teachers choose to use devices in the classroom to digitally tear down the classroom walls, others develop more controls to corral their students. I used to think that to allow more creativity in the class I needed to be hands-off and allow the students to roam with loads of freedom. I found that offering that much freedom to my students was unfair. They have come from traditional classrooms where the teachers stand and deliver while the students consume. To offer the opportunity to develop my student’s creativity I needed to help them with the process. I turned to Design Thinking.
I’ve always been afraid of the term Design Thinking as I considered myself a teacher, not a designer. Designers have style, wear fedoras and pointy shoes. It took some time for me to tear down my preconceptions and accept the fact that all teachers are designers and I want my students to be designers as well. Teachers are designers as they develop student experience and classroom atmosphere. It’s a daily process that shapes your student’s learning and advancement towards their unrealized potential. Design Thinking is a simple process. The first step is understanding the problem. We can better understand the problem through observation, questioning and listening. For the St. Rose folks the problem might be how to best utilize the device they adopt for their 1:1 program. For me it was how do I best help my students, develop their creativity, tap into their natural excitement for learning and in general make everyday like summer camp. We can better understand the problem through observation, questioning and listening.
As we understand the problem we diverge our thinking to develop lots of possible solutions. The key is to encourage wild ideas. Interview people, ask opinions and most importantly do not be attached to any one solution. This isn’t about you, it’s about the user. After you have wild ideas you hone in on one that seems workable. Build it. Use it. Test it. Reflect, redesign, rebuild and try again. This step could continue ad infinitum, and it does as everyday we are designing student learning experiences. Every year we have new students who need us to tear down our pedagogy and rebuild. It’s an exciting process that most of us were never aware is inherently written in a teacher’s job description. It’s tough being a teacher, but your students need you.
I’ve used Design Thinking with my students as they design a project to help a classmate learn a subject. They interview asking questions like “What ways have helped you learn in the past?” “What do you like to do outside of school?” “What were some of your most memorable projects in the past?” Students begin to design a project to help their classmates while asking questions and honing their work to best suit their classmates needs. Try Design Thinking, you’ll find it to be a powerful tool in your toolbox.
Chris, father of 3 boys, is a full time history teacher who has introduced and developed several technology programs within his district. His student-lead Geek Squad built and maintains the technology resources within his district including the K-1 Open Source computer lab. Chris proposed and has successfully implemented a 1:1 netbook program that uses Open Source software, making a cost-effective and easily manageable program. He loves using Design Thinking, Scrum in the class and seeing his students love learning. Besides being a History and Technology teacher, he’s currently the President of Santa Barbara CUE, a Google Teacher Academy UK 2012 grad and a CK-12 Champion. He regularly presents at conferences on technology and classroom culture. Most recently he has built a MinecraftEDU server to offer his students freedom to explore, build and collaborate.
It’s a new school year with new students, new challenges,
and maybe even a little new technology!
Right after you settle into the new term but before you settle in for
the holiday season comes a bevvy of Ed camps, conferences, and summits. We were fortunate enough to get to jump in on
a few here in California and had a blast meeting all the movers and shakers in
First we hit the Google
Apps for Education summit in SF, which got us very inspired about
apps! Google really has a lot to offer
educators and students. Since the conference we have been working with
the EdTech Team (http://www.edtechteam.com), recently supporting their donation of Google Nexus 7
tablets to classrooms. More info at
Additionally in SF we attended and sponsored the integratEd SF conference. At the conference we got to attend group sessions on BYOD program implementation, using social media to engage students and parents, and an amazing iPad 101 workshop presented by Mark McWhinnie (www.markmcwhinnie.com).
Next we hit the road to beautiful Napa for the CUE Fall
Conference, which we helped sponsor. We
towed the iBallz camper up north and set up shop in the courtyard of the
beautiful American Canyon High School.
What incredible facilities! The
school is beautiful and pristine, complete with a field of solar panels guarded
by a friendly group of sheep which came right up to greet us. At the conference we got to hear workshops on
everything from Twitter for Teachers by the ultra informative Bill Selak and we
learned all about Design Thinking and it’s many problem solving
applications. We were amazed by all the
creative educators at the conference, fearlessly experimenting with new and
innovative models of teaching!
The most ubiquitously popular of the bunch:Evernote – Free – The most well known of the
bunch, Evernote allows you to capture text notes, audio recordings, photos, and web
clips and arrange them into neatly organized notebooks. Evernote offers a host of organizing
features, including tagging notes with keywords and notebooks can be synced and
accessed through an iPhone, iPad, or desktop app, or through their site. This app is great for those that want a
scrapbook feel (great for bringing in information from a variety of sources)
with high organization.
robust free app for taking lecture notes:Paperport Notes – Free – This great
free note taking app allows you to annotate over imported documents or
documents from the web, type or write freehand notes, highlight sections, and
most notably dictate notes to text. You
can sync notes with Dropbox, Box.net, and other apps for easy access and
sharing – not bad at all for a free app!
The most visually pleasing layout:SpringPad – Free – Pitched as an
Evernote-meets-Pinterest app, SpringPad gives you much of the functions of
Evernote with the visually oriented layout of Pinterest. SpringPad lets you add photos, to-do lists,
links, locations and more to board-like notebooks via a button on your browser
or manually through their iPhone and iPad apps or web portal. You can share specific notebooks with other
people or add them as co-creators, allowing you to share content on a specific
subject to a specific person rather than the whole shebang. The app also has loads of other robust
functions (for example if you import a location, it adds details like address
and open hours), and is great for allowing teachers to share robust
informational content with students, or for student paper and project
collaboration, but would fall flat for students attempting to use it as a means
for lecture notes.
The best inexpensive app for recording lectures while taking
$.99 – The most standout function of this app is that it allows you to record
audio and take notes via handwriting or typing simultaneously – great for
recording a lecture while taking notes. Notes
can be organized by subject or category and exported and synced through
For those that like to keep it simple:Simplenote - Free – As the name suggests,
this is a very simple, unobtrusive, user friendly notetaking app, with well
working basic functions. Only drawback
here is that notes can only be exported as email text.
When my kids gave me an iPad for Christmas in 2010, I was
really jazzed about my new toy. I could
take photos and videos, play music and Angry
Birds. My grandson could use it for watching videos and playing simple
learning games. I could use it to teach
my nephew (now 22), who has autism, how to play Scrabble.
At the time, I had no idea what a wonderful tool it would be
for teaching and learning for kids with Autism/Asperger’s and similar
developmental differences. After just a
few weeks, though, I started reading blog posts by parents of kids on the
spectrum describing the amazing stuff happening as their kids started using
iPads. Yes, they were learning new skills, but even more surprising, they were
becoming more engaged with their parents and siblings. Teachers were noticing the same things.
One teacher friend of mine uses the iPad and the app Sound Literacyto work on word-building
with her students. Before, they would get frustrated trying to move small tiles
around to make words. With Sound Literacy, the tiles stayed in
place and they could focus on spelling rather than picking up dropped tiles. For younger children, apps like Tozzleand Wood Puzzleallow them to develop visual-motor and
visual-perceptual skills while minimizing the need for fine motor expertise. No
more spilled puzzles all over the floor!
Speech, language, and social skills are important areas to
work on for kids on the autism spectrum.
This is one place where the iPad really shines. Apps such as Conversation Builderand Question
Builder provide opportunities for the back-and-forth communication that is
so important. With Pocket Lexiand Language
Forest, specific language needs can be targeted.
One of the most significant advances is the use of
communication boards for those who are nonverbal. I used to create communication books and
social stories for my students. Having unending possibilities at your fingertips
with the iPad is just an incredible improvement. Most of these apps can be customized. Stories2Learnhelps the parent or
teacher create child-specific social stories, including using your own pictures
and recording your own words. Others, such as Easy Boardand Picture AAC
use predetermined picture cards to create communication boards.Sosh is an amazing app for older teens
and young adults that helps develop coping skills in different situations (and
Over the course of several months, my nephew progressed from
needing help with choosing every word in Scrabble
to beating me in some games. In addition
to improving his spelling, he started using the dictionary.com app to find out the meanings of words I played. I noticed him using some of those words in
texts that he sent me.
When he wanted to tell me the stories he had locked in his
head, I discovered apps like Sound Note
and Storyist (more on that in a
future post). He had been struggling for
months to master math facts, particularly division. Operation
Math came out and he took off. He
loved the spy mission theme, the subtle word plays, and winning badges. He actually passed eight levels of division
without any help from me.
Being able to read books on the iPad is another advantage. As we progressed through one, The Magic Thief, he was able to use the
highlight feature to mark similes and metaphors (of which there are an
abundance in this series!). If we
wanted to, he could have also used the note-taking feature to type short comments
about what he was reading. I had a
couple of Walter Mitty stories in a
book, and after reading those, he used my iPad to find an animated video of
one. We could have used the computer,
but the iPad was handier!
From the ABCs to spelling, from pointing to pictures to
holding conversations, from reading books to writing them, the iPad is turning
out to be “all that jazz” and more for kids on the autism spectrum, their
families, and their teachers. It certainly
went beyond my wildest dreams back on that Christmas day in 2010.
Nancy Barth is a retired special education teacher. She tutors children and adults with autism and dyslexia in the Fresno area and also remotely via Skype. To learn more and join the discussion, visit her blog where you can find posts about iPad apps, reading, writing, handwriting, math, processing disorders, social skills, organizational skills and more.
Be the first to know about new offerings, specials, and other fun stuff: Sign up for “The Spark” on her blog and you’ll get a complimentary copy of the eBook "The Wonderful World of Apps for Educators of All Levels."
1. Nearpod - Free (with subscription-based access) - Nearpod is a combination student/teacher app that allows you to turn your lessons into interactive multimedia presentations (think interactive powerpoint lessons in the student's hands) and is an amazing way to engage your students further while lecturing in class. Besides having a copy of the lesson presentation in their lap, Nearpod lets teachers include polls, multiple choice and extended response questions, pictures for students to draw on, and gives the option of immediate individual feedback from teachers for each students' work. Check out the video below to get a better idea of what this awesome app can do.
2. Prezi - Free - Prezi is a cloud-based presentation app that allows you to create visually engaging presentations on a single zoomable canvas. Prezi is a great tool to give over to your students to make an energetic presentation that forces them to think about the content their presenting in a new and energetic out-of-the-box way. There's tons of bell and whistles with Prezi that students can dive into and there's a definite "wow" factor for students viewing presentation in this new format. Take a look at the video below to get a feel for what a zoomable single canvas presentation can look like and click here if you want to see a Prezi on the app's use as an education tool.
3. Edmodo - Free - Meet students where they live by turning your classroom into an online social networking community. With Edmodo you can create a Facebook-like stream where you can post topics/questions/surveys for your class that your students can comment, respond, and vote on. You can also post assignments and due dates and have students submit their work (and access their grades) and post additional videos or resources for students who want to delve into a topic further.
4. Educreations - Free - Educreations is an easy to use video tutorial creator app that's great for making dynamic video lessons for teachers to share with their students. Instructors can make multipage lessons, import images and move or resize them while recording, and narrate the entire thing all along the way. Educreations hosts the videos on their own site (great if your school block YouTube) and you can share the videos with a select group of students (or embed them on your blog/Facebook/Twitter) or publicly with the Educreations community. This app is also great for having students create tutorial videos for each other!
5. Toontastic - Free for one background/theme- Turn your lesson or your students' presentations into a cartoon with this fun, free app. This app is a great way for students to summarize a novel they've just completed, show their understanding of a historical event they're studying, or share stories of their own creation.
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