Not All Designers Wear Fedoras: A Lesson in Design Thinking

By Derek May on May 08, 2013   /   1:1 cue Design Thinking EdTech education technology Educators iBallz iPad Deployment iPad Rollout iPadEd mlearning mobile learning    /   0 Comments

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.
Contact me I like to help:
@cscottsy -twitter

My bio:
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.

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All About the EdCamp Phenomenon

By Alex Marketing for iBallz on May 02, 2013   /   barcamp bill selak edcamp iBallz okc edcamp unconference    /   0 Comments


The EdCamp phenomenon has been gathering an immense amount of momentum recently.  EdCamps are free "unconferences" focused on professional development for educators. Based off of BarCamp,  this self-organized user generated learning session model was first used by hackers and other computer enthusiasts interested in open source software and anarchy, though the model eventually bled into the mainstream corporate computer world.  EdCamps are free and the sessions held during the conference (which frequently focus on Ed Tech) are participant taught, submitted via index card on a scheduling board each morning to make the day's schedule.

For more information on EdCamps, check out the EdCamp site but to really get a feel for what EdCamps are all about, check out this short video made by Ed Tech educator extraordinaire Bill Selak about the EdCamp experience.  Bill co-organizes EdCampSFBAYEdCampOCLA, and  EdCampLA - who better to let you know what the phenomenon is all about!

We've gotten a chance to work with a few EdCamps (check out iBallz at the Oklahoma City EdCamp at the bottom of the post!), but we know many of you out there organize and attend these events - we would love to hear from you!

Send us your EdCamp stories at to post on the blog and we'll give the ten best post writers a free set of iBallz so you can keep your tablet protected at the next "unconference".
Note: This offer applies to all of our international camp goers as well, as we'd love to hear their unique experiences at EdCamps.  Unfortunately, we can only offer free shipping to US recipients.

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The Best Free Android Apps for your Classroom

By Alex Marketing for iBallz on April 23, 2013   /   50languages android android tablet andromedia anydo Apple vs Android apps 4 kids apps for kids Apps in the classroom audioboo big fat canvas classroom apps Color Note Drop Box Ed tech edmodo Education Apps eduport Evernote Free Apps google docs google maps google nexus 7 how to draw mindjet minus mobile learning one note samsung galaxy skitch socratica sync space Tablet tablets in the classroom take a talk top free android apps tweetdeck vocalyze wave recorder web talks wifi file transer    /   0 Comments


Recently deployed Android tablets in your classroom?

Here at iBallz our universal nature lets us bridge the gap between Android and Apple - we fit on both!  We know many of our readers use Android tablets in their classroom, so when we found this awesome resource of great free educational apps for teachers and students (, we just had to share.  

This is a well curated list of "must haves" for any teacher with an android.  Each slide describes one of these most loved apps and includes a screens shot and links for download and to a longer review.  The apps featured are:

1) Evernote - Allows users to organize photos, to do lists, web pages, notes and reminders into searchable notebooks
2) Dropbox - shareable cloud file storage
3) Color Note - Notetaking app that looks like colored stickie notes
4) Edmodo - Allows educators to create a facebook like environment for just a specified group or class
5) Vocalyze - Provides written web content in an audio format
6) Google Maps - Like the web version, you can navigate and find places all over the world
7) Tweetdeck - Twitter organizer
8) Sync Space - A whiteboard app that creates documents and drawings
9) Skitch - Great for annotating pictures
10) Audioboo - Record audio clips and share them with others
11) Apps 4 Kids - Provides kid safe apps
12) Socratica - a web service that provides a wide range of educational apps covering everything from Greek mythology to arithmetic
13) Take a Talk - Another great audio recording app
14) 50Languages - One of the best apps for students learning new languages
15) Wave Recorder - a more robust voice recording app
16) AndroMedia - Easy to use video editing
17) How to Draw - An app for practicing drawing
18) Web Talks - Reads RSS feeds out loud
19) Minus - Allows users to upload and share files between android devices and computers
20) Big Fat Canvas - a great drawing app
21) WiFi File Transfer - allows users to transfer files to anything else on the wifi network
22) AnyDo - Dictate your to do list into your phone
23) Mindjet - An app used to create mind maps and diagrams
24) EduPort - Connects you to a library of educational videos
25) One Note - Great for taking notes quickly on the go
26) Google Docs - Create, edit, upload, and share documents and files

Are you using these top free Android apps in your classroom?  Let us know which are your favorite in the comments below!

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Is an iPad or an Android Tablet Best for Your Classroom?

By Alex Marketing for iBallz on April 17, 2013   /   Android Apple Apple vs Android Blackberry Drop Protection Educators Free Apps Google Nexus iBallz iFan iPad iPad Deployment Microsoft Tablet Tablet Drop Protection Tablets in the classroom universal USA Today    /   0 Comments


Here at iBallz we're huge iPad fans - after all we thought up our legendary drop protection on the day the iPad was announced!  Check out our posts on iPad Deployment and a list of free iPad apps for educators earlier on our blog.

Despite being inspired by the birth of the iPad, we certainly don't play favorites - after all we fit on almost any tablet on the market, be it iPad, Android, Blackberry or Microsoft - you name it!  Not sure whether Apple or Android is right for you?  Check out this informative rundown of the differences between the two in this article by USA Today Educate aimed at students:

Already made up your mind?  Are you an iFan or an Android devotee?  Let us know in the comments below!

And don't forget to keep in touch with iBallz by "liking" us on Facebook and following us on Twitter!

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Being One With the Sword: Secrets to Using a Single iPad to Flip Your Classroom

By Derek May on November 28, 2012   /     /   2 Comments

Samurai swords come in all different shapes, sizes, styles, and weights.  The design has evolved over time, but the passion and honor that accompanies a true samurai word will never fade.  Being able to use the tools of the trade and mastering the true meaning of being a samurai involves the acceptance and appreciation of the sword in the samurai’s hand.  Without the faith of the tool in his hand, the samurai is at an extreme disadvantage entering conflict.

Isao Machii has set Guinness Book of World Records with his ability to epitomize the concept of “being one with the sword”.  His ability to understand what his sword is doing mid-flight cannot be matched.  In the video above, researchers attempt to propose a task that is unfathomable by the most experienced samurais, yet Isao Machii perseveres, trusts his sword, and prevails.

In my own little world, I like to think that I am the Isao Machii of room 205.  I’ve struck a moving bullet with a sword.  Reality check - I’ve never even really laid hands on a sword.  The connection that Isao and I have is that my iPad is my sword.  Without this tool, I would still be a samurai of sorts.  However, with this tool, I am more than just a teacher.  With this tool, I am able to do things that I never thought were possible.  With this tool, my entire classroom has changed for the better.

The introduction of the iPad into my daily lessons has certainly evolved my classroom, but the passion and honor that comes with being a teacher will never fade.  Being able to use the tools of the trade and mastering the true meaning of being a 21st century educator involves the acceptance and appreciation of the technology that is available.  Without the faith of the technology in my possession, I would be at an extreme disadvantage entering the classroom.

Have there been pitfalls?  Absolutely.  For the longest time, having a single iPad for my classroom was more of a curse than a blessing.  It felt like being fed a dinner roll as your entire meal from a robust spread on Thanksgiving Day.  Teachers all around me were getting cart after cart of 20+ iPads, iPod Touches, and other technology that would’ve been so nice to have my students use!  Instead, I was stuck with the burden of making a 1 iPad classroom into a success.

This was when my inner Isao Machii came out.  Using Twitter, websites, blogs, and other tools to build my database, the iPad and I began to become one with each other.  It was no longer about looking at the greener pastures.  Instead, it was channeling my energy and focus into this incredible tool that had been passed on to me as a way to enhance my classroom instruction.  From then on, it was a process that utilized a number of apps and Web2.0 tools to:

·      Research best practices for integrating apps into my lessons

·      Create videos that supplement my classroom instruction

·      Connect with parents about upcoming events

·      Connect with students about, well, everything

·      Present dynamic lessons with full technology integration

·      Have students create authentic and rich content to prove mastery

·      Share the results of a quality product


Being a great samurai has so little to do with the quality of the sword and so much to do with the dedication of the individual to his craft.  The same can be said about quality teaching.  Handing an iPad (or any device, for that matter) and having the expectation that it will transform the learning process is the most difficult assumption to debunk.  Using the iPad as an email-checking, Keynote-presenting, self-fulfilling device is not going to make any teacher better.

By doing the research and being comfortable with the learning curve, the 1 iPad classroom can truly evolve into something great.  While it is far from where I would like it to be, my classroom is cruising in a 1 iPad setting right now.  I am comfortable handing my students the technology because I know that they know this is an amazing piece of revolutionary knowledge.  The students use the iPad during the course of a lesson just as much as, if not more than, I do.

Getting over the idea that a 1 iPad classroom cannot work is the biggest hurdle to a successful 21st – century classroom.  With the tools that are available and the people who are willing to help, a single iPad is more than enough to transform your classroom.  All that you need is the willingness to put in the aforementioned research and time necessary to get comfortable with this simple, yet incredibly powerful, device.  From there, the success is no longer about the sword – it is about the samurai.

In essence, I am striking a moving bullet with a sword.  I am the samurai, and the 1 iPad in my classroom is my sword.


Special thanks to John Stevens for this guest post!  Don't forget to "like" iBallz on Facebook and follow iBallz on Twitter to keep up with iBallz deals, giveaways, and posts!

About the author: John has been an 8th grade math teacher in the Palm Springs, California area for the past 7 years.  Seeing the movement toward a 21st century education, his school district has been allocating money to the use of technology in the classroom, namely in the purchase of iPads.  John leads a team of educators on iPad integration into classrooms and has created as a resource for all teachers with iPads.  He and his team have presented trainings, professional development workshops, and have presented at the CUE conference in Palm Springs.  To contact John, email him at, follow him on Twitter @jstevens009 or @appsintheclass, or visit

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