Teacher Lee Briggs on technology in today's classroom. Brought to you by Weekly Reader.

Archive for the ‘iPad’ Category


Not to be messed with.

Has technology gone too far?  The iPod has replaced my CD player, my datebook, my calculator, my remote control, my radio, and my alarm clock. My iPad has replaced my newspaper, much of my library, and my laptop for a good portion of my surfing.  I am a huge technophile, but everyone has their limits, and today, I am sorry to say, I reached my limit.

The tag-team of the iPod and iPad have joined forces to replace something near and dear to my heart: a replacement so diabolical that it almost makes me want to renounce all things digital and take up with the Amish I see every day on my way to work.  Sure, the life is hard, but it beats the evil that has been done to something so dear to my heart.

The company Amidio has created a dual app that uses the iPad and the iPod to create a ‘virtual’ ukulele.   I have seven ukuleles in my classroom (with an eighth one on the way; this one hunter orange). A group of students meets three times a week to practice. And now this?  I feel like a candlemaker who has seen his first lightbulb. For shame.


I recently wrote about using screen-capture to record lessons and export them to YouTube. While not difficult, this is muti-step process that requires you have a set of specific hardware. In order to make an instructional video, one needs to have screen-capturing software, a headset or microphone, and either an interactive whiteboard or a Wacom tablet in order to record writing.

After you record your lesson, one has to upload the resulting video to YouTube or a similar video hosting service. This takes enough time to make it inconvent, especially since—like most teachers—I prefer to do my lesson planning at home, miles away from my SMARTboard.

Enter my new favorite app/website, ShowMe. Show me is an app for the iPad that allows you to record lessons as you would on an interactive whiteboard, or over a screenshot or worksheet. It records what you say and what you write, something made easier by buying a $10 iPad stylus. When you are done with the lesson, it uploads it automatically to ShowMe’s website, letting you email it or embed it into a blog or website. One app. One step. As easy as falling down.

Sure, you have to have an iPad to use this app, but ShowMe makes this process so easy, and only adds to the already long list of iPad applications you apply to the classroom. ShowMe is also intended to be so easy that you could pass the iPad to a student and have peers teach each other. Imagine a room full of iPads which students recording their own ShowMes, then submitting a video explaining their solution to a problem with an oral and video answer to the question for their peers to look at and assess. That’s what I did:

ShowMe at work

The Real iPad Announcement

The iPad just got an update, better screen, faster speed, and a better camera (finally), but it was not the monumental update that some on the Internet were claiming it would be. For me, the best news was that the iPad 2 was kept on as an entry-level tablet at a cost of under $400.

Why would I be excited that there would be an entry level tablet?  Because it means that there will be a cheap tablets for schools and families who otherwise would not have the means to buy the only-cutting-edge products that Apple has been known for lately. This is makes the iPad a device that anyone can own, not just a toy for the rich that they upgrade every year.

The announcement that I was most excited about, however, was not really noticed by the media.  Apple quietly rolled out Apple Configurator, a free tool for schools, businesses, and governments to manage large numbers of iPads, making sure that they are running smoothly and are up to date.  This solves the problem that a lot of schools have in adjusting and maintaining large numbers of iPads, which are admittedly set up as ‘personal’ devices, not something easily rolled out in droves.

Finding Great iPad Apps

The iPad is an amazing device. If you don’t have one, it’s hard to describe what having one is like; the closest thing I can think of is what life was like when [the Internet/cell phones/wi-fi/automatic transmissions/wheels] first came out. You have those yet to make the switch wondering what the fuss is about, and those who made the switch wondering how they ever did without it.

I believe that this will be the case for schools in the next few years. Apple is betting on it with its educational push, and schools are doing their best to figure out best practices for these devices. What kinds of activities do we want to support? How will we authenticate and distribute purchases? In their own way, each distinct seems to be answering these nuts and bolts questions. But it’s all just so new! And finding educational resources for the iPad, while not impossible, is often a slow process. You can wade through dozens of apps; some are good, some not so good.

Which is why it was great to find this site. The author lays out 14 best practices for the use of the iPad and includes a shopping list of apps that help meet those needs. Each one is reviewed briefly and labeled in terms of difficulty. After mucking around in what passes for an education department in the App Store, it is nice to see something put together by a teacher that lays everything out so clearly. Thank you, good sir!

One of My Favorite Tools Keeps Getting Better

I love, love, love Evernote.  I used to (and still mostly do) operate in my classroom using a mish-mash of legal pads, emails, folders and enough sticky notes to fell a small rainforest.  Most teachers I know of work the same way or similar. Evernote lets you take notes and save them to the cloud. You can tag them for indexing or search them to recall all kinds of useful information instantly, from shopping lists to your students’ reading scores.

Evernote has recently acquired a company called Skitch. Skitch was a Windows and Mac app that allowed you to edit and write on documents, screenshots, and images. Handy, sure; but nothing fantastic. By merging Evernote and Skitch, you can now save your images to notes, and add notations, highlighting, and the like. Not bad.

Wait, they just made Skitch into an iPad App? AMAZING!

This is a needed and missing puzzle piece in my use of my iPad.  There are not a lot of good options for filling out forms or writing on images. Now I can write up forms, annotate documents and shoot them off as emails, save them to Evernote, or collaborate with colleagues. Not only can I save typed data to Evernote, but also hand-written information, sketches, maps, and screenshots.

I only just started using this tool. More to come as I put it through its paces.


I have been bemoaning the need to have some way of making my SmartBoard and my iPad talk for some time.  There are options out there, I have been using them at home, but due to some issues with the setup of our network here at school I have been unable to remote control my school machine.

Until now.

I can control my SmartBoard using what is called, in the business, a VNC (virtual network computing). I call it awesome. After setting up a client program on my SmartBoard computer (it could be any computer. really) I fired up a great little app called Screens.

Screens is not alone among the remote control market. There are free apps, such as Mocha VNC, and paid, professional versions such as Gotomypc. Screens costs $20 and works with Mac or PC, and has completely changed how I can work in my room.

If I have to jot something on the board I no longer have to turn my back to my little cherubs. Instead I just tap it out on my iPad and it shows up behind me. If I send a kid to board and they mess something up, I can fix it from the back of the room. I also tend to work in the lab a lot, but then feel the need to put something on the board. I can now do that. Magically, my commands appear on the wall. (I am a wizard, children, you cannot escape my commands! Now do your spelling!)

The magic of Screens.

The only hitch with this particular App? It was not designed to work as a demonstration app. For example, it does not execute drag commands very well. This means that if I want to ‘write’ on the board I need to tap and hold before I can write something with my stylus.  Screens could easily fix this by making a ‘drag’ button that you press while writing. But taht seems to be the only feature this fantastic app has overlooked.

For real presentation integration you can use a program/app combo called Doceri, which was made specifically to be used in classrooms for demonstrations with full pen support and even a pen that recognizes your palm while writing. That allows you to rest your wrist on the screen while writing. But all that customization comes at a cost, which is $50 per install.

Which begs a question: Why am I even reviewing these options? My school spent a lot of good money on this interactive whiteboard. Why doesn’t Smart technologies, Promethean, or any other the other companies create an app that is made for their program?  Because they want to sell me their proprietary tablets or slates and make even more money off me. So for the time being, I will continue to use Screens, an affordable, easy-to-use option that works with what I already have.

Let’s Take a Starwalk

I held my second astronomy night last Thursday, and despite a table giving way and causing two gallons of hot cider to spill, everything went very well. The massive 8-inch cannon of a telescope, on loan from our local CESA cooperative, gave us great views of Jupiter and its four moons. The fancy (i.e., complicated) telescope that I purchased last year gave us good views of the moon and my two smaller (i.e., a lot simpler to aim) telescopes gave us views of the Galaxy in Andromeda and the Great Cluster in Hercules.

But the real star of the night (pun intended) were the two iPads that Scott Schiller and I had on hand. The app Starwalk was heavily featured in the original iPad commercials and for good reason: It’s fantastic. Hold it up to the sky and it shows you in real time what constellation you are looking at. Do the pinch-zoom thing and you can see deep-sky objects visible in your telescope. Adjust the clock, and you know what will be visible in a few minutes or a hundred years from now.

My students and their parents huddled around the screens looking up at the sky at stars they had always seen but never known the names of. The real fun happened, as predicted by Starwalk, at exactly 7:36pm. That was when the International Space Station flew overhead as a bright orange spot in the sky, it and its three astronauts flying cruising at 18,000 MPH. My students and their parents were in awe as it cruised by. Its square shape could be made out through binoculars. Exactly 7:42, as predicted by Starwalk, it passed again under the horizon.

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