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

Posts tagged ‘iPad’


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.

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!


Wisconsin is a potluck culture. You don’t go anywhere without bringing something to share. Partly because we are a generous people by nature and partly because you can be sure there will be something you like to eat. I grew up near the bratwurst capital of the United States and I married a person who does not eat red meat. I know this to be true.

Which is why I think the new trend in students bringing their own devices (BYOD) is a fantastic idea. This Christmas, nearly every one of my students came back saying that Santa got them a new iPod Touch/Kindle/Kindle Fire/iPad/laptop (where was Santa when I needed him this year? All I got was a waffle iron! It’s great and I love waffles, but still …)

I think BYOD is a great idea for a several reasons.

  1. Students are less likely to damage their own property than the schools. I have seen too many of my students mishandling laptops and cameras and thinking nothing of it. If it was their precious iPod at risk, the one that they begged and pleaded for weeks to get, I doubt they would be juggling it down the hallway.
  2. It puts the pressure off the school to provide everything. I am all for giving students the tools they need, but wouldn’t it be nice if students were pumped about getting the latest Office suite? A group of my kids were pumped because they downloaded the Edmodo app on their iPods and were able to do their homework at home.
  3. It frees up resources for where they are needed. Rather than spending time creating an eReader policy, learning how to lock down and administrate the eReaders, and creating accounts for the eReaders—the kids can do that! Then, with setup out of the way, teachers and administrators can focus on teaching students how to use their devices better rather than getting them working and keeping them working.

However, there are issues that could easily pop up.

  1. Whatever machines are brought in need to have some level of conformity, such as everyone being able to use Google Apps. Most schools seem to use a policy that contains a list of acceptable devices and rules for how they can be used. Which brings me to the next issue …
  2. Acceptable use is an issue. If students are bringing their iPads to school, who is to say they are doing schoolwork and not just playing games or texting their friends? First, there are filters that can block most distracting and inappropriate communication. But no filter that I know of can beat a teacher being aware of what is going on in their classroom and being given the freedom to make judgment calls.
  3. Access for students needs to be universal. Sure, it is a parent’s job to provide what a child needs, but I have yet to visit one school that does not have a closet full of hats, gloves, notebooks, backpacks, pencil, and even Halloween costumes for kids who need them. Because, at the end of the day, it is the school’s job to make sure that everyone gets the opportunity to learn. Will schools have to buy some Kindles to act as loaners? Sure. But I think many schools would be surprised to see just how far parents will go when they are asked to step up. I would wager that schools would be loaning out fewer than they think, and that come the holidays, their kids won’t be asking for a Gameboy.

For more information on BYOD check out a great article The 7 Myths About BYOD Debunked by Lisa Nielsen.


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.


A wonderful app I have been using lately is TeacherPal. It is indeed a friend to me. I discovered this free app a while ago, but never got much of a chance to use it. For the most part, it is a graphical classroom management app that allows you to make classes, take attendance, assign grades, and take notes on student behavior.

Now, I did not intend to use this much. Like most schools, we already have a web-based attendance and grading suite made right here in Wisconsin, called Skyward. But being web-based it is tricky and often cumbersome to use on a tablet. TeacherPal just looks great. My classroom is organized by large thumbnail photos of my students. I tap one and it gives me all their attendance info, lets me take notes on their behavior or reading scores, see what their grades have been like, and even send an email to a parent.

I still am going to use Skyward for grading and attendance because I have to, and because I am not going to do the same job twice. But TeacherPal has been great in letting me keep track of the dozens of behaviors and interventions that I previously had to put into a spiral notebook.

My partner in the iPad trial, Scott, said it best when he mentioned how great it will look at conferences to click on a student and have all the important information right there, rather than a stack of papers in a manila envelope. If a hard copy is needed, say for permanent records? TeacherPal allows you to either upload your data to DropBox or emails you a handy Excel file, organized by student.

For everything that this app does, the only thing that hampers it is the occasional crash and subsequent loss of data. Though in using it in the last two weeks, I have lost only a single note. To its credit, it did warn me that it had not been uploaded to the database and a restart fixed it. In education, where records are vital and can cost you your job, I hope it’s something they take care of soon in an update. If you are a teach and own an iPod or iPad, trust me and download this soon!

iPad Observations

I went into this school year skeptical about how I would use my new tablet. For one thing, I questioned how useful it would be when I already have a computer and a SmartBoard.

However, I have noticed several changes in my behavior since using it.

  1. I am keeping better track of my student notes. I used to have a notebook where I would jot down late assignments, behavior issues and interventions.  I find that with a handy App called Teacher Pal, I am keeping better records than before.  Now when I click on a student’s name, I get his or her latest reading scores, a list of missing assignments, behavior issues, and positive interactions.  Imagine how useful this would be in a conference, and how much better this looks than a stack of papers in a manila envelope.
  2. I am keeping better track of events. Using the calendar, I can set reminders for myself and never forget any of the little management issues that often trip me up during the day.  Morning announcements? Rescheduled band practice? A student getting picked up early? I get little chimes throughout the day to remind me of the little things. They are like sticky notes, with alarm clocks strapped to them.
  3. I update my classroom blog a LOT more. Using the Blogspot app, it only takes me a few minutes to churn out an update, attach picture, and post it. I used to update my class blog every week or so. Now I get two or three posts a day, many of them written by my students. Many of the posts are little reminders for my class or updates for their parents. Hopefully this will go a long way toward making my classroom seem more approachable to parents, and the blog a place where my students can go to get updates.

Things I still want to be able to do:

  1. Be able to ‘write’ on my SmartBoard remotely, as though a miniature version of it were projected on my laptop. I have played around with a few programs, but most of them require a ‘double-tap’ or a ‘tap-and-hold’ to write. I want to be able to open an app, see the screen on my ipad and start doodling.
  2. Some way to easily write on PDF files. GoodReader does a decent job, but far too complicated for my students and far too complicated to replacing printing and writing on documents. I would like to be able to write on all the masters that I printed out, then save them rather than wasting paper printing them
  3. Speaking of printing, I want to be able to print wirelessly to our network printers. ANY network printers, not the choice list of printers that made the AirPrint cut.

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