iPads

At the school where I am teaching this year, all of the students, K – 12, are issued iPads. Whether this is the coming thing in education or not, I cannot say. I like the idea, but then I like technology in teaching and learning. My school issued iPad is my fourth. I offer today a few observations, anecdotal to be sure, for those who are curious about this growing trend.

First, the school owns the iPads. Therefore, the school restricts what apps students can use on them. The school can see what is on each iPad. Students are able to download apps only from the school’s approved list. The school pays for some of the recommended apps. The iPads do not have Apps Store access. The school owns and uses software to make this possible. Students who manage to get around the system are called in and the problem is corrected.

Websites that are not approved are blocked on the school’s server. Students can still access the entire web away from the school.

Yes, the students have games on their iPads, and yes, they try to play them in class. There is also instant messaging and e-mail. The teachers have to keep an eye on what the kids are doing – nothing new about that.

Many of the teachers require students to do their reports and essays using one of the apps available. Students are getting very good at note talking on their machines. Notability (about $3) seems to be the most popular app for this. Even in math classes students can take their notes and do their homework without benefit of paper. Some students e-mail me their homework on days when I collect it.

There are a variety of graphing apps available all of which produce far better graphs than graphing calculators. Good Grapher Pro is my favorite and very easy to use for both 2D and 3D graphs.

Graphing by hand is a problem. Note-taking apps have grid backgrounds, but it is difficult to plot points, and draw lines or curves as neatly as you can on paper.

My calculus classes have access to an electronic copy of their textbook online. It is available anywhere there is internet access. They have a full copy of everything in the text and it looks just like the text. Most of the drawings are animated in the online version – this is a big plus. Also, it is easy to copy an individual problem, say a definite integral, and paste it into Notability or another app and work on it.

My Algebra 1 students do not have an online copy available. They do the next best thing. They photograph the homework page and do their problems from the picture.

It turns out that I am not 100% technology: I still give most of my notes and work the homework problems on a whiteboard. Some students photograph what I write. Then they take the picture home and use it to study from – at least that’s what they tell me. I hope this is a help. I can talk and write on the board much faster than students can write. It seems to me that sometimes note taking can be a distraction. That is, kids are so busy writing down everything that they are not following the flow of ideas.  So, if listening and then taking a picture helps them learn better, I’m all for it.

I also post assignments, worksheets, and so forth online. Students download them to their iPads and always have them handy.

In a previous post I discussed how I use an app called Socrative in my classes.

Please share your experiences with in-class iPad use. Use the “leave a comment” link below.

Socrative

As you may know I have un-retired this year and gone back to high school teaching; I’m filling in for a friend who is on sabbatical. It turns out that this takes a lot of time and so I’ve been writing very little and perhaps neglecting my blog. Today I would like to share a website that I’ve been using this year with both my BC calculus students and my eighth grade Algebra 1 students. It is called Socrative; the URL is www.socrative.com.

The website is similar to a “clicker.” It can be used with a computer, a smart phone, an iPad or other tablet – anything that can connect to the internet. The first time teachers join they get a “room number” that remains theirs from then on. The teacher, working on the teacher side of the site, then prepares quizzes or tests. When the students sign in, they need enter only the teacher’s “room number” and they are ready to go. The teacher starts the quiz, and the students see the questions and answer them on their device. The results are instantly shown on the teacher’s screen.

The questions can be multiple-choice with two (for true-false question) to five choices. Questions may also be open-ended allowing students to enter longer answers. The teacher can supply the correct answer and / or an explanation. Instead of prepared work there is also the option of single-question activities. This is what I use most often. I present the question on the board and the students answer one question at a time on their device.

The results appear on the teacher’s screen which I project for the class. Multiple-choice results are displayed as a bar graph for each choice. Short answers display whatever the student wrote. This allows students to see other forms of the correct answers and spot common mistakes. (Be aware that some students may enter an answer of 2/3 as a forty-place decimal, but that’s not really so bad.)

You have the option to allow the students’ names to appear with their answer. I don’t do that too often. When I do I explain that making fun of someone who made a mistake is a form of bullying and rather they should help whoever got it wrong instead of making fun of them.

Projecting the answers allows the teacher to have immediate feedback – formative assessment. If there are a lot of wrong answers, then you know you have to work more on that concept; if the answers are all or almost all correct you can go on to the next idea.

I used it quite well with eighth grade students in Algebra 1 with all the evaluating of expressions, simplifying, and equation solving in that course and next semester for factoring. I used it recently with my BC calculus classes when we were learning how to write justification for free-response questions. Having a variety of correct and almost correct justifications made for a good discussion and a good class.

Both seniors and eighth graders like doing this and, especially the eighth graders ask to do it daily (which I don’t do).

One of the features I like is that there is a running count of how many students are signed and also how many have answered each question. It helps the teacher know everyone is involved. No one can be daydreaming, doing something else, or playing games on their iPad.

A report with each student’s name and answers can be downloaded at the end of the activity as an e-mail or spreadsheet.

Images, including math symbols, can be included in questions as .gif, .jpg or .png flies, but they are pixellated and appear after the question text (i.e. not as inline equations) and there is no way for students to draw graphs. The website does not work well using Chrome on my PC but is fine in Firefox and Internet Explorer. It works on iPad browsers such as Chrome and Safari. There are also free apps available for smart phones, iPads and tablets.