Technology Woes

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This kitty seems amused and maybe slightly deranged.

Technology is supposed to make our lives and work easier and more enjoyable. However, when it doesn’t perform like we think it should, it becomes maddening and “annoyingly funny” (h/t Bradley F.).

My students are working on a multimedia project connected to Lord of the Flies that asks them to explore different views of humanity. It requires them to incorporate every level of Bloom’s Taxonomy, and they may work with a partner if they choose, so there’s collaboration involved. Basically, it’s the perfect project (educationally-speaking).

As they started searching for materials, we discovered that Google Images is blocked on the district-issued Chromebooks that I checked out from the library. We had encountered this problem before, and I thought it was just a one-time thing. I followed protocol and emailed the help desk to get assistance. I received a reply 3 hours later requesting a screenshot of the issue. Since it was my conference period, I borrowed a student from another class to log in to the laptop so I could recreate the issue and send the screenshot. After I sent them the evidence, the help desk asked me to have that same student log in to a different computer (not a Chromebook) to see if the problem existed on that platform. So I tracked down a MacBook Air from a cart that another teacher had checked out, but I couldn’t find the same student to log in to check, so it had to wait until my next class began. (This is, quite literally, the definition of “runaround.” [I can feel my blood pressure rising right now as I’m retelling this story.]) So 4th period started, and I had a student log in to both a Chromebook and the borrowed MacBook. Sure enough, Google Images is still blocked on the Chromebook, but it isn’t blocked on the MacBook. I snagged screenshots of both situations and sent them on to the help desk. And then the day was over.

This morning, students resumed their work and found that Google Images is still blocked on the Chromebooks. I emailed the help desk again and included a request for an alternate video source since YouTube is also blocked (and not just on Chromebooks), and they said they were still looking into the issue and had no solution for the lack of video access. I’m writing this 24 hours later, and there’s still no resolution.

This incident makes abundantly clear the fact that the tech side of education is unaware of how the classroom side works. To ask a teacher to go find a different computer to test an issue is absurd and wildly inconvenient. To ask students to be engaged, innovative, critical thinkers and not give them enough access to be successful is frustrating, inhibiting, and demoralizing. The tools are useless if they have no teeth–they’re glorified paperweights and fancy word processors. When technology actually creates more work for us, it ceases to be the first option.

It’s Been a Minute…

What a busy 9 weeks it has been! We started the year with 12 lb text books then traded them in 3 1/2 weeks later for 1 lb iPads. We used pens and paper then switched to Notability, Baiboard, and Google Docs. We filled folders and binders with hole-punched handouts then stored files on Google Drive. All that said, it’s been a thrilling learning experience.

ImageStudents use Socrative to participate in a class discussion.

With our iPads, we’ve toured museums across the world and collaborated on projects. One student joined class from home via FaceTime when she was too ill to attend.

A couple of my early concerns have mostly been unfounded. I was worried the wireless infrastructure wouldn’t be able to keep up with our needs, and I’ve had very few issues there. I also wondered how the kids would do when something didn’t work the way we wanted to, and they’ve been such troopers, just rolling with it and adapting as we go. They are not afraid of trying something new, and it really makes teaching so much fun again.

iLife Suite for MacBook

Using iPhoto on the Mac is pretty similar to using it on the iPad, the main difference being the amped up editing tools that are available on the Mac. I had some trouble getting my devices to communicate with each other so I could transfer photos from the iPad to the Mac without tethering. Once I got the Cloud settings right, they showed up in the photo stream.  If I had them all in a folder on Google drive, I could have dragged/dropped them into iPhoto easily. (There’s an idea.) The slideshow feature is pretty cool–you could use it to introduce a new unit or to have kids write responses to images/art. You can also create a book and save it as a PDF instead of actually paying to print it.

I have to interject a reminder of how important it’s going to be for us to get our kids to save stuff to their H drives (or better yet their Google drive) so they’ll have access to it no matter what device they’re on. This will save a lot of heartache later.

iMovie on the Mac is very different from iMovie on the iPad. Where I thought I had made something pretty awesome on iPad, it became multiplied by 300 when I created something similar on the Mac. Endless editing features for video and audio. Wait until you have all of your images in the right order before you try to do any voiceovers–you’ll save yourself a lot of work and redoing later on. When the project is finished, just export to your Google drive for sharing. Be sure to save the project file until grading is complete so changes can be made without having to start over completely.

Garage Band on the Mac is pretty cool. Students can create podcasts and include images to support their words. Encourage them to write a script first and use the space bar to break the audio into tracks so if they mess up they won’t have to re-record the entire track. Students can also record themselves reading an essay they’ve written to check for fluency. I didn’t play with the voice features too much here because I’m not crazy about how I sound when I’m recorded.

Overall, iLife on the Mac is way more powerful, but students can be just as successful with these apps on their iPads.

Day 3 – iLife Suite & Creativity Tools

Today we focused on the iLife Suite for the iPad: iPhoto, iMovie, and Garage Band. The common thread of this week is that the possibilities are endless. You can edit and add and tweak everything to your heart’s content. It is so easy to move from one program to the next because the editing processes are so similar. Don’t be afraid to try something different: the undo button is your friend.

iPhoto
A good practice is to create your album in the photos app before getting started. Of all the really cool enhancement features in iPhoto, the effects palette is my favorite. It has features like those you find in Instagram. Once you’ve finished editing your photos, you have the option of sharing them to many different platforms. Two we looked at were Beam and Journal. Beaming lets you to share pictures with any other iDevice that’s on the same network. The journal option allows you to add text–it reminds me a bit of an interactive scrapbook. It could be another way of presenting the mind map project.

iMovie
You can also share an album to iMovie to start a new project or just import what you want from the camera roll. iMovie is SO easy to learn. One #xCamp-er commented that she showed it to a group of second graders, and they required very little instruction to get started. If you’ve used Windows MovieMaker, you’ll find iMovie to be much friendlier. In about an hour, I filmed, edited, and produced a video demonstrating how to get your iPhone earbuds back into the case properly, then I exported it to my camera roll and uploaded it to YouTube from there. I couldn’t export directly to YouTube because my login didn’t work, but I’ve fixed that issue now. iMovie also has a trailer feature that would be great as an introduction to a unit or book or as a review. In 20-30 minutes, some participants completed some really amazing trailers. I’m working on one to introduce the stories and writings we will complete in unit 1.

Garage Band
Smart instruments turn the most off-beat, tone-deaf music fan into a pro. This is definitely an activity best used with headphones. Students can create their own soundtrack and share it with iMovie. Teachers can record student voices for fluency checks. You can use the regular instruments and create original music. It’s not surprising to learn that musicians have created entire albums using Garage Band. Here again, you’re limited only by your imagination. And you might be surprised by what you remember. Apparently I haven’t forgotten how to play “Heart and Soul” on the piano.

Day 1 – iOS and OS Basics

I’m going to try my best to be concise, but there’s so much to share!

We started the day with a team-building exercise, and this was our result:

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That’s 4 inches of marshmallow genius right there. The project was inspired by Tom Wujec’s TED Talk, Build a Tower, Build a Team. The winning tower was 6 inches tall, so we were close. Sort of.

Following the tower challenge, we dove right in to iOS basics. Most of the info was a refresher, but I learned a few new things that have totally changed my life.

  1. Force quit closes out apps that may still be running in the background thus prolonging your battery life. There’s another way to use this feature that I’ll discuss another time.
  2. Create a reading list in Safari to flag articles to read later. The reading list can be accessed offline, a great feature for a wi-fi only iPad.
  3. iBooks is Amazing. Capital A. I had no idea, really. Many of the classics are available for free in the store, or you can find them on Project Gutenberg and open them with the iBook app. And once there, the possibilities are truly endless. You can highlight, annotate, define words, bake a cake… Books in the ePub format have a study cards feature that takes all of the annotations and turns them into flashcards to study. I cannot even begin to tell you how absolutely cool this is. This has totally shifted my thinking away from the iPad as an expensive Facebook-checker or Twitter-tweeter.

After indulging in a tasty sandwich from Jason’s Deli, it was time to unbox the MacBook Pro.

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I’ve said before that I got my start on the Apple when I was in high school, but this is nothing like that. I saw shades of a few things that carried over from the old-school model, like no right click option. Once we started looking more closely at the OS basics, other memories started to click, like the Apple icon as the home base, so to speak. Aside from all of the trackpad settings and dock introductions, I found out that QuickTime is more than a way to watch videos. The screen recording and audio recording features automatically lend themselves to how-to videos and podcasting. Possibilities are endless.

Tomorrow we’re diving into some apps, namely Garage Band, iPhoto, and iMovie. Right now, I’m going to keep playing with my new MacBook.

Chosen

I’m one of two teachers representing my high school at our district’s xCamp this summer. The blurb from the invitation states, “xCamp is an innovative and engaging experience that will take teachers through an immersive [sic] experience that builds deep understanding of how students create, connect, share and collaborate in 1:X classrooms. This high-energy camp experience will give teachers from across the district an opportunity to build relationships while learning new ways to empower students through Strategic Design. Presented by national experts, xCamp will ignite instructional design and take your classroom to a whole new level!”

I’m excited for the opportunity, and I look forward to sharing my discoveries here throughout the summer and with my colleagues when we return to school in the fall.