Monday, July 15, 2013

Tackle Technology: Conquering Teacher Fears

"Do one thing every day that scares you." -Eleanor Roosevelt

"Do not be too squeamish about your actions, all life is an experiment." -Ralph Waldo Emerson

As teachers, we're often pushed to try new things and technology is certainly up there on the list. Recently, I got my hands on an iPad and have been playing with various technologies for teachers. The apps I have tried far exceed what I have included here. Here's a few things I have learned.

1. Lesson Planning Apps: Every teacher has a different expectation for planning apps. There are good ones out there, but your individual needs will ultimately drive your choice.
Planbook Touch
  • Option 1: Planbook Touch. I chose this app after testing the computer version (and various other free planning apps). It is somewhat customizable and you can enter standards into plans (sadly, this feature is "coming soon" to the app and is currently only available on the desktop version - when it comes, the ability to click on a standard to include in my plans will be its predominant feature). There are many other similar planning apps. Many reviewers suggested that this is a poor choice for elementary teachers. $9.99 Update: After some use, I say don't waste your time unless you only plan on your devise or a computer. I want a program that syncs between home and school - it's too expensive to get this software for my iPad, and 2 work computers (not including my home computer if I was so inclined). Also I ran into some scheduling problems with the app that do not exist in the Windows edition. Try iLesson Plans instead for a cheaper, iPad only option.
  • Option 2: Pages and Dropbox. Instead of paying for a planning app use whatever template you currently use on your computer along with Dropbox to share files between your computer(s) and iPad. Unlike an actual planning app, it will not sync with a calendar, which is a downside for many teachers. For me, sharing on Dropbox makes it preferable and I can honestly say that Pages was the best purchase I have made for the iPad. I am astounded at how nice a document I can make with this app and unlike Google Drive, the tables are fully functional, with merge cell capability and other things that  please me. Since my lesson planning template is a fancy table, this was important.
    Pages: $9.99; Dropbox: Free!
  • Pages
  •  Option 3: Evernote. One teacher I read about puts his plans in Evernote, then takes photos of students, their work, and writes a mini-reflection. He puts entire units in one "note" so that the next year he can look directly through his day by day plan with reflections and make the changes he needs to make. It's a great idea for year-to-year planning. Free!

2. Apps for Notes/Meetings: I wanted the iPad to replace the binder I carry with me (the one that gets overfull with information by the end of the year) so I need it to store my notes for the year. I can keep notes from staff meetings, parent meetings, team meetings, committee meetings, trainings, etc.
  • Penultimate: A notebook that allows you to use your finger or a styles to create hand-written notes. If your handwriting is nice enough, it also lets you search your notes. For example, I can search for notes on "Pete" so we can review interventions in place and their results at a later meeting. Also, as a drawing style app, it allows me to use mind-mapping in my notes, unlike a type-based app. Syncs with Evernote so you can see other notes at the same time. Free!
    • Update: This has become one of my favorite apps and several colleagues who have watched me use it have asked about it. I am to go-to-teacher for old notes from meetings because I have them all in one place and they're easy to find (sorted into individual "notebooks" as opposed to all in one binder or hard notebook). I can take photos of documents we look at or use, or a co-workers notes to include in my own. I have also e-mailed pages to colleagues or my boss. This app is a gem.
  • Evernote: A type-based notebook tool. Allows you to take photos that are inserted directly into the note. Has a checkbox tool so you can insert click-able boxes into your notes. Includes all Penultimate notebooks for viewing (not editing). Free!
3. Management Apps: How can we keep track of what our students are doing?
  • Evernote: Sorry to mention this one again, but with Evernote, I can photograph student work or a behavior reflection a student fills out and file it away for a later parent-teacher conference, to share with my peers in an RtI discussion. I don't have to worry about saving the hard copies in my overfull binder. I can even use the checkbox feature and a pre-made RtI checklist and check off interventions we choose for this student. Free!
  • Class Dojo: I have mentioned this before, but Class Dojo works with an internet based program for tracking student behavior (good and bad). I intend to use this to keep better track of off-task behavior, but also to help encourage me to reward great behavior. This is something I am going to use in conjunction with my classroom economy (click to get started on your own). Printable reports, make it useful for sharing at conferences. Free!
  • Teacherkit
  • TeacherKit: Similar to Class Dojo but with more complete classroom features. It syncs with Dropbox and allows you to input seating charts, attendance, behaviors reports (either click a button or type in a customized note), and has a gradebook feature. You can sort students by names and grades and do a few other fancy things. This is more app than I need, but I thought I would share. Free!
4. Calendar Apps:  Any calendar app is a good one. I use CalenMob because I liked how easy it was to sync with other Calendars (like my Google calendar) and I like the "Agenda" feature. This calendar is nothing special. There are probably others that are just as great if not better. Free!

5. Instructional Apps: Some things to make your classroom the best it can be.
  • Voice Dream: Free text-to-voice app. Reads about 30 seconds at a time to students who struggle with reading. I can open documents from my Dropbox in this app and it will read it to students. Free! (The full version does not stop after 30 seconds - but clicking play every few seconds isn't a big deal to me).
  • Dragon: Free voice-to-text app. This app requires a little training because you have to teach kids to add punctuation as they are speaking. It means they have to be very thoughtful as they "write." If students do not stop at the end of a sentence and say "period" they end up with a lot of editing to do when they are done, but you can edit your text using the keyboard after speaking. One colleague and I thought it would be fun to have kids tell a story or explain something to it, then they could print and edit their story to see how important punctuation is in making something clear and understandable.
  • Knomia
  • Knowmia: A free whiteboard app which allows you to make animated lessons. I haven't played with it a lot yet, but I am excited to try.

Know of some great apps that are helpful to a variety of teachers at all levels? Share!