Sunday, May 19, 2013

Digital Portfolios in Google Apps for Education

One of our 5th grade teachers came to me a few weeks ago asking about having her students create a digital portfolio that contained highlights of the work they've done this year in her class. Since they were 5th graders, she didn't want anything overly complicated so I initially suggested that she use PowerPoint or Google Presentation for the project.

I created a template that contained a home page and a page for each subject. There were slots to include both text and pictures and all pages contained links back to the main page. You could travel to any subject page by clicking the appropriate link on the bottom of the slide. I thought the finished template looked very attractive and was laid out nicely.

The teacher was very happy with the template and had planned to use it; however, that evening I thought about another teacher who had inquired about portfolios the year before. If the 5th graders created these presentation portfolios and then other classes wanted to do the same, then students would have multiple documents and presentations that they would have to switch between in order to show off their work.

Enter Google Sites

I opened up Google Sites that evening and began work on a template. The idea was to have a header in the navigation bar for 2012-2013 and subpages for each subject. Under the subject page were three additional pages titled Highlight 1, 2 and 3. The student could use the main subject page to talk about how they liked that subject, and give an overview of what they had done throughout the year. The Highlight pages could contain their actual work whether it was directly entered into the page or linked to Google Docs.

Here is a screenshot of the final template:

Once the initial block was created, I continued on and created the same block of pages for every school year up to 2020. It was tedious and exhausting; however, now students have one site in which to put all of their work highlights throughout their entire school career and not have to worry about opening different presentations depending on which year they wished to display.

The benefit to this type of setup is the many ways in which it can be used. Students in grade 6, for example, can host a student-led discussion with the current 5th graders and show them the kinds of work they will be doing the following year. This can also work for student-led parent conferences. Finally, when students are applying to college, they can include a link to the site.

Feedback from teachers has been enthusiastic and very positive. Several teachers will be using the template in the coming weeks so students can begin entering information. Next fall, the portfolio will be more widely used and students will be able to update the pages on designated Portfolio Days.


Monday, May 6, 2013

Things to Consider if going 1:1 iPads....

There are so many things to consider before implementing a 1:1 iPad program in middle school. That may sound obvious, but the biggest issue is that until you are actually in the throes of a roll out, there are things that you don't know that you don't know and will have to address on the fly.

It's impossible to predict all of the future outcomes of anything and despite months of planning for what you think is every possible scenario, there is a very good chance that things will crop up that you had not anticipated. Here are some things that you have to decide ahead of time or prepare for in an environment in which students bring the devices home with them every day:

Lease vs. Buy: Will you be leasing the devices from Apple or purchasing them outright? If you purchase them outright, do they belong to the student permanently even if they leave the school at the end of the year?

Supervise or Not: In another blog post, I talked about the Supervision Profile and its ability to disable potentially distracting apps like iMessage. An important consideration when installing this profile is that it removes the ability of students to back up their iPad to their home computer. This may be preferred since students may plug in at home and sync all of their current games/data to their school device. If supervised, it's advisable to set up iCloud on the devices to have a much smoother restore if for any reason the student device malfunctions or breaks. Restoring an iCloud backup will put the students apps and information all back into folders and act as a clone. Our experience has been that doing a manual backup of the device in Apple Configurator and restoring that backup requires that students re-download all of their apps and recreate their folders from scratch.

Printing: Will you allow printing from the iPads or will you try to go paperless by having students share everything via e-mail or through Dropbox, Google Drive or other services? Will you set up kiosks for students to print? Will you allow unlimited printing?

Charging: You can tell students that they are responsible for bringing their iPad to school each day sufficiently charged to last the entire day, but there will be occasions in which some students forget to charge. Will you have charging stations available? How many and where will they be located?

Loss/Theft: AppleCare+ is a great service because kids tend to drop things but what happens if the iPad is lost or stolen? Will parents be responsible for replacing the device? What if they are unable to due to financial concerns? If the devices are leased, do you require that parents insure the device against loss/theft?

Loaners: If a device gets lost or broken, will you have a sufficient loaner pool to lend devices to students while their device is being repaired/replaced?

Games: Will you allow students to install games on the devices? Will they be allowed to play games during free time?

Apps: Will students be able to install apps or will all apps be installed via a Mobile Device Management System?

Cases/Keyboards: Do students need a keyboard case? Will the school provide the cases? If students are allowed to purchase their own case, will you require that they all purchase the same model for consistency of teacher troubleshooting and uniform appearance? What about a stylus? Who purchases those? 

Loss of Accessories: Are students responsible for replacing lost accessories: stylus, keyboard/iPad charging cables? 

Budgeting for Apps: How do teachers purchase apps to try out? What if they find an app that they would like to use in class? How do they go about getting the app installed on all student iPads? Are teachers limited in the number of apps they can purchase or have a set dollar amount per year?

Professional Development: This is probably the most critical element that will determine the success of an iPad program. Handing out iPads and saying "Here you go, integrate this into your classes" just won't cut it. An in-house support system should be in place to help teachers incorporate the devices into their classes in a way that enhances their curriculum introduces them to new ways in which they can use iPads in the learning environment. This time can also be used to train teachers to get the most out of using iPads with the current school-wide systems and services.

These are just some of the things to think about and plan before going 1:1. There will likely be others that are specific to your environment. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Seven Fun iPad Activities We Did

Here are a few activities that our classes have done with iPads this year during our Grade 6 Pilot:

1 - French students were assigned to record themselves reporting the weather in French.

2 - Students studying onion skins under the microscope were able to take pictures through the viewfinder lens with their iPad cameras. Below are a couple of the images:

3 - For extra credit, a bunch of students created animations of cell division using the app Animation Desk. 

4 - Math, Science and Language all gave quizzes to their classes using Socrative.

5 - Students in English class broke into groups of four and each group collaborated in Google Docs to write a letter to the protagonist of a book they were reading.

6 - Our drama teacher send the script of a short play she wrote to her 6th grade classes. They opened it in iBooks and were able to highlight their lines and rehearse anywhere without losing a paper script.

7 - History students went on a museum trip and listened to a podcast that was recorded by their teacher. As they walked the museum, they chose the appropriate sound file to listen to. They also opened up a Google Form that their teacher created and were able to check off various features of each exhibit they saw.