tools and gadgets

What’s in the backpack?

Next time: I’m taking a robot

 

Whats in the backpack?

I thought I’d do just a little on the changing technology landscape, this time in terms of what I use personally.

For three days at EduTech this time I just took my 64GB iPad, installed with Telstra 4G and a Brydge Bluetooth keyboard, an IPhone and one charger. This worked well, except for the one charger business; a full day out at a conference note-taking, twittering and occasionally checking on Outlook as to what’s happening back at school, takes its toll and both devices were seriously depleted by day’s end. It would have been better to charge both overnight but I certainly enjoyed the lightness of the iPad, especially on conference seating with no desk or table.

For the writing, I began by using OneNote to take my notes, but I decided I wanted to blog the sessions on the spot and found a great blogging tool for the iPad called BlogPad Pro. So, I switched to doing the note taking in Ulysses (my all-time favourite distraction-free text editor) and then exporting HTML directly into BlogPad via the clipboard. That worked pretty much flawlessly and I was also able to insert some images I’d taken along the way at some of the sessions.

They were just about the only apps I used over the three days: Ulysses, BlogPad Pro, Safari and Outlook, and I found that, more than ever at this conference, that unholy mix of Apple, Microsoft, Google and independent apps is more and more common. The Firbank session I attended (see blog notes) wasn’t the only school that was happily using a real mix of technologies, albeit mostly tying to find a dashboard for them all, usually via an LMS.

It was funny, looking around at all the fancy technology and heavy-duty laptops on display, that I found the iPad worked well (despite the naysayers and the prophets of doom from various quarters) but it only works well for me with the keyboard attached.

I did spend a long time at one morning tea looking over the various Chromebooks at the Google stand and they are appealing. For less than $400 you can get a light, long-powered, keyboard driven computer; for around $100 a Chrome dongle that contains a computer – just add screen and keyboard. I’m tempted to say that’s a better option than a haphazard BYOD program, but I’m still thinking about that.

 

 

My top Apps for 2014

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Inspired by several lists of apps I’ve seen lately, like this one by Alex Brooks from World of Apple, I thought I’d share my own top apps for 2014.

I use an iPhone and a couple of iPads daily, along with my iMac, Mac Mini and Le Novo Yoga, my work laptop, but for this list I’m sticking to the iOS apps and not differentiating between the iPhone and the iPad.

The best indication of how important an app is for me is where I store it. My most used apps are on the home screen and page 2 is all folders. My most used, most used apps are on docked at the bottom of the home screen. So, here goes.

On the dock

Fantastical

My favourite calendar app, esp. as it works so well with Outlook, which is what I use at work, so that is my primary calendar. When I was on leave this year I went back to Google Calendar for a while, and at that time I used the Sunrise calendar app, which is also nice. But Fantastical looks great and has rep,aced Agenda as my default calendar app.

Mailbox

I use gmail for my personal email and, while their new Inbox is pretty good, Mailbox makes it super easy to process emails and move them into action, waiting for, archive or just trash. I can process my email really quickly and its replaced Airmail on my Mac as well.

Mail

Okay, the standard email app, which I use to look at the Outlook email from work. Nothing fancy, but it works.

Wunderlist

I paid big $$ for Things on the IPad, iPhone and Mac, but gee it was slow to update for iOS 7 and it never had a Windows version at all. So, I was using it for home tasks and Outlook tasks for work tasks, and splitting into separate systems isn’t wise (I read the Getting Things Done book a few years ago and it changed the way I work). Wu der list is free, works on anything and,while not quite as full featured as Things, works really well.

Safari

I use Chrome pretty much everywhere but on iOS Safari just seems better and smoother.

Settings

Not really an app, but I’m fiddling around with settings so much that I keep it in the dock.

Also, on the front page …

(Note: alphabetical!)

Daedalus

My favourite writing app on IOS, mainly because it syncs so nicely with Ulysses on the Mac. I use it for writing on the go, for poetry mainly. Apparently, a full-blown IOS version of Ulysses is in the works for 2015.

Day One

My favourite diary/journalling app. It adds weather, location, and you can add a photo (or use HTML to embed) It can publish to a web page, but I use it for my own private use. I even got my old MS Word journal out from years ago and added those entries to the appropriate dates.

Drafts

My second favourite writing app, especially for quick notes that are going to end up somewhere else. You open it and you get a blank screen to type on and it has an enormous range of export options.

Evernote

The old workhorse for remembering ‘stuff’. From the modem router setup notes to recipes, gardening notes, poetry ideas, travel ideas, teaching ideas, photo tips and tricks for Lightroom, all go in here. I started using this in 2007 I think! and I’m approaching 5000 notes that are available on all platforms

Flickr

My photo app of choice. Flickr has improved a lot in the last 12 months and the new (long-awaited) IOS apps look great.

InfinitGallery

Since Instagram still hasn’t got an iPad app, I use InfinitGallery to look at Instagram on the iPad and the original app on the iPhone.

Mr Reeder

Video killed the radio star, and Twitter has just about killed off RSS, but if you just want to get an update whenever a webpage or blog is updated, then RSS is great. I was worried when Google Reader died, but Feedly has done a great job of taking up that feed aggregation thing and Mr Reeder provides a nicer interface for reading them.

Newstand

I read The Age on the iPad in Newstand.

Pocket

Any web page, or article of interest that I want to read later, I sent to Pocket. They look great, and are available offline, so when you get on that plane trip your own interesting little magazine is there and ready to go. Replaced Delicious for me a couple of years ago now.

Simplenote

I’m a long time fan of this simple note taking syncing thing. It’s the ‘works on all platforms’ thing that always sways me.

Tweetbot

My favourite way to read Twitter.

WeatherAU

The best app for Australian weather by a long way

Yahoo Weather

Visually very nice. I put in places I want to go and travel to, like Kyoto and nice pictures come up.

Zite

Not sure how long this will last since Flipboard bought it (I think) but still works really well to find articles you’re interested in. Better than Flipboard, which is based on the provider or publisher model, this reverses that model and goes out and looks for the interests you’ve specified.

(I haven’t mentioned Photos, Reminders and Calendar, which are also on my home page)

Page 2

Here, I’ve just got folders, and they are …

Apple

All the standard Apple apps, most of which I don’t use.

Entertainment

Highlights here are TuneinRadio and some TV catchup apps. TuneinRadio has added silly features like the need to create an account,but it’s still the best radio app I know.

Google

Chrome, Docs, Drive, Gmail, Google+, Sheets, all work well. All somehow unlovely too!

Music

My Cleartune guitar tuner, Pandora and Spotify. Could this be the year I get into subscription music?

News

ABC, Flipboard, Guardian and the surprisingly good MSN News

Office 365

Microsoft has been late to the party but they’re keen now. I’ve talked a lot about how much I like OneNote but I’ve got OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, PowerPoint and Word here too, as well as Lync for messaging within the work environment.

Photography

The highlights here are Lightroom, which syncs well with the desktop model (I’ve bough the annual subscription to that and Photoshop) and VSCO Cam, still the coolest photo filters of all.

Productivity

Workhorses, like Dropbox, Documents, GoodReader and a couple of mind-mapping tools in popplet and SimpleMind+

Reading

GoodReads for sharing my reading and the Kindle app of course.

Reference

The Shorter Oxford Dictionary and Wikipanion, for nicer reading of Wikipedia

Travel

The map apps, and Tripit and TripAdvisor

Utilities

Things that make other things work well. Like third-party keyboards Fleksy SwiftKey and Swype, Feedly, LastPass, and TextExpander

Writing

Okay, I’m a sucker for writing apps like 1Writer, Byword, Editorial and iA Writer, but I keep coming back to Daedalus.

Video

YouTube and Vimeo of course, abut also StreamToMe for streaming video in a range of formats to the iPad or IPhone, and Plex, which I use to stream movies to the Apple TV.

Finally, I’ve started using WunderStation for its great local weather options, which are crowd-sourced from thousands of private weather stations around the world. There’s one just down the road from me and I really appreciate being able to see the real local weather.

Here’s how it all looks:

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It will be interesting to see how different these look by the end of 2015. Late late year, I poste on The Tools I Use, about the tools I use on the desktop. Maybe I should alternate between the PC and IOS year by year. Let me know if there’s something great that I’ve missed.

First look at Schoology

So, it’s one week into using Schoology and pretty impressed so far. It has all the essentials you’d want to see in an LMS including flexible resources and management, assignments, discussion forums, file submission, even badges.

I’d like to see a better looking update system that’s not so teacher-centric, like when a student posts a discussion post or not so m manual. Students shouldn’t have to dig down through the folder list to see if there’s something new, and I shouldn’t have to manually tell them either.

This is how the resources are organised;  there’s folders that can contain a range of resources.

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In this folder there’s some PDFs, a JPG and a homework assignment. Assignments get reminders on the front and I get an email when a student has submitted some work.

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Early days but the rubric section looks pretty powerful. I set up a homework assignment with four criteria and a simple rubric and you can see here that one student has already submitted it. It was easy to mark, but the in-house editing and annotating tools were pretty clunky. It wouldn’t highlight where I pointed, and a comment spread over the whole document . In the end I chose the option of downloading the file, annotating in in Word, saving it, then uploading it again. A bit of a disappointment as far as work-flow goes.

Also, I haven’t found yet whether I’m able to just tick that something has been submitted (like a bit of homework) without assigning a grade.  It wants a number of letter. I’ve tinkered around with a simple rubric that says Done/Not Done, but even that wants to assign some points or grades.

 

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I did have a quick go at a class quiz and that does seem to have some pretty powerful features with a range of question types available like multiple choice, true/false, short answer and match-up the answers like here:

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In the end, whether Schoology works will be in the workflow for me and my students.  It’s got to be better than email, or a shared Dropbox folder. So far, it’s promising, but the fact that new resources don’t automatically create an  update, and that the in-house annotating tools are so bad, it might not last for me or my students as a tool beyond our initial semester trial.

 

Planning for the Oxford Conference

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I blogged about the forthcoming Oxford Conference in Sydney a while ago, but not it’s well and truly coming up and I’ve been thinking more about what to say, and how to get the message across. The key idea is to respond to the Australian Curriculum in English in new and innovative ways. New responses for a new curriculum, that kind of thing.

So, I thought I’d start with an overview of English (real quick) and a link to some of the online curriculum and curriculum resources available, then delve into what teaching (should?) looks like now, and then in to more detail about the kind of (flipped classroom) tools and tips and techniques that might help make that happen. Then, finish with a bit about building your own personal professional learning network online and not relying on school-based old style PD, with an emphasis on Twitter and all that.

Sound reasonable? I like presentations that are specific on tips and strategies I could walk away and try, so that’s the aim. Suggestions welcome! Hope to see you in Sydney. You can learn more about the conference HERE

Change and continuity in teaching Literature

I’ve been trying to be more actively interventionist in my Literature teaching this year, inspired by some thinking about Personalised Learning I’ve been moved to consciously work on some ‘high impact micro-teaching strategies’ that might help student learning as a follow up to some thinking on formative assessment over the past couple of years.

So, I’ve kept the things that have been working pretty well (the wikis, using OneNote as the default teaching, presenting and note-taking tool) and the blog as the primary means of communicating class news and information.

But I’ve also tried some new things too. I’ve also been up front with the students about that, talking them through my thinking and what the intention/s are. They’re Year 12 students after all, 17 or 18 old most of them, well able to understand these approaches and generally just as keen to do well as I am for them to do well.

We began with a ‘no-hands’ up approach to discussions and I showed them a couple of bits of research about that, including this piece from the BBC.  This approach, coupled with greatly increased ‘wait-time’ has seemed to make the class more generally attentive and receptive. I haven’t had a problem getting discussion going with this group; they’re great about that, but the ‘no hands up’ means that everyone is involved potentially.

I also moved the room around a bit, based on some feedback I got from a couple of teachers who sat in one of my lessons for a ‘classroom observation’ project we’re trialling. I’m stuck with little individual ‘test-style’ tables and, yes I could bundle them into ungainly little squarish pods each lesson, but the next teacher would probably untangle all that and start again. So, I’ve tried a kind of horseshoe arrangement that I use for lots of meetings I run, where students can really make good eye-contact with each other in all the conversations. They’re still all facing the front where the data projector (and teacher) is, but it’s generally more conducive to a good collaborative atmosphere and, importantly, the other teachers who use the room, can mostly tolerate it and don’t shift things back.

I’m going to do more surveys too, shorter surveys more regularly. I generally do an end of semester student survey and end of year but, inspired by a young English teacher who’s been giving her students short surveys using Google Docs (I don’t even know how to do that) I plan to do more surveys online using our own school system.

I did the first survey this week and already it’s given me some good feedback that I intend on acting upon right now, rather than wait until the end of the semester. This is all about helping students improve as they go. I found that they haven’t much enjoyed the poetry cartoon tasks I’ve been setting, which is interesting as I wouldn’t have picked that. I liked them!

And they’re sometimes not so sure about how well they’re going, the kind of progress they’re making. So I want to work on more individual feedback more often, short, focused learning conversations perhaps.

I was also inspired by another teacher to try the “Icy pole sticks”. A simple technique, that you’d often do with younger students, of having an icy pole stick for each student, with their name on it, and selecting the stick at random and asking that student to answer the question. A kind of simple randomiser, and you can just keep selecting sticks at random, or move them from the big pile to a ‘used’ pile to ensure that questions are distributed around the room. I told my class about the idea and got them to name and decorate their stick with some iconographic aspect of themselves. Which was fun.

So, the icy pole sticks, combined with wait time, and the ‘no hands up’, has helped reshape some of the questioning that goes on in the classes so often. And helped make me more conscious of this approach even though, every now and then, I’m drawn to ask the keen student who I know is itching to say something.

Finally, the questioning itself has been sharpened by trying a technique called: ‘Pose, Pause, Bounce, Pounce’, where a question is posed, wait time is added, the question is responded to, bounced to another student, and then a third is asked what they thought of those answers. Sounds more complicated than it is and you can read about it at the Guardian HERE

I’ve just started to try to collect some of these techniques on a Diigo list HERE.  Suggestions are welcome, particularly focused on assessment for learning strategies.

Finally, some traditions are too good to change. Cake day, once every fortnight at the end of the day, is a student-inspired initiative that I’m happy to continue just as it is.

What is e-learning now?

Yesterday I got the opportunity to speak again at the Chisholm Institute ‘Ripple’ Conference at the Mt Eliza Business School, overlooking Port Phillip Bay; this time with a focus on what e-learning looks like to me  now and how can help support teachers through change.

Last year I focused on the students who were coming in to tertiary institutions from k-12 schools and what that meant for learning environments. This year my focus was more on the teachers. It was a beautiful spring day, maybe the first real spring day this year, and the conference was well run with a group of teachers who wanted to be there.

Below is a an abridged version of the slideshow with some of the key ideas. There’s also an annotated list of the resources I used on Diigo here: http://www.diigo.com/list/warrickw/ripple-2010