apps

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.

Networks of Practice

Last week I attended the fourth day of a year long network meeting called ‘Networks of Practice’. Apart from the growth coaching learning I did earlier (also four days interestingly) and blogged about HERE, this network has been my most powerful learning for the year.  So, what might made it so? I was thinking about the learning conditions that made this network work for me, and how I might replicate them for learners I’m taking on a journey too. Some of the qualities that made it work for me:

  • Extended, but not all at once. Four days is a significant time investment for anyone, but that investment was repaid. I liked the fact that it wasn’t jut four days in a row, that ideas were seeded, allowed to germinate and we’d come back and discuss them later. It felt more authentic to me and we looked forward to getting back to the network to test ideas.
  • Relevant to my needs. Linked to school needs. The network was spot-on one the big-ticket items we’ve been working on at school: staff learning and how to build self-generating learning cultures.
  • Great leadership. The sessions were run by Rob Stones, who was obviously an expert in change and staff development, but there was plenty of room in the conversations for ‘us’ too.
  • ‘Us’ matters. There was the ‘us’ from our school, two of us working closely together all year, and the ‘us’ of the broader group. Not too big either, less than twenty people. Good sharing, collaboration, but also
  • Time to talk among ourselves. Having shaped, expert-facilitated time to develop plans and strategies was so valuable.

And, on the more practical side too, it made me think about how I might best take the notes, ideas, picture and concepts from the program and capture them, using the iPad I bought to each session. In the end it was a mixture of apps and processes that worked for me, and might for you:

  • I used OneNote as the receptacle for all wisdom, the ‘one note to rule them all’, but I might as easily have used Evernote. Text formatting in OneNote on the iPad is currently better than in Evernote and it plays well with Office documents, which we still live on at work.
  • I took photographs using the iPhone or iPad especially snap-shots of the concepts and diagrams that were used extensively. If I had one criticism of the network it was the un-digital approach to the resources. You just had to snap them when you could. I could then drop them into the OneNote page.
  • I used the app Paper and a stylus to draw some of the diagrams.  I find drawing soothing, and it helps me to understand it to draw it sometimes. I’d then export the page as an image and stick it in OneNote.
  • I used the app SimpleMind to create mind maps (see below) I keep going back and forth between SimpleMind and Popplet for this purpose, but SimpleMind has a few more options.

Using these apps and this approach, I could arrive back at the end of the day with my notes fully formed, and just move the OneNote page from the mobile (smaller, streamlined) version into the full desktop equivalent.  Ten hours battery life, and who said that the iPad wasn’t a content-creation machine?

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Planbook as a lesson planning tool

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Last year I got pretty interested in the application of what Vic Zbar called ‘highly effective micro-teaching strategies’, particularly in the area of feedback and formative assessment and particularly related to the Hattie research and applications emerging from all that. Things like: ‘wait time’, ‘no hands up’, the icy pole stick questioning and the ‘pounce and bounce’ strategies, some of which I blogged about last year, and most of which are firmly analog. It’s hard to imagine something more low-tech than an icy-pole stick, even one decorated lovingly with texta and fineliner pen.

I enjoyed that thinking and aim to continue lots of those approaches this year.

One new thing I’ve want to explore is some of the work around ‘explicit teaching’ and particularly the lesson stages approaches that move from things like a ‘hook’ or intention to instruction, guided practice, group work and individual practice, concluded by revision, review and next steps. These are largely American ideas, but have been interested in how they’ve developed from there. Every lesson must have impact, every lesson should have a coherent learner-centric structure.

Sort of makes sense, but it also seems daunting to do that for every class every time.

So, I was interested to see whether there are lesson planning apps that might help, and came across Planbook. Planbook has been a Mac app for a while and I know nothing about that except that it’s about $36 and I’m not sure how well it syncs with the iPad version, which I bought for $9.99. Don’t be confused; there’s several Planbooks out there. I’m talking about the one from Hellmansoft.

What I like about Planbook is its ability to cope with a variety of timetables including our ten day rotation but the ability to customise the fields are the big winners for me.

The fields I included were based on Hattie’s extensions to work around the explicit teaching model.  There’s six customisable fields, so here’s what I chose for each field:

1. Topic/Content/Part of course

– What’s this topic
– Standards
– Stage in the learning

2. Beginning of lesson

– Learning Intention
– Activate
– Review
– The HOOK

3. Presentation

– Teach the concept
– Teach the skill
– Check for understanding

4. Guided Practice

– Development and engagement
– Feedback and individual support

5. Independent Practice

– Applying the concept or skill

6. Review

– Clarify, conclude
Homework/Assignments
– What should be done between lessons

Below, you can see the editing view of Planbook on the iPad. It’s not the prettiest setup in the world, and it would be easier on the Mac I’m sure, but it works well, syncs with Dropbox and is pretty user friendly. On the left hand side you can see the fields I’ve set up for each component of the lesson.

Photo 2013-02-21 21-09-35

 

 

Below, you can see the weekly view. I’ve got three lessons this week (in green) and you can see the subject name, times and the lesson plan there.

Photo 2013-02-21 21-09-29

 

 

Below, you can see the single lesson view (not in edit mode) I’ve been using this as my lesson planner, having the iPad on my desk as the planner, and the computer plugged into the data projector showing the students the lesson content or activities.

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It is a bit daunting to plan every lesson in this detail, and to be honest some of the year 12 lessons don’t go exactly this way. But, it has really sharpened my planning and I’m going to persist with this and give it a decent trial. I was considering using Evernote as the lesson planning tool (setting up a blank note with the six fields and simply copying that to a new lesson), but this more purpose-built app has some advantages over that approach, particularly its integration with your timetable schedule. If it really did sync well with the Mac version, it would be even more powerful.

Watch a screencast of the basics of Planbook below; it’s the Mac version, but the basics are the same.

Flashcards+

I’m always a little envious of those kids with piles of flip cards. Bundled up in big wads, encircled with rubber bands. ‘This is what I need to know’, they seem to say. Here is the contained knowledge. They sit at their desks and spread them before them, almost smugly.

So, I wanted to have some for my students … Just like they had in Psych. And, who knows, maybe some students actually learn like that? Like the question and answer, the certainty, the ability to review and revise.

Doing *some* research for flash card apps (of course I wasn’t going to go down the ‘paper’ pathway, I found Flashcards+ which works quite well (actually it took me quite a while to work out how the cards could be viewed) and works well with Quizlet, a kind of online community of Flashcard makers. I was very surprised to find several sets already made for Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, which isn’t’ that widely taught.

Still, I made a set of cards for our literature study of *Wide Sargasso Sea*, mainly terms, concepts, characters, factual stuff, which connected more to the things I wanted the students to know and work on, rather than the standard vocab. style ones already there. You can look it up on Quizlet.

 

Then I told the students about it in class and via the class blog where I could EMBED the cards so you could actually play them from the web site.

And, a couple of the students really liked it. Said it was useful. Said I should do it again.

Rethinking Innovation in education

I’m usually reluctant to write about articles that I can’t immediately share with a quick link but Charles Leadbeater’s most recent piece Rethinking innovation in education: Opening  up the debate, published recently by CSE, seems only available as a purchase.

So I must have really liked it to be writing about it, and I did.  He uses some modern technology comparisons (the App Store, Pixar Studios) to talk about what constitutes effective cultures of innovation and what that means for school systems, including the necessity for sustaining innovation: ‘leading innovation means creating and then leading a creative community, around a cause.’

He talks a lot too about a growing consensus, partly from insights into brain-based learning, about what constitutes effective 21st century learning, something I’ve written about here at times too. He writes, ‘to put it simply, the core of this consensus is that people learn most effectively when they are mainly learning WITH others, and sometimes BY themselves, and less frequently when the are having things explained FOR them or knowledge delivered TO them. Increasingly, to make learning effective we need to design it as a WITH and BY activity, rather than something tat’s about doing FOR and TO us.’ (his emphasis through the caps)

He then lists 10 main ingredients (I love recipe lists!) about that emerging consensus coming out of a range of sources (which he lists)

  1. Learning is an active and engaged process
  2. Engaged learning is impossible unless the learner feels motivated
  3. To be motivating, learning has to be personal, rather than standardised
  4. As well as feeling deeply personal, learning needs to be highly collaborative
  5. Mastering knowledge and skills is not a process of memorising content and regurgitating it in a form for a test; learning is about application
  6. This kind of learning thrives on feedback
  7. Learning needs to be stretching and challenging
  8. That kind of learning is a structured process, not a free for all. Learning should be hard work but rewarding and fun.
  9. Learning should take place in a wide variety of settings, not just at school or in a classroom.
  10. Designing the conditions for this kind of learning is hard; we will need perhaps fewer but more skilled, creative, master teachers.
He says lots of other stuff too, including ‘if education systems were like the App Store, developers from outside and inside the system would be adding new apps the whole time to help people learn’.
Lots of food for thought as I sat in on  a session on personalised learning today.
Top: 19th Century innovation; a steam engine in a Murray River paddle steamer. Photo: Warrick

Travelling with technology

Now that the tapas bars, Gaudi extraganzas and wide open squares of Barcelona and Madrid are already fading into memory, pushed aside by the blunt reality of the school day, I thought I should reflect on what it was like to travel with an Ipad for the first time,  and the kind of technology I found useful.

It was the first time I’ve gone more than a couple of days without a ‘real’ computer and I’ve gotta admit that I did miss the keyboard at times. However, for email, twitter, surfing the AGE website for news on the footy and even for the occasional blog post the Ipad was more than adequate. That, and it  fits into the airline seat storage in front of you, the ten hours battery life, the instant-on etc. It worked well and I used it in various ways beginning with using a little app called Plan-Pack-Go to get myself organised.

I had a Skype conversation from the apartment in Barcelona at one stage, which was seamless (wireless connectivity through most of the place we stayed in Spain were better than Melbourne) and bought a camera connection kit to import photos from my Canon into the Ipad at the end of each day. That way I could email someone a photo directly from the Ipad photo application and also had two copies of the photo: the one on the camera card and another on the Ipad. I could also upload photos to Picasa with a great little drag and drop app called Web Albums.

Of course I also had my Spanish Phrase Book App, and my DK Top Ten Guides Apps to Madrid and Barcelona, as well as some handy offline maps on the OffMaps app.

I used world weather apps Weather Watch and the international version of PocketWeather to check the daily weather in key cities and used the Ipad app for Tripit to access details of the trip I’d previously loaded into that website.  WorldClock was also handy as well as the XE Currency Converter. I put key documents like passport details, travel insurance details etc. into GoodReader so that I’d have access to them whether I was online or not. I also put the PDFs of my camera manual and my GPS manual into GoodReader and was glad I did.

For the first time I read an e-book, all the way through. I bought three books from Amazon and read them using the Kindle app on the Ipad. I didn’t find it too bright and in the bit of the trip where I was seated next to a sleeping baby (:-} I found that reading on the Ipad was less intrusive to people around me than having the overhead light on and reading a paper book. Of course, with airlines getting stricter on weight limits of bags, it was nice to have as many books as I wanted and not worry about how I’d carry them. In fact, I took 2 ‘dead-tree’ books with me as well, and left them in Spain somewhere after I’d finished them, because I couldn’t be bothered carrying them. I loved the way that I could highlight and annotate with the Kindle app and those highlights and annotations are available on my Amazon web page to copy and paste late on.

The thing about reading I found was that, if the book was good, after about 5 pages or so you were just ‘reading’. You weren’t thinking any more about the nature of the physical object you had in your hands, but you were in the story. I also liked that I could buy more books from Amazon if I wanted (and finding English language material in the brick and mortar shops was a challenge at times) and after I heard about Washington Irving’s books on his travels in Spain and downloaded a couple for free from the Itunes book store when I was in Seville. The generic Ipad reading app is just as natural as the Kindle app I think. I also made sure that I’d been regularly saving interesting looking articles from the web into Instapaper so I always had a ready supply of shorter reading too.

I did a bit of writing too, mainly using Documents to Go, but also playing around with MaxJournal as a travel journal app.

I did find it tricky to listen to the Grand Final but found a great little app called ooTunes Radio which allows you to tune into pretty well any radio station in the world. So, I heard the Grand Final over breakfast in Barcelona. That was fun, and it was an exciting game!

I’ll always have a computer, but I’m convinced there’s a place for a different kind of device too now.

I should end by saying too that at times I was totally amazed by the technology in the architecture, the water and sewage systems, the defensive planning in medieval palaces and gardens we saw.  And the beauty of it too. There were moments when I wondered whether ‘technology’ has really improved at all; I can’t imagine too many Ipads still hanging together after eight hundred years!