A year with the iPad in the classroom

A year in, I thought I’d reflect on what I’ve learned a little about the iPad as a teaching tool and what next directions in education technology look most promising.

The iPad is certainly a great tool in lots of ways. It’s light, robust, with good battery life and longevity. My Year 9 students were into their third year with the device and almost all of them were still working nearly all the time; albeit a couple with cracked screens and bumped corners.

I was easily able to share content via our LMS (Schoolbox) and they could submit work, research and had a set of ebooks for their core subjects (the Jacaranda pack)

You’ll notice I didn’t say ‘write’ on them, for while students planned presentations on their iPads they didn’t really take notes. I did show them OneNote a couple of times (I used it constantly as a teaching tool too) and three or four students immediately took to it in a big way, loving the organisational features. The others figured that since they had a paper English book they might as well write in it and, if they’re using the ebook on the iPad it’s pretty tricky to write anything down on the iPad at the same time. I didn’t push it too much; it’s not yet the dominant culture, especially in the middle years.

Also, if you’ve ever spent any time at all typing anything substantial at all (even a Year 9 English essay) on the iPad screen, it isn’t that much fun. Ergo, one interesting moment late in the year with the students working in groups putting together a presentation on their chosen book. In one of the groups a student had bought in a MacBook and all the students in that group gathered around her in designing their Keynote presentation. For some reason (I’m thinking keyboard) that was a much more natural place to do that task.

All this has happened as I’ve noticed the rise and rise of Chromebooks, particularly in the US educational context. Chromebooks are cheap, robust, secure, loved by the bursar and the IT manager. They’ve got keyboards and (I hear) work better offline than they used to. Student A can log out and Student B can log in. You could write an essay with ease and, if you were in a GAFE context a whole lot of other things might happen. I’m thinking of buying one myself to see how good they actually are.

Meanwhile, we’ve decided to offer teachers a choice for the first time next year for their replacement notebooks. The current laptop is an HP running Windows 10: slow to start up and would be an ideal anchor for a small yacht. Next year teachers can choose between a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 and a MacBook Air. I think some of the Maths teachers particularly will be interested in the touch and draw features in the Microsoft choice.

There’s certainly plenty of good choices; of course, in the end it will be all about the teaching that goes with these tools.


Sitting at the airport waiting for a flight gives you time to think. I’m heading off to EduTech in Brisbane for a couple of days and am trying to figure out just what I hope to find out, that I couldn’t get from a Twitter Feed. 

Of course, there’s power in the networked connections you can make in conferences, but I’m hoping too that there’s more that I’ll come back to my school with.  I’ll blog my thinking over the next couple of days but I’m particularly interested in:

  • The state of play in the LMS world (and specifically where Schoolbox sits in that)
  • IOS student response systems and apps
  • Are there possibilities in Chromebooks I’ve ignored for too long?
  • What do the new iPad admin settings look like
  • How can I get on board the next OneNote thing
Mixed up bunch isn’t it? Tech agnostic: Google, Apple, Microsoft … I’ll be interested to see if I’m any clearer on some of these key questions by Tuesday night.

Leveraging Office 365 and OneNote

We started this term with a staff learning day that was primarily technology focused, It began with a keynote by Travis Smith from Microsoft Australia who talked a lot about the benefits of pen-based technologies. I was interested to see him using OneNote as a  presentation tool; something I hadn’t seen before. It looked a bit like a simplified version of Prezi.

Afterwards, teachers could choose sessions on Office 365, OneNote, pen-based feedback, followed by a range of other options. I gave a session on Office Mix, and teachers could immediately see some of the potential there for adding value to PowerPoint in ‘flipping’ the classroom. I also gave a session on OneNote, and it was nice to see some teachers who had never used the tool, get started with their very first Notebook. I can’t wait to see the reaction when we roll out OneNote Classroom Notebooks later on in the year.

And, on OneNote, which has gradually become my one-ring-to-rule-them-all teaching and learning tool, sometimes it’s good to be reminded about some of the connectivity built into OneNote and other aspects of Office. Like meeting notes, explained below:

OneNote Ninjaism

Anyone who’s been following this blog for any time knows that I’m a big fan of OneNote as a teaching and organisation tool. And it got a lot better this year, with Office 365 integration and especially OneNote Shared Notebooks, which for me has been the most important classroom technology tool I’ve seen for a long time.

We’re intending to roll out shared noteobooks to all teachers and secondary students; meanwhile we’re working on skilling up our teachers, some of whom are OneNote Ninjas already. And what is it about that ninja thing? Coding ninjas? OneNote ninjas? Maybe it points to the somewhat ‘driven’ need for those of who love OneNote to try to share just what this product can do.

365 Ninja offers a range of videos to help you learn Office 365, including a range on OneNote. Here’s one I learned something from today. Spoiler alert: the Mac version of OneNote is improving, but lacks lots of features, including the insert Excel spreadsheet functionality.

Talk and Tek (the way I teach now)


This week I was finishing up my planning for a unit of work in Literature loosely called ‘Views and Values’ and focusing, in this case, on the poetry of Adrienne Rich and the kinds of viewpoints about the world, as well as the underpinning values that emerge, in her work.

Rich is an American poet with strong feministic beliefs so, besides being an excellent poet, she’s ideally placed in this aspect of the course. Students need to work with the poetry but also unpack and analyse the way the author critiques society. It’s challenging, but also really interesting.

This is a senior Literature class, mostly of self-motivated students who are interested in the material and want to be there. It’s a privilege and makes teaching a pleasure. My teaching in this subject involves a lot of talk: discussion, student presentations, me talking (sometimes too much), students talking (in groups, pairs, or whole class) reading aloud, annotating, summarising, synthesising, analysing, coming to judgement and personal evaluation. Developing a reading, by talking it through, is the key I say.

But it’s not talk and chalk, but talk and tek, for me in my teaching these days. Quite a while ago now I pretty much stopped using the analog whiteboard altogether and projected the notes and discussion points on a screen via data projector; firstly using PowerPoint as the preferred note-taking tool, and then, as screen resolution improved to Word, and finally OneNote. Where is is today.

OneNote is a wonderful tool for organising and capturing note and research, but I find it also worked really well to organise the notes (and teaching) for a course. I’m sure I’ve written about this before, but my Literature OneNote notebook has a section for each text and pretty much a page for each lesson. It structures itself wonderfully as the lessons unfold. Students would have their OneNote notebook too, and I’d generally email them a OneNote page for homework, or with material to read. Moving notes around from email into OneNote is a bit of a pain, but it was still worth it.

This year, a lot of that approach changed as we’ve been trialling Office 265 and OneDrive. The game-changer here is the possibilities in OneNote Notebook Creator; a tool that takes a lot of the hassle out of setting up and maintaining OneNote as a learning tool, and adds some powerful features that simply weren’t possible or were really tricky to do before: a collaboration space and a personal shared notebook space with each student. You can read about the features on the Microsoft site, but I’ve used OneNote this year for course content delivery, for collaboration spaces for student groups, for a space for students to submit work for feedback and lots more. Its the main teaching tool I use.

Along with that, I’ve got a couple of standard technology tools I use and like. I like Padlet for online brainstorming, and use Schoology, thought not as much as last year, mainly for its assessment and feddback and assignment/homework completion qualities. I put student results up there so students are able to get their results online rather than wait and get the results in class in that social context. I also have used Office Mix to jazz up PowerPoints with audio and video, Office Sway a new tool for delivering information; you can see a Sway on an Adrienne Rich I put together HERE. (However, I’m thinking that the main use of Sway might be in students presenting their own findings and in their presentations, and use Diigo, online bookmarking to set up lists like Resources on Adrienne Rich, to supplement the classroom work and resources.

Funny, that after I’ve been so critical of Windows and the operating system and the Office tools, and am such a fan of the Apple ecosytem that the principle tools I find myself working and teaching with in 2015 are from Microsoft.

Microsoft Sway


So, it’s only January 3rd but it’s too hot to go outside so I am having a look at some new online tools, trying to figure out the best way to work with my students in Year 12 Literature this year.

I’ll certainly continue to make OneNote the basis of the notes, and am looking forward to the new OneNote Notebook Creator and the possibilities of Office 365 which we’re introducing this year, but will I continue to use Schoology and what else could I be bringing to the classroom?

One new tool I saw is Microsoft Sway, which claims to be a bit of a cross between PowerPoint and other tools like Prezi (Prezi makes me a little dizzy!)

Still in development, I played around with using Sway to introduce the task conditions for the first text, Amadeus by Peter Shaffer. It allows you to create a ‘storyline’ of images, text and share that via a weblink which is scrollable and looks pretty good. More features are coming.

You can see the result HERE (I don’t think you can embed it yet) Looks pretty interesting. Here’s the promotional video from Microsoft: