Monday, April 29, 2013

Collaboration Using Dropbox

A couple of weeks ago, I had an idea to start an after school club for our intermediate grade students.  We currently have 30+ iPads deployed at our school of just under 400 students.  Most of those iPads are in use during the day in centers in our primary classrooms.  We are currently building an iPad classroom to house all of those iPads and to ensure access for all students to the devices, but until that time, our intermediate students seemed to be missing out on a great opportunity.

Over the course of the year, most of our students have been working on longer writing projects.  They have been writing and editing stories that they have spent months working on.  Why not provide those students with an opportunity to publish their stories using the iPads?  From this idea came our school iPad Authors Club.  Twice a week, our students gather with their finished stories to publish their work using the Book Creator app.  It was in the device management aspect of this work that an idea occurred to me involving Dropbox.

Since the students were not consistently using the same device from one session to the next, we needed a central location for students to be able to save their work and access their work the next time they came to class.  Enter Dropbox.  From a school account, all of our teachers have their own folders to which they can save their own work (or their students' work.)  I created a folder for the students in the club.  They are prompted to save their work to the Dropbox, and access the Dropbox at the start of class to resume their work right where they left off.  Device management issue solved!

It was here that the idea occurred to me that this solution could potentially be extended to our classrooms that are utilizing a limited number of iPads.  If students are working on a project in a small group, access to the Dropbox would enable the students to work collaboratively from anywhere they have access to the Dropbox.  Face-to-face classroom time could be used to plan specific tasks/functions for each group member, who would then be able to complete the task anytime and anywhere they have access to the shared Dropbox folder.

Maximizing instructional time and increasing collaboration-it's a win-win using Dropbox!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

iBook Creation

Over the past year, we have worked to integrate the iPad into our curriculum in a number of ways.  We were initially able to place some iPads in each of our primary classrooms, which enabled our primary teachers to utilize them for interventions or enrichment in centers.  The students responded to the introduction of the iPad in dramatic fashion, as they were all completely engaged and were actively working to support each other's work on the devices!

One of the projects the students were working on involved creation of their own iBooks.  The students wrote their own stories first, complete with illustrations, and then used the My Story app ($1.99 in iTunes) to bring their stories to life.

My Story is very intuitive and easy to use.  The students are able to create their own illustrations within the app, and can insert images and their own narration as well.  Text can be entered in a separate text box that appears below the illustration.  Books can be shared via a link, email, or can be opened in iBooks.  Below is a sample text with narration that can be played in iBooks:

My teachers inspired me to start an afterschool club for students in our intermediate grades who also wanted to publish stories they have written on their bookshelves as iBooks.  We were considering a number of apps to use, including ScribblePress ($3.99 in iTunes), Book Creator ($4.99 in iTunes), and Creative Book Builder ($3.99 in iTunes.)  I did like the easy integration of art into ScribblePress, as well as the ready-made templates.  Creative Book Builder has clearer integrated structure with chapters, table of contents, and glossary options included, along with the ability to add text and media from almost any source imaginable.  Books can be published to iBooks, Dropbox, and Google Drive (among other options.)  In the end, we opted with Book Creator as a "happy medium" of the options.

Book Creator seems to offer the "best fit" of options for our students at this point.  Text, images, and sound are all easily integrated into a story.  There are three different layouts to choose from, and books can be published to iBooks or added to Dropbox, Google Drive, or Schoology (among other options.)  Students quickly learned the basics of the app, and were adding pages to their books right away:

Our students and our school are still in a nascent stage in working with these apps, but I am incredibly excited by the students' enthusiasm, engagement, and work thus far!  Who knows what great future author we can inspire?


Tuesday, April 23, 2013


In looking ahead to the 2013-2014 school year, I still find one very large and expensive item remaining from my teachers' initial needs assessment/wish list for their classrooms from this past school year: a teacher laptop for every classroom.  Laptops come in all shapes and sizes, different models and features, and with all sorts of bells and whistles.  As I explored, I discovered Chromebooks, which seem like a very attractive option for a number of reasons.  The Samsung Chromebook tops out at $249, meaning I can obtain one for each classroom very inexpensively.  The options for collaboration through Google are exceptional, and everything is backed up to Google Drive.

So what's the tricky part?  No Windows operating system.  No Microsoft Office!

Enter Google Docs.

Google Docs, where you can create an assignment or assessment in Google Forms, have the responses load into a separate spreadsheet, and use a script named Flubaroo to grade the assignments, generate reports, and email results to students and/or parents!  The following video provides a concise and effective overview of the features of Flubaroo:

Flubaroo actually saves the teacher significant time in grading and provides multiple options for data use.  It functions flawlessly with multiple-choice and true-false questions.  Open response questions are trickier.  For example, if the correct answer to a question is "6," a student response of "six" will be marked as incorrect.  Similarly, if the correct answer to a question is "George Washington," any variation on spelling and/or grammatical conventions will also result in a wrong answer.  Perhaps that's a risk we're willing to accept, but forewarned is forearmed.  In the meantime, I am eager to share this tool with my teachers!  I think it will make our work a bit lighter and potentially even more effective.

Monday, April 8, 2013


At a recent conference presentation given by Ms. Jennie Magiera, I learned about "screencasting" using an app called Ask3.  After having the chance to explore with the app, I was amazed by the app's potential to increase the teacher's accessibility to struggling students in the classroom, as well as its viability as either a formative or summative assessment tool.

How does the app work?  When you open Ask3, there is a camera tool built into the app.  You can take a picture of a problem or task, and then record a mini-lesson with your own voice as you annotate (write and/or draw) onto the picture you took in real time.  It is literally just that easy.  Within minutes, you have a video mini-lesson ready for classroom use.  The app's layout is very intuitive and user-friendly.  So what is the potential benefit to the classroom?

Let's say you're getting ready to teach a lesson on a new concept, like fractions.  In planning for the lesson, you would anticipate that there are a number of areas (both conceptual and procedural) where students may struggle with fractions.  Using Ask3, you could record any number of mini-lessons to build upon student prior knowledge.  Those mini-lessons could then be accessible to any student during the lesson with access to the app.  Students who are struggling can seek the answers to the questions they have from their own teacher, at the same time.  Talk about maximizing instructional time!

From a management perspective, once the mini-lessons are recorded, they are always there.  They can become part of a library of instructional mini-lessons that will always be at the teacher's disposal.  However, the app can really take flight when students are empowered to record their own responses using Ask3.  Students can use Ask3 to articulate their mastery of a concept taught in class, or even to create a response to an instructional task.  The student's narration provides an otherwise unseen window into the student's understanding of a concept, which will make the teacher's follow-up planning that much more effective.

With the clear benefit to teachers and students, we will definitely be exploring more with Ask3!