Rearranging My Classroom…a’la Apple Store

I teach high school English, so my room is typically set up in a horseshoe-type design to help facilitate discussions, since that is a main component of my curriculum.  I have tables, not desks, so it’s a little different from the typical classroom.  While this set-up worked well last year, I was a little concerned how this would work while using the iPads this school year.  It was truly one of the first things I thought about when I knew I would be getting them; what would be the best set-up while using the iPads?  I wanted something that would best support the student collaboration I envision when I introduce the iPads to my students and they are using them each day.

Having said this, I was on Twitter one day and found a blog post about the advantages of setting up a classroom like an Apple store.  And do you think I can find that blog post now?  Of course not!  But I swear I read it and having had just been at the Apple store in Legacy Village in Cleveland, I had a picture in my mind of how I wanted my room (wish I had the millions Apple spends on its stores to make them so pretty!).  There were stations located around the store at which six people could explore different Mac Books and iPads.  I went to an iPad workshop there in the summer, and having six people sitting around one table allowed for good discussion and collaboration, but it was not chaotic because of the small number of the group.  So, I decided to follow this concept in my own classroom.  I put two tables together in each group which allows for four to five students to sit together, work together and learn together.  It was not rocket science, but it was a welcomed change and the lay-out allows for me to walk easily between the desks so I can monitor and talk with the students as they work.  It may not seem like a huge deal, but I feel this format will help the students get the most from their experience with the iPads.  Now, if I could just find that original blog post that gave me the idea in the first place…

Thank you to L.H.-she found it for me: http://web.me.com/timholt/Intended_Consequences_v._2.0/Intended_Consequences/Entries/2011/2/17_Your_Classroom_as_an_Apple_Store.html

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The Last Week of Summer (a.k.a. ‘The Calm Before the Storm’)

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We educators love summer…it’s the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. This is not to imply that I dislike my job; on the contrary, I love my job and have no idea what I would do if someone told me I was no longer able to teach. But I need time to refresh and recharge to be at my best. This applies not only to teaching, but to my personal life as well. This is why I get up early every morning to exercise before anyone else is awake in my house. This is why I love my plan period at school and I get 42 minutes to myself (some days, but not many). This is why I still need to take a quick nap before going out after a long day (my affinity for nap-taking is a running joke among my friends). It’s just part of my make-up and who I am. So, summer is a welcomed break from the craziness and chaos that can be a part of the teaching profession.

Admittedly, however, August inevitably is the time when I begin to crave being back in my classroom and the security that a structured schedule allows. I want that both for myself and for my two girls (their days of sleeping until 10:00 are now numbered, much to their dismay). Now it is August 21 and I start school in two days. Two days. The mere thought makes me so very nervous and excited at the same time. But this is a different kind of nervous than the typical first-day jitters; this is due in part to the implementation of the iPads in my classroom this year. I want it to go well, but realize this is going to be a learning curve for me, the students, the other teachers involved in the program, the administrators and the tech department. There will be hiccups along the way. But I think I’m ready…

In the meantime, I am going to enjoy my last 48 hours of summer. I am now returning from a fun weekend camping trip at the beach, I’m going to finish the first ‘Harry Potter’ book which I finally started ten years too late (my daughter is reading the second one in the pictures) and I’m going to enjoy spending time with my kids. I will relax and be as calm as I can as I get ready for the storm.

And I will fret as I think about everything I still need to do as I finish preparing for this new school year…

Singing the Praises of Twitter as a Professional Development Tool

Twitter. The word itself invoked my eyeballs to roll involuntarily. Twitter? Tweeting? Really? Who thought of this? Telling the world your thoughts in 140 characters or less? It seemed silly and frivolous to me. So, I never investigated it and pushed it into the “Will Not Use” section of my mind. Did that make me a “Twitter Snob”? Perhaps. Am I proud of that? No, of course not. Even last summer when my good friend and fellow teacher tried to sell me on the advantages of using Twitter as an educator, I balked and could not bring myself to open that door and walk through it.

However, something piqued my interest in Twitter this summer. Honestly, I can’t remember if it was a television program about it or an article I may have read online. Whatever it was, one day last month I was sitting on my back porch with my iPad and decided to take a look at it. Before I knew it, I was creating a profile (just in case, but I would never need it) and reading what others had written. Slowly but surely it dawned on me that this might actually be something worth looking into. Suddenly, I found myself looking online to see the best way to use Twitter (hashtags can be confusing at first), then I began looking for people to “follow” (it does feel a bit stalker-ish) who were involved in education and technology. Surprisingly, I began to get requests for others to follow me as well. That was an experience at first since I neglected to set my settings as private…I read some very interesting tweets as a result! Note: Set your profile as private or you will be in for a real education! Have not had a problem since doing so…

Anyway, in the past month I have been on Twitter, I have learned more about my profession and have gained more ideas than in all the conferences and workshops I’ve attended in the past few years combined. I cannot believe this whole community of educators have been online all this time and I’ve been missing out…I feel a bit like the only girl in her 3rd grade class who didn’t get the invitation to the popular girl’s party. I have gained access to blogs and websites pertaining to iPads in the classroom which contain a plethora of information, I have been inspired to do a complete makeover of my syllabus after reading a tweet about just that, I have been given ideas about how to use Twitter in my classroom with my students. In short, I have learned so much and I cannot wait everyday to see what else I can discover. It’s a bit like going to a garage sale – I can skim over the “junk” that doesn’t interest me as much and zero in on the good stuff, the treasure, the jackpot! I love the idea of searching through to pick out what is best suited to me, my students and my classroom. As a result, I, the former Twitter snob, have been singing the praises of Twitter and will continue to do so. Especially with using the iPads this year since I feel it will be a fantastic resource and will probably now be my first line of defense if I have a problem or a question about them.

Twitter. I still hate the name and I don’t think I can ever say the word “tweet” with a straight face. But as a teacher, I now understand the positive impact Twitter has and will continue to have on education. Here’s hoping that others will put aside their prejudices as I have and discover the advantages of using Twitter as a professional development tool. Yes, Twitter. As a professional development tool. Miracles never cease.

Note: For those new to Twitter, check out this link on how to use it effectively:

http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/infographic-twitter-effectively/

Starting Out…Which Apps to Use in My English Classroom?

After a summer of researching and digging deeper into this world of the iPad and the gazillion apps that are available for education (overwhelming to say the least), I had to narrow down what I would use in my English classroom. This was an extremely difficult task to say the least. Fortunately, part of the iPad Pilot Program involves five other fantastic teachers and a great media specialist who are all willing to share their ideas with the rest of us. If I have learned anything in my over ten years of teaching, it’s that without collaboration and sharing with colleagues, no one is at their best in the classroom. An open line of communication is necessary in order to learn, vent and challenge ourselves to grow professionally. So, with the help of these other teachers, I was able to make some decisions about the apps I felt would work best with my class and my teaching style. I’ve listed most of them below:

*Noterize – To use for notetaking. Honestly, I liked Evernote better since it’s more aesthetically pleasing because of its ability to clip images and websites directly to the app. However, it does not upload to Google Docs, which is what I’ll have the kids using for file storage. So I’ll start out with Noterize with high hopes that Evernote will jump on the Google Docs bandwagon (maybe an email from me is in order?).

*NPR – To use for current events and class discussions. Love, love this app! So many author interviews, podcasts, etc. and bonus – it’s free! What’s not to love?

*Flipboard – To use for current events and class discussions. It’s a news magazine but the pictures and types of articles will easily keep students’ attention.

*HitPad – Again, to use for current events and class discussions. But the really cool aspect of this app is that it researches a topic for you. For example, it lists a topic and shows all the websites, videos and Twitter posts related to that topic and all on one app. Great to help cure “information overload” when students are browsing the web for information about a topic. One-stop internet shopping! It’s like the Wal-Mart of the internet – a shopper can buy waffles, shampoo, tires and guns all at the same store…one-stop shopping!

*Literary Analysis – This really is a useful app which gives definitions of literary analysis terms and examples of their uses in text. One goal I have is to have the students add these literary terms into their lexicon and I think this app will help in this.

*iMovie – I’m still pretty new to iMovie and how it works, but from what I’ve learned so far – wow! My idea with iMovie is to separate the students into groups and have each group create one news segment which will be shown on the large-screen TV’s in our school. This will make it so easy for them to complete and I’m looking forward to learning more about what it can do. Interested? Check out this great website which teachers can use to get the students started using iMovie: www.speedofcreativity.org

*iTalk – To help prepare students for oral presentations. What better way to self-assess their public speaking skills than to have them actually listen to themselves?

*iBooks – I’ve tried the Nook app on my iPad, but wasn’t crazy about the way it looked on the screen. I also figured using iBooks for my online books would make more sense since it’s on an iPad and would be most compatible. Also, students can open many documents in iBooks and save them on their shelves, which I thought was a neat option.

*Prezi Viewer – I didn’t realize the iPad requires this app to watch Prezis made on the Prezi website. Now I know and got the app!

*Dictionary Word Book – How nice to be able to say to students, “Look it up on your iPad”, when they ask me what a word means. I think this will invoke much less groaning and eyeball rolling than when they have to use an actual dictionary.

I’m sure there are a couple that I’m leaving out, but this is the vast majority. Like I mentioned before, we will be using Google Docs for writing, sharing and saving. My hope is that this will eliminate the myriad of excuses that always accompany the writing and completion of papers in the computer lab when using flashdrives or saving on the network server (“I lost my flashdrive”, “I couldn’t finish my paper at home because it was saved on the server at school”, etc.). As long as students have access to the internet, they will have access to their work. I think this will make my life and their lives so much easier.

We’ll see how these initial apps go! I’m sure there will be some that will not work out and others that I need to have on the iPads. I’m open to any suggestions of apps that others have used and have really liked, so please feel free to comment if you have any opinions on this. One thing I need to remember is to take it slowly and I will try not to use all these apps at once; the kids need to learn how to use them one at a time…

iPad Pilot Program…Stumbling blindly into new and scary territory.

I teach English at a career and technical center in Ohio and this upcoming school year will be a daunting one; our school is implementing an iPad Pilot Program and I will be one of six teachers who were chosen to participate. I have no idea what made me want to add this to my list of responsibilities – sometimes I really think I can do more than I can, but it was such an exciting opportunity, I decided to throw my hat in the ring and turn in a proposal to see if I really could get the iPads. Besides, it was a win-win situation, right? I would challenge myself and grow as a teacher and my kids and I could learn together and become a class of 21st century learners (to throw around the latest educational “buzz phrase”). And bonus-I would no longer have to fight the other 100 teachers in our building for computer lab time if I had my own iPads! Just kidding, but truly the thought of added autonomy in my classroom was attractive and helped in my decision to turn in a proposal.

So, I checked my email at the end of June after having turned in my proposal (with much trepidation since I suffer from the typical English teacher’s annoying trait-writing a page when a sentence would suffice. Did I write too much? Would the assessors laugh at me and use my proposal for practicing shooting baskets right into the trash can? Paper does make a fantastic fire-starter, too! So many other options they had besides picking my proposal as one they would actually use!). Funny thing, though…as I was opening my email, I suddenly got the feeling that I was going to get an email saying my proposal was chosen. Then I read the words “Congratulations…You have been chosen to participate in the iPad Pilot Program”. Congratulations? I suddenly felt sick to my stomach and wanted to throw myself on the floor and crawl into the fetal position. “I changed my mind…I don’t wanna…!” Can I really do this? This is whole new territory and scary territory at that.

So after going through all the bad things that could happen(kid decides to ‘borrow’ an iPad while my back is turned, kid drops iPad on floor, kid hacks through the filter system and downloads inappropriate app thus causing the end of my teaching career, etc., etc.) I actually became very excited about the prospect of learning and teaching with the iPad. I really began browsing apps and expanding my knowledge about what the iPad can and cannot do. I truly cannot wait to try this! I am anticipating mistakes as well as fantastic teachable moments that will make me want to jump on my desk and yell, “Take that, Mr. Keating!”. I plan on using this blog to document these experiences so I can reflect and others can learn since that’s what makes us all better teachers-collaboration and sharing…

So here’s to my new adventure in iPadding!