Paddling the Learning Pool – 8 Tools That Changed My Teaching

There’s a lot going on.

Educators seem overloaded with initiatives and expectations. Students appear weighed down by assessment and intervention. The profession is under attack by a swathe of politicians and their ‘bright’ ideas. Bad press outweighs good. It can feel like there is too much to do and not enough time to do it in, so I asked myself: how can I improve?

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is indeed ‘madness’ but rarely, in education, is there an opportunity to make sweeping changes. However, a device has transformed the way I work and made possible a number of things I wish I had the courage to alter years ago.

Now, before you think this is just an advert for an iPad, I must add that I am merely writing about my experience to illustrate how I have been able to change the way I do things. This post is not intended to preach or convert. Rather it is an opportunity to reflect on an a year of radical adjustments to my working practice.

Assessment

Three tools have made a huge difference to the feedback my students receive.

Socrative – A free e-clicker that is regularly used to assess student progress. This simple AfL tool can be pre-loaded with questions or used as a spot check for groups or individuals. An exit ticket can be set as a plenary option with student answers immediately emailed to a linked account.

Dropbox – The cloud based memory store, enables students to hand-in work through a shared folder option. These shared folders receive the work that can then be opened in another app, suitable to annotate the work, by the educator. When the assessment has been completed, the document is simply saved back to the shared Dropbox folder where the student can view the annotations.

Edmodo – Alongside the ability to submit work, the Edmodo platform has the advantage of incorporating a secure social network and a library of resources. Consequently, students can interact with peers or the educator to ask questions of their assignments and access information that has been uploaded to support their learning. Again any uploaded assignments can be annotated within the Edmodo platform and feedback immediately received by the student.

These tools have had a profound effect on the way I assess and how the students receive it. The impact of the  change in the usual timeline of submitted work must not be underestimated. Submission, assessment and return all happens between lessons without the need for face to face contact. Consequently it informs next lesson planning and enables student correction much closer to final completion.

In the Classroom

There are a number of subject specific apps that have found their way into my classroom but there are a few generic tools that are consistently used.

Multimedia camera – From simple image capture to edited movie, the iPad camera has become integral to the learning process. Creating and sharing resources has imagery at its core and the recent improvements to the  camera specifications are a blessing. Add iMovie to this and you have a very powerful tool.

Apple TV – The ability to display the iPad screen of any student has had a significant impact on the ethos of the classroom. There is an increased pride in work, knowing that there is a chance it might be displayed to the rest of the class at any point. The wireless connection also serves to compare creativity and stimulate debate. (In a traditional PC classroom the same could be said of the Reflector or AirServer app.)

Explain Everything – Of all the interactive whiteboards that are available for the iPad, Explain Everything has the most impressive functionality and sharing options. As well as being a medium for student creation and explanation, it also serves as a tool to personalise learning. The ability to create resources, with different audio attached to slides, means students can receive different instruction/questions/prompts. For those students who are not quite grasping initial concepts, it is a simple task to send them a link to an Explain Everything creation to help them (headphones are useful here). Similarly, you can really stretch the minds of those students who are desperate to discover more.

Resources

Gone are the days of photocopying and filing cabinets. The tools below have enabled me to streamline my productivity and function in a manner more conducive to my students’ way of learning.

Evernote – I often refer to Evernote as a virtual filing cabinet or my memory digitally mapped. With the ability to Tag notes and create folders, Evernote serves as a store of everything I need as an educator and is available across platform. For more help with Evernote it is well worth looking at the work of @thenerdyteacher who has conducted a fantastic Evernote experiment.

YouTube – Having your own Youtube account enables you to store all sorts of multimedia resources for free. The creation of a link that can be passed to your students also makes it a very efficient way to share information or created screencasts/movies. On top of this, it is very important to ask students to create ‘educational’ YouTube accounts. This means that all the new ‘work’ they create has a visual medium to facilitate sharing between peers and the educator. Coupled with iMovie learning with YouTube as a creativity medium is very powerful.

Dropbox – Another mention for my cloud based memory store. The ability to upload/download to and from Dropbox is prevalent in the most popular apps. This means any resources can be accessed from any device at any time and has proved invaluable. I often find myself demonstrating the functionality of an iPad by accessing my Dropbox account to display resources via Apple TV.

The power of these tools lies in their immediacy and accessibility. The iPad is part of my working practice because it complements the way I educate and how I want my resources to be available. If we add in the ability to assess/feedback to students in a more effective manner for their learning then we have a tool that is making a significant impact.

I must reiterate that these tools work for me as an educator who has access to a strong wireless network and students who have embraced the technology alongside the learning. We have used many, many apps at different stages in our learning and feedback from students has been very important when deciding on their effectiveness. However, the ability to create, share and feedback with such ease has meant we have been able to continue happy in the understanding that learning is the most important thing.

I’m just glad I made the effort to change.

About Daniel Edwards
Director of Innovation & Learning at the Stephen Perse Foundation schools, Cambridge, UK (stephenperse.com). Interested in global connectivity for all and risk taking in education. Keen to discuss all aspects of learning and digital strategy. Also @syded06 on twitter.

22 Responses to Paddling the Learning Pool – 8 Tools That Changed My Teaching

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  3. Great information here! My school has not yet moved to a full iPad 1:1, but all of the faculty do currently have iPads! This is some great information! I’m going to reblog!

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  5. Thanks for this post Dan. Working in a very similar way with the above apps & workflows being my most regularly used also. Been getting students to upload videos created on ipod touches to edmodo for future work is working well for us at the mo.

  6. Jeff Herb says:

    This is a great list of tools, Dan. I agree that they all contribute to some pretty powerful teaching potential. I hadn’t heard of Explain Everything and I am looking forward to trying it out. Also, thanks for the link to my site in the Apple TV section!

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