When I started the 2010-2011 school year, I had two goals in mind. First, I wanted to find ways to further engage my students in the classroom. Second, I wanted to create a paperless classroom. Over the summer, I decided to move from Windows to Mac, a decision I had been contemplating for a long time. I purchased an iPad and later, after my laptop died, a MacBook. I was hoping that the purported ease of use of the iOS device and the OSX MacBook would help me reach my goals.
Our district received a grant last year that let us purchase netbooks for our junior high school. Instead of pencil and paper, each student in my class would be using a netbook. As the school year approached, I started looking for ways to integrate the netbooks and my new iPad and MacBook into the classroom. After searching the iTunes and Mac App Stores, I found the following solutions to be the most helpful in the achieving of my goals.
Mobile Mouse transforms your iOS device into a motion-based mouse, trackpad, and wireless remote control for your desktop or laptop computer. In addition to the iOS app, the user must download and install a server application for the Mac or PC computer. It's available for free from the company's website (mobilemouse.com). Once both components are installed, your iOS device connects to the Mac or PC via Wi-Fi and lets you access and control the computer from your device. You can't see the application that is running on the iDevice; you have to look at the computer monitor or projected image to navigate the screen. Directions for connecting to either a Mac or PC are provided, and the setup is pretty easy—I was up and running within minutes.
Mobile Mouse has been a huge help in the classroom, allowing me to walk around the room while presenting my lesson and at anytime open another application to show the students.
eClicker, eClicker Host
It's important to "poll" students occasionally to see if they understand lessons. For example, you might spring a pop quiz on them or ask them to verbally explain a concept you just covered. Since my students would be using netbooks in class, I decided to do this electronically. The app I chose to help me with this is called eClicker.
eClicker consists of two parts: The eClicker Host app lets the iOS user (i.e., the teacher) enter questions on a host site. The eClicker client app speeds up the connection over a Wi-Fi network. After the questions are entered, the students enter the host site address using the Web browser on their computers to review and answer the questions. The teacher can review the poll results, which can be displayed numerically or as a graph.
I like using eClicker to assess the students understanding of concepts that were taught the day before. This helped me decide what direction I needed to take with my lesson.
Free, iPhone/iPod touch: app2.me/3836
This app lets you access Edmodo, a free social learning network for students and teachers. I was attracted to Edmodo because its interface is similar to Facebook, and many of my students were already familiar with Facebook. I use Edmodo as my online classroom, where I can post assignments, class materials, links, and discussion questions. Students can access it from any Web browser. The site is very secure; each student has his or her own login. However, there is an option to make the content public.
The Edmodo app helps me stay in contact with my students beyond the walls of my classroom. I can comment on the students' posts and download assignments. The students can log on to the site from anywhere to read my comments, get assignments, and turn them in. Edmodo also lets me give the students immediate feedback on their work, so they know how they are doing in class. Finally, I can send e-mail or a SMS text messages from the app, to remind students about upcoming tests and assignments that are due.
MobileMe & MobileMe iDisk App
MobileMe iDisk free, iPhone/iPad/iPod touch: app2.me/5awqld
I also used a few applications that help me stay organized in the classroom and beyond the school walls. One of the applications that helps me stay organized is MobileMe. It allows me to upload files to the iDisk component. Once I have the files uploaded, I can then use the MobileMe iDisk app to access the files from my iPad or iPhone. I can also access the files on any computer by going to www.me.com and logging into my account. The Calendar component of Mobile Me keeps me organized by syncing all my calendars. This gives me the ability to update my iCal calendars on the go. One of the main purposes that I use MobileMe for is to host my class website using the 20GB of web storage that is included. I made my website using iWeb and it easily integrates with MobileMe for hosting the site. However, the address for my website was too long for students to remember using just MobileMe. I ended up purchasing a separate, easier to remember domain name and integrated it into MobileMe. The configuration was extremely easy. StarQuiz
Since one of my goals was to create a paperless classroom, I had been creating tests that I can host online and let the students access and complete using their netbooks. Initially, I had been creating tests using a test-generator called ExamView ($99.00, einstruction.com). I would upload the completed tests to my public file on iDisk and let the students access them there. However, the school's web filter would occasionally block the site, and it would waste valuable class time. I needed a better solution.
Apple recently launched the App Store for Mac (apple.com/mac/app-store), and while exploring it I found StarQuiz ($39.99, cosmicsoft.net/starQuiz). I'm very happy with this program, which lets me create tests, add movies, music, photos to the questions, and auto-grade most of the sections for you. This helps free up time so I can get other pressing things done in the classroom. The really great thing about the program is that it lets you upload your tests to their server for free. Your students can use any Web browser to take the test. StarQuiz also has a great data feature that lets me see how each student did individually and how the classes performed as a whole. I also can plan my lessons better by looking at the material the students struggled with and address those areas again.
Transforming the teaching profession
Many of the solutions I've discussed not only help me with everyday duties, they help me make lessons come alive. The iPad is a very powerful tool that is transforming the teaching profession. The device itself can be used in a variety of roles in the classroom, and a vast collection of apps is available to add to the teacher's educational arsenal.
With the release of the iPad 2, teachers and students can take advantage of FaceTime and other new features to communicate with each other and create innovative projects and lessons. Finally, the App Store is growing rapidly. I'm anxious to see what new apps I will be able to incorporate in my class next year to help engage my students and give them the tools they need to succeed beyond the classroom.