Monday, August 20, 2012

Next Year...

2011-2012 was a wonderful experience. We hope you'll follow Mr. Mitchell's class into the 2012-2013 school year on our new blog. Hope to see you there!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

It's Not Just About Academics

One of the most rewarding aspects of working with Mr. Mitchell's class this year has been to watch the students independently experiment and grow in areas that are not always covered in typical elementary school curricula. This is possible because Mr. Mitchell not only allows experimentation, but encourages it and prompts students to share their work on the overhead and to teach other students how they created it. It's amazing to see how the student artists are able to break down their work into simple steps so that other students can follow along in real time and recreate their work on their own iPads.

On my last visit, I noticed several students creating and sharing art amongst themselves and Mr. Mitchell at lunch. I was very impressed with the way students were experimenting with different media and apps and creating impressive images of which they seemed very proud. I asked a few students to send me some of their work, Here are some of the submissions. (You can click on an image to see a larger version.)

Porcupine (Makennah)

My Dog (Karli)

Streetlights (Maddy)

Dog (McKinley)

Lizard (Makennah)

Rose (Karli)

Shark (Nels)

Mouse (Angie)

Fish (Monique)

And here is a short video of how students do the sharing--wirelessly connecting to the projector using an Apple TV.

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Classroom Without a Front

The new classroom configuration;  projector cart in the center, teacher's desk along the wall.
Last week, we acquired an AppleTV for our classroom. Things will never be the same.

First, the technical stuff. An AppleTV is a small $99 device that is capable of receiving a video or audio signal over WiFi from an iPad (or Mac or any iOS device) and playing it back on an attached screen and/or speaker. This is accomplished through the AppleTV's HDMI port to output video and audio and an additional optical port for audio only.

The Sharp NetVision projector currently in the room lacked an HDMI port but did have DVI input. A simple adapter converts the video for the projector but strips out the audio signal. We solved that problem by taking the audio signal directly from the AppleTV's optical port and running it through a small box to convert the digital signal to RCA audio so we could plug in the existing speakers for audio. The result is that our iPads can project both audio and video wirelessly from any point in the room. Counting the AppleTV, the HDMI to DVI adapter, the optical audio to RCA audio converter and the HDMI and optical audio cables, the total expense was less than $150. As a bonus, it's easily disconnected and moved to another projector if necessary.

 Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

So how have things changed as a result of this new addition?

Change ... first, where is the front of the classroom?  I have now gained the freedom to move anywhere in the classroom, at any time, in order to present or demonstrate learning.  I can also move into the hallway or anywhere in the school.  The most immediate affect has been my ability now to view student work while the student is working and then be able to demonstrate or fix student work live on the screen.  This instantly translates into improved student performance as well as providing an example for the rest of the class.  Using the camera on the iPad II, I can now have a "document camera" to show actual student work and capture instantly examples of positive work to display to the class.

In one case, a particular math problem was presenting problems to one student ... so I took a picture, instantly projected it to the class to only find out that most of the students were struggling which allows us to instantly address questions and provide direction towards a correct solution.  In another case, given that the students email me a tremendous amount of work, I was able to show the student from across the room that in fact their email had arrived and "grade it live" while the student was correcting the work on the fly.  Again, I didn't need to physically be by the student but was able to walk across the room and provide a more direct approach when the student's first attempt failed.

 On a side note, since we brought our Apple TV into the room, 4 other teachers in my school made the investment and are now projecting live without wires.  It also means I can attach to their Apple TV and them to mine so if something needs to be projected to another room without physically going there... we've just broadened our reach and teaching ability.

Larry Mitchell, Classroom Teacher

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Little Math...And a Big Change

This week's short video documents a Friday afternoon math lesson. It's another example of the high standards that Mr. Mitchell has for his students, both in terms of math and in terms of independent and collaborative learning. But there is an important change in this week's lessons that will have a significant effect on the nature of instruction in the classroom for the remainder of this year and in the future. Before reading on, watch the video and see if you can detect it.

In the meantime, here's a quick description of the afternoon's proceedings.

A few days ago, Mr. Mitchell introduced the Khan Academy to his students as a way to supplement and extend math instruction in his classroom. The students took to it quickly and enthusiastically. For the first few days, all students downloaded and viewed the same videos using the excellent Khan Academy app on their iPads. Next week, Mr. Mitchell plans to create accounts for his students and let them select videos on their own. In the video, you'll see students using some Khan videos along with some math drills and some worksheets from the district's math program. As usual, pairs of student partners have to plan their afternoon's activities and negotiate the use of the iPad and other materials with each other. Headphones with audio splitters allow two students to view the same video simultaneously. Results are emailed to Mr. Mitchell, who can instantly evaluate them and work with students who need extra help.

So, did you catch the difference in this week's instruction?

Notice the iPad that Mr. Mitchell is using to broadcast the lesson to the class. There are no cables connecting it to the projector. Earlier this week, the class acquired an Apple TV which, when connected to the existing projector using an HDMI-to-DVI converter, allows Mr. Mitchell (and his students) to wirelessly project content from their iPads. This provides Mr. Mitchell with the freedom to walk around his classroom rather than instructing from his desk at the front of the class. As a result, he has moved his desk off to the side of the classroom and rearranged the student tables in a central square facing each other. The effect is to further decentralize the classroom and emphasize interaction and learning rather than teacher-directed lessons. He is more free to move from table to table, monitoring students and providing help as needed.

It will be fun to see how this change affects the nature of instruction in this classroom.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Writing Should Be Fun

The class has been working on various types of writing, including formal essays--the five-paragraph essay format, among others. On Friday afternoon, after some writing review, Mr. Mitchell decided to let the students explore another type of familiar writing in order to let them have fun with the writing process.

He started the lesson using Story Cubes, a fun story starter that randomly selects images from nine dice cubes rolled by shaking the iPad. The students were asked to construct fairy tales using at least three of the images for ideas. (To make this easier, Mr. Mitchell took a screen shot of the results and sent it out to each iPad.) They had a little over 30 minutes to agree on a story, compose it, create illustrations, incorporate the illustrations into the text, and finally email the first draft to Mr. Mitchell.

The students used the Pages app to compose the story and Drawing Box to create the illustrations. The illustrations were saved, opened through Pages, and inserted into the text. Once the drafts were received, Mr. Mitchell reviewed them from his iPad on the projector.

The students' fluency with Pages and Drawing Box is impressive. They move back and forth between the apps with ease. They are able to keyboard efficiently on the iPads. Most prefer to use styluses for drawing and for creating the page layout in Pages.

Writing should be fun. For this class, it clearly is.

Here are a few of the first drafts. Click to enlarge:

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Another Week(s) in Review

Since my last post, several new "things" have been happening in our class and with the students' use of the iPads.  A few are normal transitions in every classroom, a few are progressive in terms of student capabilities, and unfortunately one is simply not desired.

The first is the addition of a few new students and the loss of a few others.  Normally the movement of students tends to cause a fair amount of disruption in terms of new kids gaining skills, "catching up", and  finding a place and balance within the room.  This aspect, fortunately, just doesn't seem to be happening this year.  One new student, having only been in the room for 3 days, has already built two Keynote presentations, created several graphs in Numbers, and used our normal apps of Adobe Ideas, Accelerated Reader, Safari, My Doodle Buddy, Flip It, etc.  Having no past experience with iPads, I was pleasantly surprised at his partner's skill as well as his own in acquiring new knowledge so quickly.

In terms of new apps, I really should keep a list of which apps come and go.  I have seen quite a few music apps appearing lately mostly focused around learning how to play the piano and guitar.  The guitar makes sense as the class as a whole is learning guitar in their general music class but the piano is a bit of a mystery to me.  Several students are still progressing with their Doodle Buddy games and we are starting to see even more development in terms of the planning and background scenery.  Keynote is now second nature to the kids as they have been using Keynote to illustrate grammar concepts using animation to show pronouns, possessive nouns, and how sentences change depending on word choice.

Lastly, the undesirable part of technology.  One thing that teachers, administrators, and students fear is the use of technology in violation of acceptable use, the student who thinks he/she can get away with something.  Unfortunately one student choose last week as the time to see if they could get away with something.  Needless to say, it didn't work and policy entered into the overall occasion.  At this point, there are a lot of folks making the "told you so" type statements, prove that providing access can be dangerous.  Time to ban the technology.  But in response I give this scenario.  Do we ban pencils because one student choose to poke somebody with one?  Or do we treat the behavior.  Do we get rid of chairs because a student leans back a bit to far and falls?  Or do we treat the behavior.  Or, here in Alaska, do we ban recess as one student last week who choose to place their mouth on metal at 15 below zero?  Or do we treat the behavior.

We choose to treat the behavior, have active discussions regarding appropriate use, and make a plan so that we can treat the behavior and provide answers to acceptable and unacceptable use.  Lesson learned, plan made, progress towards the future.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Students React to iPads

[Editor's note: We're excited to welcome our first guest blogger--Katie Mitchell, daughter of Larry Mitchell and an elementary teacher candidate in the UAF School of Education. Katie is undertaking her internship year at Pearl Creek Elementary in Fairbanks. She checked out a classroom set of 15 iPad 2s from the School of Education for a week of exploration in her classroom. She chronicles her experiences below.]

Four days... that was the length of time my multiage class of fourth, fifth and sixth graders were able to use iPads and needless to say, they were sorely disappointed when their time was up. 

Part of the focus for the week was the Oregon Trail because I was in charge of teaching social studies for the week. The first activity we did was walk the "Oregon Trail," while students counted their steps with a iPad. Using the app, Touch Counter, students were able to record each step they made by tapping the screen, while a timer kept track of how long it took them. Students walked the 1/2 mile trail in partners, complaining at the end that their hands were frozen from the 6 degree temperature and needing ungloved hands in order to operate the iPad. However, all the students enjoyed the activity and with the data they gathered, discovered that it took approximately 4.3 million steps to walk the Oregon Trail (only counting forward progress).

Another big activity we used the iPads for was to record student-written Oregon Trail Songs. To the tune of "Home on the Range," students rewrote the verse and chorus to reflect the Oregon Trail landmarks they had researched for a Google Earth project. The songs turned out to be much harder than I had intended, but most of the students seemed to enjoy the process and they really enjoyed getting to record their voices on Garage Band. I had made a recording of the tune using the guitar on Garage Band and students recorded themselves singing to the music. The songs the students made are very fun and reflect a range of musical ability. 

In addition to using the iPads for the above mentioned purposes, students played a variety of math and word games throughout the week. Times Table was a huge hit, with students competing for the top record in the class. Some students downloaded the app on their own devices at home and continued to practice, setting extremely high records over the weekend. Word Abacus and Worcle were also some of most chosen apps. The iPads were also used at the end of math class, which comprises students from multiple classes in the school, for students to practice their skills with math games. The students from other classes enjoyed getting to tell their classmates that they had been able to use the iPads.

My students were all really sad when they realized that the iPads were gone and they keep asking me when they will get them again. So I keep reminding them that we will get to have them for another five days after Thanksgiving. Several students reflected on their time with the iPads, using Moveable Write, writing what their favorite thing was and what they might want to do or learn the next time we have the iPads.

[Editor's note: Student reflections are below exported directly from Moveable Write (click to enlarge) and as converted text-- with a few spelling corrections.]

Student One

I really liked having the iPads because they were fun to use and they had more things on them than the laptops. Thank you for letting us use them! I iced it when we used them for the presentation thing because it was fun not to have to put together a book for it. I also liked singing on them even though I'm terrible at singing. I was playing the song when I hit Hard Rock. It sounded really cool!

I would like to make a presentation on the iPads because it was really fun fun when I did it at school! We should have to make something! Anything!!!!!!! I wish we could have them instead of laptops. Laptops aren't as good as iPads.

Student Two

My favorite activity we did with the iPads was the thing when we walked the Oregon Trail and counted our steps. I also liked the free time when we got to play the games. My favorite game is Worcle.

The next time we get to use the iPads I would like to do something kind of like the counting steps activity. The only thing I didn't like about it was that you had to take off your gloves and your hand got really cold. My hand got sort of numb.