Friday, August 29, 2014

Pear Deck = Presentations + Student Response System

When I got my first set of student response clickers, I admit that I started using them to mock them.  It only took a few uses, though, before I was hooked.  I especially like the clickers when I am teaching a new type of problem or formula in chemistry because I can quickly see how many students are mastering or struggling with a concept and clear up misconceptions as they happen.  This summer I participated in the Beta for Pear Deck, a new presentation and student response platform.  It's hard to try out a student response system in the summer . . . without students . . . so I was excited to try it in my classroom this week.

Pear Deck integrates with Google Drive, so I tried it out with our Chromebooks today.  You can build presentations from scratch in Pear Deck or import Google presentations.  I didn't really want to create presentation slides; I was more interested in using it as a student response system.  Still, it is easy enough to create slides with some simple options.

 After clicking Create a New Deck, click the New Slide button.  The slide has a place for a title and some text, an image, a youtube video, or a bulleted or numbered list.  With just a few clicks, you can have a nice looking slide with key content.  

 You can add prepared student response items too.  Instead of a "normal" slide, you can add a draggable slide (very cool slide that asks students to drag a dot to indicate a response), a drawing, a multiple choice question, or a free response question.  When you are ready to present, just click "Start Presenting" to get a code that students use to join the presentation.

One thing that sets Pear Deck apart from some other presentation/student response platforms is that it allows for "on the spot" interactive questions too - maybe a follow-up question to something you planned or a need to take the temperature of the group on something recently learned.  This is what I wanted - just a quick way to see if my students were solving today's problems correctly.  You can see the great variety of "quick question" options in the picture.

I usually use The Answer Pad for what I had in mind for today, but I didn't have time to create new classes and accounts on the 7th day of school.  I love how Pear Deck combines the great features of The Answer Pad with the ease of joining with a 5 letter code of Nearpod.  Everyone was in the presentation in under two minutes.

I created just one slide to start presenting and then just asked "quick questions" to get instant feedback from my students.  I asked for the answers to the problems as text so I could see the answers and their units.  It's very easy to see when everyone has answered, so then I scrolled through the answers so the class could see them.  The answers are shared anonymously, so no one has to worry about being embarrassed by a mistake.
An option exists to send a blank canvas and ask students to show the whole problem, but that felt tricky with the trackpad on a Chromebook!  The shots of my SMARTboard show that sometimes everyone completed the problem correctly and sometimes I could see that we had some algebraic errors.  It was very easy to quickly redirect or ask students to suggest what caused the wrong answer.

This was a very easy way to use technology in the classroom to gain information about my students.  The creators of Pear Deck were very receptive to the the teachers in the Beta group this summer, so I think the product will just get better and better with more use.  Just this week Pear Deck was named the 2014 Silicon Prairie New Startup of the Year.

The Public Beta for Pear Deck has started; Pear Deck is now available to any Google Apps user.  There is a free option and a Premium Educator account for $99/year or $12/month.  There is a free trial too for 30 days, so you can try before you buy.  If you are looking for an easy way to present and receive student feedback with a platform that integrates with Google Drive, Pear Deck is worth a look.

Monday, August 25, 2014

My Jumbotron!

My classroom is crowded.  With my desk and demonstration desk, a table for dispensing chemicals and supplies, 6 student lab tables, 24 student desks and some other miscellaneous furniture, there is barely room to circulate.  I try to use a lot of demonstrations with my students, but the students in the rows beyond the first two often complain that they can't see the demo very well and they can't really move their desk to a better location because, like I said, it's a pretty crowded room.

Several years ago my colleagues and I tried to solve this problem by trying to project a tabletop experiment to a SMARTboard using a gooseneck camera.  It was a fine idea, but it failed miserably in practice.  The resolution was bad, so the lights had to be out to help with that and that meant I was demo-ing in the dark -- then even the students in the first couple of rows couldn't see the demo. 

This is why the Lumens Ladibug portable document camera caught my eye at OETC in January.  As I walked by the booth, I was immediately struck by how clear the image was as it was projected on the screen.  I am sure the salesman thought I was a lunatic as I held my travel mug beneath the camera and moved it around to see if I could see the liquid sloshing. I had no interest in projecting documents, but instead in creating my own jumbotron demo-cam and, at first glance, this looked like the answer to my problem.

We ordered one that arrived at the end of last school year and today I tried it out.  It worked like a dream!  I love everything about this little camera.  The camera itself has the gooseneck so I could tip it in many directions to get exactly the angle I wanted on the demo.  No one had to adjust their seat in order to see today's demo, The Candle in the Jar.  And I think students were impressed when they saw the projected giant version of my demo.  We also ordered a wireless base so I will be able to move around the room with the camera and show student work -- on paper or in the lab -- from any place in my crowded room.  The Ladibug is small and easily portable.  One of my colleagues is using it tomorrow.  The software was easy to install from the website; it was almost plug and play.

If all that wasn't enough, it occurred to me that I could use the camera and screencast-o-matic to create a screencast of my demo too.  Here it is:

Doesn't it look great?  This opens up even more possibilities.  Now I can easily record all my demos and labs for students who are absent or want to see them again.  Or I can embed them in presentations or online assessments.  Or share them with colleagues. 

In short, the Ladibug was easy and fun to use, not very expensive, lived up to its sales pitch.  I am anxious to try out many new uses for this powerful little camera.

Friday, August 15, 2014

"This is Gonna be Our Finest Hour"

I am posting today as part of Leadership Day 2014, an effort led by Scott McLeod to celebrate the anniversary of his blog and to encourage outstanding digital leadership.  Please consider checking out his blog, Dangerously Irrelevant, and other Leadership Day 2014 posts.

Back to School time means a lot of things to teachers, but for many it means a mandatory professional development day.  Teachers often groan as they file into the auditorium for what is typically the annual "sit-n-git," especially when the topic of the lecture is the awesome new learning strategies that we should employ in place of, well, lecture.  The irony of this is never lost on my colleagues and we placate ourselves by saying, "If I just find one thing I can use . . ."  For me, the PD day is a great time to sit on the other side of the desk and think about how my lessons are perceived from a student point-of-view.

Another great time to learn on the other side of the desk happens for me every Thursday evening during the school year.  For 22 years I have played the baritone saxophone in a community concert band that rehearses at a local community college.  The members of this band are mostly volunteers who enjoy making music.  We play a demanding repertoire for a community organization; rehearsals can be intense and draining.  As I play, I experience many emotions -- hope, worry, frustration, joy, satisfaction -- and think about how students in my classroom probably feel as they work to learn chemistry.  Some weeks I learn more about teaching and learning from 7:45 - 9:45 PM on Thursday than I did in my graduate work in Education.  Sometimes I retool my Friday lesson plan while I sit there.

So what does this have to do with Leadership Day and digital leadership?  Even when the PD is terrible or the rehearsal strenuous, I learn so much about content delivery and mastery from those experiences.  I would suggest that every school leader who is no longer in a classroom spend at least one day in a classroom in the role of the teacher, doing the things that are espoused on professional development day.  I predict that several benefits would be realized.  School leaders would develop greater digital skills that would serve them well in their positions.  School leaders would also gain a stronger sense of the struggle of the classroom teacher to meet the demands of our challenging profession.  Classroom teachers would benefit from this type of modeling and the collaborative discussion that probably ensues.  If teachers see something in practice that works, they will want to try it.  If school leaders try something that doesn't work, maybe it won't be included anymore in the "sit-n-git."

This week I helped facilitate some professional development for a local school district that is adopting a Chromebook 1:1 program this year.  The worries of the teachers seemed to fall into one of three categories:  1)  2700 students all need the Chromebooks at the same moment and the whole network fails or 2)  their administrators will be critical of how often they don't use the Chromebooks or 3)  they don't know how to meaningfully implement the Chromebook 1:1.  I knew I couldn't help with the first thing, but for the second and third worries, I suggested they ask an administrator to model for them.  Shouldn't this be the way it works?  Or at least a way that ed tech integration could work?  Though the teachers doubted that this would happen, I was heartened that when I suggested to the staff that they use Google+ to network with others, their superintendent jumped right in and joined a Google Education Group.
My sister serves on a school board for an elementary school district where her children attend in a Chicago suburb.  This past spring one of her daughters' teachers asked for her help with videotaping a lesson for a graduate class.  My sister taped a lesson where the teacher conducted her differentiated reading groups.  My sister marveled at the way this skillful instructor gave personalized attention to the readers who needed it most while she managed other groups as they worked collaboratively, independently or with a classroom aide.  She raved about the lesson and management, saying that she hoped all school board members would do something similar so they could see how the programs and policies they mandate play out in a classroom.

In Ohio, the tired education joke is that we are building the plane while in the sky.  The collision of our New Learning Standards and assessments and a new statewide teacher evaluation system do make it feel like we are doing just that.  We laugh when we watch videos like this at the beginning of staff meetings, but when I hear that expression, I always think of the Apollo 13 mission when something was literally built in the sky after it was modeled on the ground by the people overseeing the mission.  When you watch the Ron Howard film, everyone cheers at the end when the exhausted astronauts finally land safely in the water.  Though the lives of the ground crew were never at stake in the mission, they celebrate the victory that they shared with the team that was in the sky because they were so personally invested in it.  On the other hand, they didn't make it to the moon though that was their objective.  Are our education ground crews ready to celebrate a shared victory even if we miss our target?

People have asked me if I ever intend to leave the classroom for a new mission of instructional coaching.  My main hesitation has been that I want to keep my foot in a classroom because it forces me to constantly examine and refine my practice.  If you are not in a classroom, spend a day teaching in one this year and see what you learn.  I'll be blasting off in 5 more days.  I hope I'll see you in the sky!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Time to Augment your Reality?

Yesterday I wrote about using Nearpod, one of two of my presentations at the SPARCC Education Conference.  I also presented a session titled Using Augmented Reality to Enhance Instruction.  Augmented reality uses a trigger image of some kind to play a computer-generated media file.  Maybe looking at a picture produces a video or pointing the camera of a mobile device at a yellow flower bring a virtual butterfly into your view.  McDonald's used this with specially-designed french fry containers during the World Cup and an app called GOL!  Companies are using it for consumers to interact with products; teachers are using it to bring lessons to life.

Here are the slides from my presentation yesterday:

I have added a page to my blog about augmented reality.  I will add new blurbs about apps as I try them.  Some of them are so simple -- color a page and watch it come to life with ColAR Mix -- and others take a little more endurance -- lay a video you took on top of a still image with Aurasma, but they all get wows from students and teachers alike.  Please check back from time to time to read about the cool things that this technology brings.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Have you tried Nearpod?

I had the opportunity today to present at the excellent (and free!) SPARCC education conference.  My first of two presentations was about Nearpod.  Nearpod is one of my favorite apps and web tools, so I always welcome to opportunity to share it with other educators.  

Nearpod is one part presentation platform and one part student response system.  You can add interactive tasks to a presentation -- polls, quizzes, drawings, open-ended questions, videos, websites, and more -- and collect the data of their responses.  It's very easy to use, both from the creation side and the carry it out in the classroom side.  

Here are my slides from the presentation:

One of the slides lists a few of the things I love about Nearpod.  Here are those things and a few more:
  • It's so easy to use.  If you're looking for an easy way to bring some tech into your classes this year, this might be it.
  • Students enjoy using it.  They like the interactive options a lot.
  • They have free and paid versions of Nearpod so you can test drive to see if you need the full service.
  • You can quickly generate data to use to guide your instruction. 
  • There is a store where you can find content.  Sometimes it is free; sometimes for a fee.
  • You can share presentations with others - Connect with other people and share the workload!
  • You can tell if students (and which ones) have ditched your presentation in serach of something better.
  • You can use Nearpod in a teacher-directed or student-directed way.  
  • People can participate remotely -- from home, from the detention room, from study hall if they missed class on picture day -- using a wireless connection
  • They have great support.  Check out the webiNears (heh heh) to get started.
If you're ready to try something this year, but you're worried about attempting a massive overhaul.  Start small.  Maybe Nearpod, with its ease of use, is a good first step.  Once you get good at it, you can attempt your massive overhaul with it down the road.

    Monday, August 4, 2014

    14 Great Apps for Teaching and Learning Anything

    As I said in my last post, there are many apps out there for teaching specific subjects.  I think when people get iPads, the initial temptation is to find the subject-specific things.  For me, I downloaded a lot of periodic table apps and chemistry reference apps.  I dreamed of apps to drill concepts and show reactions.  I didn't - at first - think about the things that students could do or create, or the things that I could do or create - with an iPad.  Tonight's list will be some apps I love for teaching and learning anything.  There are so many that this list could go on for days.  Instead, I am going to stick with 14 I wouldn't want to do without.

    14 Apps that are great for Teaching and Learning Anything:

    Apps Gone Free (free):  Every day there are apps that are free for one day in the App Store.  Download this free app and find some that are chosen by experts.  A free app that finds you free apps.  I have found some great stuff with this one.

    Aurasma (free):  Aurasma is an augmented reality app that allows the user to take a video and lay it, virtually, on top of a still image.  When the image is viewed through the camera with this app open, the video plays.  This one has so much potential.  

    Book Creator ($4.99):  The app is just what the name says.  Drag and drop images, write text, insert audio or video, and more to create a book about whatever you want.  Export it many different ways, including as a video on your camera roll.  Once it's there, you can use aurasma to attach it to a still image (that's called app smashing!).

    Explain Everything ($2.99):  This is a powerful whiteboard app that can be used to record lessons about whatever you want.  You can insert images, write an draw in any color, type text (including subscripts and superscripts in the recent update!), create multiple pages, and so much more.  The videos that users make can be exported in a variety of ways, including to the camera roll.

    Keynote ($9.99 if you don't have it, comes standard on new iPads):  This is the apple presentation platform.  It's easy to use and create beautiful presentations.  I use Keynote to make presentations, but, instead of standing in front of the class, I share them with the iPads and the students work through the presentation at their own speed.  The animations in Keynote make it easy to show a math problem in chunks.  As a student taps, more of the problem appears.

    Nearpod (free):  Nearpod is one part presentation platform and one part student response system.  Take any presentation you already use -- from a PowerPoint or whatever -- and export it as a PDF.  Drag the PDF into Nearpod and slides are created.  Then add interactive features -- quizzes, polls, websites, drawings, videos, and so on -- so you can get feedback from your audience as the lesson is happening.

    ShowMe (free):  A very easy whiteboard app to use.  Tap record, talk and write or draw, tap record to pause or stop.  Images can be added, including excellent backgrounds as of the most recent update.  Record a lesson where you solve a problem.  Ask students to introduce themselves to the class.  Put together a presentation about your genius hour project.  The videos get stored at where teachers can have accounts for their students and monitor their work.

    Socrative (free):  A great app to use as a student response system during a lesson, as an exit ticket after a lesson, or as an assessment.  Create a free account at and create your "quizzes" with this very easy platform.  There is even a very cute game, space race, that students can play as they answer questions.

    Sonic Pics ($1.99):  Sonic pics is a digital storytelling app.  Import photos and arrange them in order.  Decide what to say about each picture.  Then record your story.  Export your movie to youtube or your computer to share with family and friends.  It's so easy that my 7 year old made a sonic pic during one of our many snow days last year.

    Strip Designer ($2.99):  Create your own comic strip.  Add images, text, and comic elements.  Export as a PDF.  My students use this app to create comic strip versions of the history of the atom.  What was once a dull video (that had once been a filmstrip!) because a fun and creative lesson where students drop in pictures of Dalton and Thomson with images of their atoms and critical details.  They export the PDFs and print them as their notes.

    Subtext (free):  Read almost anything together.  Share a reading with your students through the app.  Embed instruction, assessment items, discussion questions right in the electronic version of the reading and students can respond in the app.  Teachers see the results in real time.  Help students meet the challenges of the Common Core by using this app to help them read closely and cite evidence.  Very cool app!

    TapIt Free (free):  Use this app one of two ways:  1) Create selected-response answer sheets that can be used with paper and pencil tests and quizzes or 2) Use it interactively "on the fly" as a student response system.  The free account is very generous and kids like using it.  The app accompanies the web service 

    Toontastic (free with in-app purchases available):  The best puppet show app I have seen for iPad.  Students choose characters and backgrounds and then tells and record a story.  The app combines intuitive ease for creating with cute graphics and lots of options, including draw your own characters and props.  

    ZipGrade (free to try, $6.99/year):  Download answer sheets from  Scan them with this app.  Makes grading selected-response items a cinch to grade.  The app gives great item analysis -- how many students chose each answer -- and if you made a mistake on the key, you can fix it and it regrades all the papers instantly.

    I have created a separate page in my blog about apps (What's App 'ning?) and will post much of this there too.  I will be updating that page as I find other apps that I cannot do without.

    Saturday, August 2, 2014

    14 Great iPad Apps for Teaching Chemistry

    Almost twenty years ago, I took a job as the only chemistry teacher in a science department of five.  Feeling isolated and in need of guidance, I sought some collaborators.  I found them on a chemistry teachers' listserv, Chemed-L.  The list has morphed a bit during my twenty year participation - it's now a Google group - but one thing has stayed the same:  many passionate chemistry teachers are willing and eager to help when someone needs it.  Recently, a member of this group asked about what iPad apps people are using to teach chemistry.

    I have been using iPads in my classroom since 2011.  At first, I searched only for chemistry apps; I found some very good ones and a lot of clinkers.  Unfortunately, what you often find in the app store is a very long list of periodic table or reference apps.  Evidently, many people think chemistry is just a big bunch of information that we need to memorize or look up.  And, don't get me wrong, the periodic table is amazing, but there is more to know than an element's molar mass or first ionization energy.   

    Over time I found that many of the apps I rely on are not chemistry apps, but, instead, apps that are great for teaching and learning.  I am going to start tonight with chemistry apps and later this weekend I will create another post about other great apps that could be used for any subject.

    Here are fourteen iOS apps I use for teaching chemistry:

    Atoms in Motion ($2.99):  Add and take away atoms, increase and decrease the temperature.  Change the volume.  Watch how they interact.  Get a conceptual understanding of particle motion and the gas laws.

    Chem Crafter (free):  There are lab manuals with experiments to do in this app with a retro vibe.  Begin with experiments between metals and water and then move up to acids and metals.  I just downloaded this one this summer, so I haven't actually taught with it yet.  It might be good for helping students understand the activity series or periodic families.  It plays like a game, but does have educational value.

    Chemistry 101 by Zientia (free and $6.90):  An augmented reality app that is really cool for creating compounds from elements and imagining that at the particle level.  Print out two cards.  Open the app and view the cards.  Choose two elements and tell the app how they would react.  If you're right, they will.

    Chemist-Virtual Chem Lab ($4.99):  It's a virtual inorganic chemistry lab for iPad.  The art is great and the possibilities are almost endless with over 200 reagents to choose from.  I don't think virtual labs should ever replace actual labs, but virtual labs do have their place as inquiry experience, pre-labs, makeup labs, and extension activities.

    ChemLab ($0.99):  This one is included on the list because it's silly.  The app helps students practice writing formulas correctly.  Drag elements that make a compound into a flask.  Do it wrong and it blows up.  A free flashcards app would probably provide better practice, but this one has a cute factor and a game quality that makes students like it.

    Elements 4D by Daqri (free):  This augmented reality app steals the show.  After creating cubes from the templates provided, you view the cubes in the app through the iPad's camera.  The cube becomes virtually filled with the element on that side of the cube.  Crack two cubes together and the elements react.  It's very cool to see the reaction between sodium and chlorine like this.  If you teach chemistry, print out the templates and grab the free app and try it.  You will squeal.

    The Elements - A Visual Exploration ($13.99):  This is really the only periodic table app you need.  And it is expensive but that's because it is so beautiful and packed with goodness.  Like the periodic table itself, this app has hidden gems everywhere you poke around.  Lots of good data, stunning images, facts galore, and a love of the periodic table. 

    goReact (free):  The excellent Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago created this app with over 300 virtual chemical reactions, including some real world applications.

    Lewis Dots (free):  Select atoms and drag and drop them into molecules.  Good for practice.  Take screenshots and they get stored in the camera roll.

    Mahjong Chem (free):  Basically a chemistry matching game.  Simple, but good for practice of all kinds of things - polyatomic ions, oxidation states, solubility rules and so on.  My students play this one for fun sometimes when they have some downtime.

    StoichSim ($0.99):  One of two apps I love by TJ Fletcher, StoichSim uses a bar graph format to show what happens to the masses of reactants and products during a chemical reaction.  The app is loaded with 4 reactions that students can toggle between.  A lab manual is included with activities or it could be used in an inquiry way to deduce relationships.  I like this for helping students understand the concept of the limiting reactant.  

    The Chemical Touch Lite (free):  TCT Lite is an app I use for teaching periodicity.  The elements are color-coded and the colors represent measurements of certain properties, like red for a large electronegativity and purple for a small one.  You can deduce the trends in properties by looking at the colors.  You can also tap each element to see the actual values for each property.  As a good alternative to the standard graphing (or I used to do the straw cutting activity), this is a good app. 

     TickBait's Universe ($1.99):  I first learned of the movie Powers of Ten from the kind colleagues on Chemed-L.  This app is an updated version of that concept for kids who are growing up with mobile devices.  Adorable graphics and a "come look at this" quality, this app draws kids in.  It's great for helping kids understand what the powers of ten mean and why we use scientific notation.  Great for helping to concretize our abstract content.

    TitrationSim ($0.99):  A second great app by TJ Fletcher, this one is just what the name says.  You see a buret and a pH reading.  You run a titration and watch the pH.  You can change the acid and base to several different combinations.  The jump in pH is very realistic near the endpoint and the app gives students a good idea of what it will be like to titrate.  The teachers in my department all use this one as a standard prelab to our spring titrations.

    I have just added a page to my blog for apps and I will post a lot of the information I have written here on that page and update it from time to time as I find new, indispensable apps.   Check back in a few days for apps that could be used to teach any subject.