Sunday, September 30, 2012

Nearpod Review Revisited

In the spring, I was asked by a member of our administration to review a new app called Nearpod, so my wife and I sat down one evening to play with the new toy. You can read that review here if you're interested in what I had to say. I didn't necessarily give them a bad review, but I wasn't enthusiastic about it either.

Since I published that post, two things happened.
1. It has become my most read post ever, and not by a little bit either. It has more than double the hits my #2 post has.
2. I've noticed that other bloggers and Tweeters are using Nearpod, making me realize I've missed something.

I don't like this.  I don't want to be known as the guy who doesn't like something, especially when other people use it and like it.  Are people using my post to avoid Nearpod?

I made it a goal at the end of this summer to sit in on a Nearpod webinar and find what I'm missing. It turns out that I just never found the time to get around to it.  School and family keep this guy busy, and I just never got to a webinar.

That leads to me last week when Edward Zelarayan from Nearpod contacted me and offered to do a live, one-on-one talk with me about Nearpod and its newest version. I've written about this in the past, but I love the personal interaction with app developers! Many of them are willing to bend over backwards to get their apps in classrooms. Edward was no exception.  I appreciate him taking an hour out of his schedule, days before a major update, to get me up to speed.

For those of you not familiar with Nearpod, here is the basic concept...
  • The teacher has a presentation loaded on his or her iPad. The students connect to that presentation with a PIN number.
  • The teacher and the students work through the presentation together.  The key is that the student has the presentation in their hands rather than have to see it on a screen.
  • As you progress through the presentation, teachers have craftily inserted questions, polls, or drawing slides to gauge student understanding and involvement.  These answers go directly to the teacher iPad, which can be shared with the class if desired and downloaded to the teacher's computer for viewing later.
I reviewed Nearpod Version 1.  Nearpod Version 3 is about to be released, and I got a glimpse of what's out there, and I am excited to see the changes.  Since my personal views on Version 1 are in the public, let's look at what I like about Version 3.

  1. More lesson options! At the time of my review, there were very few lessons in the teacher library to use. That has changed.  There are plenty of choices now.  
  2. Lesson creation is easy.  Seriously, while doing our chat, Edward made one up in a matter of minutes. Sure, he's the expert, but it really was drag and click. I realize it would take me longer to make my first lesson or two, but the process was relatively easy.
  3. Internet! It will be possible to put a website within a slide so students can browse within that site, and only that site. Students will have the capability to find some information, rather than have all the information in the lesson given to them. They also will be denied the ability to check email or play Poptropica.  
  4. If a student hops off the presentation for some reason (to play Blockwick?) the teacher knows.  
  5. I got a very eBook feel when I was involved in my Nearpod experience. I know it's more of a presentation software than a book software, but as we know lines get blurred in today's technology.  
All of us in education know that we all have different styles, philosophies, and methods. Feel free to name the ends of the continuum using the labels you want to use, but I look at it two ways.  One type of teacher brings information to the table to tell students what they need to know.  The side of the continuum has teachers who help students find information so they can report on what they are learning.  I lean most heavily into the latter category.  I rarely use presentation software, so Nearpod is not for me.  (However, while typing this review, I thought of a couple of lessons where it would be a good idea.  Direct instruction can be good at times.) 

What I wrote about in the past, and I'll reiterate here, is that Nearpod would be great for an educator who unpacks the information for the students. Here's why...
  1. It's as easy to use as PowerPoint, maybe more so.   I also think it's more interactive than PowerPoint. While asking questions is possible using PowerPoint, Nearpod makes it a natural part of the lesson flow.
  2. Nearpod gives you immediate and accurate feedback from each student.  A teacher knows whether each and every student understands the content of the lesson.  
  3. Nearpod gives even the most shy student a chance to interact with the teacher.
  4. There are many teachers out there who have been handed iPads by their school and have no idea how to start using them.  This is a great way to get the feet wet.  
  5. You can teach students remotely.  I have no idea where Edward was sitting when we had our chat, but we certainly weren't in the same room, much less the same state.  However, we were Nearpodding the whole time.  It is entirely possible that one teacher could be working with students in multiple locations at the same time. 
  6. Customer support.  Let me say it again.  Edward was so eager that I know all about Nearpod that he did a one-to-one chat with me days before a major update.  If he's willing to do that for me, he's willing to do anything to help you.
Here are two things I'm going to start working on after publishing this post.
  1. I am the Tech Lead at my school, which means that part of my job is to help other teachers learn how to use technology effectively.  I'm going to work on creating a professional development to introduce Nearpod to some of my colleagues who are fearful of their iPads.
  2. I am going to start working on Nearpod presentations for my students.  Here are some topics that came to mind: order of operations, reliability of a web site, founding of the 13 colonies.
How can you use Nearpod in your class?  Share your Nearpod stories in the comment box.  I'm interested in learning more!

PS As I sat and pondered this between typing and publishing (in church. Shh! Don't tell the pastor!) I also thought about the possibility of students creating Nearpod presentations.  Is it possible? I don't know, but that would open up huge possibilities for me.  I'll have to look into that. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

iPad Tips

Our school introduces iPads in fifth grade, where we have a cart program.  We have two carts to service our fifth and sixth grades (nearly 50 students and 4 teachers).  Before 5th grade, any iPad knowledge they have would be from previous experience using a personal device.

My sixth graders have a year of iPads under their belts, so I decided to have them create iPad tip posters to put in my room.  They had to print them out so we could put them on the wall.  I also gave them the option of emailing the posters to me for the blog.  The posters you see linked below were emailed to me by the students.  

This project required students to use Word, find pictures online, and paste them into the document.  

What tips would you add to the list?

Company Logos

I'm building my sixth grade computer curriculum from the ground up.  I'm fortunate to have both a computer lab and an iPad cart to work with.

For our first project, the kids got to create their own companies complete with a company name, goal, and logo.  This project required using two programs -- Word and Paint -- and was a good initial gauge of their computer skills and creativity.

The links below take you to the cream of the crop.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

That didn't take long...

Computer class. 6th grade. I gave the assignment paperlessly using a Google doc link on my web site. It took about 3 minutes before they found the chat feature....

Such fun! When I realized what was happening, I jumped on the chat and used that to voicelessly get them to work.  

Great!  Gotta love the collaboration! :)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Tech Lead Projects

I was recently asked by a friend what projects I'm working on as Tech Lead. Really, I'm just doing random things... reading whatever comes along the blog roll and Twitter feeds.  I do have a few pet projects going on.  I was recently reminded the need to focus my attention on just a few things for more efficient production, so I'm whittling this down into three categories.

Front Burner: (Things I need to work on now.)

  1. Course Selection: I've written about this briefly in the past. My principal put me on a quest to find out what web tools other schools use to receive course requests from students and parents. Funny how I've confused people on this question. They think I'm talking about distance learning or online classes. In reality, I'm looking for a web tool for students to sign up for courses for the next school year. So far, I've contacted a number of schools and asked them what they use. I've had too few responses to get a read on a good answer. Till then, here's a Google doc I'm working on with my research. Feel free to make comments on it if you want. 
  2. Showbie: Last year, we started asking the same questions a lot of other people were asking.  How do we collect, grade, comment on, and return student work on the iPads without littering our inboxes?  It seemed that no one had the answer, or at least they weren't sharing it with me.  Then along came Showbie.  Showbie is a web site and app, where teachers can upload an assignment file, students can turn work in, teachers can make comments (with text or voice), and give it back to the kids... without publicizing their grades or comments.  Sweet!  The only problem at this point is that they only play nice with apps that use WebDAV.   Most of the apps we use are not in that category.  Fortunately, they are working to also create ways to turn in apps that use web links.  Until then, we can only sit and wait.  I do have the green light to use it once they align with the apps we're using.  Incidentally, these guys are great to work with and did a lot of digging to answer my questions.  I love working with app developers!

Coleman Stove: (Things I'm working on for my own classroom.)

Kid Blog: I'm using Kid Blog in my math classes this year as a math journal, complete with Educreations presentations. I've hit some technical difficulties, which wouldn't be so difficult if I could convince my 5th graders to follow directions. :) Otherwise, it's going to be a great project! I'm currently in e-convesations with the Kid Blog and Educreations people to help make it work best.  I love that they are also conversing with each other to make my life easier.

Back Burner: (Things I want to do, but I'm awaiting approval on.)

  1. GAFE: I am really interested in using Google Apps for Education. I've converted myself, using Office as little as possible. I love how my docs can easily be linked to my web site for parent and student access. I now need to convince my principal to start with the students. Honestly, I think she is swamped with her new position and attempt to unite our elementary and high school divisions to be too concerned about this one.  We've talked at length about GAFE and attended a conference about it together last spring.  She loves it too and we'll get moving soon. Till then... I need to put my focus elsewhere.  In the meantime, read this great article from my friend Jon.
  2. Digital Footprint: We are a private school. Our very existence depends on tuition dollars and donations. I got this crazy idea that using social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and blogs will only help bring about public awareness of our school and share our vision with people in our community and far away.  Used correctly, we could build community online, which is where so many people can be found. Ironically, I'm learning a lot from a former student who now is the director of social media at a church in Chicago.  The things he is learning about social media and church can certainly be applied to our private school.  Now, to convince my principal it's a good idea. Then, we can get started.  (Look here for an article on YouTube and here for an article on Instagram.)
How are you focusing your technology research?