Tuesday, July 30, 2013

App usage in a mathematics institute with iPads for teacher participants

I recently hosted a 3-week institute for middle school mathematics teachers in which all of us were using iPads, and we operated in a (near) paperless environment. As I prepared for this, I was struck by how often I ran across lists of apps, and how rarely I read in-depth discussion of how to integrate various apps into a real classroom. Maybe I just wasn't looking in the right places. Nonetheless, this is my small contribution to providing a guide to using apps to support discussion and learning, which I hope will be informative for anyone else, especially in mathematics, looking to make the leap to a one-to-one iPad environment.

Introduction of the iPad:
Of the teachers who signed up for the institute, about two-thirds were new, whereas one-third had already received an iPad last summer and were back to learn more. New participants were introduced to the iPad, shown a few multi-touch gestures, and asked to download a number of apps on a day the week before the institute. This was important because they were unable to complete downloads over the course of an entire morning (too much bandwidth usage in one room).

Sharing content with teacher attendees in a paperless environment:
I worked with a team of facilitators. I created a shared folder for content on Dropbox, so that all of the facilitators could access and add materials. 

I created a master schedule as a Google spreadsheet with hyperlinks to some of the virtual handouts for teachers. The main reason for using a Google spreadsheet was that the hyperlinks in an Excel file saved in Dropbox, for instance, are not active if viewed in Dropbox. Moreover, I did not want to save as a PDF with hyperlinks because I wanted to be able to revise the schedule, and have the teachers' schedule auto-sync with the revisions. I should have told everyone (but only told a few) that they should download Google Drive or bookmark the site for the schedule. In the absence of downloading or bookmarking, teachers had to re-locate the email invitation to view the schedule again.

Note that a shared folder on Dropbox enables those sharing the folder full editing privileges, including the possibility of deleting documents. For this reason, and also because it is sometimes a hassle to search through a folder for the one document needed at a particular moment, teachers were not invited to share the folder with facilitators.

Instead, teachers had already downloaded the Lino app. I sent them a link to a Lino board. They were asked to copy that link onto their own Main Lino board, to save them from having to find the email over and over. (Note that inviting someone to a Lino board does not add that board to "My Boards".) Facilitators then put individual file links on the Lino board, and the file links would lead to particular items in the facilitators' shared Dropbox folder. In this way, participants could download content from Dropbox and keep the content wherever they wished, typically in their own Dropbox, in iBooks, in NotesPlus, or in PDF Notes

Doing mathematical work:
When working on mathematics, the problem handouts were almost always created as a PDF and a Dropbox file link shared on the Lino board. For the mathematical work of the teachers, the lead facilitator would create a Baiboard (I think the pronunciation is Bye-board, because the Mandarin for "white" is "bai," pronounced like the English word "bye") and share the board number by writing it on a physical whiteboard in the classroom. The facilitator then asked teachers to post a screenshot of their work (usually done in NotesPlus, perhaps with the help of the TI-Nspire) on a particular one of the 6 pages in a given Baiboard session. Besides being limited to 6 pages, the other limitations of Baiboard are that there is a slight delay between actions being taken by one user and being seen by the other users--however, this delay is not long enough to cause problems. Also, sometimes other teachers would log in to the same board and occasionally, inadvertently, move the photo on a board. 

Note that teachers shared screenshots this way, and not via Lino, because photos posted directly to a Lino board are too small for viewing details. Using Baiboard was also shorter than having teachers export their NotesPlus work as a PDF, saving it to Dropbox, copying the link, and sending the link or posting it in Lino. We had also considered using Instashare for participants' screenshots, but Instashare was unreliable, as it would claim to be sending, but the recipient would not see anything delivered.

In the previous year, facilitators used Reflector to show teachers' work, by having particular teachers connect their iPad wirelessly to a laptop at the front of the room. This year, we did not use Reflector, because for some reason the laptop we were using had trouble getting the signal from the iPad. (It may be that with 40 iPads in a room, there is too much signal noise.)

Apps for specialized duties, Part 1:
On occasion, facilitators ran a session via Nearpod. Since there were more than 30 teachers, it was not possible to have a session running the free version of Nearpod with everyone logged in. Instead, typically one member of a pair or group was assigned to log in and report responses from their work in partnership or in groups. Nearpod saves the responses from a session, which aids in later analysis. I used one of the sessions and created a word cloud with the responses.

I used SurveyMonkey for end-of-day feedback. I used individual email links, and asked teachers to copy the link from the email onto their own Lino board (either Main or one of their own creation).

I wanted to make new groups of teachers each day, so that teachers would meet people from other neighborhood schools, rather than clustering with the teachers from their own school. I used GroupMaker each day to set up groups. It was good in that it gave me a reason to take photos of teachers and helped me put names to faces much more quickly. I used Create Groups each day to make new groups. Within any group, the "random" assignment to groups appears to work only once. That is, you cannot re-sort teachers randomly into groups. After one week, I had groupings named for each day of the week, and I didn't want to keep creating more, so I manually regrouped the participants.

We also tried The Answer Pad (the student app is TAPit). When I tested this with a small group, I set up the list of users and (simple) passwords myself. When I scaled up to the class, I wanted people to register themselves. I had a task in mind for which I wanted to collect teacher responses. I planned to have teachers register and then immediately respond to the task. Self-registration did not work well for this purpose. I had to keep resending the "test" to the new registrants, and even then, not everyone could get in to see it. If I were using it over an entire semester, I would try again, since self-registration is a one-time set-up for a course, but for a single use with a large group, it did not work out.

We spent some time teaching the basic use of the TI-Nspire CAS app, and revisited it as a tool for mathematical modeling on subsequent days. The TI-Nspire seems to be the best app out there right now for doing secondary-type mathematics. We used it to enter data and create linear and quadratic models, to do visual line-of-best-fit, to run simple calculations, solve equations, and to do a summation.

As an alternative to the TI, Wolfram Alpha is nice, but the single line interface means it is hard to edit commands, once entered. Also, if one wants to compare, say, a linear model and a quadratic model of a data set, Wolfram Alpha is not set up to do that.

Apps for specialized duties, Part 2:

These are some of the apps we used, but not to the extent of ones already mentioned.

We used Socrative on the first day. Socrative is convenient for impromptu queries, like classroom clickers, but it does not retain answers from that form. You have to use quizzes instead if you want to view the data later.

Teachers wrote lesson plans and occasionally were asked to take notes in Pages. Unfortunately, when Pages opened Word tables, the formatting turned into a mess, which took a lot of work to fix. But beyond this, Pages is a nice document editor.

Teachers were asked to create a Keynote about one of the lessons they created in the institute, and then to export the Keynote as a PDF in Dropbox, and finally to upload the PDF into Nearpod, and add a poll, so that their viewers could give them feedback. This entire cycle worked out well. Teachers got the full experience of using Nearpod, including visiting the website afterwards to view the feedback they received. Nearpod keeps records of data (i.e. responses) collected during each session. 

The Common Core app was available as a reference.

We showed participants Educreations and ShowMe. In one session, we asked teachers to record their solutions and share them at the front of the class by physically bringing up the iPad and connecting to the projector, but many were embarrassed about hearing their voices. Perhaps if we had made this a regular feature, the embarrassment would have been alleviated.

We spent two sessions using Algebra Tiles, one for balancing equations, and one using it for understanding integers as hot and cold cubes.

We spent a session with iThoughts as a tool for pre-planning lessons.

We spent a session showing the basics of GeometryPad. It quickly became apparent that many more features can be unlocked in the non-free version.

We did one session incorporating Ubersense for its slow motion and freeze frame features.

We had one session where we gave a brief mention to each of several apps that we were not otherwise using in the institute, but that could be helpful: 
I look forward to hearing from any of you out there that have worked with these or other apps. What was your experience? Are there apps that do some of this work better than the ones we chose? Are there ways of using these apps to make them run better?

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