Monthly Archives: May 2011

What are my favorite apps for a teacher?

As soon as my friends and family recall that I’m an iPad guy, they often ask me what the best apps are. Just last night, a fellow educator asked on Facebook, “Hi Mike! Any iPad apps that I absolutely must have to help make my life easier in the classroom?”

I started to respond in Facebook when I realized both it wasn’t going to be a short response, and that Stephanie isn’t the first to ask, and certainly won’t be the last. So I decided to respond through the blog

So here is what I would say to Stephanie:

I have lots of ideas for apps, but they might not all just be focused on “the classroom…” although they would certainly each be good for a teacher.

The first app I recommend to anyone is AppStart. It’s free, and kind of asks you how you want to use your iPad and then gives you reviews of apps that work toward that goal. The iPad is a different enough paradigm from a desktop or laptop that I found this app incredibly helpful, even after I’d had my iPad for nearly a year.

I love Keynote. I’ve leaned toward Keynote on my laptop over PowerPoint for some time, but I like Keynote on iPad even better (well, maybe I like presenting with my iPad better than I do with my laptop…). It doesn’t have as many features as the desktop/laptop version, but is slick, none the less. I hardly ever even create a Keynote on my laptop anymore. I just create my presentations right on my iPad. You’ll need a dongle so you can connect to your projector or to a HDTV. The major thing that the desktop version will do that the iPad version will not is play imbedded movies in the presentation.

You can even share your presos between your regular computer and your iPad using a couple of different approaches (iDisk, if you’re a MobileMe subscriber, but also through iWorks.com, and email -although some are really too large to email).

Get a Dropbox account (think hard drive on the internet – free for 5Gig) and the Dropbox app. A lot of apps will let you share and open documents via Dropbox. I’m hardly using my real hard drive any more at all (except as an archive). Also, it is a great way to move documents between your iPad and your desktop/laptop (any of your devices that connect to the internet can use your Dropbox space).

Pages is a terrific word processor. But I’ve tried a bunch of different writing tools and think I have decided that my favorite is PlainText. It will save your documents in a special Dropbox folder. I’ll even use this first for drafting, even if I’ll have to copy/paste it into another program to format it later.

If you get a lot of Word or Excel documents, you might not want to use Pages or Numbers all the time. I find Quickoffice helpful for that. It’s more limited that Office (but generally iPad apps are simpler versions of the full blown software on a desktop). In addition to DropBox, I save things on my iDisk (another Internet hard drive, this one available through your MobileMe account). Quickoffice works with iDisk, so I save a lot of my current Word and Excel documents on my iDisk so I can use them both in Office on my laptop and Quickoffice on my iPad.

I have done my pleasure reading on Palm or iPhone for over a decade (and ever since I started, I have liked it better than a print book because of backlighting, adjustable font, and smaller size.). I have continued this on my iPad. I love the reading experience on iBooks (Apple’s own ereader) the best. But just like with the music companies when they started the iPod, not all publishers have signed on to the iBookstore yet, so, although they have a pretty big collection, some other ereaders have more. My second choice for ereaders is the Kindle app. The reading experience isn’t as good (although there are more ways to customize the page, the page layout isn’t as pleasant – which really does impact how nice it is – or not – to read – and the syncing is not reliable, so when you stop reading on your iPad and then a little while later try to pick up reading on your iPhone, you aren’t in the right place. This has only been an issue with iBooks when one or the other of the devices you’re switching between isn’t connected to the internet).

I used to buy electronic books for pleasure reading, but print for my professional books. But Amazon offers Kindle versions of many of the professional books I’ve wanted recently, so I have been buying in that format. I can still bookmark, make notes, and highlight text (and it’s much easier to go back and find later!). Also, the Kindle version has been at most the same price as the print version, but often less. And I can be reading in a minute or two and not have to wait for delivery (what do they mean “expedited” shipping?! They should just call it “not quite so slow shipping”!)

Another awesome app is Evernote. It’s a note taking app. Nothing fancy, but it saves the notes on the Internet. I used to take notes of meetings at school on my iPad, but when it was time to write the monthly reports, could easily open it on my Mac…

Do you subscribe to RSS feeds (Like with Google Reader)? I like River of News for reading those posts. Lots of folks like Flipboard, which is kind of cool, but it groups all your feeds together and sorts by date, but I sometimes want to look at the feeds from a single feed and that’s pretty easy with River of News.

I like Things for my To Do list. It’s available for both iPad and my Mac (probably other operating systems, too) and I can sync my lists if both devices have Things open and are on the same network.

I like SplashID for keeping track of all my passwords and personal information. There are versions for iPad, iPhone, and Mac (PC and others, I’m sure), and now the latest versions will all sync together – so my laptop, iPad, and iPhone all have the same list of passwords, etc.

I use Dragon Dictation for turning my dictation into text. Far from the quality seen in Sci Fi movies, but really quite good. I’ve used it before for quickly drafting an article or other piece of writing. Even with the time needed for fixing speech-to-text errors, it was much quicker than typing from scratch.

Other personal favorites? Zinio for magazines. eBay (other than for posting things for sale, I like the app better than going to the website). Solitaire (there are a gazillion of them, but I like Solitaire City. Netflix (your regular home subscription is good for all your devices). ABC Player – watch all of ABCs prime time shows. TWC Max+ (the Weather Channel’s weather app – my favorite weather app). Pandora for music (you name a song and then they create a “radio station” for you with music just like it). Instapaper for saving blog posts and other web articles for reading later. Blogsie for blogging. My bank has a good app for online banking – I think lots of large banks do and so far I like the iPad one better than using the website.

And although I’ve said a couple times that I like this app or that app better than going on the webpage, I have to say that Safari is a great browser and I really love how it works on the iPad. And I didn’t really mention Mail or Contacts or Photos or Maps or Calendar, because they are all included in the iPad, but I very much like how they work on the iPad and how seamlessly they integrate with the Mac desktop versions (especially using MobileMe, Apple’s syncing service).

So, my stepson looks at me and says, “Mike, you don’t have a short answer for anything!” I think maybe he’s right… But hopefully I’ve given you some good ideas…

(And for those of you who are interested in what apps we’re using in Advantage2014, Auburn, Maine’s early learning initiative that includes giving iPads to kindergartners, our list of standard apps is here.)

Leadership for Change – Part 1

I was just starting my education career when the Nation at Risk report came out (Wikipedia provides a good overview – including a link to the full report). (Wow! Have I really been an educator that long!?) It was the report (or at least the first “modern” report) that warned that America’s schools weren’t doing the job they needed to to adequately prepare students, and seems to be the impetous for so many of the changes that schools have gone through in the last couple decades.

Since then, there has certainly been a variety of reasons named as to why we need schools to change. These include improving achievement, better preparing students for a future (or present!) that is significantly different from our past, increasing engagement and decreasing the number of dropouts, and being able to better compete in a global economy. And there have been quite a few approaches targeted at addressing these needs, such as increased accountability (testing and state and national standards), NCLB’s Highly Qualified Teachers, the introduction of computers and other new learning tools, and various pedagogies, such as curriculum integration, project-based learning, online learning, and massively customized learning.

Despite there being seemingly limited agreement on the why or how of school change (although there seem to be plenty of pundits for each – and that probably includes yours truly), there does at least seem to be consensus that schools need to change.

Over the years, I have come to believe several truths about educational change (and especially large scale school change).

Clearly, we only talk school change because we want something to be better than it has been. School Change Truth 1 is that successfully attaining those improvements hinges on making the right change, implemented consistently and with fidelity.

School Change Truth 2 is that human nature seems to abhor change. I don’t believe this one is about “bad teachers” trying to get out of something. I think we’re preprogramed to like a certain amount of routine and that making change goes against the grain. I’ve known really great people, including great teachers, who put twice as much energy into avoiding the change than it would have taken to simply make the change (ok, maybe not so simply…).

My third School Change Truth is that when people do accept change, it seems to be human nature that, if you arent careful, people will try to implement it in the way that is most like the ways they have always done things. For example, have you ever wondered why, with all the exciting capabilities and educational possibilities of technology, that interactive smart boards seem to be a favorite in schools? I can’t help but be reminded of the slightly tongue-in-cheek definition of “insanity”: doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results.

School Change Truth #4 is that, large scale school change is significantly different than the kinds of changes that schools are used to. Schools are used to changing staff or administrators. Schools are used to changing which textbook series or curricular materials they use. And schools are used to changing the grade configuration of a building, or the configuration of the building itself and how teachers themselves are grouped and distributed throughout.

But these are really only just tweaks to a system that essentially allow the system to continue to work as it always has. Large scale school change requires really doing things differently. Because schools aren’t really that different than they were 150 years ago, “really doing things differently” means that most of the school’s educators haven’t experienced for themselves anything similar to the innovation. That means at the root of large scale school change is paradigm shifting, something that requires techniques quite different from the usual “how to” and informational trainings teachers are used to.

School Change Truth 5: For school change, leadership is everything. This was an initial lesson in the early days of MLTI (the Maine Learning Technology Initiative – the first statewide learning with laptops initiative). While working for a group that designed and implemented engaging school programs to motivate students, I learned the hard way that when the leadership was not in place (or was no longer in place), even the best programs couldn’t continue or move forward.

And my last School Change Truth is that leadership is what you do, not what job or position you have. So, as a corollary to School Change Truth #1, not only does the school have to implement the the right change with consistency and fidelity, but the school leader(s) needs to put the right components into place, thoughtfully and skillfully.

For quite some time, I’ve been thinging about a model for effective large scale school change, something that would help define what those key components were. It started back in the early days of MLTI, with a model I called “Doing 1to1 Right.” Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to evaluate 1to1 learning with laptop initiatives, and to collaborate in creating a career academy, a magnet school program, a non-traditional middle and high school, and a statewide virtual project-based program for at risk kids, and have realized that the model generalizes nicely (with some updates, modifications, and additions) to other kinds of large scale school change.

So, if you might be a school leader, and you really want to see the kinds of improvements that can only come about, not by tweaking the system, but through large scale school change, then you might want to subscribe to the RSS feed for this blog. In addition to writing about the projects I’m currently involved in, I want to think more and write more about leadership for school change. And I can’t wait to learn more about your views, and to have the kinds of conversations around leadership that can happen with social media.

In Part 2 of this post, I’ll outline the model.