Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Student Conferencing with the iPad.

I am terrible with paper. I lose paper everywhere. When I started trying to conference with students using the "Pensive binder" recommended by The Sisters in the Cafe book it was a disaster. I was losing papers everywhere and never seemed to know what  paper I needed now. Frustrated with the system I gave up and went back to my clipboards and evernote notebooks.

Then one day I read this blog post and my search for a digital iPad Pensive solution began.

The Contenders: 

I love Evernote. I use it to store lesson plans and ideas, documents and tweets. I also kept students notes there. I thought I might be able to use it as a Digital Pensive on the iPad but when I tried to use Evernote as a pensive I found the program was TOO flexible and gave me too much space to write. I needed more structure to keep me in line, keep my notes brief and to the point and to make sure I kept my conference times down.

Pensive from Daily Cafe
Another option I tried was using the Digital pensive on the Daily Cafe website. The program was fairly well designed and easy to use on the computer. I loved the built in calendar feature but wished that it was accessible from the student conferencing button.  I found that the program was not ideal for iPad use. It would often log me out between conferences and there was no way to save your log-in information. I have a really long name and this became frustrating very quickly. Additionally there was no way to get the program to save comments so if you were not using their pre-selected comments you needed to retype them every time.  Additionally the program was pricey with a yearly fee of $39.

Confer App
Confer is an app designed for teacher note taking.  It is the one I am using and I have to tell you that I love it.  The program allows you to enter data in 5 fields. General Information, Tags, Strengths, Teaching points, Next steps.  When you enter data the program saves it to the master list of comments so that you can reselect it for another student if you choose. If the comment is an individualized one you can easily erase it from the master list. The program allows you to sort your data by  any teaching point, tag, strength or next step you choose. You can use this to create on the fly groups. For example, a group of students that are all struggling to remember how to read the sound "oi".  This allows you to easily re-teach skills as needed.  Sorting can also be great for scheduling conferences.  I used the tags box to schedule appointments with students by entering the date I would see them next. I then sort by tag and I can easily see which students I am supposed to be conferring with on any given day. The app allows me to share students with other users so that our learning assistance teacher can also enter data about my students and we can see each other's comments quickly and easily. Additionally the program allows you to email your students files.
Good Reader

There are other options. Good Reader for example allows you to mark-up and type on any PDF so some teachers like to use the PDF files from the sisters site and enter their data this way.

The app store is full of note taking apps that could be adapted for teacher use as well. You will need to try them out to see what works best for you.

So what did I learn at school today?  The good news is that there are many ways to keep a digital pensive and being environmentally friendly has never been so freeing! No binders, no pens, no mess!  I use Confer in reading and writing but it can easily be adapted to any subject - next year I may try it for MATH! 

How about you? Have you found the ultimate iPad digital pensive? How do you record your student conference data?

Some things to think about before you buy classroom iPads.

So you want to buy Ipads for your classroom- Here are a list of things to consider before you buy.

Storage - My Ipads came to me in a blue plastic bin with wires and cords everywhere. When you are thinking about your tablet remember to consider storage.  Where are you putting them when the students aren't using them? They need to be secured but they also need to be accessible. They need to be protected but the solution needs to be portable and inexpensive.

Cases- Originally my Ipads didn't come with any cases. Someone purchased the iPad Smart Covers for my set. They are a flip cover that protects only the front of the ipad. At this time this has been sufficient but I would like to purchase better covers. According to my research there are a few good choices on the market but they will add a lot of money to your budget.

You need to decide what will work best in your environment. What is most important in a cover? How much are you willing to spend?

Charging - I thought I had a perfect storage location for my Ipads until I realised that there was no where nearby to charge them. How and where will you recharge the devices? When will you do this?

Installing Apps- I have 10 Ipads in my room currently and due to certain laws we have to install each app individually on each Ipad. I was surprise at how much time it takes to find the app, log-in and download the app. How are you going to manage this? What will you do to make it easier for you?

Paying for Apps-  Although my initial intent was to use only free apps, I discovered that there were some paid apps I wanted access to. Our solution was to use Itunes cards. It was a little cumbersome since I needed to add the cards to each iPad individually. Apple offers a school program that my district has not yet taken advantage of but this gives you apps at a discount and purchasing may be easier with this program.How will you purchase apps? Do you have access to a credit card that can be associated with each account? Will you set-up an Apple School account? Will you use Itunes cards?

Keeping Kids on the Apps you Want- One of the challenges I faced this week was that students would accidently or on purpose end up in other apps on the Ipad. I haven't found a solution to this yet although this article is promising.  How to keep students focused on one App.

Sharing- One of the biggest challenges I have had this week revolves around sharing the Ipads. Who goes first? How will we share them? How do I distribute them? How to we make the transition between one group and another group?

Flash Access- One of the things I wanted to use my Ipad for was Listen to reading. There are so many wonderful websites that allow students to listen to reading and I thought we would be able to access these with out Ipads. Unfortunately because of the limitations on FLASH use on Ipads most of my favorite book sites could not be accessed on the Ipad. I have since discovered two programs that help with that.
Rover and Puffin Web Browser. Both allow viewing of flash content online but Rover is limited to educational websites (most in English) that they have selected. You will need to decide if Flash access is something important to you.