Friday, November 16, 2012

Work Flow - or something useful !

People are always curious about other people's workflow - what apps , programs , and add ins they find useful. I 'm also of this ilk. On computers - what programs do they use? iPads - what apps do they find useful ? Photography - what camera, lenses, aperture do they use. I think it is an aspect of a certain persons curiosity - and I must admit I am one of them. I’m not sure what it says of our personality - but, hey- I’m being truthful. 
One conclusion I have come to over the last few years is the old “KISS” theory ! Keep it Simple Stupid ! If it is too complex 
  • you won’t spend the time getting to know it.
  • you won’t use it.
  • it doesn’t matter “how powerful” the program is - you will never use three quarters of it. 
  • you will move on to another program (therefore wasted and unproductive time).

So - What apps or programs do I use ? I suppose for background I had better explain what devices I use. I have an iMac for school administration, and MBP laptop which is my classroom machine (which also goes back & forth from home), an iPad and iPhone. Like everybody else now (regardless whether it is business or connected with Education) my “productivity “ time doesn’t operate just in work hours. The pros and cons of this is a debate for another time - but the reality is a lot of us are “producing “ at odd hours and across multiple devices. 
OK - to start. Probably the hinge for all my devices is Pages. It sounds cliche but I must admit it has become my favored  word processor. I do have Office for Mac as well as having to use Word in a Win environment but Pages is my firm favorite and I do 90% of my word processing in it. I use to be a Word and Publisher user but find Pages does nearly everything I want to do - quickly and simply. There are a number of “powerful” word processors out there - but whats the use of having a Ferrari to drive in School zones. Pages also goes across the apple platform - laptop, ipad, iphone. Calendar (or ical) I also prefer and use across the platforms. I tried Google cal, Outlook cal and a few others but came back to Apple Calendar. I just prefer it’s layout and what I can put in it. 
Another firm favorite for the Mac is Growly Notes. I have mentioned this one before. Unfortunately it is for Mac only (not ipad, iphone or PC). It’s a fantastic program (and free) that is probably closest to OneNote on a PC. You can include audio notes, pdf’s, lists, charts - the works. I use it a lot for planning, using as a day book, lessons etc.You can create tabbed books for topics or sections. I wish Growly Notes could carry across all platforms - but hey,  it’s free, so I can’t complain.
Next is Evernote. I use this extensively for web clipping, emailing web pages, articles etc to my Evernote account. I use it both for work and personal use. I am presently looking into how to effectively use it with a class. Evernote works on all platforms and devices. You can create notebooks that you can share or search. My main use - web clipping (without leaving the webpage), emailing an article (it has a built in email address that will save items directly to your notebooks). 

On my iPad I use many of the same programs ( for obvious reasons  - they sync). Pages, Keynote, Calendar, Evernote. Another one that I now find indispensable is Goodreader. I had thIs app for about 6 months before I saw the value in it. At first I just couldn't see what the fuss was. Now I use it for any document or PDF I need. I make folders for the different subjects or topics - save any related pdf’s, documents etc. It’s my first search for any “documents” I want on the ipad. 
Daily Notes is one I use for day to day brief notes of importance. I have set up a batch of tabs labeled “Week 1; Week 2” etc. I make notes about parent meetings, student behavior etc. Because it is related to a calendar - “week 1” can be used for Term 1; 2 ; 3 etc -. This way I have a record of brief important school related notes etc that can be accurate to dates etc. 
The trouble (advantage !) of ipads is the uses they have - school administration; record keeping; apps for students direct use; apps for making material for students; Professional reading; goofing off with a book or game. So when we start this debate - what exactly are the boundaries ? So the next few are for classroom use but not subject apps. More - what I  utilize in the classroom. The first one is Showme. If you like the Khan Academy approach - you will love this one. You can make little blackboard videos, with voice on how to do something (say like - how do I divide by tens ?). The little video can be replayed by the student on the ipad as many times as they like (until they get it). You can also embed these in a website or blog. The next Smart Notebook. Exactly like the Notebook software on the interactive whiteboards. Because the ipad doesn’t do flash - not everything will display exactly the same. But considering most teachers use the IWB as a whiteboard/overhead projector - this app has the advantage of you taking the board to the student. A similar one to this is Educreations.
Another handy one is Splashtop2  This one will mirror your computer (regardless which operating system is open). You can walk around the room with the ipad controlling what is appearing on your computer/smartboard etc. Works well - very handy. Edmodo is of course a firm favourite for my virtual classroom. Available on all formats but I tend to use the ipad app. The students of course use the computer based web interface.
When it comes to personal use the list becomes endless. But a few I will mention are; 
Zite: great for organizing your professional/ personal  reading. Make your own magazine type internet reading. I use it all the time.
iTunes U: It really is a great learning tool. 
National Geographic Today: Great if you like photography or a NG reader. Can be used with the students as well. 
There are heaps more I use and a lot more I experiment with (and don’t go back to - although they might be perfectly fine), but these basically constitute my daily list of useable apps and my workflow. Not very exotic - but I have found after experimenting with a lot - these are the ones I come back to.
One - I forgot to mention - which is a God send for printing from the iPad - HandyPrint (use to be called "AirPrint Activator"). You load this program on your computer - which allows your iPad to print to any printer associated to that computer (wireless or plugged in). I have used this for printers both at home and at work (same laptop). Works everytime - especially for those of us that don't have new airprint  printers.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

"The Bold and the Beautiful" - Inspiring Youth

Sometimes us “older or more experienced ” people can get a little cynical about up and coming younger expertise. We can yawn widely and say “ yeah  - seen that” or “not fully thought out - so won’t really last”. 
I must admit I get excited and stimulated  by younger people who either appear to have their @#$ together or come up with some enthusiastic and original idea. I had the privilege  of working with two young teachers who had their craft together so well, and displayed such enthusiasm for the job that they were granted  with awards for excellence in teaching within the first 5 years of teaching. They certainly deserved it.
When we look at what is thrown at us in the media - I often wonder what sort of society we are striving for. There is a strong desire to become famous - for “being famous” - and someone has to be “voted out” to make your achievement worthwhile. Sounds like I need a Bex and a good lay down ! But - thankfully not all youth see the world that way. I would like to share some of the youth I have come across (not personally) who I find quite stimulating.
The first one is a young man who I have followed since he was 15. Joey Lawrence is a young Canadian who has a keen eye for the visual. I first came across him on a photographic site -  dpchallenge. Young Joey was competing with the grown ups (and winning ) with a reasonably cheap camera. He was a master of both photoshop and photography at quite an early age. The thing I loved about this kid was he wasn’t afraid to experiment. He also made little videos with his friends and posted them for people to look at. I tipped at the time (and I still feel this will happen) that this guy will someday be a very well renowned film maker. One day (as a 16 yr old - I think ) his camera got broken/lost/stolen - can’t remember which, but he decided to make a DVD of his photoshop techniques and sell it (for $25) to people on dpchallenge to raise money for a new camera.  It , of course was an instant hit - and gave him money for a new camera. The rest is history  (which I will fill you in on in a moment). As an educationalist - this boy intrigued me. Although I think he thought his formal education was rather immaterial to where he was going in life , I couldn’t help feeling - if I taught this boy - I would be extremely proud of where he was going - he had the concept of “life long learning”. Isn’t this what we are trying to achieve ? It isn’t about what academic qualification - it’s about a curiosity to life - a desire to learn new things. This is the real world ! Not the one judged on whether you have your Masters in Educational theory or macramé !
Joey started to get a reputation for himself and picked up work in the US as a professional photographer. A lot of the younger people would be aware of his work as he did the promotional posters for the “Twilight” movies. He started to travel a lot - visiting far off and remote locations. He developed a “National Geographical “ type interest in portraiture but unlike the approach of someone like Steve McCurry (remember the Afghan Girl - National Geographic) who took everything in natural light - Joey thought - “if I was to do a portrait of someone in the west , I would use studio lights to achieve the best outcome for myself and the subject. Why not do the same for the back woods warrior in the outback of Somalia ?” He went to very out of the way places carrying battery powered lighting to produce stunning images of people who would not be normally photographed in this manner. His work is certainly breath taking and inspirational. This young man seems to be living life to the fullest, following his dreams and continually evolving and learning. As an educator - these are the aspects I would love to instill in students. Unfortunately, we often fall short of the mark. 
See Joey's work here:
The second young person to inspire me is a young lady from India. Shilo Shiv Suleman is an illustrator, storyteller and iPad book creator from Bangalore in Southern India.This young lady combines “conventional” art with technology in an interesting and beautiful way. This lady used the technology of the ipad to create a beautiful piece of art - combining  story telling, art, interactivity and technology. Her app Khoya " is a fantastic combination of all these aspects. Armed with pencils, paper and an ipad she has travelled India collecting and making art and story. As she says herself "I'm allowed to be a digital gypsy of sorts. My office can become a small little grove under a giant banyan tree." Shilo seems to have gained her resilience, enthusiasm and love of learning from her mother rather than any school situation. But then again, as educators we should be endeavoring to enhance, foster and encourage this style of learning. Have a look at her TED talk and play with her app “Khoya” and you will understand what I mean. A combination of the traditional, spiritual, artistic and digital - the new India.

The third young person I will mention is a young fellow from Newcastle (Australia) who has travelled the world (mainly in troubled spots) photographing the people affected by local events. Connor Ashleigh developed a strong sense of social justice when he went on a school excursion to Cambodia helping with house building. Maybe here we have a direct link to an effect generated by his formal education. I would like to think so, but with education we can never know for certain. Connor has combined digital storytelling with travel and a strong sense of social justice. He developed a love of photography on a visit to India. He has reported stories from the birth of a nation (Southern Sudan) to the suffering in Palestine and a slice of life from his own home town.

You may notice a personal theme here. These three people combine the visual, travel and a love of learning. They also combine these with a sense of sharing. They are educators in their own right. Joey L has made teaching DVD’s to help people master Photoshop as well as sharing techniques on his blog. Shilo has taught children art, shared her knowledge at TED talks as well as designing a fabulous teaching aid in the app “Khoya”. Connor has conducted classes sharing his stories as well as his images. He has presented classes to young High School students to help inspire and share techniques.
None of this really has any connection to the traditional classroom - but despite the shortcomings that we have to work with in education, at the end of the day we hope to give  our students a few basic skills (more attitudes than skills). To develop resilience, a love of learning, an ability to share a story  and a sense of connection with real people. These are the things I hope for my students. It has no connection what-so-ever to their NAPLAN results or academic qualifications. 
Can you imagine the classroom with these three ! “Joey - stop fiddling with the blind to see where the shadow falls ! Shilo - stop scribbling on the cover of your exercise book and Connor be quiet and stop chatting to Mary about her having no friends !”    Interesting ! 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Inspire, Innovate, Gary Stager

Last week I attended the 2012 ICT Inspire Innovate : Think Digit@lly,Teach Cre@tively & Transform Ped@gogy Conference (boy what a mouthful). This was run by the Department of Education -South Western Sydney Region. A huge range of workshops and provocative keynote speakers. It was a credit to the organisers. 
The aspect that really got my attention was the keynote speaker - Gary Stager. I hadn’t come across Gary before but had vaguely heard of some of his work. An American, who worked with a number of educational bodies worldwide. He had initial helped set up Australia’s first one on one laptop program in Melbourne in the early nineties. From the opening comments - this guy had me hooked. 

How - why did this guy appeal to me ? 
First of all he had a rounded view of education. Quite often technology driven educators start with the technology and the technology is the main aspect of their theory. Gary had a more rounded and inclusive view of education. The computer was just a tool (an essential  and powerful tool - yes - but just a tool) to bring about meaningful learning. He started from a platform of what he called “The Best Ideas in the World”. This combined a number of theories (some of them - nothing to do with technology) - such as Reggio Emilia , El Sistema, One Laptop, Big Picture, 826 Valenca etc. He came across as - what I call a “Humanist” educator. By this I mean an educator driven by the thought process. Generally emphasising  literature, poetry, arts, maths and Science. Generally considered old fashion education that has nothing to do with the “job” or “business” or short non-thinking type courses that education seems to heading towards. “If we teach them to think - how is that going to get them a job or give them a specific skill ?” As far as I can see - we can NEVER teach them what they need for a job. The present generation will have have 15 different jobs and will work at jobs that haven’t been invented. 
So what can we give them ? The ability to think, organise, adapt, resilience, create and a love of learning. 

I recently read the Steve Jobs biography and one of the things that hit me about him was that he was this sort of thinker. He wanted his objects to be as beautiful on the inside as out. He wasn’t just a computer geek (in fact he wasn’t one at all really) but had an interest in the artistic side of life as well. 

Gary Stager was quite a provocative speaker. A lot of what he said would challenge a lot of people. But he also made no apologies regarding his views. To give him credit - I think he has seen enough different educational settings, over a range of years to be able to make some conclusions about certain pushes in education. He was an advocate of “project based learning” - but projects had to be meaningful. He meant to the students. He was critical of the Apple approach to Challenge Based Learning. How many 10 year olds would really be interested in,  or relate to  “How can we make our city water supply better ?” The project had to be student based - not something grand and airy-fairy.
The best example I can think of is, recently my wife was in charge of her school’s Harmony Day activities (Harmony Day is a national push each year in Australia - to try and highlight inclusiveness and celebration of our cultural diversity). For weeks leading up to it the Stage 3 (10-12 yr olds) students and her ESL students  planned, organised and prepared for the day. They wrote and presented speeches, made posters, collected and practised games, organised the school in multi-aged groups. When the day arrived - it was totally student run. Students gave speeches, ran games and activities for the younger students, supervised and organised. The sense of achievement and pride of what they had done would last with them for life. It did involve some technology - but was a natural aspect - which required a purpose. Project based learning that was relative to them. This was the main point Gary Stager was making. Projects make memories. 
Gary was also against National Curriculum’s. It narrowed education. A National Curriculum  has been advocated for a number of years in Australia and will come to fruition in the next couple. 
He had many interesting comments to make regarding the one on one laptop program 20 years on. A few findings I found surprising.
* He emphasised that the creativity was in the software. The computers had to contain multimedia software that would enable the students to create - not an emphasis on network and wifi. He wasn’t a fan of ipads. To him - they were more a  consumer device than a creative device. 
* Laptops had to be given to all cohorts at once. Not a half grade here and half a grade there. One grade all got them - the other grade waited.
* Laptops had to be personal - therefore go home with students. He claimed that costs actually go down - because there is less  maintenance when the students control them.
* He found that a lot of IT departments and Educational bodies based their approach on control. How could they control the students and their equipment. This approach really had nothing to do with education.
* There is zero benefit in giving laptops to teachers first. This one surprised me - as I have been pushing to have laptops issued to the teachers. I thought if they had ownership it may encourage them to do more. Not according to Gary. His research found that they made a good teacher better, a great teacher greater and a bad teacher worse.
At the end of Gary’s presentation I was hungry for more. I noticed he was presenting a workshop just after the keynote - so instead of going off to my alloted workshop I stayed to hear more. 
You can read about more of his work at 

Friday, January 20, 2012

iBooks, Textbooks, iBooks Author and Education.

Apple have come along and changed the game again. I must admit I was quite excited about the announcement today regarding the education aspect of what they are doing - for a number of reasons.

Firstly - I was pleased to see a commitment to Education by Apple. For many years Apple seemed to be embedded in Education and the creative side of computing (with Windows taking care of corporate and personal). That seemed to all change with the introduction of the iPod, iPhone and iPad. Suddenly their focus was personal items. Your iPhone, your iPad - if you can use it in the corporate or educational world - fantastic - let us know how you are doing it ? From day one, educators saw the potential of the iPad in education - but were more or less left to their own devices on how to utilise, deploy and administer them. Australia, for example is still waiting to obtain educational licensing for apps. I thought that todays announcement singled a return to at least some interest in education.

Secondly. To me the real power of the iPad was not going to be fully realised until teachers were able to construct their own apps or have a direct say in the materials that they wanted their students to use. Yes, you could construct your own apps but the skill needed was beyond most peoples ability and patience. Plus the waiting to see if it would be approved by apple.
Enter "iBook Author". This little gem will allow anybody to construct their own course material, with a minimum of fuss and deliver it directly to their students. My understanding at this stage is that you can construct your own ibook and put it through the ibook store (with apple's approval) or simply deploy it directly to any iPad under your administration. This has to be the biggest break through for educators since the iPad was introduced. iBook Author i is a "Pages" type program that allows you to construct your own ibooks including video, audio, interactive media, keynotes etc. It has the same layout as Pages - therefore is very easy for anyone familiar with iWorks to operate. Just what we have been waiting for. I also wonder if it is going to be the introduction of a new iWorks (iWorks 2012 ) ? It even has a preview - which allows you to link to your iPad or iPhone to see what the end product will look like. After trying to construct ePubs through Pages 09 - this is a very welcome feature. You need to use iBooks Author on a mac running Lion. There has been some early criticism over having to run it on a mac and the end result being only usable on the iPad (not Android) - but hey - what do you expect Apple to do !

Thirdly, related to number two, having actual book companies coming on board to construct actual text books that will be usable in the education environment. Most companies see this as a good thing and are willing to invest the time and resources into producing quality, usable texts. This was something I expected when the iPad was first released , but never really happened. It does seem that now this will finally get under way. Quite a number of publishing houses have come on board and hopefully the number will grow.

The next aspect that excited me - was that of iTunes U . I had been an extensive user of iTunes U but it always seemed like it was buried away and not often updated. I was pleased to see it now has it's own app for the iPad. It stores any podcasts you have downloaded. This elevates it's profile - therefore I will assume a lot more material will start to appear - and relative to other countries outside of the United States.

All in all an exciting day for educators. While the bulk of the population will wonder "where is the new iPad?' or "what are the new specs of the new mac pro?" - educators will be excited about todays releases (at least I am). New iBook app ; iTunes U app ; publishers on board for text book publication and iBook Author program for mac - to construct your own interactive ibook material.

Let's now see how the year pans out.