A Digital Worksheet is Still Just a Worksheet

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Recently, there have been a number of tech tools that have been created to help enhance teacher productivity and improve assignment workflows in the classroom. Take, for example, the excellent OneNote Class Notebook Creator. It is an ideal app for Office 365 schools who want to quickly distribute materials to a whole class, have students work in a paperless environment, while also providing a collaboration space for the whole class to work in.

Google Apps schools are flocking to Google Classroom – a management tool for teachers who are looking to consolidate and simplify the flow of electronic files. It lets you make a copy of an individual document and distribute it to students with permissions configured automatically so that only the student and the teacher can see the document. There is also a discussion feed for students to communicate inside your Google Classroom.

iPad classrooms are using workflow apps like Showbie as a way for students to turn in assignments created on the iPad so teachers can grade them and give feedback. Similar apps like Skaffl, Handouts, and Turnitin do much the same thing, while others are turning to cloud services like Google Drive, Dropbox or OneDrive to meet the same need.

Then there are the many learning management systems that were created to take your classroom to the cloud. Canvas, Moodle, Schoology, Blackboard, Haiku, BrainHoney and many many more exist because teachers are looking for simple ways to unify the experience of delivering content and working online with students.

However, there’s a problem with all of these systems. The problem is, that they make it too easy for teachers to do what they always used to do – assign worksheets that don’t challenge, engage and empower students in their learning. A digital version of a paper worksheet is still just a worksheet, and it is not taking advantage of the powerful technologies that students have at their fingertips today.

It doesn’t matter whether you are using Chromebooks, Macbooks, iPads or Surface tablets. A low-level worksheet is a low-level worksheet whether it is in paper form, a PDF, a Word Doc or a Google Doc. Whether they type on it, or write over it with digital ink, it makes no difference. I know it is quick, easy, and convenient to assign. I know because I did it myself when I was in the classroom. It doesn’t make you a bad teacher, but your students deserve better.

None of these tools are inherently flawed. In fact the majority of them are fantastic because they  offer multiple solutions to a very real digital problem. However, I would encourage you to use them in a way that is most befitting a modern digital classroom. Use them to collect authentic assignments that demand creativity. Use them as part of project based or inquiry driven learning projects. Use them to showcase learning in a way that can only be captured with an electronic device.

Consider collaborative projects in Office Online or Google Drive. Have your students write a blog post or create a website to showcase their learning. Have them create a screencast or an Office Mix presentation. Assign them a video project that combines other multimedia content or take advantage of stop motion and green screen effects to communicate their learning. Have them create a Thinglink, an interactive timeline, or a custom Google Map. Challenge them to some App Smashing (it’s not just for iPads by the way), tell some digital stories, create some Kahoot quizzes, or reach out for new ideas like augmented reality, QR codes, and makerspaces.

I know there is a lot out there, and I know it gets overwhelming, but it’s also incredibly rewarding and help is at hand. The chances are high that someone in your building is already doing this, and if they aren’t, there are thousands of educators on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ that will be more than happy to help you out and share their ideas.

Start small. Begin by replacing just one worksheet with an idea like the ones above and see how it goes. Watch the reaction you get from your students. As time goes by, continue to look for more ways to leverage the power of your digital devices and integrate meaningful digital experiences to demonstrate learning in new and innovative ways. Trust me. It will challenge your students, motivate them, and engage them in something deeper, and more meaningful, than any worksheet you can lay your hands on.

ABCya! Animation for Kids: Creative Stop Motion Movies for the Classroom

abcya animate

If you are looking for a new way to inject some creativity into your digital storytelling, stop motion is a great way to do just that. ABCya! Animate is a website I learned about from Elizabeth McCarthy on Google+. It’s a free, and engaging web tool that lets students create an animated GIF from up to 100 frames of digitally drawn images, with no logins or accounts required.

The editor has a simple layout and is easy to use. You can draw with pens, brushes or the shape tool. You can also add text and clipart images from the library. When you have the first frame ready, click the “copy frame” button to duplicate it to slide two so that you can add a little more to your animation. Continue this process for up to 100 slides until you have the animation that you need.

abycya animate editor

There are three frame rates for your finished animation – slow, medium and fast – so you do have some control over the final effect. Clicking Export will walk you through the steps of how to save your animation as a GIF file. Wondering how to open a GIF? Almost all modern web browsers will open a GIF file so the student’s final project will be easy to share with others or add to a website.

ABCya! Animate is a Flash based tool. So, although it is great for Mac, PCs and Chromebooks, it will not work on a mobile device like an iPad. However, if you try this on a laptop and decide you would like to use this on an iPad you can check out the ABCya! Animate iPad app. It is available from the App Store for $1.99 and includes the same functionality that you get in the free web version.

I am a fan of Stop Motion movies for the classroom because they are an endlessly creative way to tell a story. Whether you do it as a PowerPoint presentation, a claymation movie, or an iPad animation combined with green screen effects, it is always a great medium that requires students to plan and think ahead to create an effective product. It is also ideal for group work and collaboration skills.

OneNote for Teachers: Help & Support for Educators

onenote for teachers logo

For me, OneNote is a peerless app that can quickly change the way students and teachers create and organize digital content. It is intuitive, powerful and works across all your devices. Whether you are an Office 365 school district or not, it is hard to ignore the potential that OneNote has.

To help support teachers in their use of OneNote, Microsoft developed a website exclusively for educators called OneNote for Teachers. It is a great resource that helps you get started with OneNote if you are a first time user, but also includes tips and tricks for experienced users by showing you how to deliver your curriculum with OneNote through tools like the OneNote Class Notebook Creator.

I use OneNote a lot on the iPad, and find it especially useful now that iOS 8 has allowed extensions. This lets me quickly add a website to a OneNote page from Safari, or send an image from my Camera Roll to add to my existing notes. I also use OneNote on my iPhone, on Windows, and will shortly be exploring the Mac version too. OneNote is free for all these devices and all my information syncs quickly and reliably.

onenote for teachers

Looking for more ideas? I have been developing an Office 365 training site for some of the teachers that I work with. There are resources and ideas on how to use OneNote on that website and you can view it at 365education.weebly.com. You might also want  to take a look at the Microsoft Educator Network, which has a searchable bank of lessons and resources that you can use in your classroom. You can also check out my Choose Your Own OneNote Adventure Stories learning activity that was added last month.

Office for iPad: Free for Everyone

Office for Everyone

Last week, Microsoft surprised a lot of people when they made Word, Excel and PowerPoint completely free for iOS devices. The apps themselves were always free for viewing documents, but editing access required an Office 365 subscription. Not any more. The subscription element was removed and now anyone with a free Microsoft account can view, create and edit Office documents on an iPad at no additional cost. They also included support for Dropbox so that you can open documents stored in Dropbox, edit them, and save them back to Dropbox.

Microsoft Word for iPad: Free

So, what is it like using Office on an iPad? It’s very enjoyable actually. Your documents, presentations and spreadsheets all format exactly the way you would hope they would with no strange views for a mobile device like the iPad. Everything is saved to your OneDrive or Dropbox account, so all your work is still available to you if you leave the iPad and start working on a desktop or Windows tablet.

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Tech Literacy and the Modern Classroom

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Last week, we were very fortunate to have Jeff Utecht at Grant Wood AEA for three days. He spoke to teachers, administrators, and Grant Wood consultants on a variety of different topics relating to the use of technology in schools. He did an amazing job and was well received by all that attended his sessions.

One of the topics Jeff discussed was one that resonated a lot with me, and that was in relation to tech literacy. How much are we really preparing students for a world that is packed full of technology and used on a daily basis? Are we exposing them to the vocabulary they need to navigate such a world and are we adjusting the way we expect them to learn based on what technology can do to make that process easier than ever before? These are challenging questions.

For instance, how important is perfect spelling when Google, Bing and Yahoo! and any other search engine you care to use will compensate for your typos and spelling mistakes with a helpful “Did you mean…” at the top of the page? Well of course I meant that. Thank you for reading my mind!

It’s not just search engines either. Every modern browser or productivity program you can think of has its own built-in spelling and/or grammar checker to help us when we need it most. Words underlined in red, or blue for that matter, is something that students working on digital devices will see often. Do they know what it means and how to fix it quickly and efficiently? Do they know how to deal with false positives?

With voice search, you can take that a step further and have many modern devices perform a search for you without you even having to think about how to spell even one word. In Chrome you can say “OK Google, what is the tallest building in the world?” and see, or hear, the answer you need in a matter of seconds.

Spelling is not irrelevant, far from it, but the digital tools that are there to support it are increasingly powerful and help open doors for students that may not have previously been able to communicate their needs so effectively.

Jeff told us the story of one school he visited that had the alphabet proudly displayed around the walls of the classroom. Sounds normal right? It is, until you hear that each letter had a keyboard shortcut underneath it to show the function each letter performs with the Ctrl key as a modifier. I love that idea. You probably know some of these: Ctrl+C = copy text, Ctrl+V = paste text, Ctrl+Z = Undo, but is there really a complete A-Z for this kind of thing? Turns out there is. I looked it up. Wikipedia has a complete list of Ctrl commands that go from A-Z and beyond.

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Osmo: An Essential iPad Add-On for Schools

osmo for iPad header image

When I first saw Osmo, it was a Kickstarter project. I was curious. It looked like a great idea, but would it work in a classroom, and would it ever become a reality or not? Turns out the answer to both questions was a resounding “Yes!” Last summer at iPadU: Slide to Unlock Learning, our keynote speaker, the excellent Matt Gomez, brought one with him and let us try it out. Suddenly it made so much more sense. The Osmo is tailor-made for a classroom.

Since then, I have used it several times at work, and showed it off to lots of teachers. They all love it! Part of the appeal is undoubtedly its simplicity. It takes no time at all to set up and can be used by just about anyone, regardless of their experience on an iPad. However, it is also somewhat unique in the way that it encourages collaboration and the use of manipulatives to solve a problem.

osmo games

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