Monthly Archives: December 2012

BlueStacks App Player: Android Apps on your Mac or PC for Free!

So here’s an interesting idea. What if you could use mobile apps in the classroom without actually having any mobile/tablet devices? Well, you can, thanks to BlueStacks. With the BlueStacks App Player you can run a huge number of Android apps on your Mac or PC, and right now, you can try it for free.

BlueStacks App Player

It’s an interesting proposition, and one that could have some very real advantages for the classroom. In theory, you get the best of both worlds – access to a huge and growing app store, and the power and flexibility of a desktop/laptop computer when you need it. You could even run these apps on an interactive whiteboard, and interact with them in almost the exact same way you would on an Android tablet.

How does it work? Right now, there are four app stores that you can search through for apps of your choice. You can browse the app stores themselves, or search for an app title across all four stores and choose where you want to download it from. Apps are added to a central dashboard area (see pic above) and can be launched from there after they have been installed on your computer. Do all apps work? No. Snapseed, for instance, did not install properly for me, but many other apps I tried like Evernote, Zite, Twitter, Pulse, and…yes…even Angry Birds Star Wars, worked just fine! ūüôā I didn’t perform an exhaustive test of available apps, but it looks like most of the well known ones you could want would likely be able to run on the BlueStacks App Player.

Angry Birds Star Wars

So, by now you are probably starting to get interested, maybe even wondering how you can sign up. Well, you absolutely can at the BlueStacks website, but I would be remiss if I did not add a word of caution. In theory, this could be a great thing for educators, but right now, it is more of a proof of concept than anything else. BlueStacks is in Beta. It is currently free for anyone who wants to test their innovative creation, but you do so at your own risk.

The apps themselves can be a little frustrating. Unlike the iOS App Store, many Android apps are simply not designed for large screens. Many are still optimized for a smartphone display, so they can be just plain awkward to use in their skinny, rectangular aspect ratio on the BlueStacks App Player. Some can be forced into a tablet sized view, via the settings, but others stubbornly refuse or crash when you try this.

There is also the issue of media. If you have an app like the Aviary Photo Editor, and you want to edit some photos you have on your computer, it is not as simple as just clicking browse and finding the photos you need. There is some behind the scenes work that needs to be done to achieve this, but like I said earlier, this app is still in Beta, so the developers will still be working out some kinks and improving the user interface as they go.

BlueStacks App Settings

A final issue for education would be management. If this app was to be used in a school that was 1:1 with Macbooks or PC laptops, the school IT department would want some way of enforcing restrictions, and a way to push out apps to students and staff. This is not currently an option, and may never be an option.

BlueStacks is a very enticing idea. It looks like it could open the doors to a much more open and flexible learning environment in the classroom, but right now it remains to be seen how stable, reliable, and easy to use it really could be in the classroom with students. Have you tried it? Do you think you would use it? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.

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MyScript Calculator: The Only iPad Calculator App that Matters?

Apple never saw fit to add a stock calculator app to the iPad, but there are dozens of free calculator apps to choose from in the App Store. Unsure which one to choose? My recommendation is My Script Calculator. It’s one of my favorite new free apps, and was built to maximize the touch screen interface of the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. It’s also an app that can grow with your students as they move from elementary, to middle school and even to high school.

MyScript Calculator

MyScript Calculator works different from other iPad calculator apps because there are no buttons. Instead, you simply write out the equation you wish to solve with your finger or a stylus. The app recognizes your handwriting, turns it into print, and solves it for you. Some of you might be dubious of this, as handwriting recognition apps do not have a great track record of success, but this one works very well.

Best of all, almost any grade level student will be able to use it. The app supports even the most basic math operations like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, but it will also do percentages, square roots, negative numbers, brackets and exponents. Need more? How about trigonometry, inverse trigonometry, logarithms and constants? Need to change part of your equation? Simply scribble over it to erase it and then write in your alteration and the equation will be solved again with the new values. You really have to see it to believe it.

If you are teaching Math at a higher level, this will obviously not be the only app you ever need, because as good as MyScript Calculator is, it does not graph equations but there are others out there that will. This app, however, is incredible at what it does do, and is ideally suited to a touch screen device like the iPad (an Android version is also available). Check out the tutorial video below, and feel free to leave a comment with your own experiences with MyScript Calculator, or other Math apps you love.

The Best Browser Alternatives to Safari on the iPad

There are pros and cons to using Safari on the iPad. On the one hand, it is safe, secure, and works well with almost any website you are likely to come across. The cloud tabs integrate nicely with Safari on Mountain Lion, it is easy to navigate, it works well with other apps, and, with perhaps one exception, it is undoubtedly the fastest way to browse the web on the iPad. The offline reading list is great for students who don’t have internet access at home, and I will always be a fan of the excellent Reader mode.

However, it’s not perfect. If you are looking for extra features like a full screen mode, ad blockers, filtered web searches, or the ability to play the last of the web’s Flash based content, then you need to look elsewhere, and there are plenty of options for those that want this. Google’s Chrome, for instance, is a popular alternative iPad browser on iOS right now. It has a¬†familiar¬†look that reminds users of their Chrome desktop experience, but it also lets you sync tabs, bookmarks and passwords across devices.

Chrome iOS

The free Rover app is popular with teachers because it plays Flash content in a filtered browser experience, but it can be a little slow to get the content you want because of the way it streams your image from a remote server. There are other Flash browsers like Photon or Skyfire, but Rover is free, so that counts for a lot in my book and it is a decent way to access some of those legacy websites that have still to upgrade to HTML5.

The Puffin browser is extremely well rated, and rightly so. It is fast, (faster than Safari a lot of the time), and it bypasses the majority of those pesky mobile sites that are usually built for phones, and not iPads. It plays Flash, and even has a virtual mouse trackpad (complete with cursor) for websites that are not optimized for a touch experience. You can go fullscreen with Puffin, and even set a homepage.

Puffin Web Browser iOS

The Diigo browser links up nicely with your Diigo account, Dolphin has a slew of nice features and a great UI, while Yahoo! Axis has a unique search experience that has to be seen to be believed. (Some love it, some hate it). The more technologically minded are often drawn to iCab with its adblocker, Dropbox support, download manager and more. SidebySide is a nice free offering that lets you have two browser windows open at once. You can have a note taking app on one side, and a web browser on the other.¬†This¬†can be useful for students who are taking notes and don’t want the hassle of switching between apps. The notes can even be synced to Dropbox.

In short, the world is your oyster with alternative iPad browsers. Personally, I use Safari 95% of the time because I like it, but also because of the one major drawback that almost none of these alternative browsers can overcome – the ability to open a link from another app. Safari is always the default app for links you tap on in other apps, and probably always will be. Google managed to make their Google+ app offer the option to open links in Chrome, but everything else will open in Safari whether you like it or not.

So, check out my iPad Apps page for a list of my favorite alternative browsers for the iPad, and feel free to leave a comment about your own favorite browser and why you like it so much.

Using Blurb Mobile for Digital Storytelling on the iPad

I’m a big fan of digital storytelling apps. There are lots of them, and most of them are very good, but many are aimed at elementary students. So, when I find something new, innovative, and a little less cartoony like Blurb Mobile, I am always glad because it gives me another app to share with secondary teachers.

Blurb Mobile

The Blurb Mobile app is offered by blurb.com, the same company that offers wannabe authors the chance to create their own print and ebooks and sell them online.  It has a very intuitive interface and is easy to pick up and use. With an emphasis on visual media, Blurb lets you create some short, but interesting, gallery style stories that the author can narrate and add short captions to.

Blurb Mobile 2

The app is free and lets you add up to 8 images per story, one 30 second audio clip per image, one 10 second video. There are also 7 built-in themes to choose from, page layouts, image adjustment tools, and privacy controls to keep your story unlisted or public to the world. I hate in-app purchases (I much prefer a separate paid app) but for $0.99 you can up your image limit to 15, add 2 minute audio clips, three 30 second videos, and get access to 8 additional themes.

Blurb Mobile 3

For some inspiration on what you can create, check out the Story Stream in the navigation menu to see what others have created with the Blurb app. There are some great examples: some poignant, some fascinating. You can also use the audio bin to record your audio ahead of time and store it in the clip library for when you need it.

Overall, it is a really well made app that has some interesting options and a fresh approach to how you can tell a story digitally on the iPad, and an app that could easily find its way onto iPads in the classroom. So, feel free to check it out, and be sure to see my other picks for digital storytelling apps for the iPad.

An Educator’s Guide to AirPlay on iPads and Macs

Image courtesy of Apple.com

Image courtesy of Apple.com

What is AirPlay?

AirPlay is a technology that Apple baked into their more recent devices to allow them to wirelessly mirror the content of one screen to another. This content can be music, movies, or other multimedia content. A teacher, for instance, can use AirPlay to wirelessly present their lesson to a class or demonstrate an app, while students could use it to share their work with their peers.

What devices can AirPlay?

  • iPad 2, iPad3, iPad 4, the iPad Mini, and the iPad Air
  • iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPhone 5c, and the iPhone 5s
  • iPod Touch (5th Generation)
  • iMac (Mid 2011 or newer), Mac mini (Mid 2011 or newer), MacBook Air (Mid 2011 or newer), and MacBook Pro (Early 2011 or newer)
  • iOS devices need to be running iOS 4.3 or newer
  • OS X devices need to be running OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion)

How to Set Up AirPlay

In order for your device to be able to take advantage of AirPlay, it needs to be able to connect to an AirPlay enabled device. The default Apple device is the Apple TV. Connect this to your projector via HDMI (or use the Kanex ATV Pro if you have a VGA projector).

For a cheaper option, you can turn an existing laptop or desktop computer into an AirPlay device by installing the Reflector or AirServer app. There are version for Mac and Windows computers. Once installed, run the program and connect the computer running the software to an LCD projector.

Reflector vs. AirServer

Reflector (or Reflection as it was previously known) was essentially the first desktop app for turning your computer into an AirPlay receiver. AirServer is a licensed version of Reflector, so essentially they are pretty much the same. However, AirServer does offer educational discounts for schools, so this may help keep costs down. I’ve also found that the developer for AirServer is very receptive to new feature requests that can improve the classroom experience.

AirServer app

Connecting to Airplay on an iPad

1. Before you attempt to mirror your iPad’s screen, you need to first ensure that your iPad, and the AirPlay device you are connecting to (Apple TV or a computer running Reflector or AirServer) are on the same WiFi network. If they are not, the devices will not “see” each other.

2. Next, Swipe up from the bottom bezel on your iPad to reveal the new iOS 7 Control Center, (see image below).

3. Tap the AirPlay button, (the rectangle with a triangle on it) and select the device you want to connect to – the Apple TV or the computer running Reflector or AirServer. Turn Mirroring on to send the image of your screen to the projector.

4. Press the home button to close the Control Center, and bask in the glory of your wireless media connection! ūüôā

AirPlay

Connecting to AirPlay on a Mac

1. Again, before you attempt to mirror your Mac’s screen, you need to first ensure that your iPad, and the AirPlay device you are connecting to (Apple TV or a computer running Reflector or AirServer) are on the same WiFi network. If not, the devices will not “see” each other.

2. Look for the AirPlay symbol in the menu bar at the top of your screen, (next to the WiFi indicator, date and volume icon)

3. Click the AirPlay button, and select the device you want to connect to –¬†an Apple TV or a computer running Reflector or AirServer.

4. Your Mac should automatically connect to the AirPlay device, and you can¬†bask in the glory of your wireless media connection! ūüôā

Connect to AirPlay Mac

Password Protecting Your AirPlay Connection

Regardless of whether you use an Apple TV, Reflector, or AirServer, it is important to be aware of your option to protect your AirPlay connection with a password. After all, you won’t necessarily want someone connecting to your AirPlay whenever they feel like it. On the Apple TV you go to Settings > AirPlay > Set Passcode. The passcode is great if you have just one class, but if your students leave for another class, they can still hijack your AirPlay if you have previously shared a password with them in order that they too can AirPlay.

You could change the passcode every lesson, but this would be a pain, so I recommend going to Settings > AirPlay > Onscreen code. This adds an onscreen code so that you can only AirPlay to this connection if you can see the onscreen code, (ie. you are in that classroom). If you are using Reflector, you can also set a passcode. If you are using AirServer, you have the same options as with an Apple TV Рa passcode or onscreen code.

Recording your AirPlay Connection

Ever seen those YouTube tutorials of people demonstrating iPad apps and wonder how they did it? Well, the chances are high that they used some kind of AirPlay connection and recorded it with a basic screencasting tool. Apple included screencasting options for Mac users in Quicktime X (10). Simply open the app and go to File > New Screen Recording. MakeUseOf has a nice tutorial on how to make a great screencast with Quicktime X. Don’t have a Mac? Try Screenr.com or Screencastomatic.com¬†and you can quickly flip your classroom for free.

Troubleshooting AirPlay Connections

If you are having trouble with your AirPlay connection, consider the following:

  1. A successful AirPlay connection requires that you have both devices on the same WiFi network. If there is more than one network to connect to in your school, this could be an issue. 
  2. Firewalls can block an AirPlay connection, and some networks are configured to limit certain outgoing connections, so check with the Technology Director to see if he or she can check that for you.
  3. Make sure that all your AirPlay devices and software are updated to the latest version. This will give you the best stability across your devices.
  4. Speaking of stability, if your WiFi network is slow, or prone to going down unexpectedly, AirPlay will not work well. A strong and consistent WiFi network is required for reliable AirPlay connections.

Resources

How to Create Your Own Free iPad Templates for Keynote

The recent update to Keynote, brought the ability to import presentations complete with master slides and preset styles. So, this got me thinking. How could I take advantage of this new feature? Well, here is a simple, but straightforward way to do just that and create some free iPad templates for Keynote to supplement the 12 themes that Apple gives you as a default on the iOS version. If you already have the desktop versions of Keynote, or PowerPoint, this method will cost you nothing at all!

Start by opening Keynote, or PowerPoint, on your Mac/PC and choose a template for your presentation. It does not need to be any longer than one slide. Next, you need to add that presentation to your iPad. (Mountain Lion users can save it to iCloud, but you can also email it to your iPad or save it to Dropbox and Open in… Keynote).

Repeat for as many templates as you would like to bring over to the iPad, and organize them by creating a folder for these new templates, like in the image below. You can group presentations together on the iPad version of Keynote simply by dragging one on top of another to create a new folder. I went a step further and renamed each presentation to the name of the original template, but this is optional.

Free Keynote Templates for the iPad

Now, these aren’t new templates in the strictest sense of the word, because once you start editing one of these, it will automatically save your new content, so here is what you need to do. DUPLICATE the file before you start working on it and work on a copy of the original template you brought over. You do this by tapping Edit in the top right hand corner, tapping the presentation you want to duplicate, and then tapping the duplicate button, (see below).

Duplicate Templates in Keynote

Rename your newly duplicated presentation by tapping the name under the thumbnail and then open it when you are done. Before the latest Keynote update, the user would go to add a page to a PowerPoint file, and be greeted with eight blank slide layouts that rarely matched the theme. However, when you go to add a new slide to your presentation now, all the original master slide layouts are an available, (see below).

Adding new slides in Keynote iPad

Simply repeat ad nauseum, and when you get tired of the presentation templates you have, go find some more! The new Keynote for iOS is great at bringing over those master slide layouts, although I have noticed it works a lot better with Keynote than it does with PowerPoint. It will still give you some nice new slide layouts for PowerPoint, but not nearly as many as you get with an imported Keynote file.

Are there apps available in the App Store that do very much the same thing? Yes, but none for free, and the one I have opens a default presentation with over 40 slides. I need to delete the ones I don’t want, and duplicate the ones I do. This takes away some of that hassle and gives you a bunch of free iPad templates for Keynote that you didn’t have before! ūüôā

An iPad Workflow for the Classroom Using Google Drive & Pages, Keynote or Numbers

DriveThe Google Drive iPad app is not yet all that we might want it to be, but it is¬†definitely¬†moving in the right direction. A recent update included the ability to create and edit spreadsheets, but it also added something equally useful – the ability to upload files from other apps to Google Drive via the “Open in” function. This creates some useful workflow options for teachers who want to assign, receive and grade student work on the iPad.

Here’s how it could work.

1. Using the Drive app, the student creates a folder for assignments and shares it with the teacher (some kind of default naming strategy would be good here: see The Paperless iPad Classroom with the Google Drive app).

2. The teacher takes all the student folders that are shared with them, and puts them in one class folder (e.g. Math 1st hour) to help stay organized.

3. The student completes the assignment in Pages, Keynote or Numbers and goes to Share and Print > Open in Another App > PDF, and then choose the Google Drive app.

4. The Drive app opens and the student puts the completed assignment in the folder that they shared with the teacher in step 1.

5. When the assignment is due, the teacher uses the Drive app to find  their class folder, and then the student folder to find the assignment they want to grade. They open the assignment, and then open it in Notability.

6. In Notability the teacher makes annotations and grades the assignment, then sends it back to Google Drive, and puts it in the student’s folder complete with annotations, comments and so forth.

7. The student accesses the shared folder to see their grade.

Easy, right? ūüôā It’s really not as complex as it might sound.¬†The teacher could even go one step further and have an Assignments folder in Google Drive that they share with their students. They could upload digital copies of the assignments to this folder, and make it read only (so students cannot add to or delete). Then they could just tell the students that the latest assignment was in the folder.

How could teacher quickly collect all the Google accounts of the students in their class? Make a Google form with “Name” and “Google Account email address”, and get students to fill it in on the first day of class. The results all go to a spreadsheet, so the teacher can copy and paste the email addresses into the folder permissions on Google, and/or create a contact group for that class.¬†Better still, use the gClass Folders script on a desktop machine to create all the folders for you!

For more info on a Google Drive iPad Workflow, see The Paperless iPad Classroom with the Google Drive app which goes into the concept in more detail and offers more options.