The Apple Adapter Classroom Gear Guide

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If you use an Apple device, you are probably increasingly used to using dongles, adapters or whatever else you want to call them. They give you the functionality that Apple doesn’t natively include because of design constraints or a forward thinking approach to new technologies. However, there are dozens of Apple adapters available, and it can be hard to know which ones are the right ones for a given situation. This edtech gear guide was written to help remedy that problem.

The adapters below are ordered by price (from low to high) and include a number of likely scenarios for when you would want to use each one. Official Apple adapters will usually work best and these can be purchased in a number of different places, but third-party versions are available too. The list below is not an exhaustive list, but it does include the most commonly used dongles and adapters for use in Apple classrooms. Whenever possible, links are included to the official Apple product.


I want to… connect headphones to an iPhone 7 or multiple sets to an iPad/iPod Touch.

You need: Lightning to 3.5mm Headphone Jack Adapter (Apple price: $9)

More information: This dongle lets you plug 3.5mm headphones into the iPhone 7, (a device that has no traditional headphone jack), however, it can be used with any iOS 10 device that has a lightning port. It can be used to add an extra headphone jack to iPads and iPod Touches, but a dual headphone splitter, or a multi-headphone splitter, would be cheaper (or more efficient) in the long run.


I want to… plug a traditional USB device into a new Apple MacBook.

You need: USB-C to USB Adapter (Apple price: $9)

More information: If you own one of the newer MacBook laptops, you will be missing standard USB ports to plug in Bluetooth mice, a SMART board, or other USB accessories. This adapter restores that ability.


I want to… connect my new MacBook to the internet with an Ethernet cable.

You need: Belkin USB-C to Gigabit Ethernet Adapter (Apple price: $26)

More information: The Ethernet port has been missing on MacBooks for some time now. This adapter is for MacBook and 2016 MacBook Pro users who want to connect to the internet with a wired connection.


I want to… connect my older MacBook to the internet with an Ethernet cable.

You need: Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet Adapter (Apple price: $29)

More information: This is the same adapter as the one above, but it works with older MacBooks that don’t have the USB-C inputs by converting a Thunderbolt port to an Ethernet port. You can also use the Apple USB Ethernet Adapter or the Belkin USB Gigabit Ethernet Adapter that comes with 3 integrated USB 3.0 ports.


I want to… connect USB devices to my iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch.

You need: Lightning to USB Camera Adapter (Apple price: $29)

More information: The Lightning to USB Camera Adapter was designed to help you transfer photos and videos from a digital camera to an iOS device. However, this handy dongle also allows you to connect a USB microphone for better audio recording, a USB keyboard for better typing, and some other low power USB accessories. It’s a handy adapter to have because of how flexible it is. You can’t use it for all your USB devices, (a mouse and a flash drive will not work), but it’s compatible with more than you think.


I want to… connect my older MacBook to a VGA projector or external monitor.

You need: Mini DisplayPort to VGA Adapter (Apple price: $29)

More information: The majority of projectors used in schools today seem to have a VGA connection. A VGA connector is the trapezoid shaped port with pins on the male side and holes on the female side. This adapter lets you use a VGA cable with your MacBook so you can connect it to a projector, monitor or TV that has VGA connectors.


I want to… connect my new MacBook to a VGA projector or external monitor.

You need: Belkin USB-C to VGA Adapter (Apple price: $29)

More information: This dongle lets you continue to use a VGA projector with the newest MacBooks by converting one of your USB-C ports into a VGA connector.


I want to… connect my iPad 2 or 3 to a VGA projector or external monitor.

You need: Apple 30-pin to VGA Adapter (Apple price: $29)

More information: Many schools still have some iPad 2s in circulation. If you are looking to connect one of these to a a projector, monitor or TV that has VGA connectors, then this is the adapter you need.


I want to… connect my iPad 2 or 3 to an HDMI projector or external monitor.

You need: Apple 30-pin Digital AV Adapter (Apple price: $39)

More information: Displaying an iPad 2 on an HDTV or HDMI projector can be achieved with the aid of this (pricey) adapter. It includes a secondary 30-pin port that allows you to charge your device while displaying it on an external screen. Consider using it to show a looping slideshow on TVs that are mounted on walls around your school.


I want to… connect my iPad 4 (or later) to an VGA projector or external monitor.

You need: Lightning to VGA Adapter (Apple price: $49)

More information: Another pricey adapter but a must have if you want to show your iPad on a SMART Board, projector or TV via a VGA cable. Needs no wifi access and is generally very reliable. Includes a lightning port to let you charge your device while it is on screen.


I want to… connect my iPad 4 (or later) to an HDMI projector or external monitor.

You need: Lightning Digital AV Adapter (Apple price: $49)

More information: This is the HDMI version of the adapter above. It works in exactly the same way, but connects to HDMI devices as opposed to VGA. Also includes a lightning port for charging while your iOS device is displayed on screen.


I want to… connect my Apple TV to a VGA projector or external monitor.

You need: Kanex ATV Pro X HDMI to VGA Adapter with Audio Support or the Kanex HDMI to VGA Adapter with Audio for Apple TV 4th generation (Apple price: $49.95-59.95)

More information: The Apple TV only comes with an HDMI output, so if you want to connect it to a VGA projector or a TV or Monitor that has a VGA connections, then you need one of these adapters. The Kanex ATV Pro X HDMI to VGA Adapter works for 2nd and 3rd generation Apple TVs while the Kanex HDMI to VGA Adapter with Audio for Apple TV is designed to work with the newer 4th generation Apple TVs.


Need more help?

Unsure which dongle or adapter you need? Want to double check that you picked the right one? Leave a comment below, or drop me an email via the contact page, and include as much information about what you are trying to achieve and the devices you want to do it with. If there is an adapter out there that fills that need, I’ll tell you what it is, and where you can buy it.

Note that some Apple adapters are currently on a limited sale until April 1, 2017.

5 Alternative Uses for a Classroom Podcast Station

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Sometimes it’s hard to justify the expense of new technology at school, but if it can be used in multiple ways, the added value almost sells itself. So, if you are looking to add a podcast station to your classroom, here are some quick ideas for what else it can be used for when you are not podcasting.

1. Fluency Practice

Elementary students will work on reading fluency at pretty much every grade level. With a podcast station, students can record themselves and listen back to what they read in order to hear themselves and listen to the areas that they think they need to improve on. The teacher also gets a record of each student that they can use to share with parents or peers. Older students who are in speech or are practicing an oral presentation can use the podcasting station in much the same way.

2. Listening Comprehension

A good way to meet some of those speaking and listening standards is to practice some listening comprehension. This is particularly useful when you consider that many state standardized tests already have this component. This station could be part of a blended rotation and need not require multiple computers if you have something like this 5-way headphone splitter that allows up to five students to listen to the same audio at once. Websites like ListenWise already cater to this demand, while others have already noted that Listening to Podcasts Helps Kids Improve Reading Skills.

3. Video Creation

A podcast station is basically a collection of computers, microphones and headphones. Coincidentally, this is often what you would have if you were putting together a video station. Teachers can use the very same equipment to make videos for flipped classroom lessons. Students can use the computers to edit video and the microphones to add professional sounding voice-overs.

4. Audio Responses

I think it is always good to give students options over how best to submit assignments. That is one of the reasons why I like SeeSaw so much. Text, audio, video and more can be used as a way to showcase learning. Your podcast station is a perfect place for students to leave audio responses to question prompts and another way to reinforce those speaking and listening standards. What if you had a question of the day for your elementary students to answer each time they came to school, or the option for older students to record an video response in Recap?

5. Skype Station

Another great use of your microphones (and headphones) could be for video conferencing. Whether you are playing Mystery Skype or taking a virtual field trip, the technology you put in your podcast station could easily be repurposed for the duration of these activities. There are many Skype in the Classroom ideas that are available to teachers, so your microphones and computers will go to good use here.

 


Curious as to what you might need to create your own podcast station? Take a look at the Podcast Classroom Gear Guide on my sister site, The Edtech Gear Guide.

The Podcast Classroom Gear Guide

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Podcasting is easier, and more popular, today than it ever has been. It can be a great way for student’s to have their voices hear and to communicate with a wider audience. It hits lots of speaking and listening goals and is a cross curricular activity that can be a lot less time consuming than creating a video. Best of all, you don’t need a lot of equipment to get started. Here’s what you need to know.

Choosing the Right Microphone

Let’s get right to it. You’re going to need a microphone. You might think the one on your computer is enough, (and it might be for some purposes), but an external microphone will give you a much better sound. If you don’t buy anything else, buy a decent microphone. It absolutely makes a difference, and your listeners will thank you for it.

Basically there are two types of microphones you will come across in your search. Dynamic microphones and condenser microphones. To save complexity and the need for a mixer, I am just going to talk about USB microphones in this guide.

Dynamic microphones are commonly used by TWIT, 5by5 and other big name podcast networks. They pick up less background audio than a condenser microphone, so this can make them a good choice for noisy classrooms. However, they require a good microphone technique. You need to sit close to the microphone and speak directly into it. If you sit back, talk to the side, or have multiple students talking around one microphone, you may not get the results you hoped for with a dynamic mic. This is not to say that dynamic microphones are bad, you just have to know how to use them.

Condenser microphones are a little more forgiving. They can have multiple settings that will allow you to record audio all around the microphone, on two sides of the microphone, or just the from the front. Wider recording patterns will lessen the overall quality of the recording, and lead to more background noise, but your microphone technique does not need to be quite as good and that makes them ideal for younger students. In addition, some people prefer the sound of condenser microphones. They can sound richer due to the wider frequencies that are recorded, but they do work best in quieter environments. More on that later.

Dynamic Microphones

Condenser Microphones

Microphones for iPhones & iPads

  • iRig Mic Lav (1 pack) – a clip on lavalier mic that connects to a mobile device
  • iRig Mic Lav (2 pack) – a pair of clip on lavalier mics that records audio from two sources
  • iRig Mic – entry level microphone for video and podcasting needs with multiple settings
  • iRig Mic HD – records higher quality audio and has a lightning cable interface

Note, if you are using a USB microphone with an iPad, you will need a lightning to USB adapter to give you the USB interface you need to plug in the microphone.

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The Recording Environment

At the end of the day, no matter what microphone you pick, the biggest challenge for a classroom teacher is finding a quiet spot to record the audio. You absolutely can do it in your classroom, but background noise will often be audible. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but in order to focus the listener’s attention on the speaker, you will want to minimize that as much as you can.

Ideally you want to avoid large rooms with lots of hard surfaces. This has an adverse effect on the audio because the sound bounces around and echos off walls and surfaces before returning to the microphone. Smaller spaces with carpeted floors and/or soft furnishings are ideal because they absorb reverb and background noise, as well as reduce the echo effect you may get in larger rooms.

If you have to record in the classroom, you might consider a portable sound booth. You can buy one, or make your own with some acoustic foam and a cardboard box, plastic tote, or a folding fabric cube that you might find at Walmart or Target. See an example here.

Pop Filters

A pop filter cuts down on the plosive sounds you might hear during an audio recording. These noises are caused when you pronounce words with sounds like b, p, t, or k because they require your mouth to exhale additional air in order to pronounce them properly. This can cause a popping sound on your audio recording.

To avoid this, podcasters use a pop filter. It acts like a shield in front of the microphone to block the air that would otherwise go straight towards the microphone. It is a subtle effect, but a noticeable one, especially when you compare the audio you get with and without a pop filter. They are low tech, and generally cheap, so they are always a  good investment. They also come in all shapes and sizes. Here are a few good ones:

Audio Editors

Not everyone likes to edit audio files but if you want to add music or sound effects to your podcast, or correct any mistakes you or your students make along the way, then you are going to need some kind of audio editor. Thankfully, there are a lot of perfectly good free options to complement the fuller featured paid versions. Audacity is a popular, free audio editor that is available for Mac and PC. It takes a little but of getting used to, but there are hundreds of YouTube tutorials to get you started, and you probably won’t need even half of what it can do to edit or enhance your audio. Other options are below:

Headphones

Headphones are useful for editing audio, but several microphones let you plug in headphones to monitor the volume of your audio as you record it. If you already have headphones in your school/classroom, then I would be tempted to just use those providing they were in decent shape. If you were looking to buy headphones for podcasting, I would recommend you look at studio or monitor headphones. These headphones typically give a purer audio experience that is not artificially enhanced with bass or other effects. In short, they give a more neutral, balanced sound. Here are some good headphones that are worth a look.

Hosting Sites

By definition, a podcast is generally distributed via some kind of online service. This allows people to listen to your podcast in an online player, download it to listen offline, or subscribe to it in a mobile app via an RSS feed. The online services that allow this are called hosting sites. There are many to choose from. Many have free components but you can expect restrictions so be sure to compare and contrast carefully. They include services like:

If you want to list your podcast in iTunes or Google Play Music so others can discover, subscribe and listen to your show, you are going to need a hosting service that provides you with an RSS feed. All the options above include that at no extra cost. Once you have that, you follow a  simple process to submit your RSS feed to Apple’s Podcasts Connect service or Google’s Play Music Portal. You can absolutely submit to both directories in order to attract the widest audience, but for better or worse, iTunes is where the majority of people get their podcasts.

Further Reading

Getting Creative With iPads in K-12 Classrooms

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My iPad is a bit of a mess right now. Too many apps are in need of a folder for some kind of organization. As I began that process today, I noticed that I have an abundance of apps that were designed for creative purposes. I wasn’t surprised that I had all these apps, (they are absolutely my favorite type of apps), but I was surprised at how many new ones I have added this year. So, I thought I would take some time to share the ones that mean the most to me and to group them in some kind of order that might make sense on my home screen.

Feel free to add your own suggestions to the comments at the end because you can never have too many creative apps! These are not the only creative apps on my iPad, (that would be a very long list), but it is a good chunk of them. (Note: this post contains iTunes affiliate links).

Creative Video Apps

Creative Photo Apps

  • Pic Collage Kids – a safe, fun, collage app that is very versatile
  • Annotate – Handy editing tools like crop, draw, arrows, text, emoji and blur
  • Photoshop Lightroom – the mobile version of Adobe’s Lightroom editor
  • Photoshop Mix – cut out, combine & blend pictures to create multilayered images
  • Photoshop Express – fast, powerful, and advanced editing now with collages
  • Pixelmator – a powerful, full-featured, layer-based image editor
  • Superimpose – create superimposed or juxtaposed photos on your iPad
  • Snapseed – a complete and professional photo editor developed by Google

Continue reading “Getting Creative With iPads in K-12 Classrooms”

The Tickle Coding App Gear Guide

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The Tickle coding app for iPads and iPhones is a great app for education because it was designed to support multiple devices. Once you learn the basics of how to use the app, you can use it with a variety of programmable gadgets. The app is free and easy to learn. The code you create can be simple or surprisingly complex, depending on the devices that you are working with. It uses a drag and drop block programming interface but it also allows you the ability to view your work as Swift 3.0, (the programming language that developers use to program apps for Apple devices).

About the Devices

None of the devices on this guide were developed specifically for the Tickle app. In fact, many have their own native apps as you will see in some of the videos below. However, when you use the Tickle app with one of these devices you can quickly swap it out for a different device with different capabilities and not have to spend time figuring out a new app. Each device connects to Tickle via a Bluetooth connection and can be controlled by building a program with a variety of different coding blocks. The blocks will vary according to the device you are using and the actions it is able to perform. So, here’s what you can use with the Tickle app for iPad or iPhone.

Dash and Dot

These friendly bots are a big hit in the classroom. Their cheerful personalities are hard to ignore and a wide selection of accessories are available to add variety to the activities that you can plan for. Dash is the mobile one with wheels and the ability to travel around your classroom. His faithful companion, Dot, is a stationary robot but he can also be programmed to perform some basic functions or to act as a trigger for Dash.

Teachers should check out the Wonder Workshop Teacher Portal. Here you can find lesson ideas, help guides and even a K-5 coding curriculum, (note that some lessons are only available for purchase). There is also a collection of Dash & Dot videos on YouTube.

Personally, I find Dash more fun to work with and if I had to choose between a Dash and Dot set or 2 Dash robots, I would choose the latter because there is definitely more you can do with Dash and some of the accessories like the launcher or the xylophone are really only for Dash.

Overall, these robots are a great buy and will provide endless hours of coding fun for your kids. Here are some links to take a look at all that is available for Dash and Dot:

Sphero, Ollie & BB-8

The Sphero, Ollie and BB-8 devices are connected toys that can be programmed with some simple drag and drop coding blocks. Tickle supports Sphero 1.0, 2.0 and the SPRK edition as well as the two-wheeled Ollie and Star Wars themed BB-8 droid.

Right now, the Sphero SPRK edition is probably the best buy if you want to do coding with Tickle, but if you can find a good deal on the Ollie or Sphero 2.o, those are still good bets. Here are some links to find the robots you need.

If you want to use the latest Sphero robot available, the Sphero SPRK+ is the one to get. It didn’t used to work with the Tickle app, but a recent update for the app has added it to a list of compatible devices.

LEGO WeDo 2.0

Like most things that have the Lego brand attached to it, the WeDo 2.0 has a strong following. If you have never seen one before, you could describe it as an entry-level Mindstorms kit. It’s not quite as advanced because it is primarily aimed at Grades 2-4, but it is certainly very versatile and can be programmed to perform a variety of functions. The WeDo is easily expandable due to it’s compatibility with other Lego pieces and the available motors and sensors give you lots of options.

Of note, the Lego WeDo has an app for Chromebooks, and can also connect to Scratch. Teachers using WeDo can connect with each other and get support or ideas in the Lego WeDo Community. The WeDo comes in a variety of different configurations and start at around $150. Learn more here.

LightBlue Bean

The Bean is an Arduino-compatible microcontroller board. Like the other devices on this list, it connects to the Tickle app, and receives its instructions, via Bluetooth. It has an RGB LED and a 3-axis accelerometer. I have not spent any extended amounts of time with a Bean but I think it’s safe to say that it’s not meant for beginners. It also won’t do a whole lot by itself because it was designed to accept inputs from a variety of things like switches, motors and sensors, none of which you get when you buy the base Bean.

That being said, these add-ons are typically not very expensive, and this level of connectivity does make it among the more creative devices you can connect to Tickle. Take a look at some sample projects on the Bean website to get a feel for some of the things it can do. Be sure to check out the Bean Community boards for further helps, support and inspiration.

Philips Hue Lights

The Philips Hue lightbulbs are wifi enabled lights that can be controlled remotely with a mobile device. You can change the colors of these lights to almost anything you would like them to display, create schedules for them to follow, or trigger the lights to turn on, off or switch colors based on a series of pre-programmed events. You can even use them with the Amazon Echo devices.

I’ve yet to see anyone use these in the classroom but that is not to say that they can’t be used for learning. If you know anyone that has found a use for the Philips Hue lights, please drop me a note and let me know. I would love to learn more about how people are using them.

MiPosaur

The MiPosaur from WowWee is a relatively recent addition to the stable of devices that you can program with Tickle, but it’s a fun one! It has multiple sensors that let it interact with other dinorsaurs. You can program its movements, change colors, and play sounds. The MiPosaur is cheaper than a Sphero, and comes with BeaconSense infused track ball that can also be used to control the toy. Watch the video below for more idea on what this feisty dinosaur can really do, or learn more here.

Where Are The Drones?

If you have used Tickle before, you may be wondering where the information about the Parrot Drones are in this guide. Well, the short answer is that Tickle has withdrawn it’s support for Parrot devices. This may change in the future, but for now this is the current reality. Read more here.

If you DO want to program your Parrot drones in the classroom, you can still do it, you just can’t do it with Tickle right now. The Tynker app supports Parrot drones, as does Swift Playgrounds, thanks to a special integration from the Parrot Education team. You can find that at bit.ly/swift_drone.

Introducing The Edtech Gear Guide

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Today I am excited to announce the launch of a new website that I’ve been working on. It’s called The Edtech Gear Guide. It was created to help answer the emails, tweets and face-to-face questions I get about what technology hardware is best for a variety of classroom projects. Everyone wants free options to enhance teaching and learning with technology, I completely understand that, but there are some things are worth paying for to get the results you want. In essence, this is the mantra of The Edtech Gear Guide. If it can be done for free, here’s how to do it. Otherwise, here’s the gear you need.

So, what can you expect to find on this new site? Recently, I wrote a couple of posts that proved to be quite popular – What to Buy For a Green Screen Classroom and Build Your Own Google Expeditions Kit. These posts were a little different from others that I have written because they were basically a list of technology things that you could beg, borrow or buy to accomplish a task. I got some great feedback on these from educators who were looking for ideas and inspiration like this, so it got me thinking that there are many more topics that could be approached in this way.

I’m still in the process of adding new articles to The Edtech Gear Guide but I would love for you to drop by and take a look. Questions, comments and ideas are more than welcome, and if you like what you see I would love it if you would share this project with others.

You can visit The Edtech Gear Guide at https://edtechgearguide.com.

 

The Virtual Reality Classroom Guide

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Google Expeditions is a brand new VR experience that is available to schools who are interested in exploring virtual field trips as a way to enhance teaching and learning in the classroom. However, these things are expensive, so I wanted to take some more time to explore the possibility of building your own virtual reality kit for the classroom at a fraction of the price of a full retail set.

How Much Are Google Expedition Kits?

Currently, Google Expeditions kits are available for sale in the US from BestBuy Education. The kits are available in student bundles of 10, 20 or 30. Each kit comes with smartphones, Mattel View-Master headsets, device chargers, an Android tablet, a TP-Link router and a sturdy Pelican case. The bundle price for 10 students is $3,999, the kit for 20 students is $6,999, and the kit for 30 students is $9,999. However, there are some other options.

Option 1: Buy Your Own Smartphones

The Expeditions app is available for both Android and iOS. This means you could replace the smartphones with iPod Touches. Granted, the screen size is not as big, (4-inches vs. 5+ inches on the Expedition phones), but the price is right and the experience is very similar. A brand new 16Gb iPod Touch costs $200 direct from Apple. These devices can be managed with an MDM, (just like your iPads), they have access to a wealth of iPhone apps, and they also do double duty as some pretty capable digital cameras.

You can also choose from an increasingly large number of unlocked Android smartphones for under $200. These phones don’t need data plans because they will work perfectly well on Wi-Fi for an Expeditions kit. The first kits that Google released had Asus Zenfone smartphones in them, but other Android devices will work just as well.

Of course, you still need the VR headsets. The ones that BestBuy includes in the Expeditions classroom kits are the Mattel View-Master Virtual Reality headsets. These are a little more expensive than your typical Google Cardboard option, but they are sturdier so they will last longer. The standard View-Master Viewers retail for $18 or less. A Deluxe version is also available.

For the teacher’s tablet, you might opt to stay in the Apple Ecosystem and purchase an iPad to lead your Expedition. An iPad Mini 4 can be had for $350 or less right now, while an iPad Air 2 is around the same price. Alternatively, Asus make an affordable Android tablet for around $150.

So, let’s add this up. 30 iPod Touches/Android smartphones, 30 View-Master headsets and an iPad Mini 4 is around $6,880 versus the $9,999 you will be charged by BestBuy Education. Now, I realize this is not a like for like comparison. I am not factoring in the cost of the router, (you can use your school’s wi-fi instead), the Pelican case, (other storage options are available), or even the customer support from BestBuy, but it still gives a good idea of some of the savings you could make with a D.I.Y. Expeditions kit.

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Option 2: Use Free Smartphones

Free smartphones? Is there such a thing any more? Lots of us have old smartphones sitting around in a drawer at home. Many people like to keep them as a backup in case they drop, break or lose their current device, but others are just there because we didn’t know what else to do with them. So, what if you asked parents to donate old smartphones for the school to use as part of a Google Expeditions kit? Could that work?

It might. Most recent phones have the technology required to run the Expeditions app and to be able to work in a VR headset. However, you may want to check to see if this is within district policies in terms of electrical safety. The school I used to work at had devices checked by electricians on a yearly basis in order to comply with safety regulations, insurance requirements, and so forth. So, if you do decide to go down this road, check with school administrators first.

Another option, however, would be to have students use their own phones. This obviously raises an important question about equity, but even if you had enough devices for students to pair up, you could still get a very worthwhile experience. Of course, students would have to download the Expeditions app, and be able to connect to the school Wi-Fi, (not always an option for some schools). You would also still need a set of VR headsets like the Mattel View-Masters, and a teacher device to lead the tour, but 30 VR Headsets and an Android Tablet will cost around $700 and this is a significant saving.

Another way to get your hands on the smartphones you need would be to reach out to your local wireless carriers (Verizon, AT&T, US Cellular, etc.) to see if they have any refurbished or old model devices that they would be willing to donate to the school, or sell to you at a nominal cost. If you were able to secure any cell phones through these channels, it could be a great way to save a substantial amount of money on a DIY Expeditions kit for your classroom.

Option 3: Use the Devices You Already Use

If your school has a cart of iPads, or Android tablets, you could absolutely use those for Google Expedition tours at no additional cost. The app is free, and will work fine on many, if not all, of these kinds of devices. The downside is that these devices will not fit into a VR headset, so you won’t get as immersive experience. However, this means you don’t have to buy any VR headsets! Students will still be able to move the devices around in the air to explore a tour in a 360 degrees, just like they would with smartphones.

Beyond Expeditions: More VR Apps

So, are you using Expeditions at your school? Which option did you take and why?

The Green Screen Classroom Gear Guide

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Are you ready to do green screen in your classroom? This short guide walks you through the basics of what you need to buy, borrow, or build in order to do just that. You don’t need to spend a lot of money, (you might not need to spend any at all), but there are definitely a few essentials that you will want to have on hand in order to get the best results. So, here’s a rundown of some of the best green screen apps, tools and technology.

The Green Screen

You have some options here. Some are better than others, but a green screen is not as expensive as you might think, and that is one of the best things about using green screens in the classroom!

Green screen fabric. You can pick this up at your local fabric store if you want. The actual shade of green doesn’t matter all that much, (some people prefer blue), but you don’t want anything too light or bright. Take a look at this selection on Amazon to get an idea for colors. If you don’t live near a fabric store, or you aren’t sure what to pick, you can get a 6×9 foot backdrop online for less than $20. Need something bigger? Try this 10×10 foot alternative. Remember, extra sheets are good to have on hand, so consider getting more than one sheet if your budget allows it. Extra sheets are great for special effects.

Green screen paint is popular in many schools. You don’t have to worry about wrinkles or setting up and breaking down a kit. You just paint some wall space and you’re ready to go. You can get professional green screen paint, but it is not cheap. Household paint will work, but you need to make sure it is a really flat, matte paint in order to minimize reflections. Regardless of which you choose, be sure to paint a wall that has even lighting, and not something that is often in partial shade.

Low cost options. You know that poster paper you use to line your display boards? That also works for green screen. Just wallpaper a wall with it and you are good to go. For small scale projects, I have seen teachers paint the inside of pizza boxes or use  green tri-fold display boards as backgrounds for models and puppets.

Lighting

You may not need lights, depending on where your green screen is, but even lighting is important if you want to get the best results. Your goal is to avoid multiple shades of green that are caused by shadows and uneven lighting. So, if you can’t move your green screen, consider some lights to help you accomplish that task.

Studio lights. If you have the room for them, studio lights can be a great addition. They are rated in watts for the amount of light they produce. The higher the wattage, the brighter the light. Generally speaking you will need at least two studio lights, but a third one would be good to use as a fill light. A set of three lights can be had for less than $50, but if you think you need more power you could spend a little more.

Desk Lights also work well, especially if you are doing small scale work. They are lightweight, easy to move around, and you probably already have some that you can use. Consider a goose neck lamp for extra flexibility.

Personally, as far as lights go, I would see if you can manage without them. They are after all an additional trip hazard, and take a little extra time to set up correctly. That said, if you decide to get an all-in-one green screen kit that comes with fabric, a stand and lights, then you have nothing to lose by experimenting.

The All-in-One Green Screen Kit

If you are buying a green screen sheet, a stand, and maybe some lights, you will often be better off buying a kit. Why? It’s often cheaper than buying all the separate components. For instance, you can get a green screen and a stand for $50 or less, while a full kit with that includes a screen, stand and lights is not much more.

Some of these kits come with muslin clamps, others do not. These are useful to help hold the green screen in place and to stretch the fabric to lessen wrinkles that may reduce the overall effect. They are very inexpensive, but can make a big difference.

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Microphones

As with lighting, microphones fall into the optional category. Many digital cameras have on-board microphones that are more than adequate. However, if you are filming with a mobile device, or your students suddenly go quiet in front of the camera, a microphone is a good investment.

Many schools already have microphones for a PA system or similar. If you do, the iRig Pre is worth a look. You plug an XLR microphone into the iRig Pre and then connect the other end to the headphone jack on a mobile device. The microphone will now connect directly to the iPad and give you a much better audio track. If you don’t have any of those microphones at school, you could just opt for the iRig Mic. USB microphones like the Blue Snowball will also work with an iPad so long as you use Apple’s lightning to USB adapter.

Finally, if there are a number of wired lavelier mics that are compatible with iOS devices. If you are able to hide the wire under a shirt, and frame your shots from the waist up, this can be a great option too. The IK Multimedia iRig Mic Lav is an affordable option that can be configured for either one or two microphones. The Rode SmartLav+ is also highly rated.

Tripods & Mounts

Stability will greatly enhance your final product, so if you can mount your camera or mobile device on a tripod, you should. Video in particular, looks a lot more professional when you can avoid hand holding the recording device. So, here are a few ideas.

Tripods come in all kinds of shapes and sizes and you can really pay as much as you want for one of these things. For the most part you won’t need a professional grade carbon fiber tripod for your classroom, but you will want something that is sturdy,. reliable and cost effective. There are literally dozens to choose from, but there’s one for every budget. Things to look for include the maximum height, load weight, and a quick release mounting plate. If you already have a tripod, use that!

Tripod Mounts. Most digital cameras have tripod sockets built-in so you can mount them directly to the tripod. However, mobile devices like an iPad don’t have that luxury. So, you might look at something like a Makaya Movie Mount (available in different sizes depending on your iPad) or an iOgrapher to meet that need. The Padcaster series is perfect for this purpose, but it is kind of expensive. If you are looking for something more affordable, the iPow Universal iPad Tripod Mount might just fit the bill. It can be adjusted for different mobile devices and has proven to be very popular.

Green Screen Software

Once you have recorded your green screen footage, it’s time to make the magic happen! That only works with some dedicated software. The software will vary depending on what device you use, but here are some options  that cover most bases.

iPad apps: When using iPads for recording and editing green screen movies, my go-to app is always Green Screen by Doink. For me it has among the simplest interfaces and will more often than not yield the best results. If you are looking for a free option, try TouchCast Studio. It doesn’t do everything that DoInk does, mainly because green screen is just one of many video features in this app, but it will get you started. Veescope Live is another iOS green screen app.

Online: For Chromebooks, and any kind of online editing with a desktop computer, the best web-based green screen editor that I know of is WeVideo. Unfortunately, you can’t do chroma key effects in the free version, but it is available in the paid plans and works on Macs and PCs too. Speaking of which…

Mac & PC: Lots of options here, but most are paid solutions. iMovie comes free with all Macs and includes the ability to edit green screen footage. Camtasia is a popular screencasting tool that many educators love and one of its many features includes chroma key editing. Be sure to check out the education pricing for some great discounts. Screenflow is a similar tool that is only available to Mac users. Cyberlink PowerDirector is a full-featured video editor for PCs that works well with green screen footage. Adobe offers the well-respected Premiere Elements for both Mac and PC, and if you have access to the Adobe CC suite at school, you can also edit green screen with the professional grade Adobe Premiere app on Mac or PC. Apple’s Final Cut Pro X is another pro option for Mac users.

Further Reading

The Osmo Classroom Gear Guide

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The Osmo is an educational games system for iPads that has a somewhat unique hands-on approach to learning. Once you buy the base kit, there are a number of great apps and accessories that you can add to extend the functionality of your Osmo. It was designed for children aged 5-12, but some activities could be used with younger (or older) children. Although you do have to pay for some of the add-on packs, the apps for the iPad are free and this can make it a compelling option for the classroom. Here’s what you need to know.

Is the Osmo Educational?

There are dozens of new learning toys that are ideal for the home environment. However, not all of these products fit well with the curricular demands of the modern classroom. Osmo straddles both ecosystems with ease. In fact, according to their own statistics, Osmo kits are being used in over 22,000 schools in 42 different countries around the world.

To help meet this demand, Osmo created the Osmo Academy – a collection of lesson plans that are designed around curricular units that you could be teaching in Kindergarten through 6th grade. The lessons are grouped by topic and are a growing collection of the educational value that Osmo has for the classroom. Click here to download the Osmo Teacher Guide with how-tos, lessons, and more, or visit the Osmo Academy for more information and ideas.

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The Osmo Starter Kit

The Osmo Starter Kit includes the base Osmo stand (which works for all models of iPads except for the 12.9 inch iPad Pro), the Tangram pack and the Words pack. The Tangram game offers over 500 puzzles that are based around the ancient Chinese game that uses geometric shapes to build a variety of forms. The Words app is a spelling game similar to hangman, but with picture prompts. There are different levels of difficulty that you can set depending on the age of the student, as well as the ability to create your own word packs and use vocabulary and images that are directly related to the content you are teaching.

There are other Osmo apps that can also be used with the Starter Kit. These include Newton, a physics-based game that requires you to bounce a series of structures that you draw on paper. Masterpiece is a drawing app that lets you take a picture, search the web, or use one of the included gallery images to trace and color your drawing. It includes a neat time lapse function creates a video of your entire process. You can also use Monster, another drawing based app that lets young students draw objects that become part of an interactive digital story.

 

 

 

 

So, when you consider all that you can do with just the Starter Kit, the Osmo can be a compelling option for elementary classrooms. Here are some links that will get you started with the free iPad apps, as well as more information on the base kit.

Osmo Numbers

Numbers is one of the add-on packs that can be purchased to extend the functionality of the base kit. It has tiles, similar to the Words pack, and you use these to solve a variety of mathematical equations. The nice thing about Numbers is that there is no timer forcing kids to rush into making mistakes, and there is always more than one way to make the target number. It’s fun, engaging and easy to pick up and get started.

 

 

 

The Osmo Numbers game is sold as a separate pack that can be used with the Osmo Starter Kit. However, you can also get something called the Osmo Genius Kit. This is essentially the Starter Kit with the Numbers pack included so you get the Osmo base unit, Tangram, Words and Number packs. For some reason, it is sometimes cheaper to buy the kits separately on Amazon than it is to buy the all-in-one Genius Kit, but that may vary depending on sales and special offers so be sure to check before you buy.

Osmo Creative Set

Although you can use the Newton, Masterpiece and Monster apps with paper or a classroom whiteboard, the Osmo Creative Set does add an extra layer of durability and convenience. It includes a dry erase whiteboard, six liquid chalk markers, and a microfiber pencil case that doubles as an eraser. Technically, you don’t need the Creative Set to interact and use the Osmo drawing apps, but many people do decide to purchase this add-on because of the way it seamlessly integrates with the Starter and Genius kits.

Note that you don’t get the Osmo base or any additional packs with the creative kit. You won’t be able to use the Newton, Masterpiece and Monster apps without having purchased the base kit. The Osmo Creative Set is only the whiteboard, markers and pencil case.

 

 

Coding With Awbie

Whether you are doing the Hour of Code or just looking for ways to introduce more problem solving activities with your students, Osmo Coding can help. Traditionally, coding is an on-screen activity. Everything you do involves typing or clicking and dragging things on a screen. Osmo Coding uses physical blocks that students can arrange to guide a engaging character called Awbie around a forest maze. It is simple, intuitive and instantly rewarding.

Osmo Coding starts off easy with lots of prompts and help for students, and although the difficulty level increases the more you play, it never seems to overwhelm. Best of all, you are largely free to code with whatever blocks you want. The prompt may suggest one set of blocks, but if students see another way to achieve the same objective then they can use the blocks that they decide fits best.

 

So, if you already have the Osmo Starter or Genius kit, Osmo Coding is a great addition for promoting logic and problem solving skills in your classroom.

Osmo Coding Jam

The success of Osmo Coding has led to a second coding pack called Coding Jam. In this version, kids combine magnetic coding blocks to create musical compositions that they can share with others. There are a variety of musical genres that can be created and a collection of fun characters that will play your musical compositions for you on the iPad. Although the coding blocks from Coding with Awbie will work on the introductory levels, Osmo say that you will still need to purchase the Coding Jam kit in order to take full advantage of this new game due to the specialized coding blocks that are unique to Coding Jam. Learn more in the video below.

Osmo Pizza Co.

Another one of Osmo’s newer additions is the Osmo Pizza Co. game. This entrepreneurial app puts students in the role of a pizza store owner. Customers arrive at your store to buy a variety of weird and wonderful pizzas that you need to make, cook and sell. When the customer has finished their meal, they pay you and students work out the correct change that is required for each customer. The app includes a variety of difficulty levels that let you choose whether students handle change in bills only or with a variety of coins. Customer tips are included for increasing the difficulty level.

There are a number of great real world applications for the Osmo Pizza Co. game. Everything from running your own business to authentic math skills that are embedded in a realistic context. The ability to upgrade your pizza store with the money you earn is a nice addition too because it forces kids to think about how much extra they will need to earn in order to buy that new pizza oven or upgrade their flooring. Even the expressions that the customers display when you make their pizza is great for kids who are still learning to recognize and interpret emotions. So, there is a lot to like here.

Additional Osmo Kits

As new packs are added to the Osmo line-up, the number of ways in which they can be combined as multi-packs continues to evolve. So, here are a few additional options that you may want to explore in order to save money on bulk purchases.

  1. The Osmo Genius Kit – includes the Osmo base unit as well as Words, Tangram, and Numbers packs.
  2. The Osmo Wonder Kit – includes the Osmo base unit as well as Words, Tangram, Numbers and Coding packs.
  3. The Osmo Explorer Kit – includes the Osmo base unit as well as Words, Tangram, Numbers and Coding packs. The Explorer kit also includes the Osmo Creative Set and is currently only available from the Osmo website.
  4. Classroom Kit – includes 4 base units, 4 word packs, 4 Tangram packs, 4 Numbers packs, a plastic storage system, 2 teacher’s guides and a classroom poster. This currently retails for $399. Available from the Osmo website.
  5. Classroom Kit + Coding – includes 4 base units, 4 word packs, 4 Tangram packs, 4 Numbers packs, 4 Coding kits, a plastic storage system, 2 teacher’s guides and a classroom poster. This currently retails for $595. Available from the Osmo website.