Four hours of learning with my iPad

Friday 3 October 2014, Cambridge UK.

7.00am Check BBC News app and Twitter feed. Teaching geography to year 9 at 9am and the subject is ‘world development’. If I can’t make this relevant and current to their lives there is something wrong. Political unrest continues in Hong Kong. We’ve already referred to it in previous lessons.

occupy2occupy1Spot an entry at the top of my Twitter timeline from @ThatIanGilbert who I know is an educator living in Hong Kong. It follows on from an image of the protesters’ recycling scheme which caught my eye the other day.

Fire off a quick email to business contact working in the Hong Kong financial markets to see what his opinion is.

There’s a reply from Hong Kong by 8.11am

From SkitchEmail reads: ‘Apart from a few roads blocked (although also less cars on the road) it’s really business as usual in Central. ironically it is other areas such as Causeway Bay, Mong Kok and TST that are being more affected and as these are shopping areas the local shops and taxi drivers are starting to get very annoyed with the protesters. I give it the weekend before it dies out as they are already fighting amongst each other and there is zero chance the Central Government giving in (people forget it is not a Hong Kong decision).’

This contrasts nicely with the Ian Gilbert blog post. I tweet to Ian Gilbert and we have an impromptu dialogue about the situation. I am now ready for my starter with year 9.

World Development - iTunes U course
World Development – iTunes U course

9am Lesson topic is ‘why is the world so unevenly developed?’. I have my iTunes U course ready with resources so I am not worried about the direction that the lesson might take. My starter is to ask the class about what they know about the HK protests and to discuss how political systems (democracy / dictatorship) might have an impact on development. I read the email to them. Class love the images from the blog – I could be air playing these via reflector but it is actually easier to plug and play with the wires.

Finding out that the leader of the protests is only 3 years older that them and seeing how the students are protestIn from the blog and images gives an unexpected and contrasting start to their engagement in the lesson. Not 100% sure how much students really understand the nature of the political system or the full details of the extent to which political structures might have an impact on development but then the main thing is that we are learning about a real and relevant issue. Certainly, there is an understanding that life in other parts of the world is very different to here in Cambridge.

We collate our checklist of factors affecting levels of development and divide them into human and physical issues. Most students prefer to use pen and paper for this. A few are working on iPads and will add their file to their GoogleDrive folder into which I am shared so I can see what they have done. I don’t want to encourage them to do everything on the iPad – it’s just not necessary.

9.40am One student suggests, correctly, that living in an extreme environment could have an impact on levels of development. She suggests that cold environments might be especially difficult. We discuss for a bit but, as a class, we struggle to grasp the challenges of these locations. Fortunately, I know that I have a playlist on my YouTube channel which includes a link to a video about life in Oymyakon, Siberia – the coldest permanently inhabited place on Earth. It’s only 7 mins of video but brings home the realities of life below -55 degrees Celsius in a way I can’t do with words or static images. One student asks the obvious question, “so why do they live there?” which leads us back to location of natural resources but also the politics of the trans Siberian express and locations of gulags. “So, politics does have an impact on development after all”, comments another student.

My YouTube channel only has 3 subscribers so I suffer an amusing loss of credibility with the class! I explain that it is simply my digital video storage ‘dump’ and I’m not bothered by subscribers or views. Don’t think they are convinced! Perhaps they won’t need to use YouTube as part of their digital portfolio storage as Google have just announced unlimited free storage is coming on Google Apps for Education?

Planning with the iTunes U course
Planning with the iTunes U course

Quick consolidation gaming exercise direct from a weblink in the iTunes U course. Students link ideas associated with causes of development. Worked well for 4 mins (all that was needed really) until one student works out she can beat the system by piling all the items on top of each other, thus clearing the board in world-record time! Must reconsider this link in my iTunes U course. At least it will be easy to adjust. Still, everyone seemed to have fun beating the system and the learning has been achieved anyway.

Notability_for_iPhone__iPod_touch__and_iPad_on_the_iTunes_App_Store10.00am Back to the iTunes U course for a diagram showing the poverty cycle. We save the image direct to the camera roll and add it to a new page in the Notability app to annotate with some thoughts. Notability file is exported to GoogleDrive folder and class make a note of the inclusion on their books so they remember where it is.

Homework is already set as a two week task on ‘the meaning of development’ – instructions are on a Pages file in the iTunes U course. They’ll be using a Pages template (I recommended ‘simple newsletter’) which will allow the simple inclusion of diagrams and images (gathered during previous lessons and now on their camera rolls) without spending time adjusting the layout. The layout compels the students to refer directly to the images that they include. More time spent on learning, less on fiddling around with technology. Win, win.

IMG_067210.20am Off to prepare for senior school open day. Checking a couple of additions that we have placed onto our Stephen Perse Foundation app and trying out the iBeacons which we have placed around our site. Pleased to be able to include two great items of geography work from last year’s class – so easy to re-present work when it is held digitally. Try this one on the topic of migration (the skill learnt is communication).

11.00am Help to put up some posters in the science staircase area – difficult to get them exactly straight. Downloaded a spirit level app. I wasn’t expecting to use technology to help with that today!

Some final thoughts

  1. A lot of this would have been much more difficult pre iPad. Real-time information in my lesson has become increasingly important to me as a teacher. I can respond much more quickly with the iPad.
  2. iTunes U is beautiful. Such an easy curation of resources for the lesson. Frees me up to teach.
  3. It wasn’t all perfect, but then that’s life! We all learnt something.
  4. Not all the work was digital – it doesn’t need to be
  5. Digital content is becoming a critical key to presenting the learning life of schools – great for the student, amazing for the teacher and brilliant for the school’s publicity and communications.


Learning about communication

A final fanfare for the wonderful year 9S geography group of 2013-2014 has produced some great results. Following a course of ‘world development’ all year, student has been on a journey from general concepts through to specific examples. We ended up in the USA, examining a few important issues such as whether development posed environmental difficulties related to water supply in the arid western areas around Phoenix and the issues of international migration into the USA from Central America.

The idea behind this final piece was to present some findings from their research. Probably too often teachers present students with a task to do. A step on from this is to give them a choice, a graduated menu, from which to choose. As a final piece in the year, and as preparation for the notion of research and fieldwork investigation in subsequent years, students completed a proposal form to outline their own task. In this case, work was then going to be marked according to the extent to which the students met their own objectives (assuming, of course, that they were ambitious and academically demanding enough – and they were!).

One option that we discussed was to use the Adobe Voice app to capture and guide their ideas. It’s a great tool for learning because the app itself is designed to support the idea of communication of a message.

Students record their own voice and match it to images from a databank of ones provided or select something from their camera roll on the iPad. Brevity is encouraged and a tightly shaped argument evolves, supported by the structure which Voice recommends (unless students wish to make their own choices).

Students therefore had to think carefully about their message and their target audience – exactly the skills that are necessary in any communications and marketing campaign. Learning some great geography therefore, one more, had a secondary and important focus on equipping students for their next steps in education but also for the world beyond school.

Once more, the students rose to the challenge, thought carefully about the materials available to them, their core idea and how to communicate it. Technology simply helped them to realise their vision and was a support to their learning.

So, two examples here. First (at the top) from Mila, Eloise, Olivia and Hermione uses Adobe Voice. The app is very good at giving prompts for how to cover the salient parts of a message, although do note that the sharing options on the app are very limited, so these are grabbed through screencast.

The second is from Niah and Immy and shows what can be achieved if you incorporate your own video editing.

Find out more about how to use iPads in Geography classes

EE image

Explain Everything: the ultimate app in any classroom?

There has been so much written about Explain Everything that there is absolutely no need to write an extra blog, which is fantastic! A quick view of Dan Edwards’ site will give you an instant flavour of how important this app could be in your classroom.

Video is from Learning Technology at Ohio State

Explain Everything in the geography classroom

  1. Don’t just annotate a fieldsketch, talk about it as well. Yes, you can do this in Notability but you are not going to get an MP4 file out of it that you can pop onto your YouTube account as an unlisted link with Notability. You are with Explain Everything. Much more versatile and better for longer term storage.
  2. Use a template map and talk information onto it. How often do students refer to different places in the world but not really know where they are or how they fit into a bigger picture? This example is plotting the ‘made in’ locations for a piece of work about ‘My Globalised Home’.  
  3. Compare and contrast two images on the screen at the same time. It’s so simple to do and students can talk their way through their explanations as well as adding written text.
  4. The student that just won’t or can’t write enough to access higher marks? Get them to do an Explain Everything video to add to their work. Show them that they can unlock their own learning!
  5. Role-play write ups. I am fairly traditional in that ‘pretend you are a farmer in Mongolia, tell me what your life is like’ sounds pretty improbable if you live somewhere like rural England! However, there is a bit more of a chance  if some multimedia can be embedded into the work. There is a point in getting students to empathise with issues in far distant places. Adding some images and perhaps a video from YouTube as well might just help.
  6. What taking an existing video from YouTube and overdubbing a new voiceover? You could do that in iMovie by adding your own audio file, but with Explain Everything you could combine written notes on the side in your final video output.
  7. Go over exam scripts in class question by question? Never again. What is the point of boring students telling them how to get the marks that they already know about? You need individual advice so do some screencasts of each question and direct the students to look up the ones that they need. Then spend your (saved) time helping students one to one or in small groups. Win, win.

May be your finished product could be displayed as a QR code or as Augmented Reality so the whole class can view it?

See a finished example project using a mix of Explain Everything, iMovie, Tellagami and another app or two.


The Geographer’s Notepad – Notability

Notability is one of the most commonly used note-taking apps and one of the best. Taking typed or handwritten notes on-screen and wight he ability to insert images or pdf documents.

This is the geographer’s dream because there is instantly a seamless continuum between materials gathered online, diagrammatic work and written (or typed) notes. Finally everything can be integrated and everything is flexible.

Voice recording can be added in the app if so wished and it can all be backed up on cloud storage (automatically) so there is no fear of losing the work if the iPad is mislaid or damaged – GoogleDrive, Dropbox, Box or Webdav. Or you can email out in PDF format or as RTF or Note (Notability’s own format)

  • Think diagram work
  • Think fieldsketches
  • Think annotated photographs
Annotations plus a 'post-it' note and a screenshot of a relevant website to prompt revision.
Annotations plus a ‘post-it’ note and a screenshot of a relevant website to prompt revision.

In class, a lot of students incorporate their own photographs taken of the whiteboard or of their rough notes. This becomes ideal for carrying on the class discussion in homework as all the notes from the day can be pulled out of the iPad’s camera roll.

I am finding that it help students to be more involved in class, encouraging them to write their ideas onto the whiteboard. Ideally, this might be in from our innovation room where every wall is covered in whiteboard ‘paint’. The whole class get get involved, then take photographs of their work and of the work of other groups. Slotting these into Notability can be a great way forward.

Also consider how this could be incorporated into fieldwork. May be use a 360 panorama app as well?


Collation using Flipboard

You know that you have something special going on in your geography classroom when the students are more aware of what is happening in the world – they are actually following some news items!

Social media might be a way forward for them but you might have some concerns about encouraging your students in this direction too soon. Yes, they could be following some key feeds relevant to geography on twitter but there is another way forward.

Flipboard allows the teacher to compile a set of information from the internet – it could be from anywhere but I like to use news feeds for most of the time. Sharing the Flipboard with the students is as simple as giving them a hyperlink. They don’t have to join Flipboard. They can then view the content on their internet browser in this attractive format, or open in the app if they have an account.

If this works well for you and you feel able to get the students to get involved creating a Flipboard you can invite them to contribute to something that you have set up (they will need their own account to do this).

Here is an example Flipboard for a unit on USA geography

The class can thus draw up their own set of resources and you can guide them to the source areas. Each item that is ‘flipped’ into the board can have a comment added. This is easily long enough for a student to convey some context or to answer a short question posed by the teacher or by another member of the class.

Co-resourcing your lessons with your students. A very powerful way to promote learning.

If you are thinking about using twitter, follow this link.

meandering through learning – digital, international, academic, creative


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