Post-Its + iPad = Post-It Plus

Possibly a great bridge between the tradition (analogue?) world and the digital is the Post-It Plus app.

Take your traditional Post-It activity in class – what ever it is. Say, you have asked for a brainstorm of some sorts, perhaps on what the class already knows about a topic. So, everyone (or groups) write down some ideas, one per Post-It and then share them on the whiteboard for all to see.

Now get out the iPads. Open the app and create a new board.


Take a pic of the Post-Its, however they happen to be arranged. The app will identify what is what and then you can start having fun.


Now that you have this image of the Post-Its on your iPad (a single device in the class hooked into the projector or TV or perhaps a class set) students can start rearranging the notes into categories.


That is what Geographers do, right? Debate the different grouping options, organise an argument for and against a question to help formulate an evaluation … really what ever you want.

Now export / share. Beautiful!

Is social media planning my lessons?

It’s now happens on a fairly regular basis. A look through a twitter timeline and out pops a useful comment, link or image. The next thing, I am referring to it in a lesson.

Is this bad planning or opportunistic luck or is this a new wave of that takes the famous 5 minute lesson plan to new levels of speed?

Of course, this is all a bit sensationalist. I am not going to claim twitter as the source of all my information, which should be a relief not only to my employers but also to my students. However, following the right people will give a lot of very interesting and relevant information.

From usbstickto iTunesU

So, why is this a big deal? Over the last couple of years, I have moved all my teaching resources over to digital format. To be fair, this didn’t take much effort as it was pretty much all digital anyway but it was scattered over the usual pile of USB sticks, hard drives an, inevitable the store of all information – the computer desktop. The point is that now this information is all shareable with colleagues and with students using Google Apps for Education.

iTunes U has also been a great asset, especially for structured revision materials with some of the older classes (IB Diploma) and as a framework for resources and activities for my year 9 (8th grade) class.

This is where twitter has been a winner. To be more precise, it is not twitter that is the key, it is rather having a source of real-time information that can easily be placed into a lesson, popped onto the screen in the classroom, placed into student folders for access and discussion.

Because the rest of the lesson is resourced without need for passing around handouts or waiting around at the photocopier it is now practical to slot in other materials for productive use. The added bonus of twitter (which is happening increasingly more frequently) is that it is possible to have a quick discussion online with the person who sourced the information, posted the image or made the comment.

Two examples of live information – one from email and another from twitter.

1. Class were using the iTunes U course  which includes some photographic analysis of development issues. Knowing a contact in Hong Kong, I dropped a quick email and was delighted to receive a swift reply which included a photograph from his office window.


This was included in the lesson discussion – so much more powerful to say “this is what is happening now” compared to “these are some images I have found”.

2.  Spotted an article on twitter feed from @jonesy2008Depictions of Architectural Density in Hong Kong” with a link to

original source, Michael Wolf:
original source, Michael Wolf:

This produced some great images that could be used in discussion of quality of life in parts of China (my Year 9 class is currently studying development transformations in China in their geography lessons). Students focused on considering what it must feel like to live in these sorts of locations – what emotions would be affected by development like this that is so alien to their own environment. This would have been much harder without the resource. It all contributed to a Padlet discussion board, constructed by the students live in the class with their iPads.


What does this all mean?

  1. Well-curated resources allow the seamless integration of other materials without disrupting the flow of the lesson.
  2. Overplanned lessons are unhelpful. Working to a pre-determined script is going to stifle genuine investigation and learning.
  3. Real-time information may well have a higher impact – it speaks to the the reality of the here and now. Twitter is a great way to get to this information, providing you are following some good people!
  4. The journey is more important than the destination. The process of learning and discovery is what will stand the test of time, well beyond the specific knowledge content of the lesson. This doesn’t mean that knowledge is unimportant.
  5. Showing that teacher is a learner in the discovery of new information is really important. Bringing in the new resource of being able to respond to the question with an imaginative range of resources is what we want of our students so we need to model this as teachers as well.

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

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.

meandering through learning – digital, international, academic, creative


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