The Power of Pictures

We have all heard the saying that a picture speaks louder than a hundred words. We all know that a good picture is a lot more effective than trying to articulate the same in words. And with the new generation it could be a combination of pictures or a video. Show a group of people no matter what the age group, a good video and see everyone mersmerized. It is a sure shot way of calling everyone to attention whether in the classroom or otherwise.

The power of the iPad is immense for this very reason. Not just viewing videos, but because the moment can be captured through pictures or videos. One of the first lessons to do with the students is to show the power of the camera. It just so happens that I have been doing photography with a manual camera at the time since I was ten years old because my father was a professional photographer.

However, even if you haven’t learned the nuances of photography, it is important to learn some basics such as the rule of thirds including composition, correct light, zoom and focus. While giving students the iPads and having them take pictures, it is important to show them the right techniques to hold the iPad, showing the camera location, their object of focus. Do small mini-lessons adding the other concepts (zooming, lighting and the rule of a third). Not only is this a lifetime skill, students are going to use this effectively for a myriad of tasks throughout their educational lives. Cameras on devices will just keep getting better and children at a young age will realize the differences and the uses (just last week I asked the fifth graders what the difference was between having 1:1 iPads in fourth grade versus fifth and their first response was well, the camera last year was much better because they had iPad Airs while they have iPads 2 this year. They could tell the difference in resolution which lead to our next lesson).

Media by itself is great. However, media can be used for further projects, such as in apps like Explain Everything and Book Creator, in coding apps (one of the students’ favorite things is to take their selfies on Scratch). It can be used to share with parents what they have been learning in the course of a school day or week or month. It can be used to work on verbal skills, on vocabulary, on building more language, on deeper thinking and understanding, on improvising models and designs, on remembering, reteaching and reflecting on concepts, on capturing precious memories, those worth storing and so much more. Even the act of taking the pictures facilitates implanting that image in the brain. So when a teacher were to reteach or return to a subject, students have a better chance at remembering. It is also used to teach digital etiquette. When the media items at our site our uploaded on Schoology, the district’s LMS and a secure medium for the media, students comment on each others’ uploads, which leads to respectful online expected behaviors, and more.

When a student brings an iPad home, or if you wanted students to create a reflection of the week whether in the classroom or otherwise, it would be a matter of just stringing those memories together and adding language. Students feel empowered because they have control over their memories. It is one of the most rewarding things to see those lessons coming back to you, when even first grade students come and check in with an adult “Could I please take a picture of….” ? You know they have got it!

Simple, yet one of the most powerful features of having their own device. Use it over and over and over….. in every situation. Happy clicking!

What’s the Good Word for 1:1?

With a semester of the 2015-16 school year over, I asked the teachers last week for their one or more favorite things about having a 1:1 iPad program for their students. Here are the quotes from various teachers between grades 1 through 5:

“I like that all students can be engaged at the same time and held accountable for their participation and learning. ”

“In my opinion, 1 to 1 iPads allows the teacher to assess the students.  Secondly the students get a variety of choices to work with when they have their own iPad that is loaded with Apps that we teachers want them to use. Third it builds accountability and responsibility.  Fourth learning is more enjoyable. For example students do programming without knowing that they are building logic skills. ”

“Making book creators for their Ohlone Reports, Day 1, and iMovie!”

“They are able to solve problems – find answers to their questions. Explain their understanding of concepts in several different ways. Be creative in many ways. Quick access to games that supplement classroom learning. Of course, constant access to Schoology, coding, Google Drive and camera is empowering. In addition to all the above, students are learning and practicing digital citizenship and caring for materials. ”

“The iPad is a huge resource for upper grades in doing research. It is a great tool for quick answers (dictionary, basic facts…). It is also valuable for documenting work using apps, camera, video, pages, Google.”

“Google translate, epic, RAZ.Some Schoology and some brain pop”

“I appreciate having 1:1 iPads because it helps differentiate instruction for students.”

“I like: that each student has access to an information, communication, and creation tool and That it can be used at home to still do school activities – I just had a post and a private message on Schoology about homework assignments”

Hurrah to the teachers for jumping in and utilizing tools effectively. I was listening to an Alan November keynote recently. One of the factors he emphasized on and which several of us are aware of, is the fact that students need to be able to self-assess. In several of the cases above, the self-assessment is built in with the way they are being utilized.

For many of these teachers it is their first year of implementing the 1:1 program. It can only get better each year!

CS Ed Week, 1:1 iPads, Schoology Discussions & Persuasion

For the last three years, the Hour of Code during #CSEdWeek has been a great impetus to push down resources/coding/kick start computer science in classrooms, especially when there isn’t a formal program in place. Last year during this time, I wrote about Computer Science week and a Makerspace.

This year, there was the added factor of 1:1 iPads. Now even though, the combination of iPads and the resources have come a long way, the high end user computer programming applications don’t quite work the way we might want them to. Some of the programs work well on an iPad browser for the most part but not completely. Several apps have been introduced in the last three years and the programming landscape for the K-3 grade age group has dramatically changed the last two years. Click here to get the website for the Barron Park Computer Science education week.

Given this aspect, the primary grades were able to work on age appropriate apps on their iPads. Also, the types and numbers of robots are varied and have altered the landscape of tangible computing for children with instant feedback. Robots not only enable students to get more engaged, motivated and bring programming to life, they are great for teamwork, constructive conversations and a wider range of thinking skills.

Here are a few ways in which the 1:1 iPad situation helped during coding.

  1. The directions, resources, step by step instructions were all uploaded onto Schoology for all grades from 2 through 5. The students were using a partner iPad or computer for coding while their directions were open on their iPad for them to work through.
  2. Like several other activities, students are reflecting through Schoology discussions at the end of their lessons. One such reflection for 4th graders was to respond to the following:

“Please answer the following using complete sentences.  Do you think Computer Science should be taught in school alongside reading, writing, math and science?  Support your answer with at least one detail.  Try to push your thinking with phrases like, “Another example is…,” or “The reason I say this is…””

Following are some of the responses. Need justification to introduce CS to your schools? Just go along with the following from the fourth graders:

“Yes, I think that coding should be taught in school now days, because the information sector of the economy has been booming.”

“Another reason to teach kids to code regularly is that any child can play a game, but teach the child to code, and they will not just play a video game, but they will make video games. Then they will not just make video games, but they will make the software of the future.”

“think that kids should be taught with computer science because It’s fun, and you learn something.”

“I think coding should be taught like everything else because it makes you learn like other stuff. Coding can also help you’re job in the future because you may choose to program computers for your job.”

“I do think that computer science should be taught at school because in the future people will be using computers a lot more. So I think it would be good to know how to use them. And it would be Even better to know how to code on them because you could get a lot of possible jobs that way in the future if you know how to code.”

“I think computer science should be at every school because it’s good for kids to learn how to do things on computer and IPads when the are young so they can do things on the iPads and computers in the future”

“I also think that coding is important because without coding, almost all of these electronics wouldn’t have existed.”

“I think computer science should be taught because it lets kids experience programming and play around with computers and robots. Learning to program is good, because in the future, you might make a new type of computer and you will have to program it! Another example is if you make or buy a robot that you have to program. Also, your computer might somehow get messed up and if you know computer science, you might know what’s wrong with it. This is why I think kids should be taught computer science!”

“Another reason to teach coding in class is that coding might be able to help with math skills by sharpening logical skills, and if you are curious about how this happens, consider this. To code is to write something that a computer can read or understand in some way. You must use logic skills to figure out how to code your idea, which improves them.”

And probably the most profound statement of them all…

“To add on, coding is a skill that unfortunately, many kids are not educated in coding. I believe that in the future there will be an even bigger gap in economic success that separates the people who can’t code from those who can, giving a tremendous economic advantage to those who can code”

Happy CS Ed Week all!

P.E., iPads & Schoology

One of the aspects I really like about the Barron Park Maker Studio is that several people come by and use it as a work room. What that means is that when I am around in the room, we get to interact and really collaborate. On one such occasion two weeks ago, the P.E. teacher for our site, Selena R., saw that students had their own iPads. So she asked a very natural question – Why do students have their own iPads? What do they do with them?

Very honestly, if I were not a parent in the field of education, I would have been as clueless. My knowledge would have been confined to the game apps on the iPad. I gave her a few examples and then we talked about how they could be used effectively in P.E.. She liked the idea so much that last week she said to me she was going to implement the push up lesson with 4th and 5th graders using iPads the following week on doing push ups.

She thought about the lesson details (it involved taking pictures of the right and wrong positions for push ups), created an album on her Schoology course for students to upload their push up pictures and comment on as to which ones were wrong and why. She emailed the teachers before hand to let them know that she would like the students to bring their iPads for that day’s lesson.

The Lesson:

  1. Students walked in with their iPads and had to place them away while Selena reviewed with them what they had previously done (pullups) with the muscle groups used, crunches and had them stretch their upper body (it so happened that it was a rainy day and the students were indoors. Given that we haven’t had rainy days in a long time, this was welcome. Also, because of that and the fact that other classrooms hadn’t reserved the Maker Studio until lunch, I was able to observe a couple of the lessons when I happened to be around).

2.  She then went on to draw the various pushup postures – what is a right posture and what are wrong postures (sagging horse and mountain peak). She also had pictures for reference that she handed out as they paired up.

Pictures for reference

Pictures for reference

3. She had them pair up. Informed them about the pictures they would take of each other with their iPads, pictures of each other doing the right way of push ups once, the wrong postures (not doing pushups).

4. She instructed them on where the pictures were to be uploaded and what the labelling should look like informing them that they had two days to complete the assignment.



5. Not only did the students happily go through the various postures working on taking each other’s pictures well, the pictures are now documented with appropriate captions. The picture albums are there for the students to review, not just in the P.E. class but also in their classrooms if the classroom teachers were to use this for various other discussions as also later in the year for reteaching.

30-09-2015 - 11 30-09-2015 - 16

Kudos to Selena for trying out something different and to the students for being on task and engaged! True cross-curricular integration of education technology.

On another note, this lesson can be done with a small set of iPads as well. It doesn’t have to be 1:1.

The Brilliant Bees: iOS, Elections and the Logo

About a month into the work of the Brilliant Bees, we decided to close all calls for logos and voted for the group Logo (students had designed the logos on their iPads). Following is the winning entry:



The students were super excited about this and then asked if they could have T-shirts. We then voted for the color of the Tshirt. My homework is now to organize the printing and funding of the Tees.

iOS 9 was released last week. I decided that this week the assignment would comprise reading up about iOS 9. Following was their assignment:


Please read two materials from any one of the following sources  on iOS9 and respond to the discussion on your thoughts regarding the same. While reading, think about the questions and use these in your discussion responses.

1. What is iOS?

2. What are at least two features you like and what is something that is a problem with iOS9?

3. What would you do if you had to contribute to features in the next iOS release?

Pick any two sources to read from the following:


Not only was this an excellent discussion but this lead to students wanting to know more about other interesting websites and resources. So I now have a folder with all of these uploaded on their course in Schoology.

As a result the students have, unknowingly, started with non-fiction reading in an area that they can connect to really well and are learning the why of the devices they are using.

Our IT department will test out the iOS from their perspective in to give us the go-ahead to update to 9 in the context of school. In the meantime, the Brilliant Bees get to update their iPads as testers for the district, not just the school. They are obviously super-thrilled. The moment I said they had the privilege of updating it, they hit the update button!

However, having shown a great deal of responsibility this past month, and having had the second year of 1:1, I told them they had permission to supervise usage of the iPad with the younger students when they saw them in terms of appropriateness, not just themselves.

This week, the Brilliant Bees had another fun and responsible activity they were placed in charge of. Yesterday, we had Student Government Elections on our campus.

The Setup for Elections

The Setup for Elections

Voting was all electronic (a Google Form). We had decided to use the Maker Studio as the venue so that we could use all available computers and maintain shorter lines (all voting is done at lunch). Net result: The Brilliant Bees managed the computer setup, guiding the younger students through the voting, managed the lines, gave out the I voted stickers and helped clean up, all very quietly, responsibly and in a really mature way. It was amazing! As a reward, I gave them each a memory stick (one of the staff members had a whole bunch that her husband had received as freebies. They come nicely packaged in a box).

Students voting.

Students voting.

The students were not expecting anything so they felt all the more rewarded.

I only wish we had more time to do more….

Sharing iPad Creations: First Grade

Whether an iPad is shared or assigned individually, it would be a shame if the student work didn’t find a place to be shared with an authentic audience. Not only do students love that but it can be invaluable in the reflection/review/reteaching cycle. See iPad workflow below:

iPad Workflow

iPad Workflow

In a 1:1 situation, this sharing is all the more critical as the student work is a great deal, no matter what the grade level. Also, given that a picture speaks more than words, and taking of pictures and videos forms a large component of a daily learning curve in a 1:1, all those media items need to be stored in a secure, shareable medium.

Like in any problem solving situation, and in a math solving situation, if a student is just given the formula or steps, what percentage of the students will truly try to understand or conceptualize the problem at hand? So it is with any given situation. So, if I were to teach students steps to share media items, how would they understand anything unless they understood the big picture? And how can this be conveyed to first graders, all of six years old and how can one find a connection so that students truly understand what they are doing and why? And how can one minimize the clicks and the steps within the given systems and user interfaces?

Keeping all the above factors in mind, I was brainstorming the lesson with the first grade teachers today. The result was highly rewarding. Following is what we did. With four adults in the room, and with every student engaged and having “got it”, I must say we all left feeling a sense of accomplishment:

  1. We use Schoology, the district-adopted LMS, which is a secure medium, where students can create portfolios and which has a really robust app to use on iOS devices.
  2. In each of the homeroom courses, we thought of the easiest way that students could upload their creations through the year. The least cumbersome for the students, we decided, was to create a media album for each student in the class. So we created a media album with the student name in each course.This was ready to go before the lesson.
  3. Students have taken a variety of photos and videos (including reading videos) in the past month that school started.
  4. The iPads had been logged in for each student. See a previous blog post. The iPads stay logged in for each of the students throughout the year. At some point in the course of the year, when the students are developmentally more ready, we will teach them the process of logging into the system.
  5. Connection: This is election week at our school where the entire student body votes for their Student Government. The student candidates had delivered outdoor speeches last week which the entire school had attended. Based upon pictures from that session, I had created a trailer that I had uploaded to Schoology for all students to see so that we could publicize the election event. I started the session by showing the students the movie trailer. They were immediately hooked.
  6. We then talked about how I had created the trailer on my iPad and how I didn’t have my iPad with me, but was showing them the same through a completely different computer on the SMART Board. It was interesting to hear the various answers from them all. A few of them talked about a wire connecting my iPad to the computer, they mentioned the words upload – very good thinking on their part. I then showed the screen and asked them to see what system we were on, etc. A few of them guessed that the movie was on Schoology, not quite knowing what the system is, but knowing that the app resides on their iPad and that the system was playing the movie. This then lead to the discussion on how they could also upload their creations so that their parents could view them.
  7. The first part of this was really hard. Guiding them through the navigation steps, with Reflector suddenly crashing and holding up an iPad, having 44 first graders following along. However, within minutes everyone had uploaded at least one media item (several asked if they could upload a video instead of a picture). Phew!
  8. Once this first upload was done, we reviewed the steps, reminding them how many times they needed to check the green check mark. I then told the students that they could upload 2-3 more media items but they were to help each other and could not ask any of the adults. They absolutely did it.
  9. When the students were all satisfied with all their uploads, we did another review round on the navigation steps, again showing with our fingers how many times they would check the green check mark.
  10. With this big hurdle completed, we can now look to a few weeks down the road when we teach the students how to caption photos, how to comment, and more. Lots of digital citizenship and learning in a secure medium while completing the iPad workflow cycle and with several satisfied producers and consumers.

More on Typing

About ten days ago, I wrote about teaching typing:

The main point I was trying to drive at is that with students (no matter what the age, even adults), when you do something once and don’t do it for a long time, it is hard to recollect and the point is lost unless it is practiced regularly, which is when it truly sticks. Like the whole process of logging in. If we teach students how to login and logout: the first time, it feels like this is so hard. Then it is a little easier and it keeps getting better. It reminds me of the 10,000 hour analogy from Malcolm Gladwell’s book: The Outliers. The more one does something, the better one gets at it or is expected to since one must make it a habit to learn from one’s mistakes and teach students accordingly.

The third grade students are now into day #7 of their typing. The first week we had parents come and help start up the computers. We figured that it would save us some time. On the first day, with several new students, with the confusion over upper and lower case, zeroes and the letter “o”, by the time the first class left, we were just glad that most of them had logged in. I had logged help desks for those whose accounts were not activated. So they temporarily used Dance Mat Typing.

On Day 2, the logging in was pretty independent other than new student accounts.  I was only there to check in. On Day 3, everyone’s accounts were set up and fine. They really didn’t need me at all. The teachers then said to me – they now get why we must do this every day for a period of time. If they had called it quits at the end of day one, we would never have reached this point. On Day 4, when I saw the independence levels with everyone, I asked the students if it was alright that we stopped asking the parents to come in, that they would be responsible for bringing out their computers and getting started and they were like “YES”.

So in week 2, the students have come in, got out their computers, logged in successfully, started typing, all on their own. The only reminder they need at the start is that this is completely independent work and that they will be administered a test at the end of next week to see how quickly then can write a paragraph. Now, that test is something I just made up in order to get the students focused on the task at hand. However, they all seem highly motivated and are working hard towards it. More updates when we see how the typing has truly facilitated their work.

To Teach/Learn Typing or Not To And at What Stage?

Just as handwriting was and is an essential skill for everyone to learn and for teachers to teach starting from a developmentally appropriate age, so now is typing or keyboarding essential as so much work gets done on digital devices. With devices used in the classroom for writing, what is an appropriate age for students to learn and teachers to teach typing? What is a good program? What age is considered developmentally appropriate? What about iPads and typing? Is the skill truly an essential one? These and many more questions are asked about typing each day by educators and parents alike. With the Smarter Balanced Testing being introduced where students must type essays starting from third grade, these questions have become even more frequent and opinions can be strong and vary. Also, with the testing starting in third grade, should typing begin there or an earlier age?

I am no expert on this and whatever I state here is solely my opinion based upon what I have experienced with students and what I see coming down the road with technology, not on behalf of the school or district.

In Palo Alto Unified School District, we use a program called TTL4, which tracks students by grade level, ability and has game-like but rigorous steps to pass from one level to another. Students can be bumped up levels by an admin of the program. It can be tedious but extremely useful when done effectively. However, it is available only on a computer and not on iPads. WIth the 1:1 iPad program, I am still trying to figure out if I should look at some typing apps. At the end of the day, students need to know the location of the letters/numbers/characters, irrespective of the device.

Developmentally, the first graders don’t have the hand span required for typing across a computer keyboard. Some of them are learning to recognize letters. Also, we teach them to capitalize the first letter and put the rest in lower case. So it can be confusing for them to see all the uppercase letters on a Mac keyboard. While typing this, I am trying out a Chromebook for the first time seriously and am pleasantly surprised to see the lowercase i and l, both of which are super confusing to the little ones on most keyboard.

Students really learn hand-eye coordination, quick letter recognition, left and right hand coordination, and of course, self-confidence. Even those who struggle with fine motor skills can achieve levels with the typing programs. And that in turn translates to better writing skills in general: lots of reasons why students prefer typing to writing eventually.

When it comes to iPads, students have to be able to translate the big keyboards to the iPad native keyboard, which is really hard for first and several second graders to do. It is important though that students start with typing their names as early as kindergarten. What I have seen is that students are highly motivated to do so because who isn’t proud of writing their name on a piece of work they have produced? Plus, it motivates them to look for the letters, the position of the letters and a sense of achievement of having done it on their own. After they have done so a few times, students can start with typing short phrases.

By third grade, most students are reading a certain level of text, based upon their ability, but certainly know the sounds and letters really well for the most part. Their hands are physically more well developed and they are able to focus for longer periods of time on academic activities. A focused period of 15-20 minutes each day for three weeks to get students really familiar with the keyboard.

When students enter fourth and fifth grades, teachers do expect that a certain level of typing has been taught/learned by the students and that they can handle the amount of typing students do on electronic devices. Following are a few reasons why writing on an electronic device is preferred both by students and teachers:

  • Students who might otherwise write a few sentences will write paragraphs when typing, such is their motivation and engagement.
  • Several students don’t like to see their mistakes, clutter on a page. This way, students can revise their documents and it all still appears clean. If needed, students can refer back to previous versions, since most of them use Google Docs to write.
  • This enables students to publish their writing to an audience larger than just their teacher. I have had students ask me in class when they have finished with a piece of their final writing whether they could share it with a sibling or parent and have done so while in class. As a parent, I would be thrilled to receive something from my elementary child during my work day.

As a former fifth grade teacher, I can also say that even if students haven’t gone through the rigor of typing in earlier grades, they pick up really quickly with the number of assignments that they type up. Once they move to middle school, almost all their assignments are typed. Handwriting must continue for obvious reasons, the main practical one being finger muscles need that movement. It has to be a fine balance, just like with devices.

Would love to hear various opinions, thoughts, programs being used and feedback. Tomorrow, the third graders start with their intense keyboarding practice each morning for the next three weeks. I will report on the progress when done.