Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What if Ancient Egyptians Used Google Sketch Up to Build the Pyramids?

The pyramids in Egypt are one of the Wonders of the Ancient World.  It's hard to comprehend how they could have been built without modern construction machinery and technology tools.  Helping students in today's world who haven't been to the pyramids understand just how big they are, the complexity of the  design, how difficult they would have been to build, and why they were built is one of the challenges faced by world history teachers.  

Minnetonka High School World History teacher Grant Hendrickson came up with a creative and meaningful way to help students learn about the Egyptian pyramids and culture.  For his classes of junior students, he decided to integrate Google Sketch Up into his lesson on the ancient pyramids in order to help the students "analyze the form, function and role of the pyramid in Ancient Egypt culture."  Students were tasked to "create a pyramid, to scale, with appropriate internal features using Google Sketch Up" (quoted from his lesson plan).  I was able to see this myself last week when I joined Grant's fourth hour class.  

Grant knows Google Sketchup well, and has taught classes for his colleagues about the program for the past couple of years.  Prior to the day I visited, students had already spent a class period the day before my visit learning about Sketch Up. When I was there, students were researching pyramids on the Internet as well as using some information provided.  They were tasked to sketch out a pyramid as close as possible to the actual measurements they found in their research.  One of the great features of Google Sketch Up is the ability to zoom around the exterior of something being designed as well as go right through walls and surfaces into the interior of a space, so it is a great tool to help in the understanding of the design and layout of a pyramid.  

"Google Sketch Up was the perfect tool to help bring this lesson to life for students."

Emily Rosengren, Minnetonka High School Social Studies teacher and Instructional Coach who observed this lesson last year told me the following: "What made the lesson particularly engaging for students was the chance to apply previously learned content (the students' understanding of the physical structure of the pyramids) AND their understanding of measurement and dimension to construct a virtual pyramid. This experience led students to comment on the enormous size of the Egyptian pyramids and marvel at how such structures could have been constructed without the use of modern machinery. Their observations, especially about the influence of the pharaoh on the lives of ancient Egyptians, demonstrated a more nuanced understanding of the importance of pyramids in Egyptian society. Google Sketch Up was the perfect tool to help bring this lesson to life for students. It gave students access to the true physical scale of the pyramids in a way that a textbook never could."

This lesson is a great example of how teacher can integrate technology to enhance learning.  Further, by knowing the tools and features of a program, the teacher can leverage them to engage the students and make instruction meaningful and memorable.                                                               

Monday, September 22, 2014

Balancing Choice and Control with a Half Million Apps- our App Selection Criteria and Process

Giving students a voice in their learning and their learning environment is very important and directly related to student engagement.  (Side note: see my colleague Sara White's post about The Diamond Ring of Instruction: Student Engagement).  In our iPad 1:1 program, we're working to balance student choice with teacher's desire for control.  We want students to use their iPads for learning, and we want them to be able to choose which tools to use and decide what works best for them.  Yet we also want students to be focused and not distracted by many of the available apps in the Apple store.

At the moment I write this, there are currently over a half million apps, much more than anyone could conceivably even try out in a lifetime.  Some of them are great, and of course, some are less than worthy of attention.   

I've seen opinions all over the spectrum when it comes to discussing whether a school's app environment should be under tight control or completely laissez faire, similar to some of the discussions that take place over Internet filtering. Multiple conversations I've had with educators and parents over the past few years have also helped me realize that there is a wide variety of opinions and comfort with this as well.  I've had some parents thank me for our current system, others tell me that it's too restrictive, and still others say it's too loose!

We believe our current system balances all needs quite well. Over the past few years as more schools with 1:1 iPad programs have become more common, some of our new hires have transferred from other districts where 1:1 iPads were also in use. They've shared many stories of frustration when describing what teaching was like when students had wide open access to anything in the App Store.  These stories, along with our own personal visits of other 1:1 schools, have reassured us that we have found a good middle ground. 

As I mentioned in a previous postwe have a new compliance procedure with white listed apps which students can download from the School App Store. We currently have about 160 available apps in our Minnetonka App Store (complete list).  This list is a compilation of suggestions and requests by staff and students over the past three plus years in our 1:1 iPad program. This list is not set in stone, in fact it is quite fluid. As teachers and students discover new apps that they want to use, they submit their notifications to us through the request form as pictured below. At least four times a year the instructional technology staff review these requests and new apps are added to our Minnetonka App Store. If there is an urgent need for an app to be made available for students when requested by a teacher, we certainly accommodate that need.

Our criteria for adding apps to our store includes: the educational purpose of the app, the price (free is preferred), the privacy policy (including COPPA under age 13 fine print), and making sure it is not redundant. For redundancy, we look to make sure that the app does not do the same thing that another one already available already does. We prefer not to add it unless it offers significantly better ways of doing a task. By eliminating overlap with redundant apps, we reduce the number of apps we need to test, support and troubleshoot technically, as well as the number of apps we focus on for our staff development.  

For example, there are many Screencasting apps, and we have selected two to make available: Educreations and Explain Everything. Educreations is free and pretty basic, great for quick recordings and simple projects. Explain Everything costs money and has a deep set of tools and features, better for complex tasks when something more than a basic screencast is needed. Students and staff focus do their screencasting work through these two apps, and get to know all of the features well. Students don't have to switch apps based on teacher preference, and teachers don't have to deal with trouble shooting student projects made in ten or more different applications.

Finally, I should point out that all of the apps in our Minnetonka App Store are rated for age 13 and under. There are many apps in the Apple App Store that are rated for age 17+, and our students cannot install any of these. By turning on this restriction through our Mobile Device Management Software (Airwatch) for everyone, the install button for these apps is removed completely from our students' iPads, helping to keep the inappropriate content away from students on school owned devices. We point out to parents frequently that these restrictions are also available on any Apple device through Settings, meaning that they could do the same on their child's iPod or iPhone.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Quick Fixes for Apple IDs, Under Age 13 Apple IDs, Credit Cards, and More

After helping 4,600 students set up iPads over the past five weeks, we have learned A LOT!  A lot that I wish we would have known before we started... Here is a quick summary that might make your life and iPad roll out a lot easier:

  1. You can remove the credit card requirement!  We thought we were being proactive by having every student log in to MyAppleID on a desktop to verify their account prior to receiving an iPad, but about half still were prompted to verify a credit card. I suppose the prior log in helped kids learn their Apple ID  and password.  However, often times Apple requires the security code and expiration date from a parent's credit card for a child setting up an iPad with either a new Apple ID or an existing one, even if they might have used for years on their personal iPod or iPhone. This was a common problem for our students (as mentioned in a previous post).  Solution: Before trying to install that first app, even a free one, simply go to the iCloud Settings on the iPad, sign in, select payment options and choose None to remove the credit card.  That's it!
    Be prepared to explain what an area code is and have many students with no idea of their parent's phone number. (It's a generational thing. When a cell phone stores all your phone numbers, there's no need to memorize any.  And area codes?! What's that?)
  2. "iCloud is Sick"  Don't let siblings share Apple IDs!  Shared family Apple IDs are not ideal for many reasons.  We have our students back up their Notability files to Google Docs as PDFs so they are accessible from any computer, and to iCloud so their original editable files as well as all their settings and folder structures within the app are preserved in case they need a new iPad or have a loaner during a repair issue.  If siblings share iCloud accounts, they see each other's notes on both iPads.  The same thing happens with Pages, Numbers, Keynote, and Photo Stream iCloud backups.  Plus, shared iCloud accounts mean less available free iCloud storage.
  3. End the "Improve Apple ID Security" popup that endlessly errors out and doesn't accept students' security questions.  Log in to MyAppleID and re-select the security questions and answers. Then answer the security questions on the iPad and it will accept the answers.
  4. If the Apple App Store Purchased Page is blank...  This common problem was most often resolved by having students go to iTunes in Settings, signing out, and then then reboot the iPad (Holding the power button and home button for about ten seconds or until the Apple icon appears). After reboot, students sign back in to their Apple account in their iPad settings under iTunes and Apps and then would have apps listed on the Purchased Page.
  5. Verify that Automatic Downloads for Music and Apps are Off and Automatic Updates are On. This will prevent any purchases made on other devices from being sent to your iPad, therefore causing your iPad to be disabled by accident, but allows updates to be automatically added to your iPad.  If you have an iPhone or iPod, you can do this on those devices, too, so school apps don’t appear on personal device(s). To do this, go to Settings, iTunes and App Store, Automatic Downloads, and set Apps to Off and Updates to On. For more tips, view our Apple ID FAQ page as well as our iPad Setup Checklist of instructions for students.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Getting Rid of Hiccups

Just a little over a month ago we started returning 3,000 iPads to students after collecting them on the last day of school.  It's not been easy month with so many things changing technically since last year. We have run into numerous hiccups.

First and foremost, Apple's new requirement for every student to have an Apple ID has not been easy to implement. We want students to be able to personalize their iPad. For example, using their own Apple ID allows them to have their music, photos streams, iCloud services, and more. However, relying on each individual to create an Apple ID dramatically increases the number of variables and problems (hiccups) that can happen.  Helping students verify Apple IDs, retrieve passwords, set up a new Apple ID, in some cases create a new email account and a second Apple ID, and more is frustrating for the students, their parents, and staff. Trying to troubleshoot problems has become quite a time-consuming process for a few cases.

For our older students, we have all asked them to use their personal Apple ID or create one, and this has worked well for most. Occasionally, some kids who made a brand-new Apple ID have run into issues when Apple requires a credit card for the set up process. The pattern of when this happens, whether it is using personal email address or their school Gmail account, has not been an easy one to figure out and prevent. For students under age 13, we have worked with parents to have them request an Apple ID for their child, yet even after verifying their ID online, some of those accounts still require a credit card. We created this Apple ID FAQ guide and are updating it continuously as we learn more.

Besides Apple ID issues, we've had other hiccups, too.  We're asking all students with the help of their teachers to complete checklist of steps to set up their iPad. Like our Apple ID FAQ page, this checklist is a Google doc which we can update live. All students have a web clip icon on their iPad which goes to this checklist so they always have the most current directions and instructions. August has been busy working with with lots of students as they pick up their iPad and work to set it up.

For our 1,600 seventh and eighth-grade students new to iPads, we began handing out devices last week and are continuing today and tomorrow. We distribute the iPads in a small group of two to three classes per hour as pictured above.  We spend about a 45 minutes walking students through the initial set up process, getting them enrolled in our MDM AirWatch system and making sure they successfully download a few apps. Over the next few days teacher will walk students through the remaining steps on the previously mentioned checklist. Each teacher will take a step or two per hour to make sure that the students have all successfully completed the steps and don't have hiccups.  At the high school, we are using the morning announcements to have daily items that teachers check, all with the goal of eliminating as many hiccups as possible.