Friday, April 20, 2012

RSS Feeds

By far, my favorite app for the iPad is Flipboard. Flipboard is a little difficult to describe. It takes the web and puts it into a magazine looking format where headlines and a paragraph of three to four “articles” are displayed on each page. If you want to see the entire article you can touch it on the screen and it will launch in the full screen. Flipboard integrates content from a variety of sources. You can choose from news,(money, sports, technology) social media(facebook, twitter, blogs) and other content providers(magazines). The format of Flipboard is amazing, but what makes it so powerful is the amount of content you can integrate into it. The line between work and recreation is completely removed as I jump from articles about alternative energy to sports to facebook. One of the reasons Flipboard can integrate so much content is its ability to tap into RSS feeds. Many sites including blogs, magazine publishers and reviewers produce RSS feeds and you can tap into them with Flipboard and in other ways. The learning management system Heidi and I have been using this semester, edmodo, has the ability to subscribe to RSS feeds. I’m hoping that Desire2Learn will be able to do this as well. RSS feeds allow you to continually incorporate current content on specific topics into your course. If you teach a topic that is changing so rapidly that textbooks can’t keep up, you may consider using RSS feeds to augment the content in your course. It can sometimes be a little tricky to figure out the url for a particular feed, but with a little online searching I have been able to find everyone that I’ve looked for.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Geometry App Idea

I found a lot of apps that calculate area and volume, but none that demonstrate where the formulas come from. So that's my app idea!

To make a manageable app, I was thinking one that demonstrates finding the volume of a prism. Ideally it would allow the user to choose different base shapes, but that might be too big the first time around. So maybe just rectangular or triangular the first time around.

For example: A rectangular prism

The user would input the units (cm) and the dimensions of the base: 6 x 2, and the app would demonstrate finding the area of one "layer" to fill the prism. It would draw a layer of 12 blocks (or one rectagular layer that is 6 x 2), 1 unit high, and show that the area of the base is 12 square cm.

Then it would ask for the height of the prism: 3. It would build the prism by adding two more layers on, for a total of 3, then show that to get the volume, the area of the base is multiplied by 3 to get 36 cubic cm.

If there were time, it would be awesome to have a menu at the beginning allowing the user to choose other shapes for the base: triangle, hexagon, even circles. But each would require separate programming because each would need different input dimensions to find the area of the base (triangle needs base and height, hexagon needs side and apothem, etc).

This could really continue semester after semester, to add pyramids/cones (which is a neat visual where you show that 3 pyramids fit in a prism), and even move on to surface area.

I've got another idea about showing how to find the area of a hexagon by dividing it into triangles. Could give more details if desired.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Ap Idea

I am wondering about a multiuse-template ap for use with language based skills such as ESLacademic vocabulary, spelling, use of prefixes and suffixes, etc. The templates would be reuseabl eso that multiple exercises could be developed for training class-specific material. For example, the template could have formats such as matching, or word search, quiz, or crossword selections for which the user could enter target vocabulary and store/save/use it. However, the user could reuse the same formats to enter new vocabulary or material as the students advance through a course. The templates could also be used at different levels. Potentially, this could be used for many different areas besides language skills.

Android Apps in Mathematics and Humanities

In case someone is trying to cull something helpful from all of this and looking for something specific, let me give you a quick intro to what I teach and what classes I had in mind when using the tablet this semester.  I teach in both the Mathematics Department and the Humanities Department.  The math class I had this semester was MAT 134, Technical Mathematics, and so that was the class I mostly had in mind when thinking about math apps.  In the Humanities Department I teach courses on western civilization and philosophy (the introductory logic course).      

I found the post on Socrative helpful.  I have already downloaded it and am going to try to experiment with it today in class.  The post mentioned that it had not worked as well with a droid device, but so far in my testing of it I haven’t discovered any problems. 

Though it’s not particular to any subject matter, I discovered both Dropbox and Evernote as a result of searching for apps.  Yeah, I know, welcome to the 21st century – I felt like the last one to discover these (and of course you can use them without a tablet).  I found both of them helpful in their own ways.  Dropbox is the one I could envision using more for classroom purposes.  It has some redundancy with Angel if you are simply using it for students to submit work or to distribute files to students, but the area where it could be more useful than Angel is for collaborative work. 
The particular apps I found interesting pertaining to math, especially technical mathematics, were Smart Measure and GraphingCalculator.  Smart Measure calculates distances using the camera feature on the device and some basic math.  If I knew that all my students had access to a tablet or smartphone I would build a lesson plan in trigonometry using this app.  Once they know how it works, it could be a useful job-site app for many of my students who go on to work in construction or surveying-related trades.

The Graphing Calculator is just what it sounds like.  It may sound unnecessary, but since we don’t require graphing calculators for MAT 134, yet there are frequent occasions when it would be quite helpful, it provides a cheap (free!) way to get a basic graphing calculator for any student who has a tablet or smartphone.

In the Humanities, I found many apps that looked promising initially but turned out to be quite unhelpful.  Two exceptions were Art Academy and the promise of eBooks.  Art Academy allows students to explore various paintings or painters in an interactive way, and with greater detail than we can do just by looking at pictures I can show on the screen from a computer.  There are various platforms and ways to access ebooks, but in general it could be a way to assign more reading in certain books knowing that they won’t have to fight over limited access to books on reserve on the library.

Two challenges I’ve seen are (a) not all students have tablets or smartphones, and (b) for every good and useful app there must be ten that either don’t work or don’t do anything interesting. It takes time to sort through the garbage to find good apps.

If I could have more time with a tablet, I would like to either try some of the same (or similar) apps on an iPad for comparison, or integrate tablets into the whole course from the beginning of the semester.  Particularly now with the discovery of Socrative, I would like to think of more ways to use that in the classroom (for example, there is an “Exit Ticket” feature that would be helpful for immediate assessment).

I have three ideas for “mini-apps”:
1.       Math – something that uses GPS to mark where students are at different points, then calculates distances, angles, etc.  But not in a way that does all the work, but rather in a way that walks students through the process so that it can be used as a hands-on lesson in geometry or trig applications for something like surveying.
2.       Math – a graphing calculator that can use a logarithmic scale as well as a linear scale.  
3.       For Philosophy (logic and reasoning) – something where the instructor (or students) can clip comments or summarize arguments they find in current news stories and put them in a central location; from which either groups of students or individuals can later work through an assessment of those statements (or, access it during class and go over some examples with the whole class). 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Socrative can replace classroom clickers

I've been playing with a few new apps in class, trying to get the students to use their ipads more.

I did a lecture on pesticides and pesticide alternatives, and had them pull up an app from the Environmental Working Group called Dirty Dozen.  This app lists the top 12 food crops that scientific research has shown to have the most pesticide residues, and the top 15 "cleanest crops".  Students looked through the information in this app, then I had them take an in-class clicker quiz through the wifi and an app called Socrative.

I have to install the Teacher Socrative app, and students install the Student Socrative App. You are assigned a unique virtual room number.  Then, you can design a quiz beforehand, or make a question on the spot in Teacher Socrative (you can do this on the computer, iPad, or Android).  In class, you can either open Teacher Socrative on your mobile device, and begin the quiz, or pull the quiz up on the computer so it shows on a screen through the LCD projector.

Students open Student Socrative, write your virtual room number, and you push each question to the students through the wifi. They respond, and you can see the results (anonymously) in the classroom.

Curtis and I tried Socrative last semester with the Acer tablets, but it didn't work very well (wifi and maybe antennae issues?).  This semester with the iPads, it is smooth sailing!  Here come the pop quizzes!

Linked Classroom Update- Should we require mobile devices?

I haven't posted about the linked Biology/Physics class for a while, because it is all going so smoothly with the tablets, that there is nothing new and exciting to post except that, "Today, everything worked".  I think we could be using them a little more, but there are simply not a lot of generic enough educational apps to pull in one everyday.  I do have a few things I thought I should report on, since the semester is coming to a close.

1) We did an anonymous midterm evaluation, and the students use their iPads almost daily for all sorts of things, which is exactly what Curtis and I were hoping for.  They all want to keep the devices, and see them as useful, which is good as I want to require these as an instructional material more and more everyday. I like to say that I've outgrown the typical classroom technology.

2) Students complained a little bit about using both Angel and Edmodo (a different secure course management system for K-12 that we used because it has a web interface, iOS app, and android app), so Curtis and I started primarily using Edmodo. It has just enough features to be very useful inside and outside the classroom (interactive calendar for due dates, discussions in a facebook-like stream, assignments that can be turned in and graded through Edmodo, and quizzes with T/F, MC, short answer, and fill-in-the-blank question formats).  It's been much easier to redesign assignments just for the Edmodo platform, and I think the students have responded well to having everything in one accessible place. If D2L doesn't have as slick of a mobile interface, I might end up just using Edmodo for all of my classes in lieu of a combination of D2L and Facebook.

Today I used Edmodo in class, something I hadn't done. I had students look at a book of photos from around the world, then open an Edmodo quiz and answer the questions about one photo. It was a nice way to avoid paper, but have them take notes that I can easily obtain.  Some of the apps have been unable to send notes and drawings easily.

3) We are having the students design "virtual posters" on the iPads for the Natural Sciences Poster Session.  We'll see what their creative minds come up with. I am curious if we can get a prezi to work on the ipad. Anyone tried it?

4) I also found a great document app, docAS lite.  You can annotate pdf (and I think doc) on the lite version, but you can't send any annotations without the full version. If I could keep my iPad, I would definitely purchase the full version!  This app can pull documents from google docs, but you can't annotate them.

I feel like the wifi upgrade, Edmodo, and just a little experience have really made a difference in how I teach with the tablet in class.  I wish we could do the pilot one more semester so I could get rid of all the hiccups from this semester.  Again, maybe I'll just start requiring devices instead of textbooks.  Any thoughts/opinions on that?