My Updated Drama Assessment Framework… And the role of the iPad in it?

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I have written previously about my MYP Drama Assessment Framework, and how I worked hard at creating and developing it. In my opinion, the IB-MYP Arts Assessment Criteria leave a lot of room for teachers to be creative and innovative with how they assess student learning, but also provide a solid structure for assessment. Recently though, there have been changes in my teaching environment that have prompted a change to my assessment practices.

Firstly, I am the only drama teacher at the school, and we have four year levels that have drama timetabled as a compulsory subject. This means I have eight classes a week to plan for, teach and assess. If I am not time-efficient with my lesson-planning and assessment practices, I could very easily be bogged-down and overwhelmed, and not have enough time for my other position-of-responsibility (eLearning leader and head of the school’s iPad program). Secondly, three out of those four year levels have iPads.

Previously, I had a task-based assessment approach. I would assign a task per criteria of assessment, for example: a research and oral presentation task to assess criteria A (knowledge and understanding; a detailed written reflection and evaluation to assess criteria C (reflection and evaluation); a major end-of-unit performance task to assess criteria B (application) [after practicing the skills, techniques and processes needed all term through minor performance tasks]. Finally, I would assess criteria D (personal engagement) through my observations and student self-assessment of certain attitudes and behaviors such as group cooperation, audience skills, commitment and effort, confidence and risk-taking, willingness to perform etc…

While this task-based assessment approach seemed to work for a period of time, I did face some issues/problems with it:

1- students did not put in as much effort in the tasks that were not formally assessed
2- students did not gain a sense of ownership of their ‘developmental workbooks’ or drama portfolios (as more focus was given to the task-booklets and task-components)
3- it was hard finding the time to actually communicate the numerical grades to students and give them detailed feedback on each criteria (as that meant I had to conference at least three times per term with each student, once per criteria. It is difficult for me to find the time to do that.)
4- it seemed unfair that a judgement for each criteria was only tied to one assessment task, as opposed to all work done throughout the semester. For example, it did not seem right at first to only assess one written reflection and evaluation for Criteria C (reflection and evaluation) even though the students reflect and evaluate all throughout the term.

Therefore, I decided to move to a more portfolio-based approach. Instead of linking each criteria of assessment to a specific task, I decided to trial an approach where each criteria is linked to a ‘portfolio of artifacts’ that demonstrate these specific competencies, abilities and skills. The students would be given the modified MYP rubrics at the beginning of the course, along with a portfolio self-assessment checklist that covers all strands of each criteria. At the beginning of the course, as opposed to the beginning of each task, I would talk to the students about the assessment criteria and give them examples of artifacts they can add to their portfolio to show evidence for every criteria. I would also constantly remind them of artifacts they need to put in their portfolio as we move between the learning activities. Towards the end of each unit of work, I would then conference with each student and together determine a numerical grade for each criterion based on the evidence in their portfolio.

For the iPad classes, I decided I will use Evernote as the platform for their drama portfolios. Evernote is great because it allows adding photos, audio notes, checklists, text and hyperlinks, which covers pretty much everything (video can be hyperlinked into the portfolio, as Evernote does not as yet allow embedding video into a note through the iPad). The students will create an Evernote workbook and share it with me. Here is the structure I have thought of so far:

1- students create one note in which they attach the drama booklet, which will have the rules for the drama classroom, the drama contract, the rubrics for the assessment criteria, the portfolio self-assessment checklist, and some basic info about certain aspects of the drama classroom. The drama booklet will also have three templates that we use often in the drama classroom: the reflection help-sheet from which students write their four-sentence reflections at the end of every lesson, the peer-evaluation template which students use to evaluate their peers’ performances, and the self-evaluation template which they use to write an evaluation of their own performances. This drama booklet will be a reference that they will refer to frequently.

2- students create three separate notes, each titled: ‘Four-Sentence Reflection – Criteria C (Reflection and Evaluation)‘, ‘Peer-Evaluation – Criteria A (Knowledge and Understanding)‘ and ‘Self-Evaluation – Criteria C (Reflection and Evaluation)‘ respectively. These three written tasks are very ‘routine’ in the drama classroom, and so I have created Google Forms for them. The students fill-in the Google Form for whichever one they are doing, and will be asked to take a screenshot of the form before they submit it so as to keep in their drama portfolio in the relevant note. Students will also add screenshots of self-assessment checklists and peer-assessment checklists to the relevant note, whenever asked to complete one.

3- students add evidence of research about the art form to a note titled ‘Criteria A – Knowledge and Understanding’, where they can add hyperlinks, or annotated screenshots, or answers to comprehension questions. Peer evaluations are also assessed as part of Criteria A.

4- students add evidence for every step of the drama process: planning, preparing, rehearsing, performing, reflecting & evaluating, and this evidence will be used to assess Criteria B – Application. This criteria of assessment focuses more on the skills, techniques and processes used to create drama, and so students can add story-maps or brainstorms, or written/annotated scripts, or storyboards, or sketches of the set/performance space, or rehearsal logs, or group-work logs, or photos/videos of rehearsals and performance, or anything that can demonstrate evidence of the relevant step of the drama process. For every performance activity that we do in class, there will be a focus on one step of the drama process more than the others. For example, for a radio-commercials performance task [in the year 6 Radio Drama unit-of-work], the focus might be on rehearsal and so the students must attach evidence of rehearsal, while for a radio-interviews performance task the focus might be on planning/preparation and so students can attach a script for the interview or a list of questions and answers. The reason I will have only one focus per learning activity is to keep the written component to a level that does not disengage the students who just want to get up and perform, but also to cater to those students who excel in the written components more than the performance aspect of the subjects.

I am really excited about this new assessment framework, and I can not wait to trial it for this coming semester. I would love to hear any feedback or suggestions from readers.

Creating digital portfolios on iPads using Google Sites: it’s doable!

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This year the eLearning leaders at our school were asked to find a “cost-effective” way to allow students to create digital portfolios (ePortfolios) that can be exhibited during the school’s end-of-year exhibition. Evernote was definitely considered as an option, but the cost of the premium account was a deterrent. Additionally, we wanted something that can easily be viewed on the Internet to help with the portfolio assessment process and to share with parents.

I have always been a big fan of Google Tools, and I’m an even bigger fan of Google Sites. However, the Google Sites interface is not the most iPad-friendly, and uploading attachments requires a slightly longer process and a lot of patience. But, it’s feasible!

I noticed that on Twitter, the whole discussion about ePortfolios for iPads does not mention Google Sites at all. Surely, there are more iPad-friendly tools like Evernote, Three Rings and Easy Portfolio. But our school is a Google school, and so all our staff and students have Google accounts, that’s the first reason we decided to choose Google Sites. Secondly, building an ePortfolio on Google Sites will not follow the same process on the iPad as it would on a laptop/desktop computer, as there is no ‘hard disk’ on the iPad from which you can directly upload the artifacts to be exhibited. That presents challenges, but I still insist that it is doable, so long as teachers & students are patient and keep an open mind.

The combination of apps our students use to build those portfolios includes: Pages, Keynote, ShowMe, iMovie, Notability, Google Drive iPad app, and Safari. Any document the students have on Keynote or Pages can be uploaded directly on Google Drive through the iPad app, and I ask them to ‘open in Google Drive’ as a PDF (because it preserves formatting). If the students have a video on iMovie, it can be exported to the Camera Roll and then uploaded on Google Drive through the iPad app, the same with any photos in their Camera Roll. If students have work on ShowMe, it can be uploaded onto their ShowMe.com profile, and then the ShowMe can be ’embedded’ directly into the Google Site by using the embed code. If students have any annotated PDFs on Notability, they can be similarly exported to the Google Drive iPad app. I think that pretty much covers all student work!

Basically, I tell my students to upload one artifact at a time, and then create a Google Document in which they will write up their reflection on that artifact. Once all artifacts are uploaded, and the associated reflections are written up, students then must change the sharing setting of these artifacts and reflections to ‘anyone with the link…’ and ‘can view’. Each artifact is then hyperlinked in the Google Sites ePortfolio, and the associated reflection is embedded right under it.

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Here are the detailed written steps of this process, followed by some video how-tos:

Detailed Written Steps:
1- Create a folder in Google Drive (through the iPad app) called ‘Portfolio Items’ or ‘Portfolio Artefacts and Reflections’.

2- Choose the artefact you want to upload, whether it is a Pages document or a Keynote presentation and ‘Open in Google Drive’ as a PDF. You can also directly upload pictures or videos from your Camera Roll onto the Google Drive iPad app.

3- Once an artefact is uploaded onto Google Drive, rename it so you can easily identify it later, and then create a new Google Document where you will write up the reflection associated with that artefact. Give that Google Document a name similar to the artefact but with the words ‘reflection on…’ at the beginning.

4- Repeat steps 2 & 3 for all other artefacts you wish to upload and reflections for each artefact.

5- Once all artefacts are uploaded and each artefact has its own associated reflection, log onto Google Drive through Safari.

6- Select the artefacts and associated reflections and change their visibility (through the ‘sharing’ button) to ‘anyone with the link…’ and ‘can view’.

7- Open the artefact you want to add to your Portfolio from Google Drive and copy the ‘hyperlink’ to it.

8- Go to your ePortfolio on Google Sites and click ‘edit page’ and type a sentence that explains what the artefact is.

9- Select a part of that sentence that you want to ‘hyperlink’ and click the ‘link’ button at the edit bar, then paste the link to the artefact from Google Drive as a ‘web address’ Remember to select ‘Open in a new window’.

10- After you have hyperlinked the artefact, the next step is to embed the associated reflection. Click ‘insert’ at the top of your Google Site and select ‘Document’ from the menu of options. You will be taken to your Google Drive Documents and select the required document.

I published these steps and the videos on this Google Site for the staff and students’ reference: iPad Portfolio How-tos

I would like to clarify that I am not arguing that this is the ‘best’ way of creating digital portfolios on iPads, or that it is more superior to the other options like Evernote, Three Rings or Easy Portfolios. I am merely arguing that schools who might be in similar circumstances to our school can choose this as an option, and that while the process on the iPad is not as intuitive and the interface is not the most iPad-friendly one, it’s still DOABLE!

10 reasons I love using Edmodo in my iPad classroom…

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I can not describe how much easier Edmodo has made my teaching! At the beginning of this academic year, and in my capacity as an eLearning leader, I was involved in a whole-school effort to rollout Edmodo. The eLearning leaders at school gathered all teachers and showed them a few videos highlighting the benefits of Edmodo, then we divided all staff between us and went on to smaller workshops to help them set up their own accounts and classes. It caught like wildfire! I had staff approaching me everyday wanting to learn more and find out ways to use it better.

In my school, we have three year levels using the iPads (years 6, 7 and 8), and two year levels using laptops (years 9 and 10). Every student in those five year levels has a personal learning device, whether it’s a laptop or iPad. I generally teach the earlier middle years, and I am in charge of the school’s iPad program. Therefore my focus is usually on the iPad as a personal learning device. Edmodo now offers a fantastic iPad app, especially after recent updates just before Christmas 2012. I will try to list the many ways I use Edmodo, and why I love it so much:

  • It is now very easy to share a worksheet or handout with my students on Edmodo. If I prepare a worksheet on Pages or have a worksheet in my Dropbox, all I need to do is ‘open in another app’ and select Edmodo. I prefer to share worksheets and handouts as a PDF, because that preserves the formatting of the document and it’s very easy for students to download an app that allows them to annotate PDFs (like Notability or TypeOnPDF).
  • Students can easily download a document from Edmodo, use it in another app (like a PDF annotation app) and then upload it again onto Edmodo to submit it as an ‘assignment’. This solves the whole ‘work-flow’ problem that many teachers faced upon the introduction of iPads into the classroom. Worksheets, handouts, task sheets, graphic organizers, anything you want the students to work on, just upload it into your library, add it to a folder that you share with the students or attach it to a post, then they access it and open it in another app. Once they have finished, they need to upload it into their ‘backpacks’ and then submit it as an attachment to an ‘assignment’ that you posted.
  • Edmodo’s ‘assignment’ feature allows me to post an assignment with a due date and a task sheet, see who submitted it and when, mark it using a PDF annotation tool, grade/assess it and give feedback all in one neat place. It really is hassle-free! While the desktop version of Edmodo allows better assignment-marking features than the iPad app, I can still mark simple assignments on-the-go from my iPad.
  • Edmodo’s ‘quiz’ feature allows me to create really quick and simple quizzes to use in class. Creating the quiz is really simple, and I can use multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blanks, matching, or even short answer questions. It also shows you some really cool statistics about the students’ answers.
  • Edmodo’s ‘poll’ feature allows me create quick survey polls in class and can be a very valuable formative assessment tool. It has been very useful in my Humanities class to help me decide what students may need to focus on more for the coming lessons, or what sort of format would they prefer to submit their assignment as, among many more polls.
  • Edmodo’s ‘note’ feature has been a great help in creating exit slips for the students. Right before the lesson ends, the students are asked to write ‘one thing I learned today is…’ or ‘one thing that surprised me today was…’ or ‘one thing I’d like to find out more about is…’. After posting their exit slips, they can all see what the others have posted and maybe comment on each others’ posts and respond.
  • Edmodo’s ‘members’ feature allows me to manage my students in each class/group. This has been very handy in reminding a student of their username in case they forgot it while logging in again, or resetting their password if they can’t remember it, or even changing a student’s member-status to ‘read-only’ if they have been posting too much irrelevant content and abusing the posting feature. I can also use this feature to award ‘badges’ to my students, which is a great incentive for many of them.
  • Edmodo’s ‘small groups’ feature makes group-work a lot easier to manage and assess. In my drama classroom, students are arranged in small groups or ‘theatre companies’, and a lot of their brainstorming is done on Edmodo, or even simply documenting group-work in a virtual group-work log.
  • Edmodo’s ‘folders’ feature makes it very easy to organize documents in a folder and share that folder with my classes. Standard templates like reflection help-sheets or rubrics can be placed in these folders so students can have access to them anytime.
  • Edmodo has made it much easier to teach ‘digital citizenship’ skills in a safer and more-controlled environment. Having a strong social-networking aspect to it, Edmodo allows the teacher to model appropriate online behaviour and etiquette, and gives the students the opportunity to practice those skills in a teacher-controlled environment.

I would seriously recommend Edmodo to any teacher out there. I would also refer any of them to the Edmodo Help-Centre which has a great collection of how-tos (with screenshots and clear steps) and tips for using Edmodo.

Technology vs. Teachnology: eLearning in moderation?

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I am a big proponent of eLearning and mLearning. There, I said it! However, I often receive comments from people saying “those kids are not necessarily learning more when they’re eLearning” or “eLearning is destroying those kids’ spelling abilities because of autocorrect and text-talk” or “eLearning will lead to a loss of lots of essential motor skills like handwriting because of all that touch-typing” etc… The list of Armageddon-like scenarios people creatively conjure up is endless! I believe some of these concerns are valid, but can also be completely blown out of proportion.

eLearning and mLearning offer benefits for educators such as saving paper, higher student engagement, immediate student response systems, fast feedback, portability, mobility and many more. Students can also learn at their own pace, and connect with a global audience. Lots of eLearning tools also allow students to create many things: animated movies, blogs, podcasts, vodcasts, screencasts, ebooks, comics etc… However, I am also a proponent of using everything “in moderation”. While using these educational-technology tools enriches the learning experience of students in many ways, it still does not replace teachers, and it certainly does not entail we throw all our old practices out the window.

I do believe it is still important to expect students to write every once in a while, instead of type. Not every Art project has to be on the iPad, as hand-drawing on paper also offers a lot of benefits for the child’s sensory-motor development. Not every project or assignment has to be submitted in electronic format. Sometimes receiving a good poster about the topic where the student actually wrote down their understanding, and used REAL scissors and glue to cut and paste pictures, can be as rewarding a learning experience as a virtual poster using Google Images and typed up paragraphs.

Web 2.0, mobile devices, tablets, interactive whiteboards are all TOOLS. Any skilled teacher should have a whole TOOLBOX of diverse tools, with edu-technology being a part of many others in that toolbox. Not all books have to be ebooks, not every written word has to be typed, not every assignment has to be electronic, not every discussion has to be online, and so on… Students need to learn a very large range of skills to be able to cope with the demands of the modern workplace, but not all these skills can necessarily be taught with a sole-reliance on educational technology tools. Teachers have to find the right balance between edtech and non-edtech learning experiences, so that our students are as well-prepared for life beyond the classroom as possible!

iGeneric: how can teachers incorporate iPad in all subject areas?

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A group of science teachers were sitting around on the staff room table. They were having a faculty meeting. One of them said, “I found this great app about biological cells! We can use this to teach the unit about cells!”. Another one responded by saying “This app I stumbled upon yesterday is amazing for teaching about the periodic table!”. The conversation went on for quite some time, only to end with one of them saying “there aren’t that many apps that can be used to teach Science”. This is when I intervened!

What I observed was a number of teachers who flicked through the chapters of the textbook, and then tried to find an iPad app to replace each chapter. I believe this approach is very limiting, and does not allow for full utilization of the iPad as a tool. I teach drama, and none of the apps I use in my classroom have anything to do with drama!

In Andrew Douch’s words, the iPad is a “Swiss-army knife” of tools! Subject-specific apps are great, but generic apps are even greater! There’s so much you can do in every subject with just a bunch of generic and cheap/free apps! Using the iPad in the classroom does not just mean using apps that are subject-specific. It is more useful to think of learning processes and activities, and how the iPad can facilitate these learning activities, not replace the designated reference used in the subject (i.e. textbook).

Here are some generic learning activities (or learning processes) that can incorporate the iPad, and using apps that are not subject-specific:

1- Documentation: the iPad has a Camera. So what? Before iPads, students may have been asked to use digital cameras, and then connect them to a laptop/desktop, import their photos/videos and so on. There were a lot of steps involved, and more than one device. The iPad eliminates all these steps. In science classes, the students could shoot video footage of their science experiments. In art classes, the students could take snapshots of their artwork at different stages of the creation process. In maths classes, students could take snapshots of the whiteboard to keep a visual record of the steps a teacher took to solve an equation. The students can also keep video footage of class discussions or group work for their documentation. Realistically, the ability to shoot video/take photos anytime and anywhere, without having to import them on another device later, is a great advantage for any subject area.

2- Reflection: the iPad can make student-reflections easier and more suited to their learning styles. Students can use an app like Evernote to keep reflection notebooks/journals. Evernote notebooks allow inserting text, photos (from the Camera-roll), voice notes, checkboxes, and locations. Therefore, students can reflect in oral or written format, and supplement their reflections with photos and screenshots. An app like ShowMe can also facilitate reflection, as students insert photos of different parts of the learning process and doodle over them, while also recording their voice. Reflection has a role (or should have a role) in all subject areas, and so these apps/learning activities can be used in whatever class.

3- Discussion: this is not necessarily an advantage of the iPad itself, but the iPad does facilitate discussion by allowing mobile access to several discussion platforms. Students can have back-channel discussions on Edmodo while a teacher is explaining a lesson. Twitter hash-tags can also be used to encourage back-channel discussions, or even a Facebook page. Whatever the subject area is, these apps/tools can facilitate discussion in any class.

4- Formative Assessment: being able to gauge the students’ learning while it’s still occurring is a very useful thing for teachers. Again, it’s not a characteristic of the iPad itself that makes it easier to make formative assessments, but its mobility and portability, as well as a range of apps that facilitate the process. An app like Socrative allows students to ‘click’ their answers as a teacher poses a question, and also allows teachers to create and assign quizzes, and exit slips. The teacher could also poll the class quickly before deciding the next course of action. Socrative will automatically send the teacher an e-mail with a spreadsheet report of the answers. Also, the statistics can be displayed directly on the app to show the class and prompt further discussion to correct misguided learning. The teacher just downloads the Socrative Teacher Clicker and creates a free account. The students then download the Socrative Student Clicker and join the teacher’s room, no sign-in or registration required. Socrative can be used in any subject area, as it is not subject-specific.

5- Creation: as Andrew Douch wrote, the iPad is a “Swiss-army knife of content-creation tools“. I have written a post previously about using the iPad to encourage creation in the classroom. In this post, you will find several non-subject specific apps that teachers can use to get their students creating blogs, wikis, animated cartoons, comics, podcasts, screencasts, videos/movies, ebooks, ePortfolios, and much more. These content-creations can be used in all subject areas. Students can create podcasts in science class explaining main concepts, or comics in history class to describe a historical event, or animated cartoons in geography class where they are interviewing a famous geographer, or screencasts in Maths class to explain steps taken to solve a mathematical problem etc…

To conclude, I would like to encourage teachers to explore the apps mentioned in this post, as well as any linked posts. Below is a screenshot of many apps that can be used in meaningful learning activities, and none of these apps are subject-specific!

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iCreate: How the iPad facilitates content-creation in the classroom?

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Andrew Douch wrote “the iPad is a swiss army knife of content-creation tools”. I read that sentence in his blogpost ‘How an iPad is a More Powerful Content-Creation Device Than a Laptop‘ and realised that he managed to say what I have been trying so hard to say for months, but just couldn’t find the words or gather the courage. I constantly come across teachers who argue that the iPad is very limiting and restricting, and that a laptop is far more superior. I personally disagree, but found it hard to argue my case. Andrew Douch wrote that ‘if professional production quality is your imperative, then the iPad is not your best tool’ and that it may be best to find a more ‘technologically capable’ device. However, he did argue that it is more ‘pedagogically productive’. The paragraph that sums it all up reads as such:

‘But producing comparable creative content on an iPad is relatively quick, simple, yields impressive results with minimal fuss, and the learning curve is … well, there almost isn’t one! There is no need to connect an external microphone (the built-in one is better than that in any laptop), no need to adjust recording levels, no need to use a pop-filter. No need to import media from a recording device to the editing device (becasue they are one and the same), and it’s unnecessary to allow 10 minutes at the end of a class, to save, unplug devices, shut down and stow the laptops. Instead, when the bell sounds, students simply flip their iPad cases closed and walk to the next class!’

And that is the truth, ladies and gentlemen. The iPad combines so many content-creation tools in one device, that it truly is a ‘swiss army knife’. Right there from the same device (without any external supplementary tools, and with a few cheap apps), students have the opportunity to create podcasts, screencasts, movies, blogs, microblogs, websites, eBooks, wikis, electronic portfolios, animated cartoons, comics, annotated PDFs, annotated pictures, photos, paintings, drawings etc… Andrew Douch also wrote that:

We’ve had computers in schools for years, but in reality many (most?) classroom teachers don’t and never did have their students making podcasts, movies, eBooks and websites. Doing so seems too time consuming and for many non-technical teachers the learning curve appears disproportionate to the benefits realised.

Using the iPad will not produce the highest professional quality, but it will make all of these creations much quicker, and easier, and that’s what teachers need to tap into. I wrote this post with the intention of informing my school’s teaching staff of all the possible content-creation apps that I have come across. The apps I mention here are definitely not the only ones that can do what they are designed to, but they are the ones that I am aware of and have previously used. I will divide the list according to its potential for content creation. So, here goes my attempt:

  1. Blogs/websites: I use the WordPress iPad app, as well as the Blogger app for blogging. Generally, I set up the accounts for the students using a class gmail account (due to age restrictions and safety reasons). On a blog, you can have pages, and sub-pages, and you can embed videos, screencasts, photos, files (through Google Drive, for example) and much more, which essentially means it can be both a blog and a website.
  2. Screencasts: My favourites are definitely ShowMe and Explain Everything. ShowMe has the advantage of being an online learning community, and screencasts can be uploaded on a ShowMe profile and then later on embedded on a blog or website. Explain Everything has the advantage of being able to import media such as PDFs or PowerPoints/Keynotes, and annotate over them while recording voice. However, Explain Everything screencasts may need to be uploaded on YouTube or Vimeo first in order to embed them on a blog/website.
  3. Movies/videos: I believe iMovie is by far the easiest to use (though many others disagree). My students use iMovie to create trailers, edited videos, short movies, and photo presentations with music and text. I think all that is quite enough for a classroom activity or task in any subject. Again, uploading these videos/movies on a class YouTube or Vimeo channel can allow embedding them on a blog/website/wiki.
  4. Podcasts: My favourite is Audioboo (but there are many others out there like using Audio Memos along with a Posterous account). My students record their Audioboos and then embed them on their blog/website. Some students also prefer using GarageBand to record audio files, and then import them into iMovie, where they add a picture or some sort of visual element. The students would then upload the podcast onto the class YouTube channel and embed it into their blog/website.
  5. eBooks: I prefer to use Book Creator because it is easy and relatively efficient. You can also embed all sorts of media into your eBook, which a lot of students like to do. eBooks can then be uploaded onto the students’ e-portfolios, or even embedded/hyperlinked onto their blogs/websites.
  6. ePortfolios: A blog, wiki or website can definitely be used as an ePortfolio. But for teachers who may be quite wary about age restrictions or the safety of their students, Google Drive offers huge potential for creating ePortfolios. Just by setting up folders and sharing them with the teacher/s, along with the Google Drive iPad app’s ability to upload all sorts of media (using ‘Open in another app’ functionality from most apps), the student can easily create and share an ePortfolio with the teacher. I have also used Evernote in many of my drama classes and I am a big fan of using Evernote for creating ePortfolios. However, I needed to set up an Evernote premium account and many teachers may refuse to do so.
  7. Animated cartoons: I have three favourites here: Puppet Pals, Sock Puppets, and Toontastic. However, the best in teaching narrative structure is Toontastic, as there are different scenes: set up, conflict, climax, ending, and you can also add music to create different moods/emotions etc… I love using it with my four-year-old nephew just to get him to think about how to structure a story. Toontastic also allows uploading directly on ‘ToonTube‘, and then embedding on a blog/website.
  8. Annotated PDFs/Photos/Pictures: I use Notability for annotating PDFs and Skitch for annotating pictures/photos. Both can produce content that can easily be integrated with Google Drive/Evernote and thus added to the student’s ePortfolio. Worksheets and handouts can now be shared with students as PDF files and then annotated using text, highlighters, markers, pencils, images or shapes, and that is a useful function for all subjects.
  9. Microblogs: I am a big fan of Edmodo, and I am a passionate user of this learning platform. Edmodo can now also make iPad workflow much easier after a recent app update, where files can easily be uploaded through the ‘Open in another app’ functionality. Teachers can also use Twitter and Facebook for micro-blogging in the classroom, but most social-networking policies in schools place many restrictions and challenges when it comes to these tools.
  10. Comics: I often use Strip Designer or Zoodle Comics to encourage students who wish to create comics. Both apps also allow sharing in PDF formats or into the Photo Library/Camera Roll, which can then easily be uploaded on Google Drive or embedded in blogs/websites.
  11. Drawings/Paintings: I have not used many drawing/painting apps, but I generally encourage my students to use Art Set or Penultimate. There are many more, with more specialised features as well. Again, all output can be exported, shared and embedded on blogs/websites.

To conclude, I would like to restate: I am not arguing that only the iPad can allow such content-creation in the classroom, but I do believe these creations are much easier to produce on an iPad than on a laptop or desktop computer (where additional accessories are often required, along with expensive specialised software). The iPad truly is ‘a swiss army knife of content-creation tools‘ as Andrew Douch wrote, and with these words I encourage you all to go forth and iCreate.

iCollaborate: making the most of collaborative learning in an iPad classroom?

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I started my teaching career at an international school in Egypt. This school had a very structured curriculum and used standardized testing very often. I learned a lot from working there, I have to admit. But one thing I found rather displeasing about the curriculum was that it only encouraged and facilitated individual learning. There weren’t many opportunities for group work or collaborative learning.

When I moved to Australia, I took up a job at an IB school in Melbourne. I am still working there as an MYP Performing Arts, English/ESL and Humanities teacher. I noticed that some teachers shy away from group work. To be fair, group work does pose challenges that may not necessarily be present in individual tasks. One of the biggest challenges of group work is how to assess each student’s contribution to the final product.

I believe the benefits of collaborative learning far outweigh the challenges (I recommend reading this article to find out more about the benefits of collaborative learning and how to make the most of it). I also believe that, when utilized correctly, mobile technologies (like the iPad) can facilitate collaborative learning and make it easier to assess, as well as document evidence of every step of the learning process.

This it what I do in my classroom to make the most of a collaborative learning process that incorporates the iPad (i.e. to minimize distractions, maximize group engagement in the collaborative process, and to manage the classroom more effectively):

    1- Use a ‘group work log’ on Google Forms: I divide my class into ‘theatre companies’ which is the fancy name I give to the groups. Before every task, I create copies of this google form, one copy per theatre company/group, and I share the URL with them (or give them QR codes). The students are required to fill out this group-work log after every lesson spent on the task (for example, if the task is spanned over three lessons, then each group member has to have submitted three entries). The advantage is that all entries have a date/time stamp, and this form allows the documentation and evaluation of, and reflection on, every step of the collaborative learning process.

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    2- Break the task into mini-tasks or steps and assign each student a mini-task/step: this is very similar to assigning group roles, such as group encourager, group reader, group writer etc… I have found that breaking the task into steps and assigning each student a step (or allowing them to divide the steps between them) gives the students more ownership over their part of the process. These mini-tasks can be independent of each other or built on one another. For example, in a drama assessment task, I would ask the group to give each member the responsibility of documenting evidence of a different part of the drama process: one member is responsible for documenting brainstorms, another for documenting the script-writing process, another for documenting the storyboarding phase, another for documenting the rehearsal phase etc… I would normally setup and use a shared notebook with the students on Evernote to help with this process of documentation. It is important to mention and explain to the students that even though each student is responsible for documenting evidence of each step of the process, they still have to all work together and collaborate through all steps. Here’s a screenshot of an Evernote portfolio/shared-notebook for students to document evidence of each step of the drama process.

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    3- Allow one-iPad-at-a-time per group: one of the most common ways of assessing group work and documenting evidence is guided and systematic teacher observation. However, in a class full of 25 students, and each on their own iPad, this might be difficult. I prefer to allow only one group member on an iPad at-a-time, while the others are using some other medium to continue with their work. This means I only observe 4-5 students on iPads at-a-time (as I usually have 4-5 theatre companies per class). For example, maybe in the brainstorming phase, the group could draw a mind map on poster paper, while one group member copies it into their iPad on a brainstorming app (here are two examples, one involving a google form, and another involving a typewith.me pad). To make my observations more meaningful, I often use a quick checklist of the ‘behaviors and attitudes to group-work‘ (which have been taught in the classroom) to guide my observations, and also to keep a record of them (I have the checklist as a picture in my camera roll and I just import it into ‘Skitch‘, which syncs automatically with Evernote). You might decide to share the checklist with the observed student/s but I prefer to just conference with them quietly and give them oral feedback based on my observations.

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    4- Ask students to document the group-work process using various forms of media: I always tell my students “it’s all about the evidence”. Luckily, the iPad is a camera, voice recorder, interactive whiteboard (or can be) and typewriter all rolled into one device. I always encourage the students to take photos/screenshots of their group work as documentation, record audio notes of their group discussions, create screencasts of their group brainstorms, take video footage of their rehearsals, or even jot down simple anecdotes of group work. I also encourage them to vary the forms of evidence and choose that which caters the most to their preferred learning style. This evidence can all be added to one note in their shared notebook, which they can call “evidence of group work” or anything similar.

    5- Emphasize the process more than the product: collaborative learning should be more about the process of learning and working together, as opposed to creating a finished product to submit to the teacher. I prefer incorporating student reflection and student self-assessment during every phase/step of the process, as opposed to just using a rubric to assess a final product that the students submit. I also constantly remind my students that we learn a lot from the process itself, and that their main aim should not just be to finish and submit a finished product.

How do you make the most of group work in your iPad classrooms? Please feel free to share your ideas, tips, experiences and suggestions in the comments below. Happy iCollaborating!