We are in our fourth month of BYOT club so far at the middle school (with bi-weekly meetings, unless holidays interfere). The club was originally in a previous blog post after some disillusionment with professional development. Some things have gone much better than planned. Some things needed more planning to be successful. So this is my reflection of the things that we did during the club that really have changed the way students have interacted with their own technology in class.
The BYOT^4 … so far
* Evernote. I think a big part of BYOT is the fact that students use different devices for different tasks or at different parts of the day. They did a system that easily functions on each of the devices that can have a shared repository of their work. We are a Google EdApp district, but I have often been frustrated by the lack of functionality of Google Drive on my mobile devices. Evernote provided another option. Some students are huge fans of Evernote, others have stuck with Google Drive. The main problem was email. You have to click on the confirmation link in the email before you can start using the account. We had a bunch of students who showed up with the app but were not able to join in because they did not have access to the confirmation email. We’ve learned from this. Now we tell parents/students ahead of time what apps to get and what accounts to set up.
* Google Drive. The students were already familiar with Google Drive from use on full size computers or netbooks. We played around with Google Drive to see some of the differences. There are many hidden features. We did not feel like it was as common sense for using as the desktop version. However, by playing together many of the issues – like sharing – were problem solved.
* Edmodo. This is the CMS at the middle school. It made sense to have a group created for the club. During the first meeting we forced every student to customize the alert settings so they are notified by either text or email when we send an Alert. We can easily remind the entire group of meetings and tell them what apps to download ahead of time. I’ve also added an RSS feed of technology blogs that post automatically in the Edmodo group. There have been some cool tricks and apps that we all learned about between club meetings.
* Skitch. The drawing app allows you to take or import a picture, then add words, sketches, and arrows on top of the image. It can be connected directly to an Evernote account or the photos can be saved to the photo roll. The activity we used with Skitch was BINGO. The board was covered with skills they should be able to do with their devices. They worked with a partner to fill the entire board. This was a huge success because it felt like a game instead of being strictly educational.
* Doodle Buddy. The name pretty much describes it. Doodle Buddy works with older versions of iOS. The students can still import and doodle on an image. This was the secondary app choice for the BINGO activity.
* Animoto. Photos are a huge part of a teenagers life and presentations are something every student has to do. Animoto is an easy way to combine pictures and short text blurbs to make a video presentation. The students loved it. They took random pictures around the room or found ones they already had on their phone. As advisors we had a short discussion about copyright and creative commons for images and music that was not their own. One student created a student council campaign video. Another student created a video as a Christmas present. This is something that was simple and powerful.
* Prezi. I have avoided using Prezi in my classroom because it acts like a time vortex. People can spend too much time creating the presentation and lose track of their actual message. However, it was not taking up instruction time during club, so we shared it. The students were good when it came to using the pre-created templates and just changing the pictures and text to be their own. Prezis can be created on the iPads but can only be viewed on a smaller device. Two students like Prezi enough to create their presentations for PETE&C using it. They will be able to share during the student showcase directly from their device.
* iCal. This was new to me, so I got to learn along with the students. They added the official school calendar – not that they need to know when every board meeting is – but it was good practice. Everyone also added the BYOT club calendar. We also showed them where to search for other iCals to fit their interests – like a sports team or little known holidays.
* Free App Finders. Before we set the students lose in iTunes, we discussed what makes an app good. We modeled searching for an app and reading reviews – both good and negative – to help make up our minds. There are numerous free app finder apps and websites, my personal favorite is Apps Gone Free. Some students preferred App Shopper because they could create an account and have a “want it” list. This would be useful if students do not have the password to their app store.
* Smackdown. Weeks when we have time, we offer a Tech Smackdown. We give students the chance to share a great app or tip they have learned with the group. This is fashioned after the Tech Smackdowns that I love at EdCamps. We collect all the tips on a Google Form so even students not at the meeting can see. Since middle school students can be shy, we have incentivized it. Through an awesome PTO we have stylus and cleaning cloths for mobile screens. These have been a huge success. Students bring them to class and it makes me smile, especially when other students are interested and they mention that the other student should join BYOT Club.
* Socrative. A great formative assessment tool in the classroom. One meeting we had a huge Smackdown planned. We asked each student to submit the name of the app or tip they wanted to share. After everyone submitted, we voted on the best. Those were the first people to share. In theory this was a wonderful idea. However, the students ran out of ideas with 20 minutes left in club. Now we are saving the Smackdown until the last 5 or 10 minutes for less awkward endings.
* Dragon Dictation or other Speech-to-Text feature. This was the most entertaining and hilarious club we’ve had so far. In order to test the accuracy of the app and the clear enunciation of the students, we collected a series of tongue twisters and short poems. They had to read what was on the screen and try to get it as close to the original as possible. Older devices did not have microphones and the normal computer headphones with mics did not work. This was a slight hurdle. For those students, and ones who could not enunciate clearly enough to be understood, they raced people speaking. It was better texters and speakers. The overall lesson was speaking is faster, but texting tends to have more accurate results if you are concerned with capital letters and punctuation. Dragon Dictation is school friendly, even when it thought a student cursed, it just put a bunch of symbols instead of a curse word (s***). The students laughed about that, how ridiculous everyone in the group sounded, and the crazy words that were mangled with some of the tongue twisters.
* Bookmarking with Symbaloo Edu. Symbaloo is my homepage. I love the visual element and the simplicity. I have the app on my phone an iPad, but don’t utilize them as much. I think students could benefit from well designed Symbaloo pages that are synced across their devices. There are so many websites that they want to remember and are required to remember. They can have different mixes for school or personal.
* Research with Evernote Bookmarklet (or other bookmarklets). This will be something that the students need modeled once or twice. Once they understand the concept, there are so many great applications. There are two resources that I would share: the straightforward Bookmarklets for iPad/iPhone and 100+ Useful Bookmarklets. The second list I would have to scan to make sure they are all school appropriate, because if there was just one in a hundred that wasn’t, there is 100% chance a student will find it.
* Search with smarter Google Skills. When students want to know something, they Google it. Since this is the answer source of choice, we might as well make sure they are intelligent in their searches and that they know how to interpret their results. Pretending that they will always turn to a scholarly source is not practical. I want to develop lifelong learners, even if they start their learning with Google bread crumbs.
* Using iBooks. Have students highlight, take notes, share notes – even email to Evernote. This is more challenging on a smaller device, but if schools are really thinking about switching to eBooks, it is a necessary skill. This would also include adding another bookmarklet dotEpub to turn a web page into an ePub. There are many courses that rely on websites for learning and it would be beneficial if students could add notes to these.
* Study Tools like Quizlet, Zondle, Study Blue, etc. Some people lament that worksheet like repetition of facts is not a good use of devices; however, it would still be good for students to know that this exists. During the Tech Smackdown, many of the apps shared had to do with studying. If this is what students want, they should learn all the options. I’m sure there is a number of beneficial features they haven’t discovered yet.
* Photo Fun. It was mentioned already that students love photos. With the plethora of apps you can expand the meaning of the photo beyond a thousand words. I do just mean something that is Instagram-able, but something that demonstrates learning with a single image, like visual poetry.
* Guest Experts. I’ve already had teachers in different subject areas volunteer to be a guest expert. If the high school is 100% BYOT, I want the students to be prepared for all subjects. So far I have English and Science lined up. I hope to have other teacher volunteers this spring. There are so many great, subject specific apps, I want the teachers to share the ones that they personally use. I could never judge the quality of a science app, but I am smart enough to know who would be a good reviewers.
* Paid App Showcase. This goes against by general suggestions for apps. In the past, every app I have recommended to students has been free; however, sometimes free isn’t better. The perfect example is trying to find a Flash enabled browser for an iOS device. If the students or advisors have a paid app that stands out, it would be great if other students could play with it. They would not have to buy apps ahead of time, but they would be able to make an educated decision if they wanted to buy it later. I would have students download a similar free app and they could do side-by-side comparisons. Since parents are normally the ones who fund app purchases, we could combine our findings into something that gets sent home.
Putting all of this into words made me realize how successful the club has been so far and the potential it still has. I love teaching.