Friday, October 12, 2012

Elementary School iPad Rollout

Fourth grade students at Woodbridge
creating their first movie.
Elementary students were brimming with excitement this week as the iPad carts were assembled and loaded into their classrooms.

Teachers have been patiently waiting and preparing for this digital disruption in their learning environment for over a year now.  To say that everyone is ready and excited is a total understatement. Already after a week of use teachers and students are off and running using the iPads in a variety of ways.

Before putting the device in the hands of students, teachers communicated a message of expectations for use and care for the iPad.  They got a little help from some courages and destined to be famous fifth grade students from Quincy.  Check out the great job they did putting together proper caring and sharing techniques for using the iPad. Other topics covered included:  Responsible and safe internet searching, proper communication protocol with teachers and peers, and teaching students about their digital footprint.

One great aspect of the iPad is the camera. Students love to take pictures and pose for them too. In Mrs. Timmer's elementary class students were learning how to classify objects, specifically contrasting human and natural characteristics of landforms.  Students were given the task of heading outdoors and capturing objects that were a part of the landscape and classifying them as human or natural.  Heading outside with the iPads gave students the feeling of exploring their surroundings like an archeologist. After capturing human and natural landforms students discussed the differences and created a pic collage of both types.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Teachers Delivering Content through iTunesU

It's a new year and for some of our teachers @Zeelandschools they are choosing to use iTunesU to host their classroom content.  Zeeland Public Schools launched their public iTunesU site this past September offering a few classes, not just to their students, but to the entire world as well. This is one of the fascinating aspects of Apples iTunesU space- anyone around the world with access to iTunes can access content from any institution using iTunesU to host it's content. In fact it is interesting to note that over half of our institutions content is being downloaded from outside the United States.

There are many great features about keeping content in iTunesU.  Teachers enjoy the vast amount of file space they are allotted for videos, links, and digital textbooks. Building a course is as simple as uploading your content, linking external sites, and dragging objects to create a correct order of appearance. Content, such as apps and digital textbooks in the iBook store are all linked together making student workflow easy and seamless. One great feature to note is the ability for students to take notes while watching videos.  These notes are automatically bookmarked to the video timeline for easy referencing later.

Perhaps the most important issue that using iTunesU address is the one of limited internet access outside the school building. A 1:1 program can go a long ways towards leveling the playing field, however, once students step outside the school wi-fi access the field can again become unfair and the device limited.  Similar to apps like Dropbox and Google Drive, iTunesU allows students to download content for offline viewing.

While the platform is easy to use for both teacher and student it does have a few limitations. As of now, iTunesU is just a one way channel- delivering content to the student.  Besides the ability to email an instructor there are no interactive discussion boards, quizzing features, or widgets.  However, it is owned by Apple and you can bet there is a team of highly trained innovative educators who are working to make it better.

As a teacher it excites me to think I could be helping someone in far off country learn math or science. In addition, it encourages me to connect my students to similar(and different) classes with the same content (or different) and different instructors...why wouldn't I want to expose them to different teaching styles? This could be a great way for struggling students to get the support they need. Likewise, this can be a great way for advanced students to move ahead and be challenged.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

1:1 iPads year 2.0

Today marks the beginning of Zeeland Public Schools second year with iPads in the classroom.  To say that we learned a lot last year about the role technology plays in learning is a total understatement.  To say that we will do everything right this year is probably even more so an idealistic overstatement.  However, as learners we are constantly making efforts to improve the infrastructure of our digital school environment so here a few things that we took away from last year and are trying to improve on this year.

1. Create a culture of responsible and respectful digital citizens.

Last year students participated in a 2 hour ipad set up that included email accounts, Apple ID accounts, and going through the settings. There was no talk of Internet safety, cyber-bullying, and what is known as Net-iquette. 

This year we are skipping over most of the set up stuff and trying to focus on the later of the above statements. We view this similarly to getting your drivers license.  Instead of just handing over the keys and telling kids to figure it out for themselves (causing damage to themselves and others along the way) we are starting the discussion (it must be ongoing) about what it means to "drive" responsibly and respectfully.  Below are two videos that we are using to start off this year.

The first video is a local lawyer talking about the dangers and consequences of sexting.

The second video is a small introduction to the topics of neteqqute, internet safety, social media, and setting healthy boundaries around using technology.

There are lots of great digital citizenship resources found here

2. Professional Development of staff must be ongoing and well supported.

I don't know if anyone is ever "ready" to integrate technology into the classroom as there literally are thousands of choices to be made in this respect. Even for those veteren teachers who are content experts, when it comes to changing your instructional strategies around technology everyone feels a little bit like a first year teacher.  So professional development and ongoing support is an absolute must.
As for last year, we will just say there wasn't enough (not sure there ever is).

This year we are restructuring support so that each building has a tech coach that is there and able to handle to quick and easy questions. These coaches are full time teachers and are using the technology themselves.  In addition, there is one district wide tech coach fully devoted to working alongside and serving the teachers as they work to transform their instructional strategies.  Building tech coaches will point their staff to this person for more in-depth and ongoing projects. Together the team of tech coaches will keep their fingers on the pulse of classroom technologies in the district, provide teachers with video tutorials on how to created digital learning spaces & activities, and provide the district with guidance for sustaining technology use in the classroom.

3. Student Devices

I know there are lots of varying opinions on what the student device should look like or be allowed to do.  Last year we pretty much just put the iPads out there in the hands of students with very few if any restrictions. This was not a horrible thing in and of itself, after all this post is partly about reflecting on what we learned from doing what we did. However, there were many uncontrollable issues that came out of this. And, being teachers we don't like when things are "out of control".

This year in hopes of comforting our staff a bit and responsibly training our younger learners, we are placing a few restrictions on the device and offering performance based incentives to remove restrictions.  All students in grades 6-9 will receive iPads with a set list of apps on them and not have the ability to download apps of their choice from the app store. This decision was reached in part due to the age restrictions around creating an Apple ID, but also due to the fact that the majority of discipline issues around gaming on the iPad involved freshman students.  There has been no final decision made about when, or if, the app store will be unlocked on freshman iPads but an idea being thrown around is that students will prove being responsible and respectful with the use of their device and eventually it will eventually be turned on for them. I guess we will see how it goes.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


I love the way technology can get my students engaged and excited about learning. Sometimes I'm even able to trick them so that they don't even know they are learning. This is exactly what happened last week! I came across a website that provides FREE live footage of an African waterhole. I began showing it for 5 or 10 minutes throughout the day. The waterhole is very active first thing in our morning (there is a 7 hour time difference) and so I always have it on as they come in on the morning. It's really neat, but of course I found myself wondering how I could catch their excitment and connect it to the curriculum. We began researching the animals and trying to find the names of some of the unfamiliar animals. This week, the kids are choosing an African animal to write about. We are also studying seasons and weather so we began looking into the weather and seasons in Africa. In addition, it has created some interest in maps and using map skills. Many of the kids are even watching the waterhole at home and bringing in information about the animals. I love the way technology can get my class excited and help us travel to other places. Check out the waterhole at I am watching the Tembe waterhole. I hope your students enjoy it as much as mine are!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Devices From Home and Innovation?

A year ago during our planning phases of 1:1 we had predicted students would eventually come to school with shinny new devices they had received from under the Christmas Tree.  Therefore, I shouldn't have been surprised when I returned to school after break to smiling faces telling me "guess what Mr. Braymer, I got an ipod touch for Christmas!"  I just hadn't thought it would happen so soon.  I currently have nine desktop computers in my classroom, so as far as the normal fourth grade room goes I have more than most.  But, with 25 students using them it can be difficult to manage.  With several students bringing their ipod touches, and nooks to school it noticeably frees up computers for other students.  Thanks parents!

This lead me to another thought.  We have been learning about the lumber era and how technology advancements lead to deforestation, and ultimately the end of unsustainable logging practices as they were known.  In short, technology lead to a complete overhaul in the way the lumber business was operated.  Why? because it didn't make sense to continue doing the job the way it was currently being done.

So, here we stand on the threshold of a massive change in the way educational practices have always been performed.  For so long the teacher has been the giver of information; the lead person with all the knowledge.  Now, it is obvious that technology has changed that matrix.  Zeeland has begun this journey as a leading player by putting such powerful devices in the hands of students.  These portable devices are forcing the education world into an overhaul of they way educators deliver content.  With these machines in the hands of our students, only time will tell how quickly we can innovate our practices to look more like the future that our students will be living in.  One thing is for sure; the information is at every one's finger tips all the time. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

1st Semester Reflections

Here at the high school, it is hard to believe that our first semester of students and teachers with iPads is about to come to an end.  This semester has proven to be one of the most challenging, yet rewarding ones I have encountered in my teaching career.  With each year that has gone bye, I have considered myself to be a little bit better teacher than the year prior. I have been teaching in Zeeland for nearly twenty years and in that time, I have built up many resources to draw upon in instructing students.  Knowing that we would have iPads this year forced me (and many other teachers too I suspect) to re-examine how I go about doing some parts of my job.  It has been quite refreshing to go through filing cabinets, binders, folders, etc. of resources and decide what still is relevant and what is no longer useful material.  Thanks to bond issue money, I now have greater ease and ability to scan articles from magazines, newspapers, and supplemental text materials and create .PDF files that I can not only save, but share with students and other teachers has been positively impacted my teaching.  Students, with their iPads, are able to access this information daily and use it to help learn, collaborate, and reinforce concepts essential to becoming a capable 21st global citizens.  Certainly, the work is not done and another semester will soon begin.  Like Mike and Frank on American Pickers, I have more treasures to uncover and give new life to so that others may benefit.  Yes, if you didn't already know, I do teach social studies and like most social studies teacher, I am a pack rat.

Monday, January 9, 2012

iPad Workshops for Parents - Teachers - Administrators

The Ottawa Area Intermediate School District (13565 Port Sheldon Street, Holland, MI 49424) is hosting iPad workshops.

Workshops by OAISD Staff:
iPads for Parents
Cost: @15.00 a workshop (dinner included)

iPads for Educators

Workshops by Scott Meech
Guest presenter Scott Meech is the  Director of Technology in Downers  Grove, Illinois, District #58.  Scott is a champion for the transformative nature  of technology, changing teaching and learning from a teacher-centered paradigm into a constructivist student centered approach.  He loves helping teachers learn to use iPad applications to improve student learning.  He’s an advocate for helping administrators  become more productive with iPad tools.  Scott was co-creator and a regularly contributor to, an educational site for evaluating and promoting the use of iPad and iOS devices to improve teaching and learning.  Audiences across the country enjoy Scott’s upbeat personality and practical approach to technology integration

iPads for All Learners
$50.00 - Lunch provided. Eligible for .6 SB-CEUs

iPads for Administrators
$25.00 - Eligible for .3 SB-CEUs

Integrating the iPad in Special Education Environments
@25.00 - Eligible for .3 SC-CEUs