Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What's on your iPad home screen?

While reading through my RSS feeds the other day, I came across an interesting blog post by Justin Reich at EdTechTeacher called All the Good Apps Fit on One Screen. One of his focal points was that teachers have a core set of apps that we use the most. All of these core apps should fit on just your iPad's home screen.

Justin (@bjfr) took a screen shot of his home screen and shared this image on Twitter. He then encouraged others to do the same, using the hast tag #onescreen. For those of you who know Derek and I, you know that neither of us like Twitter. However, this was the first time I found a reason to actually engage in a Twitter feed. I began by clicking on the hash tag link above and lurked around for a while, looking at all of the images other teachers have shared of their home screens. I then took the plunge and tweeted out a pic of my own home screen and added to the conversation. A short time later, Justin Reich retweeted my comment on his own feed. I gotta say, I'm not quire ready to embrace Twitter just yet, but this did give me a snapshot into how it could be a valuable tool for collaboration.

This experience inspired me to initiate similar collaboration here in Shrewsbury. Since very few of us use Twitter, I created a Google Presentation that is public and can be edited by anyone. I am asking as many teachers as possible to take a screen shot of your iPad home screen, then share that image onto the Google Presentation for others to see. There are directions in the presentation itself, but I would also like for you to add your name, grade, and subject taught. Access the Google presentation here. Please remember that anyone can edit this slideshow so please only edit one slide. Do not edit another slide that was already created. 

Now, this isn't just for teachers. Even though some apps will vary based on grade and subject, there are many apps that can be useful to everyone. Therefore, I encourage everyone who sees this to participate: teachers, aides, curriculum coordinators, principals, and other administration. Even if you happen to be reading this and are not affiliated with Shrewsbury Public Schools, we would love your participation. If a lot of people get involved, this could be a great starting point to finding out about some new apps.

The images shared can be viewed in the embedded slideshow below. Click on the "full screen" button at the bottom to view the presentation in full screen mode.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Crash Course: History and Science Videos

John and Hank Green are two brothers from Montana who started an educational YouTube channel one year ago called "Crash Course". Most of their videos are around 9-12 minutes in length and focus on specific topics related to one of their six main courses: World History, US History, English Literature, Biology, Ecology, and Chemistry. The videos are entertaining and informative.

John Green produces the history and literature segments while his brother Hank focuses on science. Hank recently announced that would be starting a new course on Chemistry. The first Chemistry video was released one week ago. It focuses on the atom's nucleus and already has over 120,000 views!

World History Highlights: 

  • Rise and fall of the Roman Empire
  • Five pillars of Islam
  • Dark Ages
  • Renaissance
  • Capitalism, Socialism, and Imperialism

English Literature Highlights

  • Romeo and Juliet
  • Great Gatsby
  • Catcher in the Rye

US History Highlights

  • Colonizing America
  • Natives and the English
  • Natives and the Spaniards
  • More to come...

Biology Highlights

  • Animal and Plant cells
  • Photosynthesis
  • Heredity
  • Mitosis and Meiosis
  • Evolution/Natural selection
  • Human systems (muscular, digestive, etc.)

Ecology Highlights

  • History of life on Earth
  • Community Ecology
  • Ecosystem Ecology
  • Ecological Succession

Chemistry Highlights

  • The Nucleus
  • More to come...

How can these videos help you? 

We all know that any educational video is going to be aimed at a certain audience. After having watched numerous Crash Course videos, I would say their target audience is high school students and older. Younger students can definitely understand the material presented and find it entertaining, but I would give some of their content a PG-13 rating.

These videos are great for you all to watch. The two brothers do a great job of making the information entertaining and interesting. I would recommend them if you would like to review some material or maybe learn more about a new topic. However, you should screen the video first before showing it to students. Most are okay, but some can be a little inappropriate for younger students.

Personally, I am very excited about their upcoming Chemistry course. The first video (embedded above) on the atomic nucleus is excellent. It is relevant, appropriate, and gives a great overview of important concepts my students need to know.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Organize all of the tasks in your life with Any.Do

Teachers are very busy these days. We have over-sized classes which means more students to help, more tests to grade, more parents to keep in touch with, and, well, you get the idea. This means that now, more than ever, we are multitasking like never before. I feel like I have a lot more on my plate right now, and it's difficult to keep track of everything I need to get done. The answer? A "To Do" task manager!

Why do you need a "To-Do" Manager?

I use Google Calendar quite a bit for all of the events in my life. It helps me keep track of all school meetings, hockey games, appointments, and so on. It is essential for letting me know what's going on each day and where I need to be. However, it's not so helpful with reminding me of what I need to get done on a daily basis. That's where the idea of a "To-Do" or "task" manager comes in. There are endless apps out there for iPhones, iPads, and Android phones that do this for you. Many of them are very basic, such as the "Reminders" app that comes installed on all Apple devices. There are some though that are much more helpful.

Any.Do is a free app available for the iPhone/iPod Touch and all Android phones. Unfortunately, it is not yet supported on iPads. I delayed writing this post in hopes they would update the app to include iPads. It is a popular request on their website, but this feature doesn't seem to be coming anytime soon. There is also an app for Google Chrome for your computer.

5 reasons why Any.Do is the best app out there

1. Choose your background.

There are two design background to choose from: white or black. Both are clean and sleek.

2. Organize tasks by date and/or folder.

My favorite part of Any.Do is that all tasks can be organized by date and folder. For date, you decide when the task must be completed: "Today", "Tomorrow", "Upcoming", or "Later". If you hold the phone in landscape mode, it will display a calendar that lets you assign tasks to specific days. You can also create many folders to sort tasks by category. The folders I use are called "Personal", "School", and "Groceries". 

3. Intuitive touch gestures.

Any.Do is very intuitive and easy to use. Press down and hold on a task, and you will be able to move it to another spot. In the image below, let's say you decided not to buy twelve tomatoes today, simply move it to another time. When you first enter a task, it may end up in the wrong folder. No problem, just move it to the the correct one! 

4. Easy input of tasks

You can add tasks using two different methods: type them into the box at the top of the screen or click on the microphone and say it out loud. When typing, it tries to figure out what you want to do. If you just type "eggs" for example, it will try to guess the rest. Some options include "buy eggs", "egg noodles", "egg whites", and "egg nog". The voice recognition is excellent and almost always enters it correctly.

5. Some pretty advanced features

Any.Do has a great design. It's simple and intuitive to meet just about everyone's needs. However, there are some other features that really put the icing onto the cake. You can give tasks a high priority and add notes to each task (which also supports verbal entry). The two coolest features though are the reminders and sharing. You can share tasks with others by entering their email address. If they are an Any.Do user, it will appear on their phone as a shared task. Right now, you can get a time-based reminder. This will send you an alert on the date and time you choose. A new feature that will be coming soon is location-based reminders. Using the GPS on your phone, you can "tag" locations as your Home, Work, etc. You could set up a reminder to finish photocopying the tests once you arrive at your school.

Final thoughts...

Students with iPhones, iPod Touches, and Android phones could potentially use this to help themselves stay up to date with assignments. I know many teams use MyHomework for this reason. I have never used it and am curious how the two compare. However, I think the app would be the most helpful for teachers right now.I strongly recommend you give it a shot. I spent a lot of time looking at websites, online reviews, and trolling through the App Store. Everywhere I look, they either say this app is the very best or at least put it in the top 3. The company behind Any.Do has received a lot of money from investors, and I see it only getting better in the future.

If you are looking for a task manager on your iPad, the next best choice is probably another free app called Wunderlist. It is cross platform and supported on practically every device. To use the standards-based grading analogy......if Any.Do is a "4", then Wunderlist is a "3".

Any.Do Links and Resources

Download Any.Do from the:

Any.Do website
Lifehacker: Any.Do is a crazy intuitive, gesture-based to-do app
The Next Web: Create "Any.Do" tasks from your Gmail account