Using iPad Restrictions to Help Students Make Better Choices

13215772563_891cbf5654_oWe have a rule in my school that if you want to photograph someone with your iPad you must get their permission first. It’s an important rule, but sometimes students break it. This raises an interesting question: if a student is using the iPad inappropriately, should we take the iPad away from them? Since we’re 1:1 with iPads, taking a student’s device away can have ripples of impact.

On the surface, it seems like taking the iPad away makes sense. If a student uses a tool inappropriately, take the tool away. But the iPad isn’t just a tool, it’s a toolbox full of tools. So if a student abuses a tool (such as the camera), is there a way we can take away just that tool? Yes, using iPad Restrictions.

iPad Restrictions

Restrictions allow us (with a password) to enable/disable certain tools in the iPad toolbox. In Burlington, we have some restrictions automatically pushed to every device (for example, we disable FaceTime and the iTunes Store and restrict ratings for videos).

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Standard elementary student restrictions.

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Standard elementary student restrictions.

In addition, for individual students we can add additional specific restrictions. The iPad is a powerful device because it does so much, and I am certainly in favor of having as few restrictions as reasonably and developmentally appropriate, but if a student is abusing a feature on the iPad I’d much rather disable that feature than take the entire device.

Setting Up Restrictions

In the Settings app, go to General -> Restrictions. Select “Enable Restrictions.” It will ask you to set a passcode. Make sure you remember it. When I set it for kids, I write it down somewhere. From here you can disable features on an individual basis. If a student is abusing the camera, turn just the camera off for a day or so. If a student is downloading apps they shouldn’t, disable Installing Apps. If a student is hanging out on Safari when they should be doing other work, turn Safari off (and get rid of any other browsers they have).

Since these restrictions can be set at the classroom level, you can turn them back on whenever you need to.

Finally

For kids to learn appropriate use it’s important to give them a chance to make mistakes; let’s not over-restrict their iPad experience. But if they make a mistake, let’s deal with that mistake specifically by addressing the specific tool, not the entire toolbox.

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Lack of Tech PD Isn’t the Problem

It’s so easy to do. We inject technology into classrooms and schools and offer lots of professional development. Time goes by; in some classes it takes, and in other rooms tech integration still struggles. We hear the teachers cry, “we need more tech PD” and we scramble trying to figure out what we missed and how we can create more effective professional development.

IMG_4310But maybe more tech PD isn’t the solution. Or maybe you’ve already offered more tech PD and things haven’t really gotten better. That’s because it’s not a technology problem.

It happens all the time: we put technology into a classroom, things don’t go as planned, and we blame the technology. That must be it, right? Not necessarily. At what point does it stop being a technology problem and start becoming a classroom management problem.

Teaching strategies from 20, 10, even 5 years ago may no longer work. Our students are different, our strategies must change in response. If you take a room with poor classroom management and introduce an educationally disruptive and potentially addictive device, what do you expect to happen? Of course it won’t go well. But that’s not a technology problem, and because of that all the technology PD in the world won’t fix it.

So what do we do?

We need administrators (evaluators) to help out. They need to work with teachers to refine their classroom management skills. If teachers struggle with teaching reading or math we know how to have those difficult conversations about improving. But too often we seem to look the other way when it comes to classroom management, even though it transcends every lesson we teach! We say to ourselves, “everyone is different,” “everyone has their own style.” Yes, that’s true, but some styles are ineffective. And those styles need to change. We’re not doing our students any favors by overlooking these rooms.

If technology integration, if 1:1 environments, are going to be successful we need classrooms with strong classroom management skills. Period.

My district emphasizes the importance of engaging lessons; I agree that’s extremely important to what we do. But engaging technology-filled lessons with poor classroom management will lead to failure every time. And not because the teachers need more tech PD. If we’re going to solve this problem, we need to address the root causes.

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Starting an Elementary Student Helpdesk

Last year (2014-2015) Kim Lynch (a 5th grade teacher) and I started a Student Helpdesk at our elementary school. The idea was to have a group of trained students who could help with tech-related issues in the building. Here’s how the Helpdesk came to be, and how I hope it will change in the future:

The Vision

Helpdesk working in first grade.

Helpdesk students working in first grade.

The vision was to have a group of students who could help teachers, or other students, or even whole classes when they needed a hand with technology. This could mean them joining me working in a classroom, or they could work without me if I was already teaching in another room.

Since elementary students don’t have study hall, or unscheduled, time this would mean taking them out of class to help out. It was always made clear to teachers that if I wanted to borrow a Helpdesk student from their class, I would seek their permission first. Helpdesk was not meant to be a ticket to get out of class. Each time I would make sure each student was okay academically before taking them. (That said, I definitely believe that when a student helps another student or classroom learn a technological skill, the teaching students learns some valuable skills as well.)

Tech Skills

Since our district is 1:1 with iPads, our skill list is pretty iPad-centric. I developed the list and grouped the skills into categories (most of them correspond to the district’s Foundational Apps). Students came to the computer lab during their recess time to practice the skills, and help each other master them. When they felt they had mastered a category, they would sit with me 1:1 and show me that they could do everything on the list. I kept a running list of who had mastered which apps, so if I needed help with iMovie or Book Creator or Google Drive I could quickly see which students had mastered which apps (and who would be a good student to help out).

On missing recess: Coming to Helpdesk was never required. If it was a nice, sunny day after a week of rain it was fine if kids wanted to be outside. Interestingly (but not entirely surprising), if you look at recess as free time or a way for kids to recharge mid-day, most of the Helpdesk students were just as happy to recharge by learning a new app on the iPad than running around outside. Most mornings I was greeted with, “can we come down at recess today?”

Students

In it’s first year, we hand picked about a dozen fifth graders. Most were boys, which initially we were uncomfortable with. But the more we looked at the specific makeup of that year’s 5th grade class, we felt better about it – it was a group that really didn’t have a lot of tech-interested girls. Looking at the class we had the year before, it would have been a more evenly balanced group simply because it would have been a different population to choose from.

Moving Forward

Changes for the upcoming year:

  • I want to develop an application process. I want a questionnaire so students can tell my why they think they’re a good fit for the Helpdesk (Why do you want to be a part of the Helpdesk? Are you willing to give up recess time? How do you feel about helping younger students or teachers? If you miss work in class, are you willing to make it up on your own, possibly as homework?). I don’t want to hand pick the team again.
  • I want to open it up to both 4th and 5th graders. The idea here being in subsequent years I’ll have a crop of kids in the fall who are already trained (trained as 4th graders, now starting 5th grade). They might be able to help train the new students (if their recesses overlap), but more so we’ll be able to start helping classes as soon as the school year starts.

I’m looking forward to a new and better Student Helpdesk this year.

Looking for 1:1 Success? You Need Ubiquity!

ipad_paperThere are lots of things that will make a 1:1 environment (iPads, Chromebooks, laptops, BYOD, etc.) successful, but without ubiquity you won’t find success. If you’re going to go 1:1 technology can’t be an extra thing, it has to permeate everything.

Think about it like this, the iPad is an educational tool. You wouldn’t hide your constructions paper or scissors or makers away and only get them out for special projects (I hope). If you do, that Social Studies project starts to become a construction paper and scissors project; the project becomes about the tool not the content.

The same is true for technology. If you keep it away and only get it out for a limited number of specific activities, that Science project starts to become a technology project.

If you want students to use technology effectively they need lots of practice. If they’re working in a content area you want them focusing their energy on the content, not how to use the tool (technology).

Sure, there are times when you want to unplug. I’m not suggesting that we go all-technology all-the-time, but if you want success the tool needs to be available as much as possible – like all their other school supplies/tools (construction paper, scissors, markers).

Making Book Trailers Better: Legacy

iMovie-2.0-for-iOS-app-icon-smallMany teachers have used the iMovie Trailer function to make book trailers. But what do we do with them? How do we make sure those trailers last? How do we make sure students, lots of students, see those trailers? How do we make sure students use those trailers to help them choose books they’ll like (because that’s really the point of a trailer)?

QR Codes!

Okay, first, I don’t love QR codes; I know some teachers adore them. I think they have limited use, but this is definitely one of them.

Book QR Code

Our first trailer. The student chose the color.

Once you make your trailer, put it in a public place on the web. We’re a Google Apps for Education (GAFE) district, so we put them in drive and then made them public to anyone with the link. Then create a QR code for the movie (we used the QRafter app and the QRStuff site). Then head to library and put that QR code on every copy of the book. Now, when students go to the library (we’re a 1:1 iPad district) they can scan the QR code and see a visual trailer for the book created by a student (in addition to the blurb on the back). If books are going to be displayed cover-out, put a copy of the QR code on the front too.

And (this is the best part), the movie file is stored in a stable place in the cloud. So as my elementary school students who created the trailers move through middle and high school the trailer will still be sitting in their Google Drive available for younger students to see it. Five or more years from now, students will be watching the trailers we created this year!

Our students do great work; make sure it isn’t lost when summer arrives. Help them create a legacy.

 

Note: I’ve written about iMovie trailers before. Here is a post with single-page, printable storyboards for all the trailer themes. Here is a post about using trailers as a way for students to introduce themselves to next year’s teacher. And here is a post about moving beyond trailers and getting into iMovie projects.

Embedding a PDF From Drive into a Blog

Embedding PDFs in a blog can be a great way to share information, especially with parents and the community. These days Google Drive makes this easy: when you’re viewing a PDF you can easily get the embed code and drop it into you blog. But, the code includes a preview pane and no options for zooming, so it’s not idea. The default Google Drive PDF embed code ends up creating this:

Getting the embed code is easy, but the result is in no way ideal. In fact you’ll notice that most of the first page of the PDF you can’t even see. Fortunately, there’s a better way. It take a little code (really, just a little), but it’s very doable.

The embed code Drive gives you looks like this (it’s what I used above):

<iframe src="https://docs.google.com/a/bpsk12.org/file/d/0B3xoQi_oa7_hU2J5S1RQbFdqS3c/preview" width="580" height="480"></iframe>

What we need to do though, is to use this code instead (it’s way better, for lots of reasons):

<iframe src="https://docs.google.com/viewer?srcid=[put your file id here]&pid=explorer&efh=false&a=v&chrome=false&embedded=true" width="580px" height="480px"></iframe>

I know, the code looks a little intimidating, but most if it we can ignore.

There are only three things in the code we need to worry about:

  1. The file id.
  2. The height of the frame.
  3. The width of the frame.

The file ID for your PDF (one that is already in Google Drive) can be found in the PDFs web address. When you open a PDF, it’s the garbage-looking piece of the URL (it will be between forward-slashes, “/”).

The file ID is highlighted in yellow.

The file ID is highlighted in yellow.

In this case it’s the 0B3xoQi_oa7_hU2J5S1RQbFdqS3c

That id will need to be placed into the code in place of the “[insert your file id here]”. Make sure to get rid of the square brackets in the sample code.

Height and width are exactly that, height and width. You can change these numbers (they’re measured in pixels) to change the size of the frame that you’re PDF is enclosed in.

And what does it look like? If we take this code (notice that I’ve inserted my file ID)

<iframe src="https://docs.google.com/viewer?srcid=0B3xoQi_oa7_hU2J5S1RQbFdqS3c&pid=explorer&efh=false&a=v&chrome=false&embedded=true" width="580px" height="480px"></iframe>

and put it into a blog (remember, when you’re embedding html code you have to use the HTML window of the editor, not the Compose window), you get this:

This is so much better. It zooms out so that the PDF is displayed page-width. There’s no preview pane. You can scroll down if there are multiple pages. There are zoom options if you want to zoom in. All the things we want when we embed a PDF.

A little code, and all the sudden that PDF becomes so much more user-friendly. But don’t forget, in Drive if you’re embedding a PDF you need to make the file public first, otherwise it won’t embed correctly. 

Note: I didn’t put this code together myself. I found it on a Google forum post here, from 2013, from user Yajeng.

iMovie Trailers and Coloring Books

iMovie-2.0-for-iOS-app-icon-smalliMovie on the iPad is pretty awesome. And the Trailer function is a great starting point (you can find my iMovieTrailer storyboards here). But remember, it’s just that – it’s just a starting point. Most of the teachers I know who have used it for a student project come away from the experience saying, “that was great, but now that I get it I wish it could do more.” Fortunately, you can.

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You see, the Trailer function is a lot like a coloring book; all you can do is color in the lines. Sure, you can assign a project to your students using the Trailers and they’ll all come out different, but they’ll also all kind of be the same. It’s like a coloring book: each kid can use different colors, but they all kind of end up with the same picture.

So use the Trailers, and then grow out of them. Start using the Movie function. Start drawing with a blank piece of paper. There’s so much more you can do.

And here’s a generic iMovie Movie storyboard. I think it’s a good idea to have students do some planning before they get a camera in their hands.