My use of Apple computers dates back to the late 70‘s with the Apple IIe, but it was when Apple launched OSX in 2001 that I knew the platform for capturing students had arrived.  Since I began teaching in 2000 I have had Macs in my classroom.  I am a regular reader of Macworld, user of Apple’s chat boards, and can make most repairs to laptops myself. 

    I began running a paperless classroom when I decided to buy a class set of 18 iPads.  While I still use laptops in the classroom, the iPad has become the go to device due to its form factor, solid state processing “instant on” speed, and mobility.  I customized the iPads to accept a shoulder strap that allows students to stand and roam and enter data hands free much like you see with the guy at the ballpark selling hotdogs and cokes. The most important aspect of the iPad is the App Store and the ability to use thousands of applications,  In my eyes, this is a very significant educational tool.  For under a thousand dollars I have been able to load the class up with over 300 applications ranging from basic classroom tools such as calculators, stopwatches, flash cards and word processing, to outstanding programs like iMovie and Garage Band which allow for students to easily video and document scientific processes during lab. 

With Garage Band we sometimes take oral quizzes that students record and then email to me, thus giving them practice speaking English using scientific terminology.  Moreover, there are  science apps for biology, environmental science, chemistry and physics that bring the content to life (if you have not had a chance to explore Al Gore’s Our Choice book you really should. The ingenious use of graphs is spectacular and marks the next level in data presentation). With PDF Pen Pro and PDF Expert a teacher can convert scanned paper lessons into digital ones. It does this by allowing for the insertion of active text boxes into pdf documents or the complete rewriting of text. 

This has been ideal in lab when I want to specify where the data values are to be inserted, and with the iPad touch interphase, data entry is a snap.  This also works well for guided reading packets etc.   Another gem is the Numbers spreadsheet application that allows students to quickly make beautiful looking graphs. 

    One of the apps that helps facilitate the whole process of a paperless classroom is Dropbox.  I can quickly distribute digital documents to the class via a shared class folder.  I have a shared folder for each of my students and this is the place they send assignments for grading and storage.  From my desktop I can quickly open an assignment, assess it, and then close the document with the saved changes and I am done.  No need to email attachments to return student work.

Having each student with an iPad in the classroom in combinations with AppleTv allows me to show cable free not only my iPad content through the classroom projector, but I am also able to switch over and display any students iPad as well.  

This has been great for allowing students to show off their knowledge and skills and play the role of instructor which leads to better comprehension of the concepts. Over the winter break I have purchased a used iClicker Base Station and a class set of student iClickers on eBay.  It is my hope this will be both fun and engaging for the students during class discussion while at the same time provide me with instant feedback for who needs revision and/or further instruction.

With the desktop screenshot feature on the iPad, students can quickly email there data collection home and insert it into their lab report Glogs.  Glogs, allows students to bring all the media elements together online including photos, video, audio voice overs, and data.  After grading the assignments I can then share them with all the students so they can learn from each other by seeing other’s responses and data sets.  This also drives parent involvement as each student gives a ‘show and tell’ to their parents of all their Glogs at the end of the unit, giving them a chance to shine...or to be held accountable for why they are not giving their best efforts.

StarQuiz is a very good test program that I have used for many years to make digital exams.  With SQ and Google Forms I am able to post student results online for parents to view and student to revise and correct. Moreover, I use the program as a way to collect answers to homework assignments as you can see here at the class Chemistry Center. When I made the move to iPads this year I needed a way to secure students from cheating by quickly switching online to google answers or sending answers to other students.  After much thinking I came upon a

Last semester I set out to further my understanding of data base design and management with the aim of improving my in class assessment, long term tracking, and reporting of student progress. For this, I dove deeper into Filemaker and upgraded to the advanced version of the software.  When I ran into coding that was beyond my time allotment to learn, I hired online programers to help me overcome formulaeic hurdles. After a few hundred hours and 2 months of work it was done. On my iPad I now have the ability to quickly mark attendance, effort scores, send messages home for missing work or outstanding performance in class, and most powerfully, track student MYP criterion score progress over a 2 year period.  I can then batch email reports out from my desktop to parents and students when it is time.  As you can see in the example Progress Report above, I borrowed from the Khan Academy color scoring scheme to indicate student criterion progress with red showing areas that need improvement, blue for making progress, and green for mastery.  This is a very powerful diagnostic tool for both students, parents and teachers and gives me a solid foundation on which to base parent conferences.  An equivalent solution would run several thousand dollars or more and I was able, with my own learning and online assistance, to put this solution together for under a $400.

To support student learning I purchased accounts for my students at Adaptive Curriculum.  Texas recently adopted this company statewide. This science learning site offers virtual lab investigations that support concepts taught in class which goes a long way in completing the number of repetitions most learners need.  Moreover, since it is web based, it affords students to move at their own pace at home as they problem solve their way through the content.

I also incorporate virtual labs using resources such as Holt and Rhinehart’s CD-rom series and the excellent A.D.A.M. resources for human anatomy.

Podcasts

Another opportunity to practice their English speaking skills, student podcasts for my science class include 2 students that serve as hosts and a rotation of students developing content to fill 4 segments of the show: Science in the News, Home Lab Experiments, Interesting Science Facts, and the reading of a character education short story.

One of the more engaging classroom events you will ever witness is in my classroom during an exam prep playing Science in Jeopardy.  Seeing it used to great effect during my student teaching internship with my State of Texas Region Teacher of the Year mentor Mrs. Ragland, I extended the idea the next summer into a digital format while working as a ranger for the  US Army Corps of Engineers. When the local dam’s spillway was breached during the flood of the century, in my down time between dam inspections on the graveyard shifts, I used Power Point and other resources to create a knock off of the famous game show.  It has been a massive hit all the years of my teaching.  I must also say that having the chance to mentor under Mrs. Ragland was a blessing beyond compare.  She had at the time 32 years experience in teaching middle school science and was recognized as having one of the premier middle school science programs in the state.  Getting the privilege to learn under her, and how she organized the structure and sequencing of a science classroom and year, was invaluable and has allowed me to maintain a superior quality science learning environment for my students.