4 iPad How Tos from the UGDSB ITRTs

Before I attended this workshop, I associated the iPad with apps. I thought that the all of the iPad’s functionality had to do with the apps that you installed on it.

The Upper Grand District School Board ITRTs (Itinerant Technology Resource Teachers) have been in an iPad workshop facilitated by the people at Apple. Going in, I honestly thought that I would be able to pick a couple gems to take back to my schools, but it turned out to be an eye opener.

Before I attended this workshop, I associated the iPad with apps. I thought that the all of the iPad’s functionality had to do with the apps that you installed on it. The whole first day and a half of the two day workshop focussed on the capabilities of the iPad right-out-of-the-box. Let me tell you, there are tons!

Here are 4 how tos that the ITRTs have hammered out during the workshops. Feel free to use, make a copy, and change them up however you want.

iPad Swipes

iPad Text to Speech

iPad Speech to Text (And Adding Keyboards)

iPad Guided Access

More tech how tos and tip sheets at the ITRT Website!

What do you think? Easy to use? More screen captures needed? Is there any other iPad how tos or tip sheets you would want?


The iPad & Accessibility (FI too)… No Apps Required

Here are some of the tips and tricks that I learned at an iPad Workshop.

Apple TV

New Apple TVs don’t need to be on the network. Your Apple TV and iDevice are communication through bluetooth. This only works with the newer generation iPads: not the generation 2.


Settings -> General ->Accessibility -> Speech -> Voices -> English -> Enhanced… more realistic speech (120mb download, FREE)

  • Whole screen reading is done with a two finger swipe from the top of the screen. A tool bar will pop up. We tried on Overdrive it didn’t work well, but it worked well on Kindle, iBooks, PDFs.
  • You can also set it to highlight text as it is read and read a section.
  • If you turn on “Voice Over” in accessibility, then it works better with OverDrive. Click on the section of text you want read. When Voice Over is selected you need to double-tap to select.


Students use the microphone that is on the keyboard.

Apple iPad Training

French Immersion Accessibility

One of the obstacles I have encountered is that the accessibility options for French Immersion students is less robust. Without purchasing any apps, you can provide the basic accessibility functions of speech-to-text and text-to-speech for French students using the iPad.

French Text-to-Speech

  • Settings -> General ->Accessibility -> Speech -> Voices -> French (Canada) = Text to speech on iPad

French Speech-to-Text

  • Settings -> General ->Accessibility -> Language & Region ->French (Canada)
  • Speech-to-text will work en français


  • Another password is required… it can be different from the lock screen and the
  • You can hide specific apps from the view on the home screen
  • If you have enough time you could even list websites
  • Practical uses: students cannot Facetime, students cannot delete new apps
  • You can restrict installing and deleting Apps
  • Here are some screen shots of the available options when it comes to restrictions.

IMG_0892 IMG_0893 IMG_0894


  • Five finger swipe (to move between apps)
  • Zoom: three finger double tap (Zoom needs to be enabled)
    • Settings -> General ->Accessibility -> Zoom -> Turn Zoom on
  • Swipe down on word predict bar (to minimize it)
  • Split keyboard: put your thumbs on the G & H and pull apart
  • Two finger swipe from the top of the screen (whole screen reading, Speech needs to be enabled)
    • Settings -> General ->Accessibility -> Speech -> Speak Screen

Control Centre

  • Do Not Disturb
    • You can change the settings so certain phone numbers can ring through
      • Settings -> Do Not Disturb -> Allow Calls From


Create Family Sharing iTunes Account

  • Prompted when purchases are made
  • There are definitely some educational uses that can be gleaned from family sharing.
    • Students can advocate for their needs by asking for Apps.
    • Teachers need to approve Apps. I am not sure if this is the case with free Apps, but it would help in an educational setting.

Design, Build, and Transform


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The keynote speaker on Wednesday – Emily Pilloton – did the unimaginable. She took ten juniors from a high school in an impoverished town in North Carolina, immersed them into design principles and project-based learning, and completed a project (they built a farmer’s market) that brought a town together. She did this without any teacher training, without garnering a wage form the school board, and without the support of the school board itself.

She calls her classroom Studio H and it consists of her partner (Matt Miller), and her students. They rally around the words: design, build, and transform. While they were completing the first year of their program, documentary film makers followed them through their journey and made the film: If You Build It.

At the end of her keynote she left us with some homework. The bold type selections below are the three statements she left us with. Underneath, I have jotted down my initial thoughts. In italics, I have left you with a question that you can comment on.

Make the space to make things.

At one of the schools I work at, I have already been in talks with the SERT/ Librarian to develop a digital maker’s space in their learning commons. I am going to suggest making this analog as well. I have already planned on a pod of laptops where students can use programs like Sketch Up and Minecraft to design, build, and transform. Now, I also envision modular storage containers that contain tools and materials that will bridge the gap between imagination and reality.

 Emily was taking about physical space, but I think we can extend this to space within our year long plans. Our students should be creating. We don’t need to pressure ourselves or our students to do more; we need them to do less, but in more depth and with more reflection. Initiating enriching and engaging projects that are cross-curricular and involve the philosophy behind the design process, is one way we can create such a space.

Besides maker spaces, how else can we create space for our students can be makers? How can we make the maker spaces authentic, when having to deal with regulations around acceptable equipment?

Wear your failures like a badge of honour. Talk about them whenever you can.

This one is extremely tough for me. I need to go about this more explicitly in my daily practice. I think what I have to do next is process my failures when they occur. I need to take the time to reflect on them, so I can have strategies to avoid them in the future.

There is a connection between failures and mistakes. If we reflect on them and delve into the causes and missed opportunities, then we can learn from them. I think my biggest failures has been not being able to reach a larger proportion of my students. When I reflect on these failures, one idea I keep coming back to is that I didn’t ask for (or find) the right resources to help that student. I need to acknowledge my own strengths and weaknesses and then seek out colleagues to help me out when I find myself stuck with a next step for a struggling student.

This is why collaboration and networking is so important for teachers. We have so many areas that we need to be competent in, that it is unrealistic to demand that we be experts in all of them. We need to have knowledge of content, pedagogy, assessment and evaluation, psychology, philosophy, etc., and we shouldn’t put pressure on ourselves to be experts in all of them (or even most of them). But, we should pressure ourselves to seek out people that can fill in our gaps and assist students where we are unable.

What is a failure you have learned from?

Walk into your school as a student first. Each day say, “I am here to learn.”

I think for teachers, there are two ways they can see themselves as students and learn. One, they can learn directly from their students. It doesn’t matter if we talk about math problem solving strategies or using technology, students find unique ways to get things done. We need to recognize this and celebrate it in our classrooms. Two, we need to be open and receptive to the fact that a student is going to pose a new challenge to our practice and we are going to have to learn and use new strategies to make that student successful.

How else do you learn in your classroom?

BAA (Blayne’s App Advice)

As an Itinerant Technology Resource Teacher I am always asked for insight into apps apps that would be beneficial for students to use.  With so many developers, and with new apps being introduced to the market on a daily basis, it is difficult to stay current and informed.

I have always wanted a reputable site to go to where apps have been reviewed by educational professionals, so I could lead teachers to the right app for their particular class or student. At SXSWEdu I was introduced to bridgingapps.org. They have professionals from all areas of the educational system that vet and review apps. They take the review process seriously, and base their advice on use that goes beyond a couple uses. It is an American organization so some apps may not be available in Canada.

My Top 3

Explain Everything – The uses of this app are so diverse and effective that – even though it isn’t free – it is worth the purchase. I have seen teachers use this as a whiteboard to teach from, lead their class in Bansho, or as a way for students to document their process as they work through a problem. Spend the $3.99!

Google Drive – The fact that files can be accessible anywhere that there is internet service makes this wonderful. But when you add the fact that students can collaborate anywhere by sharing and commenting on files, well then you just transformed your classroom.

Raz Kids – I know, I know… not necessarily a free app because students need to have an existing account in order to use it. But,have you seen what this app can do? It is gamiefied in the sense that students get stars for completing different activities. They can then use those stars to personalize their own avatar; my son absolutely loves this part. The text level can be set for each student so that they are reading texts that are challenging enough for them, which helps promote gains in fluency and decoding. They can also record themselves as they read, and then play it back so they can self-evaluate their own fluency and expression.

But that ain’t all! Pull your socks up; I’m about to blow them off. If students send their recording, the teacher can access it via their online account. On the teacher account, teachers can use this to complete an online running record. Teachers can take the time to analyze and look at the root cause of student errors (meaning, structural, or visual), so that appropriate strategies and interventions can be put in place.

New and Promising Apps

Seesaw – Essentially, Seesaw is a way to curate your students work into a portfolio and be able to give them feedback that they can access anywhere, at anytime. This can be used in student-parent-teacher interviews, or even to show grandma and grandpa when they come to visit. More importantly it can be used for students to reflect upon their work. Often times the teacher can be using Seesaw to record the feedback, while the student is right there.

One neat feature is that parents can have a parent account where they can check in on their child’s work. Teachers can make text, graphic, or even voice annotations on children’s work. A variety of file types can be uploaded (check to see if a particular platform is supported) including picture and video files.

One of the teachers I work with – Jason Boyce, the teacher who introduced me to it – is using this app in his class (grade 4). While implementing the apps use, he has been in regular contact with the company. Seesaw is willing to take teacher feedback and improve their product. This sort of customer service and customer voice will only make their product better.

ToDo Math – Teachers always ask me for good math apps. I haven’t found many I like. Too many math apps focus on speed and rote memorization. At SXSWEdu I was introduced to ToDo Math. It is free – at least to start – and has a wide variety of math games that tackle a variety of the strands. The developer has a solid foundation in math education and strives to progress students from representations of math concepts from the concrete, to representational, to the abstract. I haven’t played with this enough to give it two thumbs up, and I will write another blog posting once I have.

If you have time to comment, please put down your favourite educational app.

If you disagree with me, please take the time to tell me why.

The Need to Hack PD

Are traditional models of professional development working? If we believe that it is not enough for our students to consume information (but to apply this information to create something), then it shouldn’t be good enough for us. We need to stop being passive recipients of PD and begin reflecting on our own students, passions, weaknesses and failures to drive our own PD.

You need to ask they why before you can do the what. A large part of the why for teachers will always be the students. We engage in PD to have better outcomes for our students. Often times teachers can look at the classroom for areas where PD would be beneficial. Different cohorts present different educational, social, and emotional challenges, so our professional learning needs may differ from year to year. But coupled with this is the need for the PD to be meaningful for the teacher. To make it meaningful and productive for the teacher it is best if they tap into one of their passions. So, by looking at your students and reflecting on your professional interests and passions you can begin to answer why.

It is important to provide teachers with a safe environment to begin to express their own needs around professional development. One method is to create an online, walled garden for teachers to practice expressing their own professional development needs, and responding to the needs of others. Teachers could use Google Classrooms to create this safe environment. They could post resources on the posting stream, ask questions, and enter into rich dialogue about topics of their choosing. Facilitators could also create mini assignments based on current and relevant readings, or on a video clip they have gleaned from YouTube. If Google Classrooms isn’t an option, then there is the possibility of using a site like Today’s Meet. Here teachers could carry on the same type of dialogue that is was mentioned in Google Classrooms. These two options are worthwhile because they provide a safe environment for teachers to open themselves up without having the fear of the whole world staring back at them. It also provides opportunities to scaffold and practice the communication and netiquette used on more open social media sites.

The point of creating this environment is to bring like minded educators together. These small online communities need to have a focus, and the focus should be developed from a shared interest between teachers. A core group of schools could collaborate online using a Google Form to share PD interests. Then PLTs could be organized using this information and Google Classroom communities could be set up (Jen Apgar shared this wonderful idea with me).

Do you think this is a good first step in modelling and scaffolding online PLCs? What what good next steps be for educators after being successful in the walled garden? (Some ideas will be presented in a future blog, but I would love your input).

Hour of Code… Now What?

This year many teachers have allowed me into their classrooms and let me introduce their students to coding through the Hour of Code initiative. It was great to see the students engaged in using code to solve the puzzles on games like Candy Quest and Angry Birds. The teachers I worked with also thought it was great. They were amazed that all their students were willing and engaged. Hour of Code was diverse enough that all students could find an activity that would hold their interest and introduce them to coding. But, what I noticed, was about a week later (after the teachers had time to digest what they saw) they said, “OK, but where do I go next? How (or even should) do I follow up with coding in my class?” At a round table at the SXSWEdu conference we tried to tackle some of these issues. Here is what we came up with.

Most people at our round table thought that it was very important to approach coding through other subjects. I would say most school boards in North America are without an explicit coding curriculum, so it is necessary to embed coding into other subjects. Using Scratch to highlight the practical application of coordinate planes, having students create their own simple video game for a media or art project, and coding dialogue between characters on an interactive setting were ideas that were discussed. You can also embed coding in to your current classroom structures and routines. Having a coding rotation as part of your language program, or a coding centre in math are easy ways to incorporate coding into your instruction. These are also great ways for students to practice fundamental coding skills like using loops and specific commands. Coding doesn’t have to be something extra, nor does it have to be something separate; coding can become a regular tool your students use.

We should also allow students to use their coding knowledge in projects. Like PowerPoints, songs, reports, essays, portfolios etc. coding should be an option for students to showcase their knowledge. Mentioning coding as a possible creative outlet is the key. Telling kids they can use Scratch to create an interactive skeleton diagram, or HTML to create a website on the personality flaws of the character in a novel are possibilities. With any new medium we need to expect that it will be messy. Students will not be able to create a website using HTML that will be as visually appealing as another student writing a report. We also need to recognize that we might be able to help them troubleshoot; we need to be ready to tap the techy teacher in our school on the shoulder, invite the  computer programming parent into the class, or be ready to help the students write an email to an expert. We can also circumvent obstacles by removing that element they are trying to bring on, or by slightly changing learning goals.

I think when people hear coding they associate it with gaming. On programs like Scratch students can create a variety of environments, even ones that aren’t game based. When asked about how coding could be brought into the history curriculum Lombardo immediately mentioned Scratch. He said students could create sprites and backgrounds that represent historical periods. Students could then get these sprites to interact. Picture Louis Riel having a conversation with MacDougall. Students could also use App Inventor – a program that uses block coding – to create an app that explains a topic covered in class. Students click on buttons attached to parts of an animal cell. The app could then have audio which explain that cell part. Think of coding as a way to create, not just as a way to make game.

How have you continued coding in your classroom? Who do you turn to for advice?

Learning, Illusion and Wittgenstein Part 2

Our interpretation of a student’s past performance can be an illusory, if we use the results of their performance as a judgment on all of the student’s future performances in that area. Take the contentious statement: “He is a level 2 student.” If you are pigeon-holing this student’s ability, then you are focusing on the illusory quality of results, probably due to a fixed mindset approach.

If you say, “He is a level 2 student,” and then search for ways to direct them towards competency, then you have seen the data in the correct light: evidence of what the child can currently do, independently. Past performance should inform instruction; we should adapt what we do in the next class based on how students did today. But, past performance should not be used to define and label the student in any sort of fixed or static way.

Again (as I noted in my last blog post on student behaviour), if we use “he is a level 2 student” in a fixed and static way, then it has ramifications for both the educator and the student. This sort of language imprisons the teacher in the perspective that no matter what they do they will not see improvement in the student. The educator will see no reason to try new methods or approaches to try to push the student towards understanding.

The student is also caught in the false imprisonment of the illusion. They begin to believe that they are incapable. Their attitude towards subjects where they are not making progress becomes mired in fixed mindset musings; “I am no good at math,” and “I hate reading,” become their mantra.

If we rely on one chance or method to evaluate a students learning then we are caught in the fly-bottle:

Another assumption Cooper asks us to reconsider is that, in the classroom, time is fixed and achievement is variable. You pass or fail on test day and that’s your only shot at success. But consider this: When you take your driver’s test, the level of achievement is fixed and time is variable. That is to say, you can take the test several times, each time learning something more as you go, but the standard that you must achieve is fixed. What if we applied this idea to teaching, learning and classroom assessment? http://www.eqao.com/eMagazine/2009/02/eMagArticle.aspx?Lang=E&ArticleID=04&ItemID=34

All these factors point to teachers providing or allowing for multiple and diverse opportunities for students to demonstrate their knowledge. For these reasons I always allowed students to redo or fix up projects.

How many times have we completed an evaluation and become disheartened when a particular student didn’t do well? “All my anecdotals pointed to their understanding,” we mutter to ourselves. The next day we assess the student orally and find that they do know their stuff. In the perfect classroom the student would have advocated for herself and told the teacher that they needed another venue to showcase their learning. Our role as teachers is to provide enough choice and student voice in our projects, tasks, evaluations to allow students to express their learning. If we don’t, then failure could be the facade of deep understanding.

Finally, if we are not careful, the success of a student can sometimes look like learning, when in fact they have just “glitched” the system, or in fact we have taught them how to glitch the system. The hallmark for this illusory learning is if students cannot apply their knowledge and understanding of a concept outside of the confines in which it was taught. As mentioned above, this is most often seen when we teach students a procedure (how to calculate the area of a circle, for example) but then cannot use this to then solve a problem a month later. Here we get students to stare at a sheet full circles with clearly defined radii and diameters. They look at the anchor chart, follow the steps and get a number, for which we – the teacher – give them a check mark. A month later, when starting a unit on volume of cylinders, we give them a problem where they have to find the area of the base of a cylinder, only to find that most of them struggle.



Learning, Illusion and Wittgenstein

I watched a TED X talk the other day on Netflix while I was going for my nightly run on the treadmill. My mind often wanders when watching documentaries and running. That night my neurons were passing potassium through the pathways connecting the TED X talk on illusion, learning, Wittgenstein’s duck-rabbit, and more generally Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations.

In our everyday lives we make many decisions based on partial information. Our interpretations of this information, if not based on sound reasoning, can be illusory. An illusion: an instance of a wrong or misinterpreted perception of a sensory experience. (http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/illusion). At the end of my run I had formed the kernel of thoughts you will find below.


Wittgenstein’s duck-rabbit is a good, simple, visual representation of what I would like to delve into. Given your past experiences – or what sections of the picture you attend to first – you might see a rabbit, or you might see a duck. Interestingly, and this came out in the Ted Talk in the “nuts illusion:” your mind cannot attend to both understandings at once; you either recognize it as a duck, or a rabbit, but not both. It switches as you attend to the visual patterns differently. What you understand the picture to visually represent depends upon what features of the you are focusing on and interpreting.

Here is another visual illusion that brings the importance of past experiences to light. It is a little risque, but it definitely highlights how past experiences affect our interpretations of sensory experiences.


I could not see the dolphins (until my son followed the outline of one with his finger), and my little boy (despite the best efforts of the internet and Netflix) cannot see the other image. In other words, our interpretations of the world around us are influenced by our background knowledge.

Now, Wittgenstein also discussed how a misinformed view of language can lead us into illusory interpretations of our world, from which escape is almost impossible. The metaphor he relied upon was linking this erroneous view of meaning in language to a fly-bottle. Once you believe that the meaning of a word determines its use, then you become the fly, trapped inside the fly-bottle. There is a way out, but your interpretation of the world based on your assumptions about meaning and language prevent you from ever escaping. Once in the trap, your view of language prevents you from seeing the way out as a way out.

There are many traps and pitfalls that we can fall into as teachers. The ones I will discuss below are illusions we create when we interpret our experiences from the wrong angle, we do not take different perspectives into account, or when we do not have sufficient information to form a sound opinion. In these cases, we create our own fly-bottle, and without a change of perception we can get stuck. Over this post, and my next couple of blog posts, I will look at (1) student behaviour, (2) student performance, and finally (3) evidence of learning, as three areas where illusions can hold us captive in a fly-bottle of our own making.

Teaching is a profession where misinterpreted perceptions have unproductive and unintended consequences, not only for the teacher, but for the student as well. Our perception of student behaviour can be illusory, if we are not careful enough to take into account student voice. Earlier this month a boy I teach was giving me a run for my money. He was challenging me at every step and was enjoying the reaction he was getting from his peers. He was walking that thin line between being funny and being disrespectful. At one point he was being so disruptive to the learning of his peers that I almost sent him out of the small group I was working with, and this probably would have been to the office (so he could be supervised). At the time I think I gave him the choice to stay and learn with us, or to go sit at the office until I had time to talk with him. The illusion that I was beginning to treat as reality was that I was somehow the cause of the boy’s disruptive behaviour; I was beginning to take it personally.

After the bell rang I kept him back and asked him, “What’s up?” It turns out that he hadn’t eaten anything all day and his mom didn’t have enough money for groceries. I can’t imagine where our relationship would be now if I had sent him out, instead of checking in on him.

(Obviously this is a simplified expression of a very complex situation. If truth be told, the activity itself was not engaging and it was the last period of the day. There are many more things that were influencing this boys behaviour.)

The key I think educators should take from this is that there are many factors that influence student behaviour. If we only take the immediate situation into account (the student-teacher situation) then we may come to an illusory understanding of the cause of the behaviour: the student is just disrespectful, the student dislikes the subject, the student isn’t good at the subject, the student has ADHD, the student has it out for me etc. It is imperative that we take the time to gain insight into the situation, so we do not fly into the fly-bottle. Allowing for student voice, and reserving judgement until you have time to reflect, is necessary for clarity.

It should also be noted that illusions around the causes of student behaviour have the capability of holding, not only teachers, but the students captive. Unfortunately this prison is made through the interpretations of the people who are supposed foster and nurture in our students a love of learning and the belief that they can become what they dream. Our opinions of students affect how we deal with them on a daily basis. Not only this, but our opinions are discussed in staff rooms with colleagues and shared at closed door meetings with other professionals. The labels and qualifiers we use to describe students create identities for them without the possibility of the validity of those definitions being debated and challenged by the student.

Is That a Private Conversation?

I just got back from BIT14, and – as always happens after attending a conference full of beautiful educational minds – I am energized! Many people have said, that to make PD worthwhile you should take two things from your PD and put them into your practice. My first is to take that scary first step into professional blogging and commenting. A special thank you goes out to Aviva Dunslinger and Jonathan So for their presentation at BIT14, which opened my eyes to the rich discussions that can be developed through blogging, and to Peter LeBlanc for the comment after their workshop pushing me towards writing my first post.

It has been less than a week since BIT14 ended and my head is still a cosmic soup of good ideas and good intentions that are swirling together and slowly gravitating towards implementation or the back burner. Here are the notions that keep slamming into one another, trying to form into concrete ideas: PLNs, keeping the conversation going, professional dialogue, infecting new people.

At BIT14 there was an interesting alcove where a variety of predetermined topics were discussed. This alcove was labelled “The Learning Space.” A colleague of mine told me about stumbling upon a wonderful conversation there, and mentioned how he wasn’t sure if he could stay; he was in that awkward situation where you hear something of interest, you want to add your perspective (or possibly just listen to see where the conversation is heading), but you are unsure if new voices are welcomed. Luckily one of the facilitators gave him a nod and a gestured for him to sit down.

That night at home, I was cruising my online PLNs and I came across a good conversation between former and current program department staff from UGDSB in a Google+ Community (UGDSB Online Math Community) I had been neglecting. I didn’t enter into the conversation last night, but now I am kicking myself. If I want to become a better educator, I need to put forth my perspective and allow my ideas to be critiqued and evaluated so I can grow. A growth mindset is so important; if you begin to blog with a fixed mindset, the first constructive criticism you encounter will be seen as an attack and you will stop posting and commenting. I am going to go back tonight and throw my voice into the mix. Please feel free to check up on me, make me accountable, and add your voice as well.

In their roles this sort of discussion is the norm. How – across the board – can we begin and foster these discussions so that more and more teachers are participating?

The title of the post is planted firmly in irony. These conversations are very public. In fact, the conversationalists want people to enter into their dialogue. So the question I would like to ask is how do we invite more people into these spaces? How do we create time in our work and home life, to enter into these conversations?

If we want to make changes to the educational system as a whole, then we not only have to work towards a vision of how students interact and exist in this space, but we also have to revolutionize how teachers, EAs, and administrators interact and exist in this space as well. For example, we can reinvent how the time at staff meetings, division meetings, and PD days is used so all teachers can develop and interact with their PLN. Teachers also need to look at their routines – especially at school – and stop doing some things to create time and space for professional dialogue.