Monday, October 17, 2011

A Research Unit on the iPad

The project's paper version
This fall, for the first time, we're going to attempt an entire research project, soup to nuts, on the iPads. The project itself isn't new, but all the tools we'll use to complete it are quite novel. Our 9th grade English students typically do a fabulous "Teen Issues" project where they produce informative brochure on all kinds of topics from Teen Pregnancy to Steroid Use. The brochures are laminated and prominently displayed in the library - and accessed by students ALL the time.

To transition this project from paper to iPad, we had to find apps that allowed us to teach the project's different components. Even though we're moving to iPads, we're still teaching students how to:

  • Create a Works Cited document
  • Research using a wide variety of materials from books to databases (my teacher-partner is a fan of the index card method of research)
  • Highlight
  • Take notes
  • Develop an outline

Our motivation for using the iPad for research isn't the novelty factor (though we'll totally curious to find out if this is even possible). We're hoping that the iPad can streamline and actually IMPROVE the project.

Here's what our students are going to be doing, and the apps they'll use to accomplish this (scroll to the bottom of a complete list of apps and links to check them out in the iTunes store).

Step 1: Students introduced to crafting MLA citations. We could use a citation generator, but my English teacher partner prefers they learn how to do it from scratch.

Step 2: Students select a teen issues topic. Students then find 3 different resources (hopefully a book, web site, and database) about their issue.
  • BOOK resource - Students will use our photocopier to scan and email PDFs of relevant book pages to a classroom e-mail address. Students will then use the app ReaddleDocs to access and save the PDF attachments to their ReaddleDocs folder.
  • WEB SITE and DATABASE resource - Students will use the web browser feature of ReaddleDocs to locate relevant Internet sources, and then download and save the information as a PDF file.
    Step 3: Students will create source cards for the three resources they located in Step 2. To create their source cards, they'll use an app called Index Card. Once students have created their source cards, they'll use DropBox to upload the source cards for grading.

    Step 4: Students will use the app ReaddleDocs to highlight and annotate the PDF files they have saved in their ReaddleDocs folder. The highlighting and annotations will be saved on to the PDF. Students will then use ReaddleDocs to share their annoated PDFs with their teacher via DropBox for grading.

    Step 5: Students will then use their annotated/highlighted PDF reserach files, stored in their ReaddleDocs folders, to generate note cards. They'll use the app Index Card, which they also used for their source cards, to take these notes. Once students have completed their index card notes, they'll use DropBox to share them with the teacher for grading.

    Step 6: Next, students will use their index card notes, created in Index Card, to generate an outline. We're still on the fence about which app to use for outlining (we'd really like one that incorporates traditional roman numeral numbering), but we're probably either go with Outliner or Pages. Students will share their completed outlines with the teacher via DropBox.

    Step 7: Now the (most) fun part! Students will use their outlines to produce a digital book. We're still playing around with two different apps, trying to pick one. Composer is really cool (lots of options for animation and interaction - and it's FREE), but it's a little big more involved. The Book Creator app is more expensive, and doesn't include interactivity or animations (but it's also simpler to teach and learn).

    One of my challenges is making sure their finished books are accessible to the students as the pamphlets have been in the past. If I can squeeze enough money out of my budget, I'll buy a few more iPads that we can dedicate to the library for study hall students.

    Below are the apps we're going to be using for the project: 

    Our App Allies 

    Book Creator $6.99
    Demibooks Composer FREE

    ReaddleDocs $4.99
    Index Card $4.99

    Outliner $4.99
    Pages $9.99
    DropBox FREE

    Monday, October 3, 2011

    Note-taking is like brussel sprouts (at least if you're 14)

    Back in August, I mentioned that I was going to be teaching a study skills unit.

    Image from:

    I am now teaching said unit. I've learned the following:
    • Fourteen-year-olds aren't big fans of note-taking.
    • Comparing the process to brussel sprouts (the more you eat them, the more you like them), doesn't seem to help.
    • Note taking requires a brain. Especially when I force you to identify main ideas, paraphrase and summarize.
    • Thinking can be hard.
    • Concept maps are messy.
    • Our Pre-AP kids like things in neat, straight lines. They're the type who carry around a bottle of white out in their pencil case. Therefore, they do not like concept maps.
    • Even smart teenagers occasionally fail to follow directions.
    • I don't particularly like grading papers.
    We started out the unit with a lesson on note-taking. If you're so inclined, you can check out the PowerPoint here. We talked about:
    • Why we take notes
    • How we take notes
    • The Technique of the Month: Concept Maps
    We did a little practice session with a paragraph from their [super-duper hard to read college level] textbook, and then had them complete the map for homework.

    They turned in their assignment. I graded them. As a librarian, I do just about every aspect of teaching, but I don't grade on a regular basis. This time around, I volunteered to do the grading - I'd taught the lesson and developed the rubric, so it seemed only fair that I assign the grades, too.

    Grading isn't fun. Completing rubrics (see our rubric here) and leaving comments on 150 concept maps ate up a lot of my weekend (the chocolate chip cookies for Custodian's Day didn't get baked). But guess what -- I volunteered to grade the next mapping assignment, too. It's totally worth it because I can see if they "got it." Did my lesson sink in? Did I succeed as a teacher? What do I need to change?

    Most importantly, grading enforces my role as a true co-teacher. Giving the grade helps my collaborators AND the students view me as a teacher, rather than "just" the librarian.

    Tomorrow I'm headed back into the AP classrooms This time, I'm showcasing two FABULOUS concept mapping apps. I'm in love with both of them, and hoping that some great technology is the "spoonful of sugar" the activity needs.
    Check out:
    SimpleMind+ ($3.99 for full functionality - and worth EVERY penny)
    IdeaSketch (free)

    Anyone have any ideas to make note-taking FUN?