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Apologies about the lack of posting of late, I’ve got a hundred excuses, none of which I doubt you’d care to hear about. Nobody likes a whinging teacher. I’ll try to be a good boy from now on.

The Victorian Government (of which my school is within) has built a website to discuss the findings of their iPad trials from the latter part of 2010.

The government chose seven schools to take part in the 1:1 trial, where the students were all given an iPad to use at school and at home. They were given set instructions on app purchasing, care etc.

To begin with, I’m totally impressed by the government’s foresight into this kind of venture. Usually a government will wait until something is old or on the way out, in terms of popularity, and then take two years to do something about it (see here and here for prime examples). This time, they’ve taken the bull by the horns, yes you Darrell Fraser, and made it happen. Bravo. They’ve even made a website that is easy to navigate and understand, made by a company called Lava – obviously not the same people who made the Ultranet.

While the website may be a good one, loaded with information, their choice of apps for education leaves a lot to be desired. Why feature a storybook like Toy Story and not acknowledge an Australian classic like Animalia or another Aussie book like Food Fight. Check out my interactive storybook rankings and you won’t find the Toy Story book in there or anywhere close to it for that matter. They’ve got a ‘suggest an app’ button I think I might press.

They’ve got a couple of great publications on the site; Getting Started is a must read, some brilliant ideas for incorporating iPads in the classroom. So too is 21 Steps to 1-to-1 Success.

So where to now for the government?

Why do a trial in the first place? To see how iPads work in school naturally. So was it a success? I’d say yes going by their findings. So you trial something, it’s successful, then what? I suppose you deploy the idea on a larger scale. That would make sense. For what the Ultranet has cost to this point in time, we could have put an iPad in the hands of every primary school student in the state. How about that?

Are there any other education departments around Australia or in the USA, maybe England or anywhere else doing anything as progressive as this?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve no doubt heard about iPad 2 and everything it offers. The first thing I heard was negativity towards having bought the original iPad when this one is a much improved model. This kind of thing bugs me. Here’s why;

Sure, it’s an improved model, but not so drastically improved that the past six months have been a waste of time. Front/rear facing camera cool, a bit thinner alright, speed and performance improvements meh, ability to plug the iPad into the projector – ok that’s a winner. Overall though, no regrets. And I’ve got news for you, this time next year Apple will release the iPad 3. If you want to go for a swim, sooner or later you’re going to have to get wet. I love it that I had the opportunity to introduce a piece of cutting edge technology to my school. I love it that we’ve got a head-start on using iPads.

So watching Steve Jobs and his keynote the other day, do I think the new iPad holds much over the existing one? As I briefly mentioned above, the answer is no. From a domestic perspective, there’s enough to perhaps warrant the upgrade, but for the classroom, the only thing that really grabs me is the ability to plug the device into the projector. With the correct adaptor, you can now mirror everything you do on the iPad up on your interactive whiteboard. That is a brilliant feature I’d use several times a day. The camera… I hate the thought of the students waving the iPads around using them like cameras when they’re clearly not intended for that purpose. Video conferencing; Facetime, Skype etc. is cool, but I’m not using it in class. Perhaps I should be, but I’m not. If I want to go down that path, I’ll use my Macbook. The white colour is neither here nor there. Those cases though, I like them, a lot.

The current price for the ‘old’ iPad is now $449 in the Apple store. That’s $180 cheaper than when it came out. That’s a good buy right there.

So for anyone thinking they’ve been hard done by getting in on the iPad scene early, don’t be. Congrats for having the foresight to identify quality technology and for seeing that it has a place in today’s classroom. You could’ve sat on your hands and waited till it was safer, but where’s the fun in that?

Much of the negative talk about iPads and particularly from people who don’t really understand centers around the statement “they’re more a consumption device than a creation device”. For starters, if that is the case, who cares? But it’s not, that has firmly been established by now. Anyone who knows anything about iOS devices realises that the power of the device lies in it’s apps. So when the iPad was released, there may not have been a mountain of “creation” apps, but there are plenty now.

Anyway, to the review. As you may have twigged, Animation Creator HD is a “creation” app. It allows you to create stop motion, hand drawn animation and it is very, very cool and very easy to use.

As with most iPad apps, at least the good ones, the tools are basic. You’re given a blank canvas for your first frame with which you can choose whichever tool you need to draw your first frame. I started with a sketch of a face with a basic black pen. There are a bunch of other tools in a million different colours. You can then add in the second frame with slight progression from the first, all with the help of an onion skin of the previous frame. Anyone who has tried a little animation before should find the process straight forward.

As far as kids go, they’ll find it a breeze and no doubt have a lot of fun with it. Any of your students who have artistic leanings will devour this app. Find that kid who loves to doodle all over their books and let them run wild on this. It’s fantastic.

So how would you use it in the classroom? To state the obvious it would make an excellent art lesson, but that probably depends on your art teacher and what their mode of operation is. Personally, I’ve run filmmaking classes with my students and this would be the ultimate tool for that, just to get a better understanding of how animation works. Aside from those… get creative. Perhaps you’ve been writing narratives, maybe the students can animate a character from their narrative. It could even be a literacy lesson on it’s own – a form of storytelling.

So what are the negatives associated with Animation Creator HD? Not many, in fact only one seems to bother me and that is the export format. There are two options – YouTube and Twitter, neither of which I think are really school-appropriate tools. Perhaps in an update they could somehow allow exporting to a better video site like Vimeo or even allow the user to email their creations, maybe even save to the video library on the iPad. There seems like a ton of options for this, yet none of them are available.

Who is it suitable for? I’d say middle to upper primary as a minimum, actually there’s no ceiling for this app – anyone interested in basic animation could make good use of it.

Taking all this into consideration, is Animation Creator HD worth the $2.49. Do I really need to dignify that question with an answer? For that price, apps are worth experimenting with. If you’re purchasing for a school, do your best to squeeze $100 out of your ICT budget and buying a ton of apps. You can’t lose. Considering in the ‘old days’ a software package alone would cost hundreds, Animation Creator HD may as well be free. If you’re really worried, download the lite version.

Slowly but surely, publishing companies are starting to create some outstanding book apps. Not all of which will be relevant to my classroom, but having a small child of my own, I’ve been buying many of them for his entertainment (and mine) and can see their relevance to different levels of primary school.

The Wonky Donkey was originally a picture storybook by New Zealand author Craig Smith – or perhaps it was a song first, I’m not sure. Anyway, the app is essentially the book being read by Smith himself, complete with funny kiwi accent, with the original pictures and a very small amount of interactivity. You can also flick it over so the song plays over the top of the pictures instead. What you end up with is an incredibly clever and entertaining story that will appeal to kids up to early primary age and is also quite humorous to parents too.

Kiwa Media have done their best putting many of their titles into the App Store and so far, I’m loving them. The Wonky Donkey sells for $9.99 which is pretty pricey when it comes to apps, but when you look at what it is you’re getting and that’s the narrated book with extra singalong, it’s decent value. I’ve definitely got my money’s worth over and over.

Recommended for the classroom? Definitely, grades prep to two, possibly three.

With any technology there are always going to be things that get to me. It’s always the small things – the little 1%ers – that get to me. Right now, it’s the wireless issues we’re having with some of the iPads. Of the 26 iPads we’re running, maybe 6-7 have intermittent issues where the wireless can’t be picked up, or the proxy settings have disappeared or something to that effect. What baffles me is that all the iPads have been treated as equals. They’ve all gone through the same setup process, sync process etc. I guess it’s kind of like raising 26 kids; all eating the same food, living in the same house, raised by the same parents. You’d like to think they’d all grow up the same – but there’s always a black sheep or two.

This issue however, is probably more than just a small 1%. It’s actually significant enough to cause grief. If you’ve got a whole class sitting with iPads in laps and a small handful can’t access the web straight away, then you’ve got to do something about it. You can either stop what you’re doing and help each one individually – which could take a minute or so for each, or you could request the student looks on with a friend, which defeats the purpose of moving into a 1:1 environment.

What I need to do is get to the bottom of the problem. Could it be our wireless or our certificates, or is it an Apple thing? I hope it’s an Apple thing because at least that way the problem should/could be addressed with software updates.

Plenty has been written about the iPad app Pages. It’s a brilliant piece of software and one that is brilliant for classroom use. If I have one complaint about Microsoft Word (and I find it extremely difficult to narrow it down to just one) it’s that there are too many options, too many tools, too much clutter. It’s a busy program. It’s like they’ve added any possible enhancement to a word processor that they could think of and somewhere along the line, failed to realise that they’ve flooded it to the point of being very difficult for beginners to type up a document. So when a seriously stripped back word processor like Pages is made available, I’m all ears.

Pages’ strength lies in it’s simplicity. There’s no saving and no saving options; you type the document and it saves as it goes. When it comes to creating documents in the classroom, generally speaking, kids need no more than 3-4 different features: 1) Typing and modifying text 2) Headings 3) Inserting a photo. Occasionally they’ll need to add a table or a chart but let’s face it, 95% of their work in Word is really basic. Pages understands this and all of these things are amazingly easy to do.

One of the chief issues with the iPad has been printing and while we haven’t really looked into the printing situation (we will for the start of the next school year) Pages has a handy solution. For starters, I’ll encourage my students to be satisfied with a digital version of their work – we keep talking about paperless societies, it’s time we come through with the goods. Putting that aside however, my email address is in the address book of each iPad so when a student finished their work, they head to the documents page within Pages and hit the email button. It goes straight to me with a comment, I can then review their work and email my comments straight back for them to make adjustments or I can print it from my laptop.

Combine all of this with a tool like Dropbox or iFiles and you can leave documents for the students and vice versa, all accessible from any computer. But that’s a story for another day.

Pages is a must have when it comes to the iPad in the classroom. Make it Number ONE on your list. It retails for $12.99, which is amazing.

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