Gripcase – simply marvellous!

I’ve been meaning to write a post about these fabulous iPad cases for a while. I originally was first shown these by an ADE friend in October 2011, and immediately ordered some for use at school. Gripcase is made by a US company and is really well designed from a great and very strong material.

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I originally bought these cases for use in our Primary School Рwe have shared sets of iPads in charging cases and so any protection needs to be quick and easy to put on for teachers and provide 5 year old proof protection for the iPad during a whole variety of activities and environments Р not a lot to ask for then!

Check out this video from Ciaran McCormack demonstrating some of the more unique case properties of the Gripcase.

Since then, they have also found their way into our music department for their set of iPads. Again being easy to put the case on, but also the nice big handles, ability to stack and shock absorbing properties prove useful in an unconventional classroom environment (our band room has numerous chairs and instruments but little in the way of desk space).

On occasions, Gripcase has also been used (or should that read abused?) by our science department. An iPad in a Gripcase swinging on a rope from the ceiling makes an excellent pendulum, and combined with a data logging app such as Globilab or Sparkvue and the built in accelerometers on the iPad, providing great opportunities for physics investigations while protecting the iPad ūüôā

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I was lucky enough to meet the Gripcase guys, Brian and Matt at BETT this year. Extremely lovely guys and a great product. I was also able to get a sneak preview of the iPad mini Gripcase (due to hit distributors and website soon) and they also shared another nice accessory for your Gripcase, which I used pretty much all week. A stackable stand which also allows you to position your iPad at different angles for more comfortable typing or playing music for example.

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As Ciaran shows in his video demonstration, the Gripcase provides huge amounts of protection and means our primary teachers can take iPads outside and around school filming without fear of breakages and the handles make it much easier for little hands to move iPads around the classroom. A really great investment, which I’m sure has saved more than the odd iPad at school! I can’t wait for my iPad mini case to arrive either!

To Connect or not to connect….

…that is the question. Perhaps it should be more a question of how to connect? Teachers at my school use their iPads every day in the classroom, and connect them to projectors using a variety of different ways. While I know this is a bit more technical than pedagogical, I thought it might be useful to run through some of the advantages/disadvantages of each method. As I hope you’ll also see Airplay is a potentially very powerful tool in the classroom.

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1. VGA connector. By far the simplest way to plug your iPad into a VGA projector for example. Lots of projectors in school don’t have an HDMI input, and we cannot simply get rid of projectors that work perfectly well but are missing this newer connection standard. One of the downsides of the 30 pin dock connector in particular is that it can fall out easily, something which often then upsets my iPad and usually leaves me quitting and restarting apps as I fill during a presentation. The new lightning VGA connector seems much better at not falling out though….

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2. HDMI adaptor – Very similar to the VGA connector above, this connects directly to the iPad and allows you to connect via HDMI cable to a suitable projector or display screen. One of the advantages over the VGA connector is that HDMI can carry audio as well as video, which removes the need for a separate audio cable being plugged into the iPad’s headphone socket.

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The HDMI adaptor also allows connection of a standard dock connector cable to allow charging whilst connected (and new lightning versions of the HDMI and VGA adaptors also include this feature).

The main problem with the connectors above is that the cables essentially tether a great mobile device to a point near the VGA cable, and as mentioned the cable has a tendency to come detached at inopportune moments (I actually use a very low tech elastic band to hold the connector in place when I have to resort to presenting from an iPad in this way).

Airplay technology allows you to mirror the iPad display through an Apple TV or airplay software, freeing you up from having to use cables in your classroom at all. Older projectors without an HDMI slot can prove to be a bit of a challenge, although the next gadget may help solve this challenge.

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3. HDMI to VGA adaptor РThere are a variety of boxes which will convert an HDMI signal into a VGA one, sometimes with varying degrees of success. The ATV Pro by Kanex (more info) has given us the best results with a variety of different projectors, giving a good picture without any obvious distortion of image (many convertors we have tested seem to squash the image in the horizontal plane). This simple box features an HDMI connector on one end and a VGA female socket and audio socket on the other end. At around £40 this is a cheaper alternative than replacing the projector, and will give the full Apple TV experience in the classroom.

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4. Apple TV – I’m sure most people are aware of this little black box and how it works to allow you to mirror your iPad (or Apple computer display in Mountain Lion) to an HDMI input such as projector or TV.

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5. Airplay software such as Reflector. This software turns your computer into an airplay receiver, just like an Apple TV. Now available for both Mac and PC, single licenses cost around £10, and discounted volume licensing is also available. You can read more about it here, and you might also be interested in looking at air server (read more here), another piece of software for Mac/PC which allows you to airplay to your computer.
Reflector allows you to airplay multiple iPads (4) to a single computer, which can bring an interesting new dynamic to presentations and other classroom workflows. Combined too with screen recording in an application like QuickTime Player, it is also possible with Reflector to do professional looking iPad screencasts.

Interestingly, many of our teachers use a variety of the above, dependent on the room they are in, the activity the class are undertaking and/or the way in which the iPads are being used.

One challenge on school networks can be that bonjour is often disabled by security conscious network managers who don’t want user devices to be able to “see” each other. School networks may also be set up behind some kind of proxy server, or devices be separated onto different subnetworks. All of these reasons can make seeing the Airplay device difficult or impossible, however, they are all pretty much surmountable. Correct security settings on your network make bonjour safe, and enterprise grade wireless networks are increasingly incorporating tools like bonjour gateway and bonjour directory allowing devices on different parts of the school network to communicate using airplay technology. Support for proxies is also built in to the Apple TV itself. I’ll share more about this and some other thoughts about wireless in schools in a future post, as with the increasing number of wireless devices coming into our schools, this is fast becoming the most important piece of our school network.

Anyway, back to airplay…..

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One other consideration can be “airplay abuse”. Apple TV by default allows any airplay device on the same network to connect, so students can connect to an Apple TV and projector just as easily as the teacher. In the first instance, most of our teachers start with their Apple TV in the default open airplay set up where no password is required to access the device via airplay. We have shown all of the teachers how the security pass code setting can be applied and this can be used to take more control of who can connect to the Apple TV if required. Recent updates to the Apple TV have added the ability to create an adhoc session pass code, ideal for use in a lesson/ classroom situation. Reflector could be set up using the create network feature on a Mac to create a “private” network just for the teacher if you needed it (I have used this on several occasions at conferences where I wanted to make sure I had control of the screen). I’m sure the same thing is also possible on a Windows PC too.

We currently have around 30 learning spaces with Apple TV set up and are gradually adding more as we update projectors around school. In the meantime, teachers all have Reflector installed on their MacBooks. We do also have a number of dock VGA connectors too (less than 10).

If you are currently purchasing new projectors at school make sure they have at least 1 HDMI connection to be able to hook up an Apple TV, and I also know of a number of schools replacing projectors with large LCD displays, as these become much more affordable in large sizes. Perhaps several smaller screens would provide a more effective collaborative learning environment, allowing groups of students to spread around the classroom sharing ideas with their group on a shared display screen through airplay?

One thing is for sure, devices capable of airplay change the dynamics of the classroom, and make it much easier for all classroom participants to quickly share content in the moment, which also enhances the classroom flow too.

If you haven’t already looked at airplay for your classroom, why not experience what life can be like without wires? Even without an Apple TV, software such as Reflector gives you the power to airplay through your laptop connected to your classroom projector.

Spreading diseases

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I was recently shown a brilliant app/game for Biology, to support learning about the spread and control of infectious diseases. It’s called Plague Inc (download it here – ) and features some great science and opportunities for students to apply their learning about the spread of disease.

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You take on responsibility for creating a disease such as a bacteria or virus. Choose a country to start the disease and the game begins. Different factors affect how your disease spreads and as the game proceeds, you get the opportunity to evolve your disease to incorporate new mutations making it easier to transmit, more deadly, or harder to research cures for to name but a few.

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The game could be used for both GCSE and IB/A-level Biology and Geography, to give students a different method of learning and applying knowledge and understanding of the the factors influencing the spread of diseases. While somewhat macabre, there is something distinctly satisfying about building a disease that wipes out the entire human race!

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Homework and consolidation activities would be other good places to use this app. One of those elusive apps that manages to capture the addictive elements of gaming with some good science modelling for an addictive learning experience.

Finger on the pulse…

One of the other areas I covered in my science workshops at BETT was investigating heart rate and circulation.

There are a number of apps that could be used in the classroom to measure heart rate, and during the workshop I demonstrated What’s My Heart Rate (download the app here, free). During the workshop, I demonstrated how Labdisc could be used to capture pulse rate and cardio graphic data using the pulse meter included with several of the Labdisc models.
This data could then be compared with data from apps such as What’s My Heart Rate

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This app uses the front facing camera of the iPad to detect changes in the blood flow through capillaries in the skin. Another app which uses similar technology to measure blood flow in the fingers is Cardiograph (download the app here Р£1.49).
Students could compare accuracy of these ways of measuring pulse with more traditional ways. This is very current medical research, where efforts are being focused on whether smartphone cameras can provide accurate medical data, so your students could also be contributing to cutting edge medical research while they investigate heart rate!

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More iPad gadgets for science

I probably have more than my fair share of gadgets and peripherals for the iPad and iPhone, but two that have been particularly useful in the science classroom are the focus of this post.

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The first is called Airmicro and is a wireless microscope. This gadget (which has been likened to an otoscope (for looking into ears)by friends, and an electric drill by airport security) creates it own wireless network using 3 AA batteries. Using one of several iOS apps, you can then connect your iPad to the wireless network it creates. The objective lens can be changed and a variety of lenses from 15x to 400x magnifications are available.

While not cheap (around £400, lenses vary from round £50 to £200), there are a couple of things that make this a really useful tool in the classroom. Traditionally, decent quality video microscopes are expensive enough that a school is not likely to have more than one of them. Inevitably, lessons involving video microscope work end up actively involving a minority of the class.

With the Airmicro, students can also connect to microscope using the app and capture their own pictures. The Mytech app (download here – free) also allows student to overlay a scale to take measurements much like using an eyepiece graticule with a conventional microscope. This means students can actively participate in lessons, even if there is only one Airmicro. This also makes it much easier to share the images captured under the microscope too.

We have used this very successfully in the classroom and although not designed to work with traditional microscope slides, we have had a good deal of success using the Airmicro attached to a clamp and stand and placing a sheet of white paper behind the slide.

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I bought my Airmicro from the Japanese manufacturer (Scalar – click here for more info), but there are also UK and US distributors now I think.

The second gadget I want to highlight is the Withings Blood Pressure monitor. Available from the Apple Store online and other resellers, this connects directly to the iPad using the dock connector (not currently lightning connector though). It does exactly what the name suggests and is a blood pressure cuff which is controlled by a free app on the iPad (you can download the app here).

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Again, in the classroom, I don’t think there is any need to have a lot of these, but when studying a unit on the heart and circulation for example, a really nice starter to each lesson of the unit could be to pass the blood pressure monitor around the classroom and have the students measure their blood pressure. Over the course of the unit, the students would build up a graph of their own blood pressure at different times of the day/week, and could be asked to investigate reasons for differences, for example. At around ¬£100 this is not the cheapest science add on for the iPad but like the Airmicro could be another useful tool to maximise your investment in iOS devices.

Science in the Classroom with iPad

Having had a few days to recover from BETT, I have also been reflecting on the weeks events and experiences. I thought I would also summarise each of the workshops I ran, and sum up the workflows and apps I covered. The first workshop was really a continuation of the science workshop I ran last year at BETT but I was also keen to try to squeeze some pedagogy into the 25 minute session too.

The workshop began by looking at investigative science and experimental write ups. At GCSE and A/IB level, this is an important skill and the iPad offers very practical tools to facilitate this.

Looking at an IB level chemistry experiment investigating Beers law, I demonstrated Labdisc by Globisens. You can read more about Labdisc here. Using the biochem lab discs built in colorimeter, I measured the light transmission of various copper sulphate solutions demoing how to take manual readings with the Labdisc.

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I recorded the data into a Numbers spreadsheet and demonstrated how the data could be simply turned into a graph and the unknown solution marked on the graph. Switching apps between Pages and Numbers allowed me to write up the app and copy data created in Numbers to create results for the experiment. Adding photos of the experiment captured using the iPad cameras helps to create visual hooks to help students recall and remember experimental procedures. I won’t argue that this is hardly transformational, but there’s no arguing the iPad is a versatile classroom tool, allowing data logging, spreadsheet and word processing capabilities with a built in camera. Add wifi access to more information than anyone could ever absorb, and ¬†while it’s nothing other tech doesn’t allow us to do, the iPad allows it to be done more simply and quickly. Isn’t this what we want our tech to enable us to do?

Next we moved onto Physics….I’ve already written a post about the last app I showed, cstr physics (you can read it here). I started this section by demonstrating a free fall experiment that can be done with the Labdisc and a table tennis ball. Dovi (the CEO of Globisens has a nice video of this experiment here)….

I then discussed how the iPad gives us ways of doing things that were either impossible of very difficult previously.

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Using Video Physics by Vernier (you can download here Рit costs £2.99), we looked at carrying out the same experiment using motion analysis. This allows you to either record or use video previously recorded on the iPad, and use motion analysis software to track an object. The app will also produce graphs of the data captured, and this can be exported for further analysis in software such as logger pro. It is also possible to create a video file with graphs etc, embedded. Not all of the graphs produced are really very useful, but for the price this is an amazing tool, and with the ability to easily share files to Logger Pro, there is substantial classroom potential for this app for a whole range of speed and acceleration experiments, and also what about using it in PE to analyse sports movements such as throwing a basketball, kicking a football or hitting a tennis ball. This app is well worth looking at particularly if you have access to Logger Pro software in your school (more info here).

The final part of the workshop looked at Biology, and I discussed ways that a topic such as heart, blood and circulation could be covered. I’m currently putting together separate posts about some of the gadgets and apps I used during the Biology part of the workshop, and will link them here when I have posted them.

I was really pleased both with how the workshops went at BETT and by the amount of positive feedback from teachers who attended the workshop. Combining some really useful apps and a couple of gadgets such as the Airmicro and Labdisc, the iPad can be a very versatile tool for science learning, allowing us to support learning in wholly new and exciting ways.

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Another great find from the ever brilliant Julian Coultas, this little white box is another device designed to make sharing work from iPads across a network super easy…..

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Julian demoed this at BETT, and I ordered one as soon as I got home. I don’t see it replacing any of the other methods teachers at school have for sharing files, such as Dropbox and Showbie, to name but two. As a quick and easy way for getting files on and off a set of iPads though, this could be perfect!

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As Julian demonstrated at BETT, the meDrive can be powered using an iPhone charger, plug an ethernet cable in and a USB drive and you are all set. You can either access the device through a free app or through your web browser. Looking forward to playing with mine when it arrives…..

This could also be a great solution in such as a primary school where setting up a server with webdav is not a viable option – plug this into a central point in the school network and teachers could unplug and plug their USB drives, as needed, to share or collect work from the school owned shared iPads, after a class project for example.

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You can read more about Julian’s experiences with his meDrive here.

Back from BETT 2013

So, I’m just back from another great week presenting at the BETT show. This is the thrid year I’ve been lucky enough to be asked by Toucan and AT Computers to present workshops for teachers at the BETT show, and I think this year was probably the best yet!

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It was an absolute pleasure to spend a week with two good friends and fellow Apple Distinguished Educators, Joe Moretti and Julian Coultas and throughout the week we presented workshops on a whole variety of iPad related classroom workflows. There were many highlights during the week and I’ll no doubt be blogging about them over the coming days. To give you a little flavour of the week, I’ll mention just a few of the apps and tools we looked at; Showbie, Garageband, Nearpod, Labdisc and Globisens, Book Creator, Explain Everything, printopia, me-drive by Kanex, iBooks Author and iTunes U. The focus was very much on pedagogical approaches and classroom workflows that deeply integrate learning and technology – I hope we managed to deliver on our promises!

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One of my new resolutions following BETT is to make a concerted effort to actually maintain my blog/site, as this week has reminded me of the importance as an educator to share. Hopefully at least some of the ramblings which I am sure will follow will prove useful to some of those who find themselves here……

Back to my science roots – data logging on the iPad

I seem to have spent a lot of time recently with my iPad and some other toys exploring how the iPad can be successfully integrated into the science classroom.

There are a growing range of peripherals for the iPad (I’m sure I read somewhere that the iOS peripherals market is worth more than the iOS market itself) and there are some that are particularly enticing for the science classroom.

Datalogging is an area of technology that traditionally science has always made use of. Back in the days of BBC computers, black boxes called LogIT’s allowed collection and graphing of a whole variety of experimental data and most schools have a range of equipment for data collection from simple digital thermometers to whole ranges of specialist datalogging equipment.

In my eyes, one of the big problems with many datalogging solutions is that they usually consist of a base unit which you plug sensors (available separately) into to record different types of data. This means costs can soon mount up.

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The labdisc by Globisens takes a different approach. All of the sensors are built in to the data logging unit itself. There are 5 different models of labdisc all of which have 12 to 14 sensors built in. The different models cover a range of specialist areas such as biochemistry and higher level physics, while more general needs are taken care of by other models.

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See Labdisc in action in this video “A Walk in the Park”.

Originally designed for use with Mac or PC computers, Globisens have put much thought into developing an iPad app and bluetooth connectivity. The well thought out app is called Globilab and is available for free from the App Store.

Get the app here

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I’ve had the pleasure of using these extensively, and they work really well with the iPad. The user interface of the app is well thought out, allowing programming of the various sensors using on/off switches and rate and number of samples can also be set within the app (with some sensors it is possible to capture up to 25,000 readings per second). There is a nice feature to manually capture samples by pressing one of the buttons on the front of the Labdisc. Data can be exported as a csv file should you need to further analyse data, and the app itself is capable of both linear and quadratic regression curves.

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Another nice feature of the Labdisc is built in GPS making it perfect for recording data on field trips for example. The app displays data graphically on the map too.

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Even if you don’t yet have a Labdisc you can download the free app, and use the built in accelerometers and microphone in your iPad. Measure and record noise levels in the classroom throughout the course of a day, or combine your iPad with a Grip Case (more about these great cases in a future post) and a length of rope to do great pendulum experiments, or with a spring to investigate Hooke’s law.

At around $500 the Labdisc is not the cheapest tool you will ever buy for use with your iPad but with practical uses in Science and Geography from primary right through secondary, these valuable peripherals really help to maximise investment in mobile devices such as iPads.

We have recently invested in a set of 20 and I look forward to seeing how they are used across the science and geography curriculums and on various field trips over the coming months….I’ll keep you posted.

Showbie – the missing link for the classroom?

One of the biggest challenges for some people when using an iPad for the first time is where files are stored and sharing those files in an easy way. When working with students in the classroom, the sharing of files is particularly important. At a really simple level, most apps allow completed work to be emailed from the iPad, which has worked well for some of our teachers. This does require some clever use of folders to keep work from multiple classes on multiple assignments organised (some of our teachers use clever automatic filtering and clear subject lines to do this for them).

With iOS 6 there are now many more options for opening a file created in one app in another app. This, and the advent of cheap and often free cloud storage, has given many options for sharing of files within the classroom.

Online storage provided by such as Dropbox, Box and Skydrive provide plenty of free options for storing files online that can be accessed easily by any device with a suitable app and internet connection.

While these apps do provide a method for sharing files, the elusive missing piece in the classroom has always been a way for teachers to provide valuable feedback on work that students share with the teacher.

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Enter Showbie (www.showbie.com), a pretty unique combination of app and website. This service allows teachers to create hand in folders for classes at the showbie website. Students then register using the code the teacher provides, and have access to class folder where they can hand work into. The teacher can upload documents to the folder to provide resources for the class, and provide both written and audio feedback to individual students on assignments that they hand in.

I’ve been lucky enough to see this in action in some of our classrooms at school, and the results have been very impressive. Several of our High School teachers have gone completely paperless by using Showbie in conjunction with other apps like notability (which gives them the ability to download submitted work as a pdf, mark it just like they would a paper copy, and then resubmit it back to Showbie). Students hand in work to the assignment folder and can see when teachers have added comments or verbal feedback (which can be recorded straight from the iPad).

Showbie also provides some really useful videos and support to show you how to get the best out of Showbie’s webdav capabilitities with a whole variety of useful classroom apps (Using webdav and Showbie).

Showbie is completely free for students and teachers get 10 assignment folders for free. Annual school subscriptions are also available at a very reasonable cost (I have just signed all our teachers up for around $7 for the year).

Download the app here.

If you want to try this out, I would recommend setting up both a teacher and student account. This will allow you to also join the class you set up as a student to explore how the app works from both the teacher and student perspective.

I’m very excited to see how the use of Showbie develops at school this year, and I’ll keep you posted.

STOP PRESS – After the release of iOS 6.1 last week Showbie launched a fairly major update to the app meaning it is now possible to carry out the entire workflow just from the app. I changed my workshops part way through BETT last week to highlight all these new features and will write an update later this week. I was also lucky enough to meet and spend a bit of time with Colin Bramm, founder of Showbie at BETT who proved to be a thoroughly great guy – I look forward to further conversations in the coming months…

Colin also announced that free teacher accounts will come with 200 free assignments from the middle of last week, which essentially turns Showbie into a completely free service for teachers, as assignments can be archived each year (they remain accessible by the teacher but do not count towards the total number of assignments). Colin hinted there are some exciting developments to come in the enxt few months for pro users, so I am excited to see how Showbie will develop further – this is a truly great tool for iPad based classrooms!