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 – There 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.

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 – it 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……