Voice Dream Reader App For iOS

Voice Dream Reader is a text-to-speech app for people with reading disabilities or people who just prefer to listen to text. The app costs $4.99 in the App Store. Click here to download the app. Voice Dream Reader can extract text from ePub, PDF, Word, Pages, Keynote and web pages and then read them aloud using text-to-speech with synchronized highlighting. Watch the above video to learn more. Voice Dream Reader comes pre-loaded with the Heather voice, but additional voices can be purchased for $0.99. One downside is that all text formatting and all images are extracted and not visible.

While reading a document you can change the speech rate, text size and background color. While reading a document it is easy to skip around in the text and look up words. The app cannot read the definitions so you will need to turn on VoiceOver. It is unfortunate that the app does not read the definition because some people may not be familiar with VoiceOver. Voice Dream Reader can be synced with a number of cloud services including Dropbox to get documents into the app.
In all Voice Dream Reader is a solid app. For some, the built in Speak Selection feature may be good enough. With iOS 6 coming in the fall, Speak Selection will have syncronized highlighting which will make some features of Voice Dream Reader obsolete. If you want the ability to create playlists or read with multiple voices this app is for you.
Click read more below to view screenshots of Voice Dream Reader in action.

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First ASL Narrated iBook Hits The iPad

A new iBook called Pointy Three includes built in American Sign Language (ASL) video narrations. Click here to download the iBook. Pointy Three costs $4.99 but you can download a sample for free. It is the first iBook to include ASL video narrations. An iPad is required to read the ebook. These video narrations are great for people learning ASL or parents of deaf children. Hopefully, the selection of ebooks with ASL narration will increase.

Watch the above video to learn more. Click read more below to view screenshots of Pointy Three.

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More Ideas to Googlize Your School

Tomorrow I will be presenting at the CPS Leadership Tech Summit about how to "Googlize Your School." I began gathering some ideas in the post below, but wanted to have a paperless take-away for my participants. In the past I've created a Google Site, but my beef with that is it isn't really interactive. So, I'm going to try to practice what I preach.

For this session, I've created a Google Doc with a rough summary of my ideas and content. Why a Google Doc? This will allow participants to not only learn from me, but from each other as well. If they have ideas, comments or updates on any of the content shared, they can add it in! I am sharing this doc here, so that not only the participants at tomorrow's session, but anyone who wants to learn alongside us may join in.

So click here and join in the fun! How do you Googlize Your School?

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Learning Ally Audio App Now Free

Learning Ally, the audio book service for people with disabilities, has reduced the cost of their iOS app to free. The app previously cost $19.99. In order to use the app you must be a Learning Ally member. Click here to download the app which is compatible with both the iPad and iPhone. The app is the easiest way to listen to Learning Ally books on your iOS device. Now that the app is free it is a no brainer for members.

Unfortunately the app is still missing key features such as background audio play back, background downloads and the ability to browse the Learning Ally catalog directly from your iOS device. When listening to an audio book you cannot follow along with an ebook because the audio book will automatically pause. Also in order to download an audio book you first must add the book to your bookshelf via a web browser. These short comings weaken the user experience, but it is still great to listen to Learning Ally books on your iOS device.  Hopefully in time the app will be updated with these and other features. To learn more about Learning Ally click here. Click read more below to view screen shots of Learning Ally Audio in action.
iPhone Screenshot 1

iPhone Screenshot 2

iPhone Screenshot 3

iPhone Screenshot 4

iPhone Screenshot 5

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Eyes Free Typing With Fleksy For iPhone

Fleksy is an app for the iPhone and iPod Touch that allows visually impaired users to type without needing to see the keyboard perfectly. Users press on the screen approximately where they think the correct letter is located on the keyboard. Fleksy is designed only for people with visual impairments. To use the typing feature in the app VoiceOver must be off, and then when you want to share the text you have typed you must turn VoiceOver back on by tripple-clicking the home button.

As the above video shows the taps on the keyboard can be fairly far from the correct letter without effecting the accuracy. If there are multiple possible words based on your taps. Fleksy will allow you to choose other likely words by flicking up and down on the screen.

After each word you must flick right to tell Fleksy that you are done typing that word. After each word, Fleksy will speak the word aloud using text-to-speech. To add punctuation you can flick to the right twice and the select the correct punctuation. If you have to enter a name, you can hold down on the keyboard and the letters will be spoken as your finger touches them, then you can release your finger to type the letter. To enter numbers and symbols rotate two fingers to switch between text, numbers and symbols. When you have typed your text, tripple-click the home button to turn on VoiceOver. Turning on VoiceOver automatically brings up the sharing menu which gives you the option to copy, email, text and tweet your text. Fleksy does not replace the standard iOS keyboard. I tested the app by closing my eyes while typing and found that the type was accurate and surprisingly fast. Fleksy claims that users can type up to 25 words per minute with practice. Fleksy is definately faster than typing with VoiceOver and the standard keyboard for visually impaired users. 

Fleksy sells for $14.99 on the App Store. Click here to download the app. Click read more below to view another video about Fleksy and to view screenshots.

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EnableTalk Coverts Signs Language Into Spoken Words

For the millions of deaf people communicating is a large challenge. EnableTalk is attempting to solve this problem with a pair of computerized gloves that recognizes sign language and uses text-to-speech to convert the signs to spoken language. Watch the above video to learn more. The prototype gloves link with a smart phone and use a variety of sensors to recognized the signs. An app on the users smart phone then speaks the signs using text-to-speech so people who do not know sign language can communicate with the deaf user. The gloves could end the need for a sign language user to pass notes to non-sign language user, but the non-sign language user would still need to pass notes back to the hearing impaired person. The EnableTalk seem promising and will hopefully be available to consumers in the near future. Click read more below to view a picture of the prototype gloves.

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Apple Configurator: Perfect Tool for Schools With iPads

More and more schools are providing iPads to all or some of their students. Setting up dozens of iPads manually can be time consuming and monotonous. Apple's free Mac app called Apple Configurator solves this problem by allowing schools to set up multiple iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch all on once. Click here to download the app from the Mac app store. Once the you have downloaded the app you can change settings and install apps on multiple iOS devices. Apple Configurator is a time saving app for anyone that needs to set up multiple iOS devices. Click read more below to view screen shots of Apple Configurator in action.

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Kurzweil 3000-Firefly for iPad Released

Today the Kurzweil 3000 firefly app was released for the iPad. Click here to download the free app. The app, firefly, is the iPad version of Kurzweil's cloud-based reader and file storage product. If you have a firefly account all of your saved documents will be available to read on the iPad as well as any Mac or PC. Watch the video above to see firefly in action. Click here to learn more about firefly.

Firefly has many useful reading features, but will not replace the full desktop version of Kurzweil. Similar to the desktop version of Kurzweil, firefly highlights words as they are read, which makes following along easier. Firefly includes high quality text-to-speech voices. Users can adjust the text-to-speech rate and highlighting options with ease. The interface is extremely clean and simple to learn. The app can read documents with images and rich text formatting. Firefly is a simple and easy way for teachers to distribute accessible instructional materials to their students with dyslexia or physical disabilities. While firefly is ideal for reading documents, it does not offer any annotation features such as highlighting, text entry, note taking or speech notes. Also, documents cannot be added to the firefly app directly from the iPad using the "open in" feature. It would be very cool if firefly offered the ability to scan documents using the iPad's camera and then read the document using optical character recognition (OCR).

The firefly iPad app is a must have for current firefly web users. If you do not have a web account you can still try out sample documents from within the app. For people who do not want to be tied to a computer all of the time the iPad app is also very useful. If you are not a current Kurzweil 3000 user but do not have firefly the new app may be a compelling reason to get a firefly web license. Click read more below to view screen shots of firefly.

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Googlize Your School

I am so excited. And I just can't hide it. Google Apps is a-comin' to Chicago Public Schools! Hooray! As we gear up for this amazing cloud-revolution, I wanted to share a few ways you can Googlize your school. Consider these ideas to improve efficiency, collaboration and communication. Since I have today off (Happy Birthday America!), I wanted to get these ideas on "paper" while I had some time. More to come soon :).

#1 Let Google do your Job!
I always say that I hate grading, but I love assessing. What I mean by this is, I hate wading through 93 exit tickets, papers or tests... but I love knowing more about my students as learners, mathematicians and innovators. Google can help by slicing your grading load to a fraction of what it is now. While it can't grade essays or projects, it can give you real-time, in-the-moment information on what your students are struggling with. As a result you can differentiate the same day you assess. Yup, you heard that right: same day assessment/differentiation cycles! To illustrate more fully, consider the average assessment/differentiation cycle: You teach a lesson, you assess (exit ticket, etc) - you take home all the exit tickets (~30 for a self-contained teacher, 90+ for departmentalized teachers). You take the next night to grade them all. You come back the next day and put kids in groups to support their learning or challenge them. Imagine that you get the data back as soon as the students turn in their exit tickets - color coded, and ready to use. You could differentiate in that same period. No one would have to walk out of the room confused or frustrated. How, you ask? Google Forms, Conditional Formatting and a script called Flubaroo. Read more on how to do this here.

#2 YouTube for Learning
Start a YouTube channel with your team/cycle/PLC/school. Upload videos to help each other learn (i.e., model lessons, videos of practice, screencasts, etc.) and/or flipped lesson videos to share (think your own Khan Academy). Don't feel comfortable putting it out into the universe for all to see? Set it to "private" and only invite your PLC members until you feel comfortable enough to share with others.

#3 Googlize your Forms!
Room requests? Equipment requests? Supply requests? Field Trip requests? Use Google Forms!
Make sure the person whose responsibility it is to approve these requests turns on their notifications for the form's spreadsheet. Here is great video on how to do this.

#4 Blogger for a PLC!
Have teachers create and contribute to a blog - together! Don't think of this as necessarily the type of blog with others outside of your PLC read (although they can and this can be great support/feedback), but more of a virtual meeting space to discuss practice and learn together. They can upload video, pictures and text to share ideas, challenges and solutions. This helps alleviate the, "When can everyone meet?" or lack of common planning time. Another great outcome is that all of your "meetings" are automatically archived. So all learning and brainstorming can be referenced throughout the year - and years - to come. Here is an example of a virtual PLC we did this year around our technology integration. In our first year, we set it to private - just for us to learn and collaborate - but are now considering opening it to learn with the world.

#5 Google Calendar for All!
Use Google Calendar to organize and support:
- room reservations
- school events
- homework for students
- administration / leadership appointment planning (know where your colleagues are and when)
- vertical lesson planning (have each grade level add in their units to the calendar - then see vertical alignment, see picture below)

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10 Tips for Getting Started in your New iClassroom

The question continues to arise: OK, I'm getting iPads... How do I begin? While I've written posts about it here or there, it can be a pain to search an entire blog to find just what you need. So for your convenience, below I've curated 10 tips for getting started on your new iAdventure:

1- For administrators: One to one means one to one. 
One cart per teacher, that is. Oftentimes I hear about schools who are purchasing iPad carts and then use them as rotating resources. iPads and the iOS are a little different than laptops and desktops. Any teacher who has been utilizing these devices with students can tell you that the workflow alone can be a challenge and is a learned skill. When the cart is rotating, teachers rarely have the time to become experts - and many don't truly own the responsibility to immerse themselves in the transformation. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule; when a team of especially innovative teachers with great working relationships share the cart, the outcome can be much different. However, a great rule of thumb is to keep the cart in one room; or at least split it between a maximum of 2-3 teachers who will dig in and become a mini-PLC together. This will allow your teachers to become experts in the craft and pedagogy. The following year they will become teacher-leaders and be able support others as you expand your program. (Also to note, consider having teachers write an RFP or mini grant proposal to help determine which teachers will be your pioneers. This will build in buy-in and motivation to fully engage in the learning experience.)

2- Bretford PowerSync Cart.
Make sure you get the right cart! I makes me so sad to walk into a building and see that they have purchased the Bretford Mobility Cart (no syncing) not because of budgetary restraints, but a lack of knowledge of this better, newer Bretford PowerSync Cart. The cart itself requires some exploration and learning, but in the end it is an incredible time saver. (My first year with iPads I was manually syncing 32 iPads, one at a time, every day. I shiver at the memory.) Here is a post with more info on how to use this cart.

3- Keep it separate.
Your iTunes accounts, that is. When you begin purchasing apps for your iPads, you'll need a separate AppleID to run the Volume Purchase Program . However, you may also want to keep a separate MacBook to be the "brains" of the operations. When using the PowerSync Cart, you'll learn some handy time-saving tricks, such as adjusting the sync settings in iTunes to "sync all new apps" or "sync newest 10 videos". If you're running two iTunes accounts on one Mac, you may still run into the accidental downloading of "Hot Tub Time Machine" - your fun for the weekend movie download meant for you and your friends - to all 32 of your 4th graders' iPads. Oops. No good. Even if you're more careful than that, it can become a headache to sort through your personal downloads and the schools'. If you can get a separate MacBook to become your carts' best friend and your at-work computer, all the better.

4- Taste the Rainbow.
When buying cases, try to find ones that come in multiple colors (we got the MiniSuits from Amazon). Then have one color per table. This way, it is easy for each student to find his/her assigned iPad every day without rummaging through a bin. (I keep all of my iPads out in a bin on the tables, all day - much like teachers who keep pencils or craft supplies out all day.) The iPads are of course numerated as well, but the color coding makes things quicker and easier. Here is a post about organizing your iPads. 

5- Headphones.
Wow, now you've spent mucho moolah on carts, MacBooks and iPads! Do you still have money for things like headphones? Well for a long time, we did not. Solution: Add headphones to your kids' school supply list. I had a box of heavy-duty plastic Ziplock bags at school, and bins for each table. The kids wrote their names on the bags, threw the headphones in and they lived at school in their bins. Now, before those who teach in low-income areas start to sigh, please note that my school is 99% free/reduced lunch. Many of my kids balk at bringing even pencils to school. However one thing they didn't mind getting was a pair of dollar store headphones. For those who couldn't bring them to school, I was able to buy a couple of at-school lender headphones at the dollar store myself. Not the best solution in the world, but it was much less expensive than purchasing headphones for all 93 of my kids.

6- First day.
Let the kids explore. Give them a few expectations on how to hold the iPad safely, and basics about the buttons. Stow the settings icon into a folder called "Do Not Open" - along with others you're not ready for the kids to "discover" yet. Then let them have at it. Stop them at intervals and ask them to demo their learning. For more on this, see this post. 

7- Technology does not = Classroom Management.
Contrary to some beliefs, technology is not a magic wand that can suddenly manage your classroom for you. Just as you had to make sure kids weren't writing lewd words in books or on desks, and set expectations / build a classroom community to prevent such things, the same goes for tech. First, make sure you have clear signals for when to stop iPad use and start listening to a speaker. I say, "Screens dark, Hands in laps". Simple, clear, straightforward. Doug Lemov  tells us the importance of being concise and clear with your instructions of "What to Do." This is a great example. Let them know that they must have their screens off  (iPads asleep) and their hands in their laps (no one touching the screen or buttons). Just as you need to make these clear directions during a science lab or math lesson full of fun, distracting manipulatives, so must you with iPads.

8- Student Genius Bar.
How do you teach kids new apps? How do you decide to buy new apps? How do you figure out how to use new apps in your classroom? Answer: Kids, kids, and kids.
Pick one student per table, cluster or group to be an "App Tester." Then, when you see a new app that peaks your interest, buy just one copy. Have your app group try it out as an anchor activity throughout the week - each taking turns playing with it. Then have them fill out a form like thisApps with high enough reviews (determined by you), can be purchased for all iPads. (through the Volume Purchase Program). After you've purchased them, you now have a student trainer for each table/group/cluster to support and teach their colleagues how to use the app. 

9- Creation Apps > Content Apps.
See this post about the difference in app purchasing... and this page for great creation apps.

10- Use technology for Good, not Evil.  
Technology in the classroom can truly redefine teaching and learning for all. However, the goal of a "paperless classroom," at this point in technology advancement, is not 100% practical. There are still some students and some things that are better "old school." For example, art class. We tried to put a 1:1 iPad cart in the middle school art period this year. After a few weeks, the students - who had used iPads in other realms of their school life - politely asked to just paint. While some digital art programs are amazing, sometimes kids just want to get dirty - and should be able to. Another great example is measurement and other kinesthetic content areas... so the moral of this story is digitize to improve something, not just because you can. Here is a post that dives more deeply into this.

[10b: Use the technology to redefine.]
OK, I had to throw this one in here too... your own mindset and philosophy about the purpose of technology in your classroom also should be considered. Here are a few posts about my own journey towards understanding how to make real change with these devices:
Breaking Down to Rebuild: Redefining the Innovative Classroom
EdWeek Teacher: Redefining Education with Technology

I hope this list was helpful, and I plan to add more items as I think of them. For now, my goal is to support teachers who are new to iPads in the classroom as best I can. Please keep the questions coming! :)
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