Introducing... the Student Innovation Team

Click here to to view the students' blogs!
Many of us rely heavily on the Internet for our professional learning... Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and - of course - blogs. I've found so many great resources out there, and learned much of what I know from clicking around in the middle of the night. However, amongst the myriad of voices and ideas floating around in cyberspace, there is one voice I see very rarely... and yet this is the voice that should be most heard: the kids.

As we explore digital learning, we are always talking about what we think is best for kids, or how kids will respond to x, y or z... but what better way to find these answers than going straight to the source?

So this year, I have created a group of students who will meet after school twice a week. They have dubbed themselves the "Student Innovation Team" or S.I.T. for short... not the most actionable of acronyms, but easy to say nonetheless.

As a focus, we have "borrowed" the four A's from the Apple Distinguished Educator program: Advocates, Authors, Ambassadors and Advisors. We spent our first two sessions discussing each of these concepts and how the students could fill each role. Surprisingly, they were most excited about becoming Advisors. Apparently, being able to tell a teacher how to use technology was an urge many had been secretly harboring for some time.

Yesterday, they began their blogs as part of this Advisor role (and also dipping a toe into the "Author" role as well). For the students' safety, they've all chosen pseudonyms and have taken on this avatar when blogging. After creating their avatar, their next task was to share a bit about themselves and to explain why they were invested in digital learning.

Please take a moment to read the team's blogs, and comment. They are so excited to interact with you: an authentic audience of adult learners. As "DigiEmani" said to me this recently, "I have something to say, and now people will finally listen."
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Free Workshop on QuickTime Screencasting & iBooks Author!

Thursday 9/20/12 at 9am
Apple Store on North Ave in Chicago, IL
Hands-on Workshop: Bring a MacBook & an iPad!
801 W North Avenue - Chicago, IL 60642
RSVP / registration not required, but an email is appreciated. Please email if you plan on attending. This will help us know how many to expect.

Thanks to those who attended my previous Apple Store presentation; I enjoyed meeting you! On Thursday 9/20 at 9:00am I will be back for another session - this time about QuickTime screencasting for video differentiation and creating your own content with iBooks Author... and it's free (and open to all)! 

The next presentation will be more of a hands-on workshop. Bring your MacBooks and iPads as we'll be creating your own digital content for immediate use in your classrooms! If you have curricular materials you'd like to digitize and/or create lessons with, bring those too! 

I know it's a schol day and wish the timing could be better... perhaps ask your principals for a PD 1/2 day :)? Hope to see you there!

Session description: Innovative applications such as QuickTime and iBooks Author allow teachers to become creators of their own curriculum and meet the needs of all students—no matter how many devices you have in the classroom. Join Apple Distinguished Educator Jennie Magiera for a hands-on look at how to differentiate learning through teacher-created digital content. You’ll explore ways to leverage pedagogy and discuss strategies such as the flipped classroom, screen casting, and guided reading. 
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Create iOS Keyboard Shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts are a tool for improving typing speed on your iOS device. To create a keyboard shortcut go to Setting > General > Keyboard > Shortcuts. To add a new short cut click the plus button in the top right. You can create a short cut to write "see you" when you type the letters "cu." You could also create a short cut for your email so you can enter your email quickly with just a few key strokes. Watch the above video to learn more.

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iOS 6, iPhone 5 and iPad Mini Expected In Coming Weeks

Apple is widely rumored to be preparing to release a new iPhone, an all new smaller iPad Mini and iOS 6 with numerous accessibility improvements.

iOS 6: iOS 6 has been previewed by Apple at WWDC and will be released this fall. iOS 6 includes over 200 new features including new accessibility features such as Guided Access and word highlights with speak selection. iOS is the operating system that runs on the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. Guided Access will allow teachers and parents to lock the child into a single app and control what features of the app the child could use.

iPhone 5: Unlike iOS 6 the iPhone 5 has not been confirmed by Apple. But according to leaks and past history it is likely that the iPhone will be coming out it mid September. The iPhone 5 is likely to have a larger screen, a better camera and a faster processor.  

iPad Mini: Like the iPhone 5 the iPad Mini has not be confirmed by Apple. The iPad Mini is rumored to have smaller screen than the current iPad. The smaller size will allow Apple to lower the price compared to the iPad. If the rumors are correct the iPad Mini will be perfect for schools.

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Apps in the Classroom - This Sunday 8/26 @ 9:00am

This Sunday (8/26/12) at 9am I'll be speaking at Lincoln Park's Apple Store (in Chicago, IL) to share my favorite apps for the classroom and show some examples of how to leverage them to up the ante on learning.

If you're in town and would like to learn more about using iOS devices with your kids, please come by!

Hope to see you there :).

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Back To School Apps

The start of school is just around the corner. Teachers, students and parents are preparing for another year. Below is a list of iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch apps that could be helpful for the upcoming school year.

Read2Go is the best way to access books on your iOS device. Bookshare provides free accessible eBooks for people with print disabilities. Click here to learn more about Bookshare. Once you download the app you can download over 150,000 books directly to your device. The best part of Read2Go is that students can easily read books anywhere because of the portability of iOS devices. To learn how to become a member click here.

Learning Ally (formally RFB&D) provides audio books to people with print disabilities. Members must pay a yearly fee in order to download books. To learn about how to become a member of Learning Ally click here.

Prizmo converts a picture of a document into text which can be read using text-to-speech. In short from document to text to speech in just seconds. Prizmo is also the fastest and most accurate optical character recognition (OCR) app I have every tested.

iBooks is Apple's eReader app. It is simple to use and accessible using VoiceOver. With iBook Textbooks students and teachers can download select textbooks onto their iPad.

iTunes U allows you to follow along with select classes from your iOS device. You can download classes from top universities and watch videos of the classes and read documents provided by the professor.

Great videos that walk you through many concepts from almost all subject. This app is great for homework help and learning new concepts. To learn more about Khan Academy click here.
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Best in class for Your Class: Google Docs on the iPad vs. Apple's iWorks Apps

9/10/12 Post Update: The new update for the iOS Google Drive app allows for real-time editing of Google Docs on your iPad! Hooray! See this page for more information. 
Another option is to use the Google Chrome Browser app for iOS and access your google Doc in desktop mode. This solution offers the most functionality of Google Docs. Neither of these options are viable for Google spreadsheets (though the Chrome workaround supports creating Google Forms). 


Many thanks to Greg Michie, a colleague who brought Office2HD and QuickOffice Pro HD  to my attention. These are two apps that allow you to access and edit Google Docs on your iPad in a way I've never been able to before. I've used GoDocs in the past, but have never had great success with this app (the interface was awkward).

Office2HD and QuickOffice have a much cleaner interface; in fact using them feel much like using Apple's Pages, Keynote and Numbers - but you're editing a Google Doc, Presentation or Spreadsheet.

I spent some time playing with each and comparing them to Apple's productivity iWorks Suite (Pages, Keynote and Numbers).

My essential question as I explored these apps was: Would it be worth it for my kids to use one of these apps to do all word processing/presentations/spreadsheet work on a Google Doc or should I have them work through Pages/Keynote/Numbers? 

Below are my observations. Please add any insights you have in the comments section below.

Office2HD - $3.99 in Volume Purchase Program for 20+ copies
  • Work Flow: Immediately syncs to Google Docs upon "save", so students can "turn in" their work much easier than with Apple's iWorks apps (for a suggestion on how to turn in work with Pages/Keynote/Numbers, see this previous post about the Showbie app)
  • Organization: files shown first by folder and then by recently updated/created
  • More functionality than QuickOffice: 
    • Word Processor (compare to Word/Pages): Track Changes, Insert Pictures, Change opacity in pictures, add border in pictures
    • Spreadsheet (compare to Excel/Numbers): Greater options for formulas/math functions

  • Not all the features translate easily to Google Docs. So if your student creates a document with a picture behind text, or with a border, these features will not show up when you open it in Google Docs.
  • Still not as many functions as Apple iWorks apps:
    • Spreadsheet (compare to Excel/Numbers) doesn't allow you to create tables/charts and you can't insert media
    • Word Processor (compare to Word/Pages): Can't insert video, fewer media options and editing options, fewer fonts
    • Presentation (compare to PowerPoint/Keynote): fewer transitions, can't insert video, can't insert tables/charts

QuickOffice Pro HD - $9.99 in Volume Purchase Program for 20+ copies
  • Work Flow: Immediately syncs to Google Docs upon "save", so students can "turn in" their work much easier than with Apple's iWorks apps (for a suggestion on how to turn in work with Pages/Keynote/Numbers, see this previous post about the Showbie app)
  • Easier to use than Office2HD; cleaner interface than Office2HD (buttons more clear, my students had an easier time learning how to use it)
  • Recently acquired by Google (read more about it here); so one may predict that this app may (1) drop in price, (2) increase in functionality and (3) become more naturally tied into Google Docs

  • Lack of functionality as compared to both Office2HD and Apple iWorks apps:
    • Spreadsheet (compare to Excel/Numbers) doesn't allow you to create tables/charts and you can't insert media
    • Word Processor (compare to Word/Pages): Can't insert any media at all, few font options
    • Presentation (compare to PowerPoint/Keynote): fewer transitions, can't insert video, can't insert tables/charts

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Cool Finds, Awesome Ideas

I am lucky to have an awesome PLN that shares great finds with me... so in the spirit of paying it forward, I would like to pass on these great finds to you. Enjoy, and pass it on! Have a great find you've seen recently? Please share in the comments below!

It's a robot! It's a camera man! It's... Swivl! This little bad boy is a mount for your iOS device and pivots to follow a remote you wear. So the camera follows you as you move up, down, side to side. Check out the video to see it in action. Wow... it's definitely on my wish list (Labor Day present?). Thanks to my colleague, Chris Bruggeman, for sharing this fun tech tool with me.

21st Century Ice Breakers
Aditi Rao, a tech integration specialist from Texas shared a genius list of 10 ways to start off your classroom leveraging digital learning. From Pinterest to QR codes, this list has a myriad of ways to not only get your kids' feet wet with technology, but also get to know each other at the same time! Thank you so much to amazing Autumn Laidler for sharing this resource!

Sick of iPad workflow issues? Tired of having kids upload all their docs to a Dropbox account, only to delete each other's work? Or getting 100 emails everyday with kids turning in Keynotes or Pages docs -- only to email the work back with feedback and encounter version control issues? Not to fear! Showbie is here! It creates a WebDav server and gives each of your students a unique login. (The process seems similar to that of Edmodo, for those who are familiar with this site.) Once the kids create any product in an iWorks app (Pages, Keynote, Numbers) or any app that allows for WebDav upload (iAnnotate, iThoughtsHD, etc), they login with their username and can upload the file. Teachers can then see each student's work on their teacher laptop or iPad, make audio or written feedback and return the file. There is automatic copy control, so teachers don't overwrite student work. The student will see a partitioned file folder with their work separate from teacher comments. So. Cool. Thank you to John Shoemaker for this little gem!

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Amplifying my Classroom

Last spring, a team from Amplify came to visit my classroom and capture some of my kids in action. They put together this lovely video about our philosophy regarding digital learning pedagogy. My students were so excited to be caught on film and I was glad to talk about my favorite topic :).

Thanks, Amplify, for sharing our story with the world (and for inspiring me to get my bangs cut like this again)!

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Enhanced Google Voice Search Coming To iOS

Google's enhanced voice search that debuted in Android 4.1 Jelly Bean is coming to the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch in the coming days. Google announced that the Google Search app for iOS will be updated in "the next couple of day" to include the new feature. You simply tap the microphone and ask a question and the result is spoken back to you. The enhanced voice search is similar to Apple's Siri. Stay tuned to learn more about Google voice search and how it compares to Siri. Google says the following about enhanced voice search,
"Often the most natural way to ask a question is by asking aloud. So we’ve combined our speech recognition expertise, understanding of language and the Knowledge Graph so that Voice Search can better interpret your questions and sometimes speak the answers back as full sentences. This has been available on Android for a few weeks and people love it."
Click here to download the current version of the app.

Update: The app has not yet been released and some are speculating that Apple may be delaying the update because it is a competitor to Siri.
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BlackBerry Screen Reader Review

The BlackBerry Screen Reader is designed to make BlackBerry phones accessible to the visually impaired. BlackBerry Screen Reader is compatible with the BlackBerry Curve 9350, 9360, 9370, 9320 and 9220.

Installation is complicated and may require the assistance of a sighted person. Unfortutantly, BlackBerry Screen Reader is not built into the phone. There are two methods for installing the BlackBerry Screen Reader. The first method is to visit this webpage from your BlackBerry. Another option for installation is to plug the BlackBerry into your computer and then install the Screen Reader. Connecting your BlackBerry device to your computer is the most accessible option for installation.

  • Physical Keyboard
  • Keyboard Shortcuts
  • Speak Everything On Screen
  • Free For Compatible BlackBerry Devices

Once installed  you will be greeted with a solid Screen Reader that makes the BlackBerry accessible. The visually impaired user benefits from the numerous physical buttons, including a full physical keyboard. Five buttons on the device are less tactile. These buttons include the answer, end, menu, back and end/off. While these buttons are flush with the device they are still used for the visually impaired once there location has been memorized. To be clear these buttons depress when pressed. The physical keyboard makes it possible to type eyes-free. Once you move away from the physical buttons and start navigating the screen, a text-to-speech voice begins speaking everything under your cursor. The BlackBerry I tested had a very loud speaker that made hearing the voice easy. To navigate the cursor you can use the trackpad. The trackpad is fairly sensitive so it may be best to turn down the sensitivity. Also, I found it helpful to turn on audible clicks when the cursor moves from one object to another. The BlackBerry Screen Reader also excels with the use of keyboard shortcuts. For example you can press a key combination to speak the time. Users can change the speech rate, verbosity and pitch.

Overall the BlackBerry Screen Reader is a solid screen reader that makes the BlackBerry accessible for visually impaired users. It is not as polished as other mobile screen readers such as Apple's VoiceOver. BlackBerry Screen Reader may not work with third party apps. Some work could be done in streamlining operations and stability. Also, the screen reader should be built into the BlackBerry from the start. Click read more below to view screenshots of the BlackBerry Screen Reader.

Device Provided Complimentary To Reviewer 

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Prizmo Vs. TextDetective OCR iPhone App Challange

Prizmo and TextDetective are optical charactor recognition (OCR) apps for the iPhone. These apps use the iPhone camera to take a picture of a document and then convert the text on the paper to digital text. Because the apps rely on the iPhone camera they work best on the iPhone 4S. The apps were compared using a complex image with multiple images and columns. Both apps were used in a room with good lighting. Watch the video above to learn more about each of the apps.

Prizmo costs $9.99 in the App Store. Click here to download Prizmo. Prizmo is the fastest most accurate user friendly OCR app that I have ever tested. It is designed for sighted users. It allows you to crop and edit the picture before you start the OCR process. Once the text has been recognized you can read it using text-to-speech, email it or copy the text. It is important to note that users with visual impairments may have a hard time taking pictures of the documents they want to OCR. It also is impossible for a visually impaired user to crop the document to improve the accuracy. That being said for sighted users very easy to use.

TextDetective costs $1.99 for a limited time. Click here to download TextDetective. TextDetective is designed for people with visual impairments. The app is designed to make taking a picture of a document easy for the visually impair. In my tests I had a hard time taking a clear picture of a whole document. I could successfully capture a clear picture of one or two paragraphs. TextDetective was less accurate and slower than Prizmo. One problem I found is that TextDetective only works in landscape orientation but most documents are in portrait orientation. The orientation of the app makes it difficult to  take a crisp picture of the page. In all for only $1.99 TextDetective may be worth a try.

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Apps Provided Complimentary To Reviewer
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