Saturday, August 31, 2013

Teach anything with just three apps?

I am a minimalist. I love finding ways to do more with a lot less. I hope someone speaks at my funeral about how I touched the world in a significant way using only what fits with me in the casket. It could make a great visual.  If nothing else, I’ll be clutching my iPad.

I was recently musing about what’s the least a teacher would need to teach anything. I tweeted this and it got a little bit of attention:
I was exaggerating somewhat, mostly because I didn’t really go through all the CCSS and I had to fit it in 140 characters. I would certainly need a few other apps, even if just for recording notes while working. I’ll give a slightly longer list of the bare necessities below, but first here was my main thought behind this.

As I’ve written elsewhere, I think all learning should be posed as a creative problem solving activity involving three steps: find information, process it and present the solution.

Elaborating a little more, students need to
  • research the problem at hand and gather resources or information that they already know
  • process all that, getting their brains around it, synthesizing seemingly unrelated ideas, adding in their own thoughts
  • present it in a way that suits the people who need to hear the solution.
So my tweet assumed that the iPad has a browser and the learner can access the Internet. That can help a lot with the “find it” stage.

30 Hands and iMovie are my favorite apps for narrated slideshows or videos, respectively. They’d be used for the presentation piece.

Being a little more realistic, I’d need some apps that would let them store the things they find. They also would need to process it all. I gave it more thought and made this list of suggested apps. I’m including the two I already mentioned, just to give more detail.

30 Hands - This is a great free tool for slideshows and I have a demo and review about it here. You can use your pictures as backgrounds, add text and draw on the slides. It is very simple to record narration for each slide, then it exports as a movie to the Camera Roll. I love it!

iMovie - I don’t usually by apps that cost $4.99, but this app feels like it’s worth so much more. You can easily add pan and zoom effects to pictures you’ve taken and edit videos you recorded (or even those slideshows you made with 30 Hands). It is also simple to add narration, transitions and titles. It’s a portable video studio.

Google Drive - Information gathered in research and your own thoughts could easily be taken in the Notes app that comes with the iPad. But Google Drive is free, so why not add this to the list? Sure, it’s limited compared to the version you’d have on your desktop computer, but I’m still amazed with how useful it is for productivity.

Doodle Buddy or SketchBook Express - Both of these drawing apps are free. These would be mostly for the presentation part of the process. We use them in school for titles and other graphics. Doodle Buddy is extremely simple. SketchBook has layers and some very good drawing tools making it promising, but possibly more complex than you’d need for most projects.

Inkflow - I haven’t paid for the Plus version of this yet, so for me this is like a stack of paper and a black marker. I love it for flow charts and visual thinking, so it’s definitely a tool for the processing stage of the learning process. You can also export the drawings and notes as jpg or PDF to use them in presentations too. (Side note: When talking at the coffee shop, this app becomes the proverbial napkin on which I illustrate my ramblings.)

Voice Record Pro - This audio recording app is incredibly versatile because of all the apps you can export it to. Files also can be opened in iMovie as the background track. So presentations can be recorded as a speech or conversation, then in iMovie you can add pictures or images you drew using any of the above apps. It also converts to mp3 so you can send it to others in a flexible format. (Bonus: I’m not including Video Star as a “must have”, but if you record yourself playing live music with Voice Record Pro it exports to Video Star so you can lip sync. Fun!) I wish Voice Record Pro had better tools for editing, but for free it is great.

GarageBand - I debated about including this app because original music is usually not necessary in a presentation. Still, there will be some topics where such a projects will be greatly enhanced because of the possibilities of this app. (And for some students it can make all the difference.) Like iMovie, it is $4.99, but whenever I use it I find myself sticking it in people’s faces, raving about how much it does for that small price. All the virtual and Smart instruments are outstanding.  For the basics, it is very intuitive to record and edit tracks.  As with Voice Record Pro, you could use this for any audio recordings. It certainly has more editing capabilities than that app, though sometimes I need iTunes on my computer to get the files where I need them.

So there you have it. I’m going to give my minimalist approach a try this school year as much as possible. I’ll edit this as necessary.

What am I overlooking? Are there any other apps you consider to be the bare necessities?

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