How do we measure mobile learning’s impact on higher-order thinking?

I’m lucky enough to spend Tuesdays to Thursdays working with an amazing group of students and faculty at The Westside School in Seattle. For 15 months now we’ve been growing a new middle school, and a 1:1 initiative is part of that model.

We are in a constant cycle of evaluation as we seek to understand the impacts of mobile learning, standards-based assessment, and mixed-age groupings on student academic achievement and character development.

Below are some edtech-focused numbers based on the first 3 months of this school year:

Multi-step projects with a single-task device

A few weeks ago Ethan Delavan and I presented at the 2012 iPads in Education workshop, hosted by the Puget Sound Educational Services District. I hosted a session called Multi-Step Projects with a Single-Task Device that focused on providing choice within projects that use an iPad.

The heart of  my session was the idea that, when assigning a project that requires multiple apps for completion, there is a big difference between dictating which app to use at which time (linear) and allowing students to design and follow their own path to success (branching).

The entire session was built around 2 quotes from fabulous educators:

Don’t worry, be vague.

– Physics teacher Ben Smith

If you assign a project & get back 30 of the same thing, you didn’t assign a project, you assigned a recipe.

– SLA principal Chris Lehmann

Consider the following assignment:

Design a poster that incorporates photography and expresses your perspective on how failure shapes learning.

A linear approach:

Each step of a linear version of this project would be provided along with the appropriate app to accomplish each task. If the process is teacher-defined, then the teacher is left to assess a student’s ability to follow the procedure, demonstrated mastery of each app prescribed, and adherence to any guidelines.

Self-reflection might look something like this:

I like Photosynth because it is pretty easy to use but Paper kept undoing my work so it was complicated. I turned in my poster on time and like it.

linear iPad multi-step projects

A branching approach:

In a branching assignment, students are left to break the assignment into actionable steps. Students will be required to think through each step and identify apps that will support each stage of completion, often engaging peers to compare notes. Because the process is student-defined, then the teacher can listen to students verbalize decisions for each step and ask guiding questions to encourage analysis, collaboration and discovery. “How did you decide to use Skitch for step 2? How would your project be different if you changed the order of your steps? Is there anyone else who used all of the same apps as you?”

A simple Project Planner document can be used as a post-project self-evaluation tool, as a planning document, or can be partially populated and provided as a scaffold for students who require support.

Self-reflection might look something like this:

I started this project in Screenchomp but the app only let me add 1 photo so I switched to Keynote. The poster is only a single slide in Keynote, but it is a better choice because Pages makes all posters in Portrait mode and I wanted my poster to be Landscape. When it was time to turn in my poster, I couldn’t get the printer to connect to my iPad even though I asked the teacher. I had to email my poster to the teacher instead.

branching approach to multi-step ipad projects in the classroom

While this presentation was focused on classroom projects using iPads, the idea of linear vs. branching projects is applicable beyond a device-centric application. The full slidedeck is  embedded below (RSS feed readers may need to jump to Slideshare to view):

iPad deployment: to curriculum and beyond

I recently read Steve Kinney’s post on the mechanics of an iPad deployment and was reminded how far tools and documentation have come in the last year or so. Now that a roadmap is beginning to emerge for 1:1 and cart-based deployments, what about the curricular and social side of the roll-out?

I recently wrote an article for that outlines the concerted effort at Westside School in Seattle:

Parents, teachers, students and administrators mapped out an integrated project-based learning environment designed to engage and challenge all participants. The planning team made a list of skills and tools that would support learning, and decided on a 1:1 iPad program to support their vision.

Click through to read the entire How to Roll Out a 1:1 iPad Program at Edutopia.

Multi-tasking tablets on the horizon

At a recent professional development session I got the chance to play with the upcoming Windows 8 operating system running on a tablet.

Windows 8 has many features designed to address shortcomings with iOS 4/5 for iPads. One of the most exciting is multi-task capability – this feature allows the user to run 2 different apps at the same time side-by-side. I recorded a quick demo:

Daisy the Dinosaur - iPad programming app

5 best iPad apps to teach programming

While Scratch continues to be my favorite gateway-drug to computer programming, my current students don’t have ready access to desktop or laptop computers. We do, however, have iPads so I’ve been looking at apps to introduce the concepts of branches, loops and conditional statements. Here are my top 5 favorites so far:

Daisy the Dinosaur

Price: Free
Difficulty: Beginner
iTunes link:

Daisy the Dinosaur is a simple drag-and-drop introduction to programming. The app includes a super-cute protagonist, a few tutorials, and a free-play interface. The app has a limited set of simple commands but also includes a when conditional that allows the user to interact with Daisy by touching the screen or shaking the iPad. 

Daisy the Dinosaur - iPad programming app


Price: Free
Difficulty: Beginner to Intermediate
iTunes link:

Like many of the best puzzles, Cargo-Bot has a simple objective with an infinite number of solutions. The limited functions actually turn into a catalyst for creativity. The learning process has been gamified, with 36 different levels. A perfect introduction to nested scripts – your favorite solutions can be recorded as a movie and exported to the Photo Library from within the program. Bonus points to the developers: this game was created entirely on an iPad, using Codea.

Cargo-Bot iPad programming app

Move the Turtle

Price: $2.99 ((editor note: Next is Great (Move the Turtle developers) gave me a free license for review))
Difficulty: Beginner to Advanced
iTunes link:

Move the Turtle seems simple on the surface but is packed full of programming goodness: variables, procedures, conditionals, position awareness and more. The learning process has been gamified, with 27 different levels. Move the Turtle also includes a composition area where you can develop your own scripts and save projects in a library to be referenced later. The developer has included the ability to save and access multiple accounts – great for shared iPad environments.

Move the Turtle - iPad programming app


Price: $1.99
Difficulty: Intermediate to Advanced
iTunes link:

i-Logo stars every old programmers’ favorite turtle. This app uses the keyboard for textual input and includes documentation that introduces Logo – a programming language that has been around for over 50 years. 

i-Logo programming app for ipad


Price: $1.99
Difficulty: Advanced
iTunes link:

Simduino is a virtual Arduino processor. This is a great step for someone ready to get into a programming language, rather than the drag-and-drop apps above. Simduino is a cool proof-of-concept app, but the beauty of Arduino boards is the tactile experience.

Simduino - virtual Arduino programming for iPad

iPad end-of-year turn-in process

Our school year (and first year as a 1-to-1 iPad program) is coming to a close. Going through the intake process for the first time, it seemed like it would make sense to share our process and the support documentation we’ve created:

Teacher prep

  • Intake form for teachers – ( – we used this to document what had been received. Google Docs was used so that our changes would remain synchronized as teachers worked to log each interaction.
  • Turn in form for families (.pdf | .pages | .doc) – we provided and explained this document to parents and students at end-of-year conferences. Parents and students checked the devices out at the beginning of the year, it was only fitting to have both check iPads back in.
  • Screen cleaner
  • Computer wipes
  • Tub/box for accessories
  • Syncing computer with enough HD space to backup all devices


Student prep

For 2012/13, students will be issued the same iPads they used this year. In order to clear space for new apps and reduce back-up times, students were asked to organize the content they wanted and delete the multimedia that was consuming drive space. We provided time at school for cleaning up the iPad hard drives and had teachers on hand to help out with decision-making or procedural questions:

  • Organize files
    • Confirm that all files are named in a way such that you know what is inside before opening it
    • Group Pages, Keynote, Numbers, Photos, Video & Garageband projects by subject/grade or some other system
    • Delete any rough drafts of assignments that aren’t needed now that you’ve got a final version
  • Visit Settings>General>Usage and take a screenshot of how much hard drive space is free/used
    • iMovie
      • Export completed projects to your camera roll
      • Once that is complete, you can delete the iMovie project (which takes up lots of space)
      • Head into the Photo Library and delete all the rough snippets used to create your master Movie, which is safely exported in its entirety to the Photo Library
    • Other video
      • Access the camera app
      • Click on the little button in the bottom left that takes you to your photo library
      • Use the top menu to show ONLY videos
      • Delete any videos that are not needed any more AND were not final assignments
      • Visit ShowMe & ScreenChomp to delete any files you don’t need any more
    • Garageband – delete any practice tracks. Keep the stuff you love, dump the stuff you don’t.
    • Photo Library – we typically take 100 photos at a time and get 2 decent shots. Delete the other 98
  • Take another screenshot of Settings>General>Usage. Email both screenshots together in a single email to technology teacher


Intake process

  • Students remove iPads from cases and cleaned them
  • Teacher & student compare iPad to the signed turn-in form and agree on any damage
  • Student reports any outstanding software or hardware issues (volume button doesn’t work, won’t hold charge, etc)
  • Teacher logs the form and iPad turn-in on the iPad intake form
  • Student turns in accessories – teacher notes on iPad intake form
  • Teacher backs up all devices to laptop
  • Teacher charges/drains all devices to 50% before powering down
  • Proceed with warranty or Applecare claims on necessary iPads
  • Secure functional devices until August prep

The 5 best iPad apps for PE teachers

Chuck Milsap, Washington State’s 2011 Elementary Physical Education Teacher of the Year, shares his top 5 apps for PE teachers:

There are thousands of Physical Education-related apps to load on your iPad. My general belief is that the best apps are ones that can be customized to work for your specific student population. The following are 5 apps that I have found helpful in a variety of ways:

ChoiceBoard Creator (free): This app allows you to customize your own collection of picture choices for kids. Customize up to 6 pictures per screen and add sound effects. This app works great for choice time, teaching skill progression with pictures, communication with students with special needs and for customizing your own student assessments.

Show Me (free): This free app features an interactive white board that allows you to record your voice while you create images. You can even draw over any backdrop (a picture of your playground, gym, etc…). Simply save your creations and replay for your students when needed. This works perfectly for modeling games and more.

Labelbox (free): Use this app to quickly project an image with text. This works especially well as a warm up board when your kids enter the gym or to quickly highlight a specific skill, behavior, etc using pictures and text.

TempoPerfect (free): At first I thought this app wouldn’t be very exciting. I was wrong! This app allows you to set a tempo according to beats per minute (metronome). This works great for teaching kids about the heart, including what your heart rate sounds like at 60 BPM versus 200 BPM. Also, students can try to step to the pace of the tempo. This will allow your students to maximize steps per minute as you steadily increase the tempo.

SecondsPro ($2.99): This is the best timer app that I have seen so far. Create your own interval workouts, complete with customizable color backgrounds and song selection. Students will appreciate the large timer display and an occasional rest interval between exercise sets.

iPad open house – lessons learned

This is the slidedeck I recently presented to Northwest area educators and IT directors at Seattle’s first iPad Open House, hosted by the Westside School.

The topic was “10 months into a 1-to-1 iPad deployment: lessons learned.” Main take-aways:

3 things we did right

  1. Scaffold for teachers – devices into teacher hands early in the summer. Professional development early in the summer. Regular check-ins to discuss discoveries and obstacles.
  2. Scaffold for students – started the year with no iPads. Conversations around the purpose and benefits of technology. Worked up to single-class use of iPads, then multiple periods, then all-day, and finally students took ownership of the iPads and they move freely between school and home.
  3. Scheduled reflections – students create e-portfolios that demonstrate learning at the end of each term. They use iPads to organize and present their reflections to peers, teachers and the parent community. Students also participate in periodic technology surveys that focus on using devices as a learning tool.

5 things we learned the hard way

  1. Evolving curriculum – middle school is 1-to-1, lower school uses a cart-based system. Teachers will be required to re-envision curriculum every year as upcoming students have a greater fluency with devices in a learning environment. (This is a good problem.)
  2. Device dependence – All students are under 13 so we have not asked them to create any cloud-based accounts. Content is typically locked in the iPad without using Dropbox, YouTube, etc to move files. Apple doesn’t have a great solution for this yet and email is less than ideal for the amount of video, music, photo content that students are generating.
  3. Version control – Google Docs isn’t ready for prime-time on the iPads. This leaves students emailing content back and forth to teachers, and thus ending up with multiple versions of the same document to manage. iPads don’t really have a “file structure” so past lessons on folder organization don’t apply.
  4. Technical support – Apple tech support are super nice people who don’t have solutions for most of the issues facing school deployments. Apple tech typically suggests iCloud or OSX Server, both of which perpetuate the brand lock-in and don’t solve issues. Many school IT consultants are running Windows-based systems and aren’t staffed with Apple experts, let alone iPad experts.
  5. Cleaning schedule – regular time set aside for physically cleaning each device is necessary. Same goes for the files in the devices too – iMovie projects take up tons of space even if you’ve already exported the final version.

The complete 1-to-1 laptop or iPad pre-deployment survey

Last Thursday was a great day of professional development as 30 educators from around the Northwest visited Westside’s iPad Open House. This was an opportunity for IT directors, teachers and administrators to see students in action and learn about the process of deploying a 1-to-1 iPad program.

As part of the event, we put together a list of resources, from multi-iPad management tools to educational apps to digital learning communities (embedded after the jump for website viewers).

I also attempted to take the past year’s experiences & tutorials and synthesize it into a single pre-deployment survey that covers pedagogy, infrastructure and budgetary considerations. This document can be used for either an iPad deployment or a laptop deployment and is free to download.
iPad one-to-one deployment resource from