Learning on iPad – moving beyond pdfs and worksheets!

In my previous blog “PDFs on iPad”, I mentioned the urge that many educators feel/felt when going remote – to transplant already-known workflows from the brick-and-mortar classroom to the online or virtual setting. A common question remains – how to create an interactive worksheet with a pdf – oftentimes within a learning management software. When I read this question I think to myself, why is the default always a pdf? What are you trying to achieve? Can this be achieved using something other than a pdf? The answer is a resounding YES!

The problem with worksheets – digital or otherwise

As someone who became a teacher mid-career, worksheets were never a big part of my repertoire. I observed veteran teachers handing out sheets left, right and centre, yet I felt that this was not the way I wanted to go. I HEARTILY recommend reading of this article “Frickin’ Packets” by Jennifer Gonzalez and this blog post by John Spencer on choice boards and student agency, who both cemented my resolve in the past year. I am now convinced that worksheets are not the best pedagogy and I give them out only very rarely to students. If you do want my abbreviated list of personal reasons to reconsider worksheets, here they are:

  • worksheets cater to a one-size-fits-all mentality, which is not representative of the modern class with students of diverse backgrounds and abilities
  • worksheets do not traditionally cater to different learning needs or learning disabilities
  • worksheets are often handed out with solutions, which tempt students to simply copy the answer, OR they copy answers from classmates
  • worksheets generally do not allow student choice – things have to be done in the same way
  • worksheets do not foster higher order thinking skills, and are therefore limited in sustainable learning practices
  • and finally, seldom are worksheets child-friendly. They are often without images and use standard fonts and colours. Why should children be motivated to fill out a worksheet with zero aesthetic?

Simply translating worksheets in digital form e.g. via pdfs therefore, in my view and experience, does not translate innovative pedagogy. I understand that busy and overwhelmed teachers with hundreds of students feel that (pdf) worksheets are the most efficient way to go, yet I encourage them to rethink this. Remote teaching has shown how difficult it is to hand out and grade sheets. What is possible? What works in both a remote and classroom setting?

Digital workplans – integrating audio/video

Instead of worksheets, I create digital documents which are workplans. They are like a to-do list, often including explanations and demonstrations. Also, I try to give students (creative) choice. In the following example, students see a menu (like in a restaurant) and can choose whether they do A or B. Both items test their ability to apply what they know and incorporate adding video or audio, drawings or text. Download the Keynote or PowerPoint file here. For more on choice boards/learning menus, click this link.

In the example below, students “create their own zoo”, adding their choice of animals (practicing numbers, plurals, there is/are, colours). I like giving students a template and a sample solution of what the finished product looks like. This way they know what I expect. Download the blank Keynote template here.

In the digital document shown below, grammar is explained and students add their own audio/video into the examples to demonstrate their understanding.

Mind maps, concept maps, flow charts and sketchnotes

Nothing gets a student’s brain juices flowing like a task that asks him/her to create a visualisation of a concept or idea. In fact, this is one of the best ways a student can demonstrate that he/she has understood and can apply and remix the knowledge to new situations. There are many options available. You can use flow charts, mind maps (another example) or concept maps and sketchnotes to see if. Of course, this requires training students how to use these techniques. Yet the reward is that you can instantly see the learning results. With this type of exercise, students are challenged to organise, structure, analyse the idea, concept or theme and consider how best to visually communicate it. This is a different experience to simply filling gaps out on a worksheet or writing answers to set questions.

One student reports on a school field trip
Here one student reports on her day

Explainer videos

One of my favourite worksheet alternative tasks are where they create their own videos to explain or demonstrate something. As a language teacher, I want to help students develop speaking competency as best possible and so really look forward to seeing what students come up with. They work really hard to create a good finished product. Again, here the challenge is to decide what to say, when and how.

On this padlet, you can see further examples of how students explain grammar rules: https://padlet.com/aliciabankhofer/grammarclips

The sky is the limit with Google Slides

I’ve shown possibilities with Keynote, PowerPoint (and videos) and I have to mention Google Slides as part of this “holy trinity” of digital tools. Google Slides is one of my favourite tools because it works speedily and reliably in a browser or mobile app and provides loads of opportunities for creative collaboration. Google Slides allows in-app inclusion of images and videos, providing unique options to create dynamic documents that allow students to provide personalised work. Using a learning journal for example allows the tracking of learning over time and helps students to organise themselves well. Here is a sample document. Create your own copy under “File” or download. More INSANELY great templates are available from the lovely and talented Paula aka @slidesmania.

If you are completely new to digital documents, then you may be feeling overwhelmed at the possibilities which may seem like a lot of work to set up. You are right that you need to invest time to decide which option and way of working is best for you and to see how to train your students to use these alternatives. But the reward is great: engaged and motivated students and digital documents that can be documented and/or adapted and easily graded. With these options, it is easier to make students’ own thinking visible, learning becomes personal and differentiated.

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This blog has been added to the German-language article “Arbeitsblätter ADE- Lernpfade willkommen! DAS Thema im Dezember 2020” on bildungspunks.de.

Follow @bildungspunks and the hashtag #edupnx on Twitter.

PDFs on iPad

Untold numbers of educators worldwide are mastering digital workflows, while facing the challenge of teaching virtually during this pandemic era. As such, those who have recently joined and are now active in educator communities on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are asking questions and sharing their findings and expertise with colleagues across the globe, also developing the potential of software for pedagogical purposes in ways previously unknown

One question that regularly comes up in these online groups is the question of how to deal with PDFs and/or worksheets. Many teachers want to know how to have students enter text or interact with text on a pdf, like a worksheet. Understandable, yes, since a pdf is one of the most common document formats. Why wouldn’t they expect to have an online document that contains interactive fields that can be used on any device?

„PDFs on iPad“ weiterlesen

Educating myself about anti-racism

black box

If you are reading this blog, chances are that you know me: You know what I look like – you know that I am black and that I am an educator working in Vienna, Austria. Some of you may know that I was born and bred in Trinidad and Tobago, my ancestors came from Africa and China, with a dash of Indian and European in the mix. As such I feel that had already been well-informed about blackness and racism, as well as the effects of slavery and colonialism, especially from an Afro-Caribbean perspective. Yet, after the events of the past weeks and the global reaction to them, I feel that, in actual fact, there is very much that I DIDN’T know.

What has recently happened to Christian Cooper, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd has been the “straw that broke the camel’s back” for many millions. Yes, senseless killings of people of colour (POC) has happened before. It is a decades-old, yes even centuries-old story. Yet, this time feels different. Just like the #MeToo and #FridaysForFuture movements, we may have reached a tipping point. And, like many educators, I have felt compelled to educate myself to examine what I can do on a personal and professional level. That this topic has superseded a still-raging worldwide pandemic goes to show that we educators cannot afford to be “racially-illiterate” or remain silent going forward, no matter our country, context or skin colour.

„Educating myself about anti-racism“ weiterlesen

A pub quiz for your class? Yes, we did!

You live, you learn. I heard about pub quizzes about 2 weeks ago when I was invited to “attend” one that colleagues organised. Of course I was intrigued by the idea of a kind of trivia night for adults and naturally I was very interested in how this can be done remotely, during our lockdown. Apparently this is actually a thing, not only in real life, but also virtually, using Zoom or other conference software. So I dutifully logged on during the specified time and, lo and behold, had lots of fun while racking my brain to answer the questions. Not so easy but definitely enjoyable.

Image advertising the virtual pub quiz: https://twitter.com/JWeissenboeck/status/1255108180562128896

One interesting rule that really does work is that you’re not supposed to look up the answers online, which is really tough to adhere to if you are used to googling everything 🙂 The format is very appealing and brings people together, which is of course the main idea behind it.

Two nights later I participated in another one, this time among English-speaking colleagues in the Apple Distinguished Educator community. This time around it was even more fun because I was in a virtual team – together with colleagues sitting in the UK and the USA.

„A pub quiz for your class? Yes, we did!“ weiterlesen

And the learning (and the teaching) goes on!

picture of my dining table as desk

Home schooling, remote teaching, distance learning, online classes. This has become the new normal for hundreds of millions of teachers worldwide facing forced lockdowns – disrupting the lives of many more students and their families in every country that has introduced social distancing during to the spread of COVID-19. In Austria, we’ll enter our third week tomorrow since learning was shifted online, on 16 March. In these few weeks we’ve all learned a lot – teachers, students and parents. We’ve learned about things we never thought we could do. We’ve learned how to make the best of a less-than-ideal situation. But we’ve also learned what is possible. Here’s how I’ve been managing my classes in this online phase.

„And the learning (and the teaching) goes on!“ weiterlesen

Was „Corona” lehrt: Gedanken nach einer Woche

Nie im Leben hätte ich gedacht, dass ich meinen ersten Blogbeitrag im Jahr 2020 unter diesen neuen “Corona”–bedingten Bedingungen schreiben würde. Aber es kam wie es kam. Freitag vor einer Woche schulte ich noch hunderte von Schülerinnen und Schüler schnell vor der Schulschließung ein, erklärten ihnen wie sie sich in Microsoft Teams am Smartphone einloggen und ihre E-Mails in Outlook abrufen. Damit das Lernen online weiter gehen kann und der Unterricht mit digitalen Medien unterstützt werden kann.

Fast forward eine Woche. Schulen sind geschlossen. Kinder und Jugendliche lernen zuhause. Lehrerinnen und Lehrer des Landes stellen sich auf einigen Wochen des Fernunterrichts ein. Und ich manage Supportfragen und leite Einschulungen per Video-Konferenz. Mein Fazit nach einer Woche „Corona”-Unterricht?

„Was „Corona” lehrt: Gedanken nach einer Woche“ weiterlesen

50 Days of Keynote

Hello everyone! 😀

Those of you who are active on Twitter these days will have already seen that I have started a crazy project and voluntarily added to my own heavy workload. With my little Twitter challenge project 50daysofkeynote I will be presenting 50 things you can create in the classroom with this versatile app. Similar to 90DaysOfGarageband, this will mean I will post daily ideas on concrete learning products that can be created using only Keynote. Why have I decided to do this?

„50 Days of Keynote“ weiterlesen

iPad im Unterricht – Intensivkurs Teil 1

iPad Intensivekurs

Eine besondere Seminarreihe wird jetzt in vielen Regionen in Österreich angeboten. Für viele Lehrpersonen ohne Vorkenntnisse mit iPads in Unterricht wird ein Intensivkurs an den Pädagogischen Hochschulen durchgeführt. Bereits in Niederösterreich und in der Steiermark und jetzt in Kärnten und in Wien werden sämtliche Grundlagen in 18 Stunden über drei oder vier Tagen vermittelt. Ich darf in Wien diese “Bootcamp”-Veranstaltung am Future Learning Lab leiten und habe jetzt die ersten vier Stunden hinter mir. Wie ist so etwas organisiert? Diejenigen von euch, die eine ähnliche Veranstaltung leiten möchten, mögen folgende Details nützlich finden.

„iPad im Unterricht – Intensivkurs Teil 1“ weiterlesen

Fortbildungen für Lehrende: Ein Dilemma ohne leichte Lösung

Pferd trinkt am Wasser

Ich bin für Twitter sehr dankbar. Wie viele, die diese Plattform privat sowie beruflich nutzen, habe ich unzählige Male von den Impulsen der anderen profitiert. Schließlich stehe ich an der “Front” – als Unterrichtende und Fortbildende – und möchte meine Praxis stets optimieren und Herausforderungen erfolgreich überwinden. Auf Twitter wird öffentlich über wichtige Bildungsthemen (manchmal heftig) diskutiert und reflektiert. Wir lernen voneinander und miteinander und gestalten den Bildungsdiskurs aktiv mit. Viele von uns geben unsere Expertise zu diversen Themen in Fortbildungen weiter.

In Österreich hat die Einführung einer Verbindlichen Übung “Digitale Grundbildung” in der Sekundarstufe 1 (seit 2018) dazu geführt, dass betroffene Lehrpersonen sich mit dem Unterricht mit und über digitalen Medien, Lerntechnologie und Internet auseinandersetzen müssen. Auch die strukturelle Änderungen im Schulsystem wie z. B. die Einführung von Dienst-E-Mailadressen für Bundesschulen oder die verpflichtende Einbindung von Medien bei Prüfungen führen dazu, dass Kolleginnen und Kollegen den Umgang mit diesen Dingen erlernen müssen.

„Fortbildungen für Lehrende: Ein Dilemma ohne leichte Lösung“ weiterlesen