Beth Holland

Food for thought…

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Back to School with iPads: the First 5s

Last August, while leading a two-day EdTechTeacher iPad workshop with a school about to go 1:1, Tom Daccord (@thomasdaccord) recommended that I wrap up the final day with an activity called The First 5s. This faculty felt a bit overwhelmed about the influx of devices, and the activity would help them break down the process into more manageable parts. For the last hour of the day, we brainstormed on what could be achievable in the First 5 DaysFirst 5 Weeks, and then First 5 Months of school. Suddenly, 1:1 didn’t seem as daunting.

Since that workshop, I have used that strategy in a number of other sessions and webinars. In fact, it was in the back of my mind as I wrote my latest Edutopia article: Back to School with iPads: 5 Steps for the First 5 Days.

I also shared the idea with Richard Wells (@iPadWells), whom I have been following on Twitter. He turned the concept into this amazing illustration.

Image Credit: Richard Wells (@iPadWells)

For anyone kicking off the year with new devices, I also recommend these two posts from my colleague, Holly Clark (@HollyEdTechDiva):


Google Spreadsheets + Screenchomp = Dynamic Reading Records

As teachers begin to organize themselves for the upcoming school year, just a suggestion for those looking to track Guided Reading. A few years ago, I encouraged our first grade teachers to use a Google Spreadsheet for tracking Guided Reading rather than a standard Word Document. This way, all of the data could live in one location, and both teachers could access and edit the same file simultaneously. An unintended consequence, however, was that at the end of the year, they simply shared the document with the 2nd grade teachers to that the process could continue.

This sample spreadsheet shows the progression of students over two years with their reading. (NOTE: all of the names have been changed.)

However, for a teacher inheriting this information, the notes may not be enough. That’s where the Screenchomp app for iPad comes in. Imagine this:

  • Either import a PDF, or take a picture, of what the student is about to read out loud.
  • Allow the student to read from their paper copy.
  • Hit the record button in Screenchomp and capture your student’s fluency along with your annotations in real time!
  • Add the Screenchomp link as a comment in the spreadsheet with your notes

Now, either as a teacher inheriting a student, or even reflecting back on student progress during the course of the year, you have your notes plus an authentic recording of the student reading all in one place! You could certainly do this process with other screen recording apps. I just happen to like Screenchomp for this because it is FREE, scrolls to the full length of a page, and generates its own link to add to the spreadsheet.

NOTE: No iPad? No problem! A web-based screencasting tool such as or could also work.


iPads And… a bunch of other thoughts

Since the iPad Summit last fall in Boston, I’ve been working on this concept of iPads And… vs iPads Or… It just feels like there’s this concept struggle between: should it be a paper book or an iBook, a paper drawing or a digital one, blocks or iPad? Well, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it should just be BOTH.

A few years ago, I wrote Go Buy Your Kid Some Blocks! It seemed as though even parents were forcing technology onto young children. So while A Platform for Good had agreed to publish iPads And… Combining the Physical and Digital in Elementary Classrooms originally on July 18th, I asked if they could bump up the date in response to Friday’s post on The Globe and MailToddlers with tablets will force a change in education.

Frankly, it isn’t iPad (or blocks) that revolutionizes teaching and learning. It’s the experience. Tablets should force a change in education. The printing press did….

On a semi-related note, if you haven’t already, I highly recommend reading Grant Lichtman’s The Falconer before the end of summer. It has provided great clarity for me in thinking about these things.

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Oh The Things I Do Write…

Seems like my own blog is the last stop for things that I’ve written. I have an idea for an original post that may – or may not – first appear here in the coming days, or weeks, but who’s counting?!

Anyways, the things I have written….

When To Put The Tech Away In Your 1:1 (or Any) Classroom

I love working with my friend, Shawn McCusker, in Chicago. Yes, Chicago. We have this great new system for co-authoring that uses a combination of Google Doc, Direct Message, and the occasional email. What I love most about this working arrangement is that we never actually talk to each other. In fact, we we do have an actual conversation by phone, it’s more about catching up or working through complex ideas than the logistics of writing an article. This is why I find it even more amusing that we wrote an article on when NOT to use technology.

You can read the full post on Edudemic.

Three Approaches for Getting Content to Elementary Students’ iPads – No Email, No Problem

I have been a Richard Byrne groupie for years. In fact, I may have been one of his first groupies in 2008. His resources used to make me look really smart as I provided a bounty of resources – courtesy of Richard – on a regular basis. That said, it was quite an honor to be able to do a guest post for him. This article on elementary iPad workflow is just the beginning. I’ve been drafting this concept for months as a result of numerous workshops with EdTechTeacher.

You can read the post on Free Tech for Teachers.

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5 Myths about Writing with iPads & Mobile Devices – Reblogged from Edudemic & EdTechTeacher

Before we begin…

I know. I haven’t written anything in a while. My writing doesn’t tend to start here anymore. However, with this particular post, I’m glad that it can at least end on my own site this time. This piece has been in the works for months. It is the result of dozens of conversations and a lot of thinking on my own part. Maybe this little intro should have accompanied the original post on Edudemic.

I didn’t jump on the iPad bandwagon simply because it was shiny, new, and from Apple. Similarly, I didn’t get into technology for the sake of technology. I have, however, been writing for as long as I can remember. I can thank my 2nd grade teacher – Mrs. Reedy – for encouraging me with pencil and that multi-colored lined paper. In her class, I learned about output. I can thank Mr. Morgan in middle school for introducing me to the author, Pat Conroy. I became lost and entranced in the vivid descriptions from The Prince of Tides, and discovered my own ability to paint with words (probably a good thing since my drawing skills stink!). I can thank Mr. DuPriest who then crushed me – temporarily – and then challenged me to actually make a point. Deep down, I may even have a shred of gratitude for that horrid professor in college – no need to drag his name through the mud – who eloquently wrote on one of my short stories, “I do not know how you could endure writing this as I could not endure reading it!”

So, I’ve been writing for years. I’ve written with pen and pencil, in notebooks, on typewriters, and with computers. Over the past year, I have developed a strange system of writing across devices – iPhone, iPad, and Macbook – as each one gives me a different experience.

With all of that said, here is why I am re-blogging this article along with this diatribe of an intro. You see, on Edudemic, it got slammed in the comments.  There has been some positive conversation on Twitter, but comments feel permanently attached to an article. I’ve been told not to respond, that negative comments come from scourge of the Internet. My greatest solace has come from my colleague and friend, Shawn McCusker. Beware Ye Smashing Archetypes… he wrote yesterday.

Some changes can been seen as destructive to the prevailing archetypes of how learning should take place.  Intentionally or not, people can be threatened by, resistant to and dismissive of the changes. If you are closely associated with the change, they will project these feelings on you as well.

Well, I guess I did it unwittingly. By tackling the writing process with iPads and Mobile Devices, I smashed a few old archetypes’ toes. That was far from my intention – as was coming off as  arrogant. I will allow you to decide. I hope to be able to engage in conversation. You are welcome to agree or disagree with me, to offer comments, suggestions, or criticism. I only hope that we can have a productive conversation. Remember, these comments are permanent.

5 Myths about Writing with iPads & Mobile Devices

A few months ago, shortly after the first EdTechTeacher iPad Summit, I spent the day with a college friend out on Cape Cod. In telling me about her daughter’s class iPad pilot, my friend seemed both excited and hesitant. At one point in the conversation, she turned to me and said, “The one thing I hate, though, is that writing just stinks on iPad.”

Initially, I took a bit of a defensive position and prepared to launch into my iPad is NOT a computer schtick. However, the more I listened – and have since listened – to not only my friend but also educators in workshops, webinars, and conversations, the more I realize that parents, administrators, and even teachers fall victim to 5 Myths of Mobile Writing which lead them to believe that this critical facet of education cannot seemingly occur on a mobile device.

Myth #1 – Writing = Keyboarding

“Every time I would turn around, she would just be deleting everything on the screen.” My friend told me. “I bought her a bluetooth keyboard and that has helped.”

How does the purchase of a keyboard magically improve the writing process? It doesn’t – though it may help with typing.

When it comes to mobile devices, especially those with touch-screens like iPad or Android tablets, the effectiveness of the virtual keyboard immediately comes into question, and therefore the concept that writing can’t happen on a mobile device. Tech Directors have told me that their teachers oppose touch-screen tablets because they don’t allow students to type, and thousands of dollars have been spent on expensive cases with external keyboards.

Interestingly, Brady Cline, an ICT Coordinator in Bangkok, conducted an informal study in his school to compare the typing capabilities of students using virtual vs. traditional keyboards. While anecdotal evidence over the past 12-18 months has suggested that students adapt to touch-screen keyboards much more easily than adults, Brady’s post provides a set of quantitative data indicating that students can potentially type equally well on both a traditional as well as a virtual keyboard.

“…this study seems to illustrate an important point: adults who have spent decades typing on a traditional keyboard, find it very difficult to imagine that students can be successful typing efficiently on a virtual keyboard. The evidence here, however, does not support this bias.”

Once we disconnect the process of writing from the mechanics of typing, then we can begin to look at the potential of mobile devices.

Myth #2 – Writing = Word Processing

“Once they got Pages, writing became easier.” My friend continued.

Last week, I recounted this conversation to my colleague – Suzy Brooks – who is piloting BYOD with her third graders this year in Falmouth. She responded by saying, “I don’t think my students know what word processing means.”

Many adults have come to associate writing with Word – as in Microsoft Word. In fact, one of the most common questions that we get at EdTechTeacher when talking with schools who are moving towards iPad programs is “What about Word?” While a host of Word-like apps exist, thinking beyond the traditional word processor opens up so many other avenues. For example, Drive allows for collaborative writing, while AudioNote (iPad or Android) syncs recorded audio with typed or written words, and Evernote makes written content available on any device.

During one of my first years as Director of Academic Technology at St. Michael’s, I got in a heated discussion with a parent over my decision to NOT put Microsoft Word in the computer lab. As an all Mac school, it made more sense for us to go with iWork over Office. The parent asked how I could be preparing his child for the workplace without teaching Microsoft. My response then is similar to my reaction with mobile devices.

“It doesn’t matter what tool I teach your child to use right now.” I told the parent. “By the time she begins working, it will all be different anyways. I just need to teach your child how to learn to use the technology.”

Much like writing does not equal typing, it also is not word processing. In fact, Suzy uses Educreations – technically a screen casting tool – for everything with her students: drawing, writing, recording audio, and screencasting. They have mastered the app as well as its workflow, allowing her students to focus on the task rather than the tool.

Myth #3 – Device = Process

This brings me back to my friend’s initial comment that iPad is terrible for writing. How can a device be responsible for a process?

Last year, Greg Kulowiec and I spent an entire day working with a group of middle school teachers in Shrewsbury, MA on iPad workflow as the culmination of a year-long T21 program. This group explored integrating Notability, Pages, Dropbox, and Evernote as part of their writing instruction (a concept Greg refers to as App Smashing). However, after exploring the process in which they wanted students to engage, it became clear that they would use not only iPad but also paper.


Whether it is iPad, Nexus, Chromebook, Macbook, or Windows laptop, with writing, the focal point should be the process: from idea to outline to editing to final. When teaching in a computer lab, my students integrated technology at various stages depending on their learning needs. While all students followed the path outlined below, they shifted from paper to computer at varying stages.

Digital Writing Process for My Students (Grades 2-8)

  1. Graphic Organizer(s)
  2. Outline
  3. Draft #1
  4. Editing Checklist:
      • Turn On Track Changes
      • Check spelling
      • Listen sentence-by-sentence
      • Listen paragraph-by-paragraph
      • Listen to the full piece
      • Accept Changes
  5. Turn in Draft #2

While we applied the process above to working in a computer lab, it could certainly still apply to a mobile situation. Graphic organizers could be completed on paper and then photographed or completed with a number of mind-mapping tools. Outlines could be generated with a pencil or an app. Editing might include reading to a peer, listening with Speak Selection, or screencasting feedback.

Myth #4 – Writing = Text

Imagine a group of students working on a writing assignment…. what do you see as a final product? In a traditional setting, we envision words on paper (or on screen) – a text-based output.

With mobile devices, we have instant access to cameras and microphones as well as the ability to write, type, draw, capture images, and create videos. As a result of these tools and capabilities, the writing process no longer needs to be limited to solely text-based output. In fact, by leveraging these capabilities, students who would otherwise be labeled as having “output issues” suddenly have a voice.

“With writing on iPad – students who HATE writing to actually do it without thinking they are writing at all. They actually think we haven’t had “writing” in a day or so when iPads have been used.” – Suzy Brooks

If the writing infers a process used to generate and communicate a coherent idea or concept, then why do we make the assumption that the communication has to occur solely through text? By expanding upon our definition of “writing” with mobile devices, then the possible becomes redefined.

Myth #5 – Writing = Essays

Too often, when we think about writing curriculum, we focus on essays, paragraphs, and the occasional creative writing assignment. In that context, iPads or other tablets may not be the most efficient tools to use. A full keyboard and mouse do certainly facilitate copious amounts of typing and editing.

However, does writing always have to be about paragraphs? Can students still demonstrate their ability to generate and communicate a coherent idea or concept in non-paragraph form? When we thinking about writing with mobile devices, we now have the opportunity to Redefine our expectations.

What if….

  • Students created eBooks that included text, images, audio recordings of their own reflections, videos, and/or screencasts to demonstrate their understanding rather than type a standard essay or report.
  • Students created and maintained blogs such that they not only posted articles but also wrote and responded to comments that challenged them to think critically in new directions.
  • Students created and curated digital magazines that combined their own writing as well as digital artifacts, images, and other articles.

Myth: Mobile devices can’t be used for writing – BUSTED

Is writing possible on a mobile device? Absolutely. Could it be easier on a computer? Possibly. In listening to friends and colleagues, I understand that there are certainly limitations to writing on various devices, but also plenty of benefits depending on how you choose to define the process.

Confession: while I brainstormed this post using Penultimate on my iPad, I sat down to actually write (type, edit, and publish) on my Macbook.

Before I left my friend’s house on Cape Cod, I wrote up a list of apps to install on her daughter’s iPad – Popplet (graphic organizer), AudioNote Lite (record audio and take notes simultaneously), and Educreations (screencasting). Will they improve her daughter’s writing? It all depends on the process

My colleagues and I will be addressing the writing process this summer during our EdTechTeacher Summer Workshops in Atlanta, Chicago, and Boston.


iPads, ePubs, and Windows – stuffing a square peg in a round hole

Last week, I taught iPads, ePubs, & iBooks Author: Creating Your Own Digital Course Content with EdTechTeacher colleague, Greg Kulowiec. When we wrote the description for the course, we included language to ensure that we wouldn’t exclude people with Windows computers. However, in the weeks leading up to the workshop, we honed in on iBooks Author and assumed that no one would come without a Mac. This proved to be a false assumption…

Challenge #1 – Converting a Word file into an ePub

During the first afternoon, as Greg lead the group through the process of creating ePubs with Pages, I created the Windows Working Group and tackled the concept of converting from Word to ePub. While there is not an ePub extension available from Microsoft to easily convert Word docs into ePubs, we found a few solutions.

  1. If you have the bandwidth and connectivity, it’s possible to upload a Word doc to either 2EPUB or Online-Convert, though they don’t always load, and then download the converted ePub file.
  2. Save your Word file as HTML. Open the HTML version in a browser, and then use the dotEPUB bookmarklet to convert it to an ePub file.
  3. Connect Wappwolf to a Dropbox account. Wappwolf is a third party site that lets you write actions for specified folders in your Dropbox account. We created a folder called PDF to ePub and gave it the action that when a file is uploaded to that folder as a PDF, then Wappwolf would convert it to an ePub file. This lets you save a Word file as a PDF on a Windows computer and upload it to the Dropbox folder with the action.

We tried a few Windows based converter programs such as Calibre and ePub Maker, but found the first three options to be more effective. Wappwolf actually held the formatting the best of all and created an ePub format that allowed for full annotation when opened in iBooks on an iPad.

Challenge #2 – Creating Custom ePubs on Windows Computers

iBooks Author only runs on Mac OSX 10.7+, so our Windows Working Group spent a chunk of time exploring other ePub creation options. While Adobe CS6 claims to be able to create media rich ePubs, none of us were looking to spend $300+ to find out. There are also fantastic iPad apps for creating ePubs, but it is often easier to create content on a computer that already has a library of files and images. After much trial and error, we came up with some solutions in addition to simply converting content a Word file into an ePub format via one of the above options.

  1. eCub is a sort of ePub compiler. Mutiple text files can be brought together as a project and then compiled into a single ePub. However, images did not carry over well, and it was a bit cumbersome to use.
  2. Jutoh has more of a WYSIWYG editor for creating ePubs. Once the project has been created, it’s possible to export it out. However, you have to buy the full version ($39) in order to lose their watermark in your publications.
  3. Sigil, an open-source option, proved to be our favorite solution. It was possible to create ePubs with text, images, and basic formatting. It was also nice that Sigil created raw ePub files that didn’t need to be converted to any other file format, and included features such as chapter markers and the ability to create custom cover images as well as a Table of Contents.

Regardless of which program we chose, workflow posed an additional challenge. Gathering all text and image files before beginning to compile definitely improved the process, as much of the decision making then fell into place more easily – especially with regard to inserting headers in order to generate a table of contents and knowing how to locate all relevant files quickly and efficiently.

With collaborative projects, we determined that it would be easier to create a shared Google Document that could then be compiled into an ePub. Similarly, if working on a network, multiple files could be placed in a shared folder for easy access.

Challenge #3 – Creating Media Rich eBooks

The lure of iBooks Author is the ability to incorporate audio, video, and text. This was not a possibility from a PC given the programs at our disposal; however, it is possible to create dynamic ePubs from the iPad. While we found Book Creator to be valuable for having students create their own eBooks; as educators, Creative Book Builder opened up a world of possibility.

Creative Book Builder can import an ePub file from either Dropbox or Google Drive. This means that Windows folks can create the majority of their book on a Computer with either Sigil or Word,  upload it into cloud storage, and then import it into Creative Book Builder in order to add audio, video, additional images, or even links to Google Presentations. Once completed in Creative Book Builder, final ePubs can be sent to iBooks or back to Dropbox for dissemination to students.

Square Peg/ Round Hole

Even when using iBooks Author, educators face a host of challenges with regard to creating digital course content: storage, workflow, and compiling resources onto a single device. When working with Windows, because a single program for creating media rich ePubs does not seem to affordably exist, the process becomes even more complex – sort of feeling like cramming a square peg in a round hole. After much trial and error, we came up with two solutions to the challenge:

  1. Create a Word doc. Save it as a PDF. Upload it to a Dropbox folder with a Wappwolf action. Import it into Creative Book Builder, and add additional media.
    Word, Wappwolf, Dropbox workflow
  2. Create an ePub with Sigil. Upload the ePub file to either a Dropbox or Google Docs/Drive. Open it in Creative Book Builder and add additional medial.
    Sigil to Cloud Storage to Creative Book Builder

Regardless of the workflow solution, a set of essential questions emerged to help guide the process of creating custom content.

  • Who is the creator of this content? Is the teacher doing the creating or the student?
  • Why digitize the content? Is the intention to provide a multi-modal representation of the information or just to reduce paper?
  • What do you want students to do with the content? Is the goal for them to actively read or just experience a different representation?

For schools combining Windows and iPads into a single learning environment, there are certainly challenges with regard to the creation of custom curriculum content. However, by combining the facility of using a computer and the features of certain iPad apps, it is possible without the assistance of iBooks Author.