Monday, May 25, 2015

Useful Pocketmine Plugins

If you're not aware, Pocketmine is a great resource for teachers who want to use Minecraft in the classroom but have access to devices instead of computers.  Pocketmine is completely free and allows the use of community created plugins (add on programs that expand its capabilities).  Several of these plugins are very helpful for use in the classroom.  Here is a list of the most helpful:

SimpleAuth - Requires students to login so they cannot impersonate others.  Recently SimpleAuth Helper was added which makes the login process much simpler.

PocketDockConsole - Allows easy access to your Minecraft server from a remote location to configure as needed.  You can issue commands or just monitor the servers status.

Economy - Gives your world a virtual economy to put some econ lessons in your class.  This plugin handles a lot of different tasks.  You can create "Airport Signs" that allow students to warp to different places in the world.  You can also make signs that sell items to players.  You can collect taxes from your students, give them money, and much more.  This is super fun to play with and adds a lot of depth to your world.

ServerMail - Your students can send messages to each other even when they are not online at the same time.

Universe - Allows the control of multiple worlds on the same server.  This can be handy if you want different worlds for different class periods or units.

No Explode - Doesn't allow explosions in your world if your students build TNT.

In addition to plugins, Pocketmine allows many variables for you to configure your server with as well.  With Pocketmine alone you can do the following:

Limit the number of players on the server

Create a whitelist of users who can join the server

Turn off PVP (player vs. player)

Set game mode (create, survival, explore, etc...)

and more

Given the price (free) it is quite a powerful program and even more powerful with the Pocketmine Community adding plugins daily.  You can find this wonderful program at

Happy Teaching

Finally a Complete Set of iPads

I am celebrating the fact that I got my third and final grant needed to complete my classroom set of iPads.  Currently I have 30 iPads which allows me to have a 1:1 classroom as long as some of my students use their own devices.  Having a hybrid classroom with both dedicated devices and student devices has been a real eye opener for what both methods bring to the classroom.  Obviously if you have no other choice, having students use their own devices is better than nothing, but they do come with a few problems.  Here are the things I am looking forward to the most with a complete set of classroom iPads:

1.  Using paid apps (can't require students to purchase apps)
2.  Less distractions (students can't be as easily distracted by notifications)
3.  One set of directions (students with different devices have different layouts, even with the same app)
4.  No small screens (students struggle with some assignments on their small phone screens)
5.  All apps installed and ready for use (no need to have students install apps)

One of the things that I will miss is having fewer iPads to configure, charge, etc...

Happy Teaching

Friday, April 17, 2015

Using Schoology to Overcome iPad limitations in the Classroom

As elegant and user friendly the design of the iPad is, it has one glaring weakness for classrooms that want students to share iPads... no multiuser interface.  There is no way to have students login and logout of iPads to customize their experience, setup their email address, use the calendar and much more.  In my classroom this limitation has definately caused a few problems and limited the usefulness of iCloud and the built in apps for iOS.  By no means does it make them all unusable but it certainly takes away the user friendly package of Pages and other apps connecting with iCould automatically and synching across devices.  This means that students that create work on the iPad all save their work to the same local folder or iCloud account which allows them to edit, copy, delete and otherwise mangle someone else's work.  Now, you might say, who would delete or change someone else's work??? I can tell you from experience, an 8th grader will.  Sometimes on accident and sometimes on purpose.  One solution I tried was to use the password protection option in Pages to stop people from damaging work.  This however only stops people from opening the document not from deleting it.  Trust me, it is super difficult when a student has spent two days on a project only to have another student delete it, and there is no way to get it back.  To remedy this situation I turned to Schoology to create a storage place for students work and allow students to access their work from home. Since every student has their own unique login to Schoology they have a way to keep their work separate from their peers.  This is done by students sending their work to the Schoology resources folder instead of just leaving them in Pages or whatever app they are using.  With the document safely uploaded to Schoology they can then delete the document from Pages.  To continue working on the document they simply download it from Schoology the next day or at home.  This is the other benefit of using the resources folder.  Students can use this system to access their work from home.  If students want to do their homework they can download what they started in class and continue working on their own device or computer.  Once finished, they upload back to their Schoology resource and it is once again accessible at school.  Of course if they are finished with the assignment they can simply turn it in instead of return it to their resources.  The drawback to this system is the time it takes to save the work and load it again.  It would be much faster to simply open it back up in the app.  I, for one, keep hoping that iOS will someday be upgraded to support multiple users and the seamless operation of iCloud can be applied to every student.  I understand another option is the use of Google Docs and Drive.  Personally, I feel the Google Docs Apps are missing too many features to be a viable alternative to Pages at this time.  If that changes in the future, it may be an option, just not yet.

Happy Teaching

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Notability as an Interactive Notebook?

I'm looking for information from someone who has used Notability in the classroom.  I would like to use it to create interactive notebooks with my students.  I would love it if anybody has direct experience with this.  Here are some of my wonderings...

Is there an easy way to put templates into Notability like graphic organizers, C-notes, tables, timelines, etc?

How do students turn in their notebooks to an LMS like Schoology?

Is the user interface easy for students to use or too confusing?

How do you organize notes?  By unit, term, week, month?

If you have used Notability in the classroom as an interactive notebook I would love to hear from  you.

Happy Teaching

10 iOS Features that Come in Handy in the Classroom

Without any additional apps, iOS devices can be a pretty powerful device.  Here is a list of how you can use most of the apps that come with the iPad right out of the box in your classroom.

Clock App:  Most people overlook this app but it can be pretty useful in the classroom.  One of the things I have students do with the timer app is use it for partner reading.  Partners set the timer for 2-3 minutes and then the first partner reads.  When the timer goes off, it is time to switch readers.   It also has a nice visualization of time zones if you want to give a lesson on how they work.  

Maps:  I teach social studies so geography is always something to teach.  Although Google Maps has a great database of historical maps, Apple Maps works just fine for looking up states and capitals, the location of current events around the world, and much more. 

Notepad:  We use Pages in my classroom for most of our work, but sometimes I don't want students to create an elaborate document or even turn in what they are doing in class.  Notepad works great as scratch paper for students to write down quick notes they only need during the class period.  

Speech to text:  Many students don't like to type, especially on an iPad.  iOS has great speech recognition built in.  Students can hit the microphone icon and start talking, iOS does the rest.

Camera:  A picture says a thousand words, or so the saying goes.  Having students use the camera to create videos or use pictures to show their learning requires abstract thinking and creativity.  For many students it is their preferred form of showing their learning.

Siri:  Students always find questions I don't know the answer to.  Now the response is easy... "I don't know, Ask Siri".  

Airdrop:  Now that airdrop supports Mac computers as well as iOS devices sharing documents is super easy between students or student and teacher.  

Restrictions:  In the settings app under "General" you will find "Restrictions".  This handy resource allows you to turn on and off features like the App Store, in App purchases, game center and most importantly lock down the account used.  This makes it so that students cannot change the iTunes account to their personal account and download games or other apps onto the device.  

Podcasts:  There is a lot of information available through audio and video podcasts.  One of my favorites is the CNN student news video podcast.  A quick run down of the days news meant for kids with a great host.  Highly recommended.

Accessibility:  Again in the settings app is the accessibility settings.  These really come in handy for students with disabilities.  Whether it is making the text larger, converting text to speech, increasing contrast, there is a lot there to help students out.  It also allows for guided access which locks the iPad into a chosen app. This comes in handy for students who are easily distracted by other apps available on the iPad.

I'm sure I missed some.  If you have some unique ways to use the apps in iOS that I didn't include please let me know.

Happy Teaching

Sunday, March 8, 2015

AVID Can Happen in the Paperless Classroom

When you first look at the basic tenets of AVID it seems incompatible with the paperless classroom.  The obstacles are easily overcome, however, with a little creativity and the right software.  First of all, AVID's cornerstone is student organization.  Most solutions for this are automatically answered with today's learning management systems.  We use Schoology in our district and when I give assignments to my students it automatically shows up in the Schoology calendar.  This means students can easily see the week at a glance when they login.  They can either login to see the calendar of assignments or they can transfer the data to their own device.  Either way, the classes assignments, events, and any other information I want them to know are accessible from wherever they are.  The next obstacle is interacting with the text.  This is a basic AVID principle that requires students to underline, circle, highlight and make margin notes when reading an assigned text.  This is easily accomplished with the free app Adobe Reader.  I assign a document in Schoology and they can choose to open the assignment in a different app.  If I assign it in the .PDF format and they open it in Adobe, they can use the tools available to interact quickly and easily.  Once they are finished they can easily turn the document to Schoology with the "open in another app" function.  This also works with graphic organizers or anything else you can put into a PDF.  The iPads also work well for Cornell notes, Socratic seminars and obviously having students conduct research. AVID and the paperless classroom aren't incompatible at all. In fact, I think they were made for each other.

Minecraft for the Classroom?

I recently attended the IntegratED conference in Portland, Oregon.  One of the sessions I attended was presented by Diane Main who did a great job of showing how MinecraftEDU could be used in the classroom to increase student engagement and find new ways to address the common core in the classroom.  I was super excited but quickly became disappointed to find that MinecraftEDU didn't support iOS, only personal computers.  With a classroom full of iPads it was not going to be possible to use this great resource.  I was not willing to give up without a fight however.  Although nothing compares to the tools that minecraftEDU gives the teacher in the classroom, there is a less teacher/user friendly alternative for those with iPads. is a website setup by a 20 year old programmer from Spain who created open source software that allows anyone to setup a server to create a virtual worls accessible by Minecraft pocket edition.  I quickly setup the server on my home computer, got a static IP address and forwarded my ports to make my server accessible from outside my local network.  Before I knew it I was accessing my server from school and decided to tell my students about my plans to try to use it in the classroom.  Before I knew it there were more than 20 of my students who wanted to help me build a world for us to learn in.  I'm not a technology teacher but I suddenly had students researching how command line interfaces work, using commands at a prompt, and problem solving when coding didn't work.  The server software allows for a basic world to be created, but programmers who would like to, can create plugins that expand the basic capabilities of the Minecraft world like adding an economy, secure logins, chat censoring, and much more.  The only problem I had was not being sure how all the different plugins worked.  I put students in charge of figuring out how the plugins worked and how we could create a map for students to use.
 Soon I was placing kids in charge of virtual jobs, maps, shops, land ownership, and much more.  At this point I'm not sure I will actually use minecraft as part of my daily classroom, but I am sure that whether I do or not it has already provided an extension activity for students who want to engage with technology at a higher level.  By giving my students a real task with a real purpose have created a ton of logical problems for them to solve.  Whether it is as simple as finding the right plugin or figuring out why one of the plugins is conflicting with another plugin, the problem solving involved is happening at a very high level.  If you have experience with using pocketmine with Minecraft PE in the classroom please connect with me.  I would love to know how else it is being used.