Mar 262012

Poll Everywhere is a great way to collect opinions and votes in the classroom, and in combination with a mobile web device makes a brilliant free alternative to an expensive audience response system. I’ve found that students tend to spend a bit longer considering their responses when they are encouraged to use their phones. Today I finished a role play on the execution of Charles I today with this poll:

Students without access to phones were able to vote free of charge over the web using my personal iPad.

Poll Everywhere has lots of compelling features including Twitter voting, live charts inside PowerPoint, and downloadable results. The free plan allows for a maximum of 40 votes per poll, enough for a typical class. I’ve mentioned SMS Poll, in a previous post, which remains a good alternative.

Feb 192012

This post looks at some geography-specific apps.

Google Earth needs little introduction and is lovely to use on the iPad. There are a number of limitations, the Layers panel is restricted in scope and there are no content creation tools. You can log in to see any maps created in Google My Maps, but in short, the desktop version is still essential.


My Maps Editor is the missing half of Google Earth. Log in with your Google account and your My Maps are available but  also the full tool set for creating KML points paths and polygons. The map is GPS enabled and photos can be appended to placemark descriptions. My Maps Editor is a great tool for active fieldwork as well as classroom use. Schools that use Google Apps will have an advantage.


One of a pair of indispensable atlas apps, Earth Observer is for viewing physical features, natural hazards and human impacts at an impressive range of scales. It’s easy to save screenshots of generated maps.


Spotzi Atlas is a great companion to Earth Observer. It offers a variety of physical human and economic themes, with an intuitive interface and useful information about the data layers. Highly recommended.

 Although I haven’t made use of it, ESRI deserve a mention for their ArcGIS iPad viewer. The Gallery content is mainly US focussed, though the UK unemployment map is a useful resource. ArcGIS users will disagree, but for me it’s too time consuming to locate useful maps.


iGeology is an essential app for physical geographers. It’s a simple interactive  UK geology map that’s GPS enabled. No frills and no cost either.


More of a personal tool than a classroom resource, but OS maps on any computing platform, especially if you’re after 1:25,000 scale are rarely simple or cheap to obtain. There’s little option but to stump up the cash for a navigation product and View Ranger has easily trumped Memory Map and other alternatives for me. On an iPhone, View Ranger is easy to use and very accurate, and once you have brought maps you can view them on any device including a desktop computer.

The View Ranger site lets you create download and upload routes and share data with other users.

Now of course, if you don’t need 1:25,000 scale mapping, there’s a mobile version of Where’s the Path? as well as a touch device test version.
Here’s a killer iPad tip for saving crucial pages like Wheres the Path? Visit the page on your iPad then click the “add” icon and select Add to Home Screen. Now there’s an icon on your iPad that opens the page each time!


Finally, I’d like to share National Geographic’s 7 Billion publication that’s a great iPad resource (though a large download so I don’t store it on my iPad all the time.) It’s an example of the kind of interactive content that is both great on a touch screen, and projects well onto a screen. iTunes U is the place to check for similar content for older learners, and there’s a simple library app to manage subscriptions from iTunes U.



The final post will round up the other non-subject specific apps for teaching that I use regularly.

An iPad in my classroom (part 2)

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Feb 182012

This post describes my favourite media apps for general classroom use.

Guardian Eyewitness No better way to start the day. A top tip is to save photos in the Favourites folder to ensure that they are saved indefinitely. You’ll rapidly build a collection of incredible images.


Make It Big The simplest app imaginable. It makes text very big. Shake the iPad to introduce a flashing effect. Instantly communicate pithy thoughts across the classroom. Ofsted in? Make sure they can see the learning objective!


iMovie is the video editing application for iPad. It’s cheap, very basic and one of the few apps that requires you to spend a cursory two minutes reading the instructions. I have found that I make a great deal of use of the iPad’s video camera to record classroom events. Moving video on and off the iPad can be quite time consuming, and I suspect that Windows computer owners will find that the video format is not to their liking when it comes to editing. iMovie provides a solution and the finished files can be transferred off the iPad using iTunes. See this tip.

This video was filmed and edited entirely on the iPad:

 iBooks While I prefer reading books using the Kindle alternative, iBooks has become one of the most compelling apps for education following the release of Apple’s own iBooks Author which makes it extremely easy to create and share publications. iBooks Author is Mac only software, at the moment there isn’t an iPad version, though there are  good alternatives that are iPad based such as eBook Creator, Book Creator for iPad and Creative Book Builder, all of which get excellent reviews. There has been some legitimate concern about Apple’s insistence that publications are only sold through the iBook store, however  the software and publishing platform are free of charge so it seems a little churlish to complain too bitterly.

My students and I are compiling a revision eBook as we progress through the GCSE course. The ongoing work is downloadable here. The advantages of the ebook in a classroom setting become clear once one begins to explore the additional features;  instant bookmarks, text highlighting, seamless word definitions, notes and interactive glossaries that convert to flash cards. I’d argue that the act of creating an eBook is of equal or more educational value than merely consuming it. Here’s a screenshot of our revision guide:

GarageBand – lessons need tunes… Music teachers and Mac users will be familiar with Garage Band. On the iPad it is far more intuitive, indeed it’s one of the indispensable apps. I’ve started creating soundtracks for videos, but in the classroom, with my iPad plugged into the amplifier, I find the keyboard essential for a quick rendition of Happy Birthday, while the drum kit provides a suitable “baddam bish” punchline to rubbish jokes.


 Another of my top 20 apps is djay. which lets you mix, scratch and add loops and sound effects to tracks in the iTunes folder. It’s been a fun activity for my tutor group, and enlivened lessons on several occasions when a spot of turntablism seemed an appropriate way to break up the learning.


I Can Animate Animation just doesn’t get easier than this. Like most iPad apps, this one is also available for the iPhone. The front and rear facing cameras make it easy to compose and record animations, an activity that in this context revolves entirely around the creative process, rather than learning the technology, fiddling with memory cards and editing software. Finished animations can be simply exported emailed from the device. A perfectly simple, brilliant classroom app.

The next post considers my favourite geography-specific apps.

An iPad in my classroom (part 1)

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Feb 182012

I’ve been using a Macbook Pro for 5 years, though after it began to destroy anything plugged into the USB port I was sadly forced to look for an alternative. I’d been quite sceptical about iPads until I was lent one for a week to play with. A non-existent learning curve, genuine 10 hour battery life, super-quick power on and the intimidatingly vast App Store were obvious selling points.  I was amused at the “educational” apps that the County IT department  had thoughtfully installed, suffice to say that very few of them made it onto my own personal device once I’d invested in my own…

In this series of posts I’ll be describing the apps that I’ve found most useful, and making some simple observations about how I’ve deployed them in the classroom. Firstly, some initial thoughts about buying and living with an iPad instead of a laptop.

Buying an iPad
When purchasing an iPad, budget for the “smart cover” that protects the screen and doubles as a stand. I haven’t bothered with any other kind of screen protection. I brought a cheap stylus from eBay for use with note -writing, and a simple neoprene case to protect it in my school bag. The other essential is an AV adapter so that the iPad can be pugged into a projector. I’d recommend going for an iPad with 3G . It’s more expensive, but gives you much better mobility, while setting you free from the irritations of school filtering. Given that an iPad 3 is likely to be released soon, there’s a possibility that iPad 2 prices may fall slightly, especially on the secondhand market. You’ll need iTunes in order to set up and manage the device. Although iTunes is available for Windows, Mac users will have advantages when it comes to compatibility between their computer and the iPad, especially where certain apps are concerned.

Living with an iPad
I was initially worried at the lack of a USB port, but cloud computing services like iCloud and Dropbox have greatly improved the portability of files. The absence of Flash support in iOS is not as annoying as I had imagined. The ultra-cheap remote desktop app Splashtop runs all content from my home computer seamlessly, and the development of HTML5 means that designers have an alternative to Flash which has already being adopted by major sites like Slideshare.
Microsoft Office has been more of an issue. There are a wide variety of apps like Office 2HD that are able to open and edit Office files. I’ve tried a few, but the experience is always compromised, and I’d advise caution over compatibility claims made by vendors before committing any money. Obviously Mac products like Pages and Keynote are available in iPad versions for £6.99 each but I’ve always used Mac Office.

All is not lost however when it comes to Office as CloudOn (currently free on the App store) really does retain all the functionality of PowerPoint Word and Excel. CloudOn requires a Drop Box account and Wifi. I’ve been amazed to discover that classic Excel spreadsheets such as Pollster, which don’t work in Mac Office due to macro issues, are perfectly fine in CloudOn. The service is a little slow, and not without teething problems, but it’s definitely worth trying out.

No more laptop
It’s fair to say that I really haven’t missed my laptop at all. I use my iPad for the majority of my web browsing, email and social networking. Standout apps like Flipboard and Star Walk,  that could only work on a mobile device, constantly amaze. As a Mac owner I’ve been able to make full use of the iCloud service to keep my calendar and contacts up to date. I haven’t brought a paper book since installing the Kindle reading app. Increasingly I’m finding that i’m turning to the iPad to create content. It really is a magical piece of technology and it’s become an essential teaching tool.

In the next post I’ll describe some of my favourite media apps.

Jan 212012

So Apple released iBooks Author and afterwards, nothing will be the same again (to paraphrase 70’s surf pic Big Wednesday.)

Apple have effectively handed textbook publishing over to everyone with a Mac and an iPad. Maybe one day there will be a cheaper tablet for education but there’s little doubt that a great many students now own, or can access an iPad and the stage is set for collaborative authoring projects such as the one I’ve started  below.

I’ve taken some of the best examples of student work from their GCSE homework Posterous blogs and begun to edit them into the first chapter of a revision book for the whole class. I added some references to our syllabus, subtitles and illustrations. Click on the image below to download the part-finished first chapter (requires iPad and iBooks 2.)

The Author is powerful, but extremely intuitive to use, and providing an iPad is plugged into to your computer, previews of the book are instantaneous.

I’m thrilled at the opportunities offered by this development and really interested to see what the reaction will be from the class when they discover that they are now textbook authors. I’d hope to see them taking the initiative to continue adding to the iBook over the rest of the course.

Oct 152011

This is a presentation I gave at the Somerset Geographers conference. I’m exploring how to incorporate social networking into my GCSE teaching, while encouraging the learners to make the best use of online resources.

Accompanying this presentation was a video by Oasis:

and a Google Earth file incorporating Gavin’s unofficial OS maps overlay (not to be used in Google Earth!)

Thanks to the students whose work is featured in this presentation.

Mobile phone voting

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Sep 102011

Hiatus over… Digital Geography blog returns with a new committment to sharing some of the ways in which I’m using ICT in the geography classroom.

I’ve made a commitment to making better use of mobile phones in the classroom this year. One of the first things I’ve tried is text voting. Here’s a live example from my first GCSE lesson. Feel free to give it a test!

You need the Flash Player to view this page.

SMS Poll is perfect to try with classess. The free plan gives you 300 votes per month with a maximum of 30 votes per poll. You may also want to look at Poll Everywhere as an alternative.