Using the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil for Teaching (2018)

Two years ago I was a long-term sub teaching 8th grade math in a classroom where the SmartBoard wasn’t working properly. It wouldn’t stay calibrated, rendering it really not usable. Instead of declaring it dead, I noticed the Apple TV in the room and had a brainstorm – could I airplay from my iPad pro to the Apple TV and use it for instruction? The short answer was yes, and I used this set-up for classroom teaching. At the time I wrote about it on my husband’s blog. I am posting that here because while many things have changed and improved in two years, the heart of the matter is still very relevant. Read my original post about using the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil for teaching math.

I’ve divided this new post into two parts: “Getting there” and “How I’m using things.”  If you are only interested in how I’m using this technology, please skip to the second part. I included the first part because I want to thank the people who helped me with this, and I want to remember it.

Getting there

Why I am using the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil in the classroom

Fast forward two years. I’m in the same school for another long term sub job. As I was setting up the classroom this fall it never even occurred to me to check the SmartBoard. Of course it would work. I couldn’t be in another classroom with a less than optimal SmartBoard situation, right? I am subbing for 7th grade math this time and my son is now an 8th grader. “Your teacher used the SmartBoard last year, right?” I asked. “No. It doesn’t really work mom. He used a projector.” Oh dear. That was why I found an overhead projector in the storage area in the room. I had used an overhead briefly the last time prior to figuring out the workaround. I wasn’t eager to go that route again. However, I also noticed that this room had no Apple TV.

Surely the SmartBoard wasn’t as bad off as the other one. I was wrong. Something was incorrectly connected and you couldn’t write on it or calibrate it from the board menu itself. At this point I would have been happy to work with a malfunctioning board that couldn’t hold calibration for long but I couldn’t write on it at all. The first unit for Math 7 involved a lot of graphs and that wasn’t going to be much fun with just a whiteboard. I put in a tech help request knowing that the tech department was dealing with all the start of school set-up issues and it could take awhile. On a whim, I also emailed my principal and explained my situation. I asked if there was a chance he could help me. He was a science teacher before he became a principal and used these tools effectively in his classroom. One of the first few days after school he popped into the classroom, helped me sort out the connections and showed me how to calibrate the board from the menu. It still wouldn’t work from the board, but now I had a workaround. I told all my 7th graders to say “Thank you” when they saw him in the hallway. Soon, Bruce from the tech department came to fix the board and the calibration worked from the board itself. No more going to the back of the room to fix the calibration. I was delighted.

And the Board flakes out

Everything was perfect … until it wasn’t. It started with the board only holding its calibration for a couple of periods. That I could live with. No worries – I’d just calibrate it in-between classes. Then, it began to mess up 3 or 4 times a class period. Re-calibrating is easy but it disrupts class flow and takes time. When I’m in the role of student myself I’m terribly impatient when presenters struggle with technology. I believe it is there to enhance the learning. It should be transparent. If it can’t serve in this way, I’d much rather learn using different tools. I would not break flow multiple times a period to re-calibrate a board. I put in another tech help request and switched to the dry erase board.

Bruce came again and he had an idea to try to fix it. The board is old, and he said that it could be messing up because of power surges. He put in a surge protector because that had solved the problem in other classrooms.  I really appreciated Bruce taking time to try another thing for me. Unfortunately, the calibration continued to be a problem too frequently. I realized I could use the board effectively from the computer itself, but I would only do that when I really NEEDED to use it for graphing. It felt weird to be tethered to my computer in the back of the room, using my mouse to click and draw. It wasn’t the way I would like to run my classroom. An overhead would actually be better. I pronounced the board dead and told the kids we would be using the whiteboards except for the occasional times when I would work with it from the computer. I wasn’t especially dramatic about it – we’d tried our best and the classroom is on the list for updated technology.

And the apple tv saves the day

One night at dinner I was sharing my dilemma at home over dinner when I had a brainstorm. “We still have our old Apple TV right?” I asked no one in particular. Scott said, “Yes we do. It is the one we take on vacation.” Hmm.. I thought. “Well I could take it to school and we could to the iPad Pro/Apple Pencil thing again. Maybe Bruce would install it for me?”

I wrote to the principal and to Mike, the head of our tech dept. I said I’d be happy to leave the Apple TV there for the school year if I wasn’t there all year and explained my situation. I had a prompt reply saying that the school had some Apple TVs and that they could put one in for me. Bruce said he’d get it in within the next few days. He knew this was a priority and he got to it SO quickly! Soon I was set up to use my familiar workaround. I was so grateful to everyone in the tech department for doing this so quickly for me.

How I’m using things

the app world has grown up in the past two years

The first day I planned to use this technology I spent some time the evening before talking with my daughter about forScore. I remembered having to scan my documents and pull them in. I knew that I wanted some blank paper sheets and some graph paper sheets as well as my classroom worksheets. Elizabeth found appropriate graph paper clip art for me and she set up templates for blank notes.

Here are a couple of quick pictures for you to see what forScore looks like with the files.

The template of graph paper. This is in edit mode so you can see all the color options on the top of the screen.
On the left you can see how everything is organized with tags. This makes it easy to find things.

I got a worksheet from Google Drive and started to get ready to scan it with Scannable only to realize that I could now just select “print” and chose “.pdf” and open it directly in forScore. No more scanning required for things that I had made on the computer. Once something is open in forScore I can tag it, edit it in real time and then send it where I want it to go. A lot had changed in the past two years!

I worked for a few weeks this way, emailing myself copies of the filled in notes just to have them. I didn’t do much with them, but it was cool to know that I could share. You can read the original post to see all the things that I did with this set-up the first time around, and I’ll spend this time telling you what is even better now!

Some quick general tips

Before I go into all the ways that you can use this in your classroom I am going to share some general tips that I find helpful.

  • Internet can flake out at any time. Please have a back up plan. There is nothing worse than a fully derailed lesson because of no back up plan. That said, give it a few moments and try to trouble shoot if you can. In all the time I’ve used this, air play has dropped us to where I have to use plan B less than 5 times. Sometimes it is for one class only and then gets back up to speed. And, I know we’ve all been there when there is no back-up plan. It happens. Just roll with it and the world will go on spinning.
  • Plan ahead and open and tag files before class if you can. (This will make more sense after the screen video).
  • Let kids use the Apple Pencil and write solutions to things out. This is fun for many of them and while there is a learning curve to the pencil, it is quick. You can also use a stylus with the kids instead (some kids are really put off by the feel of the clacking of the pencil and the stylus has no such issues but it offers far less control). I admit that it was a long while before I gave this opportunity and I don’t do it as often as I should. The device is shared between my husband and me, and it is expensive and fragile.
  • Mix it up. Don’t use this for an entire period. Anything is boring if done too frequently.
  • Set your iPad to time out at about 5 minutes. You’ll need to touch it every so often or re-connect if you let it time out. If you never let it time out, make sure to have a charger with you or you won’t get a full day out of the device.
  • You can easily toggle back and forth between the SmartBoard computer view and the iPad in most classrooms. I do this when I need to show a video or something else with audio. *the audio is weird with the iPad/SmartBoard for me. I can’t get the volume adjusted high enough. It is easier to just switch to the computer for things requiring volume. 
  • Watch faces when you are using this. I think that this is the BEST thing about this technology. You can really SEE in real time when kids are not getting it or when they are. When I’m writing on the board I have to turn away while writing just enough that I miss that confused flash that comes over a face. I find it easier to monitor and adjust instruction with this set-up than with a whiteboard or the SmartBoard.
  • Post notes every day. It is just easier to do it right then than to wait and try to track later. It is up to you whether you post them in a shared drive for kids, on Google Classroom, on the open web etc.
Google Classroom

When I started with this workaround I hadn’t yet set up Google Classroom for my classes. I wasn’t sure how long I’d be here, and I had spent time setting up a really great website plan book using Trello where the kids could access all the materials. I was actively encouraging kids to print the materials from Trello if they left something at school and I didn’t want to throw another thing into the mix. However, one student was railing against this method and would continue to say, “I wish we had Google Classroom.” He was polite about it, but it made me think, “really one more layer isn’t going to hurt anyone” and “when I leave I’ll just delete myself from the classes and the regular classroom teacher can take it over.” So I set it up. I was SO GLAD I DID!

Now forScore allows you to share an annotated .pdf to so many places. At the end of a class period I can upload the notes right into that class period’s Google Classroom. If I’m feeling like I want to take beautiful notes with nicer than normal handwriting only once, I can post it to all of my Math 7 classes, and if I want each class to have individualized notes, I can do this class period by class period. Classroom allows you to tag things so you can find them later and suddenly students who miss class or just want to consult the notes can do so. As someone who learns better myself when I watch the teacher and only write bits and pieces, I would have greatly appreciated this option in school. In my mind, this is an example of technology enhancing instruction in a seamless way.

screen recording of how this works

I use this set-up almost every day, many times in every class. View a wordless screen recording here and view the instructions below. I may replace this video with a voice over version at some point, but in my several attempts I messed up too frequently!

Step by Step Instructions

  1. Open your iPad and select the file you wish to use. I work with Google Drive so I always start there. Mid-winter of 2018, Google Drive updated the interface so you now can select “open in” and then select forScore instead of having to select “print” first. I open in forScore and you will see that the file is set on the last file that forScore used. Just click out of that and back to the main page.
  2. Go to No Tags, as your file is not yet tagged. You can locate the file here, and then add a tag. Watch me do this on the screen cast. Usually I do this all ahead of time before the classes. However, there are times that I find myself opening straight from Drive as the kids are coming in.
  3. Create the tag you wish. The document will then be moved there for you. You can then begin editing.
  4. Select edit. You’ll see that there are a variety of colors, thicknesses etc in forScore. This is my favorite part of this app. You can switch colors, use a highlighter, erase, change your line thickness and more. In this set of notes I just switched colors a few times, made a few mistakes so you could see the erasing etc.
  5. When your notes are complete, you upload the annotated .pdf straight to Google Classroom (or any other location you’d like to store it in). *Note If you are only posting in one class, it will allow you to schedule the post. However, if you are posting in more than one class you must post right then. I find this limiting and hope that they change it soon. It is inconvenient to create separate posts for multiple classes, yet I dislike posting completed notes before the class occurs. 
Other things we can do with the ipad pro

One thing that I’m really enjoying about the screen recording feature especially is the ability to embed it into class review. I haven’t done a lot with this because it does take a fair amount of time, but one review presentation is shown below. We worked in groups for this and after each problem, I displayed the step by step worked out solution. I did this without words for the screen recording and then talked in real time in class. I chose to do this because I think it is awkward to have the kids listen to something pre-recorded when I’m present.

Module 3 Review Slideshow

A super cool thing that we’ve only done a few times is to have the kids use the iPad to present their work. I don’t have this device in a secure case, so I hold it and record them as they show their work. The work is then presented on the screen so everyone can see their step by step work and watch as they present. One day in Pre-Algebra I gave the kids the option of selecting one of a set of problems to tackle. We crowd sourced the solutions essentially. Each pair that presented from their seats had something to offer and collectively we came at a solution. The next time I do this I will air play from the phone and let the kids hold the phone themselves for recording instead of hovering over them with the iPad. Our internet connection was too weak for the phone (I need to connect to staff wifi and hadn’t on my phone) and I realized that in real time so I used the iPad for this.

The student video is a mash up of their work.

This video isn’t edited in a flashy way, and the problems aren’t even in order. But the spirit of the class is captured. The kids had time to work with partners to solve and then they got the opportunity to present from their seats and the rest of the class could view their work in real-time. We’ve also done this in the middle of notes when kids have some time to try a problem. When a student has work that the entire class should see I can come over and just hold the iPad over the work, showing the kids exactly what is on the page.  (I actually discovered this by accident helping a student and for some odd reason I was carrying the tablet with me and hadn’t turned off the display in class).

 

Stations

We use stations as a form of review frequently in my classroom. I typically have a manilla folder for the problem worksheet and then another for the solutions. I like that this gets the kids moving around the room and the opportunity to check their answers. However, sometimes I want them to be able to check answers at home or in real time on Chromebooks (we aren’t 1:1 in my classroom but do have enough for students to have a permanently assigned partner and Chromebook to share). This is an example of how the solutions can be worked out in color in Classroom and viewed on the Chromebook. The day that I realized that I could work out solutions on the iPad at home and then post them I disappeared down the rabbit hole for awhile. Next goal for me – the screen recording of the work happening so kids with patience for videos can watch solutions in real time. (I’m not patient enough for that myself and avoid video explanations of things like the plague, hence this being a back burner thing for me as a teacher)

Note: This works better with my accelerated group. I find that when I use this technique in my regular Math 7 classes, many students end up copying the solutions from the Chromebook instead of doing the problems and then checking. The accelerated group has the opposite problem – they are reluctant to check the solutions and very unwilling to use it as a prompt if stuck. 

Conclusion

The iPad Pro and Apple Pencil is a really great way to teach in a classroom. You have full color options, a variety of apps and because the technology is always changing, you can almost always come up with more ways to use something. Because my original post has been up for 2 years, it has comments with suggestions for other apps to use. Notability is one that I may try out and Good Notes is another. However I feel super loyal to forScore right now. I know they are designed for music but it is working so well for what I need and I’m so grateful that this is there that I am not sure I can switch. If you are new to this, check out all 3 and decide what works best for you.

I’m currently working on sorting out how to record the notes portion of a class (including my audio). I was all set to do this one day even to where I explained what we’d do to the class (so they’d know that notes were being recorded to be posted on Google Classroom meaning their questions could be heard but they wouldn’t be seen – it is just note recording) only to push play on the screen recording and realize that it was a disabled feature when screen sharing. I’m working on sorting that out.

It just so happened that I had been, well .. bragging to my friend Tonya at our MITHACAL Miles running group practice about doing the recording thing the week before I tried this. So, I had to fess up to her at the next practice that it didn’t work. She works with Apple products for her company, TidBITS so she wanted to know exactly what wasn’t working. Here are here suggestions, none of which directly works for me since I don’t have another Apple product I can use with this set up.

Note: I am using an old Apple TV so this won’t work for me. However, if you are using a new apple TV. Also, the no audio part would be less than ideal, but still ok. You should be able to connect your iPad to a Mac and use QuickTime Player running on the Mac to record. There are two problems with this approach. First, no audio. Second, your iPad would then be tethered to a Mac with a short cable. However, just to mention, to get this to work, my colleague who tested this for me had to install the latest version of tvOS on the Apple TV. https://www.imore.com/how-record-video-your-iphone-your-mac

Note: Needs another device as well and you would have to merge audio and video files. Then also I had the idea that instead of connecting the Mac to the iPad, you could very likely connect the Mac to the Apple TV. You would then run QuickTime Player on the Mac and make a screen recording (or it might be a movie recording – I can’t recall what the interface calls it) of the Apple TV screen while the Apple TV screen was broadcasting your iPad. I didn’t test this but it seems very likely that it would work. But then still you would have video only, no audio. And, even if you were to record you audio another way (like with Voice Memos on your iPhone), you’d then have to combine the audio and video into one file and in sync. That’s not actually impossible, but it’s also not ideal.

Note: This is the most promising. I am going to So, I started googling around – there’s got to be an app for this… I learned that the thing you want to do is called “lecture capture.” I googled on “lecture capture for iPad” and there are some promising looking links. This is one of them. I may email the developer about this set-up, however it does say on the page about the app that the capture only works inside the app, so it wouldn’t appear that it will work with the set-up I’m using currently.

Of course I know that I can always do the notes solo at home as though I’m teaching like on Khan Academy, but truthfully I spend so much time prepping that I don’t have the bandwidth to do this for the one or two kids who may enjoy re-listening to notes or need it for when absent. If anyone has sorted out a solution using this set-up, do comment here – I’d love to know your workarounds!

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