If you give a DEN Guru an iPad…

My name is Alexander MacDougall – my friends call me Sandy.  I’ve been a teacher for almost 30 years. In that time,  I’ve taught community education (evening) classes in a variety of computer topics including DOS for Beginners (do you remember DOS?) then I went on to teach adults in an alternative high school, and then grade 7  English Language Arts, science and Healthy Living.  I’m currently an Instructional Technology Specialist with the Halifax Regional School Board.  In that position, I’ve been the district contact and administrator for Discovery Education for almost five years.  I’ve been on the DEN Leadership Council for the past year (and again for the upcoming year) have attended DEN-S-I 2013 & 2014 and was recently selected as a DEN Guru.


My iPad(s)… 

We have two iPads at home.  Mine is an iPad Air, 32GB, Wi-fi only. I feel more comfortable with an external keyboard, so I purchased a Zagg case and keyboard.  This keyboard/case combo is great.  The charge lasts forever and the Bluetooth connection is easy and seldom drops. I use my iMac very little now that I have the iPad.

At work I have an iPad Mini, 16 GB, Wi-fi only.  The case/keyboard I have for that is from Logitec.  I like the texture of the case better on this one than the Zagg – it’s suede-like, however because of the reduced size of the iPad, the keyboard is virtually unusable (by me).


Accessories… I keep it pretty simple really…

My only accessories for the iPads, other than the keyboards, are a couple of dongles for connecting to VGA projectors and a cheap stylus that I seldom use.


Apps… So much to choose from! All the apps that I discuss below are free unless I mention otherwise.


What apps are docked in my dock?

Nothing spectacular here because you’re pretty limited in terms of the number you can add so most of my apps are organized in folders.  The non-standard apps that are in my dock are: Notability (4.99) – I personally feel this is well worth the cost. It’s my goto app for notes. It’s easy to use, notes can be organized into Folders and Dividers.  Notability will back up notes to Dropbox, Google Drive, Box and WebDAV as PDF, RTF, native Note format, PDF with recording and RTF with recording.  Speaking of recording another great feature is the ability to record audio that is in sync with your notes. The user can choose from a variety of themes and papers as well as default font, size and color for text. Tools include pencil/pen, highlighter or text.  Digital images can be added as well as web clips and “Stickies”.  Many readers will ask, “Why not Evernote if you’re doing to talk about note-taking.” I’ve found that Evernote was too complex and had more features than what I needed. Chrome – My goto browser on my PC.  Trying to make it the same on my iPad, but I still lean toward Safari. Maybe I should move the Safari icon to a less convenient location! GMail – I’ve started to use GMail, and Google Drive/Apps more and more.  I’ve been integrating all the apps for those tools into my personal iPad habits, and have found it all works very nicely!


Apps to kick back with?

Since I work with technology in various forms all day I don’t necessarily pick up my iPad to relax. However, I’ve found a couple of good “games” recently. Twined (0.99) – NOT to be confused with with Twine app… that’s related to a very different leisure activity. In this game the player has to encircle points with a line. Sounds easy… hmm… CrossFingers – This is a nice game for those who like wood. The puzzle “pieces” are all made of various woods of different colours. The object is to move the pieces from their initial locations into the space provided for them. I’ve chilled with other apps over the last few years but these are my current two favorites. I should point out that I was addicted to Angry Birds a while back. My chiropractor says I’m the only person he’s ever heard of who sustained a sport injury from playing that game!

Education Apps Wow! This is supposed to be 3 Education apps and why I’d suggest them. Three… THREE!? Impossible. I’m indecisive at the best of times (favourite colour, food, music.. who knows… there are so many wonderful choices) and favourite apps is no different. I work with teachers across all grade levels and subject areas so, I have lots of favourite apps. So, I’m going “rogue” here and tossing out several apps in three related categories. I firmly believe that apps should be used to show understanding, to present knowledge or to create and publish. The first set are often seen as “apps for flipping” but they can just as easily be used by students to show their work to peers or teacher or record and replay for the purpose of showing/teaching others.

Show-Me, Educreations & ExplainEverything (2.99) – All three apps allow the user to write or draw on the “whiteboard” area, select different colours, and insert images as well as recording both the screen and audio. Educreations takes that a step or two further with the addition of typed text as well as drawing/writing and backgrounds that include lined paper, graph paper and coordinate grid. Explain Everything is the big brother of both of the other two apps. The idea is the same, but there are far more bells and whistles in Explain Everything. The user can select a theme or template, shapes can be selected and drawn with or without shadow and border, and there are more choices for exporting of both still images and video. The next set of apps rely on presentation through characters. These are wonderful apps for a range of grade levels and abilities and allow students to “present” without having to stand in front of a class – which of course is an extra challenge for some students.

Puppet Pals, Sock Puppets, Tellagami (EDU) (4.99)- While Puppet Pals and Sock Puppets are both free, they do both have significant in-app purchases available. While they both function fine as they are, they can be expanded with items, backgrounds, and characters through the in-app purchases. Puppet Pals allows the user to choose from several characters and three backgrounds from the “Fairy Tale” package that is installed by default. Characters can move around the background, and be resized during recording. The user’s voice records with no alteration. The final video can be saved within the app or exported to the camera roll. Sock Puppets allows the user to select up to 4 “sock puppets” that come with the default installation. You then select up to five backgrounds from several available, up to 4 props (some can move while recording, others can not). Characters can be moved and resized during recording though since they are sock puppets they remain anchored to the base of the “stage”. As each character becomes the focus of the story, the puppet’s mouth moves in sync with the user’s voice. The recording is limited to 30 seconds and the users voice is altered for each character – a good feature for students (or teachers) who aren’t too happy about hearing their own voice. Video can be saved within the app and/or shared to FaceBook or YouTube. Tellagami used to be free. That changed recently. Now the free version has much of the content stripped out and replaced with in-app purchases. So… if you have the free version, be careful about upgrading you may lose features you used to have! Tellagami also introduced an EDU version. This version has much of the content and features that used to be in the free version however it’s 4.99! This app was a favourite of many teachers because it allowed a student to create a character that resembled themselves. Users can either record their voice or type text that is then generated into a voice selected from several available. Once the “Gami” is complete it can be saved to the camera roll (where it can be accessed and used in other apps like iMovie) or it can be shared by Twitter, FaceBook, text or email. Remember – many of the features mentioned here for Tellagami, are no longer available in the free version.

Haiku Deck & Keynote – Simply put, Haiku Deck is a simple way to make simple and beautiful slide decks for your presentation. I’ve never been a big fan of PowerPoint, though more recently I’m accepting that a good presentation can be built on any software – so can a bad one. So Haiku Deck doesn’t guarantee a great presentation, but it helps. Space for text is minimal, images are foremost. If used in the way it’s designed it forces the presenter to really know their material because they can’t read from paragraphs of text on slides. This is a great feature for students! Keynote is more robust and is closer in some ways to PowerPoint. A new user can quickly get up and running with Keynote, but to become really advanced is going to take some time and practice and a session or two (or more) with someone who already knows the app. One of the very nice features of Keynote (there are MANY very nice features) is that if you have Keynote on your iPad and your phone, you can use the phone app as a remote for the iPad app! Note: Keynote is free for new devices, but 9.99 otherwise.


Hidden Gem(s)

ColorSplashMonosnap – These are my two all time favourite apps! (Hmm… maybe I’m not that indecisive!).  ColorSplash allows you to take a photo, turn it into black and white and then return the colour to part of the image.  It’s easy and looks great!  You can see a sample below. (Thanks to Tim Childers at DEN-S-I 2o13 for showing me this one!)  Monosnap is a screen capturing app.  I first became aware of it as a piece of software for my PC.  Since then I’ve installed it on my iMac and iPad.  On the computers it allows you to take a quick screen capture (full screen or just a part that you select depending on the hot-keys you use) and then annotate it with arrows, circles, etc and save it – all very quickly and smoothly.  With the iPad app, you can do the same sort of annotating on any image from your camera roll – of course if you want a screen shot, you can grab that by clicking the Home and Power/Sleep button at the same time. I hear you… for sure, there are a dozen other ways to grab a screen shot and annotate on the image, I won’t argue with that, but I find this free app the easiest, quickest and smoothest.


And an ‘AHA!’ tip (or two)… 

Do you know about Speak Selection?  Go to Settings ? General ? Accessibility ? Speak Selection.  Turn it on, move the speaking rate down near the turtle (rabbit is ridiculous), select a voice if you wish and turn on Highlight Words.  Now, when you select (highlight) a section of text you’ll get the usual Copy choice, but you’ll also get Speak.  The same goes for a highlighted word.  This is useful to allow students to have text read to them. Be aware that the fluency isn’t great – this is computer generated voice so it’s lacks natural characteristics.

How about Guided Access?  Go to Settings  ? General ? Accessibility ? Guided Access.  Turn it on, then select a passcode.  Now, if you want a student (or one of your children) to use an app, and stay IN that app without straying out to browse the internet, etc. you can start the app and then triple click the Home button.  This will bring up the Guided Access screen.  From here you can choose to block certain parts of the app, eliminate touch totally, block the volume control and other options or just start Guided Access.  Now the user can’t get out of the app without entering the passcode you set.  Triple clicking the Home button again will bring up the passcode screen.


There we go!  That’s what this Guru does when you give him an iPad!  Enjoy yours!



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