Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Ode to SonicPics

Oh, SonicPics, our new favorite app. I have to give credit to my colleague Mike Amante in New Hartford, New York, who casually mentioned this app during a recent recording of Michelle Bourgeois and Katie Morrow's excellent podcast, Always On. We are always on the lookout for new apps to support student media creation, and SonicPics has yet to disappoint.

SonicPics is an app that allows students to select photos from the iPad Photo Library and then record narration to create a simple video. Kids simply swipe from one photo to the next as they talk and record their thinking. The final product can be e-mailed to the teacher as an m4v video file; if the file is too large, the teacher can transmit the video directly to the classroom computer over the network using an IP address provided by SonicPics.

SonicPics allows teachers to capture students' thinking visually and verbally, which is so powerful for young learners who may not yet be fluent readers and writers. The final products can be synced back to the iPad or shared with students via your iDisk or Dropbox. This gives students an audience and allows them to share ideas with their peers. Audio recordings also give students opportunities to self-reflec
t and self- assess, because they can listen to their recordings and re-record if they want to make improvements.

We have countless ideas for how to use this app and plan to try them all! Here are a few:
  1. Create multimedia books. Students create illustrations in a drawing app like Whiteboard Lite or Drawing Pad, save the illustrations to Photos, and then pull them up in SonicPics to record the words.
  2. Document a classroom experience. Load photos of a field trip, science experiment, special visitor, etc. onto the iPad and have students narrate the photos.
  3. Assess a learning experience. Load photos of an individual or group working in the classroom, and then have students narrate those photos to explain their process and reflect on their learning.
  4. Retell a story. Have students draw pictures to represent the beginning, middle, and end of a story, and then record their retelling.
  5. Generate questions to support inquiry. Load content-related photos on the iPad. Have students select 3-5 images and record their questions. This can also be an assessment piece to collect data about the level of thinking and questioning students are engaged in.
  6. Create a podcast. Use photos or student-created illustrations or diagrams as your images. Consider content-oriented podcasts, news about school, book reviews, issue-oriented podcasts -- the sky is the limit.
  7. Create a weather report. Take photos out the window and narrate them with data from any weather app or website. Share it on your class home page.
If there are any SonicPics users out there, we would love to hear how you are using this app to support student learning.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Device Management Tips

Here are some basic, nuts-and-bolts tips that have helped our program run smoothly. Keep in mind that we have 34 iPads in one shared cart, and those devices are shared between 5 classrooms in grades 1 and 2.

Consider color-coded cases for your iPad. It is much easier for first graders to remember “go get the blue ones” than to remember “go get devices 13-18." We use the brightly-colored MiniSuit by Vizu, which is available from

Make the wallpaper image a jpeg of the device number. You can also reinforce the color-coding by matching the image color to the case color.

Have a landing pad for devices on top of the cart, and keep it clear of clutter. We put a colorful placemat on top of the cart. The mat is wide enough to accommodate 2 small stacks of iPads. Student tech teams need a safe place to put their stack of 2-3 devices down while they carefully slide them into the cart one at a time. They also need a place to set them while they are closing and locking the cart; trying to do so while holding iPads doesn’t work so well.

If your iPad devices are shared between classrooms, consider creating an electronic sign-out. We use a spreadsheet created at We set the sharing permissions so that anyone could edit the spreadsheet, and then iPad teachers bookmarked the spreadsheet for easy access. (Only the iPad teachers can edit, because they're the only ones who have the link.)

Keep headphones in small crates or baskets on top of the cart, and keep a fixed number of headphones in each basket. Because each class uses 6 iPads at a time during literacy centers, we keep 6 in a basket. When kids come to grab the iPads, a "headphone helper" grabs a crate. We use the small and easy to store Califone 3060AV headphones. The cords are a bit too long, but we like the individual volume control.

Keep microfiber cleaning cloths in a basket on top of the cart. Have your student iPad team polish screens as they put the devices away. KlearScreen works great for extra smudgy screens, but if you have kids using this sprayable product, provide careful instruction so you don't end up with soggy iPads. If you have sticker shock on the KlearScreen website, a very slightly damp lint-free cloth is a thriftier option for ferocious fingerprints.

Appoint someone -- a staff member, parent volunteer, or older student -- to check the cart at the end of each day, ensure the devices are plugged in, and lock the cart. It's a lot of extra responsibility to ask the teacher who hosts the cart to take care of this -- especially when he or she is already putting up with the added foot traffic of student iPad teams.