Sunday, November 25, 2012

Hardware for Collaboration and Community

Plugging in is becoming a nuisance.  Students scheme for outlets in a laptop school.  Teachers usually have access and better organizational skills to strategize for enough battery time to last through teaching periods, but I have often felt plagued by the need to be near the projector.  Even the longest cords and cables are still tethers to one region of the room.  When students show work, unless we can share through the cloud, we have to plug and unplug the laptops, changing convertors to accomodate different machines.  The whole process of plugging in and out slows down flow, causing choppy interruptions.

This fall we opened a new learning community for the middle school at Poughkeepsie Day School.  A key feature of the space is that each of the classroom size learning spaces opens onto a learning commons.  Students no longer spend all of class time in one room.  They may start in a classroom or seminar space, but when working individually or in small groups, they can spill into the learning community.  Since I teach science, my students usually meet in the Da Vinci room, a huge space that includes a seminar style area as well as a wet lab area and tool benches.

When envisioning the new space last spring, I began to picture students sharing work in the new space.  Fluidity was a priority.  Having students be able to quickly share work without having to break up their group configuration was important.  The fewer the delays in setting up projection the better.  If we could untether projection, then class discussions could be illustrated by projecting examples of student work in process.

At the same time that we were planning the learning community, my Hudson Valley Writing Project colleague, Jack, mentioned that he had installed an Apple TV in his classroom.  Wired to his projector, any student with a iPod could project photos to the projector-- no plugging in required.  Meanwhile, NYSCATE announced its spring grant opportunity and a vision of an untethered life began to emerge.
projecting an enlarged picture of an aquifer model through the Apple TV with the iPad camera

NYSCATE funded the grant and we purchased Apple TV's and iPads for the Learning Community.  Anything displayed on the iPads can be mirrored on the projector through the Apple TV.  It's like having a stadium jumbotron in the learning spaces.   With an app called Air Parrot, (or a brand new Apple computer) anything on a laptop screen can be wirelessly projected through the Apple TV.

A colleague, Joe Faitak, has used the iPad & Apple TV combination to teach his classes using the iAnnotate app to make the iPad work like an interactive white board.  Last week he presented his work at the NYSCATE annual conference.  Sitting at home on the second night of the conference, I received an email from him with this movie:

The new hardware is working for collaboration in the adult part of our learning community, too!  Many thanks to NYSCATE for funding the project.