Month: September 2015

3 Cool Things About iOS 9…and 1 Not-So-Cool Thing

by Kristie Burk

DASD’s IT Department gave the green light to upgrade district iPads to iOS 9.  I upgraded my iPad and my personal iPhone. I’m enjoying many of the new features…but there is also one that I need to warn you about!

First, the good news.  Here are my three favorite new features in iOS 9:

  1. Low power mode – When your iPad or iPhone battery starts running below 20%, Apple reduces power consumption by reducing or turning off mail fetch, background app refresh, automatic downloads and some visual effects. You can enable this cool feature by going into “settings”  and scrolling down to “battery.” Major caveat: When your phone charges back up past 80%, this feature turns off and you have to turn it back on again manually.  Why, Apple, why!?
  2. The new “back button” – When you open an app from inside another app, iOS 9 will display a back button to get you back to the original app.  This may not sound like a big deal, but I’m constantly opening apps when reading my email. If someone sends me a Google Doc, for example, I can read the Doc and then hit the back button to return to my email.
  3. Email attachments – Speaking of email, my most favorite new feature in iOS 9 is the ability to add attachments in email.  I can now attach items from my Google Drive, for example, directly into an email that I’m reading on my phone.

And now…the warning.  iOS 9 also has a new feature called “wi-fi assist.”  When your device is connected to a weak wi-fi signal, iOS 9 will automatically switch to your cellular network.  While some people may like this feature, I do not. If the wi-fi is weak (and I’m not aware), my phone can be eating up my data plan!!  iOS 9 automatically defaults to this feature, so you have to turn it off manually by going to “settings,” clicking on “cellular,”  and scrolling ALL the way to the bottom to turn off wi-fi assist.

Want to learn more about iOS 9? Here are some good websites to visit:

23 Things that You Can Do in iOS 9 That You Couldn’t Do in iOS 8

Everything Your School Needs to Know About iOS 9

The best iOS 9 features you don’t know about yet

Business Insider’s Favorite Things About iOS 9


Tech Tip Tuesday: Augmenting Reality in the Classroom using Aurasma

Today’s blog post is by Megan Smith, social studies teacher at Downingtown High School East.

On the last day of the ISTE conference this summer, I attended a walking tour of Philadelphia to learn about an app called Aurasma. It is free to download and should be available for both Androids and iPhones.

Aurasma’s goal is to create an augmented reality. Augmented reality is when a person’s view of reality is enhanced by the use of technology.

You can both create and search for “auras.” These are the interactive elements of Aurasma.  For example, our guide created 3 auras in Philadelphia the day before: one in the Independence Hall Visitor Center, one outside the Liberty Bell building, and one by the Betsey Ross House.  Group members had to follow him on the app to have access to the auras he created, but you can also use the app to search for those around you so long as they are public.

The first one at the Visitor Center was an aura on one of the information panels.  We opened the app and it shows you what you need to look for, you sync it up, and the content begins!  Ours was a video of Revolutionary War reenactors.

The second aura intentionally was made to cause the users problems. It was of the outside of the building with the Liberty Bell.  Our guide wanted to show us that when he made the aura, it was a different time of day and had different lighting than when we were viewing the aura.  He wanted to demonstrate that these are important things to keep in mind when making an aura.

You can upload content, typically videos, no longer than 80-90 seconds; otherwise, they do not play well.

You want to make sure whatever you are creating an aura of is stationary and will not change, as you will not be able to sync with it from your mobile device otherwise.

The presenter emphasized this phrase: consume, collaborate, and create. Students now often are just consumers, but technology like Aurasma allows students to be collaborators and creators.

Here are some ways that he and others who already use Aurasma have used the app in their schools:

  • Create a vocab word wall. Put note cards on a wall with your vocab terms, create auras for each of them with definitions.  Students sync their device and load the videos!
  • Used in yearbooks – have something that students can sync to that will load content. Maybe a video of a sporting event or a clip of the school play.
  • School Signs – make an aura of the school sign so that when visitors sync up the aura, they get a message from the principal.
  • Back to school night (especially for elementary schools) – have the students create auras of their goal for the year by posting something on the wall, making a video, and then their parents can sync up the auras.

You can make public and private pages. Everyone who is already using it suggests that you create one private page for your class(es) and share the log-on information with the students so that they can access it.  This makes it so that outsiders cannot access what your students are creating.

To learn more, check out Aurasma’s website, which probably does a better job explaining than I do!

Blended Learning Shows Success in 12 Case Studies

by Kristie Burk

As most of you know, my main task in the Downingtown Area School District is to bring blended learning to the secondary schools. Teachers (and parents) often ask me about the efficacy of blended learning.  It’s a relatively new and understudied subject.

However, 12 recent case studies on blended learning released by the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation shows promise for blended learning. Some examples include:

  • At an elementary school in Middletown, NY, average reading growth scores of students in blended classrooms were 18.5% higher than non-blended students. Average math growth scores of students in blended classrooms were 17.2% higher than non-blended students.
  • Since introducing blended learning in Spokane, WA, the district’s graduation rate has increased from 60% to 83%.
  • In Conway, South Carolina, the blended program at the middle school has improved student scores in math and reading.

Check out the profiles and let us know what you think at

Food for Thought Friday: Should We Make Our Students Confused!?

If You’re Not Confused by B Tal, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License   by  B Tal 

by Kristie Burk

I am so confused!!!

How many times have we heard this?  As educators, sometimes we want to jump in and help eliminate the confusion for our students.  However, a study in the Learning and Instruction journal suggests that students who are experiencing confusion may actually learn better. (One of the authors of the study warns that the students must be “productively confused” and not “hopelessly confused.”) You can read more about the study here.

More Ways to Gameify Your Classroom

Today’s guest blogger is Megan Smith, social studies teacher at Downingtown High School East.

Kristie Burk featured an article on gamification in a recent blog. This technique is an effort to get students more actively engaged and to achieve mastery of the content.  As this is a major trend, there are of course different methods of gamifying your classroom. Here is what I learned from the gamification session I attended.

  • Here is a Google Doc created by the presenter Phillip Vinogradov. At the very top, there are three useful resources, a Prezi presentation on how he has gamified his classes, a link to his game building documents, and the Leaderboard to show an example of how he keeps track of grades.
  • He models his learning process on the premise that learning should be compelling with not only the content, but the way it is taught.
  • He believes that it is important to progress based on mastery, not necessarily just because most of the students are ready to move on. This is why gamification can work really well, because it allows for differentiation and mastery of the content. In addition, it allows for students to both work together and independently.
  • Gamification allows for choice. For example maybe you have ten tasks to cover a math lesson.  Those tasks could be worth varying levels of points, and you have to have a total of ten points.  Students can pick and choose how they want to learn that math topic, but have to achieve those ten total points.
  • But they don’t just earn those points simply by completion, they must master the task. He has set mastery at an 80%. So students will do the tasks as many times as necessary to get to that 80% mastery.  This also means that with this type of mastery, no one will earn less than an 80%.

Make no mistake, gamification is not easy to set up. However, it can be very rewarding for your students.  This isn’t meant to scare you off from gamification, but it is a lot of upfront work.  Every resource you have essentially needs to be flipped, as gamification is a type of flipped classroom.  So there is a lot of front end work that goes into devising a gamified classroom.  But, this is where something like Schoology can really come in handy.  Once you have flipped your resources and uploaded them, you can control how students move through the tasks by setting requirements for what must be completed first or by having students resubmit assignments.

The beauty of gamification though, is really that students can be, as Mr. Vinogradov said, “masters of their own destiny.” They can choose the path that best suits them, work at their own pace, master the content, and earn “powers.”  He has it set up so that students complete tasks, and earn powers such as earning enough points to earn badges or even time to ask questions as a class during the boss level (the test).  That’s where collaboration can come in, as students must combine their points to be able to ask questions as a class during the boss level.

Vinogradov linked gamification with a literary example, the world of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series. If you are unfamiliar, students are divided into houses and earn/lose points in their classes and compete throughout the year.  For all you Harry Potter fans out there still waiting for your acceptance letter (like me), there is actually a virtual Hogwarts where you can take courses.  If you are a fan of the books, you could model your gamification on the houses featured in Hogwarts.  Divide your classroom into houses or teams and have them compete against each other.  Or, if you teach multiples of the same section, have those classes compete against each other! By the way, here is the link so that you, too, can attend Hogwarts!

Want to Get Kids Interested in Astronomy This Weekend?

by Kristie Burk

A unique event is occurring in the sky this weekend in our neck of the woods.  On Sundday, September 27th we will be able to watch a total lunar eclipse starting around 9 pm.  This eclipse is particularly special because the moon will also be at perigee on this day, which is when its orbit comes closest to our earth; this is sometimes called a “supermoon.”

Tell the students to make sure they watch because another supermoon lunar eclipse will not happen again until 2033!

What a spectacular show!

Happy Constitution Day!

US Constitution by kjd, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  kjd 

by Kristie Burk

Constitution Day commemorates the formation and signing of the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787. Here are some resources to help celebrate our country’s Constitution: