iPads and sound recording



iPads and sound recording
As an educator at a school with a large number of iPads, I am frequently met with complaints about recording student voices. Concerns that ‘you can’t hear the student well’, or that ‘background noise is too loud’ are common. People feel that maybe they need a quiet spot away from everybody to record their voice. So, what are the options?


Firstly, students often inadvertently cover the built-in mic with their hand. This is easy to do as most people don’t know where the mic is located. The mic is behind two tiny holes on the opposite end to the home button. As soon as you show a student that they are covering the mic, results improve.
Secondly, you need to consider the distance to the iPad. If you are filming, between 1 and 2 metres is ideal. Further than that, you have to speak louder and background noise will have more impact.
Thirdly, students need to be encouraged and coached to speak loudly and clearly. A timid little squeak of a voice will not cut it.

    Mic options

Although not essential (as I have found the built-in mic adequate for most projects and situations), external mics can be used to improve recording results.

IRig Cast
This mic is an affordable option at around $60 Aus. It plugs into the 3.5mm headphone jack and although a free app is available for it, it will work with any app that records sound. Simply plug and play. It comes with a stand for your device and offers a ‘lo’ and ‘hi’ setting. The Lo setting is for up close recording and is designed to reduce background noise. The hi setting is for larger distances and louder sounds like music. My tests showed that Lo was actually quieter than the built in mic (maybe I needed to be closer?). The hi mode seemed louder to me than the inbuilt mic.

IRig Lav
This is a lapel mic and is great for talking to the camera. My tests showed a strong, clear recording. The cable is about 1 metre long.

Shure MV88
This mic plugs into the lightning port. When you remove the black foam dome, it clearly looks like a serious, professional device. At $250 retail, it has a price to match. If you listen to the attached video, you will hear a noticeable quality difference between this and the other options.

Voice recording and movie making provide many opportunities for users of iOS devices. Whether personally, professionally or educationally, these devices offer convenience. Using sound recording thoughtfully can deliver the results you seek.

Glenn Bruce

Reflections on a Mathletics competition

Mathletics has the potential to deliver measurable improvements in numeracy skills. But only if it is actively utilised by teachers and students across the school as a part of their learning culture. Challenging both teachers and students to embrace Mathletics as a part of their school-wide learning culture is not easy, but I am pleased to report that I have found a way- a school-wide competition. A campus wide competition can raise the awareness and perception of Mathletics across the school. If teachers and students have had little exposure to Mathletics, is it any wonder that there may be some scepticism or doubt as to what it can achieve. This term, Marsden State School agreed to trial such a competition.

Mathletics Competition
This was the motivation behind my ‘Marsden Mathletics Mastery Competition’. For one term, we ran a school-wide competition with a focus on ‘mastery’. To make a competition possible, you need access to real, on-time, accurate data. Mathletics provides cross-school data via their administrator log-ins. Individual teachers can see a wide range of data for their own class, but administrators can see the whole school’s data (I wonder how many schools actually use the administrator’s data?). I used the data provided on mastery to be the focus of this competition.

‘Mastery’, according to Mathletics is a score of 85% or higher. By making topics mastered by individual classes the focus of this competition, we were confident that we would not only engage students, but increase their maths skills. If a topic is not mastered- no points for your class! We were going to coach students to go back and try it again and again until they mastered that topic. We would also encourage them to ask more questions of peers, teachers and parents; and to refer to the help screens provided.

School wide buy-in
Commitment to this project was critical and needed to come from the leadership team. The idea was initially raised with the ICT committee, approved and then a detailed plan created. This plan including a multi-faceted marketing campaign that involved: A3 coloured posters around the school; write-ups in the school newsletter; articles on the school Facebook page; weekly emails to teachers with progress updates; creation of how to videos for teachers (see below); creation of a video ad for students (see above); weekly awarding of certificates and updating of competition progress to whole school assemblies; and teacher promotion and coaching within own classes. Management supported the competition by encouraging teachers at meetings and via school notice board; and by asking the Numeracy coaches to guide teachers. Finally, a day was allocated for the prize. A full day for the winning classes doing organised fun activities and no lessons. What a great way to finish the term!

Yesterday, we announced the winners. It is all over and it begs the question ‘was it all worth it?’

Short term
For the duration of the competition, there was a significant increase in class activity with Mathletics. Not all classes engaged, but nearly all of them did. Many other achievements were made as a result of this competition. For instance, 8 classes made it to the Mathletics Hall of Fame (which we hadn’t done before); at least 5 students completed mastery for the year level they were working on; and the number of certificates awarded increased by 33%.

Many classes engaged fiercely in the competition and there was much friendly, but competitive banter between classes and teachers. The spirit of competition was truly alive and contributed to a positive vibe within the school grounds. The data tells us that during Semester 1 (20 weeks), our students mastered 7137 topics. During Term 3, we mastered 12,440!

That is a 74.3% increase (in half the amount of time!).

Long term
It would not be reasonable to expect us to maintain the same ferocious levels of achievement that the competition fostered. However, one would hope that more teachers and students continue with a Mathletics focus moving forward. One thing we can say for sure, is that our staff and students are now very aware of the potential of Mathletics and the benefits of a ‘mastery’ focus.

Hope is not enough
It is not enough to hope that our school continues to engage with Mathletics. If a school wants data driven results with numeracy, Mathletics needs to become a key part of the school culture. Not only should it be something that students engage with on school grounds, but it should be something that students choose to do at home by choice, because they want to become better at maths. This way of thinking needs to be coached by teachers as a part of their home learning strategy.

Another competition?
Would I run another Mathletics competition again? Absolutely, no question. However, I would not do more than one like this per year as
It would lose its impact. The next one should be on Live Mathletics- let’s build up our kids number facts!

Building community with Classdojo

For those that have not come across ‘ClassDojo’, it is a visually appealing app that has been designed as a classroom reward system for students. Not excited yet? It allows you to give feedback on your students to parents, direct to their favourite device? Excited now?… If I know teachers, they would be nervous about the ‘What if’s’. What if it upsets parents? What if kids can compare other kids? In my experience, this app is worth the commitment and focus and it can be used to build a better school community.

Building communication with parents

Generally speaking, most parents are very interested in their child. Not only from a perspective of how well they are learning; but how well they are developing as a person (for example: confidence, physical skills, social development). Rather than a ‘Big Brother’ type approach, ClassDojo gives teachers the opportunity to provide positive feedback or praise. It can even be easily accompanied by a picture taken on your phone or tablet. Imagine the child’s surprise that afternoon when the parent says how happy they are that they achieved a goal! Should there be an incident or issue, a quick message can be sent so that Mum or Dad is aware. Parent’s appreciate being kept in the loop. Check out this unsolicited blog from a parent: (mommyteaches)

Customise to your class
ClassDojo is customisable. As a teacher, you can decide: should I only have positive points, or should I include negative points (I include negatives, but my stats show over 95% of my points are positive); should I give more weight to some criteria? (I give 5 points for achieving a Mathletics certificate); and what will my criteria be? (Each class may have different criteria). As it is customisable, a teacher may give focus to the areas that they feel are important for students to focus on. You may also choose to link it in with a school recognition program. The image below shows an example of point criteria.

Point Criteria

The lower rows in the image show examples of point criteria

Emphasise the positive
Ultimately, the goal of using ClassDojo is to emphasise the positive. People love positive recognition regardless of their age. Clearly, the recognition needs to be genuinely deserved for the system to have value, so you only give points when it is really deserved. Students can look up their own progress. Importantly, parents only have access to information about their own child. The end result is that students feel recognised by their teacher; and parents gain a positive window into their child’s day.

Data driven
By generating points on a range of criteria, we are generating data and feedback on our classroom and students. Personally, I link it to a weekly prize draw; and recognition certificates. I also use it for behaviour and general comments at report time. Students and parents also have access to the points in graphical form. See the image below showing positive points for December.

Favourite features
My favourite feature are: the ‘multiple select’ (quickly award points to those doing the right thing); and ‘random select’ (nominate students randomly to ask them a question, then award a point). The ‘random select’ encourages students to pay attention and makes it into a game.

Support Network
ClassDojo recently set up a ClassDojo mentor system where they identified active teachers in schools who were using their product and asked them if they would be prepared to support their teaching colleagues. This is an important positive step towards assisting other teachers. However, should you not know who your school ClassDojo mentor is, I am sure there are other teachers who would be happy to help you get started.

Engaging Teachers with Mathletics

Mathletics is not the ‘be all and end all’ of success in maths. There are many ways in which to improve students abilities and confidence. My observations of other teachers have proved to me that teachers are highly competent and knowledgeable at doing this. Having said that, Mathletics has proven itself to be a standout tool for: increasing student ownership of math learning; providing teacher-led student differentiation; and encouraging parental buy-in. Yet, many teachers, who have access to Mathletics seem to remain unconvinced of  its value and reluctant to embrace and promote it. Consequently, as teachers are the drivers of Mathletics engagement and success, many students will not engage to any significant degree with Mathletics in 2015. Considering the potential benefits, that would be disappointing.

Why Mathletics should be used with our students.

1. We live in an increasingly competitive global market. Millions around the world are already engaging in self-driven, online maths. If our students fail to commit to their learning, how will our students compete in future job markets?

2. Classroom learning can only go so far. Practice is what will embed it into our students’ minds and increase confidence.

3. Students will engage and do voluntary homework if they feel it is helping them (and if it is fun!).

It has been incredibly exciting to me to see substantial engagement with Mathletics occurring across most of the students in our double classroom. Students of all abilities were completing bronze certificates and aiming for mastery right up to the last week of school! It was equally encouraging to see parents  support this initiative by encouraging their child. The reward? Students displaying an obvious increase in confidence, answering in-class questions,  peer tutoring and improving on test results.

If success in Mathletics is teacher-driven, how is this supposed to be done? In a word, ‘homework’. As teachers, we are only allowed to give a minimum amount of homework- about 10 to 15 minutes per night. I ‘sell’ Mathletics as an ‘optional extra’. We need to play ‘coach’ and encourage students to engage. We can set targets. I ask students to aim for a bronze certificate every week (1000 points). I also set two tasks weekly that align with class learning for that week. Students are encouraged by weekly handing out of certificates, praise in class and tapping into our reward program (I use Class Dojo, gotchas and weekly prizes).


One of the most frequent arguments against more substantial use of Mathletics, is lack of access to computers at school. This should not stop it from being encouraged and promoted as a home personal development programme. In my experience at schools with few devices, my students have always engaged heavily at home with Mathletics.

Of course, if you do have access to devices at school, Mathletics can play a role in various ways to support your other lessons and strategies.


Live Mathletics. Students compete at their ability level with other students in the class, or around the world (This is a number facts program designed to increase speed and accuracy).

Assigned tasks. Students complete tasks assigned by the teacher that align with in-class learning.

Practice tests. Students can do NAPLAN practice tests to identify areas of weakness for targeted teaching.


You will find that most of our students even in low socio-economic areas have access to a computer device at home of some kind and the internet (Mathletics is now accessible via ipads and other tablets). In fact, I have found that parents, once they have found out about Mathletics have made sure that their child has access.


Another reluctance from some teachers to use Mathletics, particularly in higher year levels of maths has been that students think that they have to do all the maths in their head. Naturally, this is not practical as students need to reason through multistep problems. Teachers simply need to teach students to write down the problem and show their working out. Solutions can then be entered for instant marking.


One of the things that is most attractive about Mathletics is the focus on ‘mastery’. As a teacher, it is important to put on your ‘coach’ hat and encourage students to make ‘mastery’ their goal. Mathletics is data rich. Students have access immediately to how they are going; and so do teachers. The reporting system in Mathletics offers colour coded graphs  that show what has been mastered, what is being passed, and what is not being understood. This means that areas of weakness can be immediately identified and targeted. Students can watch animations or videos demonstrating how to do a specific task. If they still don’t understand, they can choose an easier level, ask a parent, friend or the teacher.

As a teacher, it is not enough to simply hand out log-ins to students and occasionally use Mathletics in computer lab time. This is not going to make a substantial impact on their math ability. Significant engagement and practice at home is the key. Teacher promotion, coaching and teaching of Mathletics to students and parents throughout the year is imperative. As Mathletics represents a significant financial investment in our students, it is critical that as teachers, we make sure that it plays a key role in our learning and teaching philosophy.


Image: under Creative Commons Share alike from http://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Math_class_in_Da_Ji_Junior_High_School_2006-12-1.jpg .


Create beautiful ebooks and movies with ‘Book Creator’

As an educator and a passionate advocate for ipads as a learning tool, I have tried many apps in the search for a child friendly, open-ended, creative app. ‘Book Creator is an app that enables the user to create their own ebook. The best part, like any great app is that it is so intuitive, young kids can use it. Once a user has completed their book, their finished product can be exported to ibooks.

Ibooks bring a little magic to reading with glossy, sharp images, videos and graphics and a range of special features such as accessibility for those with learning impairments, dictionary and the ability to create study cards. However, in the past a short-coming of Book Creator was the inability to export a child’s ebook in a format that was accessible for parents without an ipad. It would export the file as an epub (which isn’t easily accessible), or pdf (which doesn’t have the same impact). It was the only complaint I was hearing from fans.

Now, you can export your ebooks from Book Creator as a movie file. Brilliant! I have gone back to a couple of my favourite ebooks and made the transition and the result is terrific! Oral narration seamlessly glides through the text, while you view the imagery on your pages. Video files automatically play in sequence. The end product looks and sounds fantastic!

‘App smashing’ is the latest trend to hit the digital learning environment. It refers to the combining of two or more apps to create a final product. Book creator is an excellent app for this. Take a look at my student’s work above. She has incorporated her own art using ‘Paper by 53’; narrated and written her story via Book Creator; and added sound effects via ‘Garage Band’. Quite an effective result don’t you think?

So you’re a teacher and you want to create engaging learning materials. You want to flip the classroom, create an exemplar, or develop new literacy product. Book Creator. The movie below shows a non-fiction text I created about erosion and weathering. How do you think it compares to a Powerpoint? I’d love to know your thoughts.

For those unfamiliar with Book Creator, don’t go past this one. For those who are already sold, the new movie feature is a great reason to use it more.

Differentiating with Mathletics

Mathletics has long been a favourite teaching tool of mine.  The main reason? Kids love it! Learning maths online is fun. Even when I set homework, it doesn’t seem to feel like homework. In fact, kids will voluntarily complete way more tasks on it than I have asked them to. In fact, I actively encourage students to ‘own their learning’ by working hard on Mathletics.

Teachers can’t just expect it to magically work by itself though. Teachers need to promote it to their students; coach their students; and use it in class. One of the best reasons to do this is student differentiation. Mathletics makes it easy to provide maths at levels that are achievable and challenging no matter what skill level a student is at.

The first thing to help, is to set up groups within your class. These groups should be set up based on ILPs (individual learning plans), or simply by using data to determine where your students are at. You might use NAPLAN or PATMAS test data for instance. Don’t forget that you can also use this strategy to extend your clever students. Click the ‘Classes’ tab to set up groups (Please see the attached video for a detailed ‘how to’).

The second thing you can do is to set tasks at different levels. If you have already created levelled groups, you simply go into ‘Results’ and set tasks for each group. You will find that each group may be operating at a different year level for instance. This way students will be assigned tasks at a level that they can manage and be successful, as opposed to being intimidated or discouraged.

Glenn Bruce



Sliding to Learn- A conference with a mobile focus

As an enthusiastic iPad-toting teacher, I raced off to Sydney last week for my second dose of a ‘Slide2Learn’ conference. Two days of hands-on ipad experiences and exposure with like-minded enthusiasts was especially rewarding. I left with my Evernote brimming with new ideas, apps and things to try. So many that….quite frankly, I’m not sure where to start.

Slide2Learn‘ is an organisation whose sole purpose is to connect digitally enthused educators with each other and with new tools and pedagogy to take back to their classroom. Their mantra? ‘By educators- For educators. The team generously volunteer their time to prepare for their annual events and clearly put much time and energy into creating something that members really can become excited about.

As a member, once again I found the experience incredibly rewarding. Being able to access top speakers and leaders in the field on a personal level; and to participate in a range of hands-on learning experiences was fantastic! The ‘hands-on’ is what I really love! Being exposed to apps that were not on my radar and being able to play and see learning opportunities for the future is what was really exciting.

Of course a conference without keynote speakers wouldn’t be a conference now, would it? Slide2Learn managed to organise some excellent speakers with valuable wisdom and experience to share for all. Punters were madly typing notes during all sessions.

Tony Vincent, who seems to be a Slide2Learn veteran was being his most personable and amusing self again. He seems to have an incredible knowledge of the latest apps and websites and how they can be used effectively. My take home was ‘Poll Everywhere’, a website that allows you to poll or survey an audience using devices and instantly display graphical analysis as you watch. Very entertaining!

As a lover all apps that are creative, I was particularly impressed with ‘Comics Head‘ and ‘Yakit Kids‘. When you smash these apps in an ‘imovie‘, you have the ability to create amusing animation movies very quickly. There is great potential here for student use with assessment pieces.

All the speakers offered valuable insight into education and digital learning. The outcome? About 150 or so pumped up and re-invigorated teachers at different stages of their digital learning journey, ready to go get ’em!