Thursday, February 24, 2011

Apps for Teachers

TeacherPal is one of the best apps I've seen for teachers that is available on the iPad, iPhone, and iPod. This program is geared more for middle school and high school teachers but could be used by elementary teachers.

TeacherPal allows you to create as many classrooms as you want. For an elementary teacher I would use each classroom as a different subject matter (i.e. science, math, reading, writing, health, social studies). Once you enter the title you can add a description and a picture. The program offers six pictures, but you have the option to add one of your own photos.

Once you've created the class you can start to add students. When you add a student there are fields for the student's first and last name, email, parent's email and phone number. I wish there was a field for the parent's name and the option to add multiple phone numbers and emails. As of now you can only enter one phone number and one email for the student and parent. You can also assign a picture of the student to their file. This feature is very helpful for teachers who have many students and for teachers to see that they are thinking about the correct student. (and if you're school used this program guest teachers {substitutes} would be able to take accurate notes on students. See below for school use)

You can view the students in alphabetic order or you can view the students based on the seating arrangements.

To create your seating chart simply touch the chair in the top left of the screen, then hold down on a student's photo until it starts to wiggle. Then you can drag the photo to the desired location.

Attendance is easy to take. Simply select "Attendance" on the bottom of the screen, click a student's picture, which dims meaning they are absent. In this photo Student C and Student R are dimmed

You can change the date if you need to and the period. Although changing the period does not make sense to me because in high school you have different students for each class period and for elementary school you'd want to use different classes for each subject and you are not able to change the grades or assignments for each period. Basically the period feature of this app is a waste.

Later when you select a student you can view their personal info, attendance, behavior, and grades. If you need to contact a parent simply select the student, personal info, then the parent's email address and an email window pops up. You can write the email immediately (then you can send it or save it as a draft).

In the "Grades" section you can add assignments. For each assignment you can enter a title, description, date, weight, and maximum grade.

Now when you look at your class each student has a bar next to their photo. This bar provides a visual for students grades in the class. A full bar is 100%. Notice that the students that have a 50% or lower grade have a red exclamation point next to their picture.

In the settings you can change the warning level to a percentage of your choice. You can also configure grade levels, number of periods for each class, and maximum absences in the settings. In this picture I changed the percentage to 70% and the absences to 5. Student C has a full bar, but has missed class 5+ times.

The behaviors feature needs some work. As of now you can enter a behavior and select a thumbs up or down, or a clipboard. I'm not sure what the clipboard is supposed to represent. When you look at the student's profile, the behavior section says, "0 negative incident(s) from a total of 0 incident(s)." This makes it seem like behaviors are only bad, but some behaviors are good. I would like to see TeacherPal improve this function so that teachers can take more anecdotal notes related to all behaviors not just "incident(s)."

There is a button in the bottom right, "sync," this button takes you to a screen suggesting the awesome features this program has if your school uses this program. Attendance would be easy to submit every morning/period/fire drill. Once you take attendance click sync and the information is sent to the office. Grades and behavior notes are also sent so if a parent calls the principal, he/she can easily look it up. And wouldn't it be great if they had this set up for report cards! Gosh that would make bubbling so much easier. Unfortunately, I cannot find out how much it would cost a school to commit to this program.

For those interested in using this program on their own there is an option to export the class data to your iTunes or email.

TeacherPal has a facebook page. One of the comments here asks if TeacherPal could develop a grading system based on standards. That would be very helpful, but difficult to do because every state and county has different standards. Although I'm sure that if the school/county pays for this app, they could negotiate such a deal.

Overall I'd say TeacherPal is a useful program and I would (and will) tell fellow teachers about this app (when I downloaded TeacherPal it was free, not sure how long that will last). It takes a while to set up, but well worth it.

If you do plan on using this app take some time to make a practice class so that you understand and get comfortable with all of the features before you start using it in the classroom. I made a few mistakes while setting up my practice class that would have really upset me if I was using it in the classroom already.

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