What I Love About Evernote

So this post was inspired by a colleague who emailed to ask me why I prefer the Evernote app over the Note Taking app that comes from Apple. In all of our admin meetings and committees, I’m always raving about how much I love having Evernote as a way of organizing my notes so it made sense that she would ask. So I figured in the age of blogging, why email her back (okay I still did) when I can share my thoughts with anyone who cares. So in point form, here’s what I love about Evernote:

Easy to Organanize by notes: Evernote makes it so easy to organize all of my notes. And I don’t just mean my work/school notes. I’m able to create notebooks for professional topics like PAC meetings, parent interviews, committee work as well as personal things recipes, wines I like and lists for going to the cabin.

Evernote has a search function: I am not the most organized of people. And back in the day I would have to go through pages of notes to find information on a particular student when talking with parents. With Evernote, I can simply search the student name and up pops all the notes I have on them. And while I haven’t used this enough, Evernote also allows users to tag their notes so they can find common notes easily. It allows me to be efficient with my time and actually sound like I know what I’m talking about.

Evernote is cloud-based: This is probably my favourite feature of Evernote. Being that I own a Macbook, iPad and iPhone I can’t express how handy it is that when I connect to the internet, all my notes are automatically synced between my devices. That means if I need notes on a particular student while I’m at the Board office, I can access them on my iPhone even though I took them on my laptop.

I can use multi-media in my notes: Evernote allows you to not only use text when creating notes, but also use pictures, sound recordings, web links, and attachments. This means that I can have a complete set of rich notes all in one place. For example, during the week when I’m collecting things for the West Langley Success Blog, I can take a picture of the event or learning activity and then write or record a few notes about what is going on. Then when I go to create the blog post at the end of the week, it’s all in one place. Another more important example of this feature is in the wine store. When we have a wine that we like, we can take a picture of the bottle and write a few pertinent notes about it. Then when we are in the liquor store trying to remember what it was called or what is looked like, out comes the iPhone.

Evernote is focused on education This is the area I have yet to tap into and am the most excited about. If I had a regular intermediate or middle school class, I would want to use Evernote with my students to help organize their notes. For the reasons above, I can see great potential for all of my students, particularly those with learning or organizational issues. At West Langley we have used Evernote Peek to help students study for tests. And as I follow other educators on Twitter, it seems to me that Evernote is making more and more updates that are focused on education and helping students be successful.


I know there are lots more advantages to Evernote. I would suggest you check the Evernote website for more great aspects of the app. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t other great note-taking apps out there, but Evernote has everything I need to stay organized and then some. So a couple questions for Apple users:

1. What other note-taking app do you use and what do you think are the advantages of it?

2. If you use Evernote, what ways would you use it with students to help them be successful.


Three Questions, Full Engagement

Okay, first I confess that I have not been posting on this blog nearly as much as I would like. The teachers here at West Langley are doing so many great things with the iPads and their students that I really need to committ to sharing more of it with those reading this blog. I could give excuses about how busy things have been, but those would be just that … excuses.

So having said that, today our Math enrichment group was fully engrossed and engaged in a simple app called Genius IQ Tasks. It is a free app with only three questions. Students have to complete one question before they are allowed to go onto the next one. And while they require some different kinds of thinking, they are quite solvable, even for middle aged students.


What was amazing to me though was how into they really were. They were working so hard at figuring out the answers and truly enjoying the process to get there. In fact, even after their class ended, they continued to come to me all afternoon with different thoughts and theories on the questions (particularly the last one). Just another app that is utilizing the advantages of the iPad and engaging students.

Story Telling with Puppet Pals

I know Puppet Pals HD  has been a popular app for sometime now. I had first heard about it a while ago when I began researching iPads for West Langley. Many educators talked about how engaging it was for students in allowing them to create their own animated stories. So it was great to see it being used first-hand with our grade 2 class.

In this first session, the teacher had the students create a story as a class with everyone contributing. Different students came up to the device to animate and narrate their part of the story. One of the great things about Puppet Pals is it allows teachers (and subsequently students) to break down a story into the different components (setting, characters, plot, climax, etc) and then, if desired, to focus on a particular one. Another great thing about the app is that it really encourages students to be creative. While the characters and settings offered in the free version are minimal (but certainly adequate to start), a few dollars will allow students to import their own pictures as well as use a wider variety of characters. One other thing that we like about the app here at West Langley is that students can then share their final products. Not only with each other in the room, but via email and YouTube. There is always added pride for the students when they know that what they are creating is going to be “published.” It also gives parents a chance to see what is going on with their child’s learning.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the students create when they have an iPad in their own hands. The story the class created was wonderful. I can only imagine what creativity will come through when left to their own devices.

Are there other story telling apps that schools are using out there? Please let us know.

The Versatility of Text to Speech apps

As we continue to integrate the iPads into our primary classes and learning services rooms, we are continually finding apps that not only can be used to engage students and enhance their school experience, but also to assist certain students so that deeper learning can occur. And a practical app that is getting used among students with special needs and beyond is a text-to-speech app called Voice Reader. It is a simple app, that is effective in translating different forms of text into audio recordings for students to then listen to.

There are many benefits to this app and of course, a few drawbacks. The biggest benefit is that it is easy to use. Our SEAs are able to either type in what they need read, copy paste the text or upload the document. In fact it will even take a PDF file and create an audio recording of the text. The advantage is that students can then listen to the text being read to them while they are able to read along. This has great implications for all subject areas. We have already used it to create audio recordings from text books, novels and we even used it as a reader for the provincially mandated Foundation Skills Assessments that were given to our students.

The biggest downside of the app is the “naturalness” of the voice. While it is not as painful as the first text-to-speech programs that hit the market many years ago, there is still a level of animatronic sound to the speakers. We have found that students don’t seem to mind after the first few minutes. I’m guessing they just appreciate having it read to them while they can read along.

Do any other educators have experience with this app?

Do you have any other text-to-speech apps you could recommend to use?

Making Guided Reading Assessment Mobile

At West Langley, we have 30 iPads for teachers to access. As of last week, all of our Special Education Assistants and Learning Services Teacher have had an iPad to use with our students with special needs. Also, our primary teachers have had them in groups of approximately 7 to use as centres in their classrooms.

So for the next few months, I’m going to focus my blog posts on how these educators have been using the iPad devices to engage students, to increase their learning and improve their achievement. Hopefully with this focus, we can not only share with other educators implementing iPads at their schools, but also get their feedback and ideas on how best to use the iPads in a school setting.

So here is the first one. Mrs. O’Byrne, our grade two teacher was sharing with staff how she used the iPads as part of her guided reading program. More specifically, she used the app, QuickVoice, and had students record themselves reading leveled books. She was then able to take the iPad home at night to not only listen to the student’s reading, but prepare formative assessment in order to direct her guided reading lessons for the next day. As all teachers know, it is difficult to get to all students during the course of a day. This strategy allowed her to access more students and also have the time to thoughtfully analyze how best to improve their reading skills. Very effective and thoughtful.

So in the comments section below please consider the following:

1. How else could you use the QuickVoice app to help with primary reading?

2. What other apps would be useful in primary guided reading groups?

Achooo!!! But What About My iPad

Last night I was sitting on my couch doing some work on my iPad. And as I was sneezing and coughing away, I got to thinking about the amount of germs I must be sharing with that bright HD screen staring back at me. It wasn’t, of course, a big leap to start wondering about how this was going to work with the students at West Langley. I mean my iPad is my iPad. I’m really the only using it (other than my own two kids) so it’s not really a big deal if I get germs on it. But what about the ones we have at school?


Later this week, we have 20 more iPads coming to West Langley. This will give us a full class set. And while students have been using the ones we already have, it won’t be long until many students are touching the iPads throughout the entire day … every day. So what does that mean during cough and flu season? I have asked my teachers and SEAs to focus on the educational aspects of the iPads. How can we use this technology to improve student engagement (which in turn improves learning which in turn improves achievement). And I have committed to taking care of the ‘technical and mangagement’ aspects of the iPads while supporting them with the educational pursuits. And while I am slowly becoming an expert in the technical aspects of running several iPads in the school setting, I haven’t really thought about how to deal with germs. Students will be coughing and sneezing and blowing their noses. And the iPad is designed to be touched by the very same fingers that will be catching the germs leaving the body.  And while I realize that kids share germs all the time, I’m left to wonder if there are things we can put in place to help prevent the further spread of germs.

So I guess I’m appealing to my professional learning network (PLN) for feedback and guidance. I know lots of you out there are using iPads in the elementary setting and are faced with the same issue of germs. How do you deal with it at your schools?



Time to Play, Time to Reflect

Yesterday, the primary staff at West Langley got together to give feedback on the iPads. After having them for about 4 weeks to play with, they were asked to talk about how they could see them being used in their classroom settings, what they liked about them and what questions/concerns arose. There was plenty that we discussed, but below is a brief summary of some main ideas.

But before I  summarize some of there feedback, it is worth mentioning how overwhelmingly excited they were about the potential of the iPad as an educational tool for the students. In fact, throughout this entire process, it has been exciting and exhilerating as an educational leader to have the staff be so motivated and genuinely excited about the potential of the iPad in the classroom. The teachers at West Langley are excellent teachers who are highly skilled and their willingness to continually grow as professionals for the betterment of our students is inspiring. Here is what they had to say:

Small groups vs Class-wide This was a bit of a surprise to me, but made total sense as the conversation progressed. I had originally viewed getting a class set of iPads so that they could use them in a 1:1 fashion with the entire class. The teachers however, felt that having 6 or 7 per class would allow them to fully integrate them in several different ways with different types of students on a more consistent basis. As they explored the device over the Christmas break, they visualized small groups of students using the devices as oppose to the entire class.

Student Friendly Interface This would probably come as no surprise to us fans of Apple products, but it was expressed more than once how easy it is for students to use the iPad. Since coming back from holidays, the teachers have already been using the iPads with their students and are impressed at the ease in which students can navigate the apps. Most things are quite intuitive and students can often simply pick up the device and go.

Transference of Skills A concern our teachers had was the transference of skills offered by some of the apps. Although they realize that there are many, many different types of apps out there, it was expressed that some of the apps would not likely transfer to other areas. One of the examples given was around spelling. A student who could move the letters into the right place in a particular word (because that is the only place the app will allow them to move the letter) may not actually be able to spell the word using pencil and paper. And while success is important, so is the iPads ability to help students acquire basic skills that will cross mediums and subject areas.

Potential with Students with Special Needs Again, for anyone who is familiar with the iPad, the potential use of the device with students who have special needs is not surprising. At West Langley, we are including our Learning Services staff in the implementation of the iPads and as the discussion progressed today, it was evident that all of us could clearly see how the device would be beneficial for some of our most at-risk students.

As I mentioned there were other things we discussed and will continue to discuss as we progress with the implementation of iPads at West Langley. Please give some feedback below on the things mentioned above or other feedback you may have regarding iPads in the classroom.

Collaboration is Key to iPad Implementation

Happy New Year everyone. It is great to be back. Let the iPad journey continue …

So today we had a great meeting at the district level to discuss iPad implementation in Langley. And what was clear to me today is that collaboration is a crucial part of successfully implementing iPads in any educational environment. And I think I already knew this since there is no way we would be able to do what we are doing at West Langley without the amazing cooperative work of our staff there. It is the team effort that has created the excitement and enthusiasm at our school. But as I met with other administrators and our district IT staff, it was clear that it will truly take a group effort to make iPads a success in Langley. And I can’t tell you how much I appreciated hearing the ideas of other professionals.

At the meeting were the following: Suzanne Hoffman (@SAHoffman), Langley District Assistant Superintendent; Cheryl Fernandes, District IT; Derek Miller, District IT; Gilbert Monsato, District IT; Sarban Sangha (@sarblangley), Principal; Vanessa Jaggi, Principal; Lisa Dolinski, Principal, Diana Wilk (@DianaWilk1), District VP of Special Education; Sandra Averill, (@Av3rill), District Teacher. I mention these people not only to show you some great people to follow on Twitter but to show the different people we are working with on our iPad journey. Having the opportunity to collaborate with these wonderful professionals was great.

So what did I learn today. Well I’ve already been accused of getting carried away and writing too much on each of my blogs  so far so let me see if I can sum it up in a few points:

Proactive Research Matters

It was great how prepared everyone was for the meeting today, especially from our IT department. It was quickly very clear that Cheryl, Derek and Gilbert had down their homework. They had visited other districts and attended a few workshops that allowed them to speak knowledgeably about what is needed to use these devices in our schools. They were able to answer questions we had and present us with concerns and pitfalls to be aware of.

Listen to Pitfalls

There were some great things mentioned today that I had already thought of and many that I had not. And in having this important conversation, I found myself again, appreciating the expertise and perspective that others bring to this journey. While many things were mentioned, some of the ones that stood out were:

1. The direction of Apple when it comes to buying apps for multiple devices in a school setting. I appreciated getting some specific information about Apple’s plan to move towards per/device costs when it comes to apps for the iPads.

2. The importance of having the proper infrastructure to start with iPads and expand within a school and a district. I have to admit, this is an area where I am much less knowledgeable so it was great to hear our district experts provide information about this area.

3. How to transition from primary grades, to middle school to secondary school. This was probably my favourite topic. I enjoyed thinking about how to make sure what we are doing with mobile devices coincides with the needs and desires of growing and developing students.

Of course, there were many more concerns we discussed. I’m sure those will come out in a later blog as we cross them at West Langley.

Enthusiasm is Contagious

Now I know this sounds obvious, but sitting in that meeting today and listening to everyone talk about the potential of iPads in the hands of our students was exhilarating. And if you can’t already tell, I’m pretty excited. But listening to all the ideas, specifically from Diana, Sarban and Lisa regarding students with special needs was awesome. At West Langley, my learning services teacher is on board with iPads. And knowing that there are other schools in Langley using the tablets for our students with special needs makes me want to get them into the hands of our learning services teacher and SEAs even sooner.


I have to admit that I was excited to come back after a wonderful Christmas break with my family. And a big part of that was the continuing journey of implementing iPads at West Langley. And after a day at school where I saw teachers using the iPads with students (check out the pix at our school Twitter – @WestLangley1) it was great to follow it up collaborating with such wonderful professionals.

Apps to Start With: Kindergarten – Grade 2

Over the past few weeks, I have been asked by a few different people for a list of the apps we loaded onto the iPads for our teachers to try out and experiment with over the Christmas break. So hence this blog. Below are screen shots (I find it easier to actually see what the icon looks like) of approximately 100 apps provided to our teachers to start with.

First I have to give credit to Janal MacDonald and the staff at Sandy Hill Elementary in Abbotsford School District. When I first started looking into apps for my teachers it was quite overwhelming. But after a visit to their school and seeing the iPads in action, it was not a huge leap to ask what apps they were already using with the students there. That was the beginning of my list and has since been supplemented with ones I’ve found (primarily through connections I’ve made on Twitter and Diigo).

It is also worth noting that these apps are for Kindergarten to Grade 2. And while there are many apps that would be useful at all grade levels, since this is our primary focus at West Langley, it only made sense to focus on these. And of course, even since I took these screen shots a couple weeks ago, I’ve found several more apps that I think would be great. But of course, one has to be cautious about doing too much too fast.

And a request please. If you know of any apps being used successfully in a primary classroom, please comment below and let me know. I know my teachers will come back after Christmas looking for more apps and the ones already tried and tested with students are always best.

So without further adieu …


iPads in the Hands of Teachers

So yesterday I met with the teachers at West Langley who will be using the iPads in their classes. And while I was full of anticipation and to be honest, some nervousness, about how they would respond, I was not totally prepared for the reaction they had.

At West Langley, we are beginning our iPad implementation at the primary grade level. So yesterday after school, I met with my kindergarten, grade one and grade two teachers to conduct a quick orientation on the iPad before sending them home for the holidays to play. I also invited our resource teacher since much of my research on the effectiveness of iPads in school has shown how valuable a tool it can be with students who have designations, especially those with autism (of which we have quite a few at West Langley). And given that we are in the midst of job action, I was happy that all of them agreed to attend.

As I mentioned before, I had preloaded the devices with approximately 130 apps in a variety of subject areas. My original thought was to let them find their own, but the more I reflected on it, the more I realized how overwhelming that could be for someone relatively new to the world of Apple. So through collaboration with a school in a neighbouring district, I gathered a collection of apps that were age appropriate and covered topics such as letter and number formation, phonics, word families, spelling, story books, numeracy, science, visual arts, music and general research.

The teachers and I spent a bit of time going over the basics of the iPad. While some had experience with iPhones and iPods, a quick demo of the home button, muting, etc got everyone on the same page. Then I decided to show them a few of the apps that I had loaded up for them to experiment with.

And this is where I was a little taken aback by how they received the apps. And when I say surprised, I mean pleasantly surprised. Before I even began talking about the first app that involved helping students with letter and number formation, the teachers were already completely engaged in the device. I could hear the sounds of them already playing with the app while I was in the midst of showing them on the projector. And the best part was, I could hear them saying things like, “This will be great for student X.” ABC Tracer app And as we continued looking at a few more apps, the immediate connection to using the iPads in the classrooms continued. “I’m going to use this as part of my low guided reading group,” Spelling Bug app  and “We need to get this in the hands of our resource students,” Dictation app  were just a few of the quotes that caught my attention. Almost innately, they were able to see the iPad being used successfully in their classrooms.

As the time went on, the enthusiasm seemed to grow and grow.  I knew the iPad had almost an intrinsic engaging quality to it so in some ways, this initial excitement was to be expected. But, what thrilled me the most as I watched the teachers playing with the device is how quickly they saw the application and benefit to students in their very own classrooms. As a former intermediate teacher and administrator for the past 9 years, a primary classroom is about as far from my comfort zone as you can get. Sure I’ve learned lots over the years, but I am by no means an expert in educating our youngest students. But to see the teachers immediately see the iPads as a beneficial educational tool for the students in their class motivated me even more to continue on with what we are doing at West Langley. And as you may have already determined, I’m already pretty motivated.

I already can’t wait to get back after Christmas to talk with them about what they have discovered and how they can see themselves using the iPads in their classrooms. I look forward to hearing from the true experts in primary and special education, how best to move forward with the implementation of iPads at West Langley. And if they saw that much potential in only an hour and a half, I can only imagine what they will come up with having an iPad in their hands for three weeks.