It has been a little longer than I wanted to since my last post, but it has been pretty manic the last week or so and I haven’t gotten round to adding my next App. As such this is also going to be quite a short one, looking at an app for testing for various forms of colour blindness called ColorTest. It is an app that whilst very limited in scope (it shows examples of Ishihara colour vision testing plates), but has been useful when discussing genetics in general, and X-linked characteristics in particular.
There are 24 different plates testing for the various forms of colour blindness. when you click next it says what a person with colour vision would see and what a person with impaired colour vision might see.
Pro: It does exactly what it says on the tin, and does it well enough. There are obviously internet sites that do this just as well but at least this free app has no adverts.
Con: The teacher has to provide the genetics background, but then it never sets out to explain this.
This post is going to look at a more general iPad app that is used both by myself on a day-to-day basis and by my students. This app is Notability. As in my last post I will discuss some of the features of the application and then look at some the practicalities.
Notability, as the name might suggest, is a note taking application. And cutting to the chase a little, it is a really good one. Like most iPad users I started of using Notes for making ,well, notes. The lack of handwriting recognition and just the general clunkiness of it drove me to have a look at number of other Apps which included Penultimate, Notify and Evernote (which is its own case and has some excellent applications (as it can be independent of an iPad) once I get my head around it fully). Notability came out ahead in part because the students at my school had it in their starter App pack, and I thought it essential that I found out what I could do with it. Making and organising your notes is straightforward, as is exporting to various other applications (be it email, DropBox or attached to a Tweet).
When using Notability to make notes you have the option to use the keyboard (which is a little annoying as it covers half the screen as in most iPad Apps) or write using the pen function. This is easiest with a stylus (although my handwriting, which is bad at best, gets worse), although some of the students manage to very neat notes with their fingers. Initially I struggled with Notability as I had not figured out how to use the magnify tool which zooms into a section of the page you are writing on and allows you to write smaller text more easily.
Notability easily takes images from your image roll and allows you to put them into your note, allowing you to resize it and edit certain features. It can also take direct links from the Internet and insert them into your text as an image.
Now to the part that I think most of my readers (and thanks for bothering to read my first post BTW) are interested in, which are the applications within the classroom. As a teacher I use it for general note taking but it really comes into its own when marking electronically submitted work on an iPad. Any Word/Pages file can be saved as a pdf (using the Pages app in my case, though I am sure other conversion tools are readily available) and imported into Notability where it is straightforward to mark on to the pdf. You can the send the student their marked work back whilst retaining a copy for your records.
None of the students in my school have had a great deal of training in using this app but they can do great things with it. I have seen students produce practical reports produced by Notability including images of the experimental set up and their results. One thing it cannot do yet is allow a video clip to be inserted into it directly, but you could imagine students uploading a video clip and sticking the direct link into their work. At the moment many students are still figuring out what their favourite method of taking notes is, but as it develops I am certain that many more exciting uses will come up. I will keep you up to date!
Pros: Easy to use, powerful note taking application with many export options
Cons: No video import, no graphing functions (students would have to produce a graph by hand or in Numbers (though that has its own issues) and import it into the app).
The first iPad application that I will look at is a Science app. I will try to alternate between dedicated science apps and the application of more general apps to science education. I have chosen to look at a little-known app called BugSim first (BugSim) . This free app can be used to teach the theory of natural selection.
It is not going to win any beauty prizes but it can demonstrate aspects of natural selection to students. It comes with a couple of preset scenarios as well as the ability to set up your own scenarios. It is based on a 1989 paper about using genetic algorithms to model natural selection. There is a certain amount of food in the environment, and the food regenerates at a certain rate. Both of these can be controlled using a slider before you start the simulation or during. You can also change the initial population size as well as the mutation rate of the “bugs”.
The bugs need to eat a certain amount of food per time unit by passing over it. If they fail to reach this target, they die. The bugs can move into any of 8 directions depending on which of their genes are turned on. If all 8 movement genes are turned on the bug can move into any direction when it moves, and as such ends up staying in one place. If only one movement gene is turned on (say move left), then the bug can only move left. It is beneficial to stay in one place if the food regenerates there quickly; however it is suicide if the food does not generate in one place but at random across the screen. This is where the natural selection comes in.
Now let’s consider how this would work in a classroom setting. The student can set up a scenario of their own choice, or using instructions from their teacher, set up a specific scenario. They run the simulation and note what is happening. They can take screenshots whilst the simulation is going on to generate a timeline. Once the first scenario has played out another scenario can be started and the two results compared. Questions could be to explain why the outcomes of the different scenarios (e.g. one with random food distribution and one with a centralised food source called “garden of Eden” in the application) were different using the theory of natural selection. This could also be used as an initial discussion point leading into the theory of natural selection.
Pros: Excellent algorithm, multiple scenarios and options to generate new scenarios.
Cons: Not the prettiest, needs explanation before the students find it easy to work with.
Welcome to this new blog that will discuss educational technology (both that which has been around for awhile, and that which is on the horizon) and looks at judging at its impact on secondary education with a specific slant towards science and biology teaching.
I am a Biology teacher who is currently working in a leading independent school in the UK. The vast majority of my students have been issued with iPads on a 1:1 basis so many of my future posts will be slanted into this area. If any readers have any requests for reviews and uses of specific technology, let me know and I will have a look.
Alex van Dijk