Author Archives: Nikolaos Chatzopoulos


Top STEAM tools for Online and Offline Learning: Part 2

Last week, we looked at some of the top STEAM tools for online and offline learning by exploring web-based platforms and unplugged lessons and board games. With President Obama’s recent initiative to bring computer science to K-12 education and make computer programming a basic skill for all students, many of you will be on the lookout for new and interesting ways to bring these STEAM tools to your classrooms. This week, we’ll look at two new categories of tools, robots, and microcomputers and microcontrollers.


Writing code and creating video games in the classroom can be a gratifying experience.  However, there are few things in life more exciting to a pupil than writing a few lines of code, and then watching a robot come to life by executing that particular code.  Today, there is a growing number of robots on the market that can be used in the classroom by teachers and students, and help them explore a world of endless possibilities.

Blue-Bot By Terrapin ($129)

Blue-Bot is one of the three popular bots made by Terrapin.  The other two, the Bee-Bot and the Car-Bot are equally engaging and fun to work with.  Students can write a set of instructions and steps that Blue-Bot can execute, so that Blue-Bot can navigate itself successfully through obstacles.   Students can either punch the directions directly on Blue-Bot’s control panel, or use the free Blue-Bot app and upload their code via Bluetooth.  Terrapin offers a variety of maps teachers can use with Blue-Bot.  In addition, the Blue-Bot’s free app is very handy, as it allows teachers to create their own maps from pictures.  Furthermore, teachers can purchase direction cards on Terrapin’s website, to help students visualize the code they generate.

Ozobot 2.0 by Ozobot & Evolve ($59)

Ozobot Bit is a nifty little robot that can do some impressive things.  The size of a cherry tomato, Ozobot has the ability to read different wavelengths of light, which allows the tiny robot to accomplish some impressive tasks.  Out of the box, an Ozobot can follow lines and paths drawn by students on a white piece of paper, or on a mobile device’s screen, if students wish to use one of the two free Ozobot apps.  In addition, students can use the cards with pre-made mazes that come with the Ozobot, to learn about the different conditional statements that makes the Ozobots speed up, spin, and flash its lights in a specific way, among other things.  However, things can get way more interesting when students use Ozoblockly, Ozobot’s web-based coding platform.  On Ozoblockly, students can use visual programming to write code that enables Ozobots to do a variety of things.  The platform offers advance options such as tutorials, sample programs, and the ability to save and exchange projects between users, which fosters collaboration among students.

Dash & Dot by WonderWorkshop ($199)

Dash & Dot are two robots that are designed to work with each other to accomplish tasks.  However, students can use Dash or Dot independently.  Dash is the largest and the most sophisticated of the two, so naturally it is the robot that students will most likely spend more time working with.  Dash allows for some advanced calibration and personalization.  Students can choose from a variety of pre-recorded sounds, or record their own, customize the light features, select the free play option and navigate Dash through obstacles, and many more other features.  The robot is ideal for digital storytelling and social studies projects that include maps and navigation, but can be used in every discipline successfully.  Dash and Dot come with a variety of apps, some of which allow students to use visual programming and blockly language to code instruction.  In addition, WonderWorshop’s website has been recently updated to include lesson plans teachers can access by subscribing to WonderWorshop’s program.

mBot by MakeBlock ($79)

mBot is a programmable robot that will keep students and teachers occupied for a long time.  mBot is the only robot on this list, and one of the few on the market, that can be programed in Blockly, as well as in Arduino.  The Bluetooth version is very reliable and particularly handy to work with.  Overall, mBot’s quality of materials and reliability of software are above average when compared to its competitors. 

Younger students can use MakeBlock’s free blockly apps to program the robot using visual programming, or just navigate the robot with accuracy.  Older students and/or students with advance programming knowledge, can use Arduino to program mBot.  mBot will set you back $79, which is only 1/5 of the cost of Lego MindStorms, making a compelling case for schools with limited budgets, who want to incorporate a versatile robot with diverse capabilities.


One of technology’s most noticeable traits is that, as time goes by, tech tools become smaller and smaller.  Computer boards are no exception.  Today, there are numerous pocket size boards, such as microcomputers and microcontrollers, many of which are used in the classrooms.  Microcomputers are full-fledged computers that can run multiple programs simultaneously, while microcontrollers can only run one program at a time.

These small but surprising powerful machines can accomplish numerous impressive tasks.  Classrooms across the world use microcomputers and microcontrollers to teach STEAM lessons and coding.

Raspberry Pi Starter Kit ($59)

Raspberry Pi is perhaps the most popular microcomputer in the world.  The third iteration of Raspberry Pi that was released recently is a lot more powerful than Raspberry Pi 2 and has the ability to become the base of a variety of STEAM and IoT projects in the classroom.  With a Raspberry Pi students can build weather stations and cloud storage drives, they can code on scratch and Python, and even build a home computer.

Microduino ($99)

Microduino modules are easy-to-use electronic building blocks that help bring LEGOs to life. They are as small as a quarter, stackable with magnetic connectors, and Arduino-compatible.  Each module has its own function.  For instance, there are Wi-Fi modules, Bluetooth modules, GPS modules, and sensors modules, to name a few.  Just by simply stacking the modules you need, you can create your own projects such as drones, robots, GPS trackers, and even 3D printers. 

One of Microduino’s main goals is to turn people’s ideas into reality.  Its smaller form factor and modular features make it ideal for young inventors who want to augment their creations and add a little pizazz to their projects.  In addition, there is a fairly large Microduino community that can provide support to novice makers as well as STEAM classrooms.   

Arduino Uno Starter Kit ($65)

Another commonly used microcontroller, Arduino Uno is based on Arduino, the popular open-source platform, who’s ability to take basic input signals and change them into output commands has made it very popular among people who enjoy creating DIY projects.  As one can imagine, a device with such capabilities can be incredibly popular with STEAM classrooms as well as classrooms that foster a culture of makers and support innovative ideas.

Some Final Thoughts

Data from other countries that implemented similar initiatives show that one of the biggest challenges in bringing Computer Science to K-12 classrooms is the fact that most K-12 teachers have not received any formal Computer Science training.   Therefore, visual programming and blockly languages appear to constitute an excellent place to start. 

We, at Plato Academy, embraced this framework, and view it as an opportunity to introduce computer science to the classroom, in an attempt to equip our students with the best skills they need in order to thrive in the modern world.  It is our hope that all teachers and institutions will soon view Computer Science as an integral part of modern education.

To learn more about computer science in the classroom, check out Nik’s presentations at the Superior Tech for Teachers conference – happening later this week!

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Top STEAM tools for Online and Offline Learning: Part 1

A few months ago, the President of the United States, Barack Obama, announced a bold new initiative that aims to bring computer science to K-12 education and make computer programming a basic skill for all students.  The implications of this development can be staggering: STEAM will become much more widespread.  Soon, teachers around the country will teach students computational thinking, looping, conditional statements, and other high order programming concepts.

There are several tools and platforms teachers can use to accomplish this goal.  These tools range from web platforms, to robots, to manipulatives teachers can use to teach coding.  Some are more powerful than others, and offer different gains, expertise, and rewards, but they all have a place in the classroom. 

STEAM and WEB-BASED PLATFORMS is an excellent free tool for teachers and students who have not had prior experience or formal training in computer programming. brings a lot to the table.  Teachers can find a comprehensive curriculum with detailed lesson plans, many of which have been written with the inexperienced computer science teacher in mind.  In addition to one of the most structured curriculums around, also offers a robust internal LMS platform called Code Studio, where teachers can create student accounts, monitor student progress in real time, and assign differentiated lessons and activities.  Furthermore, offers free training workshops for teachers almost everywhere in the United States, as well as web-based self-paced trainings. has been criticized for being, at times, repetitive, and for limiting creativity by offering only scenarios with pre-determined outcomes.  Although there are strong arguments on both sides of the fence, most people agree that has earned a prominent place in the classroom, and has done an amazing job in demystifying coding with many of its pioneering features such as the “Unplugged Lessons” and the “Hour of Code”. 


Several schools that have been teaching coding across the country have adopted the following trend:  teachers, following the gradual release of responsibility model, first use to introduce students to programming concepts, and then “graduate” them to a platform that offers more opportunities to unleash student creativity.  One such platform is Scratch.

Scratch, one of the first visual programming languages, and was created for the sole purpose of making computer coding approachable to younger audiences.  Scratch offers an open ended environment where teachers and students can create programs free of pre-determined outcomes, and unleash their creativity to create video games, interactive stories, and animations, among other things.  Scratch does come with a free classroom guide that helps get teachers and students become acclimated to the platform’s environment, and although the guide is not nearly as robust as’s curriculum, it does a superb job in helping students think computationally, and begin write complex programs.  Several schools around the world take advantage of Scratch’s powerful features and utilize the free web-based platform to teach programing concepts to children as young as 5 years old.


Unplugged lessons are coding lessons that do not require the presences of a device.  It may come as a surprise, but there are several board games out there that teach early coding concepts.  These games fall under the “unplugged lessons” category.  This is a brilliant idea, as coding board games reduce screen time, increase social interaction and collaboration, while encouraging students to use simple and advanced programming concepts such as order of operation, looping, as well as the use of variables and conditional statements.  Coding board games are also fairly inexpensive solutions, which makes them attractive to schools with small budgets.

LittleCodr ($19.99)

LittleCodr is a very simple board game that teaches young children the basics of programming.  It comes with five types of different cards called Action Cards – step forward, step backward, turn left, turn right, and a wildcard – that students can use to crate a path. The box also includes a set of cards with pre-determined paths called Missions that the students are expected to recreate using the action cards.  The game teaches students to code by creating step-by-step instructions, and if necessary, use debugging to correct any mistakes they made in the process.

Robot Turtles ($19.99)

One of the most popular board games for little programmers, Robot Turtles is ideal for teaching the fundamentals of computer programming to children as young as 5 years old.  The game comes with a board and a variety of cards called Tiles – robot turtle tiles, jewel tiles, bug tiles, and obstacle tiles – along with four card decks, one for each player.  The objective of the game is to use the code cards from the deck, to get a robot turtle to its matching color on the board, while avoiding obstacles and the all-annoying bugs.  Robot Turtles is very entertaining, as the rules dictate that players tap their bug tiles and yell “bug!” and make “funny turtle noises” among other things.  The game comes with detailed instructions that explain the basic game mode, as well as a number of modes such as Unlockables and Write a Program modes.  Overall, Robot Turtles constitutes a highly entertaining way to bring coding to the early childhood classrooms.

CodingFarmers ($39.99)

Coding Farmers is an ingenious coding adaptation of the popular board game Chutes and Ladders.  The game consists of a board and two sets of cards called Action Cards and Code Cards.  Action Cards contain instructions in English and in Java code.  Code Cards contain instructions in Java only.  The objective of the game is to navigate your pawn/tractor to the barn/finish.  Every time a player rolls the dice, he/she tries to make the best decision to avoid obstacles by successfully decoding action cards with instructions and conditional statements.  During the basic game mode players can use the actions cards and read the statements in English, while studying the respective Java statements.  However, in the advanced mode players are expected to use the code cards only, which will force them to use their knowledge in Java.  CodingFarmers can be quite challenging, as players are expected to manage and interpret complex conditional statements.  For this reason, the game is recommended for upper elementary, middle school, and high school students.  Last week, Mathandcoding, the company behind CodingFarmers, released a brand new game on Kickstarter called Treasure Hunt, which is a board game aimed to teach coding concepts to younger audiences.

Code Monkey Island (19.99)

Code Monkey Island is another board game that aims to teach little kids the basics of computer programming.  It is made of a board, 12 monkey pawns, 54 Guide Cards, 16 Fruit Cards and 10 Boost in a Bottle Cards.  Each player selects three random cards and he/she navigates three monkeys simultaneously.  The objective of the game is to guide all three monkeys to the banana grove at the center of the board.  The game teaches conditional statements and challenges the students to think abstractly in order to choose which card best applies to which situation.  One of the unique features of the game is that, aside from the rules, the instruction guide contains definitions and examples of several programming concepts such as variables, conditional statements, true/false scenarios, loops, etc. 

Bits & Bytes (£17.95)

Bits & Bytes is another inventive board game that teaches students the fundamentals of computer coding without using a device.  The game is made of two types of cards; Grid Cards and Instructions Cards, along with four Program Cards that serve as pawns, and four Planet Cards that serve as the finish line.  The objective of the game is to move the program cards/pawns to the planet cards/home, while avoiding bugs and walls.  The instructions include a basic game mode, as well as advanced rules and challenges for well-versed players.

Osmo Coding ($49.99)

Literally hot off the press, Coding by Osmo is a new unplugged activity that became available to the public during the last week of May 2016.  Although it works in combination with an iPad app, Coding by Osmo can be classified as an unplugged activity due to the fact that it uses manipulatives to create hands-on coding experiences for young children.  Coding uses Osmo’s ingenious idea of using manupulatives that can be “read” by the iPad’s camera with the help of a mirror, in order to interact with a program.  In this case, students use the high quality manipulatives to guide a video game character. In so doing, students write code that includes character movement in four directions, looping, and computational thinking.

There are more tools coming! Stay tuned for the next part in this series, where we talk about more STEAM tools like robots, micro computers and micro controllers. To learn more about computer science in the classroom, check out Nik’s presentations at the Superior Tech for Teachers conference this month!

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How a robot, app, and the cloud are bringing video learning into classrooms

Using video in the classroom to impact learning is a popular trend used by many educators across all grade levels and subjects. From flipped classroom practitioners to Khan Academy enthusiasts, countless teachers around the world agree that video learning is a pedagogical tool with a lot of potential. Swivl, a promising and robust video creation platform, promises to disrupt traditional video instruction and change the way educators record, manage, and share instructional videos with their students.

What is Swivl?

Swivl can be defined as a complete video learning solution. It consists of three elements that work seamlessly with each other: a hardware device called the Swivl Robot, an app for mobile devices named Swivl Capture, and a dedicated cloud hosting service called Swivl Cloud.



How it Works

The Swivl Robot is adjustable and can accommodate any mobile device, a phone or a tablet. All that a teacher has to do is place a mobile device on the Swivl Robot and use the marker, a sensor with a high quality microphone for audio capture that comes with Swivl. As the teacher moves around the room, Swivl will follow the movement of the marker, while the microphone captures audio. The marker is also equipped with two buttons that can be used to control the flow of slides, as well as to provide the teacher with capturing options.

See Also: The top 15 YouTube history channels for your classroom

The Swivl Capture app controls the Swivl Robot and enables teachers to manage their videos and slide presentations. Teachers can even use the app during recordings to control the timing of slides they have previously created and uploaded to the Swivl Cloud. The app will also automatically upload videos to the Swivl Cloud.

The Swivl Cloud is the place where a teacher can edit and trim a video, add slides that can be incorporated in the project, and finally produce and share the final product with their students. The Swivl Cloud works well with popular MLS’s, which makes sharing easy, and even allows students to enter comments, which stimulates discussion and encourages collective learning.


Pedagogical Implications Of Video Learning

Contrary to conventional video software and hardware solutions that require the teacher or speaker to be tethered to a specific area in front of the camera, Swivl provides the user with the ability to move around. In fact, Swivl encourages teachers to utilize movement and allows them to use slides, maps, and pictures that can be found anywhere in a classroom to improve their lessons, or just use proximity to improve the lesson’s effectiveness and increase student engagement.

Furthermore, Swivl is a tool with a huge potential for educators who are interested in the flipped classroom model, the blended learning model, or for teachers who simply want to record their lessons for absent students. Swivl’s user friendly interface and ability to capture, upload, and share the videos within one platform is something that many teachers interested in using video instruction in the classroom will find useful.

In addition, Swivl is an ideal match for teachers who are interested in the MakerSpaces movement in education. Swivl fits perfectly in dynamic learning environments that modify the teaching space on a daily basis, since it can be placed literally anywhere in the classroom and still do a fabulous job.

Finally, there is a lot to be said about Swivl’s enormous potential to be used as a Professional Development platform. The combination of the easy to use hardware with the unlimited cloud storage on the Swivl Cloud makes it ideal for educators or educational institutions who are interested in creating a bank of asynchronous PD sessions. The Swivl platform can be even used by organizers of education technology events to provide access to select sessions and content of the events to members of the educational community not able to attend.

Some Final Thoughts

Swivl is a platform that can empower educators to impact pedagogy in a dynamic way. Swivl’s 3-part instructional video creation model appears to be a complete solution that can be an attractive choice for many teachers, beginners or experienced video learning practitioners.

With so many teachers embracing video instruction it’s only natural that tools like Swivl will earn a place in many of our classrooms. It is exciting to see how educators will take advantage of the untapped potential of Swivl.

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2 simple ways to create digital textbooks for the classroom

Textbooks are an irrevocable part of every classroom, and sometimes, they constitute the classroom, school, or district curriculum. Teachers rely on them to teach concepts, and use them to illustrate examples, share ideas, and assign homework and class work.
However, any teacher who takes his/her job seriously will tell you that there is no textbook in the world that is perfect. This statement couldn’t be more relevant today, because the many changes the Common Core Standards introduced to our nation’s educational system has made many of the mainstream books and textbooks insufficient.
But, what if teachers could write their own books? What if they could write their own textbooks that complement, and in some cases, replace, the always expensive and often outdated textbooks, bypassing the slow textbook adoption policies of large states and districts around the country?
Even more importantly, what if students where given the tools to create their own books and textbooks in which they illustrate their understanding of concepts, and even use these books in the classroom to teach their peers?
Today’s technology makes these, once outlandish ideas, very possible.
There are several platforms teachers and students can use to create digital books that match, and sometimes surpass the quality of traditional books. Two of the most user-friendly and inexpensive tools are Book Creator and iBooks Author. Although both platforms have their advantages and disadvantages, they both are capable of creating state-of-the-art digital books that can transform learning in the classroom.

Book Creator

Book Creator is currently an iOS, Android and Windows app, with a web version coming out around the beginning of the next school year. The app is currently free for Windows users for limited time, while it costs $4.99 for iOS users, and $2.49 for Android users, although there are free versions of Book Creator on both the iTunes and the Google Play stores.
Despite some minor differences in features and appearance, regardless of what platform a user prefers, Book Creator’s performance is solid. Book Creator allows teachers and students to create and publish digital books that contain text, drawings, pictures, sounds, and video files.
As such, it offers the opportunity to create lessons that are exciting, and provide unique educational experiences for all students. For instance, teachers can use Book Creator to create a book that serves as an introduction to a concept he/she wants to teach.
Or, a teacher can assemble a book with videos, text, pictures and drawings on a concept that is not covered adequately by the current textbooks. The biggest advantage of these books is that they can be highly personalized and directed at a specific audience. That will enable students to create personal connections to the material covered by these books, which will increase the chances of knowledge retention dramatically.
Teachers are not the only ones who can take advantage of this powerful platform. Students can use Book Creator to assemble resources such as videos, pictures, and text in order to produce a multimedia project that illustrates their understanding in multifaceted ways. For instance, in our school, 4th graders used Book Creator to create a digital book of collaborating math videos, and then used these books to teach 3rd graders a number of 4th grade math concepts.
Here is a short tutorial on how to get started with Book Creator for Windows
[vimeo 134022750 w=500 h=368]

iBooks Author

iBooks Author is Apple’s free ebook authoring application for iBooks. It is a powerful platform that was designed to revolutionize modern textbooks. With iBooks Author teachers and students can easily write and publish interactive digital books and textbooks that have a professional look and are highly engaging.
Much like Book Creator, iBooks Author users can add text, images, sounds, videos and drawings to their books. However, Apple’s platform is much more diverse and offers a level of customization that can only be seen in professional desktop publishing applications.
Users can use a number of widgets to bulid-in their book review questions, interactive texts and images, 3D objects, Keynote presentations, and even HTML5 widgets that almost everyone can build without coding experience. The final product can be shared with students and enjoyed on an iPad, or, it can be published on the iTunes store.
As one can imagine, the implications of this are staggering. Teachers and students can reach vast audiences and break the barrier of the classroom microcosm by connecting to others on a global scale, as they can create digital books that can be literally downloaded by anyone in the world. The power of connectivity in conjunction with the power of creativity can drive innovation to a whole new level and open the door to a brave new world for all students.
One of the more important responsibilities and duties of a teacher is to encourage his/her students dream and empower them to become masters of their own learning. Teachers and students around the country are creating a small revolution by using technology to create their own books and textbooks. The question you have to ask yourself is, are you ready to join this revolution?

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How to use Osmo in the classroom

Today the field of educational technology is literally bombarded with new ideas and devices that promise to revolutionize the way we teach. Some of these newcomers have strong potential and promise a unique learning experience. One such product is Osmo. Osmo is an innovative device that transforms an iPad into an interactive classroom accessory able to add a level of excitement that engages students in the learning process.
Osmo is made of a vertical base for the iPad, and a reflective mirror that sits in front of the camera. These two unassuming accessories work together to change the physical space in front of the iPad into an area of active engagement that interact with a number of iPad apps made for Osmo.

Osmo Kit

Osmo will only set you back $79, but for that money you get a well-designed Kit along with four Osmo apps you can download for free. Aside from the base and the reflective mirror, Osmo comes with a set of tangrams and two color-coded sets of alphabet letters. This may seem simplistic at first, but these modest accessories can guarantee hours of enjoyable learning and turn mundane and repetitive learning activities into highly appealing and engaging lessons.

Words App

Words is the most interesting, and the app with the highest educational value of all Osmo apps. Words has a lot of potential in the elementary classroom and the fact that it is highly customizable makes it ideal for all elementary grade levels, from Kindergarten to 5th grade. The app consists of two sets of color-coded alphabet letters that the students can use to interact with the app. The objective is to guess and use the correct letters in order to match the target word on the iPad’s screen. Words does a superb job in differentiating and offering diverse levels, which enhances the experience. For instance, K-1 students can start using the Junior level, while everyone else can use the standard level that comes with the app. Even within the standard level there are four different difficulty levels. Depending on the level you choose, words may be single or multi-syllable words, and a picture in the background may provide little, some, or a lot of support.
Users who own an Osmo unit can create an account at, and this is where things get very interesting. From there the teacher can generate his/her own lists of words and pictures. The implications of this are staggering.
Due to its highly customizable nature, Osmo allows teachers of all subjects to create their own albums, therefore making Osmo relevant to any subject, math, reading, social studies, or science. Creative teachers can design spelling bee contests, math games, science vocabulary quizzes, social studies puzzles, Cloze sentences, and the list goes on. Furthermore, at teachers have access to a growing number of public albums they can download on their iPad for free, ensuring that there is always something new to engage the students.


The newest addition to the Osmo family, Masterpiece, is a fun and super engaging drawing app that can elevate the excitement in any art class. The app contains a good number of curated pictures that, when selected, transform into drawings that you have to recreate. The camera tracks your pencil’s every move while it guides you to follow the lines, which allows you to be incredibly accurate while drawing. In addition, the app records in real time every line you draw, and comprises a time-lapse video of your drawing, which is a very neat feature.
Following in the Footsteps of Words, Masterpiece allows the user to import his/her own pictures, opening the door for some quite astonishing challenges. Self-portraits, familiar landscapes, and favorite pets are only some of the things the students can interact with and draw using this truly intuitive app.

Tangram App

Tangram is an old Chinese game made of a square divided into seven basic geometric shapes that can be put together to create hundreds of other shapes.   Osmo’s twist on this old game is ingenious and highly interactive. The tangram app displays a shape on the screen and the objective is for the students to recreate this shape using the real life tangram pieces that come with the Kit. The app is designed to adjust the difficulty level and the support it provides to the student, therefore the teacher can differentiate lessons and activities to meet the needs of a diverse group of students.
Although tangram is ideal for K-2 students, as it can be used to introduce students to the properties of 2- dimensional shapes, upper elementary students can benefit from working with the app as well. The app can be used to teach students how to visualize 2- dimensional shapes, and to think out of the box in order to combine commonly used shapes to create unusual forms and arrangements.

Newton App

Osmo’s doodle application easily earns the title of the most basic app of Osmo. Newton is a game in which the objective is to draw lines on a piece of paper placed in front of the iPad, in order to force the balls falling from the top of the screen to hit certain targets. This is the equivalent of a pinball game played on the iPad. Although Newton falls short in providing some strong educational value, it is still great for hand-eye coordination practice for K-2 students, not to mention the hours of fun students can have challenging each other.

Apple TV & Osmo

I am a strong believer of the fact that an Apple TV can make a great classroom accessory, and I have written about that in the past. Using Osmo in conjunction with an Apple TV opens up a wide range of possibilities in the classroom.   One of Osmo’s greatest strengths is its ability to make the learning experience social. However, you are still limited by the small size of the iPad’s screen, so only a small number of students can share the experience. Mirror the iPad to an Apple TV and you have a very different picture. The whole class can participate and be part of a lesson, in which physical interaction goes well beyond the usual tapping of the iPad’s screen. That’s learning at its best!
Nik is going to be presenting about apps and web tools at the Superior Tech 4 Teachers conference in Clearwater, Florida this coming June. Make sure to check out this excellent professional development opportunity!

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Education Work

Easily create an eBook with these 3 powerful apps

Digital books are transforming the way students of all ages learn today. The interactive elements of digital books enhance the learning experience, making it far more informative and interesting than before. Many teachers today are embracing this new media and producing some high quality student-made eBooks in their classrooms.

One of the most fascinating ways to create an eBook is using a mobile device, particularly, an iPad. StoryKit, Book Writer, and Book Creator are 3 apps my students have used to create some highly interactive, professionally looking eBooks. All three apps are excellent examples of tools that allow students to unleash their creativity and tell their own stories.

See Also: Do eBooks change the way we read, and authors write?

StoryKit (free)

StoryKit is a user-friendly free app that allows students to create eBooks with text, pictures, sound recordings, and drawings. The app allows users to import pictures from the iPad’s Camera Roll, supports multi-language text, and student made illustrations.

Although it is not as powerful as other eBook creation apps, its lack of complex features makes it ideal for lower elementary students, or, for teachers and students who are new to eBook creation. StoryKit’s main advantage is its ability to provide a platform that gives students a voice and allows them to narrate their own story. The final product can be enjoyed on the iPad, or it can be shared with others via email.

The interactivity of eBooks created with StoryKit is limited to the playback of the sound files that can be up to one minute long. Also, the app does not support file exporting or printing. Nevertheless, StoryKit is a solid authoring app that allows students to create their own eBooks from scratch, and share them in ways that protect the user’s privacy.

Book Writer (free/$4.99)

Users looking for an app with more impressive features can try Book Writer; an innovative app students and teachers can use to create eBooks. Much like StoryKit, the app supports text, audio narration, drawings, and pictures, and utilizes a user-friendly interface that makes creating an interactive book a breeze.

However, Book Writer has some additional functions to offer. For instance, students can import video files into their projects, a feature that makes their eBooks truly exciting. In addition, the app supports advance sharing options such as Dropbox, Google Drive, and iTunes integration, and it even allows you to open your final product in iBooks.

Furthermore, the app allows students to customize the text’s size and color, and is enriched with some rare additional features such as link integration, slideshow mode, and background music. All these qualities guarantee a final product with a highly professional look and feel.

The free version allows the user to create only one book at a time. If you are only planning on using the app once or twice, students can share their eBook with others or open it in iBooks, and then start a new book within the app that replaces the old one. However, teachers who plan on using the app on a regular basis can buy the full version that will allow the entire class to create multiple eBooks as well as to unlock additional distribution options.

Book Creator (free/$4.99)

Book Creator is one of the most intuitive book creation apps for mobile devices, and it is the only book authoring app that can be used on more than one platform, namely, iOS and Android. The app is equipped with one of the easiest and most straightforward interfaces around, and it is one that requires no learning curve.

Book Creator allows students to import text, hand drawings, illustrations, pictures, sound files, narration, and video files, making it ideal for advance eBook creation that utilizes complex techniques such as app smashing, digital storytelling, and project based learning. Furthermore, students have the ability to combine multiple eBooks into larger books, export these books in ePub, PDF or movie format, or print them using the app’s AirPrint support.

Teachers and students using Book Creator are able to export their final projects to almost all of the major cloud storage services such as Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, and iCloud. They are also able to send their work directly to iTunes University, iBooks, and even publish their eBooks on Apple’s iTunes store, so that they can share their work with anyone who lives in the Apple ecosystem.

Much like Book Writer, before buying the full version, teachers and students can try the free version of the app, which allows them to create only one book. The Book Creator Team is currently working on a plan to integrate additional widgets that will allow for 3-dimensional objects, quizzes, and other features that will improve the user experience dramatically.

Some Final Thoughts

The rise of digital books has transformed the way students of all levels are interacting with textbooks and other learning materials. Exploring new frontiers has always been a human innate trait.

Naturally, students are fascinated by eBook creation, and when immersed in this new media, they are more willing to experiment, take risks, and engage in collaborative content creation and learning. Digital book creation provides students with all the tools necessary to help them unleash their creativity. As such, it redefines education by helping students engage in new learning behaviors.

Nik will be presenting on this topic at the February 9-11 iPad Summit in San Diego. Registration is open!

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3 EdTech Tools for the One iPad Classroom

iPads are amazing learning instruments that can improve instruction and student engagement dramatically. Those of us privileged enough to work in 1:1 iPad classrooms can attest to that. But lets be realistic: most classrooms around the world do not have access to the funds and resources necessary to equip a full classroom with iPads for each student. There are numerous teachers who have access to only one iPad at school, or they just own an iPad and think it would be a great idea to be able to use in the classroom. Luckily, there are several EdTech tools teachers can use in the One iPad Classroom in order to create lessons that are exciting, and provide unique educational experiences for all students.

one iPad classroom


Apple TV in the One iPad Classroom

An Apple TV can literally transform the One iPad Classroom into an collective interactive experience for all students. Due to the fact that the Apple TV supports AirPlay and mirroring, it is able to provide visual access of the iPad screen to all of the students in the classroom. With the help of the little black box, the teacher can transform the iPad into a high definition portable document viewer that can be used to show teacher and student work in real time. Furthermore the combination of an Apple TV with an iPad can enhance several parts of an everyday lesson. For example, a teacher can use a digital book on the iPad to implement a read aloud. The read aloud can now become interactive. As the teacher reads the text from anywhere in the room, any student can use the iPad to highlight, annotate, and insert text and captions, transforming a simple read aloud activity to a highly engaging experience for all of the students. An Apple TV is a great investment for One iPad Classrooms because it allows the teacher to craft highly engaging lessons that promote creativity and create spaces for collective engagement.

Aurasma in the One iPad Classroom

Augmented Reality has always been a captivating concept. People love watching impressive animations appear out of nowhere and provide the viewer with additional information that enhances the learning experience. Aurasma is a free augmented reality app that can be used in the One iPad Classroom by students working collaboratively. Students can take turns and use the iPad to take pictures of their work and turn them into time-lapse videos, or make short videos of each other explaining a math, reading, writing, or science concept. Students that are technologically savvy can take it a step further and use appsmash and apps like iMovie or Tellagami to create even more sophisticated products as shown in the video below.
Here is a short tutorial on how to do that.

The students can work collaboratively and use these pictures and videos to create auras and triggers. The teacher can post the triggers-images around the classroom, and the students can use the iPad collectively or individually to make the pictures-triggers come alive.
Here is a short tutorial on how to do that

An Apple TV can easily transform the above activity from individual, to a collective educational experience. By mirroring the iPad on the projector’s screen, every single student becomes an active participant of the lesson and the whole classroom is engaged in continuous learning.

Plickers in the One iPad Classroom

Up until a few years ago, audience response systems were extremely expensive, difficult to navigate and utilize, and often needed additional tech equipment, usually a smartboard, in order to function. The introduction of tablets and laptops at schools changed that, as highly affordable, extremely effective, and completely free of charge apps and platforms such as Socrative and Kahoot made audience response systems user friendly and easily accessible. However, these platforms require that each student has access to a digital device. Luckily, there is an audience response system that One iPad Classroom teachers can utilize in the classroom to collect real time data from formative assessments, and its name is Plickers.

Here is a short tutorial on how to set up Plickers.


Pickers is an empowering application because it is armed with the unique ability to change the mundane task of taking a test into a highly interactive and enjoyable lesson that results in an authentic learning experience.

Plickers is very easy to set up and once it is up and running, it can be used by teachers to create assessments, exit tickets, or just simple questions. Plickers allows the teacher to collect data in order to check student understanding in formal and informal ways, and it does so very intuitively, with the help of only one iPad and a number of cards with QR Codes. Each card corresponds to a specific student. The cards are equipped ingeniously with four options, which the students can select by just turning the card to a different orientation. Teachers can use Plickers to spice up their lessons and engage students with the platform’s kinesthetic approach and its capacity to give students the chance to interact with the lesson collectively.

Want to learn more about integrating the iPad and other EdTech tools in your classroom?

Nik will be presenting at the Superior Schools Tech Conference June 17-19, 2015 in Clearwater, Florida.  Don’t miss out on the  Pre-Conference workshop featuring a hands-on workshop creating iBooks in the classroom! You can follow Nik on Twitter @chatzopoulosn

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How to use App Smashing on the iPad to create an iBook

iPads can be powerful teaching tools. In classrooms around the world iPads are mainly used by teachers and students for consumption, curation, and creation of information. Naturally, due to its simplicity, consumption of information is the most common way in which iPads are used in and out of the classroom. Also, many people use iPads for curating and organizing content. However, creation of information is one of the most powerful ways students can use iPads in the classroom because it allows them to unleash their creativity and illustrate their knowledge in multifaceted ways.

One of the most inventive ways of using iPads to create content is app smashing. App smashing is the process of using more than one apps in conjunction with one another to create a final product. Combine that with the unique ability of Apple’s products to communicate content seamlessly between devices, and students have at their disposal the perfect powerhouse of content creation. In this article, I will outline the process I use with my students in order to create a final product that redefines learning and provides a glimpse into the creativity and inventiveness of the human mind.

app smashing

How to make an iBook with app smashing

Step 1

Start with the end product in mind

Before beginning a project, one has to ensure that he/she has a clear vision of the final product. This is mainly because the playful nature of many of the iPad’s apps makes it easy for a child to get distracted and eventually deviate from the main goal. In my classroom, before we even begin a project, we discuss what we want to achieve, and define as clearly as possible what the final product should look like, as well as what we will try to accomplish during each individual step.

Step 2

List the apps you’ll use

Once the final product is clearly defined, then the process of app selection begins. The goal here is to curate a collection of apps that a) communicate with each other via the Camera app, or via the “open in” function, and b) allow the user to build a layer of content, that will serve as a foundation for the content that will be laid upon by the next app.

Step 3

Outline the process with specific details

Most children today are digital natives and need little or no support, even when they work with fairly complex digital content. However, many elementary children, not to mention most adults, will probably need some level of support, at least during their first app smashing activity. One of the best strategies here is to create an outline specifying the different steps the students should follow when they work with each app. A short video tutorial might be a great guide that answers all, or most of the questions that students might have, and refines the process.

Step 4

Publish the final product in accessible and appropriate ways

Once the final product is created, it should be shared so that the students will demonstrate their knowledge beyond the walls of the classroom. This inevitably creates some challenges, as privacy concerns should be addressed, especially with younger children. Although YouTube and social media might be appropriate places to share content created by some students, there may be other services or platforms that are more suitable for other students, especially elementary students. Some examples are Vimeo, DropBox, Box, TeacherTube, and Google Drive. Parents, teachers, and schools define the various levels of privacy differently, which means that the choice might be based on factors that provide a level of privacy acceptable by everyone.

Putting theory into practice: Making your iBook

Step 1

Start with the end product in mind

The students will create an iBook about the Solar System. The iBook will contain text, pictures, videos, and 3-dimensional models.

Step 2

List the apps you’ll use

iPad Apps: Tellagami, iMovie, VideoScribe, VideoMix, Camera, GarageBand, Keynote.
Apple MacBook Apps: iBooks Author
3D Software: SketchUp

Step 3

Outline the process with specific details

Here is a video tutorial that explains that process

[vimeo 106767373 w=660 h=281]

Here is a video tutorial that explains the how to create an intro video for your iBook.

[vimeo 109113921 w=660 h=313]



On any computer, Mac or PC, open SketchUp, click on the picture of the person that appears when you start a SketchUp project and then click “delete”. Once your area is clear, Click on “File”, then “3D Warehouse”, then “Get Models”. In the upper left corner, in the “search” field, type the word of the object you need, in this case, a planet. Click on the picture you need, and then click “download”. That will bring the picture in the Sketch Up model. Then click “File”, “Export”, and then “3D Model”. Name the file and make sure you save it as a .Collada file. Your 3D file is now ready to be imported in iBooks Author. Alternatively, you can use the process outlined in the video below and create your own 3D content.

iBooks Author

On a MacBook, open iBooks Author and choose a template. Use the appropriate wizards to import videos, pictures and the 3D Collada files you created in SketchUp. Bring in the intro video you created in Keynote and drop it in “Intro Media”. When you finish your iBook, click on “File” then “Export”, then “iBook”.

Here is a video that explains the SketchUp/iBook Author process

[vimeo 108770664 w=660 h=283]


Step 4

Publish the final product in accessible and appropriate ways

The final iBook was uploaded on the school’s Google Drive and it was shared with the students via their school email addresses.

NOTE: Plato Academy has adopted Google Apps for Education. Every teacher, parent, and student at Plato Academy has his/her own email account.

Nikolaos Can be reached at and on Twitter @chatzopoulosn

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How to use Google Classroom for professional development

Last month I wrote a post titled ‘3 Different Things You Can Do With Google Classroom‘. Soon after, I received several emails and Twitter messages from people who read that article on Edudemic, and are interested in ideas and ways Google Classroom can be used for Professional Development.We have been experimenting with different scenarios and settings for using Google Classroom for PD at my school, Plato Academy Clearwater, during the last month. We have generated several workflow examples and experimented with almost all of them. We’ve had some successes (and some failures!), but the ones that seem to be working the best for us are so great that we wanted to share them with you!

google classroom for professional development

Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s) & Google Classroom

The Team Lead in every grade can create a course, and invite/register the rest of the team. He/She can create as many courses as there are subjects he/she teaches/leads. If the school is departmentalized, the Team Lead can create one course per subject. For instance, a Math & Science Team Lead can create one course for math and one for science. A Language Arts Lead can create a Reading course a Writing course, and a Social Studies course.

The Team Lead can choose to either use the Announcements, or the Assignments, to initiate discussion on a subject. He/She can attach the agendas before every meeting, which can be edited by all the members at any time AND in real time, upload instructional and “how to” videos, and even share and co-create common assessments in real time, even if the team members are based at a different location.

Google Classroom for Professional Development

A teacher/trainer can create a course in Google Classroom, which is going to be the training session he/she offers, and invite teachers/participants to join the course. The trainer shares with the participants the PowerPoint slides of the training via the Announcements tab, and handouts of the training via the Assignments tab. Here, the trainer can use the option “Make a copy for each student” from the menu that appears at the right side of the attached document, so that the teachers/participants can have a clean copy of the attachment, which they can then use in their classroom with their own students. In addition, the trainer can post questions about the training, which the teachers/participants can answer individually or collaboratively in groups, or even collectively as a whole group. The collaboration can happen in real time, or at the trainees’ leisure, if the trainer chooses to set a due date and/or time for the question/assignment. At more rigorous trainings, ones that require the participant to produce evidence of the knowledge they gained during the training, the trainer can assign real assignments to the teachers/participants, which he/she can grade, using Doctopus and/or Gubric. Here is a video that explains how this is done.

Principal – Teacher Collaboration with Google Classroom

Principals and administrators can take advantage of the power of Google Classroom to guide and lead instruction, or to share with their faculty certain information of key importance. For instance, in my school, my principal decided to use Google Classroom to create a secure and private online place to share with her teachers important information on Florida Standard Assessment (FSA). She created a course named FSA, and she uses that course to curate and organize information the Florida DOE publishes on FSA. Every time she adds an item, the teachers/students in this course receive an email. If the item is of great importance, the principal then creates a short assessment for the teachers to complete. Since all teachers are in the course as “students”, they can communicate with each other, exchange ideas, and offer support, under the Announcements tab within Google Classroom. During Professional Development Days, teachers can collaborate in real time and conduct vertical planning sessions, build common assessments collaboratively, and support each other in multifaceted ways.

About The Author

Nikolaos Chatzopoulos currently teaches 4th grade Math and Science at Plato Academy, in Clearwater, Florida. He is a technology enthusiast, and enjoys discovering ways to incorporate technology in the classroom in meaningful ways, in order to provide opportunities for authentic learning experiences.

Nikolaos can be reached at and on Twitter @chatzopoulosn

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