Fluency Timer Now Available for iPad/iPod/iPhone

My desktop app, Fluency Timer, is now available for the iOS (iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touches). The app provides an adjustable timer with integrated voice recording to allow teachers, parents, and students to easily record student fluency readings. It’s designed simply so that even primary age students can use the app to record themselves reading.

Research has shown that having students listen to themselves reading increases reading fluency, particularly for English Language Learners.  While there are many capable voice recorders, I wanted an app that would stop after a predetermined amount of time and not go on forever.  Having it stop on its own means that I can focus on listening to students reading and not have to keep an eye on the clock.  Teachers can use the app with students or set it up as an instant center activity.

By recording fluency readings, teachers can review them for patterns of errors and play them back for students, parents, and colleagues.

Download the pro version to eliminate advertisements and add the ability to transfer multiple recordings to your desktop:


The app allows you to individually e-mail recordings.  The length of the timer can be adjusted.

More information about the app and the different versions is available at fluency timer.net

My Guide to iPad Deployment in School

Almost two years ago to the day, I wrote a post, “The iPad:  Why Teachers Should Care.”  Flash forward to today, both of the schools I work at have purchased one iPad for each classroom.  Although I’ve already mastered how to manage all the iDevices in my personal household, learning to manage iPads in an institutional environment involved a bit more learning due to the complexities of software licensing and the necessity to keep institutional accounts separate from personal ones.

School Accounts You’ll Need:

1.  A generic e-mail address.  You can use a school’s generic e-mail address.  However, I would not use any employee’s e-mail address since it’s impossible to guarantee that any employee will be at a particular school forever.  This is part of the not mixing institution and business accounts.  I signed up for a generic e-mail address with gmail.

2.  An Apple ID account associated with the generic e-mail address you set up.  Create this account without associating a credit card with the account (unless your school uses a credit card to make purchases).  This will be your school’s iTunes account for all practical purposes.  It will be used for purchasing free apps and redeeming codes purchased using your Volume Purchase Account (see below).

3.  A Volume Purchase Account (VPP).  This is the account in which you deposit iTunes gift cards and then purchase apps in bulk.  If you’re in a large district, your district likely already has a program manager.  You need to ask that person to set you up as a program facilitator.  If you try to sign up without that person, you’ll get an error through the Apple web site.

To repeat, you deposit gift cards into the VPP account and then redeem the download codes you receive through your school’s Apple ID.  Unlike at home, where you can legally install purchased apps on all your devices after buying them just once, at school you need to purchase the app as many times as there are devices.  However, they are often offered at a 50% discount when you buy 20 or more.

Although you buy 20 codes, you really only redeem one of the codes.  The other 19 codes are saved in case your school is ever audited for legal compliance.

We do not share any of the passwords for these accounts with the teachers at our school.  Teachers will receive updates to school apps and new apps we’ve purchased for the school periodically.

Personal Accounts You Should and Shouldn’t Use

Some schools do not allow teachers to install their own apps on the school iPads.  Teachers at those restrictive schools may come to feel like the iPad is not their own.  I opted to allow teachers at my schools to install apps from their personal accounts on their iPads.  I want them to feel like the iPads belong to them and for them to become experts at using the devices.

Individually Purchased Apps

Teachers can simply log out of the school account and log in to their own account to install apps they’ve previously purchased or purchase new apps.  It’s less expensive for a teacher to purchase a single app than for the school to buy twenty-four copies of it.

FaceTime and iMessages

Teachers should immediately log out of the school’s FaceTime and iMessages account under their respective tabs in settings.  Teachers can either log in using their own accounts or stay logged out.  Otherwise, iMessages sent by a single teacher will automatically appear on everyone’s iPad.


Teachers may wish to log-in to iCloud and choose which services they wish to use (e-mail, iTunes match, photo stream, contacts, calendar, etc.)  They don’t have to enable all of them but will likely want to use some of them.

Find My iPhone

Since we expect each teacher to take responsibility for not losing their iPads, I strongly encourage teachers to install the Find My iPhone app and use it to track the iPad should it ever be lost.

Setting Up the iPads

I purchased approximately 40 free apps and installed them on an iPad (more on what those are later), organizing the apps in folders by subject matter so that teachers feel more comfortable exploring even if they don’t know what the apps are.  I then set up each subsequent iPad to restore from the original iPad’s backup.  This ensures that each iPad begins with some structure and organization even if future apps will not necessarily end up in the correct folders automatically.

iPad Apps in Folders

What’s in a Name?

At my science magnet, we named the iPads after famous scientists and at the arts magnet we named them after famous painters.  Naming the iPads allows us to keep track of them easily.  Naming them after teachers or room numbers would be a mistake since both of those things can/will change over time.

I then connected each iPad to the school’s wireless network.

On a sign-out sheet, teachers sign their names next to their iPads name and serial number.

Teachers put their own Smart Covers on their iPads.

Further Reading

I’m very grateful for the following two posts which helped me immensely in the process:

Langwitches: iPad Deployment and Teacher PD

LAUSD iPad Deployment Worksheet (do not e-mail the people linked to from this worksheet unless you’re in LAUSD)


Once teachers have added their own apps to an iPad and you go to sync it with the school computer you will see a notice asking you if you want to authorize the computer for the new apps.  Don’t authorize!  You will get a scary warning that appears to indicate that the “unauthorized” apps will be removed from the iPad.  However, they will not actually be removed.  Go ahead and hit continue.  Don’t be afraid.

Update #2

Apple has released a white paper on iPad deployment that’s worth reading.


How to Create Your First iPhone App

Your App HereIntroduction

Since creating my first iPhone/iPad app, Reading Remedies, the question I’ve been asked most frequently by friends, family, blog-readers, and strangers on the street has been, “How do you create an iPhone app?” I am no expert on the subject but I’m happy to provide information on my experience and how I did it.  It’s not that hard, so keep reading. This is an article for non-programmers. You won’t find any coding in this post but I will give you some resources to go further into learning Objective-C if you wish.

What I will focus on is:

  1. How to hire a programmer to do all the work for you (as I did with Fluency Timer for the Mac App Store).
  2. How to create an app yourself using only HTML and Javascript (which is how  I created Reading Remedies for iOS).

Hiring a Programmer

The impetus for me beginning to create apps was the creation of the Mac App Store.  Once the store was announced and months before it opened I set up a profile on Elance.com, a site that bills itself as “The World’s Leading Site for Online Work.”  Many of the people who bid on jobs are from other countries.  If that bothers you, you can request only American bids but you can expect to pay more.

On Elance, I posted information on the job requirements and then waited for bids.  None of the bids came in at less than $500 and had I been creating for the iPhone/iPad I believe the cost would have been several hundred dollars more based on market demand.  Remember, mine was a relatively simple app, providing a one-minute countdown timer while simultaneously recording a students’ voice for purposes of fluency testing and practice.  More complicated apps would naturally cost more.

I received about 10-12 bids on the job within a week.  Many of the questions asked by programmers showed me that they clearly misunderstood what I was asking for.  It was easy to eliminate those bids.  I had two proposals that I kept going back to because they seemed to “get it.”  They knew what I wanted and although they asked questions, their questions were related to what I had in mind.

I chose a programmer and sent him a detailed proposal on what the app should look like, including a mockup of the user interface, and detailed descriptions of what the app should do.   I would strongly recommend doing this even though it was very time consuming.  The mockup and detailed description are just about all the programmer has to go by.  You communicate by posting messages in a meeting room and since you don’t see the person it would be very easy for the two of you to have different ideas about what you’re talking about without such a document.

In terms of payment, you put total amount in an escrow account until the final software is received and it is satisfactory.  There are built in protections including optional mediation (which would cost $100) in the event that you do not receive a satisfactory product and can’t come to an agreement with your provider.  Once you release money you cannot get it back, however, and so you are advised by Elance not to release funds until job milestones are completed.  This is all fine and well but most of the programmers (and most of the programmers who have any kind of reputation established) require some of the money to be released up front in order to start work.  It’s a risk you have to take if you choose to use this service.

I had both a bad experience and a good experience using Elance.  The first programmer delivered me a one minute timer that recorded 58 seconds instead of 60 seconds…the one thing I needed my app to do, it wasn’t doing reliably.  We went back and forth several times with me insisting that he fix the problem and him resorting to name calling and pettiness when I didn’t release the money from escrow before the problem was fixed.  He did fix the recording length problem but in so doing broke another piece of the software.  I didn’t notice the new problem until a couple days later and at that point he stopped responding to me queries.  I cut my losses and hired a second programmer, my second choice from the initial bids.

Programmer #2 charged me a far smaller sum to fix the problems of Programmer #1 since I already had the basic code.  In retrospect, I should’ve gone with Programmer #2 at first.  Programmer #2 had several more jobs listed under his profile.  Both programmers were highly rated but the additional job experience of Programmer #2 meant that he was far more professional, delivering the software early so I had a chance to try it out before the deadline, rather than waiting until the absolute last minute so that I would be pressured to release the money.  He was respectful and polite.

I left feedback for each of the programmers.  The negative feedback for the first programmer led him to go ballistic and the positive feedback for the second programmer led him to raise his prices on a second job I offered him.  I believe most experiences on Elance end well based on my own experience and that of my friend but there is a certain amount of risk that comes with the Ebay-like process of getting the work done and there are some nightmare stores out there if you google them.

My tips, if you go this route…I would strongly recommend planning out and thinking through your app and all of its functionality and spelling all of that out ahead of time.  Any new features you add once the project starts will incur additional cost even if they don’t really require much additional work.  Something that’s obvious to you may not be obvious to your programmer.  The first programmer gave me a non-functioning search box and then told me that I never told him the search box had to work!

DIY Using HTML and Javascript

I would use Elance again when I’m ready but the process made me very nervous, particularly after the first programmer went crazy. It wasn’t an experience that I want to soon repeat.  Also, with the small amount of money you’re likely to make from educational apps, it takes a lot longer to turn a profit when you have to pay a programmer and there’s a risk of not making a profit at all.  So, I set about trying to find a way to create my own iPhone app.

I bought a few books and checked out a few podcasts on the subject of programming natively for iOS using Objective-C and tried unsuccessfully to encourage every college-age person I know to change their major to computer programming.  I haven’t given up yet but right now the learning curve for me is too steep.  If the ideal teaching is i+1 (one level up from what you already know), learning Objective-C is more like i+20 for me.  However, I discovered several alternative methods of programming.

I looked into programming via Flash (which I know a little bit of) but it would require an update to my Adobe suite to get Adobe Packager and even though such programming is currently allowed in iTunes, it’s slower than native apps even by Adobe’s own admission.

Then I found PhoneGap which works with Apple’s Xcode to create native iPhone apps using HTML and Javascript.  I’ve been creating HTML pages since the early mid-90’s from scratch so although I am not experienced with creating Javascript, the learning curve for me was much less steep as I was starting with what I already knew.

Reading Remedies, which helps parents and teachers diagnose potential areas of reading difficulty and support beginning readers with assessments and follow-up activities, was the perfect starting point for me since it focuses on content rather than complicated features to work.  I recommend the book, Building iPhone Apps with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript: Making App Store Apps Without Objective-C or Cocoa, which helped me by explaining the difference between web pages for the web and web apps intended to for the phone.  It also provided sample code to try out.

Let me back-up one step.  To develop apps for iPhone/iPad you need to register as an Apple Developer and download their Software Development Kit and Xcode software.  All this is free to download but you have to pay in $99 a year in order to distribute your apps to your own iPhone or to the world.  It also provides limited access to technical support.

PhoneGap is a free plug-in for Xcode that allows you to create your apps using HTML and Javascript, copy them to a designated folder and then have PhoneGap due the rest in turning your app into a native iPhone/iPad app.  You will likely want to download jQuery and jQTouch which are Javascript libraries that enhance your app for the phone if you go this route.  For example, jQTouch provides the animated transitions between pages.

Submission Process

This was the hardest part of the process  for me, both technically and psychologically.  You have to code-sign your apps which means adding a certificate that indicates the app is unique to you so that users can receive updates and the app is authenticated on devices.  The process of code-signing is not hard but I had trouble both times.  It was completely unfamiliar and even though the steps on Apple’s web site were simple, something wasn’t working quite right.  Searching the developer forums indicates that others have had a hard time as well.  I eventually figured it out and now that I’ve done it once I could do it again more easily.

Then comes the waiting.  My apps each took about a week for approval.  That’s a pretty quick turnaround time but it felt like forever each time.  Apple’s approval process is notorious but most apps are approved successfully and mine were approved without a hitch.


John Tran at Moms with Apps has already written a great piece on how to market your app that’s a great read once you’re ready for that step of the process.  I won’t repeat what he said except to say that you should expect that creating your app is only half of the work.  If you want people to discover and download it you will need a strategy for getting the word out.

Further Resources for Learning Objective-C

I am not giving up on learning how to program without using an intermediary step like PhoneGap.  Stanford University offers a free video podcast via iTunes University which is like attending a college course for free.  I’ve watched some of it and it’s well presented but it’s still Greek to me.  I’m not quite ready for it.

There are also several programming books you can purchase.  I’ve tried Sams Teach Yourself iPad Application Development in 24 Hours and it helped somewhat but some of the code was outdated and I wasn’t able to get all of it to work.


It’s very rewarding to create apps based on a vision and then put those apps into use right away in my classroom.  Watching to see how many people download the apps and how they fare in the real world is exciting and addictive.  I’m working on increasing my Javascript knowledge by enrolling in local community college courses and using Lynda.com’s JavaScript Essential Training and I’ll work my way up up to Objective-C eventually.

Please leave your questions below.  I’m happy to continue the conversation or offer any support I can.

Update:  Also see Flow Chart of Process

Dropbox: Remote Storage Accessible Everywhere

It happens to everyone and it happened to me last year…my laptop hard drive died.  The Apple Store replaced it, of course, but along with it I lost all of my data.  I do regularly back up my data but if I back up every month or so, I lost a month or two of data.

Since that time I use one of my favorite free applications, Dropbox which solves two problems for me at once. Dropbox gives you remote storage that is accessible on every computer you use.  This means your data is constantly backed up and that you can work on the same files from multiple computers.

So, for example, I am enrolled in graduate school and there are several papers I need to be writing at any given time.  I keep those files as either Word documents or Pages files in my dropbox folder and I can sit down at either my desktop, my laptop, or even a friend’s computer, login to dropbox and work on those same files.  Once I save the file, the changes are instantly reflected on every computer and, of course, there are multiple backups to the file available on each of those computers after syncing. There’s even an iPhone app which provides access to your files on the go.

I have a paid MobileMe service which does the same but it costs money and though it pains me to say it, I have had trouble syncing folders via MobileMe whereas Dropbox works reliably and seamlessly.  Check it out.

What To Do With Student Data

To paraphrase Chris Lehman in his five minute Ignite Philly speech on the Schools We Need:

Good data costs more than we want to spend in this country and the best data is the data that teachers collect every day.  The best data is the work kids do every single day.

I agree with this statement.  Teachers are constantly collecting qualitative data about their students that is just as valid as any quantitative data collected from tests and quizzes.  However, as valid data we need to treat it as such. While every teacher has a vague idea of the academic progress of his/her students, it is the skillful teacher who that data to strategically plan instruction and monitor progress.

I think the best way to use this collected data is to record it.  Speaking for myself, in the course of a particular lesson I notice that Sally has trouble with the spelling of long u and Tommy doesn’t know how to rhyme and it’s crystal clear to me in that moment in time.  However, by the time I’ve gotten home at night, unless I’ve written this down and made a plan, I’m just kind of praying that Tommy and Sally might practice these skills and come back to me tomorrow “fixed.”

I don’t have any elaborate recording system for these things.  However, what I’ve been starting use is a low cost program called MacJournal from Mariner Software.  This is a mac only program.  I’m sure there is a PC equivelant, please leave a comment if you know of one.  This is basically a journaling program (as the name implies).  It allows you to create mutliple journals and multiple entries.

What’s different from a program like Word is that each entry is automatically dated and collected with all the others.  There’ s a search box so you can search for names of students or particular skills (e.g. search for any reference to Tommy or any reference to rhyming words).

What’s different about this from an online gradebook is that a gradebook is for recording numbers.  Numbers have their place but they belong to the less useful category of data.  A journal allows us to keep track of what’s between the lines.

I use it very simply, just to make a few notes that are stored and recorded for me to find later to make independent work time groups or plan mini-lessons.  I don’t necessarily write in complete sentences and I don’t write about every student every day.  I just jot notes down when they occur to me on a post-it and then transfer it to the journal.  This is a new thing for me so I’ll let you know how it goes. I am open to suggestions and would love to hear how you keep track of data.

How do you keep track of student data?

My Favorite Interactive Advertising Sites of the Year

I hope you’re enjoying your vacation and a well deserved break. I expect to return to serious blogging in the new year but this is just for fun.

I’ve learned in 2007 that I’m a sucker for interactive advertising. It doesn’t make me go out and see the movie but it does get me to tell my friends. Perhaps because I’m particularly immune to most advertising I can enjoy the ads without feeling like I’m being suckered.

My favorite interactive marketing sites of the new year in no particular order:

What makes these fun?  They make it seem personal.  They’re interactive.  They allow you to participate in the experience. Sounds like good classroom resolutions for 2008.

Energize Your Classroom: How Jim Cramer Made Me a Better Teacher of English Language Learners

I’ve become a better teacher of English Language Learners by watching one of my favorite TV Shows, Jim Cramer’s Mad Money. This is a show about buying stocks. If you’re not interested in stocks you might be turned off already, but Jim Cramer is an entertainer. He takes what could be boring and incomprehensible and makes it engaging and completely understandable for people who know little about stocks AND those who know a lot. Isn’t this what we’re trying to do in the classroom, particularly for English Language Learners and students with limited language exposure?


When talking about stocks he wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole, Cramer brings in a ten foot pole. When recommending baby boomer stocks he wears a diaper. When recommending Energizer he wears bunny ears. When talking about the differences been Hasbro and Mattel he brings pictures of a HazMat team (Hasbro/Mattel…HasMat). Think about how you can take something that you’re teaching that’s incomprehensible and bring in something visual to make it comprehensible and engaging for people who may not understand what you’re talking about otherwise.

We need to bring something physical into the classroom. It’s not always the actual thing that you bring because it’s not always possible to bring an elephant into the classroom. But you can bring in a symbol of that thing. A teddy bear can substitute for a man about to undergo open heart surgery. A tossed bean bag quickly replaces a comet flying across the sky. When you’re talking to students who don’t have the academic language to understand everything that you’re saying, give them something they can see that’s not just you talking.

Vocabulary Objectives

Your lessons should have a vocabulary objective.

When Cramer wants you to know about PE Ratios (that is price to earnings ratios) he will put the word on the screen. He makes it clear at the beginning of the lesson that he wants you to understand “PE Ratios.”

English Language Learners’ have a much smaller lexicon of academic English. Teachers include new vocabulary in their lessons all the time but are not often explicit enough about the words they are teaching. A lesson might include the word persuasion without making it explicit that you want students to learn and use the word persuasion. Students can generally figure out the meanings of words long enough to understand your lesson but we’re trying to add new words to students’ long term vocabulary and so we need to make sure they understand that’s an expectation. We also need to make sure they know how to use the word. A linguistic frame works for this purpose.

Example linguistic frame for fossils unit:

Cramer provides these linguistic frames by applying new vocabulary to multiple stocks using consistent language and then provides the audience practice by having them call in the show and use the vocabulary.

In our rooms we need to write the new words on the board. Make it clear before the lesson starts that today students are learning the words X and Y. Give students opportunities to practice using the new words and help them by providing them with a linguistic frame. Get them to talk to each other to practice using the new vocabulary. We can then add another step that Cramer doesn’t have time for in a one-hour show and have students write with the new words. We’ve scaffolded it enough now to expect that they will use those new words in their writing.

Engage Students

I know some teacher have the attitude that they do not need to be entertaining. But couldn’t you be a little interesting to watch? One of my colleagues refers to teaching as doing a six hour one-woman show five days a week with props. Imagine yourself in the audience of that show. How good a show are you? Would you like to be in your class?

I’ve added a fake ear to my repertoire. When students are too quiet, I put it to my ear and say “I can’t hear you!” A rubber chicken helps to lighten the mood when no one is responding and even wait time isn’t working. One cluck and suddenly students feel comfortable enough to come forward and venture an answer.

Cramer makes it fun with all the props, the excitement in his voice, and even sound effects. Cramer shares his sound board and all his sound effects are available online. I use these when students are half-asleep (think math after recess). When a student gets an answer right you play the Hallelujah chorus. Today we’re going to talk about fractions…”Tah Dah sound”…applause…

Not all sounds are appropriate for the classroom but you can use your judgement. I’ve also used a free Mac download called Buzzer for much the same purpose.

Before using this I tell students that I’m going to be using sound effects that are silly but if they get too silly I’ll have to stop. And a couple times I have stopped when students got carried away, but most of the time it helps them pay attention. The sounds bring them back to the lesson when they wander off.

Link to Sound Board

The Take Away

Teachers are entertainers whether we want to be or not. Use your post to be interesting. It’s true that it’s not your job to entertain but when students are entertained they pay attention, they comprehend, and your classroom management is stronger.

Also recommended: Making Content Comprehensible for English Learners: The SIOP Model by Echevarria, Vogt, Short

Cool Mac Apps for Cheap

MacUpdate is currently offering seven Mac Apps for just $50.

The apps are ForkLift, RapidWeaver, Swift Publisher, Marine Aquarium, Xslimmer, MemoryMiner, and Yep.

I’m familiar with Yep, it’s a cool iPhoto like application for PDFs which helps you organize and tag them. Marine Aquarium is an aquarium simulator (fun but not particularly useful). RapidWeaver is for web design. SwiftPublisher is kind of like Apple Pages lite. Xslimmer promises to slim down the size of applications by remove unneeded code and memory miner is a kind of cool program for labeling photos with the names of people and locations and then linking photos together. Forklife is for FTP.

If you like any of the seven apps you get the other six for just about the price of the one app you like.

I’m not quite ready to purchase but very tempted. If you buy let me know how you like it but you only have six more days to take advantage of the sale.