Shadow Puppet Edu is one of our all time favourite apps here at iPad Educators so when Emily from Shadow Puppet approached me several months ago about trying out their latest offering Seesaw, I was more than happy to take a look. Seesaw is a digital journal app that allows students to collate work and share it directly with parents who access it via a second parent app. It was clear to me straight away that I had something special on my hands.
The timing was actually perfect for me as I had just been asked to step out of my specialist role as head of computing and cover a 3 month maternity leave back in class full time with a group of Year 6 students. This is where I began my trial but in order to test the app's potential more broadly, I also asked colleagues in Year 3, Year 1 and Foundation Stage 2 to give it a go.
The response from staff, parents and students alike was universally positive. Emily took feedback from us and we watched as the app developed more and more useful features. The app has so much to offer that now I am back in my specialist role (teaching 30 different classes once a week) I do actually miss using it every day!
So what makes Seesaw so special? Let's start with one of the simplest but most useful things...
QR CODES FOR EASY ACCESS One of the best things about the app is that it uses a QR code system to gain access to the journal, both for kids and parents (who get a unique one on a handout) Keeping the QR code on the classroom wall meant that even if kids didn't have their own BYOD device with them etc they could use a school iPad and log in.
More crucially, it meant that students as young as 5 were able to learn how to log in for themselves! Do make sure that you take the time to snap a profile picture of each kid though as the generic animal ones won't be identified by pre-readers! Of course, with the younger students, you will often be adding more content on their behalf but you'd be surprised how quickly they can adapt to using the app independently.
KEY FEATURES So what can you actually do in Seesaw? Take a look at this overview video -
Students and staff have the ability to add multimedia content that can take many forms. Images can be snapped in-app or uploaded from the camera roll. These can then be enhanced via text captions, audio narration or pen tool annotation. Videos can also be uploaded the same ways. You can add a text note a PDF document and recently even a direct weblink too. Any content can be tagged to the students within the class. This could mean one specific student, a group or all of them! If students do not have access to an iPad at home, they can still access their journal via http://web.seesaw.me/
Parents then sign up to their child's journal and can access what they have added. They can even have notifications sent to their device - so often kids would add content and before the next lesson began, I would be notified that they had added a comment or a like to something! It's a window to the classroom and can be an amazing motivator for students when they see/know that their parents are getting to see what they've produced.
WAYS TO PLAY There are so many different ways you can harness Seesaw effectively. Here are some of the different ways that I utilised it. I'll also highlight whether it was me or the students who added each type of content
- student adds a photo of their work at the end of a lesson and records an audio reflection on the task. - at the end of a group task, one student from each group tags the whole team in on the picture and they record group narration. - student adds digital content created in other apps. Shadow Puppet Edu is a great example here. - student adds a weekly learning reflection in any format they choose. Students at our school have traditionally done this in a physical book. By switching to Seesaw, less confident/willing writers were able to express themselves orally. - teacher films a classroom at work "behind the scenes" type video. Parents LOVE these by the way. - teacher shares a resource such as a weblink, image or PDF to the whole class by tagging them all (or to groups by tagging some.) - teacher sets an optional extension task or competition by tagging everyone in and setting the instructions out in the caption or orally. PS this worked really well when paired with the motivational genius that is Classcraft! - teacher shares a message or reminder to students/parents by tagging everyone in.
TIPS AND TRICKS
Having used the app extensively and tweaked my own use of it along the way, here are my personal tips for getting the best out of Seesaw:
- When you sign up for your teacher account, you'll have to input your first name as well as your surname. By default this then becomes your username within the app. If you don't want your first name being used in the app and would prefer a title like Mr or Miss, click on the account settings and you'll be able to change it.
- Via the Manage Class menu you can set a few key options. Most important here (especially if you're working with older students) is the ability to set it so that any new items added have to be approved by the teacher.
- Via the same menu you can add a co-teacher. This is great if you have specialist teachers at the school who want to be able to add content to your journal too. Of course you could ease them in to the process by just sending an iPad with your class to their lessons and have a student show them how they add a piece of content showcasing the whole group. This is brilliant for music lessons by the way!
- Parents can be invited via the aforementioned handout (with a unique QR code login for each student's parent) or via direct email if you have access to their email addresses. Choose which works best for you. I found that some parents came to me after a couple of weeks of using the app and had heard about it from other parents ie the sheet never madeit to them (kids' schoolbags can sometimes be a blackhole!)
- Don't forget that multiple parents can be added to one student's journal too - get those grandparents involved!
- If you are working with a parent to support a particular learning area with their child, make sure to drop as many good examples of this work into Seesaw as possible and add lots of positive comments. I had a couple of boys who really needed to focus on the quality of their writing and sharing daily examples via Seesaw definitely helped with this.
- Posted content can be shared outside of the journal via email, HTML embedding etc. A great touch here in terms of esafety is the fact that work shared out of the journal has the student names removed. Here's a sample view:
COMING SOON! One of the great things about the team behind Seesaw is that they don't rest on their laurels. Several key updates have been implemented already and many more are already in the pipeline. One of the cool new features that has been recently added is the ability to view the content in a calendar view:
Another nice addition has been the ability to create folders for each student's work, making it easier to keep tabs on different subject areas.
Last month I was inducted into the first class of Seesaw Ambassadors and got a peek at some of the new features set to drop later this year. Some are top secret right now but I can tell you that students will soon have the ability to add their own comments to their posts. In my opinion this is a crucial addition as it will allow the older users and their teachers to develop a learning dialogue within the app. Follow up questions can be asked, errors can be highlighted and corrected etc.
With summer upon us, educators have the perfect time to play around with Seesaw, get to know the features and prepare to deploy it in September. Set up a dummy class and share the access code to members of your family so that they can add dummy posts and you can experience the app in action first hand. If you have your own kids and are heading off on holiday, they could share pictures and videos to you throughout the trip.
SEESAW FOR CPD? The beauty of Seesaw is its simplicity. Some of the teachers that tried it at my school were not the most tech savvy and even they loved how easy it was to interact with. This means that it could actually be harnessed as a professional development tool! Set up a 'class' of your colleagues and use it to share tech (or any) resources to them. Set challenges for them using different apps and have them tag the content. This could even be utilised in tandem with a digital badging system to gamify the CPD!
You can download Seesaw: The Learning Journal here and Seesaw: Parent Access here.