Mobile Learning | Feature

Teachers Find iPad Slide-sharing App Nearpod Like 'PowerPoint on Steroids'

nearpod app for ipad in schools

Technology director and teacher Frederico Padovan may be only a few weeks into his school's first 1-to-1 iPad deployment, but he's already figured out how to keep students focused on their lessons. He's not worried about students steering away to surf the Web or chatting with friends on their new devices.

Since the first day of school, Padovan has been using Nearpod, a slide-based multimedia app that lets teachers create presentations by populating pre-built templates with an entire lesson's worth of text, images, and video. Then, using a special teacher version of the app, the presentations can be pushed out to an entire class, who use their own student version, allowing the teacher great control over the tempo and pace of the lesson.

"It's PowerPoint on steroids," explained Padovan, who teaches emerging computer technology and interactive design at Immaculata-La Salle High School in Miami.

That alone might be enough to pique the interest of educators, who have become increasingly fond of Apple's tablet, but sometimes struggle to find appropriate ways to use it. Far from being a glorified slide-sharing app Nearpod's functionality is also focused on interactive elements like formative assessment tools that create a two-way channel between teacher and student.

Padovan begins every Nearpod presentation with a catchphrase. Once he grabs his students' attention, he drops in a few informative slides before adding a poll or a survey--just to ensure his students paid attention to the material. He'll close with a class discussion of the results.

"It keeps them focused because now, instead of looking at a projector and using iPads for other things, students are forced not to steer away, because they will miss the presentation," Padovan said. Furthermore, Nearpod alerts him when a student is not in the app following along--"a little red light comes up."

A Blank Slate for Teachers
In nearby Delray Beach, FL, Michelle Castellanos, technology curriculum director of American Heritage School, has also been working with teachers using Nearpod, many of whom are attracted to the amount of control the app affords in designing lessons meant for the iPad.

"When you buy an app, the app delivers its content through whatever way the app developer has decided," Castellanos explained. With Nearpod, however, there is a set of parameters, "but when you open those up it's a blank slate--it's not some canned piece."

Both Padovan and Castellanos mentioned the versatility with which they've seen the app used in their respective schools. From delivering weight training workout schedules to livening up grammar rules lessons with humorous vignettes and videos, Nearpod has been encouraging teachers at both schools to think creatively.

Second grade teacher Angie Sigmon has taken this autonomy one step further with her students at Shuford Elementary in Conover, NC. As the instructor of her school's 1-to-1 pilot classroom, Sigmon uses Nearpod to implement a version of a flipped classroom during what she calls her "guided math stations."

For these lessons, students are first divided into groups. While Sigmon instructs the struggling learners in her class, higher ability students are either performing an individual task on an iPad or watching a Nearpod presentation.

Those assigned to Nearpod are given a student leader for the day. After each student finishes the presentation--usually consisting of a video and voiceover of Sigmon teaching the lesson, freeform drawing slides where students practice working out problems, and a quick quiz--students discuss an "essential question," designated by Sigmon, which student leaders use to spark discussion. Then Sigmon meets with the group to go over the presentation and instruct where needed.

"The kids love it! Every day they ask, 'do you have our video for us today?'" Sigmon said. "They've taken off with it more than I ever expected."

All three educators emphasized Nearpod's user-friendliness. They unanimously suggest starting small with basic content from previous lesson plans--JPEGS, PDFs--outlined similar to a PowerPoint, before slowly adding in interactive features.

One of Padovan's best practices is to upload his Nearpod slides to a shared learning management platform so that students can focus on the presentation in class rather than trying to jot down notes. And Sigmon suggests using Edmodo as a supplement to monitor the communication between students discussing the presentations.

Removing Boundaries
To enhance static presentations, teachers can add dynamic components to presentations, like polls, Q&As, and interactive pictures that measure student progress. Educators can view results on their iPads as soon as responses are submitted.

Any time a student answers a Q&A or submits work for a problem, Nearpod shows it. This knowledge is not only helpful for guiding discussions but it also aids in sculpting future presentations and tailoring lessons on an individual basis.

"I can see right away what 25 kids know in the time it's taking another teacher to find out what 3 or 4 kids know," Sigmon said. "Being able to get that automatic feedback right away is amazing because I know who to go to right away as we work out the next problem."

Padovan adds that the results are anonymous--to the students, anyway.

"I see who submitted the answer but the class doesn't, so now it takes away that embarrassment students may have of, 'I don't want to raise my hand because I'm afraid I have the wrong answer,'" he said.

He also lauds the fact that students don't actually have to be in class to participate in the discussion, leaving the door open to sick or absent students following along with the rest of their class at home.

"Nearpod eliminates geographical boundaries quite a bit," said Castellanos, who has conducted professional development courses on Nearpod in front of her teachers in Florida while teachers in Chicago navigated the presentation at the same time.

The combination of these elements changes the roles in the classroom, giving students more control over their own learning.

"The greatest part about the group I have … is that I've really become a facilitator and that's changed my teaching," Sigmon said. "I think we are all hoping to get to that point with our kids."

About the Author

Kim Fortson is a San Francisco-based freelance writer. Find her on Twitter @kimfortson.