Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lunch and Learn #2: Five key elements to understanding iPads in the classroom

[caption id="attachment_69" align="alignleft" width="300"] putting iPads to use on a Kindergarten shape safari[/caption]As we start to have more access to iPads in our buildings, it is important to take some time and spend it not so much on learning what buttons to push but discussing key elements that can go a long way in determining how successfully we put these devices to work for us. As I wrote in the Grand Rapids Press last year, iPads don't improve education. Teachers and students improve education with iPads.

Tom Daccord at Edudemic posted a great article (thanks for sharing Abby Perdok) in late September entitled, "5 Critical Mistakes Schools Make with iPads (and how to correct them)". I don't want to just rehash Tom's ideas here but his piece shows us that the devices have been in schools long enough that we now have critical accounts of what works and what not to do with them. Let's look at five elements (some similar to Daccord's) that can help us get the most of our investment in this highly engaging technology.

1. Understanding Apps: When it all boils down, there are basically two kinds of apps. There are "knowledge in" apps and "knowledge out" apps. This is true with any website...okay, educational ones but...I'm not even going to finish this thought. I think you understand the logical consequences. As I was saying, any website or technology tool does one or the other. Kids go to websites on lighthouses to learn facts and deepen their understanding of these structures' history and roll in the world. They then can go to something like and create pictures to share their knowledge. lets them post pictures and give narration. A number of iPad apps like the Voicethread and Screen Chomp apps do too. Just because there isn't an app for a specific part of the curriculum, doesn't mean that an iPad can't still be extremely effective. Have kids put knowledge into their heads and then choose a "knowledge out" app to let them share it in spectacular ways.

2. Getting App Savvy There are thousands upon thousands of educational apps in the Apple App Store. Apple has a webpage dedicated to highlighting a handful of featured apps but to really dig in and find out what teachers really find useful and what kids think, check out these sites: and is the brainchild of a group of teachers from Mexico and has contributors from across the globe reviewing apps. Things are nicely broken down by a ton of different categories so you can search by subject or grade level but also by higher order thinking skill. is another site "by educators for educators" (my tagline, not theirs). It has plenty of app reviews from teachers and students, but iEar (i Education Apps Review) also features a number of audio selections like interviews with app developers or ideas for implementing certain apps or techniques in your classroom.

A couple of iPad apps can be especially helpful in developing your savviness. App Shopper helps you find apps by subject matter but will also watch the prices of apps. Many times developers will run special promotions where they drastically slash the price of an app and sometimes make them free. When that happens you will receive a message from App Shopper to go and scoop up the app. App Price Drops is a little more stripped down in features but helps you find the deals, especially free apps.

3. iTunes is far more than music It always surprises me how many people don't rely heavily on iTunes for adding content and organizing their iPads. Yes, it is nice to be able to download and install apps from the app store on the fly through the device and it is fairly easy to create drag and drop folders on the device as well. It can be faster though and in many cases a lot easier to do that work while plugged into iTunes. Using iTunes also lets you add all kinds of your own specific content to the devices for student use. Educational movies, audio books, and anything in .PDF form (see earlier post for a how-to) can be placed on the iPad but you have to use iTunes in order to do it. A screencast will be coming that shows each of those processes in detail. Most importantly, every time you sync you diminish the severity of potential disaster by creating a backup file. If your iPad was damaged or lost, a replacement could be synced with your backup and you could start right up where you were on the old device.

4. It just feels right Through all of my experience of working with kids on iPads, there is a constant thread that is present. The iPad's user interface is incredibly intuitive. You just swipe and tap, drag and move. Many argue that kids are wired for the iPad. Much of that is likely true due to the prevalence of technology in our world, but I am starting the think that the iPad is far more wired for kids than the other way around. Apple is cracking the code on the best possible tablet, but Apple is also cracking our code for how we most naturally work and interact with a device. Here is how 5th graders explain this.

5. Think Different It is great to start out by concentrating on things you normally do in your classroom and finding ways to replace those tasks with the iPad. Chances are you will find higher levels of student interest and more engagement. Don't stop there though. Start to ask yourself, "What if? What if instead of typing animal reports, we made videos? And then what if we used those videos to teach our lower elementary reading buddies about the animals". Share your ideas with your colleagues and challenge them to ask, "What if?". Soon we will be watching our students do things we hadn't ever dreamed possible.

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