The arrival of iPads into our classrooms has changed the way that I think about teaching – particularly about teaching with technology. With iPads you no longer teach a package or group of packages; instead, you teach a range of creative tools. These tools offer the adaptive power to provide students with multiple options to complete the same problem. The beauty of apps and the iPad is that you can offer students a choice of approaches, layouts and complexities in the tools they use. Personalised learning happens every day in a well-functioning iPad classroom but this can only happen if the teachers are comfortable with the tools and the technology they are teaching with.
The biggest thing!
In the work that I have done with teachers over the past two years there is always one theme that repeats: time! Schools are making huge financial and educational commitments without providing the people who are responsible for implementing the change enough time to fully utilise the tools at their disposal. It is vital to allow teachers time to play and learn the many tricks and features of the iPad; no one wants to stand in front of a class and be unsure of being able to make technology work. Staff training and basic boot camps are a fantastic way of breaking down the fear of a new device, particularly if several staff members are making the journey together.
Clarify your vision
A mistake I made when beginning with iPads was that I set off thinking that integrating the use of the iPad would lead to good teaching and learning. It soon became obvious that this was not only short sighted but also lead to stand alone and disjointed activities. The students were busy, often happily so, but the quality of their learning was being dictated to by the technology they were using. In my well-meaning eagerness to implement the iPad, I had never stopped to consider what it was I wanted them to achieve.
Since this I have spoken to many teachers who have had similar experiences both as individuals and in their schools. For many, the vision of why schools introduced this particular technology has rarely been as clear or detailed as teachers would have liked. It is hard to know what you want out of something if you are unsure of why you have it to begin with. Schools and senior management need to help staff to see the enormous creative potential that is the iPad, and to help them plan the implementation of this technology into their teaching.
Models like the SAMR model offer a framework with which staff can clearly see what they are moving towards in their iPad integration. Defining task redefinition as a goal helps to set some parameters for thinking and also some achievable progression points for teachers as they become more comfortable with teaching and planning using an iPad. For those looking at digital literacies, the work of Doug Belshaw is a great place to start. His 8 Cs of digital literacy (Cultural, Cognitive, Constructive, Communication, Confidence, Creative, Critical and Civic) offer teachers and administrators an excellent reference point for building a vision of what it is we want our students to do with technology.
I recommend allowing students the chance to experience many apps as they grow in their experience. My goal with teaching of iPads is to empower my students to a point where they choose an app (or range of apps) that they know works best for them, and this may differ from task-to-task. This allows for complete ownership of a learning experience and allows students to personalise their approach to different types of tasks.
The first time toolbox
Most hands-on learners or people with existing Apple devices can work out the basics of an iPad pretty quickly. However this does not mean teachers are actually ready to teach with it. It is a daunting experience the first time you try to find an app to use in your classroom. There are thousands of free apps, and thousands of paid apps, with each one claiming to offer the answer to every teaching situation.
To prepare yourself for teaching with an iPad, all you need is a toolbox of key apps. Things that you are comfortable with and have a clear idea of how you are going to use them. This gives you a place to start and offers you a change to start using the iPad with confidence within the classroom. Simple multi-use tools like PicCollege, timeline and thinglink, offer you a range of teaching and learning options that, despite being simple, are very powerful. Within a team setting, these key apps give you a chance to work together on your planning but also to build in greater development and use of these apps as the children’s experience and confidence also builds.
Modelling of the apps to students is a fantastic way to develop your confidence with the tool but also to promote the reasons you have selected the app to begin with. If students can see you create, share and collaborate with a tool, they will understand what options are open to them. Similarly, if you are really clear about aspects of an app that do not meet your needs or that other apps do better, you are teaching your students to make well-informed and critical decisions in their future choices when completing tasks on the iPad. This modelling also works with colleagues. Using the apps you are teaching with to help present at a staff meeting or to parents promotes the use of new apps but also the creativity and communication options iPads offer.
Once teachers have developed their initial confidence with using your key apps it is time to expand horizons! Many schools have prioritised a position of leadership within the school whose role includes suggesting and promoting new technologies including apps. One new app per month into your teacher’s toolboxes is a comfortable workload for both teachers and students. By adding in a new tool regularly but not too quickly you help keep the interest level high without overwhelming the students or your colleagues. There are a fantastic range of educators and PLNs on Twitter and other social networks that regularly share great apps and ways to use them. In my experience, once you find a good source of these ideas, teachers regularly go back for more suggestions or usage tips.
One of the challenges of teaching with iPads, but also one of the absolute strengths, is the fact that new tools regularly appear which may replace the ones you already love. Initially I kept using the tools that I was familiar with but noticed that the students were frustrated with continuing to use a tool that was not as powerful or adaptive as others out there. This again offers a change to model some positive digital behaviours by showing students how to be an adaptive and flexible learner.
Once teachers are comfortable trying and implementing new ideas, the iPad really comes into its own. By combining a range of apps in the one task (app smashing), you truly unleash the creative power of the device. Experienced iPad teachers regularly plan learning experiences using multiple apps within the one activity. App smashing allows students to mix together the best of several apps to come up with something totally unique. Simple things like using stop motion clips within iMovie or using photo-editing apps to create personalised images for a presentation are all good places to start. The power of the ‘save to camera’ feature means that any visual you create can be reused, reassembled or retouched.
Making it work
Sharing is often a problem when using iPads, and it is something that all schools need to consider and plan for before beginning their journey. However, inside the classroom, airdrop offers useful and simple ways to move files of pieces of work between students or to the teacher. Airdrop’s biggest limitation is that it ‘locks’ the screen while the files are being moved. For simple files this is not an issue but movies, for example, are best moved when your iPad is not being used.
A simple dish rack offers a useful classroom storage tool for your iPads, particularly if you add in a powerboard for charging. As much as schools try to have students charge at home, there are always students who need to charge their machine and nothing is more frustrating than students not being able to complete a task. Simple and effective, this just makes classroom implementation a little easier.
Taking your toolbox on the road
iPads offer such a wide and diverse range of creative tools that can be used in the classroom. They can give voices to children who have struggled to be heard before, while allowing high flyers a challenge to move deeper and diversify their understandings. In the short time iPads have been around, the quality of tools available and what is being done with them has grown remarkably. The power of the iPad and the ability to create quality learning experiences makes the iPad teaching journey worthwhile.
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