My school was lucky enough to get a class set of iPads (unless you have a class with over 30 students), and I was lucky enough to be the one in charge of looking after them. Since I am the one in charge of them and the one who really pushed to get them, it seems necessary that I make the most out of these devices. To do this, I have made them a daily part of my grade 12 class, and am currently using them daily with my grade 9 and 10 locally developed class. It has been about three weeks since the start of the semester and the start of my use of iPads in the classroom so I thought I would take the time to reflect on them.
Let’s start with the locally developed class. This is a very small group of only 9 students. I have yet to ever see this many, but officially I have 9 students. Each student has been assigned a specific iPad and will be using only that one for the duration of the semester. This makes it easier to track any problems to the source. On day one I handed out the iPads and instantly the camera app was opened and pictures were taken. Three weeks in and they still enjoy taking pictures. Most have changed the wallpaper as well. Once I was able to get them focussed I had them open up the Edmodo app and join the class group. Once in, I went through the basics of Edmodo, highlighting the calendar and library features. Next I introduced them to Evernote and Dropbox. Since the work done for this course takes place completely within the classroom we have not had any real reason to use Dropbox, but about half of them have really taken to Evernote. I will get into the Evernote app a little later on.
The real reason for my desire to use the iPads with this class was that I wanted to have them read a high interest book that would appeal to both boys and girls. I also wanted to be able to extend their learning of the content in the novel. I selected The Lightning Thief after much consideration, purchasing the book through iBooks and putting it on the iPads the students are using. Also, since a large percentage of the class has an IEP, I also purchased the audiobook. Now, using the iPads, the students are reading the novel or listening to it and following along. We are now nine chapters into the novel and the students are really enjoying it. I know that while the iPad is fun to use, there is nothing here that could not be replicated with paper texts and other technology. I will also admit that in this case their engagement is mainly the result of it just being a good book. However, the iPads have made the accessibility to and reading of the novel much easier for me as the teacher. Also, for those who have difficulty reading, the audiobook has been really helpful.
One of the primary focuses for this novel unit is summary writing. We have been writing one paragraph summaries of the chapters as we go along. I have found the iPads very helpful here. Many of the students have chosen to use Evernote for their class notes. This has made it much easier for them to keep track of their notes, and much harder for them to lose them. Each chapter summary has become a separate note within their Evernote notebook. If I want to look at the summaries, they simply email them to me (without setting up an email account on the iPads I might add). If you have never used Evernote with iPads, I strongly recommend that you do. I have made notes on the board, and instead of copying them down, they have used the iPad camera and taken a picture of the board and added it to Evernote.
Switching apps, but staying with the summaries, one of my students took advantage of the Dragon Dictation app to take down his summaries. Having seen both his written summary and the oral-to-written summary created by Dragon Dictation, this app has made a huge difference in the quality of his work. Other students tried this but didn’t like it so they went back to typing out their summaries. What makes the iPad so great is that it has provided my students with options for their learning styles. Some have stuck with paper and pen, some have really taken to Evernote, and one has reaped the benefits of Dragon Dictation.
Once we have finished the novel, the students will be using the iPads to create Keynote presentations on mythological characters. If you have not seen Keynote on an iPad hooked up to a projector, you really need to check it out. The iPad screen displays the slide, the speaker notes, and the time. This makes for a much smoother presentation. I am also planning on using iMovie to create short storytelling videos.
The locally developed stream can be a difficult one to teach. These students have come to really dislike school over the years, finding little success along the way. As a result, they are disengaged from the lesson and tend to act out in negative ways. So far this semester I have not seen any of this. The students come into the room in a positive mood, willingly take on the tasks assigned to them. They appear engaged in the work: quietly reading the novel, discussing grammar questions with each other or working hard on writing up their summaries.
One final note: often when we get new technology in the school, these students never get a chance to use it. We tend to save the technology for the more academically minded students. I’m not sure why that it. Do we not trust these students to use the technology appropriately? Are we afraid they will break it? Do we feel it is too sophisticated a tool? Whatever the reasons, stop! The technology is there for all of our students. This group has been more positive about using the iPads than my grade 12 class, but that is for a different post.