Friday, September 7, 2012

Ways to Use iPads and Apps in the Classroom

Ways to Use iPads and Apps in the Classroom
by Gary Feltman@garyfeltman

Recently educators have been using tablets, laptops, and iPads to enhance instruction in the classroom. I have performed extensive research regarding iPads in the classroom, educational apps, and specifically how iPads are used in the classroom. In addition to this research I have attended a two-day conference with multiple breakout sessions from teachers presenting and describing the ways they use iPads in the classroom. All the presentations I have seen and the articles I have read explained iPad usage in the classroom from various perspectives.
Through my research and learning, I have been provided with many links, each containing both seemingly endless collections of apps to use in the classroom and resources regarding education related apps. (Click here to see the collection). It is no secret that these articles, presentations, and links all contain buzzwords about using the iPads in the classroom, for example: transforming classrooms with iPads, flipping classrooms, transforming teaching and learning with iPads, enhancing instruction and learning, the shift in teaching and learning, iPads incorporate the 21st century skills... the list goes on and on.
The question is, so what? What do we do with this information? Where do we begin? What apps are good for my individual curriculum? Where can I find them? Which links and sites are useful? With so many questions ranging from who, what, when, where, why, and how; how does one deal with this information overload? This is an attempt to break down the themes I have gathered from reading articles, doing research, and testing apps suggested from technology and content experts in all areas.

Administrative concerns
There are many things that need to be handled from an administrative perspective including budgeting, safety, security, management, troubleshooting, updates, implementation within the curriculum, and professional development training. One standpoint of the administrative perspective which requires budgeting, specifically weighing the costs of the iPads versus the educational benefits. Another viewpoint is from a tech directors standpoint includes concerns such as security, Internet safety, and wireless networks. Teachers have many concerns including how to use the iPads in a one-to-one setting, how to effectively use one iPad in the classroom, directly linking the tablet technology to the curriculum. These are concerns that can only be addressed once a teachers familiar with and iPad. There is an issue of how the apps are purchased: who purchases the apps, who was put in charge of what apps are purchased, who budgets the amount for the apps, and who oversee the entire process so it's run effectively and smoothly. Finally, there's the apps themselves. The apps range in use from grade levels of early childhood to adulthood, various subjects including reading, writing, and mathematics. Some apps assists in organization and research which could both be used for a wide variety of subjects in and out of the classroom.

IPads are expensive although many teachers and administrators are creative in finding and utilizing grant money for the purpose of purchasing tablets and iPads for the classroom. Purchasing the iPads with grant money takes responsibility off the taxpayers. Although in many cases taxpayers are supportive of districts using iPads and technology and are likely to approve this technology in the classroom. Is important that administrators work together to ensure the proper foundation is in place before implementing iPads in the classroom. This includes looking at the budget in the present and in the future. For example, the lifecycle of iPads, securing the iPads, inventory and accessories all need to be taken into account. Wireless networks need to be in place in order for the iPads to be used effectively. Some districts choose to use two wireless networks: one for teachers and one for students. Networks need to have filters. Administrators need to be sure that teachers are comfortable using this technology. Administrator support is necessary in order for effective use of iPads in the classroom. The support includes training, follow-up with training, strong links to curriculum, and ensuring teachers implement appropriate safety procedures and proper classroom management strategies while allowing the kids to use iPads in the classroom. Also it should be determined who is to be put in charge and with what aspects, of using iPads in the classroom.

One iPad per classroom
Usually when districts begin following through purchasing iPads to the classroom, teachers will get them first. This allows the district to pilot the iPads, let teachers get comfortable with the iPads, and slowly incorporate them into the classroom and curriculum. So the question is, what can a teacher do with one iPad in the classroom. First of all the teacher can use the iPad to assist with organizational skills. For example when teachers use them they can check their e-mail, check the calendar, make to-do lists, use the notepad camera and slowly explore all the basic features of it iPad. Students can do these things as well. This also allows time for teachers to get comfortable with the settings. There are many essential things that teachers should know within the settings including how to set up wireless access to the iPad, setting a passcode, locking the iPad, accessibility, and being able to navigate the App Store. After the essentials teachers will be comfortable with the iPad and start to explore various ways the iPad can be used in the classroom. Some simple examples include playing games, creating to-do lists or shopping lists, browsing the Internet to the iPad, viewing YouTube videos, and testing all the free apps that are available. In addition to using the iPad just for organizational purposes and learning the basics, iPads can use for motivating students. For example in a special-needs classroom, it could be used as a motivator. Positive student behaviors may be rewarded by letting the student use the iPad. Another way is if the teacher is delivering instruction and a student has a question, the iPad can be passed around to research the question while the instruction continues. The research can be done through an Internet browser or Wikipedia. Specific apps can also help with research like discovery education, dictionary, or calculator. If a student finishes their work early, they can read a book to the iPad. There are many literacy apps that can be used to provide students with books including iBooks and Free Books. Finally, there are many presentation and collaboration tools

Several iPads per district or classroom
Another scenario a district might have is if the district or classroom only has between 3 to 5 iPads. The question is which teachers and/or students get the iPads and how often. One way the districts have been successful is to allow students and staff to check the iPads out from the library. Another possible way to organize iPad usage through districts is to set up separate accounts; elementary, junior high, and high school. With this specific scenario it would make sense of the library director was in charge of purchasing the apps, similar to the fashion in which books and other media are purchased for the library.

If some teachers had between 3-5 iPads per classroom, students could be assigned to work in groups to collaborate and complete projects. One app, iVideo, would allow students to create interviews or short clips of scenes, and compile them to create a presentation to share information with the class. Another example for the iPads to be used in the class with small groups, is each group can research a given topic which supports the main topic through video or other resources.

One-to-one computing with iPads in the classroom
With time if the pilots are successful with one or several iPads in the classroom then some districts choose to purchase iPads for all the students in the classroom. This is known as one-to-one computing. There are many different ways to effectively manage a one-to-one classroom with iPads. Again one way for the kids to be successful with iPads is to use them to enhance their executive business functioning skills. Some of these skills include planning, prioritizing, time management, organization, attention, flexibility, attention, self-regulation and emotional control. In order for students to minimize distractions as they perform the classroom tasks, it may help for them to have a variety of resources in front of them. An iPad can accomplish this goal. The iPad allows the students to have literally have multiple resources at their fingertips. Students can have calculators, dictionaries, Wikipedia, Google, YouTube, to-do lists, calendars, and even social networking. Social networking  is brain exercise; necessary for the brain to make connections. When the brain makes connections the students will enhance their executive function skills and therefore learn better. I'm not saying that social networking is the answer or that social networking should take the place of school or learning however incorporating class-based social networking into the classroom in order to teach specific concepts are skills may be beneficial. 
The app Evernote seems to be a popular app in which anybody, teachers and students, can create notes, save them and use them later. To-do list apps like TODO will assist students in creating and achieving goals and prioritizing those goals to make sure they are followed through in a timely manner.

One final concept is the apps. Apps are available for literally all ages, all demographics, all types of personalities, and at all prices. There are apps available for all subject and entertainment areas. Through each subject, there are many concepts that an app could focus on. For example, in mathematics, apps may focus on counting change, telling time and practicing basic math skills. Other more involved apps may practice concepts like factoring and calculating area of figures. Others have attempted to group together many apps for one subject area, but again that group only pertains to what enhances that individual's curriculum. One has to test the apps to see the effectiveness in their individual curriculum.

iPads can be useful in the classroom. The teachers using the iPads should be comfortable with their curriculum and incorporating technologies into their classroom. All individuals participating in iPads in the classroom should have an overall idea of the administrative responsibilities put into implementing the iPads into school settings. Once pilot testing is complete, the school should have a plan in place for the present and future of incorporating iPads in the lessons, and managing the hardware. The teachers should have the ability to express opinions in what apps to purchase, based on the overall make of the classroom, the number of ipads, and the benefits of the apps according to the link to the curriculum.

The toughest part might be supplying the teachers with a database of apps, based on subject, focus, price, ability level, app effectiveness, and ease-of-use. If a person is designated to learn how the apps work, or test an app before the district makes a purchase, it makes sense; however only the individual teacher may know the full effectiveness of the app in the classroom. The best way to prepare for this is for teachers to have a plan in place to deal with information overload, then apply that plan of action.
Thank you. I welcome thoughts or suggestions.-Gary

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