The Roadtrip Goes Inside: Mad For iPads

UGGs with Bling

I had the chance to visit Blair Elementary again, home of Grade 1 recess fashion plate Veronica  (note her new insanely ornate UGG boots) and also got invited inside by Principal Mark Hoath to see how some of the students there are using hand-held devices such as iPads and iPods as learning tools.  Couldn’t turn that down.

There are two schools of thought here. One is that this technology is a very powerful way to engage students and make their work more visible, collaborative, and personalized in a natural way. The end result is that students do better – way better.

The opposing views range from the idea that these devices are  more of a glitzy toy that a way to revolutionize learning to a feeling that young children shouldn’t be using them at all. This is clearly a blogworthy topic for further investigation.

So where to start?  First of all, many thanks to the innovative staff at Blair who were so generous with their classrooms, students, and time.

I started with Jenna Loewen’s Grade 1/2 class, much to the amazement of young Veronica, who thought I was strictly a creature of recess. She quickly adjusted to the new me and she and her group showed me how they were using an app called” Find Sums” to work with various combinations of numbers that equal a specific total, beginning with 10. The students are given  an initial number, represented by small red apples.  They then enter the number they think will equal 10.  The number they suggest then appears as green apples.  The point is they are practicing math facts, learning to associate number symbols with a corresponding number of apples, using the idea of base ten  and beginning to think algebraically.  You read that right – they’re looking for x, but it just happens to look like green apples that appear on a screen.  As Jenna pointed out, it’s easy for her to tell where students are and how they’re doing just by glancing at their screens.

I then went to Mike Brown’s grade 6/7 class. His kids were busy using “Toontastic” to create animated drawings, then recording a story to go with their drawings.  They were learning about plot lines and how to develop them.  What you see here is a mystery under development.   It’s clear that something mysterious happened , as the guy with the gun in his hand in  is lying on the floor with X’s over his eyes in Picture 2. (Let’s hope this simply means he’s temporarily unconscious.)  The plot thickens here, as clearly the forces of good disarmed him – for now.

The next  stop was Chris Loat’s grade 4/5 class. The class took pictures of their art work, assembled an individual iPad portfolio, and using “Sonic Pics” were creating a description  to go with their work.  When I asked them which of their art pieces they liked the most, I got the following from Benji: ” I think I like the

Benji's Shoe

shoe, because it kind of looks real.” Indeed it does, because, as Benji explained in his description, he was working with the idea of drawings that have depth.

The last visit was a quick chat with resource teacher Davidson Sy.  He had just gotten his hands on some iPod Touches and was thinking of a simple way to start things up by using them as recorders so students can listen to their oral reading and become more fluent.  Very basic, but it makes practice personalized and private. The student is the one listening to his or her own reading and assessing how it’s going, and there’s a empowerment and dignity to that for learners who struggle.

Questions?  There are a few.  Are these devices powerful tools that teachers can use to support students  and help them take more ownership for their learning? Or like the bling on Veronica’s new boots,  are they nice to look at, but not connected with the overall purpose of the boot?

Finally, do they have the potential to “personalize” learning without creating an unmanageable work load for teachers?  I’m leaning towards “yes” on this one, but I’d welcome other opinions, and of course, more questions.


2 thoughts on “The Roadtrip Goes Inside: Mad For iPads

  1. The tech transition is sometimes described in terms of an automation phase followed by a transformation phase. What you described sounds like automation in which the benefit comes from novelty or Hawthorne. That’s fine, but transient and superficial. Old wine in new bottles. What did you see that was different? Does the iPad change anything fundamental in terms of the teaching-learning process? Is there genuinely new potential here? Are long-standing processes and relationships being altered? Is there a power shift from teacher to learner? I’m leaning towards yes too, and hoping your insightful eye will pull back the curtain as your journey indoors continues.

  2. Thanks, Bruce. This is exactly the kind of discussion we need to have, and your questions are the kind that we need to ask and keep asking. If we don’t, we could miss or waste the potential that this kind of technology may have to shift our experience of what teaching is, and even more significantly, what classroom learning is.
    Many an innovation has met a sorry fate because we failed to ask those deeper questions, got distracted by novelty, and never went beyond automation.

    For those of you who would like more information on the levels of tech transition, Bruce has provided the following link:

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