Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Visit to the Collegiate School (NYC)

Monday I had the opportunity to visit the Collegiate School on the Upper West Side of New York City. I had contacted Alex Ragone, their Tech Director, about visiting and he put me in touch with Melanie Hutchinson who is the curriculum coordinator for their Lower School. Melanie and her teachers have had iPads to work with themselves, and a set of eight available to borrow for students. They have all been contributing to a lively blog about their discoveries, which is linked to my page in the blogs section. I learned a lot about their process from Melanie and Alex - particularly their sense of adventure about exploring freely and just seeing how the students respond.

Apps for Different Ages
Melanie explained that when they started, they used mostly drill-type apps for kids. They found that for first grade, there was a magnet board app, spelling blocks, and sight words that were useful. They have since added some drawing apps. When they decided to test it with Kindergarten, they put a few out in the learning center and let them explore. It was amazing how comfortable they were right away. They have used tangrams and patterning apps, along with drawing programs. The hardest part has been to find a good reason to use them for reading. It seems to me that with the younger children it would be best if they created the story and the artwork, then recorded the narrative and made it available in the listening center. Otherwise, just loading a book on an iPad instead of the reading the real thing seems unnecessary.

With older elementary students there have been many successes. The science teacher did an earthquake unit and used an excellent app showing earthquakes around the world. Rather than Google Earth, they find that the National Geographic Atlas is clearer and easier to access. Everyday Math has games that are for 2 players, which solves the sense of isolation caused by everyone focusing on their own device. They have also had a great fun with Strip Designer and Toontastic, one for creating comic strips using photos, and the other for short animations. I dropped in on fourth graders who were using the iPads to search for information for a river project.

Melanie's Five Tips
Melanie is presenting about her experience at the NYAIS this week. She has a great-looking PowerPoint ready to go, so she shared a few parts of it. At the end she has these five tips:

1. Play first - that means teachers AND students. Don't expect students to get right to work when they haven't had time to play and explore.
2. Build and explore your network - we didn't have time to talk about this one...
3. Find great apps! - this, I am discovering, takes time and the outlay of some money, since you can't play with an app until you own it.
4. Don't lose sight of your learning goals - a very wise reminder that we should never let the technology take over the learning.
5.Management is key - That includes who takes them and puts them back, how they get updated, and how they are stored. She has devised a simple system of two file holder-sized boxes with four iPads in each, and power strips along the side to charge them. So much less invasive than a cart!

Alex also suggested that when we loan them to teachers for the summer, we do so with the understanding that:
1.They can add apps for personal use through their own iTunes account, but they should use the "back up" function in iTunes before they return the iPads. That way the apps are saved and can be loaded on another device.
2. They must join the iPad User Group
3. They must agree to post to the iPad blog at least once a month.

With all this I have plenty to work on.  I have already sent an invitation to my iPad Users to join this blog!

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