Wednesday, March 14, 2012

iPads in the Classroom: Are we getting results?

Yes, there are positive results with iPad programs.
Results of state testing in Maine and a survey of Independent schools indicate that students on all grade levels showed improvement in literacy areas including, making learning visible, writing compositions, digital storytelling, and, for kindergarten classes - handwriting and phonemic awareness.Improvement reported in math included: the concepts underlying basic operations, logical problem solving, patterns and puzzles, spatial reasoning, and making learning visible.
Is it just about iPads themselves?
Not all iPad programs are resulting in this level of success. Successful implementations share a similar genesis: thoughtful planning in which the question is constantly asked, "What can iPads contribute to the learning experience of students, what aspects of their experience might be enhanced or improved with iPads?" Last summer I was invited to speak to the public school teachers in Auburn, Maine to share our plans at Sidwell for our Kindergarten iPad implementation. I carefully crafted a presentation that focused on all the reasons our work was not focused on the iPads, but rather on curriculum, teacher collaboration, and connections to others who share our goals. To my surprise, I was speaking to the choir. The leadership in Maine had also envisioned a systemic approach, beginning with curriculum and desired outcomes. Thus a wonderful partnership began.
Successful programs use a systemic approach that includes engaging the teachers to evaluate and question each aspect of their curriculum and practice, with and without the technology. In this way the iPads not only contribute to the learning experience of children, but, perhaps more significantly, serve as a catalyst for collaborative reflection and planning among teachers.
Here are the elements that separate successful programs from the rest:
Let pedagogy lead, iPads follow.
Prepare for innovation with evaluation of current practices, imagine ways in which current practices could be strengthened or improved and how iPads could contribute to that improvement.Set up opportunities for teachers to engage students with iPads early in the planning process, then discuss experiences in the light of current best practices.Create a culture of thoughtful discussion, experimentation and evaluation among the teachers and team leaders with high expectations for participation and reflection.
Let the planning process serve as a catalyst for clarifying goals and objectives.
Let teachers work as a team to clarify curricular goals and objectives, and set up theories about what could be improved with an innovation such as iPads.Plan which aspects of curriculum could be strengthened through appropriate apps, alternative ways to experience and express learning. Establish an "app" review process that requires correlation to curricular goals and objectives.Establish frequent, regular sessions to share and reflect on experiences with the expectation that they will constantly assess their approach with an eye to continual revision. Create a culture of continuous evaluation - set up a framework for feedback and review with scheduled full program evaluations.
Create a culture of collaboration and growth among teachers and among students.Encourage feedback from students, allow students to try new ways to express learning. Encourage innovation among teachers and students by celebrating discoveries and reflecting on successes.Engage teachers in professional growth by asking them to reflect on their experiences publicly through PLNs, blogs, workshops, school visits.Constantly question the program, the process, the tools, with the goal of nimble response to change and the expectation of constant improvement.
For more information and links to the studies, visit my Workshops site.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Keeping Our Inborn Love of Learning Alive

A first grade student came up to me speaking pig Latin today and luckily she had a friend next to her serving as a translator. When I asked her how she learned to speak Pig Latin so fluently she explained that she practices at night when she is lying in bed. Her parents taught her the basics and now she is indeed, quite competent, rattling off paragraphs I can’t understand. The point is: she is creating her own challenge and pushing her own learning. Kids can and do, do this same type of thinking and learning in math exploring number and geometry concepts. Once a Kindergarten student explained to me with colored tiles how he could build squares starting with 1 tile, by adding consecutive odd numbers. (Three more tiles made a 2 by 2 square, 5 more tiles made a 3 by 3 square and so on).  
While we know children are born learners who are naturally curious and inquisitive, are we sure school perpetuates and fosters that learning, questioning, and curiosity?  I think we could all agree school fails many children and for that very reason, software developers and App creators have been scrambling to market new ways for children to learn and to be engaged.  The problem is some of these “new” approaches can actually squelch creative thinking and put kids in an even tighter box than traditional school.  They might engage children but what dendrite pathways are being reinforced and how many new connections are being made? Websites with math programs abound but most have advertisements relentlessly popping up as well as visually unaesthetic plastic graphics, noisy bells and annoying whistles, and/or cliché words of praise reinforced with prizes and rewards.  What messages are we reinforcing in the name of learning when we use these programs?  And so many times, aren’t we merely practicing skills in rather uninspired ways? The novelty of the iPad will surely run thin if we use it to simply do things we have always done. 
I guess it is clear that I have not been overly  impressed with the math Apps I’ve seen so far but that was until I  got hooked on Kickbox and Big Seed created by the Mind Research Institute. In fact, I think I had forgotten on some levels what it like to learn something completely new, which is a scary confession for a teacher to make.  I found myself totally absorbed by Big Seed and Kickbox because both offered me activities that made me think beyond the box! 

The Mind Research Institute has developed a visual approach to teaching math concepts through its software. The program is language-independent, which eliminates a huge barrier many children face in developing their math thinking. While it is a game, playing Big Seed immediately took me to the space in my mind where I know I do my creative, thinking work. Indeed, that is the space that seems to create time because I find myself totally engaged in the “work” or “play.”  How wonderful to just explore and discover and to figure out how something is working. Isn’t that the very definition of learning?  As I explored deeper into these Apps, I soon realized that I needed to plan many steps ahead. My working memory was working! It took me repeated tries to succeed with the tasks and yet I wanted to keep trying, I wanted to get it. I stayed up past my bedtime working on these tasks like the first grader had teaching herself Pig Latin. I had to persevere: something we all hope our children and students will do. 
I know there are more math Apps out there and more on the way that will develop children’s thinking by growing dendrites and nurturing their creativity. I am meanwhile completely taken with these two and thrilled that it will take me a while to work through all their levels!  Big Seed and Kickbox might look simple but they are thoroughly engaging and challenging.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

How many ways can we tell a story?

In our class we have been working on finding different ways to tell a story. We began by reading some great stories about kids our age and having the students write a story with paper and pencil. The students reflected on their work. Does it have a beginning? Is there a middle? How does it end?

Our next stories were created solely with an art app. Most of the students used Draw Free.

The students narrated their stories to a partner. The students really enjoyed this project and created elaborately detailed tales to accompany their illustrations.

This story picture told the story of a boy who can walk under water!

Next, the students wrote with pencil and paper about one classroom job. Once they finished the paper and pencil version of their non-fiction "story," they went to Book Creator and created an iBook about the very same job. They were able to use the camera to take photos, an art app to draw illustrations, the keyboard option to type text, and the voice recorder to narrate these books.
This book was created to explain the Door Monitor job.

This week, we took story telling to the movies!

We talked about movies that are filmed and those that can be created by a series of photos. Using iStopMotion, we have made "A Day in the Life of KX."

To begin, I taped an iPad easel to a bookshelf and set it up. I showed the first student how to operate the app. I gave her some basic suggestions: tap the shutter button lightly, try not to move the iPad, check first to make sure it is lined up, etc. She took the first few frames and then taught the next student. We continued this throughout the day. Everyone had a turn to be the film director and everyone had a turn to be the cameraman.

Before we began, we shared what this story might look like on paper: We arrive at school. We have gathering. We have snack. We do Book Club. We go to lunch. etc. Not a very thrilling story. However, in this new format, the story provides details and information that the written story did not.

What I like about this app:
*kindergarteners can do it
*students get a chance to practice "teaching" something
*students get to experience different types of storytelling
*this is fun!