Sunday, November 25, 2012

Space Junk

Teaching, Learning,  iPads and Space Junk
Several educators have asked me:

“Can you help me figure out how iPads can fit into my classroom curriculum?”  
The back of my iPad
I was emailed this question again this week and it made me flip over my own iPad looking for this sticker which I stuck on during the first week of our iPad program...over a year and a
half ago.  I would now replace my thinking about "teaching"
with "learning" since I'm not sure I want to create a classroom environment in which I am teaching to or filling up my students with content (I know that sounds like a vocabulary issue).  I do know that I want to create a classroom environment in
which we all are sharing our ideas, articulating our thinking, creating in unique and individual manners, digging into persistence, demonstrating understanding... generally
growing a culture of learning.

So how do iPads fit into a class curriculum?  No one ever asks how they can fit paper and pencils... or blocks...or a protractor...into their curriculum.  As educators, we try to turn our classrooms into places of learning (places that provoke and promote great thinking, creating, collaborating, problem solving, etc).  We provide the tools, structures, and routines to hopefully allow students and teachers and sometimes even parents to go about that learning.  As a kindergarten teacher, I have many varied tools in my classroom for a variety of learning goals including paper, pencils, and blocks.  I also have iPads.

This is how I now describe the way iPads “fit” into my curriculum:

iPads are not The Sun of our learning galaxy, they are just one of the planets in its orbit.  In other words, I don't put iPads at the center of every activity that I can.  Now that I have iPads available, everything does not revolve around their use. The Sun in this analogy is my classroom culture of learning and there are many planets (tools) in its orbit. In fact, the thing at the center of our classroom "universe" at any given time is the learning goal that I have set.  The tools I choose for the activity would be the planets.  The iPad might be the tool I (or the students) choose or it might not be.  Actually, this is a great place to replace that original question with what I'll call The First Step.  iPads are a great tool for learning - if you're still wondering about that check out Great Teaching is about the Process and The Challenge is On - you just need to take The First Step.  I like to refer to Dr. Ruben Putendura’s SAMR model. (Who doesn’t?).

The First Step is often easiest if you think about Substitution.  In our kindergarten class we used handwriting apps for our substitution step.  If you have older students, online research or writing might be a good choice for The First Step.

Keep all your planets in orbit around the galaxy of learning.  Now that you’ve taken The First Step, you and your students should be more comfortable and confident using this tool and ready to pull it out when and how it makes sense.  Using the SAMR model, you will find that iPads allow students alternate ways to share their thinking, demonstrate understanding, and go out of this world with creativity.

Apps are the space junk.  Ok, so this last part of my space analogy is a little bit out there... The apps really don’t matter!  If the iPads are one of the planets orbiting The Sun (learning), then the apps are all The Space Junk flying around the planets.

For example, there are many art apps that teachers can choose from.  It doesn’t really matter which one I choose as long as it works in my classroom.  We like Brushes and Drawing Box, but another teacher might find they prefer Scribble Press or Draw Free.  It doesn't matter which app works for me as long as I have been intentional in my app selection.  Also, some Space Junk is bigger than others - apps which should be orbiting every classroom (Book Creator, Evernote).  Sometimes Space Junk falls out of orbit and burns up in the atmosphere, meaning that sometimes an app no longer works and you just have to delete it.  In the end, it's really not about the apps at all.

We are not teaching children how to use iPads.  We are  creating a classroom culture of learning. Sometimes iPads are the right tool.  Sometimes they are not the right tool.  Students might start with paper and pencil and move on to iPads.  iPads might be just one part of a larger or longer process.  iPads might be the right tools for some students and not for others.  As with any tool we pull out in our classrooms, we need to think about what makes sense for the children and their learning. 


  1. Thanks for a great post. More and more teachers are finding the same thing, iPads are powerful tools. They have a time and a place in the classroom but we need to see clearly when that is. It is easy to get caught up in the newness of technology and apps but in the end we have to see what is essential to helping students grow. I like your Space analogy because it is yet another tool to helping others at my school who adopt technology to keep a healthy focus. it lays out a key relationship between the content we teach, and the devices we use to teach it. We I don't teach iPads, I teach history using the best tools available. Today I am lucky to have iPads, 10 years from now it will likely be another device. Great post. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks Shawn! I enjoy your blog posts - especially your sum-up of the iPad Summit. I look forward to reading more from you!