Wednesday, November 14, 2012

We Have iPads at our School - Now what? (The Practical Side of Using iPads in the Classroom...)

This is my first year with iPads in my classroom. I had used the device before at home, but have to admit that even though I was excited and ready to use it in my classroom, I wasn't sure where to begin. As I have talked to teachers at different schools, I have found that I am not alone. Some teachers are excited, some are nervous and many aren't sure where to begin. So I thought I could help by talking about some simple ways that I have found to integrate the iPad into classroom routines and lessons.

1. Documenting Student Work (by the teacher)

A colleague of mine, Denise Coffin, was gushing about Evernote and how it changed her life in the classroom. I wasn't familiar with Evernote, but since she was so enthusiastic about it, I started playing around with it.  She was right. Evernote is the best tool for documenting student work and teacher observations all in one place. I was one of those teachers who took some notes, had some assessments, but left a lot of my thinking about students in my head. I didn't always write things down when they happened, so I had to rely on what I remembered sometimes several days or weeks after the event. It worked to a point, but I know that I missed some things. Now that I have started using Evernote, I have "at the moment" observations, pictures of student work and student reflections all in the same place. 

I have to admit, it took some time to set up the folders so I could easily keep track of kids. It was totally worth the effort. Basically, I went to a training session with our Tech Director, Jenni Voorhees, and she showed us how to set up folders and share them with other teachers. (This is the part that took a while.) Once that was done, however, my teaching partner and I can see all the notes that either one of us writes about a particular student.  (At our school, we team teach, so there are two teachers in every classroom.) I started by taking pictures of student work during math time.  Once I had the picture in place, I had the students talk about what they were doing and now have an audio file connected to the picture. These are not the greatest notes, but it is a genuine reflection by the student about their work! Since then, my teaching partner and I have started to divide up the students by day, so we are getting some documentation on every student at least once per week.  I know my colleague who first told me about this amazing app has more documentation on all the kids, and probably a better sytem for recording work, but she's been using Evernote for a much longer time than me!

2. Documenting Student Work (by the students)

This might be the easiest way to get kids comfortable (and in turn become more comfortable yourself!) with using iPads on a daily basis.  Once students learn how to use the camera, which really is about a 2 minute tutorial for them, kids can begin to take photos of their work or take a video of themselves or their classmates working on a project.  The videos and photos are saved to the camera roll. If your school has set up an email account for your class, then your students can email you their work. If not, you can set up a Dropbox account and kids can save the work there for you to look at later. Of course, sometimes the kids want to take pictures of things you don't really need a picture of for your records. In that case, great! Let them click away - pictures can always be deleted in the future. Making sure the kids feel ownership of taking care of class iPads and are responsible for managing the pictures and videos on the iPad is essential. 

3. Extensions for kids who are finished early

We all have those moments when students come to us with, "I'm done! What do I do now?" Sometimes  we have the next step for them to complete and sometimes we don't. If you introduce a few problem solving apps to the class early on, then kids can know that is an option for them. Giving students the time for a guided discovery and discussion of the app first allows for questions and problem solving as a group and less problems when students try out the app on their own.  Currently, my favorites are Slice It!, Math Doodles, Symmetry Shuffle, Kickbox and Opposites. I haven't introduced these all to the class yet, but hope to soon!

4. Allowing for Differentiation 
This may be one of the best reasons for having an iPad in the classroom.  The iPad is a unique device that allows students to have some independence and help at the same time. For example, we asked students in our class to write about something they like to do in the fall as a journal entry one day. One little boy came up and told us a wonderful story about playing in the leaves with his siblings. It had a purpose, details and a clear voice. Just what a teacher wants! However, when this same little boy went to write his story, he came back with one sentence. The physical act of writing was just too difficult for him right now. However, it wasn't a problem because he was able to take an iPad, tell his story into it (just by taking a video) and then we could sit down with him and review the video. He could see and hear that he had wonderful details, and was then willing to take another shot at writing. iPads allow students who need another way to show their thinking an avenue to show teachers what they know. All students need to learn to write, and the little boy in the example will learn, but he has a crutch now when he needs it to help him along that path.

5. Let go and Let the Kids lead the Way

Students in my class have been using iPads in the classroom since last year.  They came in mostly comfortable with the devices and enjoyed using them right away. The first time we took them out, I was really nervous. What happened if they dropped the device? They are 6 and 7 year old kids - that was a legitimate concern. I also felt the need to have a "project" in mind. This is where I think many teachers approach technology - why use it unless you have a "project" to do? This is a switch that I have started to make in my thinking as I am becoming more comfortable living with the iPads in our classroom. There isn't the need for a "project". You have to start thinking about how the students in your class can use the devices when they need to, when it makes sense.  For kids, this device is intuitive. They figure things out and mash up apps in ways that we adults would never think of. It's hard to let go of the control, but once you do, it's amazing to see what your students can create. Some of it isn't pretty, and there are certainly times when there is a lot of chaos in the room, but in the end, students are taking risks and learning from their mistakes.  


  1. Eve, this is a fantastic post! I've really enjoyed reading your new thoughts since the iPad Summit. I hope that you and your team will be able to join us again in Atlanta this April. Please keep writing, and if you don't mind, I'd love to quote you in a webinar tomorrow.

  2. Beth, Thanks so much! I really enjoyed your sessions at the iPad Summit in Boston. Please feel free to quote me tomorrow. That's great!