iPads: First six weeks

I have had iPads in my classroom now for approximately 6 weeks. With 8 school iPads, 3 iMacs, 1 laptop, and my personal iPad we can almost reach 1-to-1 if we need to.

Although my students had mostly used iPads previously, they really didn’t know how to “use” iPads in the context of learning.  They knew the basic functions (how to turn on and off, navigate to a specified app, change settings in the system preference), but having them think of them as a learning device instead of an entertainment device was the first shift in thinking that I broached. Developing an acceptable use policy, as a class was a great first step in getting them to view them as a tool for learning. I also have been very careful in selecting the ways in which students utilize the apps to so they are not used as an extra activity students can do when they have finished there work. I think that the time spent in this page was critical to future success with iPad/1-to-1/BYOD type programs. It is important to not make any assumptions in students knowledge when it comes to technology – they may be very good with technology, but they have often not learned how to use it for learning.

Prior to starting the iPad project, I did a fair bit of research to examine how other schools and teachers were implementing iPads in the classroom. There was a huge spectrum of usage – from drill and kill style digital worksheets to individualize personal learning. I wanted to be deliberate, focused, and purposeful from the introduction in my classroom as I could see there was a lot of experimentation that had already taken place and I didn’t want to waste anytime. From my research, my belief was that iPads were great devices to increase student engagement, allow students to demonstrate their understanding in multiple ways through content creation, and provide students with a medium to share their learning with a broader audience.  This has formed the basis for how the iPads are being integrated into my teaching practice.

The next challenge was to select apps for the iPads that would facilitate these goals. I also wanted to select apps that would be easy for students in Grade 4 to use independently (without assistance – but not necessarily as only 1 student), flexible across subject disciplines, build students digital literacy skills, and complement each other (weave together). Although this was not a requirement, all of the apps that I have utilized so far have been free. There are a great deal of free apps out there.

How have we been utilizing the iPads to support learning in the classroom and work toward our goals?

Increase Student Engagement

• A favourite activity so far has been utilizing the website Today’s Meet to have a back channel going on during a lesson or activity. One iPad per group of students (2-4) allows the students to share and post there ideas that are going on during the activity. Often students thinking will get deeper during the session, as they see each others ideas and build a deeper understanding.  As I teach in the PYP, our programme is designed to be inquiry based the back channel has been a great way of recording students thinking and wonderings during our lesson. As the website Today’s Meet allows the ‘room’ to be archived the conversation can be saved and utilized for in the future.

• Other apps/websites such as NearPod, and Socrative allow you to embed assessment questions into a presentation and allow students to become active participants.

Content Creation

• Apps like ScreenChomp, Explain Everything (fee), and Educreations turn the iPad into an interactive whiteboard screen with a recording feature. This allows students to write and explain their thinking orally. We have utilized this for explaining how we are solving math problems so far, but can also be used for explaining sequences of events such as the water cycle, or explaining a diagram. This apps can also be utilized to create “flip-classroom” type video lessons.

Share Learning

• I selected KidBlog as our online sharing platform. This allows the students to post their work so that it can be shared with myself, the other students, and their parents. It also allows them to develop an e-portfolio of there work over the school year.

Using Maps/Infographics to Provoke Inquiry

As an inquiry based teacher, I am always searching for new strategies and ideas to provoke and engage my students in their own inquiries. One of the latest strategies that I have found effective is the use of maps and infographics as a way to engage students in questioning and searching for a deeper meaning. For my current unit of inquiry around the transdisciplinary theme “Who We Are”, as a learning community we have been examining the central idea

Children’s access to human rights is connected to their ability to survive and develop to their potential.

After “digging” in, my students were curious to know about what places around the world people had difficulty accessing their survival needs – which we had defined as food, water, shelter, health care, air, and education. One way I found to address this was to show them some maps/infographics that contained information to assist them in developing a deeper understanding.

I located the following maps:

Hunger Map 2012

Visual Representation of Hunger from World Food Programme

Visual Representation of Hunger from World Food Programme

Access to Water Map

Access to Improved Water Source

I provided the students the maps one at a time, and utilized TodaysMeet to operate a back-channel where groups of students (either 3 or 4 students) could post the observations and questions they had about each map. After each map, we would have a short class discussion about the trends they had observed.

Here are some of the observations and comments students made:

Hunger Map – It is so hard to feed a child in some countries around the world.
– Some people don’t have enough food for survival.
– We have access to good nutritious food in North America.
– Africa does not have enough food.
– There is a lot of hunger in Africa.
– We are very lucky to have lots of nutritious food.
– It is very cheep to feed a child every day. (There is an blue bubble on the map that indicates that it only costs $0.25 a day)
– We should donated food to organizations that deliver food to different countries arond the world.

Access to Water
– Look at how much water we have and how much Africa has.
– The maps are similar – the countries that have undernourishment also have lower access to water.
– The countries that don’t have good access to food and water are ‘poor’ countries.
– Food and water access must be related because the maps are so similar.
– If you don’t have water you cannot grow crops so if there is low access to water, they cannot grow nutritious food to eat.
– The bigger countries have more water and food.
– The maps are almost identical. Even though they display different things they look the same.

Life Expectancy– North America, Europe, and Australia have the longest life expectancy.
– Africa has the shortest life expectancy as a continent.

Thinking About All Three Maps Together
– Africa is a really poor continent – it has not a lot of water or food, and the shortest life expectancy.
– I think it is all connected.
– If you don’t have clean water and nutritious food, you are going to get sick a lot and have a shorter life.
– You cannot survive without food and water so people in places with poor access don’t life a long time.

Overall, using the maps/inforgraphics was a great way to stimulate discussion and have the students arrive at a deeper understanding of the connections between food, water, and survival.