Sunday, October 28, 2012

iPads - The election issue

Recently, I worked with a teacher to develop ideas on how to best utilize the iPad to teach 10-12 year olds about the presidential election process (and much of what we did could be done with almost any age group). She had never used iPads in her classroom before, but was determined to take advantage of the school's investment in this technology. The challenge would be to take as few as six iPads and give the entire class an opportunity to use the tool in a meaningful and enriching manner.

Her strategy ended up having three phases to it.
  1. First, bring some learning apps and websites to the students' fingertips that would allow them to learn about the states and the presidential election process. 
  2. Second, have the students put together a booklet that would highlight info on key issues with perspectives from both major candidates. 
  3. Third, create a political ad using a combination of photos, videos and voice overs, allowing students to synthesize all of the knowledge they had gained throughout the unit.

Phase 1

She and I met several times over the course of this unit. We researched and found a variety of apps and websites that would help students learn about the states and how presidential elections work. Our favorite state app turned out to be by Discovery, US Geography. With video clips, trivia questions, and a variety of factoids, students were able to research different regions of the country with various interests in mind. We combined this with various free apps and links to websites at appropriate reading levels, where students could learn about various issues, the Electoral College, and where each candidate stood on the issues. Students were able to use the iPads independently at their own pace, and with a projector, the teacher was able to showcase and share particular apps and websites that she wanted students to see.

Phase 2

As the class moved into phase two, we decided to use Pages as a way for students to design their booklet. Each group took on one issue and designed one page. The pages were designed with images, a breakdown of the issue and a comparison of where each candidate stood on the issues. The final result was a six page booklet that could be emailed home to families as a PDF and printed to share with classroom visitors. Throughout the process, students were engaged in research, analyzing and summarizing their findings, and creating a final quality product to share what they had learned.

Phase 3

This week, students are working on the third phase. In small groups, the students are writing their own political advertisements supporting the candidate of their choice. This assignment is designed to engage students in synthesizing their acquired knowledge into a product reflective of turning understanding into a persuasive argument. Each advertisement will combine images from the Internet, photos students take with the iPad, videos students film with the iPad, and voice overs students record with the iPad. After a brief look at different options, it was clear that iMovie for iPad was the tool for this assignment. While the final products are not yet complete, the students are once again combining 21st century skills. From their use of technology, to creative problem solving, and collaboration, this project is proving to be fun, educational, and skill building.


Why was this unit successful? The goal was not to teach students how to use a new tool, it was to teach students about the presidential election process. Bringing the iPads into the classroom allowed the students to utilize various apps and websites to achieve this goal. The level of student engagement remained high throughout, with many students commenting on how much they were enjoying what they were doing. In addition to the students learning, the teacher learned how to integrate new technologies into her classroom. This verteran teacher spent several hours preparing on her own and in meetings with me. Instead of fearing the unknown, she embraced it, and accepted that the bumps and bruises along the way were worth creating a rich classroom environment for her students.

Friday, October 19, 2012

On the Fly Data Collection

To celebrate my fifteenth year of teaching, I am making an enormous effort to boost my one-on-one time with students. Working in a predominantly project based environment (as I have designed it to be,) I know the students can get loads of work done without me looking over their shoulder. I also realize that taking the time to spend three to five minutes with every student, almost every day can have a monumental impact on how far they go in absorbing class content and beyond. To help me along my journey, I am bringing my only iPad and a host of on-board tools.

I am currently collecting data from several of these interactions. Using a classroom management system, in my case Edmodo, I attach comments to assignments, scores, and grades on the fly. I can also use other apps to collect notes and data that I don't want to share immediately with students. Using the iPad in this manner allows me to be in contact with students directly, collect information on student progress, and evaluate individuals, the class progress, and my own performance at any point in time.

While I don't always want to be typing notes, I am finding that doing so is like flexing a new muscle. The more I stick with bringing my iPad around the room, the more frequently I have something to say to myself or to a student in comment form. These notes can be feedback, hints, links to websites, informal evaluations, or any other number of data collection and sharing I wish to do.

Having owned an iPad for well over a year now, I am glad to finally be bringing this technology to life in my classroom.

Next week...I will look at the struggles one teacher faces as she attempts to integrate a small number of iPads into her class to study the election.

An iPad in Every Classroom

Over the next few months I will be spending a significant amount of my 'free' time studying how iPads and other mobile devices are being implemented and making a difference in the classroom. I am highly interested in models that are not only one-to-one but also one to a classroom or even one cart to a school. While I see great benefit in the one to one model, it is painfully obvious that this just is not a reality all school systems can achieve under current funding.

However, with the help of local PTOs and organizations such as, teachers are bringing more and more technology tools into the classroom, even if it is only one at a time. Also, many teachers invest their own money into these technologies for personal use, and may not understand all of the advantages available to them in the classroom.

As I begin my search into this realm, I will be looking for any research, assistance, anecdotal evidence, that other teachers can provide to help convey all of the enriching possibilities mobile devices can provide in the classroom. What I won't be doing is simply posting links to websites that provide a list of the 50 best apps for this or that. While I will undoubtedly highlight apps along the way, the real goal is to give a fundamental set of pedagogical ideas that can help every teacher and classroom embrace these technologies.