Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Ipads in the Classroom: Skills not Tools

At the end of June last school year I was asked if I wanted to be part of a study group, made up of teachers grades 6-8, who would study the best way to utilize iPads in a classroom.  Visions of sugarplums danced in my head! Disorganized students never forgetting a notebook in his or her locker, instant research of concepts and mentor texts, on the spot blogging to reflect on learning, and even distance learning from home over sites like Edmodo . . .

Then, of course, the financial reality hit:  our group of six teachers would be sharing one cart of 30 iPads.  To quote Dory from Finding Nemo, "Good feelings gone!"  How could I best utilize these iPads to enhance learning and not just use them in one-week injections for "projects" that could just as easily be done on a desktop?

Our group decided that passing the cart around one week at a time was not the best way to create transformative learning.  Students needed to use the iPads as consistently as possible, so we created a schedule that allowed each teacher to expect the cart on the same day each 6 day cycle.  Teachers could plan lessons knowing that they'd have the cart a certain day. Since I'm on a block schedule and only see my classes every other day, I will be getting the cart each day 5 and 6.  But, what will I do with them on those days?

My first reaction was "find an app,"  but do apps really transform learning?  Unfortunately, I couldn't find one I really felt would.  Let the research begin!  I started with some great hardcopy resources.  Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms is a great read by Will Richardson that offers practical advice to ground my excitement with reality.  I ordered iWrite: Using Blogs, Wikis, and Digital Stories in the English Classroom by Dana J. Wilber.  I stumbled (quite divinely!) over the site Langwitches and suddenly the answer hit me like a ton of iPads:  blogs.  Yes, students can create blogs with desktops, but not quite as proficiently as they can on an iPad.  Being a beginner blogger myself, I knew I needed to start becoming a regular reader in order to get a feel for the characteristics of the genre.  What was the purpose of a blog?  How could it help enhance my students' learning?  How could I keep them from boring their audience to death with menial lists of their everyday activities?  I enrolled in Wordpress and was pleased with the depth of writing that I found there.  These are not whiny teens blogging about what they ate for dinner the night before and who was dating whom.  These are talented authors essaying about life-realizations and idiosyncrasies.  Real-life argumentative writing!  Blogs like this and this.  I simply Googled "best blogs" and found this.  Bingo.

I've tweeted a request for help finding a platform for my students to blog.  I'm planning to start my iPad rotation next week, and dig in to our blog genre study.  Let's see how it goes!

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