3 Ways the iPad Can Improve Your Classroom

IPad, Apps, and Stylus

IPad, Apps, and Stylus

Every teacher wants to improve the life inside the classroom–for both student and teacher. While I do not consider myself an expert on using the iPad in the classroom, I thought I would post some ideas about how it can improve some aspects of life in the classroom. The following suggestions come from my experiences thus far with using Ipads in my classroom. At my school we are almost 3/4ths of the way through our first year with a 1-1 iPad program with our students.

Better Classroom Management

One of the impacts the iPad had on my classroom that I noticed is that it got me moving around more. By using the Splashtop Whiteboard app to control my laptop and thus control the interactive whiteboard in my room, I can move around the room more and monitor my students’ activity. Just the simple act of not having my back turned to the class helps keep students on task. Being able to more around more also allows for more 1-1 interaction with students who might have a question about something being discussed or on the board. Any teacher will tell  you that being able to keep an eye on what is happening in the classroom is a good thing. The iPad definitely helps with that.

Improved Assignment Collection and Distribution

In a previous post I’ve written that one of the first things I wanted to try with the 1-1 iPad program at my school was make my classroom as paperless as possible. I am still sticking to that move and don’t see any way I would go back to handling my assignments the traditional pen and paper way. The biggest benefit when it comes to distributing assignments digitally through email is that students who are absent get the assignment faster. They don’t have to come track me down and get a slip of paper in order to get their assignment–it is already in their inbox.

Emailing the assignments also allows the students to plan ahead with a little less stress when they know ahead of time when they will miss class. Recently a senior came to inform me that they were going to be absent later in the week. As he started to ask what assignments he would miss for that day, he stopped himself before finishing the question and said, “Wait. I’ll just be sure to check my email and get it from there.”

As far as collecting assignments goes, having every assignment turned in as either an email or a blog posting cuts down on the size of stacks of paper on my desk. Usually the only stack on my desk is a test or quiz. To keep track of blog assignments I use Feeddler Pro to aggregate the feeds from my students’ blogs. I have them sorted into class period and can tell who has posted the assignment with just one quick glance.

Most typical homework assignments are turned in via email. By using a Gmail account set up just for homework,  every assignment is available for review whenever, and wherever, internet access exists.  Gone are the days of lugging home stacks of homework to sort through. Setting up folders (labels in Gmail) keeps things organized and setting up filters to auto-sort incoming emails really saves a lot of time.

Implement Student Portfolios

I’ve always loved the idea of having student portfolios. I’ve never been crazy about–or very good at–keeping up with them. Folders and binders take up room and are a pain to look through. Bringing the iPad into the classroom makes the creation, storage, and review of portfolios a lot easier to implement. In fact, it is almost impossible to pass up the opportunity. Just by having students use their iPads to turn in their assignments via email which I  then sort into folders, I unwittingly created portfolios for every student. I have every assignment every student has turned in for the whole year available with a couple of touches or swipes on the iPad screen. That can come in pretty handy when it is time for parent-teacher conferences.

Having assignments on a blog is also pretty handy. The research project for my senior literature class is going to be on the students’ blogs instead of being submitted in a folder or binder. No need to worry about where the projects can be stored.

Having assignments on the blog also can help with parent communication. Twice this year I have had a parent ask about a low grade for a blog assignment. I was able to send the url for the student’s blog to their parent as part of the response I emailed. This allowed the parent to see for themselves that the post was either late or was not done.

Another option some teachers use for creating student portfolios is Evernote.

At the start of this post I stated that I don’t consider myself an expert at using the iPad in the classroom–I am always looking for new ways to improve any aspect of my students’ experience in my classes. So, if you have any ideas on how to do that, please share them.

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The iPad and Changes for Teachers

A Stack of Books

Some book on one of my classroom bookshelves

Time to Change My Ways?

Bringing technology into the classroom presents many challenges for students, administrators, and teachers. No matter how much time teachers and administrators invest in planning before a tech roll-out of some new system, it seems that a greater amount of time is spent playing catch up. What do I mean by this? Well, from my personal experience it boils down to spending a lot of time thinking of ways to use something before school starts in August and then spending even more time once school starts adjusting that plan.

This readjustment typically comes from some aspect of the classroom experience or procedure not working quite the way I anticipated. In years past, this readjusting was contained to various lessons or activities and how they might need to change in order to be more effective. Thoughts like “This novel didn’t seem to grab the class’ attention the way I hoped. Maybe I should try a different one.” Or, “I don’t think I explained this concept as well as I anticipated. Maybe I need to present it differently.”  Those types of thoughts are pretty normal for teachers–at least I think they are.

Now all my students have iPads and I find that other types of questions are popping up as I think about my classroom. Sure, I pretty quickly planned on going paperless before the school year began; but now, I am beginning to think more and more about HOW students learn in this new digital classroom. I am beginning to think more and more about HOW I need to adapt the way I teach in this new digital classroom.

For example, in my dual enrollment American Literature class today I was going through a PowerPoint presentation about Rationalism. I was going through this much the same way I have every year. Today, however, I was very conscious that there were only 4 or 5 students out of 21 taking notes as I went through the slides. I know not every student is going to take notes–even if they were writing them down on paper. But the number actively taking notes today seemed very low–especially for a college credit class.

I am pretty certain that when it comes time for a quiz or test, the notes those 4 or 5 students took today will find their way to everyone else in the class: All with the simple push of a button.

Where Old PowerPoints Go to Die

This has stuck with me all day. I have thought about note taking in our new iPad environment before today; but it usually centered on what app the students could use to take the notes, or what I could do to encourage them to take notes. Now I am starting to wonder if I should change the way I present new information to a class.

Now I am starting to wonder about the day when I have to introduce our next area of study in American Literature. When the day comes for me to introduce Romanticism, should I just break out the PowerPoint with all my nice slides listing characteristics? Or should I approach my class and students in a different way? Maybe I should just say “We are going to begin studying Romanticism in American Literature now. Go online and find the characteristics of Romanticism and share them with me and the class.” I could even say “Everyone in this row find the characteristics. Everyone in this row find the differences between American and European Romanticism. Everyone in that row find the American authors most commonly associated with Romanticism.” And so on and so forth.

Is it time for many of my PowerPoints to head off to the presentation graveyard? Is it time for me to make that move from being the “authoritative repository of information” in the classroom to an “information guide” for my students? I know I have a great deal more thinking to do on this particular subject. It will probably be one of those subjects I continually question. And that is one of the things we teachers are supposed to do.

How do you handle introducing new information to students?