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Situating the iPad

Dear Families,

Today we hosted an all-day iPad workshop/conference for 75 colleagues from NYSAIS (New York State Association of Independent School) schools entitled, "Think Different: Integrating the iPad in the Middle School Classroom." It was an excellent opportunity to share and think with others who are also exploring ways to use the iPad as a teaching tool. For us, the seeds of this conference were born a little more than a year ago when we decided to embark on this 1:1 iPad experiment.

We also saw this conference as an opportunity to share other areas of work that have emerged this year along side the iPad project. Our use of the social network framework Elgg with the eighth grade social justice projects and in Adolescent Issues classes led us to use the framework as a collaboration medium for the conference. Additional real-time collaboration took place through Twitter. You can read the interesting back channel conversation that went on among participants at #lreipad. Click here to view images from the day.

We have learned a lot this year and most of the truly interesting learning has come from unexpected obstacles and the insights of our students as they worked alongside us. It's hard to understate how important the student role in this has been; but not surprising when one considers that at the most basic level this experiment has really been about the impact of the iPad on their learning experience. Given this, we also knew that the students themselves would need to play an important role in the conference.

To this end, we divided the day into two sections. In the morning, participants had the chance to sit in on classes in which students used their iPads in a variety of learning contexts. Here's a brief overview:
  • Music (Matt McLean): Creative composition: sharing music notation between multiple iPad apps.
  • Student Calendaring (Jenifer Hubert Swan & Susannah Flicker): End-of-day procedures for students to organize their calendars, homework, and to-do lists on their iPads.
  • Core (Elizabeth Simmons): A social studies lessons featuring the iPad as a device to share information on the LREI student fileserver.
  • Core (Matthew Rosen): Students digitally annotate Shakespeare. Art (Chris Jung): Using Adobe’s new Touch apps, students create social activist propaganda materials; then make use of the iPad’s new wireless beaming function to distribute their projects.
  • Science (Steve Volkmann): Students learn about Bernoulli's Principle using Google Docs and our in-house streaming video server.
    Math (Michelle Boehm):
    Combining interactive whiteboards, iPad styli, network sharepoints, and iPad note taking software, students create personal digital math notebooks.
  • Math (Ana Fox Chaney): Using the iPad a tool for enhancing problem solving and mathematical communication.
  • App Choices (Gabrielle Keller): Students “pitch” new apps for inclusion on their iPads, and argue for their educational worth.
In the afternoon session, LREI teachers and participants from other schools facilitated a variety of discussions for attendees: Here's a sampling:
  • iPads in Math (Caroline Latham • Sacred Heart): Learn how teachers at Convent of the Sacred Heart incorporated the iPad in math classrooms this past year.
  • Digital Books (Todd Rosenthal • City & Country School): How can we leverage the technology of the iPad to enliven and enrich our book groups? We will explore features of specific software such as Subtext, iBooks and Google that enable children to respond to, discuss, navigate and understand text more fully. Will also highlight ways the technology streamlines the logistics of running a book group.
  • Electoral Process (Christine McDonald • Tuxedo Park School): Understanding the history of Electoral College and its role today can be a challenge. What does it all mean, and how can an election be called by how Ohio votes? All this can make sense and furthermore present a wonderful interactive opportunity for classrooms and schools alike. Learn how to bring Election 2012 to your school by attending the “Race for the White House: Integrating Election 2012 into your School’s Curriculum."
  • Big Maps (Noah Carlson • The Rodeph Sholom School): Bridging old school group work lessons with today’s technology, teachers will become more familiar with how the iPad can be an instrumental tool in teaching students primary source research, aspects of geography, and medieval Islamic culture and its achievements. This lesson focuses on a particular time and region of the World but teachers will also see how this activity may be adapted for any place and time. Participants will work with various applications including, Google Earth, Google Maps, and also collaborate with others to create their own ‘Big Maps.’
  • Second Language (Rivka Heisler • SAR Academy):  Reading and writing in a second language can be challenging. IPad apps such as Storypatch, Strip Design, Sodasnap, Puppetpals, and Voicethead provide students with the opportunity to present vocabulary and grammar and practice written and oral fluency in an engaging way.
  • LREI Humanities (Elizabeth Simmons & Matthew Rosen • LREI): A discussion with LREI’s core 7th Grade teachers about their experiences integrating the iPad into their curricula.
  • LREI Network Infrastructure (Christopher Jung • LREI): An overview and discussion of the LREI network infrastructure and it’s integrated support for iOS devices.
  • LREI Math(Michelle Boehm & Ana Fox Chaney • LREI):  A discussion with LREI’s 7th Grade math teachers about their experiences integrating the iPad into their curricula.
Between the sessions, Pratt professor Jessica Hochman who has been doing an assessment of our project offered some initial finding and thoughts from her year-long work with us. She was also joined by seventh graders Jessica, Pillar, Kerabania, Ben and Sadie who offered their own observations and answered  questions from Jessica and other attendees. Hardly surprising that their responses were honest, thoughtful and reflective of the considerable thought that they have put into this project. Here are a few key takeways from Jessica's keynote (student quotes from the focus group sessions appear in italics):
Mutual Shaping: We shape technologies and they shape us. Part of the aim of this research is to think about the reciprocal relationship between students and teachers as users and the tools that we’re using, and the curriculum.

“You could probably get used to you know typing on the iPad, once I got home and when I opened my computer I started like touching the screen.”

The iPad changes business as usual. A new tool has new affordances, which are the actionable properties between the world and an actor (JJ Gibson, perceptual psychologist) and new challenges. It expands what we can teach but it also changes how we teach, and some might argue, what we need to teach. For example, an affordance of the touchscreen is that when you touch it, you generate action within the machine. This is something that other types of screens can’t do. Students see iPad marketing as a fun toy; this factors into their sense of the affordances of the tool. Many of these articulated “affordances” aren’t being used in LREI’s pilot project. This isn’t a bad thing; we want the students to stay on task. But we need to keep this in mind as we explore the ways the students are using the tools at school.

We have to make a space for reciprocity between the tools’ affordances and the curriculum: Technology changes our approach to questions and it changes the questions themselves. As a result, the students are thinking critically about how the iPad fits into their academic practices.
  • Approaches to homework: Students created some clever work-arounds to make the iPad fit into their systems; students also indicated that they changed their ways of working because of the iPad in positive ways.

    “Yeah, the Ipad is also good because you can sort of multi-task, like today in Math I was writing in Pages, and then I flipped back to the calculator, and then I could email someone about math, and then go back to pages, and you can do this all pretty easily and it saves time.”

  • Reading habits: The iPad as an incredibly powerful reading tool; students really took advantage of the affordances of different readers and the teachers experimented a lot with them, which has been great. Students articulated both ineffable differences between reading on paper and on iPad and the concrete differences.

    “I like the paper because it’s really satisfying to like when you finish the book to like shut it, or just to turn the page.”

    “It’s just different kinds of surfaces. It’s not like changing the words.”

    “I like the iPad and I really like the things that you can do on it, but I feel like it’s going to take a little bit of time because I’m so used to my whole life just feeling a book and not like just holding the iPad and reading, just reading.”

  • Organizational strategies: Students have the impression that they're more organized with the iPad.

    “Like, searching makes it really easy. You just have to write, and it’s just like right there. You just click the app and it’s just like right there.”

    “Before I had things in folders, and sometimes I couldn't find it, but now with the iPad, everything is organized, in one place, and if you lose it, you can’t really lose it, it’s still there, digitally.”

    A few students recognize that it's them, not the device, that does the organizing:

    “I just stared getting lazy because it’s in iCal and there was like the application where you could just check your dates and see when something’s due, but because it’s on the ipad I got lazy and stopped really paying attention to that. So I think that the planners a little easier for me because uh, because then I have to write it down and I have to see what I need to put in my bag before I leave school.”

    Student 1: I lost a whole thing of math notes four pages of math notes.
    Student 2: the iPad didn't lose them, you did.

    How are we as teachers going to have to adjust our concepts of organization because of what these tools can do for students? Is this serving them? What does it mean to be organized when the search function is so powerful?
Technology needs to be scaffolded.
  • Huge learning curve for the students and teachers alike. It’s getting used to a whole new way of teaching and learning.
  • Students can’t learn everything from just doing. They need some direction.
  • Students don't seem to be tinkering with it much as was assumed.
  • Not all students are prone to curiosity with technology; this is an assumption
  • The focus groups became a site of learning because they were talking about the functionality of the device. (ie, one student taught another to highlight in a book)

    “Exactly. You have to really know the process, like, ok, you have to do this, and click off of it and click back on, and delete it....”

  • Learning with the iPad is ongoing: Mid-year a shift happened for a lot of students when the app Noteshelf came into the picture. A few students reflecting on this shift, noted that it changed their productivity, but also caused a slowdown while they were learning.
Just a sampling of insights, but so interesting as we consider next steps and how best to make sense of the experience so far. I would be remiss here if I did not also give a huge thank you the seventh grade team who have put in significant time and energy in order to make this pilot project work and to prepare for today's conference.

A long day, but proud of students and teachers and proud to be a member fo the LREI community.