Monday, December 3, 2012

Thoughts on ipads in the Classroom

As readers of this blog well know, I have just jumped back into PBL in my 7th grade class, with a revamped version of my original PBL Korbanot unit.  In addition to the changes that I have made to the unit, I now have the added advantage of our school's newest ipad cart, thus giving us the ability to have access to either  computer or an ipad every day of the week.

What has been so amazing to watch in the first couple of days with the ipads is both the ease with which the students began using them and the fact that every student used them in a slightly different way.  The ease of use was a no-brainer - several of them have their own ipads already, several more have parents or older siblings who have them (including my son), and many of the others have ipods and so they were at least familiar with the basic interface.

What was more interesting was the way in which each student set out to use their new devices.  I have created a wiki complete with links to source material, instructions, videos, images, and many other resources that they will need to access in order to construct their learning.  But aside from that one constant, the students discovered a wide variety of apps that they can use for taking notes, and many of the apps have different features that sometimes speak to each student's strengths - whether it is ScratchWork with its split-screen ability or Pages and its powerful set of tool or Evernote and its cool elephant logo (and ability in take pictures and insert them into notes, among other things).  I learned a great deal about my students' work habit and I picked up a few tips for apps that I promptly downloaded onto my own ipad.

This highlights one of the real strengths of Project-Based Learning, the freedom for each student to decide how they want to proceed through material, and more importantly the freedom for them to learn how to collate and organize that material.  As my 7th graders move from a stage where they expect notes to be handed to them to the more mature stage where they will have to be create meaningful notes that eventually lead to a meaningful product, the different ways in which they use their ipads shows that they are quickly learning this very important skill.

One other note - I have had almost total student engagement in class the past few days.  I don't mean silence - students can be silent if they are surfing the web on their ipads.  My students have been highly focused and highly motivated, asking crucial questions about material, struggling to understand what their overall purpose is, and learning how to work within their groups so as to maximize their learning.  Again, I see this as one of the main goals of PBL - ensuring that every student is actively learning for as long as possible during the course of the class period.  So far, so good.

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