iPurpose before iPad

The two above images are good examples of purposeful thinking about iPad usage in schools.

One, a screenshot of an oft-used tool known as iPad As.. by edtechteacher.org, focuses on what the iPad can be used for and provides links to various apps that can be utilised for those functions. It goes without saying that it is a very useful website for schools thinking about iPads. It provides nutshell explanations of a number of apps that relate to each iPad as… category as well as pricing. It’s a good introduction into the functionality of the iPad that counteracts the misconception of iPad as consumption NOt creation tool.

The other, The Padagogy Wheel, is one of many variations on applying Bloom’s Taxonomy of skills to iPad apps. It develops from the general learning action verbs/skills we want our students to acquire to technology based activities that relate to these skills and finally to a selection of apps that can support this development.

Both tools have supported my reflection on iPad use in school and are worth checking out in detail. Having said that, though, I feel they both fall short in what is needed as a resource for implementing iPads in education. iPad as… does a good job at presenting uses for iPads in school – what they can be used for – but doesn’t really provide depth about the skill development that can arise from their use. It’s still action/activity emphasis rather than pedagogical/learning emphasis. It’s great to know that you can create videos, and it describes what the app can do,  but how will this improve learning and what learning will it improve is also a priority iPad schools need to address. I think it also pigeon-holes apps as one trick ponies – I’d like to emphasise the apps that can be used to develop many skills.

The Padagogy Wheel provides many links between skills and tech activities but doesn’t really address what iPad apps address which skills and activities specifically other than lumping them into a particular category. It too, tends to classify the apps as one trick pony options rather than seeing them as multiple category options.

Don’t get me wrong, I think both are great tools but there is room for improvement in creating a tool for supporting time poor iPads in Schools implementers in planning, selecting, justifying and integrating iPad apps in education.

Which leads me to attempt a herculean task… I’m going to try to blend the best of both of these resources and address the short falls I have mentioned by creating my own resource. But it’s going to be a work in progress for a while and I hope to get support from Mr G Online followers, subscribers, users and casual visitors.

I’ve started creating a table of important skills, some derived from the Padagogy Wheel, and actions, some derived from iPad As… What I am planning to highlight is that there are many apps that can be use for many purposes and for developing many skills. For example, I have already added “Explain Everything” to 9 categories as I see it as a multifunctional app and one worth its price because of the educational benefits it provides. Over the coming months I plan to add text descriptions to each category to explain how the apps listed address the skill or action they have been linked to and may also link them to other online sources that show them in action. I’ll also provide direct links to the App Store, as I always do on this blog when I mention apps so you can check them out yourself if you want.

Now this sounds like a big task and it is. So I do need some help. What do I want from you? Anything you can give. Just add them to the comments of this post.

  • Examples of apps that help to develop specific skills
  • Additional skills I haven’t listed here
  • Examples of apps that are multifunctional.
  • Explanations of good pedagogical practice with apps. Don’t worry, all credit will go to you when I include your suggestions.
  • Links to blog posts, websites, Youtube tutorials, open wikis, nings etc that promote good practice that I can link to from here.
  • Examples on add ons like bookmarklets for curation sites, websites that work well with iPads ( Flash-free) that can still be categorised under these headings for iPad use.
  • Spread the word regularly through Twitter, Facebook, Curation sites like Pinterest and Scoop-It to keep educators coming back.
This post will look messy for a while as new ideas get added. A blog may not be the best storage place for it in the long run. If I actually get the support – and it’s likely I won’t – and it grows I will probably move it to a separate website for better functionality. It may well be better as a wiki but  I didn’t want to move away from Mr G Online unless I needed. For easy access in the meantime, I will add this post to my main menu at the top of the blog so you can come back to check revisions. I will be planning weekly updates at least, more if I get regular contributions I can just copy and paste in from the comments.
I really hope I can get this off the ground. From reading so many blog articles, I can see there is a huge need for clarity in using tech like iPads. If you have been a regular reader of Mr G Online, you would know I am a big proponent of Pedagogy before Technology. That’s why I want iPurpose before iPad. Hope to hear from some of you soon.



iMovie Pinnacle Studio VideoScribe HD iStopMotion GarageBand  TagPad  Evernote  Notability

Explain Everything Art Maker Animation Desk iMotion HD AudioBoo
 Whether creating live action videos with iMovie and Pinnacle Studio, animated stories with iStopMotion, Animation Desk and iMotion HD or how to tutorials with Explain Everything, the iPad is a great tool for video creation. Creating videos with these apps develops organisation and planning skills, supports story telling skills in non writers and enhances creativity and problem solving in many ways.
Book Creator Creative Book Builder StoryWheel    Sonic Pics Explain Everything Toontastic Storify
Video Scribe HD
Providing opportunities for authentic writing with a real audience outside the classroom, publishing real books using the iPad can improve motivation and actual writing skills. With sufficient access, tech based writing can employ the editing capabilities to encourage children to write without worrying about rewriting from scratch. With the real possibility of publishing books online or in the iBookstore for others to read, children will be encouraged to put more effort into editing and improving their written work. The possibilities for multimedia additions allows for more creativit There are more ways of telling stories these days than text and pictures. Some students have stories inside them that don’t get shared because of a lack of writing ability. Let’s give them opportunities to tell stories orally until they are ready to write so that they can develop their imaginations and story telling for when they are ready to write. These apps all allow for alternatives to traditional writing texts, either through combining audio and images seamlessly in a variety of formats
 Strip Designer Comic Life     Book Creator iPrompter Creative Book Builder iBooks
Explain Everything
Creating stories with audio, highlighted annotations, vocabulary support through linked dictionaries, scrolling screens provides support for students who lack reading skills. Getting children to record themselves reading gives them feedback on their progress as well as support for independent practice.
Edmodo VoiceThread Skype Evernote Keynote  VideoScribe  Haiku Deck   VoiceThread
Instapaper Whiteboard Popplet Comic Life  Explain Everything  Skitch   iPrompter
Comic Life  Writing Prompts SpellBoard Tap Dictionary iMind Map 3D  Popplet  Skitch Inspiration Maps Lite
Notability Whiteboard
 Evernote Edmodo   PollDaddy Socrative   EverNote  Edmodo Pinterest  Instapaper
Notability  Notability
 Notability Hopscotch
 Skitch  Evernote  Notability    Wolfram Alpha Numbers  Hopscotch
Wikinodes Notability
 Numbers  Wolfram Alpha  Doodle Buddy    Wolfram Alpha PollDaddy  WikiNodes Notability
Edmodo  PollDaddy   Socrative Numbers  Edmodo   Puppet Pals    
TagPad Evernote EasyTag
ClassDojo  Notability
Edmodo  Socrative   ClassDojo   Explain Everything   Edmodo Socrative  Notability 
Screen Shot 2013-04-23 at 8.32.29 PM   
Routes Explain Everything Skitch Geocaching Numbers Wolfram Alpha MyScript Calculator
My Maps Editor
Skitch Explain Everything  Skype    Edmodo  Skype
ArtRage Garageband Snapseed RoomPlanner
ArtRage GarageBand  Snapseed iStopMotion Skitch  Explain Everything   RoomPlanner iDraw
Phoster ScrapPad
Explain Everything   Numbers Hopscotch     Edmodo  VoiceThread Skype  iPrompter 




Book Creator for iPad – updated again for greater e-book functionality (tutorial)

A lot of iPad users in schools have already heard of Book Creator for iPad. I’ve written about it before on my blog before. Nevertheless, I have put together a how to guide in different formats (ebook, PDF and video) to showcase its features and highlight its new features just added in a recent update that how to guides online don’t feature at the moment. ( the how to guide included in the app is still the original guide that doesn’t include half the current features). It’s one of my must have apps for my school and the tutorials are to support my staff and students, most who still haven’t used the app yet,  in learning how to use the app. While others reading this may have checked the app out before, these tutorials may still be of use for you

Book Creator for iPad Tutorial by mcglee1966




Download iBook version of my  Book Creator for iPad tutorial (created using Book Creator )to read on your iPad here.




Here is the video tutorial I made and uploaded to YouTube. It is in 2 parts because it runs for about 28 minutes in total and YouTube won’t let me upload videos that big!


iPads (or other devices) and Literature Circles – co-starring Edmodo.

Literature Circles Projects
http://www.flickr.com/photos/chowd/488098373/ CC Licensed

Literature Circles have been around forever. Done well, the strategy is an effective way of engaging children in reading, while teaching them specific skills and behaviours we use when immersing ourselves in a text. With clear foci during the instructional part of the Literature Circle session, teachers can direct children to use these strategies to improve their comprehension and how they respond to text.

One of my main concerns ( and the concerns of many I have worked with in implementing Literature Circles) is monitoring the independent reading and meetings as well as the work done by children in between sessions. Technology can play a big part in this and can also be used to enhance, simply and streamline the whole process. This is where the iPad comes in. ( I’ve been neglecting the star of Mr G Online for a while as I’ve been reflecting on education overall). With its ability to act as the actual book ( or text in general), its connectivity and collaborative capabilities and the tools and apps that it can add to the mix, the iPad can be the all-in-one Literature Circle Experience. Using Technology as the tool for creating the preparation for the discussion means there are opportunities for the teacher to check in on the potential online discussions that may occur and have access to the prep work the students have done for the discussion. Read on to find out how the iPad can be used in each of the roles in Literature Circles. Of course, this can mostly be done using laptops or desktop computers as well but the “iPad as book and personal immersive device” makes for a better experience in my humble opinion. With no iPad access, though, you can still do it almost as effectively.

The Organisation
Traditionally, from my experience, students have a quick meeting to decide how much of the book they will read before the discussion meeting and what role/s each member will prepare for during the discussion. Also from my experience, this is sometimes rushed and individuals forget what was organised. Last year, I began organising Literature Circles via Edmodo. During the meeting, group members would post their roles in the Edmodo group environment and record what their reading goal was. No one had excuses and if a group member was absent, he/she could access Edmodo to find out what to do, how much and when by.

Now that Edmodo’s iPad app has been updated with access to GoogleDocs and the iPad’s camera roll, posting documents on the site is now quite easy. Having access to other group members’ contributions to the Literature Circle discussions means more opportunities to prepare for the meeting. This kind of collaborative environment also means the students can contribute to all roles rather than just doing theirs. I think this is better in the long run.

In terms of accessing the books, Kindle books and iPad books are often similar in price to physical books and especially in Kindle’s case, often cheaper. I’m not going to discuss how many copies to buy vs how many iPads. That’s up to your conscience and understanding of Purchasing Agreements. However, if I buy 8 books to share amongst 100 students in rotation, I should be able to do the same with ebooks. Consideration might also be made for using audiobooks for readers who need support. There are a lot of interactive read along books on iTunes as well for iPads which could be good choices for struggling readers.

The Reading Experience
iBooks and Kindle for iPad are the two big players here. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Kindle has a greater range of books and is generally cheaper; iBooks is more integrated with the iPad system so is easier to import other texts into the app for reading and to actually download the text from within the app. Both have great highlighting and note making tools and built in dictionaries. There are two camps when it comes to reading;the “I love turning real pages and holding a real book” people and the “ebooks are so much easier to use” group. You can make that call yourself but for the purpose of this post, I am in the “ebook” camp. By having the text on the iPad, students can easily bookmark multiple sections to refer back to instantly rather than dog-earing every second page of a borrowed book. Any highlighted text can also be saved and accessed, shared via Twitter ( for those with access) for others to access. Words can be looked up and marked via the built in dictionaries. Information or specific text  can be searched for within the text or outside the text via Wikipedia or the internet in general. This allows for quick access to resources that can enhance the comprehension of the text. Multiple shorter texts like PDF files can be accessed through Dropbox or GoogleDocs for all readers quickly instead of wasting photocopying and readers still have annotation tools available through dedicated PDF reading apps like GoodReader or Notability (my personal choices).

Discussion Director
Students can access key instructions on the role of the Discussion Director from attached files either within iBooks/Kindle/GoodReader or via

Coveritlive chapter discussion embedded in Edmodo

Edmodo. This access eliminates the excuse I have often received that the student wasn’t sure way to do. Discussion questions can be posted on Edmodo for teachers and other group members to access before the meeting. This gives them the opportunity to prepare for the questions rather than going in cold without knowing what to consider. It also provides the chance for teachers to support the Discussion Director in framing the questions for quality discussion prior to meeting to help ensure there is opportunity for real thinking rather than the students getting hit with yes/no questions.

Alternatively to Edmodo, students could use the iPad’s VoiceThread App to set up the questions for discussion. This gives options for video or audio responses for those who prefer that kind of response. The Coveritlive app  is another opportunity for multimedia discussion opportunities. Both of these options allow for participation by students who may be absent on the day of the discussion meeting. Of course, absent children could also participate in the meeting via Skype on the iPad. All of these options are of course available through other devices but the simplicity of access to them via the iPad makes it more conducive for the discussion to flow successfully.

Vocabulary Enricher (Word Wizard)
After highlighting the words or phrases in the text, the Vocab Enricher can use either the inbuilt dictionaries in the iBooks/Kindle text or any downloaded dictionary app on the iPad if he wants to copy/paste the information to present to the group. The student could take screenshots of the relevant highlighted pages and upload these to Edmodo for the others to see. This allows the students in the group to be prepared for the discussion by knowing which words will be referred to and will be able to highlight them in their own text beforehand. It means they can also read the words in the context on the page rather than just getting a list of words to think about. You would need to stress that they don’t rely on the dictionary as the purpose is to read in context first.

Cunning Connector
Using VoiceThread, Coveritlive, a shared Popplet or a GoogleDoc, the Connector could pre post the connections she made to a specific part of the text or provide a range of text sections the other students could connect to. Other students could add pictures or video/audio/text comments for a richer experience.By doing this collaboratively, the other group members could contribute to this role and build more connections than the initial Connector made. For me, this is where I would like Literature Circles to go – rather than individuals being assigned a role, everyone takes on multiple roles which then just become reading behaviours to use when reading any text at any time. All of the connections presented in the collaborative document would then be presented at the discussion meeting to be talked about further. At this point I’ll say that some could see this process of online participation is eliminating the need for the Literature Circle meeting. I don’t agree with that. From my experience last year, when I trialled this type of approached with a group on Edmodo, the collaboration online encouraged the children to be more prepared and at the meeting they were more tuned in because of the preparations beforehand. They had more to talk about rather than less. The connections were built upon through feedback which then made them make deeper connections. It allowed me as the teacher to participate and encourage the deeper thinking through making my own connections and asking the students questions.

Creative options for more engaging summarising of the text could include Comic strip apps like Strip Designer and Comic Life, both of which can export to Camera Roll for easy importing to Edmodo. The Book Trailer option in iMovie could be a fun and inventive way to share a summary of a chapter. Of course, simple text based options through a basic posting on Edmodo ( others could add replies to improve the summary) or previously mentioned options like Voicethread and Popplet could again be used to summarise.

Having the digital text available at the reading stage also allows for highlighting key ideas as the Summariser reads. He can then go to the Highlighted text section in iBooks or Kindle to view all of his ideas together in a sequential order, thus making it a simpler task to summarise the text.

Literary Luminary
Like the Summariser, having the digital text available at the reading stage  allows for highlighting potential  sections of text as the Literary Luminary reads. She  can then go to the Highlighted text section in iBooks or Kindle to view all of her ideas and then select the one that stands out the most. The presentation of the idea can use the same options previously discussed.

courtesy of Evernote support page

Awesome Illustrator
Using any of the painting/drawing apps on the iPad, the illustrator can come up with a creative presentation here. Exporting the picture to Camera Roll and then to Skitch provides an opportunity for the Illustrator to add annotations like questions or highlighted components  to his artwork. This can be posted to Edmodo for the other group members to analyse in preparation for the discussion.

Travel Tracer
The Travel Tracer could organise the path of the story through a Popplet (or other mind mapping app)  or  a comic strip to present a more visual itinerary. If the book is related to actual locations, the tracer could plot the journey out on a GoogleMap using the MyMaps app. This app makes using Google Maps editing tools easier to use on the iPad than using the Internet version. The tracer can add pictures and text to the map explaining the journey taken during the story. If the map is shared with others, they can also make their own edits through the app.

Final Thoughts

Literature Circles don’t NEED iPads or other computers in order to be successful. I’m not arguing that. This is about enhancing the experience and appealing to the desire for children to engage in more creative ways to share their knowledge. For me, it addresses my concern that sometimes Literature Circle meetings have occurred without a lot of depth in preparation and discussion. Using Edmodo as the collaborative conduit between group members and teacher makes sense to me. It worked effectively last year as well. Adding the iPad as the one all-encompassing tool streamlines the process for me, despite the fact that nearly every suggestion I’ve made can be done successfully with alternatives (often cheaper). So what do you think? Good idea or overkill? Look forward to feedback.

iPads can’t improve learning without good teaching Pt 2 – Writing

Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Inkygirl.com ( http://inkygirl.com/comic-use-policy/ )

Writing and technology has been a controversial subject for many traditionalists in education. “Spell check stops children from learning to spell”. “All students do today is copy and paste from Wikipedia and Google searched articles.” ” Children need to handwrite all their drafts”. “William Shakespeare didn’t have a laptop” ( OK, i just threw that in for fun!) At the same time, of course, as a teacher I have been subjected to countless reports and stories typed in ridiculous unreadable coloured fonts, decorated with superfluous clip art and WordArt headings and thousands of “death by Powerpoints” unnecessarily printed out to hand up to me. 20 years of computers as a publishing tool has not necessarily improved the standard of students’ writing skills.

The key words in that last sentence are of course publishing and writing. For too long we have seen the computer purely as a publishing tool. For me, the computer is far more effective as a writing tool. I completely understand that in the early days of classroom tech, when we only had one or two computers at the back of the room, publishing was about as much as we could do. Today, though, as we move into Personalised Learning in the Age of Technology, it is time for us to break the shackles of traditional thinking regarding writing and technology. We can no longer afford to dwell on the negative impacts of spellcheck and copy/paste. Instead, let’s focus on the benefits.

Which leads me once more to the star of “Mr G Online”, the iPad. Again, though, the iPad will not have any impact on improving student writing if its use is not accompanied by innovative teaching backed by sound literacy principles and a change in attitude towards technology’s role in the writing process. If it just becomes yet another means of publishing student work, with new bells and whistles replacing WordArt,Clip Art and fancy borders, then we once again waste an opportunity for significant change in writing education.

I’ll preface this discussion by saying that many of my suggestions can certainly be carried out on laptops or indeed desktop computers. However, the touch interface and AV tools, coupled with the portability and personal experience you get from using the iPad, makes for simpler and more practical use.

What is writing?
Before trying to convince the doubters that the iPad can impact on student writing, we have to define what writing actually is.

A breakdown of genres, their processes and products

I’m not going to use some perfectly expressed term written by literacy professors to impress anyone. For me, the definition of writing is one word -communication, either with yourself or with others. We reflect in writing to help our thinking processes. We record in writing to keep information for later use. We write to persuade others to agree with us on a variety of issues. Many of us have stories to tell, either from real experiences or from the deep recesses of our imagination. Sometimes events and processes have to be explained. All of these examples are ways of communicating.

Now originally, communication was verbal. It was immediate, person to person or within groups. We eventually felt the need to communicate with others beyond our immediate area and left images, cave paintings, carvings, statues – our first multimedia experiences. At a later time, we decided we wanted to be clearer in our communication and began recording our every thought in written forms. With the invention of the printing press, we could share our ideas with a mass audience – the early, albeit very slow, World Wide Web. At the same time “a picture paints a thousand words” was being made apparent by the Renaissance artists, with their paintings sculptures and stain glass windows educating the illiterate of their societies. Eventually we found new ways to communicate; plays,music and songs, photography, film and television, until we finally created the computer in all its forms.

You may be wondering why you are reading a history of communication when you came here to learn something about writing and iPads. Bear with me a little longer. My point here is that as teachers we have to rediscover the purpose of writing as pure communication. We have to get past our obsession with the mechanics of writing, the perfect spelling,the beautifully crafted complex sentence with all the punctuation in the correct place and get children to communicate effectively, enjoying the experience and wanting to share what’s on their minds. This, finally, is where I think the iPad can have an influence, especially if we get the teaching part right.


The planning stage
Traditionally the planning stage of writing has been that bit at the start of the lesson when students were forced to write down their key ideas on paper, regimentally jotting down our Orientation, Complication and Resolution or ordering their arguments. Let’s take them on a far more inspiring and useful track using the iPad instead. This will involve teachers challenging their idea that we don’t use computers before the publishing stage.

Use Popplet to record ideas in separate blocks of ideas that can be rearranged in any order without the tedium of rewriting. Branch extensions of those ideas off the original using its mind mapping properties. Take snapshots with your iPad camera and import them into your Popplet to inspire your imagination visually. Pass the iPad around to fellow students or teachers and let them respond to your plan without the need to scribble over your handwritten notes. They can alter the order of your ideas with a simple drag and drop, or pop a quick note in.

Alternatively students could use Evernote or Notability in similar ways with the added bonus of audio recordings of thoughts and ideas they can use for their later writing. Students can import web clips of useful pictures, videos, information websites that support the research project they are compiling and have easy access to them when they start composing. They can use social bookmarking apps like Diigo, combined with the Diigo bookmarklet in Safari to collate links to websites related to their work.

Specific apps allow for effective and engaging planning. Comic Life or Strip Designer can be used to storyboard ideas. Toontastic’s user interface is designed around the planning structure of the narrative in which each scene is broken up into parts like setup, conflict and resolution. You can add your characters and backgrounds in as you go and revisit each scene to edit. It makes for an interactive planning experience while also providing the opportunity for good teaching to happen in developing story writing skills. What I hope it doesn’t become ( after necessary early experimenting) is a cute way of creating badly written stories. StoryPatch is another option for junior grades that allows for guidance in planning and creating stories through a visual interface.

This is a major shift in the way we have planned writing in the past and it will take a lot of good teaching to embed it into the practice of both students and teachers but I really believe we have to deepen the thinking at the planning stage beyond the dot point method. And yes I know they don’t have time to do this before a standardized writing test. But are we preparing them for 40 minute tests or instilling in them a lifelong love of writing?

The Composing/Editing stage
This is where in my experience the greatest shift has to take place. In my humble opinion, it is not good teaching to NOT use an iPad or computers in general as a composing and editing tool for writing. Get the ‘spell check is bad’ mentality out of your head and teach kids to reflect on the errors that spell check has picked up while they write. Using Spellboard, a spelling program app for the iPad, they can copy and paste their errors over to the app as they show up and store them for later work during spelling lessons in class. Far more effective than making a ton of errors that aren’t picked up until a teacher or spelling buddy corrects them. Reluctant writers are reluctant because they have to make so many changes to their handwritten writing and can’t be bothered rewriting the whole text all over again or writing a detailed text in the first place.

The iPad makes for a personal, “easy to edit and enhance” writing experience. If they only have to edit the errors and not rewrite everything, reluctant writers will be more willing to experiment and extend their writing. If they have easily accessible dictionary/thesaurus and other word study apps at their fingertips, all with search functions, then they can compose and edit far more easily, without flicking through pages and pages looking for a word. Teach students to take their time. Teach them to review their writing as they write. On the iPad ( or any other word processing device ), if they take their time, edit as they go, respond to feedback on sections ( not entire texts) using any word processing app on the iPad (not going to list them here)  the result will be more fluent, quality-driven writers.

Don’t bog them down with 19th/20th Century writing practices just because you’re more comfortable reading and correcting handwritten texts. I haven’t handwritten a text since I’ve had access to a computer. I’ve written over 30,000 words on blog posts in a month without putting pen to paper. And I’m not a super fast typist. The drawbacks of the iPad keyboard ( which I have used to compose about 90% of these blog posts) actually slows me down enough that I can just write and review without doing a stack of drafts.

The publishing stage
This is the easy part because this is traditionally what teachers have seen as the role of the computer, which the iPad is just the next version of. What I want to see happening is a variety of publishing media, beyond the old Word/Publisher/Powerpoint triad ( and not just because I’m anti-Microsoft!). Spielberg, Disney and Pixar haven’t published a novel between them but are probably the greatest story tellers of the last century. THere’s more to writing than the written word. Think beyond purely written text as publishing options.

Many of these apps also provide opportunities for increasing audience for writers as well, with their integration with online services. This is another incentive for increasing writing quality and desire.
Final thought
Of course, all of this is pointless if we don’t have teaching and learning strategies in place. The apps don’t create the text. But they do make teaching writing and writing  itself a better experience. Naturally, this all just my opinion. I have no Masters in Literacy as an authoritative stamp on this post. I have taught writing, though, for 25 years and written songs, stories, information texts, Maths programs and opinion pieces over that time. From experience, computers have made me a better writer. The iPad can take me to another level. As teachers of writing, we have to move into the new millenium. What do you think?

iPads can’t improve learning without good teaching Pt 1


Clearly there is a lot of buzz around iPads in schools at the moment. You can’t log on to the Web without reading about another school or entire district or department investing massive coin in a sparkling set of the Wonder Tablets, excited that they will cure all the ills of the current education systems around the world. From reading my blog, you would be no doubt convinced that I am very much in this Pro-iPad camp. Make no mistake I am.

However, no matter how versatile and potentially powerful a product the iPad is, it is merely an extremely expensive placemat without creative, well planned teaching behind its use. Before committing to an iPad implementation of any size, schools need to thoroughly think through how these technological marvels are going to enhance the teaching and learning process.

Its about Teaching and Learning, not iPads
The kind of shift in learning the iPad (and other tablets) can initiate is dependent on good teaching practice and preparation. The iPad has an app for just about anything. Students will be able to work out how to use the app. They do that quicker than us. As teachers, its our responsibility to show them what to use it for. It’s why we have to think of what we want them to do as learners, not what can the iPad do. We have to make the iPad suit the learning, not make the learning suit the iPad to justify having it. So think of the skills you want your students to develop and then work out if the iPad can improve that skill. If it doesn’t, don’t use it.

So let’s look at how we have gone about teaching up until now and examine how the iPad can fit in to our current programs. In today’s post, I’ll focus on how we can enhance note taking skills using the capabilities of an iPad compared to what we’ve done in the past and what we might do if we don’t think how the iPad could be used. I’ll be following with other areas one the coming weeks.

Without the iPad
With the aid of the 20th century’s very useful tool known as the highlighter, we have spent years highlighting key words, squashing in related notes, scribbling indecipherable diagrams and drawing arrows from one point to the next. We would then share our ideas one at a time recording them on the board, or maybe record them on big sheets of paper collaboratively until we run out of space or time. Possibly we organized our thoughts on a mind map or some other sort of graphic organizer. Eventually the sheets of paper or boardwork get replaced by new work and your discussion gets filed under ‘done and dusted. The good note takers and memorisers get something out of it and the rest move on to the next thing without any real reflective learning taking place.

With an iPad and no thoughtful plan
We hand the student an iPad, he opens up a PDF or iBook version of a document, chapter or book, highlights some key words using the program provided, write some notes in another app, draw a diagram or download an image from Google and save it for later discussion. In this scenario, you can record and store more information, have a greater variety of visuals, the ability to retrieve information at a later date and have the greater short term engagement resulting from using the latest tech. However, there is no real shift in the learning and teaching model here from the pre-iPad model. Same work, different set of tools.

Enhanced note taking with an iPad
This is how I envisage the iPad creating a major shift in note taking. Yes a lot of it can be done with regular desktop computers and laptops, but the unique touch interface and portability of the iPad makes it more accessible and practical.

Using Notability/Goodreader/Skitch/Evernote/iBooks (depending on the purpose), import the PDF, RTF, epub file or the Notability note from another source into the app. Use the highlighter and annotating tools to highlight keywords and phrases, underline or circle or arrow sections of text. (So far same as old system.) The shift is the ability to look up meanings with inbuilt dictionary, edit annotations, add extra notes from others during collaborative discussions without running out of room, take photos of other diagrams by other students and annotate them, add web clips of relevant websites that are searchable and accessible without leaving the app and record conversations. The notes can be saved, shared with others so they can add further comments, notes, diagrams etc. During whole class or group discussions, students and teachers can record the discussion in Notability and take notes or add photos, diagrams, web clips or handwritten notes during the recording. Later on, these notes can be reviewed and clicking on a note added during the recording will locate section of audio relevant to the note.

This type of sophisticated note taking will take time to embed in both student and teacher practice. I certainly haven’t mastered it yet. But you can’t help but see the possibilities for supporting student learning, especially special needs students or just generally struggling students, those who are constantly lost during note taking sessions. The ability to review notes with audio, related diagrams, websites, photos will enable them to access information at their own pace. Teachers can prepare notes with all the supporting AV resources for these students to use during sessions so they can enter into tasks with the more able students independently.The iPad can just be an engaging but expensive replacement for books and handouts. Or it can completely change the way we go about note taking

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