Challenge: iPads

My school has a great PTA. They give us the opportunity for mini-grants in the fall where we can ask for materials or supplies that would be beneficial to the classroom. The PTA also has funded some of our technology. If it helps anyone, below is the proposal I wrote for how we as a school could utilize iPads. I edited it to be a bit more generalized. I’m hopeful that the PTA will fund this over time.

Dear PTA,
I greatly appreciate your time and attention in looking through mini-grants. This year, our School Based Technology Specialist and I are seeking some funding to go towards our larger goal of having iPads available for use by students throughout the school. Getting new iPads to check out for teachers would allow for more variety than computers can provide and would be more appropriate for younger students.

First, iPads allow for some possibilities that are not there with computers. For example, they can be carried more easily. This is much better for taking photos and videos. Our computers used to have MovieMaker software where you could clip together videos that had been recorded on a phone. You could edit the clips and add in sound. iMovie is a much easier, better option, even than many other apps for android. It’s very friendly for younger students and still allows for creativity/artistry by older students. MovieMaker is no longer an option on our computers, and there is no software to replace it. Since movie creation apps are not available for phones, this limits movie creation to tablets. iPads could even allow for taking photos and videos (carefully) outdoors to study nature for science. They could be taken into the courtyard. An app called Plant Snap (there are many other possible apps as well) will allow you to upload a photo to the app and then can identify the plant for you. Tablets can also become interactive whiteboards meaning it can record what you write on the screen. This is great for another style of video creation as well as for demonstrating how to do a problem in math class or explaining a concept. You could create and fill in a graphic organizer, take notes, create a timeline, etc. One popular video recording app is Fligrid. Typically, students record themselves answering a question or prompt. I have had students create book talks to share with their classmates and model math problems on Flipgrid. One of the recent updates of Fligrid includes a whiteboard feature. While this is not practical on a computer, it could be done on a tablet. Students also tend to be more comfortable taking selfies and recording themselves on tablets than on a computer. A new app/website available for our district use is called CueThink. This is a math app designed to break word problems into steps to teach students the process of estimating and using multiple methods to solve a problem. Students can look at others’ methods and problems and give feedback to one another. This app also has a whiteboard component where you write/draw to show your work which is far more practical on a tablet than on the computer. In addition to videos and screen recordings, iPads are also great for voice recordings. Students can create their own podcast using a tablet far more easily than on a computer, although it can be accomplished on a computer. Creating movies and podcasts would be an option as a final product for PBLs (Project Based Learning).

Second, iPads offer great options for students that are either significantly below grade level such as English learners or for students with disabilities. In upper elementary, if a student is still working on phonics skills and/or basic fact operations, it can be more comfortable to do that on a device as opposed to playing a game or doing flashcards in the hallway with a teacher. Often, these students are still in the classroom most of the day and deserve to be doing appropriate tasks to help them learn. There are many apps to develop early literacy skills. We have a few iPads that are used for this purpose currently, but they are out of date and can no longer be updated. Even something as simple as math fact flashcards on an iPad for older students can be far better than them attempting to study by themselves. A computer program we currently use to build fact fluency in addition and multiplication is called FASTTmath. After this year, that program will no longer be available for purchase. Having flashcards for use on an app could be a great substitute for something as simple as building up confidence with math facts. The tablet provides accountability and practice when a teacher could not work 1-1 on something like that every day. PDFs can be annotated on the ipad with writing/mark ups which can be nice for students who read better on the screen and/or need the accommodation of read aloud when researching. The document can be read aloud and they can take their notes on the same screen (underline/mark up the text or write using a stylus) as opposed to having to switch between a screen to listen to the words and another version (either typing or handwriting notes on paper) which can be difficult for students with visual processing disabilities.

Third, younger students work much better on tablets. As I mentioned above, tablets are much more portable and therefore safer to be handled by primary students. Kindergarten and first grade students in particular have difficulty with keyboards, using a mouse, clicking without using a touch screen, etc. They are much more comfortable with touch screens. In 2017 Virginia adopted computer science standards “…to provide students with a detailed understanding of the study of computers and algorithmic processes, including their principles, their hardware and software designs, their applications, and their impact on society.” One of the best programs for teaching elementary students to code is Scratch Jr, which was designed at MIT to allow students in the primary grades a way to begin object based computer programming. Scratch Jr is only available on tablets, so having iPads would allow us to bring this amazing tool to our students as we strive to provide them with the best digital literacy skills possible. Scratch Jr is one of many apps that students could use that would not merely be screen time and practice/listening; students could create things on the iPads, not merely be consumers of more information or spend endless hours trying to learn how to safely use computers without being able to produce their own work or test out technology productively. As we think about expanding 1-1 in primary grades and giving them the level of access to technology that the upper grades have, 1-1 computers are not a logical solution for all grade levels. Tablets would be a much better solution.

While a class set of iPads would be a goal for our school so that our technology specialist and primary teachers could use them with younger students, another avenue that is just as valuable to me as a sixth grade teacher is to have a set for a small group to check out. If we had a set of six iPads for example, there are a few things I could do as an upper level teacher who already has computers. I could use an app for a small group of students as a station. For example, an app I’ve been wanting to use for years but haven’t been able to is Hands On Equations. We have a few physical sets of Hands on Equations at school, but this app would be a great transition between the physical hands on manipulatives and solving equations on paper abstractly. I could have groups of students work on this a station rotation during math workshop. Also, I could have small groups of students work together to create something. For example small groups of 4-5 students could each use one iPad to create a book trailer for their book club book they read together or they could create a different video of them performing a skit of an important scene from their novel. Even one iPad for a teacher could be beneficial for something like Plickers, a system where students hold up pieces of paper with images similar to QR codes. The image can be turned to answer A, B, C, D. The iPad grades all students and immediately gives feedback as to which students responded correctly. Since plicker cards are unique to the student, it can serve as a formative assessment in any content area for multiple choice questions. One iPad could also be used to track fluency goals for a student. The app Notability allows you to annotate text and record at the same time. This way, a teacher could actually re-listen to a student reading aloud in order to plan instruction for the future. A student could also hear themselves echo read back which could allow them to self-analyze and set goals.

Here are some things that other teachers at our school have said in response to a survey related to iPads:
**I won’t include what others said here, but I asked questions such as:

  • If you have used iPads in your classroom before, how have you used them?
  • How might you use iPads differently than computers? (ex: primary kids have an easier time holding tablets so going 1-1 in primary with tablets would be better than 1-1 with computers, flipgrid has a whiteboard feature than would work better than drawing on a computer screen with a mouse, iMovie is available on iPads and our computers no longer have movie maker, etc.)
  • How familiar/confident are you with how iPads can be used in the classroom at school?
  • How excited are you about having iPads at school?
  • If PD were provided on how to use iPads, would you be interested?
  • In which content are would you most likely to use iPads?
  • If iPads were available, how many would seem “worth it” to you? (1 for teacher, 6 for small groups, 12-15 for partners, class set)

On the next pages, I’ll list out some apps that could be used for reference with a brief descriptor if not mentioned above.

Thank you for your consideration.
Sincerely,

Apps we could use (the vast majority are free):
• Mental Math/lots of math flashcard apps (useful because FASTTmath is going away)
• Kids A-Z app (great for RAZ Kids accounts, etc.)
• Endless Reader (sightwords)
• Monster Math (more math facts practice)
• Hands on Equations
• IXL (1st 10 problems always free)
• Brain Pop (we already have this through the PTA and it’s great!)
• Video Science
• Flipgrid
• Kahoot (quiz game that can be used on computers, but for those without computers, it would be nice)
• ABS Magic Phonics
• Khan Academy
• PBS Kids
• Google Apps for Education (Google Classroom, etc.)
• iMovie
• Numbler Math Game
• Photomath (step by step directions for solving a math problem)
• Hooked on Phonics
• Curious
• Socratic (another quiz app)
• Quizlet (a quiz/flashcard/matching/studying app)
• ABC Mouse
• NASA
• Google Earth
• Duolingo
• Show Me (Interactive Whiteboard)
• Educreations (similar to Show Me)
• 30 Hands (great for creating a book/slides)
• Voicethread (collaborative, multimedia slideshow)
• Puppet Pals (kids choose characters and backdrops then create dialogue/virtual puppet show)
• Toontastic (storytelling app, great also for book trailer creation)
• Sock Puppets (digital storytelling app)
• Notability (great for taking notes on PDFs also records audio, would be amazing for recording student fluency with running records b/c could record AND annotate)
• Explain Everything Whiteboard
• Popplet (mindmaps)
• Book Creator
• Hit the Button Maths (fact fluency)
• Let’s Read (record yourself reading classic stories)
• Canva (creates brochures, flyers, infographics, etc.)
• Animoto (video slideshow)
• Stop motion maker/stop motion studio (create stop motion videos)
• DragonBox Numbers
• Epic! Unlimited Books for Kids
• DragonBox Algebra 5+
• Cue Think
• Lab4Physics
• Prodigy (Math games)
• Quizziz (another quiz app)
• Starfall (early literacy)
• PBS Video
• Scratch Jr.

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