Examples of Practice: iPads in the Primary Classroom

In a recent post in Education Week, Justin Reich (@bjfr) strongly encourages teachers who have iPads in their classrooms to make their teaching visible. He recognizes that schools are quickly adopting this tool for instruction, but is concerned that teachers are not sharing what they are doing with others through social media. Justin goes on to say that in order to develop a vision of how iPads can be effectively used in schools, we need to see how other teachers are augmenting their instruction and then discuss these strategies.

I couldn’t agree more. Even though I love my iPad, I have been somewhat hesitant to just throw them in classrooms and see what happens. (I recently wrote a post about my experience piloting these devices last year.) We are somewhere in the middle on technology integration; our school is not 1:1, but all teachers have an iPad and more are possibly on the way for students in the form of a mobile lab and classroom workstations. The approach I have taken in my school is to teach the teachers first on how to use them, in addition to encouraging them to explore the possibilities. You could break this learning process down into two categories: Model It and Celebrate It.

Model It

I recently discovered the app Felt Board and instantly recognized the potential it has in the primary literacy classroom. I could share this app through email, or even download it specially for teachers whom I think would benefit from using it in their instruction. However, the best approach I have found for introducing technology tools to teachers is through interactive modeling.

For example, I recently used part of my regular read aloud time in my kindergarten classrooms to recreate a part of a story I just shared. I used a document camera and asked students to help me develop the scene, incorporating both visuals and words. Once completed, I snapped a photo of it to the Camera Roll. Then we used iMovie to record one of the students reading the text from the board. Picture and audio were uploaded to Vimeo and we were then able to share it with parents at home through the web link. Here are three we created so far.

I Must Have Bobo! by Eileen Rosenthal
Pete the Cat by Eric Litwin
I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
I have also used iMovie on the iPad to create book trailers. Here is my son sharing one of his favorite books and why he likes it.

For more information, Matt Gomez (@Matt_Gomez) wrote a post about Felt Board and how he uses it in his kindergarten classroom. Like the app, it is well worth a look.

Celebrate It
My staff are starting to use these devices in highly effective ways, without a lot of support from me. It is exciting to see what they come up with. For example, when I walked into my school’s library this morning, I saw a display set up by one of my second grade teachers, Mrs. Heyroth (@MrsHeyroth). She and her students wrote a classroom book based on the story There Was an Old Lady Who Wasn’t Afraid of Anything. Better yet, she used GarageBand and iMovie on her device to create a digital version of their book. Each student was recorded reading one of the pages. I recognized her efforts by pulling some pictures together and sending her a collage using Frame Magic.
I also plan to share this with the rest of my staff. They can see what is possible with mobile devices such as iPads and apply this example to their own classroom.

Recommended iPad Apps for Administrators

My team of elementary principals has agreed to purchase iPads. If we expect teachers to use technology with the purpose of improving pedagogy and learning, we need to model it. The fact that I discovered through Twitter that there is an iPad 4 only emphasizes our need to be connected learners. Without this knowledge, iPad 3s would be getting shipped to us as I write.

One of the first steps we are taking is deciding what apps to have preloaded on our devices. Here are a few that I am recommending to my technology director, Phil Bickelhaupt (@WRtechdirector). Many of these may be familiar to you, and I suppose there is a reason for that.

Free

  • Evernote – Excellent way to record and document gatherings (not “meetings”). Just this week, I held an impromptu staff gathering about some decisions made in our leadership team. Because of the short notice, not everyone could make it. I used Evernote to write down notes and record our conversation. Afterwards, I emailed the combined content to the rest of the staff. I am aware of at least two teachers who did listen to the audio while reviewing the notes.
  • Skitch – This app allows me to annotate over any photo or screenshot. I can then email that photo to a colleague, save it on my Camera Roll, export it to Evernote (this app is part of the Evernote Trunk), or create a public link as a final product. In the past, I have mostly used Skitch to email annotated photos of students to staff, but it seems like there is much potential with this tool.
  • Chrome – I had this app a while ago and didn’t like it. As people are want to say, Google doesn’t play with Apple. Since then, Chrome must have been improved. I can now check my school email account, modify my Google Site, work on Docs and use it as the browser that it is.
  • Dropbox – While Google Drive is nice for storing many kinds of documents, Dropbox does the rest. If I have photos or video I took in a classroom on my iPad, I can use this storage application to directly upload this content to my account. Once I have downloaded Dropbox to my computer and my phone, I can view these items wherever and whenever I want. Other perks include sharing folders with colleagues as well the iWorks Suite (Pages, Numbers, Keynote – all essential apps as well) now allowing uploading of files to Dropbox.
  • Flipboard – There is so much information out there. It is hard to wade through everything online without some type of reader app that delivers your favorite educational information to you. Flipboard subscribes to blogs and online news providers and puts the content into a magazine-style format. Content that you like can easily be shared via Twitter and email, or saved to read later. Zite is a similar reader app that is popular with educators.

Paid

  • GoodReader – This tool has been described as the Swiss Army Knife of apps and for good reason. As a principal, I have many files and documents I need to read, but I don’t always have time to do it. With GoodReader, I can save and organize this information into folders. I can also retrieve files from Dropbox or Google Drive by linking these accounts to the app. One of the best parts of GoodReader is being able to annotate and highlight a PDF, then save it and email it to a colleague later.
  • Notability – If the interface of GoodReader is a bit too busy, check out this app. It has a much cleaner look and is somewhat easier to organize files. Although I cannot connect with Google Drive, I can upload content from Dropbox. I use both apps for different purposes. While GoodReader is excellent for reading (hence the title), Notability is great for jotting notes with the handwriting tool. I can also import photos into the document as well as record audio. I think there is a lot of potential for using this tool with instructional walkthroughs. So why not use Notability instead of Evernote? Even though the former allows me to handwrite, the latter embeds the audio within my notes when sharing the content online.
  • Instapaper – When you think about it, the majority of our days are spent reading, much of it online. Viewing this much web content can be hard on the eyes. Instapaper is an app that allows me to bookmark text online and read it later in a plain, Kindle-like format.
  • Grafio – This app allows me to create diagrams and flow charts for my ideas and plans. It is very intuitive in that when I attempt to make certain shapes, it autocorrects the circle or square so it is perfect. Dragging a finger from one shape to another creates an instant arrow link. I have used this app to create a visual for my building’s professional development plan and to assign lunch supervisors to specific parts of the building.
  • iMovie – Creating videos using photos, video and audio is a cinch with this app. In my humble opinion, it is better than the Mac version because it is simpler. I can stretch out the audio or photo in the timeline by spreading the file out with two fingers. Uploading the finished movie to YouTube or Vimeo allows me to share the final product through a web link. I have used this app for recognizing student achievement and recording student book talks.

As an elementary principal, these apps are what I use the most. What are your favorites? Please share in the comments.