Personalized Learning with iPads

Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.-Dr. Seuss

How better to say it than this? One size that fits all doesn’t work for learners today. Personalized learning is the tailoring of  curriculum and learning environments to meet the needs and aspirations of individual learners, often with extensive use of technology in the process. Personalization may differ from differentiation in that it affords the learner a degree of choice about what is learned, when it is learned and how it is learned. This may not indicate unlimited choice, since learners will still have targets to be met. However, it may provide learners the opportunity to learn in ways that suit their individual learning styles and multiple intelligences.

Personalizing learning for each learner means they take ownership of their learning. Let’s take advantage of the iPad’s ability to challenge, engage and motivate different learners.  Students can often work on different levels within the same app.  As I look at what each student needs, based on assessments and observation, I am able to direct them to certain apps or certain activities within apps.  Teachers should be able to implement multiple paths to knowledge- having a variety of ways to help a diverse group of students learn rigorous standards.

Working in flexible, small groups for guided reading, I take notes as I see areas where students need practice.  One student may need help with word families and rhyming words, where another may need help with medial vowel sounds.  My top reading group may be ready to incorporate reading response journals using Pages as they read.  This would never be possible in a whole group instructional setting.  Having the technology of the iPads at our fingertips,  it is easier to differentiate instruction, find all opportunities for remediation to help struggling learners, and  provide enrichment to challenge the advanced student.

With iPads, we can create a Pandora Radio-like effect in education.  Each student can get a variety of educational experiences, engage in topics and activities of interest, and learners have the responsibility and ownership to choose how they learn, when they learn and where they learn.

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iPads in the Classroom: Start Small, End Big

The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.-Chinese Proverb

As with all things new, starting small often helps lead to bigger things.  Many classes with iPads aren’t fortunate enough to have 1:1.  Looking at maximizing learning and use of the iPads is key.  In our early days of the pilot program, I originally was scheduled to have only 12 iPads for use in small groups/centers.  Within the first hour of using them, I knew we needed (and could do amazing things) with a class set.  By the end of that week, we had a class set.  But what of those first few days with 12 iPads?

My first priority was to get them in the children’s hands during guided reading.  That is where we established expectations, learned how to use them, and began the important work of setting up personal learning plans.  Since I had only 12 for such a short time, I didn’t have the issue of storing work on only 12 iPads. However, if we had remained at that number, I would have assigned children to specific iPads and would have had them upload their work to their individual folder in PaperPort.  Beyond guided reading groups, I wanted them to use the iPads for some writing activities and self-selected reading activities.  Kindergarten is never  “all or nothing” learning.  We do some writing with pencil and paper, and some on the iPad.  We read some books on the iPad and some regular books.  We do word work, math, and phonics at times on the iPad and at times with manipulatives.  By starting small, the children (and the teacher) gain confidence in guided use.  Starting small also gives teachers a good idea of which children need close monitoring and which ones can handle a little more freedom.

Even though I have a class set now, I still like small group work best.  I like being a close observer of what the children are experiencing. Where are their successes or their areas of struggle? Are they guessing at answers or do they know them?  With the new iOS6, there is a new feature called Guided Access.  It allows a parent, teacher, or administrator to limit an iOS device to one app by disabling the Home button, as well as restrict touch input on certain areas of the screen. It lets you control what features are available during use.  Just go to Settings, then General, then Accessibility, and turn guided access on.

So, whether you have a class set or just a few iPads, keep it simple, start small.  As you find your children progressing, you will find limitless uses for the iPads.

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Building Reading Stamina with the iPad

Believe me, my children have more stamina than a power station.-Robbie Coltrane

Building stamina in young readers is definitely a challenge.  Their attention spans are short and their energy level is high.  It is important to know children well enough to link each of them to the texts that will sustain their interest, and won’t be so challenging they get discouraged.  Every good English language arts teacher knows that immersing students in reading is far more important than teaching test-taking strategies. Many are also familiar with some of the techniques for helping their students monitor their reading throughout a reading task. Some use specific lessons and strategies for helping students maintain focus and gain stamina as they read, but finding the best lessons and other resources for teaching such skills is often time-consuming and difficult, requiring more hours than teachers have for seeking out new material.

Using iPads has helped increase my students’ stamina even during the short 57 days we’ve been in school.  As students build confidence in reading short, leveled texts, they are more likely to venture into more difficult texts.  I use LAZ leveled reader apps and my own texts that I’ve created in iBooks Author to supplement the reading materials in class.  As students have a few minutes of free time, or they are in the book center, they have high interest texts to choose from on their iPads.  Having these books at their fingertips makes it easy for anytime reading.  Re-reading familiar texts also increases their fluency.

Another way to use iPads in building stamina is to celebrate progress. Without getting too caught up on the number of minutes spent reading, celebrate the time that is spent reading. Share your favorite parts of books read by reading out loud with a partner on the iPad.  Illustrate your favorite parts in the Pages app and share with your writing group.

Spending longer periods of time reading means fewer interruptions and more time reading what you love. iPads provide resources beyond your regular classroom materials to facilitate this.  As your students move into higher grades, having reading stamina will help them navigate the longer texts and assignments.

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FAQ’s about iPads in the Classroom

An investment in knowledge pays the best interest. -Benjamin Franklin

We have had several visitors from other school districts over the past few months, interested in seeing iPads at work in the classroom.  From those visits and other questions posed on this blog, I am posting today some frequently asked questions. Hopefully it will help many of you as you navigate the early waters of incorporating iPads into your classroom.

  • How did you get the money to pay for the iPads?

My school district re-purposed funds that were originally designated for replacing computers in our classrooms.  These funds were for technology modernization and rather than purchase 2 computers per class, we piloted iPads.

  • iPads vs other hand-held tablets

Clearly, iPads is my answer.  They are game-changers. They are versatile, easy to use, backed by Apple and there are tons of educational apps available for use.  Having access to the internet is critical…these are more than just e-readers.

  • How often do you use the iPads each day?

All throughout the day for a variety of activities, small group, whole group, and individual. My main focus of use is to increase achievement in literacy.

  • What if the kids get tired of them or bored with them?

OK, seriously?  They are not toys.  They are learning tools that are essential to 21st century learning skills.  If teachers teach using best practices, kids will never be bored with them.

  • How do you get the work off of the iPads?

Legit question here…it’s not always been easy.  We are still unable to email from the iPads.  The best work around at this point for me is Simple Transfer app.  Anything that can be saved to the camera roll can be transferred off of the iPad.  My other option is PaperPort Anywhere.  My kids can save work to their folders on the PaperPort app.  I can access it, print, save or email work.  I’m excited that Pages now uploads to PaperPort!

  • How often do you have breakage or damage?

In 14 months of iPad usage with 3 different kindergarten classes: ZERO. They are very careful with them and I make sure we model and teach iPad procedures regularly.

  • What are your must-have apps?

Ah….these change as I come into new apps.  Currently, I love Montessori Crosswords (ELA), Park Math (Math), Pages, Book Creator, Simple Transfer, and Whiteboard. Oh…and Starfall.  Ok, making myself stop right there.

  • How often do you sync?

In the first few months of using them, A LOT.  I was constantly finding new apps and was a syncing mad woman.  Currently, not so much.  I will sync books or photos if I want them all to have them.  I use my class wiki to get work to student iPads and they then upload to PaperPort to get them back to me.

  • What do you like most about iPads in the classroom?

What’s not to love? I can’t imagine ever teaching without them.  They take learning to a whole new level with personalized instruction.  Being able to meet each student where they are instructionally is priceless.  With 25-30 students each year, I need all of the instructional support I can get.  iPads make it possible to differentiate instruction every day.

  • Are there any drawbacks?

As to the use of the iPads: absolutely none.  The only thing that could be a drawback is the cost of apps when you multiply it out over an entire class or school.  Get your PTA involved.  Hold fundraisers, donate blood (kidding, sort of) whatever it takes to bring in some extra money for those apps.

So there you are…hopefully this provided some insight into using iPads in a 1:1 classroom.  It can seem overwhelming, but it really is manageable.  My students, even at age 5, are quite capable with these devices.  The investment is worth the cost to reach every learner every day.

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Doodle Buddy and Science Drawings

Touch a scientist and you touch a child.-Ray Bradbury

October and November are great months in the South.  Fall and cooler weather are a nice respite from the stifling hot Charleston summers.  It is also a great opportunity to explore fall and harvest in science.  There are many ways to create science journals on the iPad.  You can use Pages, whiteboard apps, or any number of drawing apps.  We’ve been using Doodle Buddy.  It is a free drawing app.  My students can create a drawing and save to their photo roll.  Once created, they can then import the drawing into their writing.  We like to import into Pages as well as Book Creator.

Here is an example of one child’s science journal.  We were discussing pumpkin life cycles.  After reading a book, From Seed to Pumpkin, many students wanted to draw the life cycle in their Doodle Buddy app.  From this, the child can type directly on the drawing with the keyboard or he can import it into Pages or Book Creator.  Each stage of the life cycle could be broken down into one page each, with this image above being used as the culminating page.  This is a great sequencing activity as well.

When I introduced Doodle Buddy, I connected my iPad to the SmartBoard and demonstrated how to use the app and how to save the drawing.  It is very simple to use and my students caught on immediately.  It always amazes me how engaged they are when they are creating on the iPad.  Their language was rich with inquiry and science vocabulary.  After creating, they love to share.  When they create, they are more likely to internalize important concepts.  Critical thinking is occurring.  There was no doubt in my mind after looking at their diagrams that they understood this plant life cycle concept.

By having these drawings on their iPads, they are also able to re-visit their work and add to it if interested.  Learning is extended and interest is maintained.  Even though it is still early in the school year for these young scientists, their enthusiasm for science is evident.

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Classroom Wikis and iPads

If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it. -Margaret Fuller

Wikis are tools for taking student and teacher collaboration to the next level.  The most famous wiki is Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia created by users from around the globe. Wikis are also increasingly being used by the corporate world.   eBay recently added wikis to its auction site so members can coauthor articles about buying and selling. Not surprisingly, K-12 schools are also taking advantage of the opportunities for “collaborative construction” that wikis provide.

I have used Wikispaces to create a free class wiki for my students. Wikispaces is free for K-12 educators and is free of advertising.  It is also user friendly and a good place to start if you haven’t used wikis before.   I simply upload PDF documents to the wiki for my students.  They have a shortcut to the wiki on their iPads.  One touch takes them to the wiki and they are able to download the document into our DocAS app.  Any PDF annotating app can be used.  My students can complete an assignment,  math practice page, or a written assessment on the DocAS app and then I can either upload it to PaperPort for printing or emailing.  I can also save it to the camera roll and use the Simple Transfer app to retrieve their work.

Another benefit to using a wiki is I can upload PDF readers for my students.  I downloaded several word family books and sight word books at Hubbard’s Cupboard website. The children downloaded them from the wiki into their iBooks app.  Now, along with the books I have written for them in iBooks Author,  they also have PDF books on their bookshelf.  This gives them several books right at their fingertips they can read any time.

Using the wiki also reduces the amount of copies made in my classroom.  I can keep a copy of the student work from the iPad if I choose to.  Wikis are a convenient, efficient, and cost-effective way to provide learning materials to my students.  I have also created wikis for various committees on our staff.  This is an easy way for us to share meeting agendas, materials and other ideas.

I encourage you to try using wikis in your classroom.  Wikispaces makes all education pages private and can only be accessed by invitation only.  This is a secure means of encouraging collaboration and sharing knowledge.

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