Putting “Deep” Into Practice

Recently I wrote a post about ensuring that we use technology to move away from the “neat” aspects but moving towards our students critically thinking about their learning while having the opportunity to become creators of content .  Here is how I ended the post:

If we are going to effectively use technology in our classrooms, we need to ask more questions, and give fewer answers.  Our students need the opportunity to create this powerful and deep content.  Neat is not enough.

Today, with a pilot for our school to explore the effective use of iPods and iPads in our classrooms, a few of my staff and I had to spend some time doing the necessary, but mind numbing work, of setting up the devices to ensure that they were not only safe for student use, but ready to effectively implement in the classroom.  Through our discussions with an Apple Education representative, he gave us extremely good advice, asking us to not try to find too many things, but do a few things very well.  This set the stage for some pertinent discussions today regarding how we could really implement these devices to give students ownership over content that they have created.

Considering all this, last night I read this critical piece regarding iPads being implemented in classrooms, and really thought about what was written:

Few apps, for example, are designed by reading specialists who know the principles of reading and have taught the skills to hundreds of children who not only learned to decode but fell in love with reading. One I do know about comes from Dr. Selma Wassermann, an emerita professor who had taught children to read for many years. She designed an animated, engaging app (vetted and now sold by Apple’s iTunes store) that grabs children interest while helping them to learn to read. The first one is out and called “The My Word! Reader: Are Bees Smart, or What?”  Here’s to smart apps for kids.

The article also discuss the concern that these devices are being used for, “eliminating the contribution of the most powerful tool in our classroom- the teacher.”  My belief is that this device should never replace the teacher as they still need to be there to guide and facilitate learning, we are just shifting many of the opportunities to lead in the classroom to the student.  I often wonder why so many people believe in the power of distributed leadership in the business world, but when many of these same principles are used in the classroom with our students (empowering others, letting them lead, focusing on strengths) there is great concern. It is not that we do not need “bosses” anymore, we just know that the traditional role that they have played in organizations is simply not as effective.  These principles should be implemented in the classroom.

With that being said, what we focused on extensively were the “projects” that we could do with this device for our students.  For example, we talked about the having our students  do a “10 picture tour” (thanks Cale Birk!) of the school, so that we could see the school through their eyes, while they think critically about why they took the pictures, and what each picture represents to them.  The interesting part would be not only when we see the work of the students, but they also see the pictures done by their peers and read their reflections.  I believe this is a fantastic way to give the students the opportunity to create, use both visual and written communication, while developing a sense of community.

It was also discussed about our early years students creating stories using the “Puppet Pals” application where they could prepare their stories ahead of time, and create a visual to go along with strong oral communication skills.  I will admit, that I had a blast creating my own story today using the application 🙂

Is the iPad or iPod the best device out there for this type of learning?  To be honest, I have no idea. I am sure that there are many different devices that do the same thing as the iPod or iPad (and maybe even with higher definition). I do however know that it is the one that most people are familiar with which quickly eliminates much of the “figuring it out” phase that holds us back from doing some of the better work. I also know that there are some basic apps that will definitely help our students build upon the highly important core skills of numeracy and literacy, but this should only be the tip of the iceberg.

If we are going to really move forward in education, we must be thoughtful of not only purchasing these devices, but how we (students and educators) are going to use them in the classroom.  There is a lot of potential and I believe the opportunities are only limited to our collective imagination.

The visual below from Alberta Education is a great way to assess many initiatives in school:

Visual from Alberta Education, "Inspiring Action"



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