A group of science teachers were sitting around on the staff room table. They were having a faculty meeting. One of them said, “I found this great app about biological cells! We can use this to teach the unit about cells!”. Another one responded by saying “This app I stumbled upon yesterday is amazing for teaching about the periodic table!”. The conversation went on for quite some time, only to end with one of them saying “there aren’t that many apps that can be used to teach Science”. This is when I intervened!
What I observed was a number of teachers who flicked through the chapters of the textbook, and then tried to find an iPad app to replace each chapter. I believe this approach is very limiting, and does not allow for full utilization of the iPad as a tool. I teach drama, and none of the apps I use in my classroom have anything to do with drama!
In Andrew Douch’s words, the iPad is a “Swiss-army knife” of tools! Subject-specific apps are great, but generic apps are even greater! There’s so much you can do in every subject with just a bunch of generic and cheap/free apps! Using the iPad in the classroom does not just mean using apps that are subject-specific. It is more useful to think of learning processes and activities, and how the iPad can facilitate these learning activities, not replace the designated reference used in the subject (i.e. textbook).
Here are some generic learning activities (or learning processes) that can incorporate the iPad, and using apps that are not subject-specific:
1- Documentation: the iPad has a Camera. So what? Before iPads, students may have been asked to use digital cameras, and then connect them to a laptop/desktop, import their photos/videos and so on. There were a lot of steps involved, and more than one device. The iPad eliminates all these steps. In science classes, the students could shoot video footage of their science experiments. In art classes, the students could take snapshots of their artwork at different stages of the creation process. In maths classes, students could take snapshots of the whiteboard to keep a visual record of the steps a teacher took to solve an equation. The students can also keep video footage of class discussions or group work for their documentation. Realistically, the ability to shoot video/take photos anytime and anywhere, without having to import them on another device later, is a great advantage for any subject area.
2- Reflection: the iPad can make student-reflections easier and more suited to their learning styles. Students can use an app like Evernote to keep reflection notebooks/journals. Evernote notebooks allow inserting text, photos (from the Camera-roll), voice notes, checkboxes, and locations. Therefore, students can reflect in oral or written format, and supplement their reflections with photos and screenshots. An app like ShowMe can also facilitate reflection, as students insert photos of different parts of the learning process and doodle over them, while also recording their voice. Reflection has a role (or should have a role) in all subject areas, and so these apps/learning activities can be used in whatever class.
3- Discussion: this is not necessarily an advantage of the iPad itself, but the iPad does facilitate discussion by allowing mobile access to several discussion platforms. Students can have back-channel discussions on Edmodo while a teacher is explaining a lesson. Twitter hash-tags can also be used to encourage back-channel discussions, or even a Facebook page. Whatever the subject area is, these apps/tools can facilitate discussion in any class.
4- Formative Assessment: being able to gauge the students’ learning while it’s still occurring is a very useful thing for teachers. Again, it’s not a characteristic of the iPad itself that makes it easier to make formative assessments, but its mobility and portability, as well as a range of apps that facilitate the process. An app like Socrative allows students to ‘click’ their answers as a teacher poses a question, and also allows teachers to create and assign quizzes, and exit slips. The teacher could also poll the class quickly before deciding the next course of action. Socrative will automatically send the teacher an e-mail with a spreadsheet report of the answers. Also, the statistics can be displayed directly on the app to show the class and prompt further discussion to correct misguided learning. The teacher just downloads the Socrative Teacher Clicker and creates a free account. The students then download the Socrative Student Clicker and join the teacher’s room, no sign-in or registration required. Socrative can be used in any subject area, as it is not subject-specific.
5- Creation: as Andrew Douch wrote, the iPad is a “Swiss-army knife of content-creation tools“. I have written a post previously about using the iPad to encourage creation in the classroom. In this post, you will find several non-subject specific apps that teachers can use to get their students creating blogs, wikis, animated cartoons, comics, podcasts, screencasts, videos/movies, ebooks, ePortfolios, and much more. These content-creations can be used in all subject areas. Students can create podcasts in science class explaining main concepts, or comics in history class to describe a historical event, or animated cartoons in geography class where they are interviewing a famous geographer, or screencasts in Maths class to explain steps taken to solve a mathematical problem etc…
To conclude, I would like to encourage teachers to explore the apps mentioned in this post, as well as any linked posts. Below is a screenshot of many apps that can be used in meaningful learning activities, and none of these apps are subject-specific!