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Monday, March 25, 2013

Don't Blame The Tool #iRockrh

The Tool Isn’t The Problem

Posted by:  | March 17, 2013 | 6 Comments |
Every day, you’ll see several (tens? hundreds?) of Tweets and posts recommending “nreasons why x tool is the best/worst idea for education.”
I very much dislike lists.
You can find pros and cons for everything under the sun, but I think we need to stop promoting or discounting tools and focus more on changing pedagogy.
I’d like to write a bit about iPads now. Our school is a 1:1 iPad school, but students are also welcome to bring and use other devices (laptops, iPods, cell phones) to do what best helps them learn.
I’ve read a lot of posts about how iPads are NOT good learning tools, because you can’t learn to type properly on them,  they’re bad for note-taking, you can’t teach programming on them, etc. But in all those posts, we’re looking at an adult’s perspective: adults who learned to type on a keyboard, either in school or on their own. These same adults learned to take notes in school. If they were taught programming at all, it was done on some type of computer with a keyboard.
So, iPads are bad because adults can’t type as quickly on them, and they don’t know how to program on them. Hmm. So, are we saying that students must learn to use specific tools because those are the tools that work best for adults?
What I find interesting about this advice is that no one considered asking a child how they might use an iPad.
What if we asked kids how they would use a device? What if we got out of the way and let them explore? That’s what I have the privilege of doing every day.
One of my students, a 9 year old girl, types more quickly on an iPad than most adults type on a standard laptop. Another one of my students, a 10 year old boy, has his iPad “keyboard” split, and he types like he texts… with his thumbs. Neither of them prefer using a standard keyboard. A couple of my students learned early to type on a keyboard, so they have an iPad case with keyboard. And then there are those students who struggle with typing and writing. Although they practice those skills daily, they also have access to dictation apps that help them as well.
The beauty here is that the students have the option to choose what works best for them, and there is no need for my intervention.
My kids also document their learning in different ways. They have a camera on their iPads that they use to photograph evidence of their learning. They often switch to video mode and record what they’re experiencing while narrating simultaneously. They’ve become documentarians without an adult telling them what they should do.
They create videos to share what they are  learning. During one experiment, while they were making race tracks, the students noticed that the toy race car kept flipping off the track. It was happening so quickly, however, that they couldn’t SEE where their track was failing. One student decided they should record the car racing in slow motion to troubleshoot the problem with their track. Within five minutes, they had the problem solved, because they used their iPads to record using an app called Slow Pro. All of this happened while I watched and said nothing. They had access to a tool that allowed them to quickly grab an app and begin recording immediately.
When we go on learning excursions, they don’t grab their laptops. They grab their iPads so they can take photos and videos easily.  When they take notes, they use an app that not only allows them to type their notes, but also provides options for adding photos and voice recordings.
Some of the kids in our school are learning programming. Did you know there are apps for that too? For my own learning, I’m checking out ScriptKit right now.
iPads work in our school for a number of reasons:
  1. Our leadership had a plan in place when making the decision to include iPads as learning devices.
  2. In our inquiry-based classrooms, students have a lot of choices in determining what the will learn and how they will demonstrate what they have learned. Every kid is different, and what works for one may not work for another. Their iPads and other devices provide them options.
  3. Our teachers were provided iPads to use as well. Everyday, we work together to share what we’re doing and learn from each other.
My purpose in writing this post really isn’t so much about how I love iPads. If your school or district rushes out to purchase large volumes of these devices without any plan, time for learning about the devices, and how those devices will support teaching and learning, then ANY tool will fail.
Additionally, if the tool isn’t used to transform learning, then you’re just wasting money. If you purchase a netbook for every child in your district, but then continue only lecturing while the students take notes, is learning transformed? Or did you just buy a really expensive substitute for paper and pencil?
The tool isn’t the problem. WE are the problem. If we don’t know how to provide options for students and then get out of the way, we aren’t transforming their learning. In my opinion, children need to have access to MULTIPLE devices so that they can make decisions about what best suits them for a specific learning activity.
iPads in the classroom are neither the problem, nor the solution. iPads are tools. However, if you choose to write a list about why iPads are not good for learning, maybe you need to rethink that list. I know a school full of children who can refute your arguments by what they do every single day.

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