November 21, 2014

Big iPad Summit Take-Aways

Last week I took a team of teachers from my school to Boston for EdTechTeacher's iPad Summit.

We had a super-awesome-fantastic time. It was my first time in Boston, so I was eager to check out all of the historical sites. Each day after the conference we explored the Boston Freedom Trail, with sites important to the American Revolution. I can't wait to share the pictures with my students when we study this time period later in the year.
Eager for the first session to start!
So, I've been processing my learning for a full week. And I'm ready to share my reflections from the conference:

Big Idea #1 - It's About the Process, Not the Product
Creating something on the iPad is a process that really strengthens the most important skills our students need. Those skills are sometimes called the 4 Cs: Collaboration, Communication, Creativity, and Critical Thinking. Our focus should be more on how they develop these skills, rather than how perfect and pretty the end-product is.

Big Idea #2 - It's Not About the Apps
This conference totally shifted my thinking on the topic of apps. Instead of looking at them as, "I found a great app for fractions!" or "What are the best apps for fluency?" we should think about how the iPad can be a tool to extend, enrich, and strengthen learning.

Yes, using apps for targeted curriculum needs is still a valid approach, and one that I will continue to use. For instance, I love the Quizlet app for practicing vocabulary. My students visit a vocabulary station with a partner and work together with the quizlet app to practice. 

However, the larger use for iPads should be as a seamless learning tool. We shouldn't be using the technology just because it's there. Focusing on apps leads us to make instructional decisions such as, "This app about polar bears is really cool. Let's do something about polar bears." Our decisions should be learning-driven, not app-driven.

Big Idea #3 - Sometimes Analog is Better, iPads Are for Specific Needs
Sometimes you should just stick with paper and pencil. Keynote speaker, Greg Kulowiec, gave a great example of his sketchnotes.

A device is not always the best tool for the job. Greg recommended 4 primary uses for the iPad and I am using these as the foundation for my decisions about when/how to use them:
1. Students archiving their work/thinking
2. Students annotating work/images/etc
3. Students creating
4. Students sharing their work

And so -
I am super thrilled to report something new I am trying as a result of all this major learning. Each week I will be providing my students with 1 hour to create a project that reflects on their learning. The big, amazing thing about this project is that it tackles all three Big Ideas.

I am not teaching my students how to use any of the apps.

We are depending on an inquiry process to struggle with the tools, make attempts, make mistakes, make discoveries, and create.
For now, I have limited my students to 4 apps that are both free and easy to export. After all, one key point is that the students need to share their creations!

Yesterday we had our first go at this project. Happily, every single student completed and exported their work within the hour. Most of it is pretty poor. The sound quality is usually terrible, the creativity is slim, and the tools were not well-leveraged.
Eli found a quiet room for recording

I fully expected this. That's part of the inquiry process. The goal is not to be great now, but to continue to discover ways to create and reflect. I fully expect that we will have several more weeks of sub-par products. But we will steadily improve. I keep reminding myself that it's about the process, not the product. So, when sharing their work, we used critiquing to make plans for improvement. 

The hardest part of the process, for me, was not helping when they had trouble. I told the students that they would struggle, but that they could figure out these apps and tools for themselves. Still, it was hard not to swoop in whenever they ran into a problem!

Here are two student projects from the week - 

Zach mispronounces the word tertiary and it's kind of hilarious :)

Mason's ChatterKid about Producers, Consumers, and Decomposers:
Mason's sound quality is great!

In reflection, the 50 minutes spent creating these projects was well worth it. I saw so much critical thinking, grit, and problem solving. Several students started reflections on different topics or using different apps, and then switched. This kind of flexibility is important. Others recorded over and over again, trying to make it terrific. Perseverance and dedication really matter. I can't wait to see how this process grows and evolves over the year!

~ Amanda

Thanks to a generous grant from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund to pay for our trip to the Boston iPad Summit!

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