Get Started with Tablets in Your Classroom

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A Tablet is Not a Computer

This is the most helpful premise to have when integrating a tablet into a classroom and one that often gets ignored. The purpose of a tablet is best thought of as a consumption and creation device, not a small computer. They are meant as a compliment to the computer, not a replacement.  Seeking to make one’s tablet a computer may lead to frustration as well as discount the strengths of the tablet. Start by considering what the tablet can do and how it can compliment your curriculum to engender active learning.

Tablets enable students to kinesthetically connect with their work and facilitate hands-on learning. They also provide students with mobility to document their learning and create stories around it. Some examples of ways to incorporate tablet use include:

  • Create an interactive map charting a historical event.
  • Record lessons so that a student can easily access them from his or her tablet later.
  • Incorporate quizzes as a means of gauging student progress in real time.
  • Encourage students to collaborate together on documents or presentations.
  • Create opportunities for students to collect and illustrate data.

Establish a Workflow for Tablet Use

Without structure and planning, tablets can become just an expensive stand-in for notebooks.  Collaborate professionally with your fellow educators to experiment with using the tablet’s different potential uses. Establish platforms and practices for your class to do the following:Tablet synergy

  • Sharing Materials
  • Collecting Student Work
  • Making Comments and Grading
  • Passing Student Work Back

Apps Part I: Start with Your Curriculum

When considering which apps will be useful in your classroom, start by looking at your curriculum and then considering what would make each lesson better and what kind of functions an app would need to have to satisfy this need. Then search for apps that might fit these needs. The thing not to do is to look at the technology first and then trying to force fit it to lesson plans or worse – building lesson plans around that app.

Apps Part II: Stay Basic

When you’re first getting started, focus on apps that are tools rather than subject-specific ones. In other words, instead of looking for the math version of your textbook, look for an application that can enable kids to explore math problems in a way that will supplement use of the text. Look for apps that can compliment traditional reading by looking for apps that will give students the ability to create and curate content around the lesson. Apps represent an opportunity for students to engage around content quickly and efficiently.

Many professionals in the education tech space recommend going with the rule-of-thumb that all of an educator’s apps should fit on a single screen (http://edtechteacher.org/blog/2013/02/all-the-good-apps-fit-on-one-screen-from-justin-on-edtechresearcher/). A simpler approach might be not to think of the tablet as a repository of apps, but as a collection of media creation and sharing tools, which will augment and enhance your lessons. The following are a few basic free* apps that we’ve observed teachers finding success using:

Dropbox – An easy way to share files with students and collect work.

Google Drive – Platform for creating, storing, sharing and collaborating on word documents, spreadsheets, and slide presentations. Also includes functionality for conducting polls, issuing quizzes, and illustrating data.

Evernote – This popular app enables users to create, store, and share typed notes.

Skitch – Use Skitch to mark up a PDF, take screenshots, annotate a photo, or draw a diagram.

Evernote Peek – A substitute for flashcards, this app stores questions, clues, and answers.

Penultimate – Produced by the same people who provide Evernote and Skitch (and somewhat of a combination of both their functions), this app enables the user to create and store handwritten notes. Like the other Evernote apps, notes can be shared among the class.

YouTube – Curate video related to curriculum and uploading your own video recorded lessons. Organize video content under a single account for easy access.

Google Earth – Enable hands-on geography discovery in lessons. Google Earth’s website proposes a variety of lesson plans across disciplines.

Google+ – While not the most popular of the social networks, it’s group functionality and hangout capabilities can be useful in the classroom. Share assignments through groups and encourage students to collaborate on homework and projects through hangouts.

VoiceThread – Create conversation around documents, photos, diagrams, and videos.

Educreations – A tool for teachers to create video tutorials and animated lessons turn and their iPad into a recordable whiteboard.

Socrative – This “student clicker” application enables educators to conduct interactive exercises in the classroom and quickly assess student progress. Using Socrative teachers can integrate short answer questions and quizzes into a lesson, encouraging students to respond using his or her device.

GoodNotes – Provides a platform for note-taking, including capabilities to write or draw on existing documents, including PDFs and photos. It also includes easy functionality for sharing on dropbox.

Three Ring – A platform for storing student work and creating portfolios. An alternative app which is less education-focused, but more geared towards the student creating a portfolio of artwork is Paper by FiftyThree.

WordPress – Much more than just a blogging platform, WordPress provides an opportunity for students to start exploring a responsible digital presence. Setup a central place for students to share reflections on lessons or encourage your students to use it to create personal webpages.

Wunderlist – Create task lists and share them with your class.

* All of these apps have free versions, but you may need to purchase for advanced features.

Work Within Limitations

If your school is experimenting with purchasing a few devices, its recommended to limit these to a few “pilot” classrooms, rather than try to share a single device among multiple classrooms. This way workflow isn’t interrupted by trying to share devices and the administration and faculty have an opportunity to observe and learn how devices would be used in a classroom should they choose to adopt a 1-1 tablet program or a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) model.

More than Just eBooks

books-tabletsThe convenience of eBooks are a major benefit to the adoption of tablets in the classroom, however equally as important are the opportunities tablets provide to develop personalized learning models. Tablets are tools for consumption, curation and creativity.

Further Reading:

This post appeared as part of our August 2013 newsletter. Subscribe to start receiving monthly updates.

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