iPads for Learning (not just skill-drilling) - Digital Literacy Dover

Friday, 18 April 2014

iPads for Learning (not just skill-drilling)

It will not have escaped the notice of many parents that iPads are quickly becoming a popular tool for enhancing teaching and learning, especially here at the Dover Campus, where iPads are now ubiquitous in the Infant School and Grade 2, with shared trolleys of iPads in Grades 3-5.

What is perhaps less obvious is the why, the how, and the what do we use them for?

As revolutionary as iPads are, they suffer from one particular affliction, they remain, in the minds of many, if not most of our students and parents, gaming devices, or 'skill drill' devices, where 'content is king'. Which has it's place, but it is important to understand that in our school, this is rarely if ever how they are used.

Concepts are Critical, not Content

It's pretty well established now that learning in the new millennium is no longer predicated on a model where we expect kids to fill their craniums with content, devoid of any authentic context within which to actually use that content. Instead educators across the globe are shifting to a focus on key "thinking tools"—key transdisciplinary tools (or cognitive skills), that encapsulate how creative minds think effectively across a range of domains.* These "tools," or habits of mind, comprise a framework for trans-disciplinary creativity and can serve as the basis for the kinds of curricula that are essential for the "conceptual age" (Gardner, 2007; Pink, 2005). Concept based teaching facilitates deeper learning,  that builds competencies that are structured around fundamental principles of a content area and their relationships rather than disparate, superficial facts or procedures (Pellegrino et al, 2013). While other types of learning may allow an individual to recall facts, concepts, or procedures, deeper learning allows the individual to transfer what was learned to solve new problems.

Is there an App for that? Who cares?

That sounds a bit harsh, but at it's essence is my awareness that any App that is content focused is likely to be fraught with all sorts of problems, like issues with language, appropriateness, complexity, not to mention the sheer amount of Apps you would need to juggle if you are going to try and locate an App for every possible area of curricular content.

No, in our school, they are not about content, or consumption, they are about conceptual learning, through creating, capturing and reflection. They are devices for capturing learning that is driven by overarching concepts, devices that allow us to permeate our classrooms with what we call:

Capture Culture

This means that as teachers we need to make sure we focus on ensuring that they are used as learning devices, as devices that capture learning; if there’s ONE thing that sums up what we're trying to establish it’s this - we are building a capture culture - that’s it, everywhere, all year long.

Capturing what they can do, can't do, could do, thought they could do but couldn't, couldn't do but now can, and so on.

So, as strange as this may seem, considering the plethora of Apps on the App Store, the Apps we really focus on are not the usual suspects, the 'skill and drill' 'educational' Apps, no, we focus on Apps for:
  • capturing
  • screencasting
  • annotating
  • image/video/audio creation

Depending on the age of the students, the Apps may focus discretely on one of these attributes, or as the students become more proficient, combinations of more than one, sometimes, particularly with our older students, all four.

This means that despite the wide range of Apps we have available on our school iPads (click here to see the entire collection), we actually focus, most of the time on a handful of Apps. Apps we call our...

Core Apps

8 Essential Apps for Capturing Learning

Less is More

There are several critical aspects to this strategy:

  • We can focus on developing expertise with a few tools, rather than feeling overwhelmed by hundreds
  • We can use these Apps 'iteratively' for formative assessment—using the same Apps over and over again, in different areas of the curriculum. 
  • We can reduce 'cognitive load' for students, so that they can focus on pedagogy and curricular content, rather than constantly learning how to use lots of new tech tools (Apps).
  • Where there is considerable 'cognitive demand' in learning a more complex App, the investment is worthwhile, as the students will eventually be able to use these core tools throughout the year, with little or no teacher support.

App Rationale

  1. Camera/Photos: take photos and screenshots, landscape/portrait, camera flip, edit the photo, enhance, video (only in landscape!), trim video, use legs to zoom (get close to the subject!) manage the library (ie, delete the rubbish!);
  2. Drawing Pad: drawing, painting, stickers, annotating over an image, different backgrounds (handwriting, maths), basic word processing - ideal for the introduction of keyboarding skills.
  3. iMindMap - Mind mapping made easy, pinch, zoom, connect/disconnect, add images—ideal for tune-ins, and seeing understanding develop over the course of a unit of learning, by revisiting and revising at regular intervals.
  4. Shadow Puppet EDU: like Doodlecast, but less 'kiddy', this app allows kids to insert images from the camera roll, and also to use multiple slides, and point and/or draw.
  5. Explain Everything: Does everything all of the previous apps do, all in one app, albeit a more complex environment. The steeper learning curve pays off with the sheer amount of uses it has. It also allows typing, and annotating/recording over video.
  6. iMovie: A surprisingly simple way to stitch together images & video, straight from the camera roll, no import needed. Text and voice over can easily be added as well. Particularly powerful when combined with the other content exported from the other Core Apps.


Apps are introduced progressively, and cumulatively, consolidating use of all the Apps at each grade level, so that by Grade 2 all students are confident, competent, and most importantly independent users of all the Core Apps.

Contrary to popular myth even very young children benefit from the appropriate use of screens. So students start in K1 with the Camera App, just learning how to take photos, the Photos App to browse their efforts, and eventually creating art work with Drawing Pad, and simple screencasts with Shadow Puppet. By the end of the year the K1 students can also record static video (not moving the iPad, just concentrating on recording video while holding the iPad still).

In K2 the students broaden their repertoire to include Shadow Puppet EDU and Puppet Pals for story telling. In G1 they consolidate and develop their expertise in the first 6 Core Apps, ready to progress to the more 'advanced Apps' in G2.

Settings > General > Accessibility > Guided Access

Choose what you want to restrict, then triple click to activate.

Guided Access

There are going to be times, especially with very young learners that you might want to restrict their freedom on an iPad, like maybe locking the iPad so they can only work within one specific App. With a feature called Guided Access on iOS devices, that is literally as easy to activate as triple clicking the home button. Instructions on how to set that up here.

Next Steps...

So many Apps - but why?

Now we do have many other Apps, other than the Core Apps on the iPads, there are many reasons for this, but mainly because the Core Apps form the foundation for everyday use, much like the iPad version of pencils and paper, they can be used for almost anything, in any curricular area. But much like other traditional tools, the curriculum often presents very specific, unique opportunities for the use of Apps that are particularly suited to a particular curricular context, or a specific skill focus. To extend the analogy, these would be like inviting students to use paints, board games; rulers; manipulatives, and of course reading books—not relevant to everything, but still powerful when used in a focused, directed, pedagogically appropriate way, by a skilled teacher.

I have outlined a few of the main contenders that are not Core Apps, but are still magnificent when used in very specific contexts.

Puppet Pals/Toontastic
Sock Puppets
Google Drive
Book Creator
Comic Book and or Strip designer

Skitch (annotate over images)
iMotion (Stopmotion)

Organised around curricular focus:

Read & Narrate:

Epic, MyON, Raz Kids


Wurdle, Spell Blocks, SqueeblesSP, Wet Dry Try


Brain Tuner, Bugs & Numbers, Addicus HD, SqueeblesDV, Bugs & Buttons, Maths Drills, Numbers, Pick–a–Path, SqueeblesTT, SqueeblesAS, SqueeablesFR, Teaching Graphs, Khan Academy, SparkleBox

Control & Code

LightBot, Daisy the Dino, Hopscotch, Tynker, Move the Turtle

Draw & Paint

Drawing Pad, Brushes, Skitch (image annotation)


Toontastic, PuppetPals HD, Sock Puppets


Educreations, Explain Everything, Doodlecast, Popplet, Mind Meister


Comic book, Comic Life, Strip Design, iMotion, Keynote, GarageBand, Pages, Minecraft PE, Pic Collage for kids, Book Creator, iMovie, Adobe Spark (Page, Post, Video), iMindMap... 

No comments:

Post a Comment