Friday, November 1, 2013

The One Where I Try to Teach the Apps

My classroom is one of three K-6 classrooms in our district that has been asked to use a class set of iPads this year. That number will hopefully grow in a couple of months as several more K-12 teachers will receive sets. These teachers each went through the rigorous "Apple Foundations Training" and then have to apply to be considered. 

Over the first couple of weeks the biggest challenge had been training the students with the thought of iPads are "Tools, not toys". At home, most of my students only use their tablets to play games. While I am a big supporter of all the skills games can help us practice and strengthen, we were going to be using them primarily as part of our workflow. 

I had reminded them of the concept that "iPads are Tools, not Toys" so many times the first few weeks - I'm sure they were ALL sick of hearing it. 

Each iPad has roughly 50 apps on it. However, my plan was to have them become masters of 10 or so before we moved on to any others. The Apps we use the most are: Keynote, Google Drive/Docs, gMail, Kidblog, Keynote, Notability, and Strip Designer.

Time management was also a big struggle those first few weeks. Truth be told, it still is. While the students are quick to pick up how to use the different Apps, they still need some basic instruction before they are set off with them. I've used three different approaches to this, each with various success. 

1) In the beginning, I taught them each App and how to use it. This method worked ok, but I had a feeling it was slowing them down. I used this method with several educational games like Free Flow, Chicken Coop, and Chocolate Fix.

2) Next, I tried to have them teach themselves a few Apps. This worked ok, but I found they all had varying degrees of success with those Apps. There ended up being a lot more questions I answered then I would have if I just taught them the app in the first place.

3) The third, and most successful method I used was Self-Teaching with Peer Help. KEYNOTE is a good example of an App we tried this with. In this example, each student figured out for themselves how to learn Keynote and how it works. They did this while making a presentation to show their parents at conferences regarding what they learned in the 1st quarter. If a student had a question on how to do something, they asked several classmates how to do it. 

This worked for many reasons. First of all, it allowed students to be teachers and many of them relished in this role! I have seen sooooooo much pride on the faces of students that have been able to help others in the class. It has really boosted the esteem of several students who really "Get" technology. It also allowed for them to get their questions answered so much quicker than if they had to wait for me. As a result of that, it allowed the work to proceed at a much quicker pace!

I'd love to hear from others that use iPads in their classroom and how methods you have used to instruct your students in how to use each App.


  1. Great post, Garrett. Learning the apps is a crucial part of a successful iPad roll out. It is often a misconception that students know how to use the apps. Just because these students are all 21st century kids they don't intuitively know how to use apps. I know initially I underestimated the time that is needed to have the students develop fluency in an app. It takes several experiences with an app for them to use it effectively.

    Thanks for the sharing the three ways you have introduced the apps. I love the third way you shared where the students help one another. Shoulder to shoulder learning is powerful and as you discovered, empowering too!

    I have tried a variation of your first way by creating screencasts and students learn how to use the app at their own pace as they need the skill (just in time learning). For example, learning the app Notability. Instead of teaching how to use all the features of Notability all at once to the entire group, divide the learning in chunks and create a screencast for each one. There are logical breaks such as learning how to open a file in Notability, how to write on a document using the magnifier, how to change pen color, and how to export the file to Google Drive. Have the students view the screencasts and work through an activity at their own pace. This frees you up to walk around and work individually with students who may have questions and allows others to move forward a their on pace (asynchronous learning).

    I have also found that another key to success is touse the introduced apps regularly to develop a solid classroom workflow. Sometimes I have made the mistake of trying to introduce another app before students have had enough success and experience with the first one.

    Thanks for taking the time to write this up and share with all of us!


  2. Sounds like you're doing things well, Garrett.

    Ann makes a good point about screencasts, video is a great student learning tool, although may add a bit of extra noise to your classroom if everyone is listening at once ;)

    If you're going to make screencasts, include accompanying step-by-step text, as videos are often too fast for certain students who struggle with technology and can't slow down the video to keep up with their trials.

    Secondly, as you're starting out with 10+ apps and making multiple screenshots per app, you may find yourself with well over 100 videos in no time. Accordingly, you'll want to ensure that your collaboration system where you host the videos can be queried directly from student iPads, and has natural language tags/phrasing so students can find what they need, when they need it, in the language they're most likely to use to find it. Otherwise, all that valuable information will be buried and inaccessible, which is often the case with FAQ/Training websites.

    As you let students become the teachers, I would recommend implementing a real-time student-student tip-sharing and Q&A mechanism, so they can accelerate their pace of learning. For this purpose, I recommend SwiftLaunch, which has fun mechanisms to get students engaged and keep them engaged and sharing their questions, tips and solutions (even anonymously) - <note, I work here, focusing on iPad in Education roll-outs).

    Here is a useful SwiftLaunch blogpost that discusses exactly what Anne mentioned about incremental teacher/student training mechanisms (video, etc.), as well as many of the challenges you mentioned above, and some ways to solve them:

    Good luck as things progress and please keep us updated, and thanks for sharing your experiences, Garrett.