Something dawned on me the other day while making dinner. My son was watching PBS Kids as I was cooking in the kitchen (cranberry chicken, quite tasty). Martha Speaks and Word Girl make regular appearances around our house and my son, although he doesn’t understand most of it, does get wrapped up in their episodic exploits. While we were watching these animated creations, I realized something: certain “explanation-creation” apps such as Educreations and Explain Everything follow the same core premise PBS Kids anchors itself to.
Create drawings and animations that are visually appealing? Check.
Tell a good story? Check.
Try to teach somebody something new? Check.
The end results of PBS Kids and using an “explanation-creation” (is there a better term for these?) app maybe vastly different, but the goals are basically the same; try to teach somebody something new in an engaging informative and visually appealing way. So how does this translate to the classroom? Well, it’s more relevant than you might think. Rather than just tell kids to open up an app on their iPads and tell me what you know, why not instead frame it as though they need to tell me a story? Or, teach me something without me realizing that I’m learning. Because that is essentially what a lot of these shows do, and they’re quite good at it. I’ve never been part of a group of TV writers but I imagine that when the creators of these kids shows try to think of new episodes, it is equal parts “how are we going to get kids to learn?” and “how am I going to make it engaging so that they’ll actually want to watch it?”. Oftentimes in education we get bogged down with the former and don’t pay much attention to the latter. We become very transfixed with figuring out how kids are going to show the teacher what they know. Now, that is very important – don’t get me wrong – however, if that is our sole focus in the classroom, that mindset often eliminates creativity for kids. If kids are so content on only explaining what they know then they aren’t accessing different parts of their mind to allow them to be creative.
And kids need that permission. They need to be encouraged to not just show what they know but to show it in a creative way that is engaging to them and to their audience. There are a lot of kids who try to please the teacher and just do the most “academic” work they can for the teacher and in the process they will sacrifice their own creativity. There are also a lot of kids who may not want to do anything because their perception is that the only right answer for a teacher is the one that has a lot of words and looks very rehearsed and looks as though they are writing a college level term paper. But it does not have to be that way. We can assess whether or not students know and understand the things that they need to understand by allowing them to breathe life into a topic they are interested in and creatively changing it to give it meaning for themselves.
So, this is something that I’m going to try to keep in mind as I use iPads in my class more and more and more as a creation tool to help not only with student engagement but to grow a student center of creativity and authorship..
Capturing film on the iPad is one of it’s strengths, especially as a mobile device. Getting that video onto YouTube – specifically a teacher or student created YouTube channel within my district, we’re single sign on – has been a struggle.
Google has recently released YouTube Capture. YouTube Capture is built for an iPhone/iPod Touch, but will work on the iPad (I suspect full support for the iPad is forthcoming). With YouTube Capture, filming and uploading your video straight to your YouTube channel is a breeze. Once you have the app installed, you can access other videos you have saved on your iPad, upload them, and do some of the same light editing you can do on an the web, such as trimming clips, colore correction, stabilization, and adding soundtracks. If students are using iMovie, they can save their feature rich videos to their camera roll, and then upload them via YouTube Capture.
The point of YouTube Capture is to get users to upload and create faster than ever before. This is a huge boon for students who want to create videos for class, and for teachers who are sick of the workarounds on an iPad.
At the beginning of the school year my role within my school has changed in a fairly significant way. I went from a full time classroom teacher who passionately and excitedly uses technology in the classroom to reach my students to a part-time classroom teacher who still does those things, but now also oversee digital content creation and technology integration within my school and my district. This year our district embarked on a new adventure when we decided to start going 1:1 with iPads in the classroom.
The plan is that for the school year of 2012-2013, all incoming seventh graders in both junior highs will receive an iPad. These iPad are still owned and are controlled by the district, but students are able to manage them on their own because each student has their own individual Apple ID. Their Apple ID’s are still known to us because we helped them sign up and create the account along with their parents. Student email (and the email connected to the Apple ID) is tied to their Google apps email which they already have since we are a Google apps district. Our district has two junior highs with about 900 students each. So, it’s been quite an undertaking placing around 600 iPads in the hands of seventh graders.
Halfway through the school year we have had mixed results and there has been a sharp learning curve as we have had to adapt and evolve the program, but I would say that the grand experiment has been successful because it is changing the way teachers are teaching and it is helping to educate our students in more dynamic ways. It can be really easy to get caught up on the types of things that are not working well. Cracked screens, apps should not be downloaded such as non-educational games and instant messaging, lost cables and chargers are all the types of things you have to accept if you’re going to go 1:1 with iPad. Usually in a school if you’re talking about behavioral problems you’re typically only talking about 5 to 10 percent of the kids. So it’s important for me to remember and remind myself that things such as cracked screens and other user error problems are frustrating and annoying, but it’s not all of the kids that are having these problems. It’s a very small percentage of kids having these issues but it feels like it’s a bigger problem than it probably is.
Over the summer and at the start of this school year, introducing new iPad into the hands of students and staff was a revolution of sorts. It would significantly change the way teachers were going to operate, how students were going to operate within their school, and some of the policies and procedures our school has. That was a Revolution. Now that we have our feet under us once again and we’ve been doing this for a while now, we’ve had to focus our attention and change and now we have a constant evolution of the program. The initial types of behavioral procedures have the evolved. The way students are downloading apps has evolved. The way that students take care of their iPads has evolved. And, maybe most importantly, the way teachers are getting their kids to interact with what they’re learning and affect their education has also evolved. This is what excites me most. To be able to see how teachers are changing and adapting the way they teach to meet the needs of our students is very gratifying. I cannot take credit for this evolution on the teachers part. And I won’t pretend to. I work with some of the most creative, ingenious and dynamic teachers in the world. A lot of what they’re doing is stemming from their core beliefs about teaching and their passion for serving kids. Regardless it is really fun to be able to see our school through this positive experience.
Next year we are rolling out 300 more iPads in our school so that both seventh and eighth graders will have them, and then the following year, the ninth graders will get iPads as well. So in three years time all students in both junior highs in our district will have an iPad. As fun as it is to see how it’s transforming a single grade of students and teachers that work with them, it will really be amazing to see what happens in two more years when every student in our building has a mobile device to help them learn in engaging ways both inside the classroom and outside as well.