I have found tablets to be extremely engaging and beneficial for students. Along my journey teaching with tablets, I have developed my own tips and tricks for using them. This blog now gives me the opportunity to share my own insights on how to make integrating tablets into the classroom easier and potentially more effective. Here we go!
- Where do you even start? So you have just bought a tablet or found out that your school has a class set of iPads ready for teachers to share. I recommend starting in the app store and searching key words for what you are looking for (i.e., Greek Mythology, Classroom Management, Food Chains, etc). After you come across an app, try downloading the light version of the app to really test it out and get a feel for it before buying the app.
- Do not be fooled by LIGHT APPS. Light apps are designed to give a snapshot of an app and provide only a couple features to test out. Usually light apps are incomplete such as ebook apps with only parts of the book included or mind mapping apps where you are limited to only one mind map. As a teacher, it may seem more cost effective to just buy the light app and deal with it, but trust me, it is more frustrating and inefficient in the classroom or while tutoring to have an app that barley meets the needs of your students. I suggest determining your budget and really investing in some good quality apps. Check out my iPad App Reviews Page for some quality apps I strongly recommend.
- Wow, what a cool app! Have you ever said this while hearing, seeing, or finding an app? One of my favourite tips to give out to people using iPads specifically is to always make note of who developed the cool app you just found. The reason I say this is because some app developers do produce more quality apps that really speak to the needs of students in the classroom. Therefore, I highly recommend looking at all the apps that developer has created. To do this simply, click on an app in the app store and scroll down past the description. Then, locate the link that says "Developer Apps." After clicking on this, you will be taken to a screen that then shows you all of the apps created by that specific company. Many of the apps I use today were found this way because I make note of who I believe are quality app developers and always check back to see if they have developed new apps. Another shortcut to doing this is to take note of the developers name and search their name in the app store instead of key words or the name of a specific app.
- Buy a Stylus. I have found buying a stylus to be a great way to still reinforce holding a pencil properly while working on a tablet. For students who are still working on their emergent literacy skills like print awareness, I would have them use a stylus to practice tracing letters in an alphabet app or just practice drawing the letters on a whiteboard app like Doodle Buddy. I do believe that traditional skills like printing still need to be taught in school, and I have found that a stylus does provide the opportunity to combine the old with the new!
- Look for built in scaffolds. Built in scaffolding seems to be a trademark feature of quality apps. I believe this is especially true if you are trying to use an app in a one-to-one classroom setting. Built in scaffolding should help promote self-directed learning by providing individual feedback on how a student is progressing and how they can improve. This feature will also help by providing immediate feedback if the student needs further explanation on a concept being taught in the app. I have also seen some apps that provide scaffolding by developing an individual learning plan to direct the student within the app!
- Take advantage of built in reward systems. iPads not only have the ability to engage and motivate students through their multi-modal interactivity, but they further have the ability to provide immediate rewards and feedback. This feature is definitely something to look for within an app. Although it is not intrinsic motivation, I have found that reward systems do provide an extra spark of excitement for students. The reward systems can further help guide students' goal setting while working within an app.
- Avoid apps with too many advertisements. There is nothing more frustrating than a student using an iPad with advertisements. I cannot tell you how many times a student will 'accidentally' click the advertisement to redirect you to the app store. It is very frustrating and unproductive. Your student will lose focus and most likely be distracted by whatever app the advertisement is trying to promote.
- Organize your iPad into folders. As someone who is addicted to the iPad and all the apps it has to offer, I have really had to develop a system of filing and organizing all of my apps. If you are like me, you may already know that you can hold down an app and move it over top of another app to make it appear in the same folder. However, I have not only found this to be helpful with condensing the surface space on my tablet, but I have found it to be helpful for students trying to locate apps. I suggest organizing your apps into folders based on subjects. Create one for science, social students, language arts, math, etc. In language arts, I further recommend creating folders based on literacy groups. You can label your groups and their accompanying folders however way you like. This system then provides you with the opportunity to differentiate what apps particular groups are using without making the differentiation obvious to other students.
- Try recording your students interacting with an app through a program called Reflector. I am in the beginning stages of my research and plan to use this program to record students touch interactions with iPads. As a teacher, I can see this being generally helpful to provide insight on how students are actually using an app you have selected and whether or not they are using it in the way you intended. Reflector is an advanced wireless airplay receiver. All you need to do is download Reflector on your laptop and link it wirelessly to your tablet. A video image of the tablet will appear on your laptop, and you can watch live or record for later viewing what features students are using within apps and whether or not they are really interacting with it. You can then decide if the app is meeting yours and your students' needs. Check out the Reflector website for more information.
- Finally, be adventurous in the app store! Try to spend an hour here and there throughout the year really taking the time to scavenge for those hidden gems. Sometimes the app you are looking for is not always the most popular app so it takes some digging. There are over 500,000 apps in the Apple app store. Take your time and get ready to hunt. Maybe I'm a little odd, but the hunt for apps is very thrilling!
I hope these tips and tricks are helpful for educators and other edtech professionals trying to effectively integrate tablets into the classroom!