iPads and Scientific Literacy in SNC2P

This year I’ve been lucky to be able to support an iPad project. The project involves five grade 10 applied science classes and teachers. Each teacher has the full class set of iPads and a macbook for 3-4 weeks for a “learning unit” with a focus on literacy skills. We’ve just wrapped up the first block. Pam Jeffery was the teacher librarian teaching-partner with the SNC2P teacher and has shared some highlights of the project through her twitter account, @pjeffrey. I was only involved in the project in the background as a support person, Pam and John really drove this project, so I feel a bit odd writing about the project. However, I learned so much from them that it must be shared! 🙂

In summary (and, Pam/John, please add to or correct me), they used the iPads for a variety of literacy activities (the main focus was finding the main idea and supporting details in a variety of media including TED Talks), for a creation task around alternative energy sources (video, audio, images) and to increase collaboration among students (Facebook, Edmodo, Evernote and Google Docs).

Here are some of the highlights of what I learned:

  • the iPad is not always the “right” tool – typing on them was painful and students disliked typing large amounts of text
  • the iPad was great for “creative” tasks like creating video, images and audio. It allowed students to make good looking video quickly so the focus was on the content not learning the tools
  • students preferred Facebook to Edmodo because it was where “they were” already, but it was extremely limited in how it allowed them to share files and documents. Edmodo ended up being the teachers first choice.
  • using Facebook with students sparked some great conversation around privacy settings on Facebook (and resulted in a lot of changed settings by students)
  • the co-learning of how to use the devices between students and teachers was important and helped to create a great learning environment
  • there was not always the need for a full class set. In fact, it was often the fact that having about 6 iPads would have been better than 1:1. They were almost always used for group work and sharing a device created more accountability for how the device was being used. Computer labs are still available for times when everyone needs a device to complete something.
  • our devices could not be shared between students throughout the day – meaning only one student could use them each day. There is a thing between iOS devices and our guest wireless networks right now that keeps a login to the network stored for 8 hours, preventing others from logging in using a new login.
  • 30 devices take a lot of time and energy to maintain and manage. Lots of updating, wiping when needed, logging in things such as dropbox, evernote, etc. Initial set-up was the worst – updating operating systems, installing all apps, logging in some apps one at a time
  • the mail ports are blocked on our guest wireless, and because you can’t attach a file to webmail on the iPad, we used dropbox for sharing files. This worked well.
  • having a “network” or “team” to support each other while implementing new things is incredibly important. Watching the partnership between the teacher librarian and science teacher was fascinating. They collaborated on lesson planning, co-taught and then debriefed almost every single day. This type of partnership or team approach was invaluable.
  • Evernote for shared note taking and resource collecting was great. In this case they all shared an account, but it could have easily been set up as a shared folder between multiple users.
  • the cost of iPads is not glaringly “cheaper” than laptops. Our board can do a laptop, for 5 years for about $1100. From a schools point of view that is guaranteed to work for 5 years, updated with new osapac software as it comes out. The iPad is $519ish + $90 apple care + case + screen protector + project cord + charging trays if needed (super expensive, but makes storage much easier). At the end of the day, these devices are only guaranteed for two years with apple care and we still have to update apps and potentially add more apps to keep them relevant. Much more research needs to be done to determine how long they last in an educational setting and if they are economical at the end of the day. The need really must be for this particular device (touch screen, iOS), not just “any device” to make this worthwhile at this point in time.

We learned a lot from our first school (who were awesome to agree to go first and problem solve all the bugs and hurdles that go along with being first). In addition to the literacy and science learning that occurred, teachers found that the SNC2P students felt “special”. Often students taking applied courses do not feel smart. There is a misconception that students in the academic courses are the smart ones –> but this is an issue for a whole other blog post. This project made the students in SNC2P feel proud and special. We will be looking at attendance and achievement “data” soon. I use quotations around the word data, because the project wasn’t set up to be a statistically significant research project. With a  small population size, it was an inquiry and we will look at this information to guide our learning and options for next steps, but will not make decisions based solely on “data” that is not statistically significant.

I look forward to learning along with our other schools participating in turn throughout the rest of this year. Thanks Pam and John!

Why I love Educon

Educon is the one conference I will fight over and over again to be able to go to. Many people don’t quite understand why I want to go to Philly in January, but it really comes down to two things. Empowered students and empowered educators. The conference is held at the Science Leadership Academy (SLA), a secondary school that feels like no other. Students organize the conference for hundreds of educators.

My favourite day of the conference is Friday. Sorry to all of the awesome presenters and conversation leaders at Educon, but I mostly go to talk and learn from the students at SLA. On friday there are regular classes at SLA. Well, as regular as they can be with hundreds of educators touring through the classes asking questions. I was lead through the school by a wonderful young lady who had me pegged after our first classroom visit. As anyone who knows me can attest to, I am often quiet and shy (and those who know me really well find that hard to believe after I open up). My grade 11 guide was confident enough in the value of discussion and questioning that she forced me to ask questions of students. Yes… forced me! I was a bit timid to interrupt them and she would have nothing to do with that. What I learned from the students as I asked questions about their work was of course enlightening. I learned about arts partnerships. I learned how students found role play useful in truly understanding historical events. I learned how students felt encouraged to find new ways to do things instead of simply following status quo and how they felt that teachers cared.

When I visit SLA I am reminded how important it is for us as educators to have conversations about learning with students. At Educon I had conversations with high school students about instructional strategies and learning styles that I would have struggled to have even after completion of my B.Ed. And, truly, this is ridiculous. Students are immersed in learning throughout their educational careers. Not having conversations with students about teaching and learning is comparable to producing consumer products without ever doing market research.

I’ll write about the sessions I participated in a later post, but I will highlight one session (Brenda Sherry and Peter Skillen’s Question IT: Are we mad?!) where there were three students in the back of the room running the camera and microphone for virtual participants. For the majority of the session it appeared as though none of them were paying attention. Near the end of our session one of them jumped up and asked if he could add something. We were having a conversation about to what extent teachers have to “know the tools” (e.g. voicethread or iMovie) before students in their classes were using them. He felt that the more a teacher actually knew about the tool the worse it was for students. He felt that being shown how to use the tool took away from the learning process and developing the skills they need to survive in todays world. He preferred to use a tool that the teacher would not demonstrate at all so he could learn it himself. This sparked great conversation and we discussed the teachers role in helping students choose tools and staying safe online opposed to demonstrating tools step-by-step.

I honestly don’t know too many students who would feel confident and comfortable enough to jump into conversation with 25 educators about these matters, but our conversation sure wouldn’t have been the same without his participation. Empowered students make Educon a learning experience unlike no other.