Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Engaged Learning: Thinking Outside the App

By Dawn Woods, RME Elementary Mathematics Coordinator

Technology, an essential tool for learning mathematics in the 21st century, not only stimulates students’ interests, but also maximizes understanding and proficiency in mathematics. As touch devises, iPads, iPods, iPhones, Kindles and other tablets, become a standard tool in the classroom, it is noteworthy to realize that these tools can be more than a way to access apps that support curriculum content or as an e-reader. These devices can be creative tools that enable teachers and students to learn beyond the walls of the school.

As a classroom teacher, armed with a single iPad and a few iPods, I found that myself, as well as my students loved the ease of operating these tools because of their intuitiveness! We found that we needed very little instruction on how to operate the tools; all we needed was a willingness to play and explore. Since my classroom “touch device” supply was limited, I began to think of innovative ways to use the iPad and iPods. I discovered that these tools easily incorporate into a learning center, as a productivity tool where partners and trios create a multi-media product, and as a presentation tool for students and myself. Eventually, I adapted a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy, which permitted students to bring in their own personal devices to use and manage.

Through my own iPod and iPad explorations, I have discovered that these tools not only deliver content in an interactive and differentiated way but also allow my kinesthetic and visual learners to manipulate the content, providing individualized and engaging instruction. The iPad also lends itself to inquiry or problem-based learning where students are engaged in authentic learning activities based on interest.

Since there are more that 100,000 iPad Apps, and countless other apps that work on a variety of platforms, deciding on where to get started is very overwhelming. A rule that I keep in mind as I evaluate apps is to “think outside the app” or how can the app help students as they consume essential knowledge, collaborate with others, and/or create a product? For example, if I wanted apps to support my instructional goals, I would look for ones that students could use on their own during center or independent activities. Some of my favorite instructional apps are Khan Academy (videos and challenges aligned with instructional goals), Algebra Touch (algebraic lessons and skill practice), Pearl Diver (conceptual number line activity), Pick A Path (activity that tests skills with powers of ten, negative numbers, fractions, and decimals), and Equivalent Fractions by NCTM (activity that builds conceptual understanding of equivalent fractions).

From Discovery Education
There are many great apps like Skype and Twitter that enable students share work. These are both free and easy ways for your classroom to meet people, talk to experts, collaborate and share ideas with peers, and create experiences with others. Another example is Dropbox. This is a free service that allows photo, document, and video sharing. You can save a document to a Dropbox folder and it is accessible on any computer or mobile device. You can also share the folder with others so that they can access documents for collaboration. Pair this app with CloudOn and you can edit documents, anywhere at anytime.

Apps can create multi-media products. ShowMe Interactive Whiteboard allows users to record voice-over whiteboard tutorials and share them online. Here, students could be the teacher, sharing how to solve a problem, then post it to the classroom website. Diptic enables users to combine photos to make new images, while VoiceThread enables the user to create and share conversations around documents, videos, and diagrams.

Summing it All Up
Touch devices such as iPads and iPods are awesome tools for the 21st century classroom. With 100,000 plus apps to choose from, users are challenged to find the best way to consume knowledge, collaborate with others, and create products that fit their individual needs. Using these tools in the classroom maximizes the potential of technology, enabling teachers to develop students’ understanding and proficiency in mathematics.

So, how are you going to “think outside the app” in your classroom?

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