Digitized education

Shawn Hayward
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Entire classrooms now have access to iPads

The days of white chalk and a green chalkboard have been left in the dust by new technology that has revolutionized the way children learn in classrooms.

Pam Williams, a teacher at Riverside Elementary, shows Emma Bertrand (right) and Chyanne Miller how to use iPads to learn geometry.

During a conference on education and technology last week teachers from Clarenville Middle School and Riverside Elementary described how new gadgets have changed their profession.

“If I can think of one piece of technology that’s been most successful in terms of engaging students and broadening the classroom discussion, Twitter really comes to mind,” said Richard Churchill, an English teacher at Clarenville Middle School.

Churchill was slow to catch on to Twitter, finding the volume of information overwhelming at first. Then he realized the power it had to link classrooms to the outside world and each other.

Last year he helped students study at home for upcoming exams by giving study tips and practice questions through his Twitter account. He estimates over half his students had Twitter accounts already.

Students used Twitter to follow along with Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield on his trip to the International Space Station last Spring, and got to hear him sing songs from space by teleconference.

Riverside Elementary has enough Apple iPads for entire classrooms, and a teacher that devotes nearly half her time to teaching students how to use them. Pamela Williams says it’s exciting to see students as young as Kindergarten age learn how to use technology.

“When I wheel them that cart full of iPads they’re astonished they have an iPad each, they don’t have to share, and they’re very receptive,” she said. “The engagement is there.”

Students use the iPads to reinforce their French vocabulary, learn shapes in geometry and research for school projects.

The iPads at Riverside and assorted Apple products cost $50,000, according to principal Art Winsor, and the school spent $20,000 updating its network and installing a new wireless network.

The first day wireless became available to students over 500 of them signed on to the network and there was no space left for the school computers, something Winsor said they hadn’t planned for, and they had to start restricting access.

Churchill says students’ technological know-how at an early age helps speed the process of teaching through things such as iPads.

“Your students that are coming up are the digital natives,” Churchill told the crowd of teachers and educators. “They’re coming in born with iPads in their hands; they know how to operate iPhones at a frighteningly young age. They know the technology inside and out, so you don’t have to worry about teaching them how to use computers and iPhones, from an everyday use kind of perspective.”

The challenge is getting students to use technology to their advantage, Churchill says, not just to passively absorb what an Apple developer in California has designed for them.

He noted the program called Prezi as an example. It lets students create presentations in more dynamic ways than the old PowerPoint, challenging them to think critically and be creative at the same time. 

“We’ve been focused on what the iPad can do,” said Churchill. “What we really need to be thinking about is what can I make the iPad do? And what can I create with the iPad or phone or laptop or whatever piece of technology they’re using at the time? How can I use it to improve my learning?”

While students already know how to text and check Twitter feeds of their favourite singers, Churchill says they don’t know how to do more technical things such as organize files, and that’s something teachers must focus on.

Teachers get two days of personal development training on iPads, says Winsor, but getting teachers enough personal development is still a challenge and he’d like to have a teacher devoted full-time to technology in classrooms.

Yet the challenges of new technology are overshadowed by the benefits, according to the presenters. Churchill says iPads allows students to participate in lessons rather than being lectured to, and that helps them absorb knowledge. Williams says technology grabs the attention of students who normally have trouble learning in a more traditional way.

“When you have some students who have trouble focusing, it’s just so powerful to see the students using the iPad and learning,” she said.

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  • Megan
    December 04, 2013 - 19:25

    Happy to see schools using both iPads and Twitter to help their students' success. Keep up the good work! Here's a recent report on elevating the iPad learning experience: http://canarylearning.com/5-steps-ipad-learning-report/ Happy Learning!