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iPads & Other Technology in the Classroom

Tabitha Helms

Young Students With iPads in Class

Last month, I had the opportunity to take a break from the craziness of going back to work after a 2 week break. I drove up to Buena Park for a seminar by Amber Kowatch about "Making the Best Use of iPads and Other Cutting Edge Technology" in the classroom. I've attended iPad seminars before since buying an iPad, but they've all been geared toward classrooms that have iPads for the students to use, and pardon my selfishness, there's no way in the world I am letting other peoples' germy children touch my pricey, hard earned iPad! Haha. A lot of the seminars have also been for older grades. This one was specifically for K-2 and said in the description that it was for classes with 1 to 1 ratios of iPads and students, or just a few iPads, or just 1 iPad. I was hopeful that I would get more out of it.

It was a really great, informative seminar. I did feel a little bit that it was geared more toward the classes that have student iPads, and I told my husband that our future kids are going to have the BEST homeschool education when we get there one day because we both have iPads that our kiddos can use and do these awesome projects seminars like this one talk about. 

There were several ideas that were brought up that could be done if you are in my situation though. During some of the "go brainstorm with a new neighbor" parts, I inquired from other teachers if they had iPads for their students and how they implemented these new ideas. They told me that they utilize their computer pull out time for students to check in on Edmodo or other classroom blog-type sites for their students. I thought that was a great idea! It got my head turning about many of the ideas mentioned throughout the day that could easily be used in computer class. Our computer teacher has said in the past that he's fine doing extra projects with our kids as long as we help him out since it's our projects, not his. I think that's a fair request. 

So, without further ado, take a look at some of the great ways you can use technology with teaching your young (and old!) students. 

Learning Management Systems

Many apps were discussed, and some of them have websites so iPads are not necessary. Learning Management Systems were talked about often. That's like having an online classroom space that your students check in with, answer your questions, turn in assignments and complete surveys or even quizzes. When I was in college, many of my professors used for this purpose.

My current school is working toward using Google Classroom as their L.M.S. This year we're just playing around with it as a staff and getting comfortable with it. I think we want to implement it next year. It's clean and straightforward, though students have to have a gmail account set up to sign in, so it seems more toward older grades.


At the seminar, Edmodo was mentioned as a more kid-friendly L.M.S. I looked up the difference between Edmodo and Google Classroom and it seems like Google Classroom is just newer and therefore hasn't been developed as much yet. However, we all know how great Google is, so I foresee many more things to come in the near future. A couple big advantages Edmodo has over Google is letting me see who has completed tests/assignments/surveys and instant grade results for students. I think Edmodo also allows parent access and Google does not. (Just some things I found when searching online.)

Now, you might ask the purpose of L.M.S. for younger grades--"isn't it hard for them to navigate a mostly-text website? Wouldn't it take them too long to type things in? What about the need to 'show their work' on math assignments? How do they submit that electronically? 6 year olds don't need to be that competent online yet." 

Those are questions that were buzzing through my head in this seminar when many different things were mentioned. But here's a thought for you: our society is moving toward technology at a very fast pace, and because of that many kids at that age and younger already know how to access the internet and play computer games. Last year, in kindergarten, I was telling a parent how I recommend using their iPad to help their child with some areas of struggle, and they told me how great their 5 year old was with the iPad--that he sorted all the apps into folders for his dad who hadn't even known that was possible. No one showed that 5 year old how to do it, he played around and figured it out. That's how I've learned to be confident trying technology. If you don't know, you just click on things until you figure it out! Haha. My colleague's granddaughter just turned 1 year old. She knows how to FaceTime her grandma whenever she wants. Look in the grocery store; what does the screaming child get? A phone to play a game, watch a movie, just to be amused. 

Amber said something that was perhaps my favorite part of the whole seminar. She said,

because the technologically-savvy world we live in is providing more and more access for kids to use it, they're going to be using it whether we think they should or shouldn't.

And isn't our responsibility as teachers (and parents) to guide them in knowing the appropriate way to do so? 

We didn't teach kids how to hit someone when they're upset, but we did teach them about what the appropriate response to anger is. We are the trainers, and we need to make sure they know what to do with the technology they're using. 

Age of use

So in my opinion, I think this is really important. I think that even if first grade, my students should know how to respond in a comment to someone. I think that they should know that punctuation and capitalization in an email is just as important as when they're handwriting me a paragraph. I think that being on the computer or iPad or whatever is a great opportunity to reinforce what I'm already teaching them. In computer lab, they're working on keyboarding correctly. So why shouldn't they be able to practice keyboarding while reading and responding to a survey question I post for them on Google Classroom? Why can't I use my lesson on writing a friendly letter and apply it to an email? They need to know these things anyway, and many kids are already tech-savvy enough to figure out how to do it on an electronic device. 

</rant> ;) 

Before introducing my students to some of these activities, I plan to spend some time teaching them about Digital Citizenship using an interactive book by Common Sense Media. 

Reading Apps

Some great apps were mentioned for reading support. Some of these have websites, some are available on non-apple devices. It doesn't hurt to look them up for whatever you need to use it for! The name of the app/site is in bold and is a clickable link to take you to the website for more information.

Raz Kids AtoZ Reading - subscription for $99 a year that allows up to 36 students. I'm not sure if you can pay a different amount if you're using it just at home with your own kid. (Check it out and let me know in the comments if you figure that out.) This app lets kids read or listen to books and gives them a quiz at the end when they're ready. It provides lots of reading data to the administrator and you can also print out the books in PDF form. There are fiction and nonfiction stories of all levels.

OverDriveI am personally super excited about this one and have used it happily. This app connects to your public library and you can check out ebooks or audiobooks that your library has available. All you need is your library code and library password, (which you get from signing up for an online library account at your specific library's website). I never have time to go to the library, so I was excited to get started on a new book series without having to leave my living room! Sometimes it's a little hard to navigate if you're looking for something specific but don't know the title or want to browse within the topic. But other than that I've been very happy with it. Some libraries allow you to put in requests about specific books you might want for your students. They can read them on the iPad in class or at home. It downloads it as an ePub file or in Kindle format. And it keeps tabs on when your due date is so you don't have to go to the library and return it! You can also click to renew if no one else has put a hold on it when your two weeks is up. 

AudioNote and EduCreations - I've used EduCreations before, but mostly just when I need to teach a lesson to my students and I want to walk around and see them work without having to be stuck up front at the white board. I've also used it to record mini math lessons that the parents can access at home while they help their kids with math homework. (Our new Common Core curriculum teaches A LOT of different strategies to help students add and subtract in different ways. It's really great, but it is definitely overwhelming to parents that never had to learn strategies and just had to memorize facts.) You can check out my EduCreations page here and see the kinds of mini lessons I do for parents. Both of these apps allow you to record audio, add media, and write/type notes. A GREAT suggestion Amber gave that I hadn't thought of before was to take a picture of a reading passage that a student then reads to you while you record the audio of their voice and you make the annotations onto the picture you just took. You can show that to parents during conferences--they get to hear how their child reads something to connect better to your little annotations they see. 

math apps

Some website based math tools include Teaching Graphs, National Library of Virtual Manipulatives (website that separates grade levels and has online manipulatives), Moby Max (which is free through your Edmodo account; you have to get it from the Edmodo app store. There is also a free version on the Moby Max website, but I don't think it includes everything. Lots of great data feedback for you in both math and reading), IXL (website with math games for every grade) Fun Brain (website for math games and some online reading books). 

There were a lot of math apps to choose from. Here are the free ones that I downloaded. Math Tappers Find Sums, Line 'em Up, Math Adventures Number Find Lite, Math Drills LiteLobster Diver, Tric Trac, (McGraw-Hill, don't pay for it, they always go free!), Top-it (McGraw-Hill, don't pay!), Monster Squeeze (McGraw Hill) and Splash Math

Some you can pay for: Base Ten Number Blocks (perfect timing for our place value math chapter in my class! This app stacks the blocks in groups of 10 and hundred for you--great visual for students still learning how to do this automatically and count in groups.) Motion Math: Hungry Fish, Math Quiz Game Show, Number Sense HD, Motion Math: Zoom, Timed Test, Missing Numbers, Place Value, Place Value Addition, Math Dictionary, Math BINGO, Umizoomi

A super fun technology project in math is to go on a math scavenger hunt. For example, if you're learning about measurement, students take a ruler and find objects around the classroom that are greater than, less than, equal to, etc. certain lengths that you're studying. They take pictures of the ruler next to the object and create a slideshow or some presentation to show what they found on their hunt. This could work for other subject areas too; Google Earth could be used to do a picture scavenger hunt of a specific area--neighborhood, landmarks, etc. 

iPad Centers

If you don't have iPads for everybody in your class, but you do have a few, centers are a great way to utilize them. Whether you choose to have all the iPads in one center and that's the center each child will eventually rotate to so they get to use it, or you have one in each center that the children do a project together on, center time is a good opportunity to get students using them in class. Some ideas about how to use them at centers are below.

1. Digital Publishing Center - students publish work they have already written and edited and read/comment on others' stories posted. It gives them a chance to share what they have done with others in the class. A good place to have them publish it is on a class blog site for your class only to access. Some good class blogging sites are EduBlogs, KidBlog, and WikiSpaces

A class blog is a great way to help teach your students how to have an appropriate online presence. From what Amber said, it seems like the kids really enjoy it too. They loved getting to read what they and their classmates had written. She recommended giving everyone a portfolio page on the blog with a quick "say hello and 1 fact about you" video. You could have assignments on your blog that require your students to choose three of their spelling words for the week and use them correctly in a sentence for Vocabulary or define 5 of the words. This gives them an audience to encourage them to do good work and let's them see their words used in sentences differently. This class blog would be a great tool to introduce in computer class for my students since they don't have iPads. They could write one thing they learned that week, tell their favorite part of a story read in class, etc. TONS of ideas!

2. Library/Listening Center - obviously, reading ebooks is a great way to use an iPad in class. With apps like OverDrive, students can choose their own books to check out digitally. Also, cool thing I learned is that Pages (Mac's version of Word from Microsoft Office) allows you to export a document as an "ePub," which means it publishes it like a book that you can turn the pages when you swipe. So any document they've written or you've written, can be turned into an eBook and added to the iBooks shelf for them to click on and read. In this center, they could also use a recording app like AudioNote or EduCreations to record themselves reading a book aloud for others to listen to later. I'm not sure if you can add those to iBooks or if you would just have to access them through the apps they were recorded on.

3. Literacy Drill Center - There are lots of drill apps out there, and there is a place for them definitely! We just want to make sure as teachers, drill apps aren't the only thing we're using iPads for. Phonics Tic Tac Toe, Word Wizard, Bluster, Fill the Gap, Pirate Treasure Hunt, Question Builder, Pocket Phonics, Sight Words 2, Beginning Sounds, All About Letters, Starfall Learn to Read, First Words Deluxe, Montessori Letter Sounds, Montessori Phoncs KindergartenAlphabet Tracing, Starfall ABCs, Language Game Show, Jumbled Sentences, and Pocket Charts are some great drill apps to check out. Pocket Charts is better than the students using a real pocket chart because the app will tell them if they're wrong whereas there's not usually someone doing that during center time since they're independent centers. Futaba is also a fun one because it allows up to 4 players to play simultaneously. **Note, don't pay for McGraw Hill apps, they always go on sale for free!

videos and podcasts

I love using videos in the classroom to help the students have great visuals of things I'm teaching about. This month in particular, we learned about polar bears and penguins. I found some great videos on YouTube and Discovery Kids to show the students. 

Amber mentioned a few other good places to look: Dragonfly TV (videos made for kids, by kids), Discover Education, and SchoolTube. You can also Google search EduCreations lessons and TeacherTube for good lessons taught and videod by other teachers. 

There are sites and apps that allow for you to take your tests online. My school, as I said, is moving toward using Google Classroom, which has the capacity to do this. At the seminar I learned about Socrative (a website that also has an app). Secretive creates activities to assess your students in different ways. There area games for them to play, which they can be assigned in groups to play against each other and students don't know who they're playing against (Space Race). Students get instant results to the assessments, which they appreciate. The above picture shows the different things you can do with Secretive. If students do have access to their own iPads, the Quick Question is a great, quick assessment to see how well they're understanding what you're currently teaching. 

Another assessment site is Infuse Learning. It is very similar to Socrative, but also allows student responses to be drawn. It doesn't look like it has the option for students to work in groups. Its appearance looks more geared toward older grades. It does have the option for questions to be read orally to the student. 

Know how much work it is to plan field trips? Well, I've probably mentioned in previous blog posts, how much I hate field trips. Nothing ever goes as planned and you are always changing groups last minute. Thanks to technology, you can have a field trip and not have to go anywhere! Just doing a Google Search on "virtual field trips" brings up a whole lot of options of places you can "go." I found a link to tour the White House! Just in time for President's Day! 

Did you know, there are also virtual trips for every state park in California? 

Skype and FaceTime are helpful for virtual trips that you can organize yourselves as well. In the early grades, we study careers and often ask parents to come in and talk to us about what they do. It seems that I have gotten less and less participation each year as working parents can't take time off. At the seminar, virtual field trips with Skype were recommended. Have the parents take 5-10 minutes on Skype or FaceTime to show the students around the place where they work and show them what they do every day. I LOVED this idea! I think the kids would get a better idea of different jobs and what they entail than just being told about it.  You could even make it a fun, guessing game for the students. Give them clues about the job, and they have to guess what the job is before you join in the Skype call. 

digital publishing

Digital Publishing is great for students. There are so many options for students to create their own work and publish it digitally. Publishing work gives students some extra accountability for doing something well because of a wider audience that will potentially read it. There is also no limit to what they can publish: charts, maps, brainstorms, word processing, etc. 

iBooks Author on MacBooks allows you to create interactive textbooks for your students--quizzes, surveys, photo galleries, music, song, puzzles, sketchpads, etc. Did I mention it's free if you have a MacBook?? Whoohoo! 

Other options for digital publishing are MyStory,, (Gives you a picture to start with and you create a story: here's a poem I made from one of the pictures!), (no cost to join or create; you can pay to have your stories published in actual books), (free personal use, free teacher use for up to 20 students, and premium, paid teacher use for all access) You can make digital class books, create a storage for all your students' work on a project, or take pictures to send digitally to parents. 

When allowing students to create their own books, rather than letting them go on the Internet to find pictures to use, it's a good idea to collect stock photos for students to choose from in a file folder. It takes a while, but it's really helpful. And you can take it slow by just adding pictures from a thematic unit as you study it. 

A few other tips that were mentioned were the Common Core apps. Common Core Standards is helpful for a quick reference for different standards in each grade. And Apps for Common Core is an app that has lesson plans that meet the different standards. This is a teacher-directed app; lesson plans are submitted/reviewed by teachers from my understanding. 

Twitter can be used as a class. Tweet out during the day when something has been posted on your class website, upcoming events, what you're learning about, etc. Involve the class--help them learn how to create messages with a limited number of characters and to reiterate what they've learned about during the day to be able to tell others. How many parents ask their kids after school what they learned and the student has nothing to tell them? Reinforce the learning by having them think about it mid-day. 

Technology handbooks should be created at the beginning of the year to let families know what kind of technology you plan to use during the year, summaries about the apps/sites, as well as any kind of technology access parents might need to have at home during the year and where to get it if they do not have it readily available at home. (i.e.: the library, Starbucks, etc.) 

If you're looking to get iPads or tablets for your students, a few must-haves include one-piece cases that are nonslip and have protected corners. Headphones for each student that are NOT earbuds, but that go over the ears. (These can be part of a supply list to bring the first day.) And cubbies make a great, makeshift charging station in your classroom with a few holes drilled in the back and velcro to keep the cords out the way. 

Don't forget! When purchasing 20 or more apps for education (or an educator is purchasing it), you can get the apps for half price. :) 

Most importantly, make sure that you don't take away iPad time as a consequence for other problems. The iPad must be seen as a tool just like a math book is. If a student misbehaved on the classroom, you wouldn't take away their math book. Now, if they're not following the rules of using the iPad, then removing iPad time would be a punishment that matches the crime. And it's the same in reverse: don't use it just as a reward. Students need to see an iPad as a way to learn, not as a game.