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Using Tablets in the Classroom
posted by: Melissa | September 14, 2012, 07:11 PM   
Back when I was a social studies teacher, I used to fantasize about the day when I walked into a classroom and everyone had a screen in front of them. Then, when I got blank stares after asking the name of the battle where Napoleon was defeated, I would be able to point them to any number of engaging sites, bound to pique their interest instead of their dull textbooks. I imagined lessons, where we researched a subject and discussed the webpages they used. We would look not just at the facts they found, but at how reliable their sources were, spurring discussions about distance from the source, agendas, propaganda, and persuasion techniques. I imagined playing online simulations, where the students competed against each other, using their natural desire for competition to hone their critical thinking skills. I longed for the day when my students could fact-check their peers, their textbooks, and, hopefully, me!

Perhaps I was a bit pie-in-the-sky with my expectations, but according to a recent study, we'll soon know. CNET reports that iPads, the most popular type of tablet, are outpacing PC sales in the K-12 sector. Tablets are portable, like laptops, but have generally been found to be sturdier and better able to withstand the constant abuse that being used by students brings than laptops are. Their smaller size and lighter weight make them more appropriate for younger students, who may not be up to carrying heavy laptops and their extreme portability means that during lesson planning teachers won't have to worry about how to break into and out of groups while using them. Their much lower price tag, too, means that schools can get more bang for their buck. While tablets can't replace a full-scale computer, they may be the best way for schools to reach one-to-one computing in the classroom.

With all of their potential and their rising popularity, it's important that schools and classrooms are prepared for implementing their use correctly. Especially since students may adapt more quickly to this type of technology than teachers.

The first issue that needs to be considered is what apps to use. While it's tempting to steer students to content rich apps or specific learning games, that may not always be the best choice. Instead of driving students to content, try to steer them to apps that are meant to be used as tools. Apps like Edmodo, Popplet, and GoodReader have a wide variety of applications and once students are familiar with them, they can use them over and over.

As for the content specific apps and webpages, the teachers at St. Genevieve Elementary found that in their one-to-one iPad program, that students work best when given choices. Instead of telling a student to play this one math game app, tell them to work on a math skill, and give them a choice on how to do it. Instead of telling students to find this one fact at this one webpage, tell students what you want them to find out, and then let them find it on their own. When it comes to a presentation, let them choose how they want to complete it, whether that is through Prezi or Animoto, so long as they meet certain basic requirements.

If you'd had success in your classroom using tablets, we'd love to hear about what you did and how you did it.
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