How My Learning Environment has Changed with the iPad

In the Beginning

Towards the end of the 2010-2011 school year I started flipping my classroom by having students read for comprehension from the textbook and filling out a sheet of guided notes prior to coming to class.  Class time started with reviewing select problems from the section, then progressed to independent practice and group work.  Class concluded with a 4 question check for understanding students would complete on their own.

It struck me how poorly kids could read for comprehension.  Was this the fault of the textbook companies for writing content in such a boring and non engaging style?  Was this a result of our societal shift to more video and less reading?

Along came the iPad

click here from an iPad to see my first chapter
Despite being a newbie to all things Apple I jumped right into creating content for my students using pages and exporting to epub files.  I loved it and I truly thought it was great, there was text, images, videos, and links to websites.  The interactive of the ibooks was twice that of a regular textbook and I thought for sure this opened up multiple channels of communication for the learner.
However, students seemed to really struggle with reading for comprehension and knowing what the desired outcomes where for each section. Was there a breakdown in the ebook or was there a more deeply rooted issue that was ingrained in the learning philosophy of our students?  

There were multiple areas of change concurrently taking place.  First of all these students were freshman and coming into the high school environment was new to them.  The issue iPads was completely new to all students but to freshman equipped with trapper keepers for every subject the issue of digital organization was confusing.  These students wanted and needed a physical form of homework in front of them.  All this said I knew this year was going to be more than teaching about math.  I knew I would have to focus my students on unlearning their bad habits of sitting and getting information.  I knew it would be a fight to transform their belief that learning was passive and instill in them personal responsibility of their learning and taking an active role in their education.

Despite believing this and in the interest of easing students into these changes I cut back on text, images, and links, and focused solely on video.  I was convinced that students were struggling with the new style of learning, they weren't ready to be responsible for "learning" the material on their own.  They needed a more structured teacher directed lesson in which they were told exactly what to write down and where to write it.  Students were asked to view vodcast lectures at night, and to come to class prepared to talk about that content the following day. However, there were issues, just like when you assign a problem set with homework you'll have those students that don't do their homework.  Same was true here even though the homework was just to watch a video and fill in the notes.  All flip teachers have been here before.

Was this really flipped instruction?  Was this really benefiting students?  Was this at all removing the teacher from the role of the sage on the stage?  Or was this just re inventing the traditional classroom lecture on a nice shiny device?

Test run on Textbook App

Right before the end of our semester we decided to flip our class using only the free sample of the textbook app that our textbook company provided in the app store.  All other factors remained constant, the only difference there was no guided video notes from the teachers, only those videos that were done by the app creators.  Students were given instructions on how to navigate the app and how to interact with it then set free to move through the chapter. You can read my blog post found here but essentially this is what we found:

  • using the app was equivalent to having the students use the online site and read the textbook
  • students struggled to piece together the video examples with their guided notes
  • the app took up huge amounts of space on the iPad (1+ GB for one chapter)
  • students felt disconnected from their teacher due to the fact the videos featured a teacher they had no personal relationship with.
  • Final thoughts were sealed after meeting with our textbook rep- it was going to cost $49 per app for students for a 6 year period if we purchased the app through them.  This would mean that student devices would need the app loaded onto their device in some way other than downloading from the app store.  Can you imagine connecting 2000 devices one at a time or even 30 at a time, multiple times a year to load the next chapter or semester of materials on?   This seemed all to unpractical.  There has to be a better solution, a better method of delivering and interacting with content,

iBooks Author and the Mastery Flipclass

from iPad, click here to see our first ibooks author attempt
The release of iBooks Author and iBooks2 was truly thrilling to me.  And again only having a few months of Apple knowledge under my belt it was too appealing to not jump in and see what could be done.

Students were becoming more comfortable with exploration learning, engaging in problem solving and learning through feedback. 

In addition to making the shift to using iBooks Author to create more interactive content, I also moved to the Mastery Flipped class methodology.

Under this methodology students were no longer expected to be on the same page on the same day. They all received a unit roadmap with certain checkpoints along the way.  The checkpoints served as accountability for students.  The order of their learning took on the form of reading/viewing content in ibooks, practicing a problem set, self correcting this problem set, passing an online formative assessment with an 80% or better, then completing a 4 question paper and pencil quiz- this grade went into the grade book.  If they received less a 2.5/4 then students would complete a reteach worksheet provided by our textbook company.  Students were encouraged to work in groups of 2-3 they were encouraged to create Showme videos and post them to Edmodo for their classmates to view and review.

The beginning of class was a time to check in and connect the content students (majority of students) were working on to real life problems.  For example, during our unit on surface area and volume we took time to calculate the volume of plastic saved by bottling companies when they went to a smaller sized screw cap.  We took time to process why this was important and what our place and math's place was in this real world connection.  Often times we employed apps such as Socrative, Poll Everywhere, or Nearpod to gain student data.

Following a large group check in, students would break up and work on problem sets, projects, or quizzes and tests, while I (the teacher) went around to each student and group and checked in.  Some days were high demand teacher days and I found myself quickly adopting the "ask 3 then me" rule.  Other days students did not have a lot of questions, but overall I found myself spending more time with students working 1 on 1 or 1 on 3 way more than in the past when I would lecture and spend little time problem solving.

Some days class was loud and crazy and I fought my inclinations to quiet the crowd and keep things orderly.  Yes, some students need that peace and quiet to concentrate and focus, while others seem to thrive in the noise.  Other days I would have pockets of students taking quizzes and tests and therefore would need to keep the classroom environment quiet so as to not compromise that testing environment.  Anything that went in the grade book was done by the individual student in class on paper and pencil and was hand graded by me.  I really wanted to accurately measure my students understanding and felt that online assessments while great for formative evaluations and immediate feedback did not provide insight into a students thought process and problem solving techniques.

Students were shedding the layers of passive learning, sit and get philosophy, and starting to take responsibility of their learning.  Those motivated students were moving through the content at accelerated paces.  These students were given opportunities to extend their learning by completing non traditional content related projects. While those who needed extra time, had busy schedules, or just learned less quickly than others were supported in this and still moved through the materials.  Unfortunately, there were those students who chose to do absolutely nothing.  There were students who, no matter what you did or how you motivated them, they dug their heels in and refused to take on the responsibility, they chose to fail.  The good news in this is, out of the 95% of students who did chose to work in this setting all of them passed the course.

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