iPad-Centric Classrooms?

At Edudemic, I saw another interesting article by 4th grade math & science teacher, Nikolaos Shatzopoulos, iPads In The Classroom: The Right Questions You Should Ask. The article seems written out of the concern that we are making our classrooms more “iPad-centric” than “student-centered,” a concern I share.

In an especially apt quote (no pun intended), he says,

The truth is that that no device can match the value of human interaction with real life situations or with other human beings. The iPad can be a tool of immense value in the classroom. However, it should remain just that: a tool that complements instruction, and offers learning opportunities for situations and learning concepts that are impossible to be accessed, observed, or analyzed in a classroom setting without the assistance of technology.

I might say the same about other pieces of technology. How does technology (or how do certain resources or applications) contribute to the learning goals for a class?

Mr. Shatzopoulos offers an intriguing observation:

[W]e have to move away from the question “how to use an iPad in the classroom?” and think more in terms of “why to use the iPad in the classroom?”.

Then he surprises me by saying that before we even start to plan a lesson, we need to ask not just one but both questions as a movement along our developmental path.

I think this is right. It’s not that we want to keep technology out of our classrooms, but it’s more that we want to find just the right applications for our purposes, and the fact that there are so many options makes it more likely we will grab onto something that seems to work well on a given topic, is easy to use, and has an attractive GUI or interface.

An application may not be the best, but we have only so much time and energy to sift through our options, and additionally, to learn how to use them. We are all (well, many of us), trying to operate in a new language – the language of technology – and we have to think twice as hard to juggle all our cognitive tasks.

The people creating the content are also working away. Yes, I’ve seen apps that address student’s unique learning styles and challenges. I’ve also seen good ideas in half-baked development. I’ve seen productivity apps that are little more than a glorified scratch pad, albeit with cross-playform capabilities. I’ve seen “educational” apps that seem more game glitz than learning practice. Even well-developed apps sometimes contain glaring bugs or omissions. Not every resource can serve all ages and populations.  (See my next post for more on sifting!)

I think the real trick is finding those unique capabilities that a given resource can offer to the learning process. So for the iPad, what can it offer teachers and students? Or what unique capabilities do Interactive White Boards offer, a question I’m considering as I’m planning a sample IWB lesson plan.

I think part of what makes it so challenging is that technology applications offer a dizzying array of possibilities, and we are caught in learning them all, or enough to make use of them. Maybe we are so engrossed in learning about the “how” that we lose sight of the “why.” Mr. Shatzopoulos also points out that it’s been a scant few years since the iPad has been introduced into the classroom, so of course, we are still adjusting to its very presence. This reminds me of the learning curves I’ve experienced with each new technology I’ve encountered, such as my first computer with email, my first chat rooms, my first data processing applications and encounters with social networks. It’s the same with blogs, RSS feeds, and asynchronous collaborations. I’ve lost a lot of sleep while investigating each new technology. It was and is exciting, but exhausting too.

Don’t we all just take in big gulps of information as we try to take it all and find our footing? After a while of thrashing about and losing sleep while working with the new capabilities, we settle down and really focus on what role a given technology can fill in our lives. Some applications become incorporated into our workflow, while others drop away as insufficient.

I’m sure we won’t wait to implement new technology into classrooms until we work out all the bugs. We’ll continue to take in our big gulps of new exciting Web 2.0 tools. I hope we will soon finish the “big gulp” phase, though, and move onto tailoring the applications for our actual needs. As the author says, we’ll work on discovering the “potential roles” and “meaningful ways” of addressing learning needs.

My hope is that someday educational apps and Web 2.0 technology will include educational ratings to help guide their use, much like Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy (and the Common Core Curriculum derived from it) help to guide our lesson objectives and learning goals. Until then, we’ll continue to swim about in our sea of new apps. Happy swimming!

QR Codes – Quick Links to Web Content

One thing I needed in this class besides a mobile device was something to read QR Codes, those little black and white boxes with pixilated designs that look like an ancient Mayan designed a bar code! I’ve been seeing QRCs around here and there, but how to read them? The answer, for my iPad, was a great little app called QR Code Scanner Tool from Apple Apps. A quick download and I was ready to go.

Interestingly, this app tends to get either very good or very bad reviews. This app has been working very smoothly for me so far, though, so I am very happy with its performance. It focuses in on the code quickly, scans it automatically, and takes me to the designated web content with no extra clicks.

The main reason to read QR Codes for me is to follow along with one of our texts, Flattening Classroom, Engaging Minds book by Julie Lindsay and Vicki A. Davis.

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One fun feature of the book is the numerous QR Codes in the margins that take one to a specific area of the corresponding website, Flat Classroom, sometimes linking to videos, challenges, or interesting applications. There’s no need to type in the exact web address; the code takes you right to the exact page. Thus, with one scan, I found myself reading about a challenge to use new technology in the classroom – and to share my experience with others. Other teachers had already chimed in with successes and challenges. It inspired me to think of teacher collaboration as a potential for “cross-pollination” of ideas and inspiration.

Now that I had a means to scan and connect with QR Codes, I started looking for other QR Codes.

I saw one on the bottom of my raisin box. It took me to a website that first sent me to a movie promotion that the company was sponsoring. That was not of interest to me, but when I clicked around on the site, I found a terrific write up about the history and origin of the SunMaid logo. The logo image was originally based on a real person and a real red sun bonnet, and the story told me all about her and how she came to be featured in the logo. The site had lots of other links to recipes and other ideas, attractively laid out.

Next I tried a QRC I found on my Mueller whole grain spaghetti box. It sent me to a very dull, simplistic website with the logo and two link buttons, neither of which worked. Sorry, Mueller! It looked like a placeholder website while they figured out what to do with this new QRC technology.

I noticed a QRC on a stake that came with my orange pepper bedding plant. Scanning that QRC sent me to a simple website about that variety of pepper. More impressively, the company had a home website that offered lots of avenues to explore, everything from cooking ideas to tips for growing and storing the food and herbs.

A label for a basil plant took me to something similar, and more information about storing and preserving.

I looked for QRCs on other packaging and especially seed packets, but I didn’t find anything of use. I did find something that looked like a code on my tomato plant labeling, but in color. My scanner did not read it, so I gather it is a different kind of code that is less in use. The GetElastic website said it was some kind of designer tag. I think it is a Microsoft QRC tag. Very colorful, but my QRC scanner can’t read it.

I also attempted to scan the QRC off of my new tube of Neutrogena sunscreen. It looked promising, but the QRC was too tiny for the scanner to read. It was only a couple millimeters square. I think we’re going to need a bigger code.

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Speaking of use, I went looking for QRC codes in magazines and newspapers. The only QRC I found in my newspaper was for Deal Saver, a “daily deal” company.

Out of curiosity, I surveyed the entire newspaper. I found that websites were mentioned more than forty times, and web addresses even more often, especially from the paper itself linking to particular stories, sections, or categories of feature. For instance, the obituary section had its own web link for submitting content. Other sections had links for a particular feature.

Of other mentions directing us to digital content, I saw three directing us to FaceBook, two to Twitter, and only the one to external info via a QRC. Email addresses for paper features or journalists were of course, ubiquitous. The local (state) paper has done a good job making sure we are as connected to their content online as in the physical paper.

Among other magazines on hand, none had any QRCs other than a denominational magazine asking people to look at plans to move the headquarters, and another for a survey. I gather they think they will get more people to fill out the survey if their readers can simply scan the code with their smart phone rather than key in a web address,

QR Codes aren’t ubiquitous yet, but they seem to be “up and coming” technology. They depend on people having a phone or scanner available to scan the codes. The primary use I’ve seen up to this point is on coupon websites. QRC coupons seem to be very popular, but I’m not sure how useful they are yet.

Still, it is very convenient in our book, to scan and go directly to a section of the website showing a particular project or topic. I will definitely look for QRCs in the future.

As I am writing this post, my “related content” that pops up at the bottom is yielding some interesting links and articles about QRCs.

The site Technology in Early Childhood explores using QRCodes to link to sight words as a audio-to-reading matching game for emergent readers. This sounds like it could very fun and useful if scanning technology were easily available.

For more on QR Codes, see the links under Related Articles below.