iPad teaching is NOT about iPads

Priority no.1 ? 


I’ve covered technical and workflow ideas on this blog a lot but it’s time to properly summarise a teacher’s first priority when the kids have iPads. Now here is where I have an issue with terminology…

Maybe not an issue of “Pedagogy” (As many know it)

Until a few years ago, I would have used the word pedagogy in this post but this now has the wrong connotations for me as it is linked more strongly to ‘teaching’ and not ‘learning’. To many I’ve worked with, the word pedagogy still implies “the way in which I deliver the content to the students”

The tiers collapse

The one-way ‘dumping’ of teacher knowledge into students has never inspired and is just not the way the world operates anymore. Traditional hierarchies of age, resource ownership and societal prejudice are being eroded and we need new generations to be adapting and not waiting for information from the tier above.


What really matters?

In numerous surveys and studies, employers and universities say they desire the following qualities, which many of them say often seem quite absent in young people:

  1. Creative thinking
  2. Independence / self-drive
  3. Teamwork
  4. Problem solving strategies
  5. Confidence to try new things

These are all skills and traits that are not evident in many school leavers either because they were never given the opportunity to develop them or that they existed in elementary school but the classroom routines lacked a need for them and they were lost over time.

Try, fail and develop

Many teachers need to try something that I will admit is scary to think about. Namely, handing over the control of the classroom to the kids! All young people need to experience the pressure & excitement of sorting themselves out, especially within a team. The iPads add a further layer of possibilities and individual power for discovery and presentation and teachers will always be surprised by the quality of student output as long as some freedom is offered in what a team focuses on within a topic and how they demonstrate their findings.

They will fail some of the time but as far as what matters is concerned, these moments become the most important learning opportunities. Developing keen learners who see failure as opportunity must be our first target. This requires freedom and support from the teacher.


Let the kids decide

I have an apps page and make a point of talking about my list’s theme of general purpose and it not being content specific. But it should be the kids who make this decision. There are many apps that my students are excellent on that produce fantastic output in a format I’d never imagine but of course their peers respond to much more genuinely.

Also, in a major meta-data study by John Hattie, the number one driver in student performance was self-reported grades / expectations. (See Info-graphic – the full version can be found with a google search)



What I often do now…

  • Divide my topics into important sub topics
  • Get the kids into groups (3s works best for me but 4 if I have to)
  • Pose a ‘driving question’ to the class that doesn’t have a specific ‘correct answer’ E.g. “Should everyone contribute to the web?”
  • Offer supportive questions to spark the groups conversations and give them areas to look at.
  • Get the groups into the habit of recording their discussions and discoveries in their favourite format. (Some group message, some audio record, some mind-map)
  • Have a shared class “success matrix” for every group to add to which outlines what would make a successful group product in general when covering the topic, answering the questions plus also product quality.
  • Challenge them to “AppSmash” their learning as a way of sharing with the class. “App-Smashing” is where content created in one app is used in a 2nd app. This forces a little more creative thinking in how to present their learning.
  • Most of the time we then upload, share & comment on other groups’ creations.

Time consuming ?

My time is now spent crafting better and better questions for my class to deal with in ways that suit them best and give them a genuine experience of crafting their own learning and enjoying the process. If we continue to push the idea that you need a teacher to learn then we’ll maintain the same small percentage that develop a real passion for learning right through high school and beyond.

The iPad Effect.

It’s the iPad’s versatility, portability, camera, app selection and user-friendliness that keeps it ahead of the others for education but it’s the approach taken by the teacher to learning within the classroom that realises these benefits, not the iPad alone. Worry first about what you are asking of your students and how much they are reliant on the teacher.

14 thoughts on “iPad teaching is NOT about iPads

  1. Great post, really love the app smash idea. I completely agree about the iPad enabling creativity. One idea for furthering creative thinking, problem solving and team work is to challenge the students to design their own app in relation to a specific topic. When I have done this I have been truly amazed by the ideas that are presented back. Teams get so involved they design logos even design the look and feel. All of a sudden they seem to develop a real connection with the ‘device’. Perhaps it might even spark the entreprenurial spirit within your students, they might even go on to actually build the app!

  2. Here is an alternate line of thought:
    Learning and thinking (incl. creative thinking) can be content based. For e.g. you could be a creative thinker in Math algebra and want to demonstrate your thinking. When you want to demonstrate your power in Math, diverting your thinking into what app to use & how to present your thinking in the latest cool way (read prezi or haiku deck or using a cool font) should not be of primary concern to a student. The tool that you use to present content is of secondary importance to the actual thinking or content being presented.
    My point is things like “AppSmashing” is cool (and probably necessary on a device like iPad) but is not essential to learning, demonstrating knowledge or creativity.

    1. I completely agree. I understand the benefits of incorporating technology but it shouldn’t be the primary concern. The primary concern is teaching the children and if using technology isn’t the most effective way I will just teach the old fashion way.

      1. I really enjoyed your post and totally agree with your thoughts. Several of the comments I think have missed the entire theme of your post (in-fact entire blog) which is about how to inspire deeper levels of thinking, engagement, learning potential and using technology when and where appropriate as an enabler to allow the teacher to function/interact/empower in ways that have not been possible in the past and thought of only in the realms of Sci-fi. I totally agree with the idea that we as educators need to move past the mindset of what is convenient for us as teachers to focus on what is most useful for our learners which is not only our job, but our calling! The challenge for many though is it means moving away from the things that worked so well in the past (or so we thought) and our huge array of resources, in much the same way I imagine as moving from VHS to the DVD! It means developing a new series of skills, particularly listening and questioning skills. The uncomfortable part is that what we model is what we get! The better the questions we ask of our learners, the better the questions are that they ask of themselves and of us. For many this means feeling uncomfortable because they are used to being the bringer of all wisdom and knowledge and don’t like being confronted with questions they don’t know the answer to. That is when we model/teach how to solve problems we don’t know the answer to. Its a brave new world out there ;-)

    2. Thanks for the comment. If you take the post as a whole, AppSmashing takes up a minor role in what I’m saying. Who’s to say that any item of content is more important than another, particularly to any given individual? The internet can provide all the content required up to the end of high school, including recorded lessons and explanations in video format, sometimes better than provided by some teachers in their classroom. Content is not irrelevant but should be seen as mainly a vehicle to develop skills in coping and adapting. It is being said a lot at the moment that the successful people in the 21st Century will be those who can unlearn, relearn and adapt. I went to school and university and can recall and utilise a small percentage of the things I was ‘educated’ in. In my 2 decades since my ‘education’, I can tell you that of the small amount of content retained I have used a small percentage and can report that the content of my education, to me at least, seems rather insignificant. My life has been ruled by the skills and qualities I have developed both in school and out. I’m assuming as a Math teacher, you have seen Dan Meyer’s TED talk, if not, I highly recommend it: http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_meyer_math_curriculum_makeover.html

      Thanks again for the comment. I appreciate the debate and engagement with my blog.

  3. Love what you have to say! I am new to the iPad world as my students and I just made the leap to 1:1 iPads in January. So we are just 8 weeks in, I am working so hard to research and read and create as much as I can in my spare time and your post here sums up my feelings exactly. I love the part where you wrote “The one-way ‘dumping’ of teacher knowledge into students has never inspired and is just not the way the world operates anymore.” This is so true and WOW, has my teaching really changed. I have become so much more of a facilitator and the kids have become the teacher of themselves and each other. Thanks so much! Michelle, @boycem3.

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