Sunday, August 28, 2011

21st Century Teaching with iPods and iPads=Academic Success

Low test scores. Program Improvement school. High percentage of English Language learners. Low parent involvement.  

Engagement. Collaboration. Access to instant information via an iPod touch or iPad. Social Networking via Edmodo creates 24/7 learning. Trusting relationships among teacher and students.  Project Based Learning. Activities using higher level thinking skills throughout all content areas. Personalized learning. Self-directed learners. Digital citizens. Creating and reflecting. Blogs. 'Flipped' teaching. Challenged learners.

This describes my class over the last two years. Having been asked by my principal if I'd like a cart of iPod touch devices for my class of 33 diverse learners to pilot a program, aptly named iEngage, to improve reading fluency and therefore improve student comprehension was a challenge I was totally ready to do. Scary? Yes! I knew I’d be diverting from the ‘standard’ way of doing things in my class but was ready to dive head first into new and innovative ways to reach today’s learners. Literally one week after using the iPods to record fluency reading, I began looking for ways to use it throughout the school day. I had students staying in at recess to play math apps, spelling apps, or to re-record their fluency!

With full support from my principal, assessments were given and data collected on the 33 students in my class. Six months later we assessed again. Results? Enormous growth among all learners. I knew we’d see growth among my struggling readers but what I didn’t expect to see was the huge gains in my high achieving students! There was no end to their learning—the instant access to information and apps that would allow them to create, share, and reflect enabled these students to work to their highest abilities. It was exciting to see. I became a true facilitator in the classroom and my students became self-directed, motivated learners who came to the classroom excited to learn each day. As one student shared, “I like coming to school because there is always something new that Mrs. Thomsen will have for us!”

After 18 months of embedding this technology into every content area of our curriculum, the growth measured by our state’s standardized test is amazing. (However we may feel about standardized tests, the unfortunate reality is that test results are being looked at and conclusions are made about a teacher's and his or her program's effectiveness.) The good news for my school is that all of my students continued to make growth and all are considered either proficient or advanced. Even more important in my opinion though, are the life skills that this program helped develop in my students as witnessed by the numerous educators, including State Superintendent Torlakson, who visited my classroom over these past several months. Skills not tested on the standardized tests we must administer each year. For example, students who are able to speak clearly and use eye contact with a visitor, hearing a student patiently peer coach another student, observing a classroom full with students all actively engaged in collaborating and creating together. Students able to pull information from a number of reliable resources and synthesize this information to create an original project that could be shared and commented on by students and teachers in other classrooms around the world.

I don't credit the iPod for my students' success. I believe it's the relationship among members of the classroom-the confidence to take risks and make mistakes with each other that allows for such learning to take place. I had to take on risks and let my students see my mistakes and know that I was no longer the only "expert" in the classroom! No, I credit the iPod and iPad for being the tool that provides teachers the ability to create classrooms where every student is heard every time. Using the device as a response tool with, replying and posting to a group in Edmodo, posting reflections on their blog, all engages each student and allows their voice to be heard beyond the walls of our classroom. Personalizing each student’s learning content becomes easier too with screen casting apps and Edmodo.

18 months later and it’s time to say goodbye to this group of special students and welcome another new class at a new school. I will implement the iEngage program with a group of students who have not had this technology in class, and I'm looking forward to seeing the same amazing results. This time around I’m going to write about the little successes along the way as well as the bumps we encounter.  I welcome your advice, ideas, and stories so please share! Just like my students, I want to continue to grow and improve in my own journey~as an educator.

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