March 6, 2013

iPads for Learning

At the start of our first year with a 1:1 iPad program in Grade 4, Jon Van de Raadt made a comment that resonated and has set the tone for our year. "I think you'll find that iPads are not a junior version of the MacBook and should not be used as such. The iPad is a significantly different tool, and if you are prepared to embrace it, you might even find it more useful than the laptop has been." Two thirds of the way through our grade four pilot year with iPad 3's, I can say with certainty that I agree wholeheartedly. iPads belong in the classroom. I cannot imagine a more useful tool for representing, consolidating, expanding or creating understanding on the fly. I have no doubt that the rapidity with which app and software developers react to user feedback and update accordingly makes it one of the few technological tools out there that can effectively react to the ever-changing needs of youth in education and the evolving 21st century classroom. 

What follows is by no means a comprehensive or complete overview of what the iPad might be used for in the grade four classroom, but just a few brief exemplars from some of the artifacts we have had students create and present with the use of their devices. All apps (with the exception of the iWork apps) were free purchases. All investigations were co-developed with Amy Park and have been posted and archived in Edmodo and Google Apps

Topic: Waste in our World - Environmental PSA

Students began by collecting samples of human "waste" from the school ground over a 5 day period, classifying and graphing their results in Numbers. Appalled by the data, they worked as a larger group to develop a script and plan key visuals for an Environmental PSA that would be shared with students throughout the school. Each student put together their own iMovie, selected their own images and made their own voice recordings. Title slides were developed in Keynote. Video clip was filmed and emailed from teacher ipad. 

Topic: Waste in our World - Decomposition Lab

This investigation followed a similar path to the investigation of the same name undertaken by the previous year's students. This year, students chose to manipulate various conditions that they hypothesized might affect the rate of decomposition of a fruit or vegetable. The plan and process were documented in Keynote. Students used Skitch to make daily qualitative observations on top of updated images of their rotting fruit or vegetable. They kept track of quantitative weight changes in a numbers chart which they were able to graph. As part of their final product they took screen shots of each slide in their keynote and transferred them to iMovie to upload to youtube.

Students also downloaded the app Mag. Light to view their decomposing fruit and vegetable specimens up close. We shared some of the more exciting samples via Twitter.

Topic: Simple Machines - Pic Collage Investigation

In groups, students were tasked with researching a class of simple machine that they traveled around the school taking photos of. Their images were collected (and cropped) in PicCollage and supplemented with an overview (in their own words) of the key characteristics of their type of machine. Each group finished with a complete, 6 page overview of each type of simple machine with examples from inside the school.

Topic: Catapult Construction - Investigating Building

This task challenged students in teams of three to construct a functional catapult from a given set of materials within one 40 minute period. Pre-construction, the class co-constructed a "catapult" rubric in order to ensure they had a goal in mind. Once catapults had been constructed, students took a photo of their catapult, labeled the functional components (using Skitch,) and then the class tested the catapults with each group videoing three attempts at having their catapult launch a marshmallow accurately into the "heart of the castle". Key findings were summarized in iMovie with their image, an overview of their three attempts, an assessment of the effectiveness of their catapult and a group interview reflecting on the construction process.

Topic: Simple Machines Interacting - Lego and Mousetrap Investigation

As an investigation into how simple machines interact in more complex constructions, students assembled the mini Rube Goldberg machine from the Mousetrap game and constructed a Lego machine without instructions. They video documented the operation of both constructions and included images labeled in Skitch showing changes in direction and size of forces as a result of simple machines and their interaction.

Topic: Muffles' Truffles Multiplication Investigation

Topic: Muffles' Truffles Multiplication Investigation

Students worked through this mathematical investigation primarily in their math journals with the help of small group discussion, larger math congress, white boards and unifix cubes. Once all students had reached a solution, they were asked to represent their understanding visually (either using the whiteboard tool built into Doceri or by taking a screenshot of the work from their journals) as well as orally, by articulating their strategies and some of their mathematical findings. Students were able to post their work directly to Edmodo via youtube from Doceri. We are SO excited about the potential of this incredible free app. 

Topic: Semester 2 Reflection - Success, Passion, Support

We created a template in Pages and had students reflect on their successes, passions and supports from the previous semester. They edited their photos using PicCollageThey downloaded the QR code reader KaywaReader, copied and pasted urls from their videos and generated urls for their written work in Humanities by uploading to google docs using the GDrive app


  1. I informally polled some friends and acquaintances with kids about their wishlist for a more family-friendly iPad. A number of them mentioned the ability to turn off or exclude in-app purchases, which is something that's easily done now.
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  2. Thank you for sharing these great examples. The strength of these exemplars is that they are not focussing on the technology. They are showcasing exemplary teaching and learning that are enhanced through a tech based tool. It is too easy for people to assume that handing out iPads will automatically lead to these great projects. It is the disposition of inquiry you have instilled in your students that is centre stage here. I am extremely impressed with what you and your students are accomplishing with the support of this tool :-)

    1. Thanks Scott! Your support and feedback is definitely appreciated:-)

  3. Thank you for sharing these wonderful examples of what is possible with the iPad. I am always looking for well thought out lessons to share with my colleagues and these are fantastic. We started an iPad pilot in our 5th grade classroom that only really got off the ground after the first of the year. After even this short period of time, I can't imagine teaching without the iPads.

    Just today I was working on a presentation that I will give next week to the three teachers who will join the pilot next year. The list of reasons to use the iPads just keeps growing: the students become flexible with technology, the ease with which changes can be made within apps makes risk-taking less stressful, there are limitless opportunities for creativity, there are limitless opportunities for cooperative learning, it is easy to document the process of student learning with screencasting, manipulatives are virtual, and the iPads are always available for fact-checking when we need them. I could go on.

    We have not used the apps in the iWorks suite, but have done much of our work in Explain Everything. We, too, use Edmodo in our classroom, but have just started with Google Drive. I was very excited to hear that it is linked to Edmodo. You can see our blog here,

    1. Thanks so much for your comments Mary Lee! It's great to hear from other classes out there that are having similar experiences. We will keep an eye on your blog from our classroom and keep in touch for sure!

  4. Love this post. You're fitting technology to the learning, not the other way around... And your ideas are inspirational. Perfect for me to rip off. ;)

    Thanks for sharing your excellent teaching.

    1. Thanks Mike! Happy to share. Particularly as we intend to rip off some of the wicked ideas you guys have come up with in your Learning Commons! :-)