Center for Digital Education & Converge: research in education technology for K-12 and higher education

iPads in the Classroom

on March 29, 2011

After a year on the market, the iPad is still the hottest tablet around. And students in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) have been lucky enough to use them in the classroom for an entire school year.

Teachers at various CPS institutions are using the iPad to heighten student learning at all grade levels. Whether it’s helping special education students “speak” to grocery store clerks on field trips, assisting high school physics students in “building” roller coasters to understand motion and energy, or conducting daily formative assessments to improve student performance, the iPad engages students — and according to experts, that’s the most rewarding part.

“What we’ve found with the iPads as we’ve rolled this out is that having kids with a device such as the iPad in the classroom — within the curriculum — is very powerful,” said CPS Technology Education Director John Connolly. “Our feedback from our teachers and students is that this is something they’re using every day. It’s embedded in all of their subjects, even if they were originally targeting one subject, and we’re seeing some really cool things happening with those students.”

CPS is testing the device in more than 20 schools to see whether it could eventually become a permanent learning tool for the entire school district. Since the trial launched last August, other school districts around the country have followed suit. The expansion of technology in education — and in government at large — is widespread. Over the last several years, many colleges, universities and K-12 school districts, not to mention local and state agencies, have incorporated emerging technology like Apple iPhones and Amazon Kindles into their daily lives. Adding the iPad is just an extension of this.

While some contend that such technology incorporated into the classroom can be more of a distraction than a learning tool, CPS executives, educators and students are proving otherwise.


iPads in Action

At Chicago’s Burley Elementary School, Technology Coordinator Carolyn Skibba said iPads allow for easy collaboration among teachers and students. The administration, she said, was excited about the potential of a device that’s small, flexible, portable, visual and hands-on, especially when working with younger students.

“It really seemed like something that could integrate more seamlessly into the learning experience for the kids,” she said. “We felt that other technology initiatives in the district had to some extent underserved or overlooked our youngest learners, and we felt that the iPad was a tool, because of its visual and hands-on design, would really be a natural fit for our youngest learners.”

The kids have taken to the technology, navigating the iPad’s apps with ease and using the touchscreen like pros, she said. The second-graders in teacher Begoña Cowan’s class learn about spelling and pronunciation without having to share a pile of traditional magnetic letters. Instead, each student uses the ABC — Magnetic Alphabet app on his or her iPad to spell “-oom” and “-oop” words. When it’s time to put the iPads away, they each return the device to the cart with two hands held up against their chests to keep it safe.

First-grade students have used apps like Pages, Simplenote and smartNote to help with basic word processing. For one assignment, the kids copied a photo of a totem pole from the Web, pasted it in the app and wrote a few sentences about the meaning of the totem pole, which shows honor when a tribe chief has died.  

“We’ve done a lot of explicit instruction on how to use the iPad and basic word-processing skills for young children, and the iPad allows us to take a virtual field trip every day by searching Web content in a way that’s user-friendly for early childhood students,” said teacher Kristin Ziemke-Fastabend.

At the Chicago High School for the Arts, physics students work in small groups to use the Coaster Physics app to create roller coasters while incorporating traditional learning methods, said CPS Technology Integration Specialist Margaret Murphy.

“They start out with sheets to do the mathematics — the physics calculations — and another person is drawing a roller coaster on a large sheet of paper,” she said. “Another is designing it on the iPad, and they’re all sharing with each other, making sure the way their math worked out is working on the iPad, and it is matching what they’ve drawn on their paper.”

When teacher Kevin Cram taught the roller coaster lesson plan pre-iPad, he said several students didn’t have the opportunity to design their own roller coasters, which involved physical materials like pipe insulation that students cut up and glued together to make one-dimensional projects. “Not everyone was able to create as much as I wanted,” he said. “The iPad allowed easy access and manipulation and creation because of this app. So every group got to design and put their ideas into an actual model.”

Also using a blended approach in the classroom is Jenny Cho-Magiera, whose fourth-grade class at the National Teachers Academy used iPads to follow along with a voice-recorded lesson about the anatomy of a flower. The students saw the pages in the book from which Cho-Magiera was reading. Any student who missed the lesson could review that exact lesson at a later time.

Where does traditional teaching enter the picture? Her teacher’s assistant moved from table to table with a real lily to show students what they were learning about.


High-Tech Learning

For Cho-Magiera, the most revolutionary thing about the iPad is how fast she can respond to students’ assessments of the day’s lesson. Before the iPad, the children would scribble something on a half-sheet of paper and turn it in, sometimes forgetting to write their names. Cho-Magiera wasn’t able to react or answer questions until at least the next day.

Now Cho-Magiera said she uses Google Forms, a survey development interface. In about 30 seconds, she can put three or four questions in the form, and the students use the iPads to answer. The results are formulated into a Google spreadsheet in real time, and she can immediately sort through them and form work groups based on which students need help with different topics.  

“Just like that, I have my differentiated groups for that day,” she said. “I don’t need to wait 24 hours to put them into a group — when they forgot what they were learning about yesterday. As a result of that, their proficiency has gone up because my teaching has become more efficient.”

Back at the School for the Arts, Cram also uses iPads for formative assessments, utilizing what he calls a “WebQuest.” Cram likes to include both a pre-quiz and a post-quiz, and during a lesson, students investigate different websites on their iPads to research and answer questions. “We can see what areas of growth they have after they’ve done the research,” he said, noting that the answers to both pre- and post-quizzes are submitted via Google docs.

Cram says he hasn’t seen any dramatic improvements in learning since incorporating the iPad, but he anticipates that there will be soon. “The students are much more engaged and interested in the material. And because of that, maybe I’m pushing them a bit more and asking more challenging questions,” he said. “Through practice and more work with challenging questions, and being exposed to that with the engagement at 90 to 100 percent with the iPad versus much lower with a lecture or even hands-on labs.”  


The Ground-Up Approach

Incorporating new, up-to-the-minute technology, especially in education, sounds great. It’s been said time and again that students should be taught in ways that they’re comfortable — and they’re quite comfortable with technology. But to critics, technology might hurt more than help the ability to learn. One person questioning the impact of some new technologies on students is President Barack Obama, who at Virginia’s Hampton University commencement, said that with iPods, iPads, Microsoft Xboxes and Sony PlayStations, “information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation.”

In Chicago, Connolly said, the way CPS rolled out the iPad trial has helped conquer this challenge. The school district asked its schools to submit applications, which a committee reviewed and then determined which schools would test the technology.

“Not only is that the fair way to do it,” Connolly said, “but it also allowed schools and teachers who were interested in using technology to step to the forefront.” Two hundred schools applied for grants that were valued at more than $20,000. Each grant includes 32 iPads, one MacBook Pro for syncing purposes, $200 in iTunes credit for applications and a storage cart for the hardware.

Professional development has also been a huge part of the trial’s success. CPS partnered with Apple to provide professional development and create a cohort of collaboration across the schools to share best practices and ideas. Teachers train every other month for one day. The morning is dedicated to learning new applications or new ways to incorporate the iPad into the classroom, and the afternoon is geared toward collaboration.

“What we’ve found in the feedback is that teachers love the time of trading stories of how they’re using and implementing the iPad with other colleagues from other schools, in addition to learning something in the front half of the day,” Connolly said. Trainers also provide onsite training in the classroom, so teachers don’t have to be pulled out of class.

Preparation was another factor in the trial’s success. Each teacher devised a blueprint for incorporating the iPad into his or her lesson plans well in advance of receiving the technology. “So they could expand what they were already comfortable doing,” he said.

“All of that together, it’s kind of the ground-up approach.”


Will iPads Infiltrate CPS?

As teachers become more comfortable using the iPad, demand is growing. “Other teachers are peeking in and saying, ‘We want to use that too,’ which is pretty exciting for us, but now we’re running into an issue of people saying, ‘We need that technology,’” said Connolly.

CPS CIO Arshele Stevens said she believes that knowing how to implement and supervise iPad use in the classroom is key to making sure the device doesn’t become a distraction to learning. Part of the original intent of the iPad trial was to ensure that the district served as a guide for all schools to implement the technology. “We’ve always planned, at the end of the trials, to assess, and then if we see a project that’s really transformed a student’s knowledge of a subject matter, to elevate that,” she said. “We want to create a model.”

CPS has three categories of teachers as far as computers go, Stevens said: those who are proficient, those who are fairly comfortable, and then there’s the larger population, which doesn’t even want to use e-mail. “Those are the teachers who really don’t know how to integrate technology in the classroom. It’s not because they’re reluctant; it’s that they don’t know how,” she said, adding that if the district can, based on a successful trial, create a step-by-step process to incorporate iPads in the classroom for a teacher who’s uncomfortable with technology — a process they’re able to execute — that’s beneficial for the entire district.

The plan, she said, is to expand the program next school year not only to additional schools, but also to users in the central office. “We’re hoping to extend its use,” she said, “because we find that most people are really excited about it.”


Add a Comment

Add a Comment

on Mar 30, 2011
The problem is the display... Why try to harm the vision of children? Until you have perfect dipslays, you can't promote this kind of devices for children. Education can be enough by traditional paper means...
on Mar 31, 2011
I would be interested in how CPS is handling the purchase and distribution of iPad apps.
on Apr 1, 2011
I noticed that too, Dave - no mention of how this is funded. While I am a technology director, I find this somewhat amusing - kids are adaptable to technology. No kidding. If we could only adapt them to learning instead.
on Apr 2, 2011
boumghar- what's the display challenge? Brightness? That can be adjusted. Clarity? Display resolution is better than much print. I'm trying to understand since I've been engaged in mobile device pilots in 10 districts without any display probs.
on Apr 2, 2011
You may be on to something boumghar. Traditional paper has been working well over the years.
on Apr 8, 2011
The use of paper over time is not environmentally friendly. Student's spend the majority of their day with screen delivery of entertainment content so it makes sense to have some school time devoted to learning. What I like about the iPads in the classroom is that for once education jumped early instead of late as it did with the phone and has been riding the wave of the iPad particularly in it's ability to support kids with disabilities at a pretty current rate. If we as educators only ban instead of embrace we lose ground in the larger world of life outside the classroom door where technology is changing the lives of our students everyday.
on Apr 8, 2011
Lucky kids, this is sick!! I bet,these kids would come up with extraordinary intelligence; if the future depends on technology, then this is the answer for advancement!!
on Apr 12, 2011
I would love to know how they got them funded.
on Apr 20, 2011
Really? Paper used for the past hundreds of years? Sure, but times have changed. The kids are more digital than we ever were and their brains grasp that technology...they are more involved and their attention is kept longer.
on Apr 21, 2011
r u kidding me? Public education is failing fast and needs serious TLC and the iPad is a game changer that might possible save it. Please save your negative comments until you have actual used this device with any of the hundreds of excellent educational apps. I am a 20 year math teacher and all I can say is WOW
on Apr 26, 2011
I would like to know how they were funded and whether or not they are compatible with the State's online assessment system? If compatible, what assessment system is in use?
on Apr 27, 2011
There are many issues tied to this type of program... not the least of which are funding and true purpose. 1)Schools across the U.S. are many times already running on deficits and adding technology is not an option. Certainly in a technology driven economy the need to teach children how to use these types of products is needed, but at 8,9, or 10? What could they possibly learn that would be useful? 2)The larger issue to me is the lack of a liberal arts type education. This form of education allows the child to learn how to think and question. This really can only happen when taught in the traditional sense. And, if a child is learning from a computer oriented device, what kind of "people" skills are they learning? There are certainly many opinions on this, however I believe that this kind of equipment may better serve a high school kid who is actually interested in technology. Let the kid decide if they want to be an IT guy/gal or a history teacher--each require a different set of skills and experiences. Besides, if you let the kid explore and find out what interests them most, they're more likely to enjoy what they do and have a much more fulfilling career and life.
on Apr 28, 2011
its really awesome we are developing iLearn application for Learner and Course Developer this application will help to school also..
on Apr 30, 2011
iThink it's kind of silly, really, to have such vendor lockin pushed on students - particularly when Apple's business model has been less and less friendly to user rights. And the reality is that there's been no really verifiable use of almost any technology in the classroom. I chock experiments like this up to iFans of Apple, which may be unfair. I don't have to be fair. The point is that educators do have to be fair. Any smartphone would be a worthwhile instrument to use. Still, it seems the people who were beating the OLPC drum, to no verifiable effect other than impacting the budgets, have now switched to a more expensive device. And WHY? Education should incorporate technology, I agree, but it shouldn't do so by placing one corporation at the fore. That would be like teaching agricultural science with ONLY Monsanto's seeds. You know, those folks who put farmers in jail when they save seeds to replant. ;-)
on Apr 30, 2011
Hi boumghar! I'm thinking that one way to guarantee that nothing will ever move forward will be to insist on waiting until we have perfection.
on Apr 30, 2011
Hi Miml. I'm thinking it's not "instead", right? Not "either-or", but rather, "both-and". Let's take advantage of the latest technologies AND engage kids in learning, not unlike how educators have always tried to adapt new technologies from the 17th,18th,19th, and 20th centuries for learning.
on Apr 30, 2011
I don't know about that...Consider the story of The Judgement of Thamus. The invention of writing was not an unmitigated boon to traditional learning! Beyond that, the technology of paper is quite young in the history of human learning. It's really just a phase humans are going through that may have begun with cave walls, marks on clay tablets, bones, bark, papyrus, etc. Maybe one day we'll get paper perfected...
on Apr 30, 2011
The key, I think is HOW the technology is used. ALL technology gives and takes at the same instant it is used. It's simply an extension of all our human tendencies and capacities. Technology is inevitable and contains its own demise and eventual replacement. What we think of as traditional reading and writing is only possible because of earlier technologies developed a few centuries ago...a mere flash in the history of human learning. Books were (and still are) burned because they were deemed too dangerous to the traditional powers. The reformation happened primarily because the printed Bible allowed people to read and interpret God's word without relying on the Pope and the central church. All this because of "new technology". It's not a question of whether we should figure out how to use new technology, its how can we afford not to? From the first time someone picked up a stick or a rock to someone pressing the "on" button of a digital device, technology hasn't slowed down, and there is no evidence that it will because we think it's a bad idea.
on May 2, 2011
agreed. logistics and administration is not doing to be a simple task.
on May 2, 2011
Finally the technolgy CAN do what teachers have being praying for since the first desk tops hit the classroom. If it happens to be Apple that has got there first, so be it. Now it is the ipad or the iPhone. in no time all these technologies will be seamless with children's needs to learn and have access to inforamtion. If parents are too busy, or in the deep rural African environment in which I work, illitereate, absent or dead, to answer the child's questions and teachers are often little better edcuated than the learners, then I say bring on the technology.
on May 11, 2011
Perhaps Dave had his tongue in his cheek. I say even if it just helps with engagement that it will help learning.
on May 14, 2011
More expensive? iPads are cheaper than laptops, AND I can buy dozens of apps for an iPad for what it would cost me to buy one application for a laptop (or desktop machine.) The Maine OLPC program has never (to my knowledge) specified a platform - simply asked for particular requirements to be met, and Apple could do it, where others couldn't. I wouldn't want to use a smartphone of any brand in my elementary classoom. The iPad with its bigger screen is far more practical for my purposes.
on May 14, 2011
The display is not a problem - it is a solution! Vision-impaired children can achieve things with the right technology that they never could with pen or pencil and paper!
on May 24, 2011
@boumghar - what a ridiculous post! Perfect displays? Are you kidding? lol
on Sep 27, 2011
Do you think the children get perfect displays on the white/chalkboard? Seriously.
on Nov 16, 2011
hate i pads in classrooms!!!
on Dec 13, 2011
Love iPads in classrooms... they open up a world of creativity, options and opprtunity for children of any age!
on Jan 18, 2012
I forget where I read this but it said there was a grant worth 22,000 that provided the school with 32 iPads as well as one Macbook Pro for connecting them all and a stand to keep them in the same place as well as charge. Hope this helps!
on Feb 1, 2012
How do you deal with the issue that some students do not have iPads in their classrooms? Is this an issue with parents, other teachers, school board, ect.?
on Feb 15, 2012
Everyone is assuming the millions of dollars spent on these things is going to improve learning. WHERE IS THE DATA THAT PROVES THAT THESE DEVICES INCREASE LEARNING?!
on Feb 21, 2012
I ask our school principal about buing apps she said that she will thing about it and that yes the school has money to buy apps. The money for the apps came from school funds that the school raise
on Mar 6, 2012
CPS is receiving grants for many of the Ipads. That is how they are getting them.
on Mar 11, 2012
I believe in the technology as a tool for education. could someone tell me what I need to do in order my school district have an a IPAD trail and implement technology to the classroom specially for kid with special needs.
on Oct 30, 2012
I believe in the technology as a tool for education. could someone tell me what I need to do in order my school district have an a IPAD trail and implement technology to the classroom specially for kid with special needs. I also beleive that Because I Troll the internet
on Apr 9, 2013
We are doing a project on this, so I beleive that it is okay for students to use electronics in school.
on Apr 10, 2013
Our Great Leader supports teachers unions. Teachers unions oppose spending money on anything that isn't a benefit for union members. iPads aren't a retirement benefit; therefore, no iPads in the classroom. I mean seriously guys, how can we afford to give retired teachers free healthcare from the time the retire at 55 until they die at 85 if we're spending all this money on stuff that helps the kids.