A New Tool in the Classroom Grabs the Spotlight

| January 21, 2011 | 13 Comments
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It’s easy to figure out why a 13-year-old’s eyes would light up if you give her an iPad. Think of all the possibilities: YouTube! Movies! Music! Angry Birds!

But what about algebra? Would she be as excited about learning the quadratic equation just because it’s presented on a shiny tablet? Turns out that — at least for the first few months of the class — it does significantly boost the kid’s interest in the subject.

One of the country’s biggest textbook publishers, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is banking on it. In my interview this week with John Sipe, HMH senior vice president and national sales manager, a few theories about the company’s Fuse pilot program are coming into focus.

1) Convenience is crucial. A 300-page textbook is replaced by a 10-inch tall, 1.5-pound sleek tablet that features all the same content, plus interactive tests, writing pad, calculator, hundreds of videos, and access to a world of information. “With a textbook, if you want to learn more about one of the examples, you have to stop looking in your book and go online to our website and navigate that particular section and view our video there. Instead, on the iPad, you simply click on ‘view video’ and up comes our professor, Dr. Edward Burger,” Sipe said.

2) Kids still need their teacher. In the eight-grade classroom I visited today at Presidio Middle School in San Francisco, the teacher played an integral role in the classroom. She asked the class questions, had students come up to the board to solve equations, and worked alongside them as they watched videos. As Sipe put it: “Let students cover the basics on their own, and let teachers delve into enrichment and individualized learning. That’s what the good teachers are telling me.”

3) Learning happens outside the class. Whether they’re working out algebra problems on their iPad or watching a video tutorial on the Khan Academy website, or trying new math apps on their own at home, mobile devices are making it possible and irrefutably convenient and easy to learn anywhere, anytime. And kids are taking advantage of it. The one who figures out how to get the best content to learners will be the winner in this rapidly changing world.

4) Kids love learning by watching videos. With one-touch access to a video of an instructor explaining a problem, students are able to absorb the information in one more way, in addition to listening to their teacher or working out a problem on their own. And that seems to really help their learning process.

Next week, I’ll report back on my visit to one of the pilot classrooms.

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  • Anonymous

    Sorry, I just don’t buy it. Sure, with an iPad you can dig deeper with just a click–but most kids don’t. That kids love learning by watching videos is nonsense. Who wouldn’t rather zone out watching a video instead of listening to a teacher? A real book can never be replaced–educators are beginning to realize that learning is enhanced by the tactile, physical reality of a book. With a book, I can write notes, flip instantly back and forth with a very real sense of place by looking at the pages that are flipping by and gauging the thickness of the book. I can dog-ear pages, I can leave sticky notes on pages so I can instantly see them all while looking at the closed book. Sure, an iPad can provide deeper information via the internet, but so can my laptop. I see absolutely no advantage of an iPad over a genuine book… except it makes the kids’ backpacks a little lighter. And god knows, our kids get far too much exercise these days…

    • Anonymous

      I observed the class in session and interviewed four students about their iPad experiences. All of them said that being able to go back and watch the instructional videos repeatedly helped them understand the problems they were working on. If they didn’t get it the first time, they got it the third or fourth time.

      Nor were they zoning out in class. Their teacher was walking the aisles and making sure they were all paying attention. And they all used pen and paper to work out their problems so the teacher could see their process.

      I’ll write much more about the class visit next week. The use of the iPad is far from perfected, since this is the first of many pilot programs to come. But I’m certain that the future classroom will operate much differently than how it did a generation ago for you and me –or even 5 years ago.

      • Foundrunner

        If you what to see how computers are moving into the Class room, Just download the TeacherLesson Program from Intel website. (I Posted the link).

        The Program is setup for the teacher to make Lesson plans. The Lesson plan can be link to the WWW websites. Inside (the lesson plan) the website it can have the teacher voice taking about the website. No needed to have the student type in the website. The Lesson plan Automatically goes to that website. In the teach mode program Lets the teacher link web sites flashcards tests into one unit. The flashcards are also voice driven. The teacher can also all makes tests with voice on each question. I encourage you to download and try out teachers lesson from Intel’s website. Then you will see the future In computers teaching students.

  • Foundrunner

    Computer teaching will be the new teacher. Apply know that, Intel knows that.
    Intel even has a website called appup. One program is TeacherLesson.

    http://www.appup.com/applications/find?keyword=TeacherLesson

    That program will let the teacher make Lesson plan (With Voice and picture), Flashcards, (With Voice and picture), Tests (With Voice and picture). It also has Text to speech, and Speech.

  • Jameskozemchak

    This iPad project is a complete waste of time and money that does not educate children. Those of us who have kids, have taught in classrooms, and have worked with kids right out of college know better.

    Our children must be able to read (read, not watch videos) and comprehend material about complex subjects. They must be able to remember it. They must be able to critically analyze it to explore related issues and find flaws in the theory or presentation. They must be able to sit quietly, alone, and work out math, algebra, and trigonometry problems. They must be able to write a cohesive essay that is grammatically correct.

    The problem is that very, very few of our schools or colleges are giving kids those skills. Nearly everything in this article is wrong. Dead wrong.

    The quote from the man who is selling this nonsense should make every parent angry: “Let students cover the basics on their own, and let teachers delve into enrichment and individualized learning. That’s what the good teachers are telling me.”

    He is a charlatan. Unless and until there is a credible study that compares students who learn with traditional techniques and tools against students who are taught with the methods describe in the article, they must not be taken seriously. Do not treat our children as classroom consumers or guinea pigs.

    • Judith Epcke

      I agree that the basic skills of last century (reading, problem solving, critical thinking, writing to communicate effectively, etc.) are still important for today’s students to master. I am confused why you feel this article discounts all those things? Having students watch a video to review math concepts does not preclude them from becoming proficient readers, writers, problem solvers. I, for one, support the notion that students can cover material at home (through various modes: reading, videos, etc.), rather than listen to teachers lecture at school. Time at school could then be used for the personalization (aka. differentiation) and application of concepts. I encourage you to read this article on “flipping the classroom”. http://snipurl.com/1wduq3 to see how this concept can be effectively used by teachers to the benefit of students. iPads are not the villan here. Any technology (computers, iPads, even textbooks) can be misused by teachers.

  • Anna7271

    Our classrooms have not changed significantly in 150 years–kids are not performing well in today’s schools, as evidenceed by the enormous percentage of incoming college freshmen that must take remedial classes. Our public education system must be overhauled to educate the 21st Century kids.

    Kids are connected to the world beyond the end of their noses everywhere in their lives but the classroom. I think that bringing technology–iPads, laptops, whatever–into the classroom is essetial. Being able to have an entire school’s worth of books in something that weighs less than 2 pounds is great! I have my entire professional library on a flash drive–I can take all my reference material anywhere!

    My 14-year old son still carries 50 pounds of books to and from school–he does not need them at home or in the classroom, as a rule, but technophobes and those who do not want education to change prevent schools from buying access to electronic books–more cost effective and better for the kids–and want education to look just like it did 50 years ago. The world is a different place–adapt or we will pass you by.

  • reasonisbeaconslight

    I am very skeptical about the role of computers in teaching the elementary skills to grade schoolers. At those ages, they need to learn how to think, ask questions, go about finding answers. Computers can help them learn things that are best learned visually, audially. They can also provide the repetition that is needed at the pace that it is needed. However, early skills are better taught by human-to-human contact. In the process, they learn how to listen to another person, follow instructions from another person and articulate what they need to to another person. These skills are left by the wayside when they start using a machine all too early. They become, as a result, socially delayed if not inept and miss the critical age when such can be learned. I am seeing increasing number of students who can not even maintain eye contact with the teacher or their peers. No wonder! they are all too used to looking at a familiar screen which does not present the complex human expressions and express the varied responses that can only be communicated through body language. Too much of this too early is leaving many youngstaers without the ability or the chance to learn all this! There is a time for everything and computers are better off being introduced at later stages and only as tools, not substitutes for people.

    • Anonymous

      I agree that human contact is crucial and expected to sees quiet class using the iPad during the entire class. But as I stated in the article and in the above comments, in this particular class the teacher is as present and vocal as in any other class taught with a traditional textbook.

      It’s important to note that the iPads are providing *additional* material and support to students, not replacing the educator and her incredibly warm and genuine interaction with the students.

  • http://twitter.com/thinkwell thinkwell

    I have to say those arguing against using iPads in the classroom are ignoring the benefits and importance of bringing technology into the classroom. No one is saying this is the be all end all solution. However, blended classes are proving to be a great way to educate. One of the ways this works well is when kids watch the lecture online and then the teacher goes over the concepts, helps the children that need it and has the class work on activities that reinforce the lecture.
    One of the benefits of this is that while some teachers are great at teaching, they aren’t great at lecturing. They are two different things and many of these online curriculums have some of the best professors in the country lecturing. The example above is Professor Burger and I have never seen kids react so positively to a math instructor as they do with Professor Burger.
    You don’t think about how little time teachers have to actually teach in the classroom! This is why inverted learning helps because it helps focus class time so the teacher can ensure each student gets the concept instead of leaving behind the slower learners.
    Technology isn’t going away and if we don’t help our kids see how to use it in their day-to-day, we’re going to continue to fall behind the rest of the world.

  • Fabio Arevalo

    All is an integration, I have seen that there are excellent projects where teacher mixes books’ consults and infography, it’s great! now I am working as consultor in my web http://www.pedagogia.tk, Thanks everybody.

  • Fabio Arevalo

    All is an integration, I have seen that there are excellent projects where teacher mixes books’ consults and infography, it’s great! now I am working as consultor in my web http://www.pedagogia.tk, Thanks everybody.

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