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Classroom Examples: iPads

20 Nov

A video highlighting some examples of how students are utilizing iPads in several classrooms at my school.

The little and unexpected positive uses of an iPad

27 Mar

I was having a conversation with a physics teacher at my school last week and he pointed out a few interesting and unexpected advantages he has found about using iPads in his class that I thought I would share.


Size of a piece of paper doesn’t matter anymore:

In the past I have always used the default paper size of 81/2 x 11 piece of paper because that is what we can print at school.  With the introduction of the iPad and PDF annotating apps like UPAD, Notability and my favorite PDF Expert 5, the size of the paper no longer matters.  This allows teachers to actually put more information on one page limiting the number of times kids have to flip from one page to the next.  By setting the default page size to something bigger like 11×17 teachers can place notes, text and graphs all on a single page.


Color Matters

In any class the use of different colored text, color images and color graphs can make classroom discussions a lot easier.  When discussing a particular line on a graph or diagraming sentence structure it is really nice to be able to reference different items by color.  A simple yet very effective way to enhance discussions.



Stop Motion Animation

28 Feb

Stop motion animation can be a great way to get students to create short videos around different topics.  Students can use stop motion to create short animated films or to demonstrate knowledge of a particular process.  In my class we have used it to help student learn processes like Glycolysis and Mitosis/Meiosis, but I have seen it used in English and Social Studies to tell stories as well.

See the student examples below that were made with iMotion HD

This is an easy app that is FREE and allows students to create wonderful stop motion videos.

Meiosis Student Examples 

Glycolysis Student Examples 

Using Student Created Animation to Increase Understanding

8 Oct

Animations can be used as both a learning tool and as a way for students to demonstrate mastery of content.  In my anatomy and physiology classroom students are faced with learning a number of challenging physiology processes that involve multiple moving parts, steps, molecules, ions, and cells.  With a traditional lecture style approach, these processes can be difficult for students to fully understand. Teacher whiteboards and student note sheets become a jumble of cell parts, proteins, ions, and other molecules with no discernible beginning or end making it difficult for students to learn.  When students get home and begin reviewing their notes, they are often confused by what they wrote down in class.  As a result, they simply put their notes away and wait for class the next day.

The teaching method I describe in this post provides an opportunity for students to engage and re-engage with material in ways never possible before the introduction of the iPad and Animation Creator HD.  Take a moment to explore the  image below.  This is a picture of the whiteboard after a typical muscle contraction lecture.  As you can see the board is a mess with ions, proteins, a number of arrows, plus signs, minus signs and a number of different labels.  Even with color coding, it can be difficult to decipher the image.  Imagine a student hearing this concept for the first time and then trying to make sense of their notes once they arrive home!

Muscle Lecture

When students create their own animations using the App Animation Creator HD, they understand the material more quickly  and at a much higher level.  How do I know this?  Before I began using animation, students record their notes in a traditional paper and pencil manner based on my drawings from the whiteboard at the front of the room.  Students struggle because these processes involve dozens of moving molecules, numerous cells, and many cyclical processes that have to reset themselves before occurring again and again.  The introduction of animation changes the way students learn processes such as neuron action potential, muscle contraction, the immune response and the generation of ATP.  By allowing students to create animated notes, they can see biological processes occur as a series of events.  They are creating notes that allow science to unfold before their eyes on their iPad.

These animated notes are much more powerful than any they can watch on YouTube for several reasons.  First, the act of creating the animations jump starts the process of understanding because students get introduced to pertinent vocabulary as well as the structures and sequence of events.  This familiarity with vocabulary is based on my requirement that my students overlay an audio explanation to their animations for homework.  This final step might be one of the most powerful parts of this project.  Requiring my students to add audio to their project forces them to re-engage with the material at home.  During the process of recording audio, many students will spend a great amount of time rerecording sections in attempt to get it “perfect.” This added auditory practice, combined with the repeated viewing of their animations has led to a much quicker and deeper understanding of the material.

The final part of this project involves viewing the animations the next day as a whole class.  I have noticed that students that are typically reluctant to share in class find this project a comfortable medium to highlight their understanding of the content.  Students, in general, were eager to share their animations with me and the class.  Reviewing the animations together as a class provided a collaborative and safe forum for peer editing.  Students helped each other by pointing out inaccuracies that were sometimes being made in their animations.  For example, during our study of the biochemistry behind muscle contraction, students were able to point out places in their peer’s animations where they had switched ions, used the wrong neurotransmitters, or incorrectly named the protein channels. Before using this learning process, I would expect this level of understanding at the end of the unit, not on the second day.

Student Examples:

Tutorial Videos

These are also available on YouTube and are a great resource for students to watch before they come to class.


ASCD Presentation: iPads in Education

18 Mar

Here is our Keynote presentation that we given at the ASCD conference in Chicago on March 16th.  The presentation examined the ways in which a teacher lead, ground up, proposal based approach to a 1:1 iPad initiative has changed teaching and learning at New Trier High School.

Session Description”New Trier High School is in the second year of an iPad pilot program. More than 600 students in 15 different courses received iPads this year. In this session, the presenters will share examples of how teaching and learning were transformed, explain their process of developing this pilot program and creating buy-in with the school community, detail evaluation plans, and describe plans for the future.”

Here is a link to our slides:

New Trier Mobile Learning Initiative ASCD Final Slides

There were a number of videos embedded in the slides.  The links are below:

Introduction Video:  The student perspective

Video #1:  Students Demonstrating Knowledge

Video #2:  Student Collaboration

Video #3:  eBooks

Video #4: iPads in Science, ESL and American Studies

My Maps Editor_ A geolocation activity

6 Feb

This is a email from one of the Geoscience teachers at my school that is also apart of our iPad pilot.  She used My Maps Editor to have students place volcanoes on a Google Earth map.  When the add these locations they can also add additional information including text and pictures.  See the information below and feel free to download her example and directions.  I could see the being usefull in other classes including Geography and any language class.

I use My Maps Editor ( to create a Google Map in geoscience.  I also attached the data for part of the assignment that I quickly created so you can see what the final product may look like (when it opens in Google Earth you likely have to zoom in to see the volcano icons).

Volcano mapping MY MAPS instructions iPad

Basically, My Maps Editor allows you create a map and add data points, lines, etc to that map.  The data can then be exported to Google Earth or uploaded & submitted to Canvas for me to view.   For each of the data points you can type in detailed information and add a photo easily from your camera roll (assuming you are signed in to your Google account through the app).  Map locations can be search by point of interest, city, or coordinates (latitude, longitude) as long as Google Maps is enabled through the app.  I also like the option to have the Google Maps integration and satellite view as well (especially for geoscience).  Data point icons can also be changed so that you may have a variety of colors, shapes, images, etc (they have a little volcano icon!).

For this geoscience assignment, students had to map volcanoes we have been discussing in class, as well as other active/infamous volcanoes, include information/images for each, then eventually draw in the major tectonic plate boundaries so that we can see the relationship between the different plate boundaries, type of volcano and activity status of the volcanoes.

This is a pretty cool app that I will definitely be using for multiple geoscience activities and hopefully other teachers can use it as well.

New Trier High School: Mobile Learning Update.

19 Dec

I am a technology staff developer and anatomy and physiology teacher at New Trier High School.  We have implemented a 1:1 iPad pilot this year with 700 of our 4,000 students.  Below is an update that the director of technology wrote for the board of education.  It outlines our program, it successes and some of the hiccups we have had along the way.  I have also embedded the video that our technology department created to help illustrate some of the way students are using iPads in the classroom.

Board Memo:

The Mobile Learning Initiative is off to a strong start as we conclude the first semester. Our evaluation and research show that several features of a tablet mobile device have been critical to the program’s success, including the availability to instantly record, edit, and integrate audio and video; access to resources in pilot and non-pilot classrooms; a plethora of easy-to-use apps; increased digital communication with teachers; improved student organization and management of work and learning; efficient feedback about learning from teacher to student; and improved classroom routines and practices. The progress in the initiative can perhaps best be viewed from the perspective of students and teachers. The following classroom examples emphasize that student/teacher perspective and the key success factors are embedded in these examples and in the video we will present at the Board meeting.

In our Anatomy and Physiology classrooms, students are constructing their own knowledge of complex scientific processes and demonstrating that knowledge through embedding pictures, audio, and video into presentations and written documents. As an example, rather than simply reading about the process of muscle contraction, students create and narrate an animation of the various steps of this intricate process. These animation tutorials also serve as a study aide all students can use later through whole class sharing on YouTube.

In Biology, the student lab report has been re-envisioned, allowing students to create a multimedia product that demonstrates their learning. In the past, students completed hand-written lab reports. Now, they can use the Pages app to author their reports, which allows them to incorporate actual images and video with the simple click of a button. Data and charts, once written out by hand, are now quickly entered in the Numbers spreadsheet application and embedded into the report, which allows the student to focus on sophisticated and in-depth analysis of data rather than just producing the graph and chart.

In Physics, students often study concepts, such as the movement of waves in water, which are difficult to see. In past years, students used a water tank, which is an imperfect process that produces inconsistent results and is difficult to observe. This year, a brief demonstration was presented in class, and students used a wave simulator on the iPad with a virtual tank to observe the phenomenon in more depth, outside of class, leading to great understanding and comprehension. Having access to the wave simulator for all students through the iPad allows the teacher to construct a lesson where he or she can decide whether the clarity of a simulator or a physical lab is most appropriate for the learning goal.

Each year, students in Sports Medicine learn about ankle injuries, and complete a corresponding lab where they learn how to tape an ankle. Previously, the instructor would demonstrate ankle taping, and then spend the rest of the period demonstrating the same concept to each lab group on an individual basis. Now, one student tapes the initial demonstration, and the instructor posts the file so students can review it and watch it at their own pace, both in and outside of class. Rather than repeating the same demonstration a dozen times in class, the instructor can now provide more meaningful and in-depth feedback to students.

Students in Sports Medicine also now take electronic notes on their reading assignments, which are submitted to the teacher. The teacher can then provide immediate feedback and review, and reports that this has increased student preparation and participation, allowing him to cover more material at a deeper level in class.

In Social Studies classrooms, students can immediately access primary source documents, which can be used for their research or in small group activities.

Students in AP English read The Awakening by Kate Chopin in the iBooks app on the iPad. The teacher reports that there were increases in comprehension and understanding of difficult vocabulary, since students could simply click on a word to see its definition. They also use the annotation features of the app, which allows them to highlight text and take notes that can easily be accessed later. The search feature allows students to spot trends in language in phrasing, and to better understand when similar words and phrases are used throughout the book.

Also in AP English, students create a visual essay, which allows them to link images and text to make an argument about a particular topic. In the past, students used a web-based program on a computer to complete this assignment. Now, students use an easy-to-use book creator app that allows them to easily combine text and video to create a professional looking product, which can be shared with the teacher, presented to the class, and is archived in a class library.

As Junior English students prepare to write their junior theme, the iPad has become an integral part of the process, bringing the resources of the library to their fingertips via the iPad in the classroom and at home. They have access to New Trier’s rich array of journal subscriptions, eBooks, and other publications. They also use apps like Flipboard and Longform to locate long form journalism articles on subjects related to American Life from such publications as The Atlantic or The New Yorker. They can also access resources like TED Talks, as they work to incorporate sources beyond the written word. As they find these resources and progress towards finding a topic, they use the iPad to annotate and create reflections about how their interest is shaped into a more defined topic area. These analyses are shared with the teacher via Google Drive, which allows him or her to monitor progress on a continuous basis and provide feedback, which is an improvement over the traditional method of submitting written drafts on a set schedule.

In French Cinema, students quickly access information on cultural topics related to the movies they are watching. Students then prepare presentations to demonstrate their knowledge using the KeyNote app, which can include video and audio recordings of interviews with fellow students. After researching questions on cultural knowledge, students use the iPad to verify comprehension using the Socrative app, which provides immediate feedback to students.

In French 4, the teacher authored several short stories he distributed to the students in iBook. These stories align closely with the curriculum of the class, and utilize the features available in the iBooks app, such as embedded video, audio, and pictures. Students read and annotate the stories, and use functions such as the dictionary to better understand what they are reading.

Students taking Chinese classes must learn the difficult process of writing Chinese characters, which previously could only be done using paper and pencil. Using the touch screen on the iPad and a stylus, students can practice creating characters and receive immediate feedback from the app, or submit the files to the teacher for assessment. Students in Chinese also can practice the language and pronunciation easily using the built-in microphone on the iPad. The recordings can be uploaded for the teacher, who can give immediate assessment.

Previously, this type of practice was only available once every ten class days in the language lab. In both cases, the feedback from the teacher to the student occurs more quickly and is more meaningful.

In Spanish, the use of the iPad complements the use of the TPRS (Teaching Proficiency Through Reading and Storytelling) methodology, which teaches the language through reading and storytelling. Students are now able to author and produce short videos of skits, which demonstrate their writing, speaking, and grammar skills. Previously, this process was cumbersome, using cameras and complicated editing software in a computer lab. Now, this process can occur in the classroom and at home, and the focus is not on technology, but rather on language learning. This method has resulted in stronger student engagement and comprehension.

In the Principles of Engineering class, students can use apps that analyze pictures of structures, such as bridges. The app immediately provides measurements that can assist in calculating load or other important factors.

Topics of Psychology and Sociology students demonstrate difficult situations through the use of puppetry and voice recording apps on the iPad, which provides a less stressful experience for presenting on topics that may be uncomfortable for the students to discuss face to face.

One of the most common and significant themes from student and teacher feedback is the improvement in organization and efficiency in learning and the higher rate of work completion. Many students use the iPad for class notes for all classes, keeping track of worksheets, communicating with teachers, and completing assignments. They indicate this efficiency ties to an improvement in their performance in class and reduces stress. This efficiency occurs both in participating classes, non-participating classes, and in their other work at New Trier.

In a survey this week, over 80% of participating students indicate they use the iPad beyond their pilot class in a variety of ways, including:

  • Typing papers for non-participating classes or the college application process
  • Recording Kinesis dance practices for coaching and critique purposes
  • Researching chemicals used in a chemistry lab
  • Using electronic textbooks for other classes
  • Creating flash cards for language learning
  • Submitting assignments via Blackboard or Canvas (learning management system)
  • Completing homework assignments during free time, anywhere on campus or at home
  • Organizing their assignments, due dates and files
  • Communicating with teachers via email
  • Research in Science Olympiad
  • Organizing notes and sources in debate
  • Read sheet music and scores in music class
  • In theater, write light cues, mark scripts, control lighting and sound equipment, and edit CAD drawings.

This increased efficiency is possible in part because many of the participating teachers have shifted their practices and organization. Many participating classes are now paperless, with students receiving assignments electronically from teachers, completing them on their iPad, submitting them to teachers, and receiving them back with feedback in a timely manner with grades that are automatically entered in the teacher’s grade book and viewable online. This streamlined process has led to increased homework completion rates, a reduction in time for providing feedback to students, and has allowed for both teachers and students to add audio or video notes to assignments. For instance, a student might indicate unexpected results in a science lab, or a teacher could record a quick video explaining how a student made a mistake in a science calculation. Students and teachers report this type of feedback is more meaningful and significant. Many teachers now also complete a cursory review of assignments and homework before class starts, so they can make adjustments on the fly for a concept the students may not have understood the previous day.

Teachers also report that this efficiency has led to increased student preparation for class and a reduction in the time students and teachers need to spend on organizational tasks. In some cases, teachers have indicated that this has led to being able to cover more content, or to explore topics at a more deep and meaningful level.