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Using Technology to Reach Unreachable Students

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator
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The iPad made a transformation in John's learning demeanor. Where once his attitude blared, "I dare you to teach me!" now it screams, " Teach me more!" Wouldn't that be a great story to be able to tell? It would be solid proof that technology transforms learning and teaching (this is the motto of our school this year). Unfortunately, these types of examples are rare. What we have typically seen up to now with the computer revolution, is a temporary interest piqued by an engaging program or computer game, but then followed by a general disinterest.

The iPads are a different story, however...

One ninth grade teacher at Southside High School mentioned that she noticed that students that normally do not participate in class discussions are being very active in electronic discussions. I noticed the same thing in my online classes at the University of Phoenix. Where in a regular classroom setting, I would allow others to monopolize the conversations, in an electronic setting, I found that I had significant things to offer, and I could present well prepared arguments for my ideas.

With iPad in hand, I have witnessed a student who normally has minimal attention span, carefully construct his dream mansion, brick-by-brick. I have seen a student who would rather run laps rather than read books, open the electronic version of Lord of the Flies and start reading for understanding. I saw a student who struggles to compose complete sentences, labor over a paragraph until she got it just right in order to send it to her teacher. The iPad is transforming how our students are learning.

In a study done in England at the ACS Cobham School, 65 first- and second-graders were given iPads to use and, after the newness of the device wore off, they evaluated the students on three categories: engagement, collaboration, and perseverance (Harrold, 2012). What they discovered was that in every instance, when compared with the control groups, iPad enabled students were rated higher in each category. Interestingly enough, they also discovered that first- and second- graders found it easier to type on the iPad than on the computer keyboard. Whether that is because their hands were smaller or that the students did not have to unlearn touch-typing is yet to be determined.

I asked two of my tenth grade students, "Do you feel smarter now that you have an iPad to use?" They both actually said yes. "Any question we have, we simply type it in and can find the answer, instantly!" "I don't have to wait for the teacher any more." The flip side of the iPad implementation at Southside is that we still have a few students who want to push the rules: downloading things they shouldn't and deleting the control software.

In general, however, students are using the iPads the right way, on the right things because the teachers have given them a reason to use them. Edmodo classrooms are proliferating across the campus and teachers are keeping one step ahead of the students in finding apps that fit their curricular needs. One app the teachers are using is called Teacherkit and helps teachers to keep track of the soft measures of student performance, like engagement, interaction, collaboration, and interest. Most importantly, it helps the teacher keep tabs on the students that like to stay beneath the radar and helps them bring them into the learning network.

Because of the influence, transformation, and evolution of teaching and learning brought on by mobile learning devices like the iPad, and dedicated professionals who are taking advantage of the device capabilities, I hope to be able to report that students who one time refused to learn, now are eager to learn.

What inspiring stories can you share about your students and technology?


Harrold, R. (2012). Measuring the Effect of iPads in the Classroom. International Educator, 26(4).

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Linda Harrington's picture
Linda Harrington
Retired elementary teacher/Currently K-12 sub from Los Angeles, Ca

In my travels as a substitute teacher/tutor of students PK-12, I never leave home without my ipad. I have witnessed how it engages students of all ages and abilities. Three years ago I taught a class of 15 autistic preschool boys on a long term assignment. Most could not talk, sit still or interact with even the most engaging lesson or individual until one day I pulled out my ipad. They all clamored and grabbed at once but quickly learned to wait their turn. One little guy cried all the time because he could not communicate his needs but was clever enough to sneak my ipad out of my desk or purse to play his favorite app. It was truly inspiring to see how a little piece of technology could get kids so engaged in learning when everything else seemed to fail.

I use my ipad almost daily in my substitute assignments. It is a ready resource if i need to brush up on a subject long gone from my memory. I whip it out the minute I notice a sea of glassed over eyes or other indicators of non-engagement. I can usually find a quick you tube teacher or video to supplement the lesson or concept I'm teaching which usually increases the level of engagement of my students.

Finally, I've discovered the ipad is an excellent tool for the elderly. My mother is bedridden and partially sighted. She is often depressed because her vision is slowly slipping away and she wants to read her bible. I asked her to try reading on my ipad and we discovered the resolution is bright enough that she can actually see enlarged font. She was totally sold when I pressed the audio button so she'd have the option of listening if she tired of reading. Now she wants her own.

Eda BAKIR's picture
ICT teacher for public seconday school,Trabzon,TURKEY

Hi, I am an ICT teacher in Turkey.This was very useful for me because we are in a huge project in Turkey about educational technology.our educational ministry have a national project named FATIH .In this project it is targeted that every students have a tablet and e-books and ever classroom have a smart board.This is a new project and if you want to learn more and make comments about it this is the link:

Monica Burns's picture
Monica Burns
Author & Speaker, ADE , Founder of

I love this quote, I think it is so important: "In general, however, students are using the iPads the right way, on the right things because the teachers have given them a reason to use them."

Here's a cool formative assessment tool that will definitely keep student's engaged (it works on any device with Internet access):

Lydia Clemmons's picture
Lydia Clemmons
Self contained special education K-2

I am SOOO glad that technology in the classroom is being supported by administrative staff! With special ed. students that are visually, physically, and hearing impaired ( just to name a few), is this is a welcome addition to our classroom. I wish that our district had enough money for us to have a smart board in the classroom, but at this time I will take what ever I can. If we want our own personal doctors to be aware of the latest medical procedures, why can't we ask that of our teachers be up to date on technology in the classroom as well?

Sandy Kontilis's picture

Ipads are used in my school in many ways. 7th grade Science and 8th grde Core use them as a 1:1 initiative. It's magical how spelling lessons can turn into competitions against themselves with a spelling app downloaded form the Apple apps store. In my classroom, we use I pad for research. In art, students use apps to help them draw in a certain genre. Students who normally are disengaged are re-engaged. I pads and technology in general excite the students and improve engagement.

Shellie's picture

I am a special education teacher in California and I see some of the same results with students when I put an ipad in their hands. They love it! I find that the students are on task and engaged in learning for a full 50 minutes. It is absolutely thrilling, as an educator, to witness student engagement.

Wowzers's picture
Wowzers offers online Game-based Math curriculum for Grades 3-8

These are some awesome points of how iPads and interactive technology can be used to increase engagement. But, the engagement does not end with just the devices themselves. Schools can set up some truly engaging learning experiences by coupling the powerful Edtech devices with equally effective (and fun) Edtech content.

Here's a great blog post with five great tips to help pilot your search for effective, fun digital content for your schools and students -

Sandi Edmondson's picture
Sandi Edmondson
PreK inclusion Teacher

Although I work with PreK students, I do see how students who do not usually feel comfortable in social settings do well in an online world.

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