George Lucas Educational Foundation
Subscribe to RSS

How the iPad Can Transform Classroom Learning

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

The micro-computer revolution of the 80's radically improved how teachers and schools carry on the business of learning. We now have iPads in classrooms that will not only improve it, but it has the potential to change the business of learning in schools. The question is, "Are teachers ready to adjust their teaching for this new learning revolution?"

I have just become principal of a school that will be participating in this revolution this year. The ninth- and tenth-graders will be all receiving iPads. Aside from the obvious technical challenges, the real challenge I see will be to assure that this sizable investment will take student learning to the next level. Computers allowed students to word process rather than type, to do media presentations instead of show and tell, to find information on the Internet instead of encyclopedias, and to graph data electronically instead of with magic markers. Teachers depend on computers to do the same, as well as using interactive whiteboards to increase the effectiveness of presentations. The iPad can do all these things, along with many other capabilities, and it is super portable, and that might make all the difference. So how will it change learning?

In the Classroom

Let's imagine a math class full of geometry students with iPads. The teacher says, "Ok class take out your iPads and find the best geometric form for a deep sea submarine." What can the students do? The students can find out the necessary information about how deep is deep, about what kind of pressures exist there, and find out the math necessary to determine the strongest geometric form. They can also collaborate with their peers by walking across the room and showing them their results on the iPad, they can ask the teacher questions through the network, and the students can find, or better yet, create pressure simulations to predict the results. They can check out lectures from experts and professors at iTunes U, and they can share and save what they learned with other students on the network. They can graph their results, sketch a possible example of what a submarine of this form might look like, and then do a Prezi presentation about what they learned.

The teacher might be tempted to direct the students to use a geometry sketch program, a geometry vocabulary program, a self-paced geometry lesson, or an online lecture, but while those are good things you might do with a computer, they restrict and funnel student thinking, rather than expand it. The teacher could have 30 students, all doing the same thing at the same time on their iPads, but this doesn't make sense either. The students have a powerful information tool in their hands, and as The Common Core State Standards for Mathematics require students to think critically and problem solve, there is no way that a teacher can get students to become independent learners in sync. Sure there may be some useful apps that help the student gain the skills, knowledge or insight into the subject, and a teacher might want the class to do it together, but focusing solely on the apps, or student control, limits the true potential of the iPad -- "a tool to think with."

Another Example

A science teacher can provide similar learning opportunities. During the course of a true experiment, the students not only can dictate or type the descriptions of the phases of the experiment as it progresses, but they can take still photographs and movies to document the progress. So what is the teacher doing while the students are performing the experiment? The teacher is roving with his iPad, documenting student performance, taking notes, pictures, and movies. (Movies of students? There should be signed agreements with the teachers, students, and their parents that the still or video footage of the students will only be used to help the students learn, and help the teacher improve the creation of learning environments -- and not to be published on youtube or social networking.)

Getting Teachers Onboard

One of the biggest questions teachers have about giving students iPads is, "How do you keep the students from playing games?" To answer this question, certainly the aforementioned agreements should include acceptable use of the devices, but in reality, the answer lies mainly with the teacher. If students are given engaging, open-ended problems to solve, they won't want or need to play games on their iPads during class time. Even though you might not want students to play them during class, you have to admit that some of the games really are beneficial in helping students not only learn to use the technology, but also are useful in developing analytical and critical thinking skills (which are different, by the way).

It is time for the role of the teacher to change. Students with iPads have just as much access to knowledge as the teacher, and maybe more. Their perspectives do not have to be limited by a myopic and narrow textbook viewpoint, or a rigid standardized test framework. Teachers no longer need to be the sole presenters of content. This is truly a paradigm shift in how teachers interact with students who are learning. I envision my teachers becoming experts who are inspiring good questions from students, teachers who are masterful at channeling student interests in productive ways, and teachers who constantly assess student learning and providing critical feedback.

The lesson planning questions I hope my teachers will learn to ask will change from "How can I teach this content?" to, "How can I get students to learn this content?" I hope they will answer this question with open-ended learning activities rather than saying, "I have an app for that."

How do you envision that the iPad or other similar devices will change your teaching philosophy and methods?

Was this useful?

Comments (36) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Lindsay White's picture
Lindsay White
High school physics teacher from Alberta, Canada

Like many others have mentioned, I too am concerned about the implementation issues involved with ipads. Recently, my school purchased 40 ipads to be shared between the 8 teachers in our science department. We use a program called Meraki to manage all of the ipads but it hasn't worked out as well as I had hoped. The main issue I'm finding is that it is really time consuming to add any new apps because you have to log on to each ipad individually with a password before the new settings will be pushed through. So if I wanted to add "prezi" or "educreations" or any other app I would have to log on to each ipad one at a time before the class starts. Often because adding new apps is so time consuming, unfortunately, we often don't end up using them to their full potential. I'm curious if any of you have experienced issues similar to this in your deployment of ipads or if there is a better way of doing it. I am really trying to work towards a more student-directed approach to learning and would like to be able to use the ipads to help me with this but am finding it quite difficult due to the time requirements of the program we're currently using. Any suggestions?

Ben Johnson's picture
Ben Johnson
Administrator, author and educator


Curriculum Loft has an app that makes the management of the iPads easy. The same app also provides a way for teachers to create lessons, assignments and tests for students to use on their iPads.

Ben Johnson
San Antonio, Texas.

Ben Johnson's picture
Ben Johnson
Administrator, author and educator


Curriculum Loft has an app that makes the management of the iPads easy. The same app also provides a way for teachers to create lessons, assignments and tests for students to use on their iPads.

Ben Johnson
San Antonio, Texas.

Joanna Posey's picture
Joanna Posey
Secondary-Special Education Teacher

Updating does take time especially when the app has a large file. I have my school's tech guy load all of the iPad updates on Fridays. When aquiring new apps, he buys 1 app for 5 iPads and downloads the 1 app onto 5 machines for 1 price. During his Friday session with the iPads, the iPads will be ready to use on Monday mornings. This updating solution has worked quite well without interferring with the classroom instruction.

Jane's picture
Primary teacher, currently upgrading my qualifications at uni.

I really enjoyed reading this article, showcasing the open ended and collaborative nature of iPads in high school. I'm primary trained so it's fantastic to see how the high schoolers are embedding digital technologies into programming.

kim palmer's picture

Technology in and of itself does not improve or enhance anything. It is the way in which technology is used in the classroom that is the key to success. Incorporating technology into the classroom is an interactive tool for students. Technology can enhance a lesson while adding valuable skills. A teacher must be able to adapt the use of technology in order to maximize the learning experience of the students. Students with learning disabilities can benefit from computer programs. Computer software can assist students in writing skills that they are at a deficit in. Technology affords more students to be actively thinking and obtaining information.
Windows, iPad, Android, the hardware does not matter much. I live in a county were all middle and high school students are supplied with laptops. All of the students start out on an even baseline, but for our Exceptional Education students we do purchase additional software for them. Software to assist the Exceptional Education students is helpful. Smart boards are a great way to teach children in general education and for students with disabilities. The smart boards are interactive and allow children to participate in the lesson. Computer games that teach kids reading as they play and interact are a great tool for Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD), children who are lower functioning, or below grade level. Touch screens such as an IPad are a great way for the students to be engaged without feeling overwhelmed by operating a computer keyboard because they can use a stylist or in some cases their fingers for the lower end Exceptional Education children.
Today's students have grown up with keyboards and screens while most educators had to learn later in life the use of computers. Teachers need to be as fluent with technology as their students; while applying the technology in ways that will enrich their teaching and enhance students learning. However, there is more to technology than computer skills. It is also the integration of new tools and methods. Technology literacy is much richer and more complex today than in the past. Tools for using and creating information are rapidly changing and becoming more sophisticated. Competency in technology assists teachers in the classroom. Technology affords more students to be actively thinking and obtaining information. There seems to be a focused effort on technology because of the ever changing nature of it. Yet, there needs to be a balanced approach between technology and additional core development. All of the new automated tools and applications will not achieve the desired effects if the educator does not have a thorough understanding and mastering of the subject.

Michelle Gasser's picture
Michelle Gasser
4th grade teacher from Colorado

My school went 1:1 iPads K-8 this year and although it was a rough start as far as classroom management is concerned, the engagement of my students has been incredible.
My classroom is entirely paperless. I push out assignments to students using a free app called ebackpack. The students complete the assignment in ebackpack, and then resubmit it to me to grade.
The use of the iPads has also allowed my students to make relevant connections to their learning. When we read about places or items from the past we can google it with a tap of the finger. My students are creating podcasts, iMovies, and Keynote presentations. They are blogging and emailing.
There have been some drawbacks to the iPad as well. Some students will play games no matter how engaging the activity. They also forget to charge their iPads or forget them at home which requires the teacher to provide the material on paper. Another drawback has been that the students need an apple id to purchase apps and the apple id's are set up as a free account so they can only download free apps.
There are ways that schools can circumvent these problems. First is classroom management. The teacher can set up rules in the classroom about gaming and if a student breaks the rules you can restrict their app purchases under the settings. You can also put them on guided access in the settings, which locks them in a certain apps.
Another possible problem that schools might face is that teachers have to be willing to learn and explore on the iPads. We were provided with professional development but still had to do a lot of exploring on our own. If teachers are not on board, the iPads will be like any other manipulative that teachers have stored on the shelf.
All in all, the use of the iPad in my classroom has been amazing and the student learning has been incredible to watch.

Claudia Marin's picture

Quite interesting ideas and examples. Where can I get more information about how to design classes using ipads and do students naturally interact with the tool or do they have to be trained.

Nicole Garret's picture

I think that students shouldn't have iPads because they cost to much and are to much of a distraction

Hector Castellanos's picture

The ipad can be a valuable tool for learning, but like any other tool if the student chooses to misuse the tool it can become a hinderance.

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.