iPads in a preparatory classroom – embracing fear to step boldly into the future at St Stithians Girls’ Preparatory

| April 11, 2017 | 0 Comments

BY BRONWYN DESJARDINS

Four years ago, St Stithians Girls’ Preparatory in Johannesburg, Gauteng, set about finding the optimal solution to mobile technology integration; one that would fit within a “Thinking Schools’’1 philosophy of engaged and authentic learning.

In 2014, we began our first iPad roll-out in Grade 6. The school provided a fully integrated approach to the iPad rollouts, providing parent, student and teacher workshops that all included sessions on online security and social media awareness. The following year, 2015, saw the continuation of the programme within grades 6 and 7.

It was a year in which the technology infrastructure at the school was reinforced. This included faster Wi-Fi speeds, Apple TVs, firewall security and so on. iPads were introduced in Grade 5 in 2016, to make the transition to Grade 6 easier. It was believed that the Grade 5 register class times would provide the environment in which good iPad practices could be taught and encouraged. This included the use of an iPad locker, tech-free breaks, knowing when to use the device and under which circumstances the different applications would be of benefit. The use of iPads with class teachers created the perfect conditions to try using iTunes U2 as the delivery system for lesson content.

Teachers pronounced “iPad ready”

The teachers were prepped, parents were informed well in advance and the roll-out was planned for 2016. The students had to arrive at school with an iPad loaded with specific applications on 11 July 2016. The Grade 5 teachers were then tasked with setting up iTunes U courses. The Grade 5 teachers met with me during their school holiday to begin work on their courses.

While enthusiastic and eager to pursue the initiative, they were apprehensive and nervous at first. They had previously mostly used the iPad as a tool for e-mail and playing games, so we began with the basic structure of the iTunes U platform and its theoretical benefits. The varied academic applications that were available inspired and thrilled them. During the first few weeks leading up to the roll-out, Tuesday afternoon sessions were spent fleshing out the courses with PDF-converted documents, links to applications and videos, pictures and discussion points.

Crossing over A mindshift began to take place and, slowly but surely, the numerous possibilities of what could be achieved with iTunes U began to sink in. Says Grade 5 teacher, Kirsty Sidwell: I was exposed to a way of teaching which was exciting and innovative. I no longer wanted to present my learners with black-and-white printed pages. Now I could create an iBook with coloured pictures and links to videos, which made learning so much more interactive. The children are able to research their own content and present it using numerous platforms, which appeals to their interest and solidifies their learning.

The teachers divided their work into three sections, so that each of them could prepare a unit as a separate iTunes U course that would be copied and shared. The first course was entitled “Heritage Trails through the South African Provinces”. Grade 5 coordinator, Michelle Decker, explains the process: We started with our first iTunes U course… there were a few challenges with regard to connecting and downloading the courses; however, after these were sorted out, the benefits were astounding. The girls’ independence and excitement in their learning was remarkable. Through the various courses, they worked with apps such as Book Creator, Socrative, iBooks, PDF Expert, Pages, Explain Everything and iMovie. They were inquisitive to explore the possibilities of the applications and were often able to show me new, innovative ways to work.

The teachers have seen first-hand the benefits of using the iPad and iTunes U. They constantly seek new and innovative ways to present material in ways that will foster independence and promote thinking. Their preparation meetings have changed too, says Decker: “The conversations in our meetings are often about the new exciting opportunities available to us, like Spheros, and how to apply these. It has been a surprising journey, which I continue to enjoy thoroughly.”

More sharing and caring

There have been many “a-ha” moments, and the iPad has led to some extraordinary realisations as to just how powerful a tool it is. Grade 5 teacher, Zahraa Nakooda, was able to teach a student who was competing in a national league sporting event: “While she was at nationals, she worked during her free time and didn’t miss out on work covered in class. This was such a bonus. I was able to teach this student ‘online’ and she didn’t feel overwhelmed when she returned to school.” There is no doubt that the device has revolutionised teaching in the grade. Both the teachers and students have also experienced a shift in how their lessons run. The girls are familiar with terms such as authentication, on-boarding, mirroring and enrolling. They happily share work using the Apple TV, enrol into new courses and “hand in” work online, Air Drop documents to each other and interact in iTunes U discussions.

They actively seek challenges and easily access remediation when needed. They are self-motivated and energised participants in the learning and teaching process. The teachers themselves are aware of this change in the dynamic, but in no way feel threatened by it or that they have been replaced. Explains Nakooda: “The girls who need remediation have help at hand and can go over the concepts again, repeat a video, re-read a story and listen to a story again. The girls who need extension have ample work to stimulate their minds.”

A newfound freedom

While the courses themselves take time to set up, the end result is that the teaching time becomes far more flexible, as the teachers become facilitators of a learning process. iMovie, Book Creator, Explain Everything and Keynote are a few of the applications that have inspired learning. The pedagogical value of these and other applications has naturally provided opportunities to expand on educational tools such as Bloom’s Taxonomy, Thinker’s Keys and the Layered Curriculum.3 Learning easily extends beyond the four walls that encompass a traditional classroom.

The students can converse with the authors of the novel they study, ask specialists questions about real-world issues and collaborate with students around the globe on projects. Their work becomes authentic and has real-world value. The possibilities are only as limited as a Google search result. Teachers can provide immediate feedback and can include additional instructional materials at the tap of a screen (no more putting in requests for photocopying!).

Students who were challenged by face-to-face presentations and the sharing of ideas are provided with built-in features enabling their full participation. The girls have become more independent, readily searching for more information on a topic or getting definitions for words. They are able to critically analyse and find solutions to problems. And instant assessment that provides a complete class overview of concepts covered can be obtained using online quiz platforms such as Socrative and Quizziz.

Safely on the other side

In conclusion, the journey has had a profound and longreaching effect on our campus. The process has taught students that the teachers are open to learning too. The fact that the teachers cannot envisage teaching without the devices says it all. The theoretical educational value we had attached to the iPad has been surpassed. We have been surprised and delighted by the changes we have seen in our students’ approach to learning, as well as to our teachers’ instructional practices. The paradigm shift has happened and there’s no going back. Concludes Sidwell: Our journey thus far has been a short but exciting one… I am learning with the students every day while we proceed on this technological voyage. I am honest when I make mistakes and happily accept their teaching when they correct me. We started by learning how to use iTunes U and integrating various applications… It was incredible to see how quickly my mindset changed; I was no longer scared, but inspired. 

Bronwyn Desjardins is coordinator: edtech coach and resource centre at St Stithians Girls’ Preparatory.

References: 1. See, for example: http://www.thinkingschoolsinternational.com/the-tsiapproach- and-training/what-is-a-thinking-school/. 2. See, for example: http://www.apple.com/za/education/itunes-u/. 3. See, for example: https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/blooms-taxonomy/ and https://ryansthinkerskeys.wikispaces.com/ An+Introduction+to+Tony+Ryan’s+Thinkers+Keys?responseToken=925b1af6e05 951960300a41af36004c5 and http://www.help4teachers.com/.

Category: Autumn 2017

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