Steve breaks down his apporach to introducing new apps to students in a way that puts them at the centre of the learning. The app in focus is Pages - Apple's word processor/desktop publisher hybrid but as Steve points out, this method could be easily employed with a range of edtech apps.
I've had teachers tell me that they can't embed the use of apps in their lessons as students don't know how to use them and they don't have the time in their lessons to teach them. I can see their point... to a degree. These are generally teachers who are less confident with technology and as such find the process of learning how an app works difficult themselves. More difficult than the kids in their class do - and therein lies the secret solution.
Let them lead the learning.
Even learn alongside them and don't be afraid to let them see you do it. So many educators are afraid to let their guard down and be viewed as anything less than the font of all knowledge. Kids aren't stupid. They know we don't know everything - this is the internet generation after all.
In my new role as a specialist technology teacher, I've been able to demonstrate this many times already but the example I want to share with you comes from last November. Year 4 wanted to complete some work on newspaper reports. They'd just launched their BYOD scheme and had better access to iPads than desktop or laptop computers but didn't know if there was an app that would suit their purpose. Of course there is, I told them, you can use Pages - it's like Apple's version of Word. You like Word, Word is easy right?
In actual fact Pages on the iPad was a vastly superior choice to them using Word on their limited desktops, not only because they had more devices. They could use the iPad's camera to take the images they needed, choose a newsletter format for those needing more support and use the text box function to allow the others to control their layout with more precision. I actually find Pages to be a happy hybrid of Word and Publisher and like all the apps in the iWork suite, it's pretty easy to learn. So I showed them but they were still a little reticent. It was outside their comfort zone.
So this is what I pitched them: I would use a single Computing session of one hour on the app the week before and in that hour, I would guarantee that every student would learn how to use the app independently. To achieve this, I flipped the learning and teaching onto the students as suggested above. Before the lesson began, I produced three differentiated success criteria checklists, to accommodate different levels of confidence with technology. I started the actual lesson with a bold proclamation that definitely caught them off guard:
"I'm feeling a little lazy today guys so I'm not going to teach you until the last ten minutes of the lesson."
As expected, this was met with a mix of stunned confusion and mock complaints from the kids. I opened Pages on the screen via Apple TV and told them that they had to open a blank document and try to figure out how to use it for themselves. I also explained that this challenge (always try to use that word with kids) would work In different stages and that their teacher was going to LOVE stage 1...
During stage 1, no one was allowed to speak at all. Absolute silence. :) The kids each had a device, a checklist and a stack of post-it notes. They were instructed to play with the app and try out as many different things as they could. Anything they could do, they ticked off on the success criteria. Anything they couldn't do or didn't understand, they were to scribble down on a post-it and stick in the middle of the table. (NB they sit in small groups of mixed ability with 4-6 students per table)
This was incredibly interesting. Many students were initially hesitant. They wanted to be able to ask questions. You could literally see those kids who had become too reliant on asking for help too early rather than try things, get them wrong and try again. It was brilliant for developing this crucial skill in them. I made it very clear that this document was NOT going anywhere and that they didn't have to worry about it all making sense or the pictures they inserted being relevant to the words. It was all about their understanding of the app.
Some took to this freedom quite quickly and not necessarily the students we expected. Those that were able to complete everything on their list wee encouraged to add their own elements to the list and extend it (I'd deliberately left stuff like the graphs and tables off as they were not that relevant to their forthcoming newspaper report task.)
Stage 2 After about 20-25 minutes, stage 2 began. In this stage, they were takes with working as a team with the others on their table, with whom they could now speak. The aim was to clear all of the post-it note problems by collaborating and peer-teaching. Thus the stronger students reinforced their own understanding whilst explaining the words, icons and concepts to those that had found it more challenging. They still couldn't ask me or their class teacher anything at all.
On that note, what was I actually doing? Well I was using the Class Act app on my own iPad to record formative assessment notes whilst also sneakily supporting the SEN kids without making it to apparent. The class teachers. They we essentially learning the app functions too (they'd need to use it without me the week after) by asking questions of the kids based on things they had ticked off on their lists - again, reinforcing their understanding through teaching to others.
Stage 3 After about another 10 minutes, stage 3 began and they were informed that they could now ask anyone in the class anything they still needed to know. Except me of course! So began the hustle and bustle of a Paul Ginnis-esque marketplace of information trading. To guide them, I highlighted certain students as experts in certain aspects of the app and suggested a visit to them if that aspect was something that still proved difficult.
Stage 4 They were finally able to ask me questions! What I found was, they didn't really want to! They knew most of the answers by this point and had realised that they could be more independent learners.
We gathered as a big group for the final evaluation of the app. What they'd picked up on was that the simple icons in the minimal toolbar at the top held the keys to everything they needed. Want to add something, anything at all? The Plus button is the place to start. Need to change the format on any object, from text size to image style? The Paintbrush is the icon to click.I finished the session by explaining that Pages was part of the iWork suite of apps by Apple and opened Keynote, which they'd never used before. They recognised that the control icons were the same and were happy to realise that in that hour they had actually learnt more than just how to use Pages. True there are different functions in Keynote and Numbers but the interface is essentially the same and they could now interact with those apps with some prior knowledge and confidence.
A couple of days later a teacher in Year 3 told me that she wanted the kids to use iMovie independently in English in a couple of weeks. I told her I'd just need an hour with them first...