Brandi McWilliams is a true iPad educator who knows how to innovate through careful use of mobile technology. Brandi is based at McPherson High School in Kansas where she has been doing some amazing things with her English students. Already featured on the Apple Education website, Brandi took time out to speak with us about favourite apps, the versatility of iMovie and more.
Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
My name is Brandi McWilliams, and my career started out in Fort Lupton, Colorado. I taught middle school there for four years and was an Instructional Coach there as well. I was fortunate to teach ESL, 6th, and 7th grade Language Arts. I also taught two years of Social Studies there. I then moved to Kansas to be closer to my grandparents to help them out. I obtained a job in the small town of Inman, Kansas. I loved being there too. I taught there for six years. While there, I taught 9-12th grade English, 7th and 8th grade reading, helped with ESL students, taught Speech Communication, and College Composition I and II.
Last year, I made the move to teach at McPherson High School. I knew this move would provide to be convenient for me because I live in this town. This school is a 4A school, so it it bigger than the two other schools I taught at before. Here at McPherson High School, I teach 9th grade English.
I love new challenges. I believe teaching at different schools has provided me with diverse insight. It has been fun to teach in the Denver area, to a small town, and now in McPherson. I feel very blessed to have all these different experiences. I am the first in my family to go to college. My childhood was one with many challenges, and I was able to overcome them. This helps me to cheer on my students. I know what it is like to beat the odds.
When did you first start using iPads in the classroom?
I started using iPads in the classroom about four years ago. Inman is an innovative district and they decided to be a 1:1 iPad school. I, along with Mr. Froese (another English teacher) helped implement iPads in the classroom. In my classroom, we used iPads daily at Inman HS. I am now utilizing them along with MacBooks in my classroom at McPherson HS.
What would you identify as the main benefit of using mobile technology in education?
I think one of the many benefits in using mobile technology is that students become creators of content. Students can utilize so many different tools to create, they find ownership in this. Many times they are no longer just a student, they become much more, like movie producers, music producers, engineers, game creators, lawyers, etc. In doing all of my projects, I try to create passion and introduce them to a variety of possibilities.
What have been the biggest challenges that you've faced embedding iPad use?
In Inman it was fairly easy, but in McPherson the challenges are that they are not 1:1. So getting and maintaining the apps I need is a challenge, not an obstacle, but a challenge.
What would be your advice to a school preparing to adopt mobile technology for the first time?
Start small, start with what you are comfortable with, and ALWAYS put content first.
You've done some great stuff with iBooks. Do you think that we will see them completely replace the traditional textbook in the near future?
I think eventually iBooks/digital books will be the norm. I love how I can model how to annotate, find main idea, and demonstrate thinking right on the screen. This has been really powerful for my students. It allows you to model thinking. My students then are able to take over and then use APPLE T.V. to show their thinking...again, they are owning their learning. And in a way, they are publishing their learning as they splash it up on screen. I have seen the shyest student share their learning this way.
You've also developed some impressive projects using iMovie. What are some of your favourite ways to harness it in the classroom?
I love using iMovie in a variety ways. Recently, I had students create a soap opera for The Odyssey because mythology is like a soap opera. I have had them create trailers. We also did a trial over a book we read. We also have created a product and made commercials over product. We have made utopias after reading The Giver along with travel agency projects. These are just some of the many iMovie projects I have implemented and created.
Have you had any particular success stories that you could share?
I have. I have seen students go to law school just because of the trial project. I have seen a student go in to music production because of the GarageBand project.
Mostly, I have seen students find purpose. I get to watch students realize that there is much more to English and that what they do in this class matters.
How do you ensure that your use of mobile technology supports and transforms your pedagogy rather than replacing it?
I always say put your content first and realize that technology is a support. Technology is not the curriculum. It is important that your objectives stay the driving force of your lessons.
What would be your 'desert island app' - the one educational app that you couldn't live without?
I would say iMovie because I utilize it so much. I also love my whiteboard apps and GoodReader.
How about any lesser known apps that you've found useful?
I also use apps like ShowMe, Tellagami, Pollocks theater, ComicBook! or ComicBook, The Raven, Notability and Green Screen.
What's next for you Brandi?
I hope to continue to grow in utilizing new tools. Mostly, I want students to see that English lives everywhere. I want to find new ways to help them find and ignite their passion. I'm working on creating content in iBooks, and I am working and hoping to become an Apple Distinguished Educator (wish me luck).
I also enjoy providing professional development through ESSDACK on iPads in classroom and PBL. As I tell my students dream BIG an go for it, the worst that can happen is you are told no, so what...you get back up again. I want to demonstrate that thinking for them in my life.
What's the best way for people to connect with you?
The best way to contact me would be Twitter. I check this often, and learn from Twitter eduators often. Twitter: @BMcDubbedu or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, they can contact ESSDACK for trainings at (620) 663-9566.
Brandi thank you for taking time out for us. We're loving your work and look forwards to hearing more about the great projects you're developing!