Dave is an Apple Distinguished Educator based in Japan and the creative developer behind INKids - maklers of the multi-award winning Futaba games and many other great educational titles.
Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
I am a native English teacher at a junior and senior high school in Osaka. My approach to developing language proficiency is to create lessons that relate to my students' experiences in their daily lives. I’m also keenly interested in technology, so when the iPad came out I naturally looked for applications that could help motivate my students. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t find any good ones (not that there aren’t any, but they just weren’t easy to find, especially at first). So given my passion for using interactive tools in the classroom, I decided that the best way to get the kind of app I wanted was to make it myself. Thus my career as a part-time app developer started, and since then I’ve seen first-hand just how effective using tech in the classroom can be.
When did you first start using the iPad in your classroom?
From the time the first iPad was released in 2010, I quickly realized how useful it could be in the classroom. So that fall I purchased 10 iPads at my own expense, and earnestly set out redesigning my curriculum for an iPad-based classroom. I had one iPad for every two students. The students became immersed in their iPads almost immediately, which had the downside that they were paying so much attention to their device that they weren’t interacting with each other. This led me to rethink of ways for my students to work with each other when using their iPads, which eventually led to apps like Futaba.
What particular benefits do you feel that mobile technology can offer EFL teachers?
It is personally relevant to students in a way that a textbook or paper handout is not. Using iPads in the classroom relates to my students' experiences in their daily lives, as I mentioned earlier. Bringing this relevance to my students is at the core of my lessons. I have recreated my classroom through the use interactive applications, a task-based learning approach and authentic video of recent media. What once was a class of static prints, un-engaging CD listening scripts along with board-work to illustrate grammar has become immersive and interactive. My students can now acquire noticeable language skills and build confidence communicating in a second language through learning activities that are personally relevant. For EFL teachers who are willing to innovate, I feel they can have similar experiences.
What are your go-to apps on a daily basis?
That really depends on the class. Since I am a developer, I’ve designed apps for specific needs such as vocabulary acquisition which I use in all my classes at one point or another. In other classes, I can tell students to put pictures on their iPad and talk about them to others in the classroom. Just showing students personal pictures on an iPad and talking to them about them can lead to meaningful language exchanges that stay with both the teacher and the student. Still yet, I use the iPad as a research tool, and with my club I might have them play Futaba. That really is one of the best things about the iPad- that it is so adaptable and that one size doesn’t fit all.
What about your "desert island app" - the one app you couldn't live without?
Probably a Wikipedia app or even something simpler like Photo, since both of them let me show off my world to my students, and thus build report and motivation. There are a lot of really great applications that I’d love to use such as Explain Everything or Socrative but haven’t had the chance to integrate them because of the limitations of our iPad rollout.
You also develop your own apps under the banner of INKids Education. What types of apps do you produce?
Mainly apps for kindergarten through 5th grade students, although I have used them successfully with Japanese students of all ages. Our most popular app is Futaba, the game I mentioned earlier, where students race against each other to identify words or math problems before their friends do. Up to four students can play on one iPad, or even more if the students play as teams, which we encourage. We also make a whole line of flashcard apps, including ones for learning a variety of languages, and ones that you can use to design flashcards yourself. Since I’m a teacher myself, I know how important it is for teachers to be able to design apps to suit a particular classroom’s needs. Futaba, Buzz Monster and Kids Flashcard Maker can all be customized to fit the needs of a particular class.
Futaba is an excellent example of a collaborative learning tool that allows multiple users on the same device at the same time. What inspired you to create it?
It is the kind of game I wanted to use with my own students, and when I looked there was nothing else like it available, despite an obvious need for it. iPads in the early days tended to isolate students, and I wanted something that brought kids together to learn. The collaborative classroom model using applications is still very undeveloped and deserves a lot more attention from developers.
And educators apply to receive a free trial copy, is that correct?
Yes, we do give out evaluation copies, but have a limited amount per app update. If any teacher is interested, please contact us and we’d be glad to help you use the app, as well as exchange ideas. Teaching is still my day job, and I still want to interact with as many other educators as possible to make more useful apps in the future, as well as figuring out ways of using Futaba that I haven’t even been conceived of yet.
Out of all the other apps in your range, is there one that you are especially proud of?
Not really. Making any app is hard, so I feel a huge sense of accomplishment any time one of my ideas is realized. And it’s never just my own efforts, as app-making is a collaborative effort that takes many people to turn an idea into a reality. When everyone applies their imaginations and skills to an app design, there is no limit to what we can achieve.
Have you been pleased with the reception the apps have received so far?
Yes, absolutely. I’m very grateful so many people, websites and publications have enjoyed our apps, and it can really make my day reading how a teacher used Futaba to energize a classroom. Just the other day I received a note from someone who used Futaba successfully with a group of autistic kids, and reading that email made me feel like all my work is worth it. And it’s motivated me to keep going, in hopes of making even better apps in the future, and hopefully receiving similar feedback.
You recently became an Apple Distinguished Educator. This must have been a huge honour for you?
Yes, Yes indeed! I’m really excited to work with other educators who are keen about innovation in the classroom. It is an incredible time in education and finding the best methodologies to improve learning outcomes is paramount for this tech enabled generation. Apple is incredibly committed to educators and I’m very fortunate to have been selected as pioneer in this field. I'll be attending the ADE Institute this summer. There I'll be meeting with fellow educators from around the globe who will share their passion and strategies for effective tech integration in learning environments. A BIG thanks to Apple for the recognition!
What's next for you Dave? Do you have any new projects in the pipeline that you could share with us?
Going forward, INKids Education’s has just moved our HQ over to the US and brought on 2 new business partners. With our team’s ingenuity and passion this will lead to even bigger and better things down the road. We are committed to maintaining and improving our apps and plan to include student performance metrics in some future builds of our applications. We also have a lot of new ideas that we’ve documented that will be great assets for any classroom.
How can people keep up to date with you and your latest app releases?