As a teaching tool, the iPad has definitely lived up to my expectations. Beyond the obvious—music, video, and reference materials at my fingertips, on the go—I’ve found some creative ways to make the iPad at home in my classroom. Here are some ways I have been using my iPad as a teaching tool so far:
1) To save on printing
I tutor two evenings a week and had a brief crisis one day when I had forgotten a needed book at school and could not get my seldom-used home printer to cooperate and print it again. iPad to the rescue! Since I make many of my own materials, I had the whole book saved in Open Office. I used its export to PDF feature, loaded the PDF onto the iPad via Cloudreader and took it with me. It looked just like the real book and all we had to do was tap the screen to advance the pages. Instant on, no waiting for Windows to boot up, it was just there, ready to go. All I need now is an app that lets me draw on the screen while I view a PDF, and I could bring the worksheets with me and digitize my whole tutoring session.
Another discovery I made was that the teaching program I use has an appendix on each reference CD which includes, among other things, a Powerpoint version of the ‘big book’ you use to read the story to the children. Once again, the Open Office export to PDF feature to the rescue! I did a test run with one of the stories and it looks gorgeous on the iPad screen—and is about the size of the ‘big book’ too! Now I can load all of them onto the iPad instead of lugging around those big books with me.
2) To enhance my music teaching
I do a lot of music with my students, and our weekly music day is a highlight of the week. I like to have the lyrics handy to prompt the kids—I know most of them by heart, of course, but with some songs it does help to have a cheat sheet sometimes. Organizing a song lyric collection has been a challenge though. I used to have a binder with printouts, but it was bulky to store and carry, and if I added a new song to my repertoire, I had to remember to format and print a page.
Enter the iTunes lyrics feature. I discovered that I could paste the words directly into the metadata of the song itself, and when I play it on the iPad, a tap on the album cover will bring it onto the screen while the song is playing. It doesn’t get any simpler. Now, I can have the words in front of me for any song I play and I don’t have to carry around a binder or rifle through a PDF file. This one feature alone has made my teaching life so much easier.
3) As a context for conversation
As a language teacher, it is always a goal of mine to get the students communicating authentically–I want them to have real opportunities to use the words they know to tell me things. I’ve found that simulation apps are an ideal tool for this.
In Koi Pond, we can count the fish, touch them, make the turtle hide in his shell, and add plants and various other customizations to the pond itself. The kids all like having a turn to touch the fish and make them move around the screen.
Virtual Families is another sim app I have used. This game presents a spacious and decorated house with a little sim family who lives there. So many possibilities for conversation! We can talk about the house itself and the names of all the rooms and accessories, and we can make the people do various things—put away groceries, play on the computer, go outside, watch television etc. The kids were especially fascinated because the app continues in ‘real time’ so things progress overnight and there are new things to talk about tomorrow.
4) For quick skill drills
It’s always handy to have some quick games available to drill some basics when there are five minutes to kill before the end of a class period. Numbers, shapes, colours, letters and other basic vocabulary can never be practiced enough in second language learning. Since most iPad games are more casual, it’s the perfect platform for this sort of thing.
Tanzen HD was an early hit. It’s a classic tangram game where a set of shapes has to be fitted into a picture design. It’s great for reviewing the names of shapes, as well as direction words—right, left, here, there—while students direct me where to place the piece. My only complaint with this app was having to pay again for the HD version after already shelling out for the iPhone version earlier.
Topple was another one. Blocks fall from the top of the screen and must be stacked to make the tallest possible tower before the whole thing falls down on you. This is, for my purposes, a classic counting game (in fact, we have played it with real blocks too!) where students count the pieces out loud as I stack them, and wait impatiently for me to mess the whole thing up and send the tower toppling. I also use vocabulary such as ‘I win’ or ‘I do not win’ (with corresponding fake crying noises) to teach them game-playing words so that when we have a chance to play for real on days the gym is available, they know what to say.
One more game I have been using is Alphabetic. Letters pop up on the screen and you have to touch them in alphabetical order. I don’t do a ton of singing the alphabet with them (I’d rather spend the time on actual words they can use to communicate!) but with some of my older classes, I am starting to introduce this. It’s very easy to say the letter as we touch it, and as the clock hurries you along, the students will call out a letter if they see it.
5) To keep myself organized
Schedules, meeting minutes, teaching manuals, staff handbooks—the life of a teacher is full of stuff. My core teaching program consists of six binders, each containing a story, teaching notes and every possible printable page one could ever need to teach it with small children. And then I have the colouring books I use with my kindergarten classes, and the little add-on bits and pieces I have collected over the years for Christmas, Halloween, the last few days of school when we are done most of our work but need something to do—the list goes on and on. Thank goodness for Dropbox! I’ve scanned three binders full of my most-used stuff and saved it all into Dropbox. Now, I can access it from my home computer, from the school computers via the website, and on my iPad, where the app will let me send the files to other programs if I want to store and read them on the device. Aside from the convenience factor of being able to access my stuff from anywhere, on the fly, it’s let me clear out some much-needed closet space at home, since I no longer need to keep backups there of my most important materials. It’s all digital now!
The iPad launched so late in Canada that I’ve only had a few weeks this school year to really try it out with the kids. By next year, more apps may be out and improvements may have been made that will make it even better. But I don’t regret my iPad purchase at all! I don’t view it as a laptop replacement in the sense that I would do hard-core work on it—for me, it’s more a way to store, transport and access documents—and media—I have already. For such purposes, it really is the dream device for me.