The first day, I fiddled around with it. I have used an iPod touch so I am comfortable with the touch screen and knew how to do basic navigation from one app to another. I was excited to look through the app store to see what is out there in educational apps. For right now, I can only download the free ones because my limited budget for purchasing apps won't kick in until after July 1. There is a dizzying selection of apps out there, even when you limit yourself to the free ones. I'm a little freaked out wondering how I will keep up with an array of apps that will continue to increase at a steady pace.
I started with the top free Apps in education. But before I get into what I found, I probably need to share the mental categories I have for iPad uses.
Category one - Gaming: The touch screen brings a whole new dimension to gaming. I will admit that I have downloaded a basic Euchre app because I had heard about it from a friend and have fond memories of endless rounds of Euchre when I worked as a summer camp counselor in Michigan. Euchre seems to be primarily a mid-West phenomenon (see rules at http://www.hoylegaming.com/c-16-rules.aspx#euchre) I was excited to find a way to play this game again. My experience playing the game, which lasted for less than half an hour, can best be summed up by saying it just wasn't the same. The banter, the trash talk, the subtle communication between my partner across the table – all of that was missing. And this is my issue with gaming in the digital world: the interaction is primarily with a screen, even if you are playing a game in real time with someone else, somewhere else.
But that is is neither here nor there. This iPad is meant to be for educational purposes, so let's move on to my other mental categories.
Category two – Replacing other resources: The iPad is a wonder of efficiencies. There is a camera, video recording, internet access, music storage, a calendar, maps, a notepad and more – all in one sleek gadget. I can see the value in having one machine do the job of several, but at the same time I know that my classroom already has a camera, a laptop with internet access, maps, paper and pencil for writing down ideas, a CD player, etc. I know a big part of the coming year will be figuring out how to use this new resource effectively, and how to find out how it can do the above stated functions for me better than the technology and resources I already have.
Category three – Transforming my teaching: This is the category I am more interested in. How can an iPad enhance what I am already doing as a teacher and create new and better opportunities for my students? I hope readers will post any suggestions they have to get me started.
Now that you understand more about my thinking, you may not be surprised at my reaction in the app store. Many of the top education apps seem to be variations on material or resources you can already access online or in print. An app that gives me access to TED videos? I can find those videos on the internet just as easily. A world map app? I have atlases of all kinds in my classroom. Leafsnap sounds like some amazing technology, using visual recognition software to allow users to identify tree species from photos of their leaves. But then the little voice in me, relic of my environmental educator past, whispers, “Wouldn't it be better to teach kids how to use field guides?”
I hate to sound like a tech-skeptic, but this first week has me realizing that I am approaching this new opportunity with some high standards. There will only be one iPad in my classroom, and I wonder if it will be more of a tool for me, or a tool for my students. How will they share it? Which apps will work well with which projects? Personally I am more comfortable working on my laptop. And truth be told, it's getting harder and harder to think about what my classroom will look like in September when summer vacation is so close...
I am looking forward to a district training session next week, where I hope to get some direction on how to best use this new tool with students. More after that session.