The ‘Evergreen’ iPad: Why all your apps should fit on one screen

It’s a limiting and narrow vision that blinds many educators to a broader and more powerful truth: With iPads, students can create just about anything, anywhere, at any time. The creative learning possibilities for student demonstrations of knowledge and understanding are limited only by the imagination. As HarvardX Research Fellow Justin Reich puts it: “Educators shouldn’t think of iPads as repositories of apps, but rather as portable media creation devices.” Incredible opportunities for active, immersed learning emerge when educators reflect on “how a small suite of apps related to annotation, curation, and image, audio, and video production [can] support diverse student performances of understanding.”

Once educators focus on the iPad’s creative learning potential, they can start to cultivate a small set of “Evergreen Apps” into almost limitless instructional possibilities. Evergreen Apps—such as iMovie, Garage Band, Explain Everything, Paper53, Inspiration, Animoto, VoiceThread, and Doodlecast—are non-subject apps useful throughout the year for speaking, writing, listening, drawing, annotating, curating, collaborating, sharing, and more. (Note: I did not coin the term “Evergreen Apps,” and it might have originated with Frasier Speirs.) Instead of trying to find an app to teach every curriculum topic (an impossible feat and a waste of time), educators instead can integrate Evergreen Apps, along with perhaps a few select content apps, to foster student creativity and innovation.

And all the Evergreen Apps teachers need to cultivate powerful learning environments can fit on one screen.

Follow the 4Cs

Begin by exploring a set of Evergreen Apps covering a broad spectrum of consumption, curation, creativity, and connection. Using apps that help students consume, curate, create, and collaborate on the iPad, educators have more than enough firepower to develop creative and purposeful activities. These activities not only extend the entire academic year, but also help generate what author and Harvard professor Tony Wagner terms “a culture of innovation”—an environment that encourages students to be the kind of active, immersed thinkers essential for today’s cognitively demanding and competitive global workforce.

Consumption: This means learning how to maximize the benefits of the iPad for consuming information. For this, we don’t even start with an app—we start with the web. Swimming in an ocean of hundreds of thousands of apps, teachers sometimes forget that the world’s information is at their fingertips. Curriculum content is available en masse on the internet, and it’s easy to find teaching resources as PDFs—files that can be opened and used on the iPad in any number of apps. A PDF file on an iPad can be annotated and combined with images, audio, video, a drawing, a graph, a chart, and more as a foundation for active learning. It is also relatively easy to convert webpage articles and posts into PDFs.

Another facet of consumption is to provide students with greater accessibility to content on the iPad; for instance, showing them how to enable the iPad’s native “speak text” function so they can hear words pronounced and stories read aloud.

Educators can use an Evergreen App like Socrative to collect information on what students know, understand, and believe instantaneously. Socrative enables teachers (and students) to create a poll, survey, or true-false and open-response questions and see immediate, live responses. “How difficult was last night’s homework?” “What was the main idea of today’s lesson?” “How well do you feel you understood the reading?” “What did I teach you in the last 15 minutes?” With Socrative, teachers have an incredible tool to amass information quickly on student thinking—information that can result in improved teaching.

Curation: This is the ability to collect, organize, and annotate materials.

With a versatile annotation app such as Notability, students can write notes (on a PDF article, for example), type notes, highlight specific passages, or insert a picture, drawing, graph, chart, or sticky note. But they can also integrate websites and media and even add their own voice—a combination of features that transcends the affordances of pen and paper note-taking. Combined with Evernote, a useful app for collecting, creating, and organizing notes, students have tremendous curation possibilities.

Creativity: This is at the heart of EdTechTeacher’s mission, and nurturing a culture of innovation is our most important goal. Once teachers begin to amass a strong arsenal of educational resources, they can integrate Evergreen Apps like Explain Everything, Book Creator, Animoto, iMovie, Garage Band, VoiceThread, Doodlecast and others to generate untold possibilities for student creation of educational content.

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