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To put tech into any lesson, start with the lesson

How to use devices and apps to support specific learning objectives

tech-learning [1]Seymour Papert begins his landmark book “Mindstorms” with a story about a set of gears he played with as a child. The tangible experience of working with gears accelerated his understanding of physics in a way that would have been much harder with only books and lectures. Because of this, he refers to gears as “objects-to-think-with.”

One simple way of understanding our ed-tech pedagogical theory is that we don’t want computing devices to just become replacements for notebooks and textbooks. We want them to be objects to think with. We want students to use them to construct understanding, to demonstrate their learning within their courses of study, and to mess around with.

In workshops and presentations, we frequently get asked: “What can the iPad/Chromebook/Surface actually do?” We encourage folks to use a different language, one that positions people as actors rather than technology. What can a teacher do with an iPad/Chromebook/Surface? Even more importantly, what can our students do?

Whenever possible we want people acting with computing devices, rather than technology acting upon people—or out there by itself.

Next page: Moving from goals to apps

In a blog post, Beth Holland of EdTechTeacher poses the questions, “Why iPads?” and “Why Technology?” Beth answers these questions this way:

• Because I want my students to communicate in complex and modern ways.
• Because I want my students to make their thinking visible.
• Because I want my students to document their thinking as they work through a process.
• Because I want my students to have multiple ways through which to interact with learning objects.

In a workshop, Beth was approached by an English teacher who wanted to know where to begin with iPads. Beth’s response was to start the workshop with a set of content-specific learning objectives.

For the English and Language Arts classroom, the “because” might look something like this:

• I want my students to demonstrate their knowledge of the parts of a story.
• I want my students to master the concept of the story arc.
• I want my students to make a personal connection with their text and then communicate that back to their peers.
• I want my students to collaborate in order to better comprehend difficult texts or dramatic works.

Beth then showed the teachers how students could use technology in support of these learning objectives. She proceeded to outline a learning objective and then construct a project to help students reach the objective, such as: I want my students to demonstrate their knowledge of the parts of a story.

Learning Objectives: In addition to learning the story elements, students learn:

• to write a constructive review.
• to assess the credibility of an author or source.
• to create a sense of visual hierarchy for their information.
• to document their sources.

Next page: An app list driven by learning goals

Learning goals then lead to a learning activity: “Project: Book Posters–Students create a movie-style poster to advertise their book. Poster elements must include the title, author, a representative image, a ‘hook’ to get others to want to read the book, a quotation of a credible review, and a student review.”

Beth then chose apps for students to use that support these objectives: “While this could be created on paper or using a computer, with an iPad and apps such as Skitch, Visualize, or Text Here, students can quickly create, publish, and share their work. By integrating with the Camera Roll, these posters could eventually include audio narration with Fotobabble, be included in a book with Scribble Press or Book Creator, or added to a video project with iMovie or Animoto.”

Beth’s priority was not to find cool apps or tools selected primarily for their engagement factor. Apps were selected because they supported and aligned with a vision. Apps played a purposeful role in the support of student learning.

Toward that end, we have created a collection of annotated apps for teaching and learning on our website. Unlike other lists that promote so-called “cool tools,” or lists of content apps by academic disciplines, our list is driven by specific learning goals that promote critical-thinking, creativity, collaboration, and community- mindedness. In a nutshell, our focus is on what kids can do and not so much on what teachers can teach.

As we remind teachers, the fundamental challenge of integrating technology is not in learning how to use apps. The challenge is in imagining the innovative ways in which the tool can be used to enhance student learning. Ultimately, it’s to conceive of ways in which the iPad/Chromebook/Surface is a pathway to new challenges, new creativity, new collaborations, new connections, and ultimately new opportunities for students to demonstrate and share their understanding.

More than anything else, we get excited at the possibilities for students to create performances of understanding and use apps as a tool to think with.

Tom Daccord is executive director of EdTechTeacher [2], a professional learning organization. This article includes excerpts from “iPads in the Classroom: From Consumption and Curation to Creation” by Tom Daccord and Justin Reich.