One of my preservice teachers took iPads into her second grade class for the first time this year ex- pecting to revolutionize her math instruction. As
part of her coursework in my elementary math methods
course, she wrote lesson plans that used the iPad to support her teaching of money (pennies, nickels, dimes). She
wanted to use the device to help her students interact with
the content in motivating, authentic, and effective ways.
She chose the iPad over the school’s laptops because the
device is more portable, can be customized, and is alluring
for kinesthetic learners, making it a natural fit for elementary students.
At semester’s end, her biggest accomplishment might
have been this: She handed one iPad to a young boy who
every morning caused a commotion in the reading center
before the instructional day started. She showed him how
to download books he might like. From then on, he read
with focus and concentration for at least 20 minutes each
morning—something she had yet to see him do in his previous six weeks in the classroom.
The iPad holds amazing potential for classroom use.
Unfortunately, it also can cost more than $500 when you
factor in 3G access and a budget for apps. But don’t dismiss
the iPad because you think you can’t afford a classroom
set. Just a few—or even only one—is enough to get results. Having a class set promotes traditional, whole-class
instruction, but fewer iPads facilitate individualized and
Assessing the Potential
Start with the idea that iPads are like personal electronic
whiteboards. They can deliver content in an interactive
way, but on a one-to-one level. They offer easy access to the
web, just like a laptop, but the apps work as instructional
modules, so you’re getting access to the internet, plus a
multitude of activities. Moreover, iPads are less of a hassle
for your IT department because the apps are updated automatically across devices. You don’t have to download a new
software version and then coordinate updates for all of the
laptops that share your site license.
The interactive aspect of the iPad appeals to the kinesthetic learner because the apps motivate students to
manipulate the content. The device also cuts down on the
disruptions that group learning with the whiteboard can
create as students call out answers in chorus.
Educators who aren’t well versed in mobile technology
should not shy away from the iPad. It is so intuitive that
even kindergarten students need little or no instruction on
how to manipulate the device. With innovative instruction-
al design, iPads can work especially well with inquiry- or
problem-based learning modules. By creating app folders
with a variety of content and creativity resources, students
can use the iPad to answer questions and build knowledge.
Big Results from a Few iPads
Building on previous experience using handheld mobile
technologies in K– 12 classrooms, 17 preservice teachers in
the elementary education program at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA, introduced
10 iPads in their student-teaching classrooms at several
area schools. Each student teacher could use five iPads at
a time. The only coursework requirement was that, as part
of their mathematics instructional unit, they were asked to
use the Technological, Pedagogical, and Content Knowledge (TPACK) framework to create at least one lesson that
included the use of an iPad to support their learning objectives. Many student teachers took advantage of the opportunity to have iPads in their classrooms and voluntarily
created lessons in other subject areas too.
Both the student teachers and I worried that the limited
number of iPads would hinder the effectiveness of the
lessons. We found, however, that fewer iPads required innovative thinking in terms of instructional design, and
that resulted in excellent ways to differentiate instruction.
We discovered several ways to put a few iPads to use in a
Centers. Put the iPad on par with other interactive media,
such as a whiteboard, a desktop computer, and an iPod
touch. Set up a similar task with an identical goal across all
the platforms, such as a Google Earth scavenger hunt exercise, and note how students progress differently at each center. Include scaffolded instructions and a definite endpoint
(such as the address for the school, if that’s what they must
find on Google Earth), so the students know what they’re
looking for and can find it without teacher intervention.
Partners and trios. Give the group a math task, assign each
member a role (one student reminds teammates to stay
on task, and another records the group’s findings, for instance), and set the timer on the iPad’s clock app to limit
each student’s time with the device. Use apps, such as DoodleBuddy, as a small-group whiteboard, where students can
answer specific questions with a visual representation and
then save it to the iPad’s photo album for later review.