A Place for Games?

What is a game? Can you learn from all games? Why do educators see some games/apps as educational and others as not? What is the criteria for an educational app? These are the questions winding around in my brain. Each person in my family has been eager to help me find apps for my classroom. What’s interesting is that each member of the family views apps in a different way. This has me thinking about how I’ll need to work with my students to develop criteria for selecting apps for our learning environment. I’m wondering if our criteria will change over the year as we learn more about the iPad as a tool for learning. I’m also thinking about what apps will appeal to which students and why.

As with most new technology pieces I have started with what I know. I know I’ll be doing some word study tasks and literacy work stations in my classroom as part of a balanced literacy program. I began searching and found lots of ‘games’ for developing word skills. I began to worry because many of them were flashcard style or worksheet based. This was not what I deem as ‘educational’. I was looking for apps that supported Patricia Cunningham’s “Making Words” and Marie Clay’s “make and break” strategies. I downloaded Skywrite, Glow Draw, Graffiti Draw! Fridgit, Bigger Words, Chalk, Word Dropping and Dictionary. I am pleased with these apps and definitely see them as part of the word study component of the literacy program. I looked at what my sons were downloading and saw the apps were sports games, racing games and such. I was instantly surprised at the graphics of the Baseball game. I can see that gaming has definitely changed, the graphics were as clear as my HD bigscreen TV. I have to admit that it’s easy to become addicted to the baseball game. I’m embarrassed to admit that my initial response was “Hey guys, that’s fun but I’m looking for learning games/apps for my classroom.” As soon as the words came out of my mouth I thought, What would Mark Prensky say? Why as a parent and a teacher do I automatically think that gaming has no learning value in a classroom setting? I retreated and asked my son to justify his learning through the game Baseball. He was able to explain his thought processes, the critical thinking that takes place, the problem solving, the stats, and the prediction skills needed to be successful in the game. As I watched him play the game I immediately thought about the media connections because CHEVY is throughout the entire game. The logo is on the app, on the mats and on the scoreboard. I can see how I could use this and justify it as a critical media task. However, I’m feeling a pull. I know that video games have purpose and educational value but where is their place in a literacy program? Is there a place? Can my students and I justify our thinking to our visitors and administrators? Should I take a risk and include some games/apps of this nature and see where my students go with them? Am I brave enough? ( Note: I realize this is only one small use of the iPad and I do have blogs set up for students and will include many other tasks and activities)

Advice? Cautions? Feedback? Is there a place for games in a literacy program and if so how and why?

Teaching Crossroads

I set up my classroom this week and I’m ready for the first day of school. However, I’ve already hit a crossroads. As I set up my word study manipulatives, comprehension folders and literacy workstations, I questioned each and every one. Now that my students will have access to iPads & iTouches in addition to the Smartboard, the Dell and the iMac will they choose to use magnetic letters to make and break words or will they choose to use Dash Lite or another word study app? Will my students really want to type out words on photocopied keyboards? I know you are thinking, “WHAT”? But honestly this was the most frequently chosen task in word study along with whiteboards. Students liked the physical movement of the keyboards to practice words. I obviously didn’t have enough real key boards so I have a few photocopied ones and they loved using them. Now, that’s just not going to cut it. They will have access to iPad keyboards and words study apps. Now, I know I will have many types of learners in my classroom and I think the iPad will reach many of the students who learn best by touch, by visuals and by audio. I’m at a crossroads. Do I continue to implement the types of word study and literacy stations I’ve always done and infuse the iPad, or do I use the iPads and infuse that with a few other stations? Will my students use comprehension folders or will they blog or tweet about their readings? I’ve always been a big component of choice. I guess this year my students will have a lot of opportunity for choice. I’m looking at the crossroads and thinking I’m going to have to create a new road with my students and see where it leads us.

Obstacles or Hurdles?

Opening the boxes of the iPads produced my first obstacle, how do I get it started? In my past experiences all of the Apple product I’ve purchased, I simply opened the box and turned it on. That’s why I love Apple. However, this time it wasn’t so simply. Sure a lovely photo appears and shows me that I must plug into iTunes. Sounds simply right? Well I plugged it in to my school iMac and a screen appeared stating This iPad won’t connect because it needs MAC OS X to operate. Well, I tried my own MACBOOK, surely that would work right? Wrong. So I tried my school laptop, and it doesn’t have iTunes on the image so I tried downloading it and I couldn’t because I don’t have administrative permissions. So there I sat with new iPads that I can’t use. Fustration starts to settle in. Remember I was dancing around earlier in the day, I was now coming down from my Apple high. I quickly sent off e-mails and received a “I’m on in.” I was relieved I knew soon, I’d get an answer to my problem. Surely I was doing something wrong. I continued on with taxing my children around from school, hockey and such. I arrive home and it dawns on me, the iPads only need iTunes. My son logs into his little HP netbook and after what seemed forever iTunes opens. I plug in the iPads and BINGO they are activated. They didn’t need to sync or find an account they only needed to be activated or ‘unlocked’ by iTunes. Why couldn’t my iMac do it? I marvel at this situation an HP unlocks my iPads. Hmmm, I guess it is good to have a few HPs around.
Now my children are excited and ready to explore the world of the iPad. I tried to reconnect the iPads to the MACs and it’s still a no go. I’m going to have my iMac reimaged by our board IT department and see if that will work. So my 12 year old and 14 year old eagerly explore and within minutes they are disappointed. There’s no apps and they can’t download any apps. Sure the iPads instantly connected to our wireless network and one instantly activated my home Mac Account. However, I’m thinking about my students using these machines and I certainly don’t want them to have access to my VISA! So I start to set up a new account. Again as an individual this would be an easy thing to do, but as an educator in a bigger institution it’s a little more complicated. I tried but couldn’t set up an account without a VISA or an iTunes card. Saddened we pack up the iPads and put them away for the night. It certainly wasn’t the night I had envisoned.

The next evening I purchase an iTunes card, yes $15 is not much of an investment on my behalf. It’s an honor to be a part of this project, but I am thinking about how educational accounts can be set up and if schools (Principals) need to set up iTunes accounts that can be used. Is this an area for school council to help fund? I really can’t see petty cash being used for apps. So here’s another obstacle, but now I see it as a hurdle instead. I’ve managed to get over the first and second hurdles. As I type, my children are downloading free apps and ‘evaluating’ them for me. City is an app that will work perfectly with the grade two community curriculum. The app enables a child to build a 3D community. The mapping opportunities are endless. This is a good start.

I now predict that I will encounter many obstacles that could be road blocks, but I’m hoping with my support network I’ll be able to turn them into hurdles.

Now it’s real

I am going to be part of an ‘iPad in the classroom’ pilot this coming school year. Today I picked up my equipment and realized it’s really going to happen. A part of me thought maybe the order wouldn’t come through or only part of the dream order would be filled. I left the building shaking as I carried out the iPads. I stopped and shared my excitement with some colleagues who were busy working on this summer day. One of my former co-ordinators saw me and we chatted about many things including my excitement over receiving this order. I went to visit our Superintendent of Curriculum and did a little dance in her office. I know I should be embarrassed now, but I’m not. I feel our leaders need to know the impact pilot projects have on educators. I’m so invigorated about the new school year. I’m going to be a learner with my students and my staff. I’m also going to be able to document and discuss the implementation of iPads in the classroom and therefore influence education for others in our system. This is an incredible amount of trust that is being given to me and I feel up for the challenge. Well, a little nervous but mostly excited!

Technology is not the focus. I am not looking at this pilot as a way to discover only how iPads are used in the classroom. I need to think about student achievement, because that’s the real reason I set foot in my classroom every day. I am in the early stages of developing an inquiry question for this integration project. My passion is expanding the word ‘text’. Over the past three years I’ve been opening up the word text to mean more than just books and charts. I’ve made it my personal mission to integrate video clips, music, posters, movie trailers, podcasts, Photostories and more into my daily literacy instruction. The results have been very encouraging. The one area I still need to focus on is students’ written reading comprehension. I’ve seen gains but it’s still an area of improvement. I’m looking at the iPad as a way to bring more informational and diverse texts into my room. My initial question is “How does the use of electronic texts improve student achievement, especially in the area of the ‘students were are watching over’?” However, as I type it I’m now wondering if my question should include the use of oral language and recording abilities. I’ve been doing a lot of work in the area of oral language in the primary grades. I know that students must be able to think it and say it before they can write it. I’m wondering “In what ways can I bridge the gap between the oral and written reading comprehension of my students?” The iPad, iMac, iTouches are just a few of the tools that can be used to capture oral language and hopefully be used to improve reading comprehension.

I look for feedback on my first drafts on my inquiry question. I know it can take months to formulate a question and I know it will change. I’m so excited, I’m still shaking. This is real!
I’m one lucky teacher!