A source of exhiliration is my class set of iPads. A source of frustration is my class set of iPads. Every part of me wants to find wonderful ways to incoporate them. Every part of me knows that analog methods are just as awesome. I have found some good ideas, and yet, I have a nagging sensation in the back of my mind. In January of this year, Silicon Valley walked up to the mic and said "disrupt yo'self, education" when it was announced textbook companies would start producing special iPad editions for $15/pop. They said everything you'd want them to say, "videos!" "engagement!," "multimedia!," "interaction!," "engagement!" to which everyone shouted praise and kisses as they watched the promotional video of happy children interacting and being engaged. That part was one thing, the real bomb they dropped was YOU, the common teacher, could make these things yourself with iBooks Author. I was giddy. And since January, iBooks Author has been sitting there, teasing me with its potential and as the months dragged on, antagonizing me:
I would agree with this sentiment. This is such a perfect thing. How is it that with all my staring and thinking and planning, I have yet to find a compelling way to generate a reference guide? Or at least SOMETHING worth an "ooh" and "aah" to help show the kids that iPads do more things than Angry Birds (it's true!). I ran through the options:
This is a sample of the official Pearson Algebra II textbook. It looks no different than the regular textbook I have and don't use.
The Texas Education Agency cranked out a ton of videos and put them on iTunes U. They have the same problem most videos do, there is no hook as to why I, the student, would be interested in the solution to any of these problems other than "it's math class and I have to pass."
How'd this get in here?
Some potential, but optimizing the size of an equilateral triangle for a dog bandana doesn't hit any Algebra II standards.
Despite my digital workflow (everything I make exists as a PDF anyway), I don't see any advantage in having kids stare at an iPad to do one of my problem sets. To me, if you're going to incoporate a bit of technology, it should enhance or add something that can't be replicated through analog methods. There are much cheaper ways to have kids look at sets of problems. That, I think, is the key to my iBooks Author frustration. Whatever I create, the result should be novel enough that it's worth using the iPad as the medium. Gathering all of my PDF problem sets into a packet is not novel. Given that my class set is not 1:1 it's not even that useful. And yet, many tech pundits I listen to have heaped praise upon iPad textbooks that are really just scans of existing material, albeit with a video sprinkled in here or there (with no guarantee the video is really enhancing anything). Same problem, different participants. I think the problem is a lot of people that cover technology are the type of people that suceed well in isolated learning environments, there's internal motivation to sit there with a text. But it's just not what your typical grade level kid is like. As a point case, I am intrigued by any link that reads "comprehensive teacher iPad resource." I figure there's got to be someone out there that found an amazing application that would point me in the right direction. And always always, I am met with this disappointing garbage:
Cramster: Cramster is a mobile app that contains upwards of 1,000,000 solutions to various textbook problems. The student can start by looking up the specific edition used in class and browse through the various problems, showing the solutions with step-by-step visuals. If the specific edition or answer isn't available, the student can pose a question for his classmates in hopes of a helping hand. The generous classmate can then post the answer by solving the problem directly on their mobile device or taking a picture of the solution elsewhere and posting it for reference. Likewise, a student can take a photo of a tricky problem and wait to see if anyone will help solve it. The app is especially useful to check your work. Students can compare solutions for better studying habits; teamwork can help every individual perform better and understand the material. Students can also make comments and rate solutions.
This ivory tower "learning in isolation" thing is what people eat up when it comes to technology. Why would I separate my students, have them post pictures of tricky problems and await reply when they could, I don't know, sit right next to each other!? The "1,000,000 solutions to various textbook problems" kills me too. Solving difficult textbook problems is the goal of math class?
After all this internal wrestling, I think I have about 10% of a full-fledged idea:
- A library of videos featuring me working math problems is all "flipped classroom" but will kids watch them? My gut says no.
- A library of videos featuring me pointing out common mistakes is better, might give me something to point them to instead of fielding 30 questions at once.
- At times having the bank of iPads available as answer centers for work checking.
- Focus more on the group project benefits, distribute poster requirements, activity instructions and require output via Pages and Numbers.
I think there is some value in item 2. Observing common mistakes is as important for students as it is teachers. I think there is some value in item 3 as well. The problem, of course, is finding how to time manage this. Students consulting iPads are disconnected from what I might be saying, which might encourage me to talk less. I'm ok with talking less. For right now, item 4 I know how to do, it's just a matter of frequency. We shouldn't dust off the iPads once a six weeks, they should get to be a part of things regularly. There's a way to integrate them naturally, I just know.