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27 Jan, Friday
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Montreal Families

Are iPads revolutionizing education?

In a hallway of The Study, a private school in Westmount, two Grade 5 students sit facing each other across a small table. One is using the built-in camera on her iPad to bring her classmates face into focus. The other is getting ready to be filmed as part of a project whereby students research the life of a girl from another country and then pretend to be that person for an interview. The whole project is filmed and edited on the iPad. This scene is an example of how technology is transforming the way kids learn; these students are as comfortable using the tablet computer as they would be jotting down notes with a pen and paper.

Teachers in both the public and private school systems say that tablets are transforming the relationship between students, teachers and even the community as young people use them to connect with and discover the world around them.

This year, at The Study, Grade 5 students shared several iPads as part of a pilot project. (This group was chosen because administrators felt the girls were mature enough to take care of the tablets and give detailed feedback about what did and didn’t work.)

Lisa Jacobsen, a Grade 5 English and Math teacher at The Study, says the students took on a major project called the “Flat Classroom.” This international initiative allowed students from various countries (including China and Poland) to work together to create a movie showing a typical day in a student’s life. The girls used their iPads to record scenes from their lives, and then they edited the movie footage.

Jacobsen says the project helped the girls hone various technical skills and, more importantly, their ability to think critically. Students had to make decisions about what would be appropriate to show in a movie that would be posted in a public place. The project also fuelled discussions about what it means to be a good “digital citizen,” a term used to describe how to use the Internet appropriately.

Kids embrace technology

In fact, it is this notion of helping students become critical, savvy, and safe users of technology that underlies the work being done at Dorset School in Baie d’Urfé. Fifth grade teacher Rhiannon Szollosy says these tablets are a learning tool that can help students become the kind of people who will thrive in the 21st century.

“Our children are going to need to be problem solvers and be able to think critically,” she says. “They are also going to need to behave ethically.” Szollosy has been using iPads with her students in various ways. Grade 5 students could apply to become “iTutors,” which means they would introduce kindergarten kids to this technology and show them various apps and programs. “The students learned about sharing and guiding other students,” Szollosy says. “They developed confidence and learned about caring.”

And the learning wasn’t just limited to the classroom; the students would also take the iPads on visits to the Maxwell Residence for seniors. She says that they started out playing simple games like Scrabble with the residents but then started enquiring about their lives. Then, with a few taps, seniors and students were able to use Google Maps and other tools to explore where the residents came from and discuss what life used to be like.

Finally, Szollosy says her focus has moved away from using apps for practicing skills like math or grammar. Instead, she is using so-called “productivity” apps, like iMovie and Book Creator, which allow students to make movies and create books. So, for example, in addition to writing a book review, students could also make a short movie exploring their reaction to the book.

For Szollosy, iPads are changing the way she interacts with her students — and they with her. “It’s about student-led learning,” she says. Faced with grading student movies, she realized she didn’t have a set of guidelines (called rubrics). So she sat down with her students and they created the rubric together. It was a real collaborative effort. “They were very demanding of themselves,” she says.

Szollosy notes that iPads appeal to both boys and girls, with males becoming more actively engaged in their learning (a key step in reducing the province’s high drop-out rate among young men) and girls learning that they can excel at using technology (with hopefully more deciding to move into the male-dominated math and science fields). “The student response has been phenomenal,” says Szollosy. “They respect it as a learning tool.”

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