The Tool Isn’t The Problem

Every day, you’ll see several (tens? hundreds?) of Tweets and posts recommending “n reasons why x tool is the best/worst idea for education.”

I very much dislike lists.

You can find pros and cons for everything under the sun, but I think we need to stop promoting or discounting tools and focus more on changing pedagogy.

I’d like to write a bit about iPads now. Our school is a 1:1 iPad school, but students are also welcome to bring and use other devices (laptops, iPods, cell phones) to do what best helps them learn.

I’ve read a lot of posts about how iPads are NOT good learning tools, because you can’t learn to type properly on them,  they’re bad for note-taking, you can’t teach programming on them, etc. But in all those posts, we’re looking at an adult’s perspective: adults who learned to type on a keyboard, either in school or on their own. These same adults learned to take notes in school. If they were taught programming at all, it was done on some type of computer with a keyboard.

So, iPads are bad because adults can’t type as quickly on them, and they don’t know how to program on them. Hmm. So, are we saying that students must learn to use specific tools because those are the tools that work best for adults?

What I find interesting about this advice is that no one considered asking a child how they might use an iPad.

What if we asked kids how they would use a device? What if we got out of the way and let them explore? That’s what I have the privilege of doing every day.

One of my students, a 9 year old girl, types more quickly on an iPad than most adults type on a standard laptop. Another one of my students, a 10 year old boy, has his iPad “keyboard” split, and he types like he texts… with his thumbs. Neither of them prefer using a standard keyboard. A couple of my students learned early to type on a keyboard, so they have an iPad case with keyboard. And then there are those students who struggle with typing and writing. Although they practice those skills daily, they also have access to dictation apps that help them as well.

The beauty here is that the students have the option to choose what works best for them, and there is no need for my intervention.

My kids also document their learning in different ways. They have a camera on their iPads that they use to photograph evidence of their learning. They often switch to video mode and record what they’re experiencing while narrating simultaneously. They’ve become documentarians without an adult telling them what they should do.

They create videos to share what they are  learning. During one experiment, while they were making race tracks, the students noticed that the toy race car kept flipping off the track. It was happening so quickly, however, that they couldn’t SEE where their track was failing. One student decided they should record the car racing in slow motion to troubleshoot the problem with their track. Within five minutes, they had the problem solved, because they used their iPads to record using an app called Slow Pro. All of this happened while I watched and said nothing. They had access to a tool that allowed them to quickly grab an app and begin recording immediately.

When we go on learning excursions, they don’t grab their laptops. They grab their iPads so they can take photos and videos easily.  When they take notes, they use an app that not only allows them to type their notes, but also provides options for adding photos and voice recordings.

Some of the kids in our school are learning programming. Did you know there are apps for that too? For my own learning, I’m checking out ScriptKit right now.

iPads work in our school for a number of reasons:

  1. Our leadership had a plan in place when making the decision to include iPads as learning devices.
  2. In our inquiry-based classrooms, students have a lot of choices in determining what the will learn and how they will demonstrate what they have learned. Every kid is different, and what works for one may not work for another. Their iPads and other devices provide them options.
  3. Our teachers were provided iPads to use as well. Everyday, we work together to share what we’re doing and learn from each other.

My purpose in writing this post really isn’t so much about how I love iPads. If your school or district rushes out to purchase large volumes of these devices without any plan, time for learning about the devices, and how those devices will support teaching and learning, then ANY tool will fail.

Additionally, if the tool isn’t used to transform learning, then you’re just wasting money. If you purchase a netbook for every child in your district, but then continue only lecturing while the students take notes, is learning transformed? Or did you just buy a really expensive substitute for paper and pencil?

The tool isn’t the problem. WE are the problem. If we don’t know how to provide options for students and then get out of the way, we aren’t transforming their learning. In my opinion, children need to have access to MULTIPLE devices so that they can make decisions about what best suits them for a specific learning activity.

iPads in the classroom are neither the problem, nor the solution. iPads are tools. However, if you choose to write a list about why iPads are not good for learning, maybe you need to rethink that list. I know a school full of children who can refute your arguments by what they do every single day.



9 thoughts on “The Tool Isn’t The Problem

  1. I think that if you are going to have true transformative use of an iPad in the classroom, then #3 is essential. Teachers with iPads in their hands will be more likely to experiment themselves in the power of using an iPad for creation and collaboration.

    • Michelle Baldwin

      I agree, Christine. I also hope that teachers who have any kid of devices in their classrooms give the children the “power” to explore and learn outside of what the teacher might be showing. My kids teach me new things on their iPads all the time, and I consider myself pretty knowledgeable when it comes to all things “tech.”

      • Christine Ruder

        I always encourage my teachers to give their kids some “explore time” with a new app. Giving them that time allows them to learn about the app quickly (down and dirty, if you will) so that when we go to use it in a focused manner, they are more likely to focus on the task at hand and not on “oh, wow, look at this…it’s so cool!” Also…as you said, sometimes by watching them in this explore time, I learn things about an app that I didn’t know how to do.

  2. […] Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:Like Loading… This entry was posted in Technology and tagged iPads. Bookmark the permalink. […]

  3. Excellent blog post, Michelle! I love the sentence in which you spoke of “transforming learning.” We as educators have to be cognizant of the fact that WE need to change the way we are teaching. We can’t continue to teach in the manner that we were taught.

    A digital device is such a great TOOL to have in the classroom. The differentiation possibilities and the ability to customize ones learning is powerful!

    Thank you for this post. Well said!

  4. […] Avenue4Learning – The Tool Isn’t The Problem […]

  5. I love this post and agree wholeheartedly. Our evaluation of iPads in the classroom should be guided by how students can find ways to use them for learning and not assessed based on an external set of standards established by those not even learning with them in the first place. Our grade fours and fives have found that they are awesome tools for learning. And getting better all the time. And our kids are typing like mad on the devices too! Practice! 🙂 Thanks for writing.

  6. Michelle wrote:

    So, iPads are bad because adults can’t type as quickly on them, and they don’t know how to program on them. Hmm. So, are we saying that students must learn to use specific tools because those are the tools that work best for adults?

    – – – – –

    This was an a-ha for me, Pal. I hadn’t even thought about the fact that our own perspective on which tools work and which tools don’t is very much shaped by our own experiences with tools.

    As simple as it seems, asking kids to explore and experiment and demonstrate what is doable should be a part of every decision that we make regarding tools.

    Thanks for that reminder!

  7. […] reservations outlined.  I have also considered some counter-arguments such as those expressed in The Tool Isn’t the Problem, and accept some of the ideas about my own background, prejudices and relative inexperience with […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *