Nick Westergaard

By Nick Westergaard on May 2, 2011

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Interview – iPad in the Classroom Enhances Learning

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In celebration of National Teacher Day, I wanted to share a story of an educator I know using new media. My two oldest sons have had Kathy Kron for a second grade teacher at Coralville Central Elementary. Recently she purchased an iPad which she uses in her classroom. I wanted to share this so we can all discover how youth today are utilizing technology as part of their learning experience and also to imagine the possibilities if every classroom — or student — had an iPad …

How do you use the iPad in your classroom?
I use it daily, mostly with individual children and small groups. It is great for differentiating instruction. I use apps that compliment our units of study. Some children might need practice or reinforcement of a particular math skill, while someone else needs enrichment activities with that concept.

I also bring the iPad each month when we visit Windmill Pointe (a retirement community) for our monthly service learning project. The students love showing the elderly residents the various apps. They are great teachers! The senior citizens are amazed! It is something that they have never seen, except maybe advertised on TV.

Are there rules for use? Certain apps?
My main rule is that I insist on careful handling of the iPad, since it is very expensive and if I/we choose an app to work on they must stay on that app. I have had a few children take the iPad to my small group room, work on the designated app for a few minutes and them switch to one that is just for fun, like Cut the Rope. They can never get on the internet unless I am sitting there with them.

I have also used the iPad as a reward for completing a difficult task or as reinforcement on a behavior plan (i.e. – 15 minutes on the iPad if you reach your goal).

What has surprised you the most since using the iPad with students?
I am amazed at how intuitive they are with technology. It must be generational thing! I am surprised that the novelty has not worn off. They love to use it everyday.

What is your favorite app? What’s the student’s favorite?
I like MathSmart because there are many different activities that can be turned on and off depending on the needs of the student. I also like MeeGenius which is an app that reads stories and highlights the words.

The kids love most of them. One student wrote and illustrated a story on StoryBuddy. Many children used the app, Dinos to research particular dinosaurs.

What other technology do you see impacting students and learning? (either positively or negatively)
We use the SMART board daily. It is a wonderful interactive tool. I am sure I am just beginning to scratch the surface with it! The ladybug is very helpful for whole-group lessons. Recently the class did a short enrichment unit on birds. It was connected to the “Amazing Animals” unit in the Houghton Mifflin anthology. They have really enjoyed the daily observations using the SMART board and the computer of the Eagle cam in Decorah. It is spellbinding to watch the eagles on the big screen. Besides the language arts and science connections we have tied it into the humor theme this week. Yesterday as we watched the parents returning to the nest, we talked about what the parents and eagles might be saying if they could talk. The class wrote quotations using correct punctuation such as “I told you to have this nest cleaned up by the time we got back!”)

I still always worry that kids are spending too much time with technology. It’s not what they are doing, it’s what they are not doing (i.e.- playing in a virtual world instead of getting outside, interacting with their friends, playing games, getting lots of exercise etc.).

How has technology changed since you started teaching?
That is hilarious! Before I graduated from college in 1972, I took an AV class. We had to “test-out” on three pieces of equipment — the film projector, the record player, and the overhead projector. Can you believe it? What a huge change for students today.

Do you see potential for wider use of iPads and similar technology in schools?
I think the potential is amazing, especially for differentiating instruction. Right now there are so many apps coming out each week, it is impossible to keep up with the new ones and it is very time consuming to find the ones that really meet the needs of the students. There are many that I have looked at that are not very good.

Then there is the issue that school districts must face involving what apps are used. How do they maintain control?

Feel like getting an iPad in a classroom? Donate yours to a teacher in a low-income community following these easy instructions at Teach for America.



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Nick Westergaard
Email Brand Driven Digital

is Chief Brand Strategist and founder of Brand Driven Digital, where he helps build better brands online. In addition to his agency work, he teaches social media marketing at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business and is the co-host of The Work Talk Show podcast. More about Nick.