Franki at A Year of Reading has been thoughtfully considering new literacy tools in a number of posts this year. Now she is focused on how Ipod Touches can be used in the classroom. Now I have to say that due to many years in a fourth grade classroom exploring new tools I am a bit cautious about any particular thing. I’ve had an IPod Touch myself for a year and I love it, but I have to admit I haven’t been interested in using it with my students. Why? Because I’m fortunate in having more than I have time for to use with my students. But I’ll be following Franki’s journey with interest and perhaps she will convince me to feel differently.
I am very fortunate in being in a school that is very focused on using computers in every possible way. We do our reports to parents online and they get send out as pdf files. We communicate with email, blogs, moodles, etc. Starting in 6th grade, every child gets a laptop. In 4th grade we’ve had some sort of portable wordproccessor since the early 90s. (For how we got going on this see my article “Empowering Young Writers with Technology,” Educational Leadership, April 1994.) This year we got netbooks for every fourth grader and they’ve been fantastic. We are using ee pcs, but I think there are now others to use as well. The kids do all their writing on them, internet work, email, photos, and more. They have been just wonderful! (Especially after years other machines that were not nearly as easy to use.) They aren’t, I don’t believe, that much more expensive than Ipod touches, yet do so much!
As for using Ipod Touches in the classroom I have the same reservations with them that I had earlier with Palms (there were educational outreaches for them too), and other smaller objects that don’t have keyboards and such. You see, I’ve been involved in classroom use of technology for a very long time. (Starting when I worked at an AV Centre in Sierra Leone in 1975. I followed that with an MA in educational technology and another in computers and education. Came to my current school as a computer specialist and have been variously doing this stuff for several decades.) What I’ve seen is it is tricky to consider what is going to be viable and workable in classrooms and what is not. What follows are some thoughts on various tools Franki and others are using or thinking about using.
I’ve been blogging with kids for three years now and it gets better every year. Check out all my teaching with blog posts for more on this. I’m a huge, huge, HUGE fan of classroom blogging! (Here’s a presentation wiki I did recently on this.)
I was skeptical of podcasts at first. I paid attention to how others were using them in classrooms, but wasn’t sure what they really brought that was new and worth extra sidework (editing them and such). A couple of years ago I started using them here and there in my classroom. I do something called Literary Salon where kids do readings from books and we did a number of them as podcasts and I put them on the class blog. My favorite of these were the ones we did with my (as I chose it as a member of the committee) Newbery winner, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! There had been questions about kid appeal and the podcasts were great at showing their enthusiasm.
Last year I came up with another way to do podcasts that worked even better this year. Our theme in fourth grade is immigration and one way we consider it is the kids’ own “migration” from a small lower school to a big upper school. At the end of the year I had a class of incoming 3rd graders interview my 4th graders about this. The questions were the same ones my students had used in the fall for an oral history of an immigrant and in the spring when they researched and wrote a work of historical fiction about the Pilgrims. The questions worked well for all three situations. And the podcasts are terrific. Some samples are here, here, and here. This year I also had them do podcasts about their Pilgrim stories. I was so pleased with them — check out this one and this one for a taste.
I’m at a point where I can use podcasts as casually as I use chart paper. The kids can do it too. We taught them to do just about everything and I had to do nothing! When that happens the technology works, in my opinion. But whether you specifically need to do them with Ipod Touches, I don’t know. With the ee pcs the kids are able to record, save, and then put the podcasts on their blogs. I’m less clear how this would work with Ipod Touches.
Flip (and similar) Cameras
A couple of years ago a wonderful tech teacher I know visited my class and urged me to buy a bunch of flip cameras to use. But I was again skeptical. I’d done a lot of movies with my class over the years, but they always involved a lot of editing on my part. I didn’t see the point of non-edited films — they wouldn’t be good, I wouldn’t want to show them, and the kids could do just as well without them. So I thought.
This year I began using a flip camera in a few ways that got me very excited — I had someone film lessons for conference presentations and I realized that they were great resources for the kids too. A few weeks ago my class did a debate that we filmed (Resolved: Is the MGM Wizard of Oz movie a good adaptation of the book?), but when it came to figuring out what to do with it I became overwhelmed. Because the raw footage was raw, the sound was bad and major editing is needed for me to use it. I will indeed use it (for a presentation at NCTE in November), but it is going to take a lot of time to edit it into something worthwhile. So I’m still skeptical.
I’ve had a Smartboard for a few years and I do love it — I use it as I did chartpaper (and the way many teachers use overheads) — I can write with the kids, in front of the kids, show them something on the web, annotate something, and so forth. I love it — but I can’t say I use it in terms of touching the screen — there are some games and such, but they seem very doodady and gimicky to me. At least for language arts and history — seems much more worthwhile for math.
This coming school year I’m planning on a new afterschool club — book bloggers. Kids who were in my class in previous years will be able to blog again and those who weren’t will be given blogs of their own as well. We plan on having these kids read ARCs, new books, and generally give kid points of view. We may do some podcasts, movies, and other stuff — who knows! So that along with the work I do in my classroom shall keep me thinking about how we can best use new technology tools comfortably in the classroom.