PBL Technology in classrooms continues to grow. The last year or so has seen a marked increase in the use of iPods and iPads by both teachers and students. Last spring, the PBL Education Foundation gave this trend toward smaller devices a major push by awarding technology grants to purchase iPads and iPods for four grade levels. Kindergarten teachers received 20 iPods on a charging cart. The cart is capable of accommodating a total of 40 of the devices. Grades 1, 4, and 6 all received 2 iPads for each teacher. In total the Foundation spent $22,000 equipping classrooms with this technology.
The advantage of iPads and iPods over other tablets is the wealth of educational apps available for them. There are multiple activities available for virtually every individual skill in reading and math. Consequently, as first grade teacher Gayle Lemenager pointed out, “The iPads are perfect for use with differentiated instruction.”
Differentiated instruction, or gearing activities to individual skill development needs, is the most frequently mentioned use of the iPads by every teacher involved with them. Fourth grade teacher Emilie Ross specifically mentioned basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts and also reading exercises to develop skills in cause/effect and fact/opinion. Whether it’s remedial help for students who are struggling with a particular skill or more difficult activities for students who need a challenge, free or low-cost apps are readily available. In addition the iPads and iPods have the advantage of being interactive. Ross said that her students are always very concerned that they don’t miss their turn with the iPad.
Besides differentiated instruction in skill development, the other area mentioned frequently by teachers was research. Having internet access for students in the classroom increases research flexibility. Fourth grade teacher Amy Swan mentioned researching Greek gods and goddesses and also Christmas customs around the world as two research activities that her students have done on the iPads this year.
Sally Ellis, who is a member of the 6th grade teaching team, talked not only about various topics that the 6th grade has researched, but also how easily students can use the iPads to turn their research into multi-media presentations. Using various apps, students can make a video or a slide show to help them present their findings to the rest of the class.
Since iPads include e-readers, students also have access to thousands of books, which offers the potential for greatly expanding classroom libraries. Teachers have also commented that the built-in cameras are surprisingly good, and that the video capability helps absent students be a part of the class. The keyword seems to be flexibility—teachers don’t have to wait for their turn in the computer lab in order to give their students the capability of using internet technology.