Thanks to Dr Kimberly LaPrairie and Dr. Marilyn Rice for sharing their presentation on The iPad Effect, which includes matching iPad apps to the revised levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. You can view it below since they were kind enough to share it on Slideshare!

As I meditate on their presentation slides–unfortunately, I missed their presentation at TCEA2012–the question they ask at the start of the slide show is one worth reflecting on, regardless of what technology you introduce in the classroom:

How do you decide what tech tools to use in the classroom?

Chatting with colleagues at IronWorks BBQ in Austin, Tx last week, I couldn’t help but ask myself this very natural question as an educator. Amidst the unending volley after volley of iPad apps, web-based tools and services that are must-have for this or that educator, how do you decide which tools to use? 

To that end, we’ve seen thousands of web-services and apps for tablets and regular computers matched to Bloom’s Taxonomy, wikis created to catalog the drops of the Web 2.0 rainstorm that has been pelting teachers, school systems, and others. Here are a few of those by example, and please, no criticism is implied since these are immensely useful in helping one make sense of new technologies:

In reviewing the sites above, I can’t help but wonder, How different is the approach promised by “new” technologists any different than the one I committed to when I was younger? In much the same way that I blended instructional strategies with the technologies available at the time, there simply doesn’t seem anything new under the sun in the instructional strategies approach. Whether it’s project-based learning or problem-based learning, blending in communication technologies seems essential…but is it?

Can you imagine a time when school administrators will sell their souls–or body parts, as in the news story below–to get access to the “tools” their staff and students need to be successful in a global, competitive market, which paradoxically, depends on “creating, collaborating, curating?”

According to the Shanghai Daily, a Chinese boy sold his kidney for 20,000 yuan ($3085) in an effort to purchase Apple’s latest and greatest hardware, the iPad 2. Almost immediately after selling his organ, his health began to deteriorate leading him to regret his decision. (Source: Gotta Be Mobile)

The question is less what tech tools does one decide to use, but rather, what does one want to do and are school districts prepared to part with integral components of today’s education system to accomplish it? Have we fundamentally changed our approach in schools or are we just replacing the tip of the spear with a sharper point, leaving the shaft of the spear as is and not changing how we approach the throw?
(Sorry, I read Jean M. Auel’s work during my formative years)

With differentiated learning a powerful option in schools, learners make decisions that stretch the imagination of their teachers–a.k.a. learning facilitators–making it difficult for schools to scaffold unimagined learning opportunities. But, will iPads–finally, at last, I can hear students and administrators saying together, we have a technology that’s so easy, so worthwhile we won’t mind “cutting out” libraries, librarians, GT programs so “get the benefit of the iPad”–make us change how we do business?

In slide 12 of Dr. Prairie’s and Dr. Rice’s The iPad Effect, they share an example of an iPad app for each level of Bloom’s, along with an example. This approach means that to move from revised Bloom’s Taxonomy Level Remember to Create, there are 6 different apps (ranging from free to a cost of $1.99, $5.99, or a total of approximately $7) …and there are many other apps that will fit in. To satisfy learning across K-12, teachers may very well be expected to be catalogers of a million and one apps, perhaps getting “app indigestion” for their efforts. Not only do you have to know the curriculum, you have to have access to a variety of apps and know how they fit in. Though the price of the apps for slide 12 totals $7 (you only pay for 2 of the 6 apps), multiply $7 by the total number of sets needed and you get an astronomical cost. Is it worthwhile to buy these apps or are there enough out there at no cost to fill in the gaps?

Our customer’s customers are accustomed to choice. However, the real opportunity moving forward may be in approaches that help our customers —and their customers — make sense of the proliferation of apps. In The Paradox of Choice, author Barry Schwartz tells us at what point choice makes it difficult to make decisions. While we assume more choice means better options and greater satisfaction, excessive choice is not always a good thing. In fact, the best solution to our choice overload may be offered by approaches that limit our choices. (Source: Mobile Content Curation)

Is education being reduced to a series of app curation activities? I hope not. Perhaps, we need to come back to the essential question of Dr. Prairie’s and Dr. Rice’s slideshow…how do you go about app curation for your classroom, your campus, your district? Is standardization the wrong approach? I have to ask this question because a colleague of mine said to me just this week, Miguel, from a district technology perspective, we have to standardize to be able to provide support. That seems wrong somehow, when what learners seem to want is MORE differentiation.

For Scott Newcomb, a fourth-grade teacher at St. Marys Intermediate School in St. Marys, Ohio, using smartphones in the classroom helps him teach math to his technology-savvy students in new ways.  Instead of the typical textbook geometry lesson, Newcomb brings his students outdoors, where they use smartphones to snap photos of parallel lines, acute angles and other examples of geometric shapes…Newcomb, a teacher for 11 years, says it’s a way to differentiate instruction and assess which students might need more help. “The students are so engaged, it’s almost weird how quiet it gets in the classroom when they’re working on a project,” he says. “It’s amazing to see how excited they are.” (Source: District Administration)

Hmm…it seems that technology engages learners, knocks them sensible and into quiet fascination with the content they are engaged with. Are 6 apps enough to differentiate for students who learn in many different ways? Or are the 6 apps simply placeholders for the zillions of free apps available that diverse students can use to differentiate their own learning?

DyDan wrote an excellent post–ok, ok, he writes lots of those–that compares Angry Birds to Teaching. The benefits as I understood them are as follows–and Dan Meyer writes it a lot better than my wordy summary below:

  1. Make the activity students are introduced to in a lesson as easy to start as an app.
  2. Show what you hope students will learn from a lesson rather than tell them. Alas, I remember Mark Twain’s quote of the old lady screaming, “Aaaaarrrghhh!” . A powerful lesson that endures.
  3. Give useful, immediate feedback and allow students to try again.
  4. Failure is a learning opportunity that doesn’t count against you, but is designed to help you get ahead.
  5. Scaffold student learning, moving from simple to complex over time.
Ok, I’m not sure where I was going with this blog entry. Could we agree (please disagree and tell me why) that those who advocate on behalf of iPads believe the following?
  • iPad apps facilitate differentiated learning opportunities for students with diverse needs?
  • App-based learning models enable students to start simple and get smarter through ever-evolving levels of scaffolded complexity?
  • App Indigestion may very well be a necessary side effect for teachers and school districts who insist on standardization rather than helping learners find their own way in completing a project or formulation solutions to ill-structured problem?
  • App-based learning allows for audio/visual media that engages students in understanding abstract concepts?
  • App-based learning enables engaged students to construct meaning in a way that is personally relevant (a la Dr. Judi Harris, taking public information outside of oneself and converting it to information that is personal or knowledge)?
What do you think? I’m still unsure.

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure