Wednesday, April 29, 2015

iPads in the English Classroom

There is much debate about whether iPads are actually beneficial to a classroom or not. As someone who naturally favors paper and pen to an electronic screen for writing and drafting purposes, I am hesitant to fully support the use of iPads in all aspects of my classroom. After all, a student does not need to worry about a journal running out of battery like an iPad.

However, there are other pages that suggest that iPads somehow improve classroom instruction. According to this article entitled "8 Studies Show iPads in the Classroom Improve Education," there are research studies that suggest a link between iPads and student achievement. However, it is important to note that correlation does not equal causation, especially with the use of technology in the classroom.

Consider the first bullet: "A research study, conducted in Auburn, Maine showed that Kindergartner students using iPads scored much higher on literacy tests than students that didn’t use the device."

The iPads might not have had anything to do with the results of this survey. What if it was the teaching style overall? What if the students who were using iPads naturally had higher literacy skills? The iPads likely had nothing to do with the kindergartners scoring higher in literacy because technology itself does not make students better readers. Practice and quality teaching, on the other hand, does. 

It is ultimately up to the teacher to decide how iPads can fit into their classroom. However, I encourage teachers to not use technology just because they think it will somehow make their students smarter or achieve higher test scores, for this simply is not true.

Image entitled "ipad" by Sean MacEntee used with permission from Flickr.com.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

eBooks: The Pros and Cons

As technology continues to transform the way students read, it is important for educators to be aware of both the pros and cons of substituting traditional hard-copy textbooks and materials for eBooks. According to a TopTen Reviews website, there are numerous benefits as well as disadvantages to using eBooks. As you read, consider your own students and classroom when deciding if eBooks are the route for you.

Pros of eBooks
  • Eco-friendly (no killing of trees!)
  • Purchase any book in an instant from your seat
  • Only requires 1 device to carry instead of several books/materials
  • Generally cost less than print versions
  • More adaptable to fit reader's needs (zoom-in features, brightness settings, etc.)
  • Multi-media components (audio and visual enhancements)
  • Can mark and highlight pages without needing Post-It notes or highlighters
Cons of eBooks
  •  Piracy concerns with the unauthorized sharing of a publisher or author's work
  • Not the same feel as a book in your hands and turning the pages
  • LCD screen may cause glare and eye strain
  • Struggle for consistent formatting of pages and spacing on an eReader device
  • Requires plug-ins and battery life to operate
  • May be a trend that will die out, risk of losing digital books
Image entitled "eBook Readers Galore" by Michael Porter, 2010 used with permission from Flickr.com.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Are smartpens a wise investment?

Although I am an adamant proponent of technology in the classroom, there's just something special about writing your thoughts down with a physical pen on paper.

When a friend told me about a special type of "smartpen" that transfers your notes to a PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, etc., I was intrigued yet skeptical. How exactly would this type of technology benefit my students?

After exploring the Livescribe website, a company that carries several smartpens, I found some interesting facts about their smartpens:
  • They can pick up words, sounds, symbols, and sketches
  • By tapping your notes, you can hear what was said while you were taking those notes (i.e., the voice of the teacher) and play back the recording as many times as needed
  • You can control the speed and volume of the play back
Advantages for teachers: increase instructional time, share "pencasts" with students and parents online, appeals to both visual and auditory learning styles, access to students' thinking, create electronic portfolios, identify misconceptions

Advantages for students: reduce stress in taking notes, can replay instruction an infinite number of times, promotes collaboration among students

The smartpens on the Livescribe website range in price from $119.95 to $199.95.

In my opinion, the cost is pretty steep considering what you get from the product. A lot of the same benefits could be achieved by both teachers and students by using a simple tape recorder. Therefore, I don't think the smartpen is something every student needs or should have; however, perhaps it would be reasonable for a school to purchase a couple of pens for English Language Learners to utilize.

Image entitled "Livescribe Pulse smartpen" by Anoto AB taken with permission from Flickr.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Alternative Keyboards and Other Assistive Technologies


 As we all know, no two people are exactly alike. As such, no two people learn in the exact same way, either.

Students are bound to have particular needs when learning new concepts. Whether they struggle with reading written text or writing their own pieces, a teacher must at the very least acknowledge these needs and plan their lessons accordingly to meet these needs. This is where assistive technology (AT) comes into play, meaning any device that can maintain or increase the capability of an individual with a particular need.

To learn more about what assistive technology entails, watch this quick video:


According to an article on Microsoft Accessibility, there are many types of assistive technology devices:
  • Alternative keyboards: Larger keys, ability to type with one hand
  • Keyboard filters: Word prediction capabilities, spelling checkers, quick access to the letters people want to use
  • On-screen keyboards: Keyboards that are on the computer screen in which people can select letters using their mouse, touch screen, etc. (Good for motor difficulties)
 In addition, there are also assistive technology tools made especially for writing. In an article by Kristin Stanberry, tools such as abbreviation expanders, alternative keyboards, and graphic organizers can all be used to help students with writing. Specific programs such as ActiveWords, Intellikeys, and Kidspiration can all be used in the classroom to assist students with their writing needs.

Know of any other helpful AT tools for an English classroom (or any classroom for that matter)? Feel free to comment below.

Image entitled "Detail of Ergonomic Keyboard" by cobalt123 published in 2006 used with permission from Flickr.