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Using the iPad in the Classroom

A Tool for Learning: An Interview with Nick Provenzano

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Using the iPad in the Classroom
Getty Images/Roy Mehta/Riser

Technology is continuously evolving and improving. Most students today are extremely tech savvy. They were born into a generation that has been bombarded with technological advancements, unlike any generation before them. This new generation of technology provides teachers and students with new approaches to teaching and learning that weren’t available just a few years ago.

Teachers across the country are beginning to integrate many different technologies into their daily lessons. These teachers are finding that students are more motivated by combining technology and learning. This strategy ultimately helps maximize a teacher’s overall effectiveness. This approach doesn’t come without drawbacks. Technology isn’t cheap or easy to maintain, but many would argue that the benefits of such an approach are well worth the money and effort.

One of these teachers is Nick Provenzano. Nick is a tech savvy teacher who uses the iPad in the classroom. He uses apps such as Evernote. Evernote is a cloud-based note taking system that allows teachers and students to share and search their notes no matter the form. He also uses a Livescribe smartpen to boost learning in his classroom. The Livescribe smartpen captures everything you write and hear. This allows users to sync written notes with a recording of the discussion that occurred at the time the notes were written. The recorded material, referred to as pencasts, can be uploaded and digitally stored to apps like Evernote.

Nick teaches Honors American Literature, Traditional American Literature, and Freshmen English at Grosse Pointe Public Schools in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. The iPad program was started in January 2012. Nick put a lot of time, effort, and thought into beginning this program. He had to think about the best way to integrate the tablets use with his school’s required curriculum. He also had to think about how his students would respond to this new mode of learning. Finally, he spent a lot of time deciding which apps would best fit his overall approach and goals. Nick had three main goals in this endeavor including:

  • Moving to a totally digital classroom.
  • Going paperless.
  • Creating a dynamic, meaningful body of work that students could take with them once the school year was complete.

I recently conducted a short question and answer interview with Nick via email. This interview contains a lot of valuable information for teachers looking to take on a similar approach. I appreciate his willingness to share this information and to provide us with a snapshot of how he uses technology in his classroom.

Derrick Meador: Describe the program that you have implemented with the iPad? Give my readers an idea of the overall program and how you use it in the classroom.

Nick Provenzano: (We provide) a class set of iPad 2s that students will use in the classroom, but not take home. I teach five sections of English and the students have the opportunity to use the iPad during the class period for notes or project creation.

By using Evernote as the main platform for my class, my students are able to take notes, create projects and maintain an e-portfolio in the cloud. My students can access their information from any device connected to the Internet. This allows the students to bring learning to where they are. Students can read and take notes on the bus to their football game or in the family car on a weekend trip to visit their grandparents. By using the iPads in the class, students are able to take notes and have access to them wherever they are. Other apps allow the students to create amazing projects and save them in the cloud for continued work at home. Collaboration also is enhanced since students all have a device to use and huddling up at a table is much easier than ever before.

The iPad has changed the way I can deliver content and they way students can express their learning. Evernote allows me to organize content and it allows students to structure the content in a way that suits their learning styles.

DM: How is this program funded? What is the cost per student?

NP: The iPad initiative was funded by a grant supporting mobile learning and by the school district. The initial cost of thirty iPad 2s, apps, charging cart and laptop was around 40K. This is the second group of students this year to use them. These iPads will benefit 150 students every year, so there really isn't a cost per student. Students do not take them home and are not charged to use the iPads or pay for apps.

DM: What challenges have you faced in implementing this program?

NP: The infrastructure was not ready to handle the iPads on the wifi network to start, but the IT department did an amazing job getting everything working. I have not had a single problem using the iPads with the students from a technical aspect. From an educational standpoint, I've had to spend time reworking lessons that utilize the iPad.

DM: How have the students responded to this approach?

NP: My students love the iPads. Having access to their work has allowed them to study in ways that work for them. The organization factor has also been a big help for students as well. They just show up, grab their iPad and get to work. No need to worry about missing notebooks, lost worksheets, coffee stained homework and other high school type issues. I've noticed that the more access the students have to the materials (notes, assignments, stories, etc), the engagement level increases. That is huge for teachers.

DM: What other technology do you implement into your classroom?

NP: As I mentioned, Evernote is the basis of my program this year. It allows me to become 99% paperless. All assignments and notes are shared using Evernote notebooks that I share with the students. The students will have access to all of these notebooks during the school year and from any device they want. The fact that Evernote is device neutral allows all of my students to access Evernote in a way that is best for them. Evernote is also a free download, so it does not cost students anything to use the apps on their devices.

I also use Livescribe pencasts that can be saved into Evernote so students can have access to class notes and my lectures if they are gone. It's a nice feature when discussing essay writing. (Here's an example of an Evernote note created using the Livescribe smartpen, explaining what plot structure is to freshmen students.)

I also have integrated a Doxie Scanner for in class essays that need to be uploaded to e-portfolios, an IPEVO document camera that allows me to show student projects and work with the ability to take pictures and add to Evernote and a Boogie Board Rip which has been amazing for note taking by hand and storing in Evernote. All of these tools fill a specific need for different students and it allows them to access materials in ways that best suit their learning styles.

DM: How does this program align with the implementation of the Common Core State Standards?

NP: The best thing about these additions is that is does not take away from the standards my district (Grosse Pointe Public Schools) have established or the Common Core at the state level. The iPads allow the students alternate ways to meet these standards. If tech integration is done correctly, the standards do not need to be changed. My students still write essays, create projects and take notes like my students did 10 years ago, just now, they are doing it digitally.

DM: What plans do you have to improve this program and how it is used in the future?

NP: I would love to see the program expand and see more classes have sets of tablets or possibly see a 1:1 environment where students could take the devices home. There is tons of potential in letting students use the tablets at home to read, take notes, and create projects.

Like all teachers, I will fine tune each lesson after it is done to better help the students next year. It is a learning process for me, but one I'm happy to do because I feel it is better for the students.

DM: What advice would you offer for any other teachers that might be looking to implement a similar program?

NP: Patience is my best advice. Students and staff will be reluctant at first to the change in the learning environment, but hard work will show them what can be accomplished with these devices. Also, reach out to others that have done it. Look online and find these teachers and ask their advice.

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