Learning With iPads


Last spring, we began to prepare for a 1:1 iPad project in our science coop program. We were fortunate to receive a career transitions grant by our district which enabled us to purchase vernier lab probes and iPads, with the goal of developing employability skills in the sciences. At the same time, we also purchased another 30 iPads to provide us with a class set and to experiment with this technology in student services, languages, mathematics, English, and social studies. Implementation of these devices occurred this semester, and I felt that since we are nearing the end of this semester, I would share what we have learned. For the purposes of space and time, I will limit this blog to what we have learned in science coop. I also feel that this 1:1 environment enabled us to focus more on the learning done by students rather than the teaching done by teachers. That said, I don’t believe technology should be implemented without a plan to build teaching capacity. As such, we developed a learning team to meet on Fridays during lunch for all the teachers involved in piloting iPads at Riverside. The team was lead by Jeremy Brown, our lead teacher for Technology Programs and Digital Immersion.

The Science Coop Program is designed for students contemplating a career in a science related field. Students learn as a cohort for a semester studying Chemistry 11, Physics 11, Math Pre-calculus 11, and Work Experience 12. We have two enthusiastic and experienced teachers for this program who are willing to try new things, place students into practicums in the field, and work collaboratively to enrich the learning and love of science in their students. Deb Nordheimer and Heidy Tilsner are dynamic, passionate, and content area specialists. They relate well to students and believe in the importance of team. They were the perfect candidates for this iPad pilot.

During the course of this pilot, Deb and Heidy would ask for feedback from their students about what was working and what was not. They would also share with us their observations of the students. I had the opportunity to interview the students just before the winter break, so I will share with you what the students told me and their teachers.

What the students liked about using the iPads:   thumbs-up

  • Easy to use, fast, portable
  • Like not carrying around multiple texts…no more heavy backpacks
  • Great for walking or busing
  • Good for math and science
  • If they had trouble with a question at home, they often used FaceTime. they liked that they could pause it, get step by step help, but still know they were connected with their peer for further assistance.
  • Did more learning, especially with math because could easily get help from peers
  • Felt like they were more connected. Learning became 24/7. They utilized each other more for help. They talk more together. They could also fit more people at a table because iPads are small, so there is little desk clutter.
  • Easy to help others
  • Transition initially hard from paper/pencil to digital, but liked it after…easier to work with
  • Can be very organized. No papers to lose.
  • Like having everything in one device. Easy to study when you are going places. Students would mention getting a few questions or some reading done on the way to a hockey practice or on the bus ride home.
  • Full of resources..Google, YouTube, peers, other experts, social media…they could get an answer in 5 minutes
  • Better for labs, projects, video, photos…more ability to create and produce work that is professional looking or more personalized
  • Fast to turn on and get using

What they didn’t like about the iPads:thumbs-down

  • Upad still has some glitches…emailing problematic…PDF copyright (Upad is the app students most often used to read PDFs and write on them. Student workbooks and teacher noted were imported into Upad.)
  • Upad took long to load in colour
  • If they incorrectly entered their Password into the iPad 4 times, the device would reset and they would lose their work.
  • Need to back up devices to protect created content
  • Can be distracting because they have access to a lot more, such as games and social media
  • Don’t like typing on it…takes more time than a regular keyboard
  • Saving and accessing work in Dropbox is a bit cumbersome
  • Need some instruction on the protective cases because they can break if you fold them in a certain position
  • Problem updating apps that were installed centrally by Randie Shen, our IT specialist who oversaw the back end of this pilot. Devices needed to go back to Randie to update those apps although students could also install other apps they wanted.
  • The Show Me app, used for screen casting, wasn’t working initially, so it was faster to take screen shots and email
  • Need more places to charge iPads if students forgot to charge them at home
  • The on-line test in physics crashed. Students are worried that if this happens, they may lose their work. This occurred when the wireless crashed.
  • Can be awkward to write. Interestingly almost all students went out and purchased their own stylus.
  • Wish there was a split screen…don’t like flipping back and forth between apps or documents.
  • Zooming in and out is sometimes cumbersome when wanting to use a workbook. Takes more time than reading and writing on a hardcopy page.

What the teachers noticed about students using the iPads:eye

  • High level of engagement
  • Better projects…more creative, personalized, and professional
  • More peer support
  • More teaching done by the students


  • High Success Rate
    • 23 of 29 students in Chemistry 11 received an ‘A’ or ‘B’.  No marks below a ‘C’.
    • 21 of 29 students in Math Pre-Calculus 11 received an ‘A’ or ‘B’.  No marks below a ‘C’.
    • 25 out of 29 students in Physics 11 received an ‘A’ or ‘B’.  No marks below a ‘C’.
  • Better lab write-ups, better tools for graphing
  • More depth to conversations with respect to curriculum and more divergent thinking
  • Students rarely got stuck on homework
  • Very collaborative culture since students supported one another regularly in and out of class

Types of activities experienced with iPads in Science Coop:

  • Use of Twitter to share “Aha” moments, questions, or enjoyable lessons.
  • Screencasting to provide tutoring and homework support to each other
  • Facetime/Skype interactions with peers and experts in the field
  • Book Creator to synthesize learning from courses
  • Creation of Videos and digital scrapbooks to journal, document work experience, or provide evidence of learning
  • Presentations
  • Remediation
  • Research, information gathering (such as youtube, google, internet)
  • Digital tests with video embeds
  • Messaging and Email
  • Creation of positive digital footprint

While there is still much more to learn with regards to the use of technology as tools for production and consumption, I am optimistic about the results of this pilot.  The positive outcomes from this project tend to revolve around the learning process and culture, such as better relationships, divergent thinking, better ability to create and produce, and increased engagement.  Conversely, the negative outcomes revolve around the technology itself, such as glitchy apps, workflow, or the network.  While these are issues that need addressing, there are solutions to them.  Some of these solutions will occur without any work on our part, such as apps and operating systems getting updated or invented.  Networks will go down occasionally, but this occurs more rarely than it used to in the past.  We know that fibre optic upgrades are soon on their way which will also increase the speed of data transfer and reliability.  With over 10,000 IP addresses and full Wi-Fi coverage throughout the building, a staff that has been building capacity around the use of technology for learning, and a price point for devices that makes technology more affordable, we are near that pivotal moment to make the leap to a 1:1 learning environment.

Before we take this next step here at Riverside, we will explore one more project.  This next one however, will be with a different device.  We will launch this pilot in February and share more with you at that time.  What I can share with you for now is that we are fortunate to be the first school in Canada chosen to participate in this pilot.  Stay tuned….


About aciolfitto

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One Response to Learning With iPads

  1. There is definately a great deal to learn about this issue.
    I like all of the points you made.

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