Saturday, April 10, 2010

iPods as Learning Tools

Apple sent me two iPod touches and a MacBook to test out at school for the period of 1 month. Unfortunately, the one month period included spring break as well as Easter break. That meant that one month turned into about twelve school days. We made the best of the time we had with the devices.

One of the first things that people ask when they find out I want to use iPods in class is 'What apps will you use?'. I get a kick out of that question because the iPod is about so much more than just apps. The iPods that I had were not connected to the Internet (no wi-fi at school) but I think that's where the power of these mobile devices really lies. I think it totally transforms the classroom. Rather than having a class of 1 teacher and 30 students, mobile devices make it so that you have 31 students (including the teacher), 1 facilitator (the teacher) and access to a seemingly unlimited number of subject experts for all subject areas. iPods and mobile devices allow the classroom and learning to be opened up beyond the four walls of the physical classroom. How many times do we get asked questions we don't know the answers to? In a math class you might be talking about finding the volume of a barrel of oil. A student may ask what the current price is. This can suddenly become a lesson in research. Have students find the cost of oil. Why are they getting different answers? Who's right? Why? Instead of shrugging the question off as not important to the lesson, geometry students can learn skills that are critical for all 21st century learners.

In addition to accessing subject experts or current information, iPods can be used as a device to consume and even create content. The obvious use here is podcasts. This is where I focused my time with the iPods we had. I created podcasts that would help students prepare for the provincial literacy test (here's an example). I took the print material that we had, which wasn't very appealing to high school students, and turned it into a video podcast that they could watch anytime, anywhere. Students listened to the podcasts in class as they were preparing for the test. If they had to write a news report they could listen to the podcast about news reports. They could pause it as they worked, start over when they were done to ensure that included all parts of the news report or just listen to it on the bus as a way to remind them what needed to be included. There are tons of podcasts out there that would suit just about any subject area. As an extension to this students could create podcasts to show their understanding of the content or to help others understand.

It doesn't just have to be podcasts that students consume. Imagine the school newspaper or course notes available on the iPod. Imagine a school created app that students could use to access important information and documents relevant to their school. This is not new! There are schools doing it. In fact the app could be developed by students in the computer science (CS) class. Heck why not teach the CS students how to use the iPhone SDK so they can learn CS and produce content that can be shared around the globe?

Now...onto the apps. I didn't use a ton of apps but found some that would be extremely beneficial.

Math Games: I downloaded a ton of math games. When students were finished their work they could work at improving their number sense and problem solving skills.

Graphing Calculators: I tried a bunch of them. The ease of use and resolution is far superior to the TI-83.

Stanza: A simple ebook reader. Takes away the stigma that reading books isn't cool. Nobody knows you're reading a book. This is an easy way to engage reluctant readers (especially boys). They get hooked on the device.

International Children's Digital Library: A collection of children's stories from around the world. Great for classes studying children's literature.

Story Kit: Allows the user to read a story and then modify the story. You can also start your own story from scratch an include your pictures. Once you're done you can share your stories with others.

Quick Office: Open and edit office documents on a variety of hand helds.

Voice Memo: Good for creating audio podcasts right on the iPod.

Google Earth: Great for geography classes

This is just a very small sample of the apps that could be used in classes. For a more detailed list check out

I really believe that the iPod can change the way we teach. It is a cost effective way to ensure that our students become true 21st century learners. It's extremely engaging and is the ultimate tool for differentiated instruction. I truly believe that all schools (if not all students) should have mobile devices in order to help students get the most out of their learning.


  1. Dave,
    This is a good look at how technology can support and engage all learners. How were the Ipods distributed? Were they used every class. Was a student assigned an IPod? Were they allowed outside the class? Were students allowed to use their own if they had one? How were they stored? What system did you use to record use? Was there much offtopic use? How was that addressed? This is a wonderful means of ensuring that tasks and tests assess higher level thinking skills.
    Thank you for sharing your experience with all of us through your blog. First hand experience is worth volumes of theory.

  2. I love the way you think. Perhaps next year students from grades 8 - 12 can do their course selections from an ipod instead of tieing up computer labs... Well done Dave.

  3. @Pearl: Thanks for your interest. Here are the answers to your questions. I only had two iPods so I had to share them around. I let students use their own. In one of my classes the two iPods from Apple plus mine that I leant out brought us to 50% of the class with an iPod Touch or iPhone. Since Apple still owned the devices they were not allowed to leave the classroom. I stored them on my desk or in my pocket. There was less off topic use than there would typically be since students had a purpose and weren't just using them to play games on.

    @Heather: Another excellent use. We're always short of lab space. New labs are too expensive. This is an economical way to provide more access.

  4. Dave,

    I hear the same question (which apps?) all the time too, when discussing possible mobile devices use in the classroom. You are quite right, there are so many more things you can do with them besides apps.

    As you have mentioned I see the only holdback (and I understand this is only temporary in high schools) is ubiquitous wireless. Once this is in place, the sky is the limit!

    Recently I read a couple of terrific blog posts by elementary teacher Mr. Royan Lee. Mr. Lee's blog "Spicy Learning" can be found here:

    A while back, and with the details worked out ahead of time, he allowed his students to bring in their mobile devices to class. Here is a photo showing how many devices arrived on the first day!

    His blog posts are worth reading as he reflects on use of these mobile devices by his students.

    If we start in elementary schools, imagine the possibilities once they get to you in high school?

    Thanks for your thoughtful post. See you on Friday.


  5. Thanks for the links Kent. It seems that many of us are pursuing the same goals.

    It'll be good to see you Friday.

  6. Great post, Dave. Wonderful use of iPod with OSSLT!
    @Pearl: Here's a post by Tony Vincent on all the ins-and-outs of managing the iPods in the classroom
    Of course we would need a class set before getting into the serious management issues!

  7. Thanks Mike. In terms of managing class sets, Bretford has a cart that does an incredible job.