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 iEAR.org.
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.