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Teaching with an iPad: 8 Tips for being a Tech-y Teacher

Listen to the post read as a podcast.

If I could keep only one tool from my classroom, I wouldn't even need a minute to think.

It's my iPad (with pencil, of course). How did I ever teach without it?

Before I launch into my love for teaching with tech, I should say that for planning I spend more time on my computer. This is mostly because my school uses Google drive for collaboration and some of the apps are limited on the iPad (Google Slides to be specific).

But when delivering a lesson, when I am in my zone with the kids - with objectives and questions and engagement and formative assessment all over - it's me and the iPad.

Here's why:

Digital Planning

If you have an Apple Pencil or stylus, this is where it's at! No more paper - seriously! it's just one less thing I need to carry around (including all the pens, markers and highlighters).

To be honest, it took me a hot minute to get used to digital planning. I have always loved having a planner and being organized but I didn't really get Goodnotes at first. It was a learning curve and I was a bit frustrated. But I recommend you give it a try if you haven't already. You can always go back to a paper planner if you want... but I'm sure you won't. 😉

Also, you only have to buy a digital planner once. As long as it is blank, you don't need to replace it every year.

Check out this Digital Teacher Planner and Notes with monthly, weekly and daily planning pages followed by sections for notes, grading & marking.

It also includes separate documents that you can use digitally in Goodnotes or a similar app or even printed. The additional files are Guided Reading Notes, Teacher Cover Plans, and The Teacher's Notes (parent conference notes and goal setting). The cover plans are also in PPTX for editing in Google Slides or PowerPoint. Check it out.

Teaching with Slides and All My Teaching Notes

Whether I'm using Google Slides (in presentation mode) or Keynote, I can see all my notes AND write on the slide during the lesson from my iPad using my Apple Pencil.

Sometimes, I include transitions in my slides so that questions appear when needed and students can see them. But I don't always want every question in my slides - it's in the note and it's half my screen and only I can see it. Running short on time? I can skip this or realize it's not where my students are at in the moment. More about teaching with slides here.

New to using Keynote or want to give it a try? Check out these Apple Teacher Tutorials

There are times where I appreciate the ease and collaboration of Google Slides but really, it is no competition for Keynote. I do love planning and teaching through Keynote because it's just more beautiful and the app works even better than the computer version, in my opinion.

Formative Assessment and Observational Notes

Ongoing assessment that guides teaching is serious in my world and it absolutely does not mean testing and written work. I can write down what I see and hear happening. I freeze the screen on my projector and switch out of my slides to open Goodnotes, where I record my notes for lessons. I don't do this for every lesson, but try to do it at least once a week for each subject. Come report writing time, my comments are all ready!

I've designed a PDF to use in Goodnotes where I record notes using a feedback grid and notes for parent conferences and a printable page for reading goals.

It's free in my resource library and you can get it here (also included in the Digital Teacher Planner).

A landscape version of the feedback grid and planning notes are included in my digital planner in the tab "Marking & Grading". I love love love feedback grids. A colleague presented the idea in a PLC a few years ago and it is one of the best things I've found as a teacher. Of course, I have a blog post all about it, Reflections of a Teacher.

In the Moment Inquiry

When that student is writing his all about book and it's all about Tesla or Stone Age Tigers... Let's just ask Google those details! 😂

I love showing the students that I don't know everything and modeling how to find information, skim pages and check for credibility (yes, even in first grade).

Documenting Learning Stories

My camera is always in hand to take snaps and short videos of the students learning. Seesaw came along with the pandemic but is now here to stay. So whether it's Seesaw, Dojo or a class site/blog, documenting our learners' learning stories is a part of education.

One element of this is re-educating parents about what education is. Even some of the younger parents in my class make comments like, "My child needs to sit in the front of the class" or "How are his/her grades in English and Math?". Providing regular updates of what the classroom looks like and works like helps parents to adjust their own perspectives and understanding of learning. They need to be able to see primary education in practice to understand that there is no "front" of the classroom and that conferring and next steps have replaced "grades" for younger learners.

As a PYP teacher, inquiry is one of those moments that really blow parents' minds. I get so much feedback and so many questions from parents - all positive, all in pure amazement.

Having my iPad means that my device is in hand (or at least within reach) and I am ready to capture the essence of learning and share it. I certainly would not use my personal phone to photograph children and hope the same for you.

All the Reference Posters (and more for Writer's Workshop)

I create most of the charts in my classroom myself on my iPad, sometimes with my students and sometimes for them. When it is an intentional design, such as a how to for Writer's Workshop or not interrupting a conference visual guide.

But then there's those math lessons... and the kids need a visual guide. Simply tap the stylus on the screen and Notes opens. We make the anchor chart/poster together and students have agency. I'm happy to pass the iPad and Apple Pencil around. The kids have such ownership of what is used in our room.

Other than for posters, Notes is also great for simple modelling of writing. Although it goes against the recommendations of Lucy, I often use digital books to model writing for Writer's Workshop. In Notes, you can snap shapes to make drawing boxes and also have the option for lined paper. Alternatively, you can use your own writing paper in Goodnotes by adding the PDF to your library or scanning a paper copy in the app.

I print a few mini copies of the mentor text for my class and kids can even have their own copy in their writing folders for reference. Life just got a whole lot easier!

A few of my favorite apps for this include Goodnotes (again), Procreate, Pages, Keynote, Notes. -as long as you have a stylus, you can draw easily in Pages and Keynote and be able to mix it up with text.

Umm... Can We Talk About Clips?!

My favorite video maker, especially in the lower primary school! It's super easy to use and much faster for creating videos than iMovie. I'm talking about for students and teachers alike 😂

I've used Clips to make video messages to parents for explaining something detailed (actually faster than writing it in an email) or modeling how to practice something at home with their child (like when to correct their child during reading).

student ipad, scaffolding for reading, writing, language learning and learner agency

My first graders have also used it for creating puppet shows with translanguaging and to take action on their learning with informational videos. For me, this meant screen sharing from my iPad and letting them see the process. From importing photos, voice over, live recording to adding effects - I was able to walk these learners through the whole process.

Read more about how you can use Student iPads as a Scaffolding Tool.

No Need for the Teacher's Desk

I can easily move around my classroom and sit with students. All the while, I have control over the slides being presented, can take notes on student progress and next steps, internet search for inquiry or find images to support language learners' understandings - AND I NEVER SAT AT MY DESK FOR EVEN A MINUTE. I'm with the kids. There is no way to do all of these things with just a computer or phone or clipboard of papers.

Of course, not all is sunshine and rainbows. I have run into my own share of problems.

  1. Number 1... forgetting to charge it! Ugh. My iPad holds a charge for a few days, but I must remember to charge it during the day when I have planning time - not leave it plugged in overnight at school. Fire hazard, energy waste and not good for the device.

  2. Glitchy! Sometimes, but thankfully not often, stuff gets spastic. My pencil stops working, apps freeze or won't open and I have to restart my device. Of course, it always happens at the most inconvenient times.

  3. Tech works best in a classroom where it's part of the culture of the school. When you're part of a team or school that isn't moving forward, there are walls and deadends all around. From getting the right devices for yourself and students to permission for apps.

  4. I still don't understand GarageBand and not sure I ever will! 😩

Nevertheless, my iPad is a resource I always try to make the most of. It has changed me as a teacher and in turn, improved my pedagogical practice.

Happy teaching and learning!

💛 Sativa

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