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Thanks for the iPads, but what are we supposed to do with them? Integrating iPads into the teaching and learning of primary mathematics November 18, 2012

Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education.
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from Dr Catherine Attard

The fast pace of technology development has seen a rapid uptake in mobile technologies such as the iPad computer tablet. Although not originally intended for use within educational settings when introduced in 2010, the iPad has fast become the ‘must have’ item in today’s classrooms.

One result of this is that teachers are often expected to integrate iPads or similar technologies into teaching and learning without the support of appropriate professional development, particularly in relation to using the technology to enhance teaching, learning and student engagement. While some claim iPads and other similar mobile devices have the potential to revolutionise classrooms (Banister, 2010; Ireland & Woollerton, 2010; Kukulska-Hulme, 2009), there is little research informing teachers exactly how the iPads can be integrated to enhance learning and teaching, and whether their use will have a long-term positive impact on student learning outcomes.

So what do we do when we are given a set of iPads and told to use them in our classrooms? Since my last blog post on the use of technology in July 2011, I have been involved in two research projects investigating the use of iPads to teach and learn mathematics in the primary classroom. These projects have given me the opportunity to observe a variety of pedagogies and make some interesting observations regarding practical issues relating to the management of iPads.

In each of the projects, teachers had been provided with iPads for their classrooms with little or no professional development that related to integration into teaching and learning practices. The teachers involved experienced a ‘trial and error’ process of using different strategies to integrate the iPads into their mathematics lessons, a task they found harder to do than with other subject areas. The iPads were used in a wide variety of ways that appeared to have differing levels of success. The success of each lesson was determined by the observed reaction to and the engagement of the students with the set tasks and the teacher’s reflection following the lesson.

Several lessons that incorporated iPads utilised a small group approach where students worked either independently or in small groups of two to three students on an application that was based upon the drill and practice of a mathematical skill. The challenge with this approach was that it was difficult for the teacher to know whether the students were on task, if there were any difficulties, and whether the chosen application was appropriate in terms of the level of cognitive challenge. Often when this pedagogy was implemented it was done so without student reflection at the conclusion of the lesson. Without discussion of the mathematics involved in the task, students did not have the opportunity to acknowledge any learning that occurred.

The pedagogies that appeared most effective were those that were based on using the technologies to solve problems in real-world contexts. When used this way, the iPads were used as tools to assist in achieving a set goal, rather than as a game. An example of one of these lessons was in Year 5, when students were asked to plan a hypothetical outing to the city to watch a movie. The children were able to use several applications on their iPads ranging from public transport timetables to cinema session time applications to plan their day out. The lesson resulted in rich mathematical conversations and problem solving, and high levels of engagement due to the real-life context within which the mathematics was embedded.

The integration of interactive whiteboards with iPads was also a common element in the observed lessons, illustrating how such technologies can enhance teaching as well as learning. In several instances teachers projected the iPads onto interactive whiteboards to demonstrate the tasks set for the students. In other examples, it was the students’ work on the iPads that was projected for the purpose of class discussions and constructive feedback.

The variety of ways in which the technologies were used demonstrated their flexibility when compared to traditional laptop or desktop computers. All of the teachers involved in both projects found it challenging to integrate the technologies into mathematics in contrast with other subject areas such as literacy.

This challenge led to the teachers expressing a need for professional development in relation to integrating the iPads into existing pedagogical practices and a desire to have a platform from which ideas can be shared amongst peers. The incorporation of the iPads led to the teachers becoming more creative in their lesson planning and as a result, tasks became more student-centred and allowed time for students to investigate and explore mathematics promoting mathematical thinking and problem solving.

Overall, the use of iPads appeared to have a positive impact on the practices of the teachers and the engagement of the students participating in the projects. Benefits of the iPads included the flexibility in how and where they could be used, the instant feedback for students and the ability for students to make mistakes and correct them, alleviating the fear of failure and promoting student confidence.

The disadvantages of the iPads were mostly management issues relating to the sourcing and uploading of appropriate applications, the difficulties associated with record-keeping and supervision of students while using the iPads and the number of iPads available for use. The interactive nature of the technologies was engaging for the students at an operative level. However, when the tasks in which they were embedded did not include appropriate cognitive challenge, students were less engaged and became distracted by the technologies.

The incorporation of iPads in the two projects emphasised their potential to increase student engagement and the importance of providing professional learning experiences for teachers that go beyond learning how to operate the technologies. Rather, continued and sustained development of teachers’ technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK) (Mishra & Koehler, 2006) that builds on their understanding of mathematics content, ways in which students learn, the misconceptions that occur, and ways in which technology can enhance teaching and learning is required.

 References:     Banister, S. (2010). Integrating the iPod Touch in K-12 education: Visions and vices. Computers in Schools, 27(2), 121-131.     Ireland, G. V., & Woollerton, M. (2010). The impact of the iPad and iPhone on education. Journal of Bunkyo Gakuin University Department of Foreign Languages and Bunkyo Gakuin College(10), 31-48.     Kukulska-Hulme, A. (2009). Will mobile learning change language learning? ReCALL, 21(2), 157-165.     Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017-1054.

Catherine Attard is a Lecturer in mathematics education in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. She has a strong interest in the application of learning technologies to effective learning and teaching in mathematics, and teaches in our Master of Teaching (Primary) program. You can search for her other blog contributions by typing her name into the search the facility at the top of the page.

You are not alone: the journey of a graduate November 4, 2012

Posted by Editor21C in Early Childhood Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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from Angel Mok

Definitely unexpectedly, and almost contrarily, a mixture of emotions about life gushed to my heart when I finally sat down to write this article. It is ONLY five years ago that I left the University of Western Sydney but so much has happened. I’ve seen a lot of transformation in both my friends and myself, and this really makes five years feel much longer than it is. We are no longer the new graduates who doubted every step and decision we made. We are so much more confident because we know we have chosen the right paths for ourselves.

No matter where you are on your career path, I hope you are doing something you are passionate about and using what you have learned from UWS or your own insitution.  If you are not very sure about this, perhaps you might consider contacting some of your lecturers and tutors at UWS and discussing options with them. Or perhaps you might have been thinking to connect/reconnect to some people who would understand your current circumstances. I hope your Alumni can bridge this connection and provide you with the support we all need.

Entering the workforce with a teaching qualification opened up a whole range of possibilities for me but like many new teachers, the initial excitement was accompanied with lots of doubts and uncertainties. I did not follow my classmates to secure a full time position in a childcare setting or primary school after I got my Master of Teaching (Early Childhood) in 2007. Instead, I have been working in different educational settings including long day care, preschools, primary schools and various universities since then. The experience of working in a range of settings has really enriched my understanding of teaching and learning, as well as of myself.

Inquisitive minds in the classroom always excite me and make all the hard work in schools worthwhile. But I was also aware of my thirst for intellectual stimulation which had become a driving force that took me back to University. Eventually in 2010, I followed my heart and did something I am passionate about but really never expected that I would do. I embarked on a journey to do a PhD. Embarking on research has been a very steep learning curve but I am loving every moment of it. I often doubt my capacity to finish such a big project as a PhD but I have never considered giving up because I believe this is an amazing new path.  

I am not sure how the leap into doing a PhD actually happened, but I am sure it would never have happened without my experiences at UWS. I still vividly remember sitting in the lecture rooms, listening attentively to my lecturers – Ros Elliot teaching ‘Constructions of Childhood’, Jean Ashton on ‘Literacy’, Chris Johnston on ‘Additional Needs’, Criss Jones Diaz on ‘Postmodernist theories’. And who can forget making sherbet and flying hot air balloons in Colin Webb’s science curriculum classes as well as the EXPOs which showcased students’ talents and hard work? Those were some of my fond memories of studying at UWS from 2005-2007. What an amazing couple of years I had at UWS. It just feels like yesterday.

Like a lot of young people, I entered university right after high school and got my first degree without thinking too much about what I really wanted to do in the future. It was not until I did my masters degree at UWS as a mature student that I started to realise how much I love learning. And now this is the second year into my PhD research which aims to explore the cultural identity of Chinese residents in Sydney, and how that influences their children’s performance in mathematics. It is still too early to share any of the ‘findings’ but this autoethnographic study has helped me to understand ‘my people’ and myself.

As mentioned before, I spent a couple of years exploring the possibilities of applying my knowledge before I eventually committed myself to one of them. As exciting as it might sound, I have to admit that this journey of exploration was not easy at all. In fact, it was a rather lonely journey which was full of self-doubt. I am lucky to have classmates and friends who have been very supportive along the way, but I still wish I knew someone who was also exploring his/her professional identity as I was. I needed to know I was not alone.

I think that one of the greatest values of the UWS Alumni is that you can talk to someone from a similar background, who understands your situation and can provide you with the social and professional support we all need. Perhaps you can find this person(s) from the Alumni. And I guess this is all it’s about – creating a network of support that is much needed for all of us.

Angel Mok is a former a PhD student at the University of Western Sydney in the School of Education. Angel has previously undertaken a Bachelor of Early Childhood Studies and Master of Teaching (Early Childhood) at UWS.

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