Mastery with iPads

There is a large difference when it comes to learning with iPads and that difference has to do with mastery.  A number of articles can be found on exploring the other differences, my latest favorite is Matt Levinson’s  But something seems to get overlooked by outsiders of education in the argument.  Mastery.  I have worked with iPads since 2010 in schools and I was one of the largest advocates for laptops.  Yes, you read that correctly, laptops.  I thought that iPads were simply a consumption device and didn’t have the foresight to see beyond their current iteration.  Also having been a classroom teacher for the previous 10 years I knew how students learned best.  But that didn’t seem to make a difference to my administration.  People in much more influential positions than I in my district decided to get iPads anyway and something amazing started to happen.  Students started learning and retaining the information.  I thought, “But how could they?  They are just having fun with games!”  But I was at a point where I was frustrated with doing the same routines over and over again and not getting the results I wanted with student mastery so I dug deeper and found that I had something to learn about educational technology.

Data, data, data. In this day and age we are all looking for increased test scores and the like to prove our points, but my data on this subject is different.  It is all anecdotal, but to a teacher that has been in the game for a few years I know when learning is taking place.  Last night really got me thinking about it much more.  With yesterday being Mother’s Day, we celebrated with family and after the kids were in bed my wife and I sat down to watch a movie.  Five minutes in to the film her iPhone sounds with a message and she begins to laugh hysterically.  Our son, age the age of 7, used his iPod touch to take a photo of himself and send the following:

“Hi mom.  This is me in my room.  I love you and hope you had a good Mother’s Day.”

As all teachers do I back tracked the train of thought on how that message got from my son’s head to my wife.  And the answer was simple.  I taught him how to take photos the first day he got is iPod touch and he remembered it.  No only did he remember it, but he used it masterfully in context of importance.  That led me to thinking about all of the games my kids play on the iOS devices in our house and it is amazing how the mastery of basic tasks, taking a picture, math, spelling, definitions, writing, and other games had happened without drill and kill.  And so much more!

Walking around the classrooms don’t give me the same sense of learning in my district.  The students that I have are using shared iPads and honestly the learning is limited.  Oh they have fun and do get some concepts down, but there is so much more potential.  What places like Maine and Los Angeles have done with iPads is absolutely amazing.  Now if we can use that power for the greater good we might have something!

If your district is looking at iPads vs. Laptops there are a number of metrics you can consider, but one of the most overlooked is the amount of mastery and the speed at which it is acquired.  iPads are fun.  Students want to use them.  And with each use comes a desired learning that is cleverly disguised in games.  Laptops have games too, but it is the same thing that many of us learned on and laptops aren’t as fun.  Teachers have a unique opportunity to bring back the fun in learning with iPads.  I wish I had more data on the influence of fun in mastery (maybe a research paper worth writing), but I have to go with intuition on this matter.  If I could I would start with how long it takes a student to understand fractions Motion Math instead of worksheets!