Brandi McWilliams, English Teacher, Inman High School, Inman, KS
When Inman High School started its one-to-one iPad program, Brandi McWilliams was excited about the potential. “I knew that this was important,” she says. “I’ve always pushed for using the latest technology to help prepare the kids for the real world — and now we had it. But at first I was intimidated.” Initially she tried fitting her lessons around apps, but she quickly decided that it wasn’t the way to go.
She realized that the way she taught before still worked. Now iPad could help her enhance her already existing lesson plans. When she figured out that balance, the ideas exploded. She considered all the audio and video capabilities of iPad, and how they could bring her lessons to life. “I’m a big fan of having multimedia to reinforce things for the kids. Anytime I can use visuals or other media, it takes things beyond the written page.”
Instead of assigning a traditional book report, McWilliams had her students identify three important scenes from the novel Native Son and build a soundtrack for those scenes using the GarageBand app on their iPad. “It was a great exercise because it made them really think about what was going on in the story,” says McWilliams. “They needed to match the emotion and energy of the scenes — the rising action, the climax.”
In addition to the soundtracks, the students wrote a justification paper to support their work. They also named their music tracks and designed album covers. McWilliams made sure her students knew that they weren’t being graded on their GarageBand or creative skills, but on their overall interpretation of the stories — which turned out to be impressive.
With iPad, McWilliams found that her students’ understanding of the novel was much deeper than when they did the traditional read-and-report formula. “They don’t just memorize the book and spit it back out for me,” says McWilliams. “They know it because they’re involved in it, they’re visualizing it. This kind of project took their thinking to another level.” And the results were, in McWilliams’s eyes, phenomenal. “We had some great album covers and track names, and then their papers were great, too.”
It was especially gratifying for her students to present to the class and see each other’s work. “We would connect their iPad to Apple TV, sit back, and listen to their tracks, and almost always the kids would say, ‘I know that scene.’”
Video assignments are also a big part of McWilliams’s lessons. She has her students use the iPad camera and iMovie to shoot and edit movies. McWilliams finds it easy for her students to shoot movies on iPad because the device is so light and easy to carry around.
To understand novels like The Great Gatsby and To Kill a Mockingbird, her students have created everything from commercials and newscasts to mock interviews. They shoot movie trailers for books like The Hobbit to learn about elements such as persuasion. And they film parodies to learn about irony. “I might model something for them, make a short video so they can kind of see what I want,” says McWilliams. “And then they make it happen.”
“You need to get comfortable with not having total control. You give them an assignment, you give them guidelines, and then they surprise you. It may not turn out exactly as you expect, and that’s OK.”
“It’s not getting rid of all those lessons you worked on for 5, 10, 15 years. It’s now embedding technology to make it better, to make it relate to the students, to make it come alive for them. And it’s not just fluff, they’re held accountable. There’s still a lesson plan, there are still goals.”
“Every teacher is on a budget. If you see an app that costs money, keep looking. A lot of times there is something similar for free.”
“To be honest, when I first started reading I preferred a regular book to the iPad. But now I prefer reading on my iPad, because I can mark and highlight and then connect it to my Apple TV. Then everyone can see my notes and highlighting. And I can teach from them. I can model for them, show how to ask questions, or pull out the main idea.”
“Some teachers are afraid that using iPad might take us away from teaching what students need to know. But we use common core objectives. It’s not just a free-for-all. It’s very structured.”
“My students save all their projects on their iPad so they have a collection to take away with them. It’s more personal, it gives ownership to the work, and it’s a really great time capsule that many of them appreciate having when they graduate.”
“This is a great way for students to review with the familiar technique of flashcards, right on iPad.”View in the App Store
“This is a smart, simple tool that lets the students do free-form hand-drawn sketches and illustrations. It’s great for expressive writing and brainstorming.”View in the App Store
GoodReader for iPad
“I use this to grade essays and research papers. It makes it easy for me to mark up a paper using familiar editing notations, then flatten it and send it back to the student.”View in the App Store