How Amy Heimerl teaches with iPad.

“With the right kind of teaching, the right kind of apps and the selective process of using iPad with traditional teaching methods, our students are able to achieve more than they did in the past.”

Amy Heimerl, Year 1 Teacher, Park Avenue Elementary School, Auburn, Maine

Apps in the classroom.

When Amy Heimerl’s local education authority decided to incorporate iPad into the classroom, it started with an assignment. A team of five teachers were given the task of coming up with recommendations on how best to teach with the device. The team spent two full days putting together a comprehensive list of great iPad apps to use during the school year. Heimerl was part of that initial team, and the experience quickly opened her eyes to the teaching potential of iPad.

The education authority had already developed a rubric used to rate apps: does it meet the learning objective? Does it give immediate feedback? Is it the best possible app out of all the options? Is it customisable? Heimerl applied these criteria rigorously to select the best apps for her Year 1 class.

Personalised folders for personalised learning.

With 22 students in her class, Heimerl sometimes found it a challenge teaching to every level. So when the local education authority gave each of her students an iPad, she decided to try to create a custom learning experience for every student. And it turned out to be as simple as making folders. Heimerl put the same large library of apps on every student’s iPad. Then she dragged just the apps that fitted each student’s learning level into customised folders. For example, in one student’s maths folder, she might put a number recognition app. But another student who is ready for adding and subtracting might have an addition and subtraction app, and no need for the number recognition app.

Making folders of apps seemed basic, but it made a huge difference. When students picked up their iPad to start learning, they just tapped the right folder and went to work. Giving her students easy access to tailor-made learning materials helped them advance much more quickly. “Everything they do on their iPad is completely self-checking, so they get that immediate reinforcement and can move on without my standing right there,” says Heimerl. “Students have the freedom to progress at their own speed.”

A lesson in sharing.

Heimerl’s students have an innate desire and eagerness to show classmates what they’re doing on their iPad. “They like to share what they learned, or what they can do, or what they found,” says Heimerl. “They can take their knowledge to their friend and be the teacher.”

She loves the fact that iPad encourages her kids to think independently. “My students find their own creative ways to do something or get somewhere,” says Heimerl. And when she sees her students doing something interesting on iPad, she projects their work to the class. “And then suddenly all of my kids want to try something new.”

“Every student learns differently. But because they’re more excited and more engaged with their iPad, they tend to focus more.”

Tips from Amy Heimerl.

Search and discover apps.

“I go to the App Store and start searching by my teaching targets, and see what pops up. And I try to say something in a few different ways. I start broad, for example, by searching ‘spelling’. Then if there are too many options and I can’t narrow them down to what I need, I’ll try more specific topics like ‘spell sounds’ or ‘consonants’.”

Don’t rely on ratings alone.

“I don’t put all my stock and faith in the ratings. I do look at them, but the rating doesn’t always match with how I find the app to be. An app might be less suited for someone else’s needs, but more suited for what I need.”

Save with free apps.

“I always search the free apps first. There are so many great free apps out there in every subject.”

Assess regularly.

“I’ll do a fairly formal assessment of the students every three weeks or so. Then I go into their app folders to see if what they’ve got is working. If not, I’ll switch out apps or level up the ones they’ve got. I do rotations so I’m not overwhelmed assessing everyone at the same time.”

Set up a process for using iPad.

“Set up a routine for handling, storing and protecting the iPad, and tell your students about it on day one. We labelled each iPad with a number assigned to each student. There’s a charging station in my room, and they get charged overnight when the battery gets below 25 per cent. And we set up a special cubbyhole where their iPad goes.”

Make the app and lesson work together.

“Be deliberate and thoughtful about how you’re teaching a particular skill so that the app you choose and your lesson can go hand in hand. And the learning can be reinforced by what they practise afterwards on the iPad.” See our Apps in the Classroom Guide