How Brandi McWilliams teaches with iPad.

They don’t just memorize the book, they don’t just spit it back out for me, they know it because they’re involved in it, they’re visualizing it, and they’re making a movie in their head about it.

Brandi McWilliams, English Teacher, Inman High School, Inman, KS

New ways to learn.

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.”

The rock star assignment.

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.

Not just memorizing. Understanding.

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.’”

Lights, camera, book report.

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.”

“iPad took me out of my comfort zone because I’m not really techie. But I’m willing to take risks and I’m willing to advance. And I always want to better my teaching because the kids deserve that.”

Tips from Brandi McWilliams.

Be willing to let go.

“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 a complete overhaul.

“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.”

Start with the free apps.

“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.”

Try teaching with iBooks.

“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.”

Teach to the common core.

“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.”

Have your students keep portfolios.

“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.”