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Student Engagement on the Go

Assistant Principal Patrick McGee explains that whatever the other advantages of adopting iPads and iPods in the classroom, the key is student engagement.

"This is my 3-year old daughter the day the iPad came out," said Patrick McGee as he displayed a movie of a young girl sitting at a kitchen counter, gripping an iPad in both hands. The audience watched as the little girl found, launched, and began to use a Dr. Seuss app; all without intervention or explanation from an adult. "Kids know--intuitively--how these things work; even at 3," he said. "We need to use that."

An assistant principal in the St. Johns County School District in Florida, McGee was sharing his experiences using iPads and other iOS devices in the classroom with an audience at the FETC 2011 conference last month.

According to McGee, there are a lot of good reasons to implement iPads and iPod touch devices in the classroom. But it's not "just about the iPad; it's more than that. This is really about keeping the students engaged" and we shouldn't limit ourselves to a single device to solve a very dynamic problem. "After all," he said, pointing to a quote from an Oregon school district administrator: "We don't adopt technology just because everyone else is doing it."

McGee's experience includes piloting programs for both the iPad and the iPod touch. "We have used them at the elementary level" to enhance reading, improve comprehension, and measure fluency. At the secondary level, the focus of these devices has been on math, science, and for use as a powerful reference tool. "One of the really great things about the iBooks app is that each book comes with a built in dictionary." That's pretty powerful, he said.

McGee also pointed out the many productivity uses of the devices, listing several apps that he deploys regularly, including iBooks, e-mail, LogMeIn, KeyNote, and Pages; many available for both devices.

Of course, according to McGee, mobile devices do more than just enhance productivity; these technologies also get kids engaged in learning. "It's amazing," he said, "but kids are motivated to do things with technology even if it's replicating a paper process" that they have no interest in.

McGee shared his go-to list of apps for the iPod and iPad that address a range of instructional and curricular areas:

This list goes on, he said. "I think we all know how easy it is to get lost in the app store."

McGee closed his session with a video produced by high school students using iPod's and various graphic, audio, and video applications. "Before this project, this class had one of the highest referral rates in St. Augustine High School. During the project, the referral rate dropped to zero. That," McGee said, "is impressive."

About the Author

Chris Riedel is a freelance writer based in Illinois. He can be reached here.

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