21st Century Learning | Feature

Using TPACK to Guide a 1-to-1 iPad Pilot

There is a considerable amount of buzz around TPACK these days. This framework describes the process required of a teacher to bring together the requisite technology, pedagogical and content knowledge to effectively integrate technology in the classroom. Many articles, blog posts and conference sessions have focused on explaining TPACK, but what do “TPACK’d” lessons really look like in classrooms, especially in those implementing a 1-to-1 program?

TPACK guided the design of instructional activities and student learning projects at Alexandria Country Day School (VA) as they piloted iPad integration in their fifth grade. When ACDS received a financial gift to expand the arts and technology opportunities, a group of teachers, learning specialists and administrators came together to design a curriculum that would integrate an “Information and Communications Literacies” (ICL) approach to support an inquiry- and project-based curriculum. The curriculum also included the use of iPads and other technology tools to support blended learning, and set learning goals that included enduring understandings and the students’ making connections for deeper learning. In this article, we share examples of some of these efforts to bring TPACK into the classroom.

Blended Learning for Collaboration

One goal of the 1-to-1 iPad initiative was to provide students with opportunities for collaboration beyond the classroom, empowering them with resources and tools for self-directed learning. Three important tools helped the fifth-grade students collaborate while supporting the content and pedagogy of the lessons: the online classroom in the Haiku learning management system (LMS), Google Docs connected to NoodleTools, and the fifth-grade class blog.

The Haiku LMS gave students and their parents easy access to information as well as collaboration opportunities in and out of school. The “forum” tool in Haiku extended the time for collaboration, while providing a digital meeting place where students could respond to questions and to do classroom learning activities like literature circles in a virtual fashion.

Michelle Cook, the fifth-grade social studies and language arts teacher, designed a literature unit with the goal of guiding her students to improve their analysis skills while discussing literature with one another. She used technology to connect the pedagogy of literature circles to the content learning outcomes by grouping students in the Haiku discussion forum, where they discussed their assigned readings. Each group member posted his or her reading analysis and responded to questions from other members of the circle. The students continued their discussions over several days, and many of the questions and responses went well beyond the parameters of the assignment as the students made personal connections to the text.

Google Docs and NoodleTools offered students 24/7 access to their essays and research papers while allowing for collaboration through peer editing and shared project work. For social studies and science research papers, the students used NoodleTools to curate their collection of bibliographic information for citations and to store their research in digital note cards. The note cards provided structures to summarize, paraphrase or quote three ideas ethically. Students wrote their outlines, revised drafts and communicated their final work via Google Docs, which was connected to their NoodleTools account. The students applied their search and information literacy skills that they had learned through lessons from the librarian.

The class blog, created through Edublogs, provided another tool for reflection and discussion. Teachers posted prompts to promote discussion and writing, and the students responded with the “comment” feature. The students shared poems, role-played characters from a social-studies scenario and responded to posted images (such as the image of the space shuttle flying over the school). The prompts built excitement for engaging digitally, and encouraged students to articulate their reactions thoughtfully and respectfully as they learned about and exercised good digital citizenship.

Enduring Understandings

The ACDS Curriculum Collaboration Team applied the Understanding by Design model to design units of study containing essential questions written in student-friendly language. Although the questions were supported with vocabulary lists, diagrams and readings, the students were mainly on a journey to engage in analysis and synthesis to make the connections necessary to answer the essential questions.

To track the development of the students’ understanding, the teachers needed tools for students to record responses, edit and update them as the unit progressed and provide 24/7 access for collaboration. In the pilot year (2011-2012), fifth-grade teacher Margi Gilbert used Inspiration mind-mapping software to connect her students to the content of the essential questions related to her science unit on the solar system. Students not only answered the essential questions, but also listed new questions in the “parking lot” of their maps.

For 2012-2013, Gilbert switched to the MindMeister mind-mapping tool. It gave the students and Gilbert 24/7 access to the maps in which answers to the essential questions were developed. Gilbert worked with the instructional technologist to design a mind-mapping template that each student used as a guideline in creating his or her own map. The basic layout included a center node listing the student and project name, with nodes branching out where the students listed each essential question. The students applied design skills to color each node consistently so that the development of strands of thought could be easily traced. The students were also instructed to apply their ICL lessons on Web design, which included using white space, readable fonts, coordinated colors, symmetry and other design tips as they built out their mind maps. Then they added several nodes to each question, naming them “Week 1”, “Week 2,” etc. After creating a separate node for the “parking lot,” the students used the “note” tool in the Week 1 node of each essential question to record their responses for the first week of the unit.

Gilbert was able to log in to her MindMeister account from school and at home to assess where her students stood in their understanding of the essential questions. As the unit progressed, she worked with students individually to adapt the learning activities to meet their needs. The finalized mind maps gave Gilbert an assessment that connected back to all of the enduring understandings from her Understanding by Design unit plan.

Making Connections for Deeper Learning

In her fifth-grade library class, the goal for library media specialist Elizabeth Lockwood was to have students learn how to write a thesis statement that listed three ways in which the illustrations from a chosen book really connected to and enhanced their reading experience. To do this, she used a simulation with students working in teams using their analysis and communication skills. She used technology to connect the content and pedagogy by expanding the assignment into video creation, drawing not only on visual and technology literacy skills, but also to engage the students in the communication component of ICL.

Lockwood challenged students to nominate and vote for a book worthy of “The ACDS Caldecott Award.” Each team of fifth-graders had a task: choose a book and build their case as to why “it should win the ACDS Caldecott award because the art makes the story come to life.” Working as “professional” video production teams, the students used their iPads to take photos or shoot video of the illustrations in their books that best supported their three-part thesis statement. Using scripts, each team member added a voiceover to their video. They edited in iMovie, creating movement either during video recording or with iMovie’s “Ken Burns effect.”

In most cases, the students used divergent thinking and their visual and spatial skills to highlight aspects of the illustrations that directly supported their stated arguments. The opened-ended nature of the assignment encouraged total student engagement and ownership. According to Lockwood, the project resulted in several examples of students going “above and beyond” in their creativity, with very individualized uses of the media to express their points. 

Lessons Learned

In reviewing the iPad pilot, Cook and Gilbert reported significant growth in their students’ information, media and visual literacies. Students also became more efficient and fluid in using their iPads as personal learning systems, which led them to become more independent in solving problems. The students were consistently open to asking questions of each other and to problem-solving together.

Cook and Gilbert also reported how several aspects of their instructional and assessment techniques were enhanced by the collaborative approach to “TPACKing” the units of study, and by the fact that each student had an iPad. The use of multimedia creation tools like iMovie, screencasting apps like ScreenChomp and Web creativity tools like Prezi and VoiceThread expanded the opportunities for students to use design skills to communicate their understanding. Posting their work to the Web definitely led to increased excitement and ownership of the products as students realized that their audience expanded beyond their teacher to their peers, family and the broader school community. The increase in research and project creation definitely put the students much more in charge of finding information and evaluating it as opposed to relying upon the teacher as the main information provider. The students reached out more as the year progressed to find information on the Web to then analyze and synthesize through note-taking abilities, which were improved by using NoodleTools.

An additional benefit of the project work was that the teachers worked as facilitators of the learning process, freeing them up to work with individuals and teams. The student buy-in to the inquiry and project work was another reason their independence and ability to stay focused expanded during the school year. Offering a variety of tools for students to use in communicating their learning allowed the teachers to increase the level of differentiation, allowing students to choose by interest and/or level of complexity.  Enrichment learning activities supporting student curiosity increased through apps on the iPads and links shared via Haiku. Students were given the freedom to research topics of their own interest and then create Keynote presentations to share their findings.

With the students becoming more independent and focused as learners, the management of the class became more efficient. Each student having an iPad made it easier to move between whole, group and individual task work. Less time spent trying to find notebooks, papers and Web resources meant more time available for learning.

In conclusion, we know that placing an expensive computing device in each child’s hands doesn’t automatically change how and what students learn. Students need to be challenged to answer big, compelling essential questions and then to express their understanding via multiple pathways. Concept-based learning beats mere recitation of facts, and is essential in the 21st century learning and work environment. We also know that teachers need the support, structure and time to design their curriculum, drawing on shared technology, pedagogical and content knowledge. To accomplish this, administrators should look to partner teachers with library media specialists, instructional technologists and other learning support staff to design instruction and assessments that help students develop 21st century literacies. A collaboratively developed, curriculum-centered approach leverages faculty TPACK expertise to make intelligent use of tools to address students’ needs for interaction, learning, independence, self-monitoring and eventual employment. 

The authors would like to acknowledge the input of Margi Gilbert, Michelle Cook and Elizabeth Lockwood in sharing their lessons for this article.