SMART Tables as an iPad Center in K-3

More and more we are seeing iPads being used as a learning center in K-3 classes. Typically, a teacher will have four or five iPads all linked to one iTunes account. Apps can then be bought and shared between the iPads and organized into thematic folders. (It is important to note here that unless the teacher is using Configurator, this practice violates the iTunes Store Terms and Conditions – section MAC APP STORE PRODUCT USAGE RULES). As these iPads are not set up for individual students, most of the educational apps used do not collect learning data and tend not to be collaborative.

One solution that has promise is the SMART Table, where students can use it as a center to collaboratively solve problems and learn through playing. The idea of immediate feedback and the potential for the collection of learning data is excellent.

However, before we get too excited, there are some fundamental problems with the table. The first is cost. They run between $7000-$8000 CND, which might be worth while if the table managed learning analytics, but it doesn’t – at least not yet. Also, in order to set up the table for students to use, the teacher needs to insert a USB key. It makes sense to have a lock on the teacher screen, but a USB key seems a bit 2003. The resolution is good, but the screen would occasionally disappear for a second or two.

Finally, and most importantly, it is difficult to see how the learning is improved through the use of the table. If the goal is to improve collaboration, the table is an expensive alternative to manipulative and games already in the classroom. As well, some of the learning activities immediate feedback told students they got the answer right, even though they selected the wrong answer.

There remains a lot of potential in a SMART table in the K-3 classroom. Unfortunately, the price point and the lack of an improvement in learning puts this device in the “Maybe in the Future” category.

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Changing the iPads in Education Discussion

I was fortunate to attend the Alberta Education symposium titled iPads: What are We Learning? It was an excellent day with educators from districts all around Alberta sharing the advantages and challenges of using iPad in education. I think this is a timely discussion, and one that needs to be elevated and accelerated in education circles around the Province. Particularly considering the recent news that Best Buy and FutureShop are hiring a combined 6,000 employees to deal with their predicted Christmas rush for mobile devices. I am sure we will see more of them make their way into our classrooms whether we are prepared for them or not.

One of the issues raised during the discussions was framed around laptops vs. iPads. I am not convinced this is the proper arguement. When we apply the ways we use laptops in the classroom to tablets, we greatly limit our options and undervalue the potential of the device. Perhaps we could alter the discussion into two different arguments – laptop vs. desktop and tablet vs. binder/textbook/library. I realize that adding library to the list could be seen as a heresy. I am in no way devaluing books. Rather, I am questioning the medium of the paperback. We can do so much more for our students with text that is not bound to type on paper. Textbooks could link to current and updated information. Notes could be stored in the cloud and easily shared and accessed from a variety of devices.

It is conceivable that we will one day look back at the laptop with the same regard we had for the cell phones of the 1980s; clunky, limited function, and awkward to use. When that happens, I hope that students aren’t coming to school to use devices they know are outdated and inapplicable for the world they will grow up in. Rather, my hope is that we have thoughtfully explored how tablets/iPads can enhance our teaching practice and foster inquiry in our classes.

For more information from the Alberta Education symposium, check out the Resource List and the twitter hashtag #abedipad.