Friday, January 16, 2009

iPod, therefore iLearn - How we're piloting them

About this time last year, I first became acquainted with the concept of using iPods in the classroom, and the idea appealed to me very much. With the pressures from NCLB to meet AYP (don't you love those acronyms), we are always looking for methods to ensure student success. And how can success be defined? For some schools, even in my own district, that means pouring your efforts into those one or two sub-groups, which sometimes by one student failing, can cause the entire school to not meet AYP. Using iPods to support learning for the "bubble" students made sense. Technology engages kids, the technology itself is not terribly expensive, and the content can be readily available and easily adapted if you know where to look.

Although iPods are a less expensive investment compared to a laptop computer, with limited funds, I was only able to purchase five 80 gig video iPods for use in a pilot program. The question that remained was which group should be the focus of the pilot. Since I work in the Curriculum and Instruction Department at our Board of Education, finding that sub-group was thankfully easy, as well as choosing which subject area to target.

iPod Classic
Image by Yum9me on Flickr

Our school system is growing. In fact, we have consistently been one of the fastest growing counties not only in Georgia, but in the United States as well. And with that growth, we've seen our ELL (English Language Learner) population follow suit. As ELL students are held to the same accountability standards for AYP as the rest of our student population, we chose this group to target for a pilot, especially since funding for these students is so limited.

This year, one of our elementary schools developed a Literacy/Technology Coach position using Title 1 funds. This is also the same school that has a significant ELL population, which made it a natural choice for the pilot. Given past performance on standardized tests, we chose to focus on math concepts and vocabulary acquisition for 5th grade students. Although other subject areas will be incorporated into the pilot, we are most interested in seeing how the use of the iPods may affect student performance in math.

Before beginning the pilot itself, I worked closely with the L-T Coach to determine the type of content available, how to make it work on the iPods, and how the students would use the iPods. It was always my intent to have the students take the iPods home for one night at a time along with some form of assignment that would correlate with what they watched. By having a structured pencil and paper activity that parallels a video or other activity, we would be able to determine which types of content reached students the best.

A parental agreement was drafted and approved by our board attorney, which outlined the guidelines of the program and expectations we had for the student and parents. This was presented to the parents at an evening meeting where we had two interpreters available, the ESOL teacher, the L-T coach, our Family Engagement Specialist (who is also a former ESOL teacher), and myself. The students were present as well and this was their first opportunity to actually use the iPods. For some students, they had never used one, but they quickly learned while the parents discussed the agreement. We had seven students in this pilot group and every parent signed the agreement allowing their child to participate. They were concerned about how they would reimburse the school system in case of damage or loss (which was part of the agreement), but we assured them that a plan could be worked out.

iPod video en la palma de mi mano
Image by Pedroaznar on Flickr

However, now that the pilot is underway, I honestly don't believe we'll need to worry about damage or loss. These students understand the responsibility of having the iPod when they take it home and guard it with their life. It's too early to make any assessments regarding student performance, but we can report that the students are very enthusiastic about using the iPods both at school and at home.

Our pilot program was recently featured in our county newspaper, which also talks a bit more about the type of content that is being used on the iPods. If you would like to read the entire article, it, along with pictures, is available here.

This type of technology can be applied in a variety of ways with many different children. What prompted me to write this post today was a link from Pat Hensley's (aka loonyhiker) Instructional iPods blog post where she offers some ideas for using iPods in the Special Education setting. In her post, she mentions Christine Southard's blog post Introducing Ipods into Special Education. As an aside, I love it when one blog post leads to another such as in this case. Christine featured the following video in her blog post, which really captures the power of this technology. In the near future, I will share this video with my own Special Education Director

(If you have any questions regarding the pilot, please feel free to post them in the comments. If I can't answer them, I will pass them on to Kristi Johnson and Sandra De Castro who are the two teachers implementing the program. )

Other Resources regarding iPods in Education: