Students using Toontastic appA morning spent in Andrew McPhee’s classroom in Salt Spring Island’s Fernwood Elementary beautifully illustrates the benefit of integrating technology into the heart of the classroom curriculum. When the SD#64 team identified Andrew’s classroom for a Tier 2 Classroom Based Solution for 2016-2017, Andrew requested iPad minis to support the learning, writing and engagement challenges of a Grade 5 group comprised of 20 students, 14 boys and 6 girls.

Among the multitude of educational apps available, Andrew knew that he could find a few that would lend themselves to the needs of his diverse group of active students. Andrew decided to choose an app with a goal in mind: the power of an app introduced at the right time and connected to the right concept can ignite creativity, break down barriers and re-kindle the fire for learning.

Andrew approaches the introduction of a new app to his classroom with an easy-going attitude. Show the students the app, give them the ample time to explore, make mistakes, create and recreate. The initial investment of time is a crucial component to the success when using apps and iPads. Time exploring is not wasted, nor is it needed in abundance, and the investment produces dividends quickly. Students given “explore time” and a “no pressure” starter assignment with an app will often very rapidly develop skills and mastery of the app that outstrip those of the instructor. Learning opportunities blossom, and creativity blooms as the seeds of collaboration are planted. “How did you do that? Let’s see. Here let me show you. That’s so cool. Let’s try this.” Fully engaged, students become resourceful problem solvers thrilled to share their creative genius with others.

The Toontastic app was a great starting place for Andrew’s class as it sets up digital story creation using visuals, narrative explanations and prompts. Students are walked through the story arc: set-up, conflict, challenge, climax and resolution. As they are led through the key elements of telling a story, they are able to build their scenes with ever-increasing detail, embellishing character traits, inventing plot shifts and solving problems. Six scenes are allowed in the app, though Andrew quickly introduced the idea of a “cliff-hanger” as students were enthusiastic and wanted to add more scenes. Bring on Part Two.

Andrew recognizes the need to build the students’ exposure to apps with a goal in mind. The introductory stories that students began with Toontastic now allow them to explain the concept of continental drift in Science with narration and images. Andrew plans to move forward with other easily accessed apps to map and collage ideas and thoughts in Language Arts, Social Studies and Science (PicPlayPost, Piccollage) and apps that can diagram, label and highlight (Skitch). This will allow students to “app smash” their creations into other digital story apps (Book Creator) with the goal of finally moving onto more complex presentation apps (Explain Everything, Google Slides). Green screen ideas using DoInk are also in the mix.

The need to build student familiarity and comfort using technology in a learning environment is fundamental to the success of UDL- and technology-based lessons. With the goal of allowing access for ALL, it is key that students can recognize choose the tool themselves that will best allow them to “show what they know”. Beginning with a curricular goal in mind, Andrew’s class is clearly working toward multiple means of expression with many adventures to be had along the way.

Stay “tooned” to hear more from Mr. McPhee’s classroom!

To learn more about the technology used in this SETstory, search for it by name in learningSET.