by Ryan Tindale

Ever wondered about using tablets in your math program? Have you ever wondered about using tablets in your classroom, period? Maybe you’ve considered it, but haven’t heard that they work, and therefore remain skeptical. When I started using them, uninterested boys with an apathy for reading picked up a tablet, opened the Kobo app, and started reading. Students who shut down at math became a little more receptive. So how can tablets be used? Let me share a few ideas with you.

Take any math question from the Internet and zoom in so the question fits the screen. Take a screenshot of what you see, and voila, you have a pliable PDF. Then you can open the file with an app called Skitch and magic begins to happen. This creative app allows users to doodle, highlight, place arrows to point, and even to write on the image that’s visible on your screen. I have found that when I use it in a small guided math group, it has the capacity to unleash inspiring conversations. Have I nudged your curiosity a little? Are you waiting for an active example?

One morning I called four students to the back table for some math. Each student had a tablet. I sent each tablet a link to a question and they opened it up with Skitch. The question showed a rectangle with the length and width visible on the top and side. Fairly routine. But what I loved about the question was the irregular paint spill across the bottom third of the rectangle. The task was to estimate how much of the rectangle was covered with paint. Great question! With their pencils close and the tablets in hand, they began attacking the question with their weapon of choice: the fingertip! Some dragged straight lines and sectioned off the rectangle into quadrants. I leaned over to the young lady beside me and she placed cleverly labeled arrows that deconstructed key parts of the question. Students were given about five minutes to work through the question on their tablets. When they finished, we talked about the strategies they chose and key actions used to solve it. The tablet also afforded the encouraging opportunity to address a student’s misplaced arrow. Instead of gently erasing it, I could gently slide it over an inch to where the Big Idea of the lesson lay. Tablets are innovative and user friendly classroom tools. My grade 4s this year can use them just fine!

One other fun lesson that you could try is with a tablet that has a multi-screen option so you can view two apps at the same time. I used such a tablet to teach an art lesson and had one side of the screen open to a note-taking app that allowed doodling, drawing and/or free-hand note taking. I then split the screen and opened YouTube to a video where students watched an artist draw a tree. I hooked the tablet up to my classroom projector and students could watch me drawing a tree while the video was playing simultaneously. With the multi-screen option, students could watch the video and practise all at the same time!

Another way to use the multi-screen feature is in math where students can watch videos and take notes on the device at the same time. Or consider how a science teacher from a small school with limited resources can use tablets: students can watch a lab and take notes, all the while giving them autonomy to pause, rewind and review parts they missed. They’re not interrupting others. They’re not bystanders in their learning. The tablet helps to foster active, participating learners. Believe me when I tell you that the tablet is safe, familiar and inviting. When I hand a student a tablet, I’ve seen boys sit up straighter and girls’ eyes flicker a little brighter. Lessons become a little more inviting. Try teaching with a tablet today!

How I Got the Tablets

Late one Thursday evening in February, I went to my mailbox and collected the Future Shop flyer. In that flyer, I learned of the “The Future Generations” campaign whose goal was to provide youth with modern technology to stay inspired as they move through their education and eventually into the workforce. I immediately began a fictitious wish list of ways to use tablets in my grade six classroom. A week later, I crafted and submitted a persuasive letter to our local Whitby store, and one month later, had five tablets delivered to my classroom! But how they were delivered was the exciting part. As the summative assignment for our persuasive writing unit, I had students write Future Shop a letter persuading them to donate tablets to our classroom. Ideas were tossed around and diligent planning ensued. Once the papers were submitted, I upped the ante and told them we were video calling Future Shop’s head office and they would present and pitch their completed letters through Skype. They went home that evening to practise. The next morning, they came in at 9 am ready to go, and I calmly told them that four employees from the tech giant would be coming to our room at 10:00 to hear the pitch in person. They collected themselves and assembled into their instructed five table groups with an extra chair set for each guest. The four employees arrived and the fifth special guest was the Superintendent for Ajax who was at our school for a pre-planned visit. She shortened her meeting and joined in the fun. Each of the five groups presented well enough to receive a tablet for the class. SNAP Newspaper shot photos of the event and I walked the employees out at 10:30 as the kids went out for recess. You know what? I don’t think I ever told them they would have received the devices anyway! Shhh!




Ryan Tindale is a self-proclaimed curious teacher whose interests tend toward technology and best practices in teaching. He’s led a seminar for the Durham District School Board in Ontario and with Tyndale University’s Faculty of Ed, and recently presented five seminars on how tablets and Smartboards can be used creatively in the classroom at a provincial educator’s conference. He taught for two years in a private Christian school with the Association of Christian Schools International, and the last two years with the Durham District School Board..

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