Why teaching with iPads is like a layer cake

A lot of people have been asking me how the iPad pilot is going. I usually give the short, politic answer, which is "Great!" And it is great, despite my whining about the problems with going paperless and snafus in management. One of the cool things about every student having an iPad is that you can layer skills in ways that are not feasible in traditional classrooms. A layer of content, then a little frosting of technological literacy, then another layer of collaboration, then some frosting of media literacy, then another layer of critical thinking, plus a layer of accountability frosting... it's a beautiful, towering 21st century skills cake. (Please forgive the extended metaphor. It's almost the end of the school year.)

A couple of weeks ago my students were deep into the Spanish Civil War. We had interpreted Picasso's "Guernica." We had discussed communism, fascism, and the Second Republic. We had watched some great background videos in English to understand the who, how and why of the Civil War. It was time to throw some propaganda into the mix.

First, a little background. I teach two sections of the same course back-to-back at the end of the school day. Period 7 is a traditional class of 20 sophomores and juniors, and period 8 is the 1:1 iPad pilot class with 26 sophomores and juniors. In my district we call the course Spanish 4; most of my students are at the intermediate level of language proficiency. Teaching these two classes so close together has been incredibly informative in a kind of mad-scientist-experiment way, because I teach a lesson to my control group first, and then I adapt the lesson for my variable group right afterwards.

In period 7, I began the lesson by projecting an image of Uncle Sam and asking the kids to discuss in their groups the who, what, when, why of the image. This led to some interesting discussion about the role of media in shaping public opinion and the use of national symbols to attempt to unite people in a common cause.

Credit: DonkeyHotey

Then I projected these two other images:

Credit: Muy Interesante (for the second one, I can't remember where I found the first one, sorry!)

I asked students to work individually first to answer some basic questions in Spanish: What do you see? Which group do you think made the poster? Why? Then they checked back in with their groups to compare answers. Finally, I had copied (in black-and-white) another 5 propaganda posters onto one worksheet, and students worked together to identify the "side" each supported and compare and contrast the imagery. In this lesson, students did activities that developed their critical thinking skills, they interpreted and analyzed authentic materials, they used prior knowledge about history to answer questions, and they gained some information literacy skills as they discussed the purpose and role of media, commercials and political messages in their own lives. 

In the period 8 1:1 iPad class, I structured the lesson a little differently, but I didn't change the content or the focus. The warm-up was the same. What I changed was that I had students do Google Image searches for propaganda. I scaffolded the activity by providing list of key words--"guerra civil," "propaganda," "cartel,""España"--and the students had to combine at least two of them to find images from the correct time and place. I also projected one example of propaganda so that they could check to make sure that their results had a similar look. I gave them 10 minutes or so to do the search, describe 2 or 3 images, and determine the bando of the poster. Then they had another 10-12 minutes to share with their groups, compare and contrast the images, and generate a list of symbols and imagery that were used by both sides in the conflict. Students could then project an image from their iPad through the classroom projector and summarize their group findings to their classmates. 

In addition to all of the skills practiced in the traditional lesson, this version of the lesson allowed students to access more authentic content, exercise choice, prioritize, and present to their peers (in addition to developing technology literacy). In roughly 40 minutes they built twice as many skills as their counterparts in the traditional classroom... and it was a piece of cake!