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iPads in the Classroom to Help Students Learn Reading and Math

By Joanne Arcand

I met with a principal friend of mine last night and the topic of iPads in the classroom came up.  While it would have seemed odd even ten years ago, many schools are embracing the idea that bringing technology, such as these, might be a way of  capturing the attention of young people, and solving an age-old dilemma.

iPad in classroom

How to Solve the Problem of Bored Kids

Teachers are looking for the perfect ‘catch’.  Let’s face it, memorizing multiplication tables by rote is boring, and it’s hard to sell the idea that it will make them faster when they can just type “4 X 9” in a calculator and get the answer almost as fast. 

Bored kids chat, bored kids are unfocused, bored kids don’t remember anything that happens while they’re bored.  I’ve never had a problem keeping kids absolutely silent for a 2 hour movie, but more than twenty minutes in ‘quiet study time’ is just asking for trouble (and yes, kids still shoot spitballs).

Memorization is Key

Another point in favor of a change in the way we teach is that the way we interact with the information is changing.  I know the seven levels of classification of living things (Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species), but that is worth less than the pixels it occupies unless I know how to use it.

 The facts used need to be memorized because it would take too long to look them up in books each time.  Now, if I need to know the scientific name for ‘housefly’, or whether I should be concerned that my son drank so much blue koolaid that he turned his poop blue, I can look it up (or at least look up the phone number of the doctor who knows).

Applying Learned Facts to Situations

What is valuable is that my brain can take the facts and ideas and reorganize them, associate them, and apply them to the situation at hand.  If we can take out some of the time spent memorizing facts and use it to teach problem solving, decision making, debating, and (what my grade five teacher, Mr Shea used to call) scat-detecting, we will be a better group of life long students.  The facts you use will become part of the knowledge bank and you won’t even realize you have memorized them.

Multimedia Learning Keeps Kids Engaged

So enter the iPad for education.  Here we have a way to catch their attention with something intuitive to use, quickly updated with the current level of knowledge, interactive within and between classrooms, and easily backed up to provide a lasting record of their learning. 

The iPad allows for students to customize font size and incorporates many of the supports that students with special education designations require, such as speech to text translators. 

Many schools are jumping at the opportunity to customize the learning of the students and add another dimension to their relationship with the subject they teach.  Instead of taking the time to write notes from a black or white board, the notes can be instantly uploaded by individual iPads and presented along with the option to record the voice to each slide. 

Students can download the notes the night before, or watch a video before the class, and discuss it as a group.  The teacher’s role is then to teach the higher thinking skills, rather than testing rote memorization.

The iPad has a Place in Education

As the saying goes: “Everything in moderation”.  Technology is wonderful, and it helps even the playing field between the various levels of ‘explorers’.  It shouldn’t replace all the other ways we learn.  Kids still need to learn by playing, running, jumping, talking, acting, testing, drawing, succeeding and failing.  In the hands of students and teachers who are eager to learn, the iPad has a place in education.


Joanne Arcand is trying to juggle her role as a math teacher with her other life as mom of twin boys.  She lives in Oakville, Ontario.