Online, in workshops, and even with friends, I frequently get asked What can the iPad actually do? as a sort of challenge to the worth of the device. I would rather that they ask, What can you actually do with an iPad?

So last week, in preparing for the New England Reading Association Conference and the NYSCATE Mobile Learning Summit, I decided to change my approach. Rather than structure my presentations by tool, or by app, or even by project, I organized myself around desired student outcomes – aka. what students can actually do.

However, before addressing that question, I asked not only WHY iPads but WHY Technology? Because….

  • I want my students to communicate in complex and modern ways.
  • I want my students to make their thinking visible as an alternative assessment.
  • I want my students to document their thinking as they work through a process.
  • I want my students to have multiple ways through which to interact with learning objects.

What does this tangibly look like in the classroom? One English teachers asked where to even begin, so we started with a set of content-specific learning objectives.


I want my students to demonstrate their knowledge of the parts of a story.


Book PosterLearning Objectives: In addition to learning the story elements, students learn…

  • To write a constructive review
  • To assess the credibility of an author or source
  • To create a sense of visual hierarchy for their information
  • To document their sources

Project: Book Posters – students create a movie-style poster to advertise their book. Poster elements must include the title, author, a representative image, a “hook” to get others to want to read the book, a quotation of a credible review, and a student review.

While this could be created on paper, or using a computer, with an iPad and apps such as Skitch, Visualize, or Text Here, students can quickly create, publish, and share their work. By integrating with the Camera Roll, these posters could eventually include audio narration with Fotobabble, be included in a book with ScribblePress or Book Creator, or added to a video project with iMovie or Animoto.


I want my students to master the concept of the story arc.

Learning Objectives: In addition to demonstrating their understanding of the key elements of the plot – problem, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution – students learn…

  • To incorporate imagery and sound with written elements
  • To collaborate and communicate with their peers
  • To search for and incorporate Creative Commons vs. Copyrighted media
  • To properly document their sources

Project: Book Trailers – students create 1-2 minute video trailers to advertise their book. Like with movie trailers, these videos need to draw the audience into the plot, and introduce characters and setting, but not give away the ending.

The Nation trailer was created using iMovie on a computer and other Web 2.0 tools could have been used. However, the iMovie or Animoto apps greatly simplify the process of moving from production to creation to publication.


I want my students to make a personal connection with their text and then communicate that back to their peers.

Learning Objectives: In addition to asking and answering questions to demonstrate their understanding of a text, students learn…

  • To prepare and deliver effective oral presentations.
  • To support their thoughts, opinions, and ideas with literature.
  • To independently work through a process of scripting, storyboarding, recording, and editing.

Project: Video Talks – students create videos of themselves discussing key elements of the book (not plot summaries) to then show the rest of the class.

Using an iPad for this project allows students to record, edit, and publish from a single device. They can also then incorporate their video into future projects such as Books of Books. While this could have been accomplished with in-class presentations, using video allows for additional practice and provides a less threatening environment to students who struggle with public speaking.


I want my students to collaborate in order to better comprehend difficult texts or dramatic works.

Learning Objectives: In addition to identifying key quotations, references, and literary devices, as well as defining vocabulary in context, students learn….

  • To collaborate with their peers
  • To communicate with text, imagery, sound, and animation
  • To present information in a clear, logical manner

Project: Online Presentations – for each scene or chapter in the text, students create a short video presentation to identify key points, define relevant vocabulary, and make critical connections. These videos, when aggregated into a collection, provide students with a review of the overall text as well as a study guide to increase comprehension.

The ability to immediately incorporate pictures from the camera into the project, and then publish to the web, makes the iPad invaluable in this learning context. I used Animoto to create the Macbeth example. Again, while this could have happened on a computer, the iPad simplified the process and expedited the time required to go from concept to publication.

What can students DO with an iPad?

My colleague, Greg Kulowiec, recently wrote iPads are like Hammers. He concluded his post by saying,

“Start with the end goal in mind, the inspiration, the challenge and then determine if an iPad can be used to effectively, not to teach new content to students, but to allow them to achieve the end goal. To demonstrate their learning and share that understanding with their peers, a broader audience and even potentially the world.”

Rather than ask what the iPad can do, ask what your students can demonstrate, explain, represent, communicate, visualize, DO with the iPad.

Beth will be elaborating on this concept at the November 6-8 EdTechTeacher iPad Summit.

29 Comments

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  8. Tim Slack Says

    Thanks for that post! We are moving more and more in that direction and are looking for ideas to get out iPads and iPads out in the classrooms. One of the obstacles is making sure we have worthwhile activities for the students to do. After reading your post I can’t wait to share this post, and the ideas, with staff at out school.

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