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Engage Students With iPods

Computer Culture

Experience has taught Colleen Ruggieri to hand over some control of the classroom and the schedule along with the iPod Touches she distributes to her students. She doesn't mind if students use work time for more than English lessons; the technology-rich environment encourages it.

"Monitor student behavior, but don't continuously worry about multitasking," Ruggieri advised. "It's human nature to think about several things at once, and students are used to doing that in their lives outside the classroom."

There's a benefit in giving students a stronger voice; they'll teach you. That re-creates the circle of learning, Ruggieri believes, and helps deter the ineffective lecture-style teaching that can permeate high schools.

"Incorporate technology into the curriculum. Don't allow it to be merely an entertaining gadget," added Ruggieri. "Avoid promoting the use of technology for a fun day or to reward good behavior. Use it regularly so the novelty wears off and it becomes another tool for learning."

NOTE: The apps market for the iPod Touch is dwindling due to the availability of Touch successors iPhone and iPad. Apps similar to those described in this article likely exist for these newer devices.

The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, can be a tough read for teens, but when Colleen Ruggieri's students took on the tale, they came to life. According to the Canfield (Ohio) High School teacher, one assignment in particular generated huge excitement in the classroom.

"When I asked students to analyze characters only through what iPod Touch apps (applications) they might have used -- keeping in mind that the Puritans would have burned a person with an iPod at the stake for witchcraft -- they did not want to stop working when the bell ended," the junior and senior English teacher recalled. "It was amazing."

For Ruggieri's students, using the iPod Touch in the classroom is as natural as picking up a pencil. Since the start of the 2009-2010 school year, she has coupled the mobile devices with software from Turning Technologies, based in Youngstown, Ohio, to provide another channel of communication, Internet capability, and more.

"From the planning perspective, using the iPod Touch with the software enables me to use them as a response system," Ruggieri observed. "With that in mind, I can pre-assess student knowledge about any unit I'm preparing."

For example, Ruggieri might post a list of literary terms on an interactive whiteboard and give students an uncounted quiz. The results reveal right away how much instruction she needs to give before she spends valuable class time on lessons that aren't required. The quizzes can be done anonymously, but she also can set the devices so they can be used to respond to actual summative assessments.


Ruggieri has been incorporating technology into her classroom over the past three years, mostly with funds from grants. She has a cart of 30 iPods in her classroom and reports that the devices are very motivational for her students. The kids enjoy working with the iPod Touch, and the devices offer a format that allows students who are often reserved to be more engaged. Also, students who have become stereotyped as "geeks" because of their "techie" interests frequently serve as experts who provide instruction and assistance to their peers.

"I have so many assignments in which I ask students to apply iPod apps that new ones constantly pop up in our discussions. I allow students to become the trainers and teach the class (along with me) how to work our way through new apps," Ruggieri told Education World.

One of the students' favorite aspects of using mobile devices is the flexibility in sharing their preferences. At times, Ruggieri greets incoming students with a list of options for class. She invites students to convey the order in which they would prefer to complete the activities, such as peer review of compositions, discussion about a chapter in a book the class is studying, or reading a current article that connects with the curriculum.

"The students can vote, and we can move in the order they selected," Ruggieri stated. "While that might not seem like a big deal, students have told me over and over again that they appreciate having a voice in the work schedule of their day."

Initially, Ruggieri questioned whether students would have difficulty reading information from online sources because of the size of the iPod Touch screen. To her surprise, they did not. She also wondered if the devices would enable students to navigate to all the pages necessary for research. She found that students move seamlessly from site to site, and she is thrilled to have simultaneous Internet access for every student in the room.

Students have explored songs in iTunes that correlate with historical time periods of literature they're studying. Donning earphones, students listen to different songs and make connections to modern tunes that Ruggieri downloads. Several apps -- including a dictionary -- come in handy on a regular basis.

In terms of discipline, Ruggieri is candid about appropriate usage. If students have a set number of minutes to complete a task and choose to check a fantasy football stat, they have the remaining time to get the job done -- no excuses. Multitasking is acceptable within reason. Web-filtering software blocks inappropriate content, and usage is monitored by the teacher.


Many potential cost savings for schools could be realized through the use of iPods (or iPads) in lieu of some more traditional resources, Ruggieri suggests. From her own experience, fewer paper copies are required, and entire books can be loaded onto iPods. All of that results in a greener approach to education as well.

"I often notice that students can be careless with handouts, and then don't have the resources they need to study," added Ruggieri. "With more material moving online, students have access to the materials whenever and wherever they want them."

The remaining issue for Ruggieri's students is that they have access to the iPods only during class time. In the future, she hopes there will be enough devices for students to take their learning and their iPods on the road.

"I do see a bit of resistance about reading a book on an e-reader such as a Kindle," she observed. "Some kids still want the feel of a book in their hands. My license plate says BOOKGRL, so I can understand that."

Many students already have adapted to such personal apps as Dexy, which offers easy free-form note organization for notation on the go. Some students do use their own iPods, but about two-thirds of the students use iPods Ruggieri supplies. Additional apps that they employ as a group are the SAT Vocabulary app and the ART app.

"I allow my students to play games to build vocabulary skills. They love it. I have never seen students so excited about learning new words," Ruggieri added.

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
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