Using iPads to Drive Inquiry Based Learning

Thanks to Mike at for giving me the opportunity to guest blog on his cutting edge website on ed tech.  (And thanks to the Twitterverse for connecting me with yet another amazing teacher, passionate about student learning.)  The original post can be found here.


I had a great week of incredible student learning and I just had to share with you all.

After I made the switch to Tech Ed, I don’t get a lot of “team” interaction during the day.  I really miss standing in the hall during class changes participating in those fab impromptu collaboration/PD sessions.  Some of my best lessons and most rewarding learning experiences for students were created during those 3 minute hall way breaks.  Not to mention the friendships and basic adult interaction was so refreshing in between 6 classes of 32 middle school students.

So when a former team member approached me about helping her integrate a little technology into her lesson, I was more than willing to donate my planning period to do a little co-teaching!

Ms. Wigginton wanted to assess her students on constructive versus destructive forces from a unique, inquiry based approach.  Our idea was for students to represent the force in the form of a stop motion video animation.  Here was our plan of action:

  1. Divide students into lab partners
  2. Students randomly select one “force” (previously covered in their unit)
  3. Give students two mini tubs of multi-colored play dough
  4. With their partner, create a CUSTOM animation to represent their force “in action”
  5. Show videos to class and student “vote” on the force represented via Google Forms;  Discussion will be generated by the response summary which will lead to deeper learning at a higher cognitive complexity.

In preparation for this assessment, I downloaded a new app, iStopMotion Animation.  It was pricey, but WORTH IT.

One of the things I try really hard NOT to do when integrating technology is to focus on the “bright and shiny”…which is really easy to do when integrating ed tech.  The cool factor on this app is seriously incredible.  But even more importantly, it provided a smooth, easy to use interface for deepening learning in an authentic way for students.

First, I have to be completely honest, I am one of those teachers that will stand on her head and twirl even if I break every bone in my body trying to engage my students.  It takes A LOT to stress me out.  I don’t mind dancing over 17 plugs and cords in order to accomplish the goal and increase student engagement and learning.  True story.  I know that not every teacher is like that.  Tech is my “thang” so I don’t mind going to a ridiculous amount of trouble to try something new.

Ms. Wigginton went into this lesson telling me:

I want to find a reason to use technology that actually deepens learning and isn’t just something ‘extra’ just to say I used technology.

So that became my goal.  I wanted to help her see that technology COULD deepen the learning, provide an authentic environment and NOT create a stressful environment for HER… that technology could help her do her job more efficiently while engaging students on a deeper level.  Insert:  Tech is not just an “add on”.

Okay, so maybe I’m insane to think that this could actually happen.  But I’m going to break this down for you, day by day…because this really DID happen and my heart and soul could NOT be happier.

Students received instructions.  I went over the basic functions of stop motion animation.  

  • Students created “stages” for animations by opening their textbooks to the front cover.  If “live” backgrounds are visible in stop-motion, it takes away from the animations and ends up looking like….a hot mess.
  • Mini-movements:  We were representing constructive and destructive forces, and students had to understand that animation is a frame-by-frame process.  Creating an elaborate “set up” and then simply taking a photo is not the point.  They need to think about the PROCESS to achieve the end goal. (This word of wisdom was trial by error. FYI.)
  • Students were required to use a stand…or a book…or something to keep the iPad (or whatever tablet being used) stable.  Moving the iPad around while taking frame-by-frame photos will affect the lighting therefore ruining the animation effect.

Students spent the second day completing their animations from Wednesday.

In preparation for today’s lesson, Ms. Wigginton and I spent the afternoon on Thursday uploading videos to her local drive on the computer.  Our district is committed to finding more efficient ways to manage our network around software such as Reflector /AirPlay/etc.  Currently, however, we do not support device-to-device communication so therefore we had to do things the “old fashioned” way.

  • We created a form for “voting” on Google forms (which can be found here)  If you’ve never used Google Forms, don’t feel bad.  I just started two weeks ago.  I’m a recent Google Fan Girl, since our district recently opened Google Drive.  The efficiency is ridiculous. (In a positive way.)
  • Students watched video, voted on iPad
  • From the teacher Google Drive, by clicking on the form, then selecting “summary of responses” you get a lovely little pie chart detailing the percentages of “votes” (in our case).
  • The pie chart opened doors for deeper evaluation of the videos…why did 13% vote for weathering?  What about this video made 13% of us think this force represented weathering?  Students were able to analyze the videos and try to figure out different peer perspectives.  The discussion opportunities were pretty much the BOMB DOT COM.

In summary, the #edtech train has a new fan girl in Ms. Wigginton.  Her excitement and enthusiasm was contagious.  I was really nervous that she would get stressed out because this or that didn’t work (and let’s face it, that happens on a regular basis in my classroom).  The key is that Ms. Wigginton saw the value in utilizing tech to increase student learning and engagement and for that I’m turning cartwheels.

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