Every student in third through fifth grade at Juniper Elementary has an iPad, but what do they use them for? In Jaime Speed’s fifth-grade class, the students are solving mysteries in “augmented reality.”
Juniper is part of the Bend-La Pine Schools’ digital conversion pilot program, which is exploring the benefits of providing students with their own iPads. But Juniper has been ahead of the technological curve, deciding to become a technology magnet school in 2006. Speed helped to lead that transformation, and now the former medical student is leading the integration of iPads into the school’s curriculum.
In 2011, Speed was recognized by Apple as an Outstanding Educator — one of only three in the state — and has since traveled around the country teaching and learning about the use of technology in the classroom, including a trip in January to Apple’s California headquarters. At the beginning of March, Speed traveled to Portland for the Northwest Regional Conference of the National Council of Teachers of English to present her method for integrating iPads into instruction.
Her presentation, titled “Whodunit: A Technological History Mystery,” introduced teachers to the mingling of apps and resources that lead students on a physical and digital mystery trail through augmented reality, which refers to the enhancement of sensory experiences with digital content.
“A lot of teachers are getting these new products, but they don’t know how to use them in interesting ways,” Speed said this week. “I created a session for the teachers, so they could experience one of my lessons. In the classroom, I tend to choose something with a known answer, such as why did Benedict Arnold become a traitor? But for the teachers, I made one that wasn’t so easy — how did Billy the Kid die?”
Speed said the teachers wandered around the hotel, scanning QR-codes to watch videos, read primary sources and compare photographs related to Billy the Kid. By the end of the journey, they had enough information to make an informed decision regarding how the infamous outlaw met his end. This is how it works in Speed’s classroom in Bend, too, with students following clues accessible on iPads to gather evidence pointing to a mystery’s solution.
“The teachers had an evidence log to keep track of what they found and to work out what they thought,” Speed said. “It was really fun to walk into the hotel hallway and see a bunch of teachers giggling like kids on a treasure hunt. But that’s what works with the students, too — they find it more engaging.”
Speed stressed the “Whodunit” method can be geared to match curriculum, including the Common Core State Standards, a set of learning goals Oregon and most other states are adopting.
“Comparing texts, both informational and fiction, is a big part of the standards, and students have to do that here,” Speed said. “Technology is often thought of as an add-on, like you need to teach PowerPoint skills. But it can also be a more interesting and engaging way to teach the curriculum.”
In her own class, students learn how to read between the lines by trying to understand the biases of a particular source and their reliability. Peter Thacker, an associate professor of education at the University of Portland, said Speed’s method “encourages independent inquiry at young ages, which is not only consonant with the intentions of the Common Core Standards, but also in the forefront of excellent education for the future.”
Dan Wolnick, Juniper’s principal, said Speed helps lead her colleagues at the school and across the district in learning how to better integrate technology.
“These tools are great to have, but without training, it’s hard to use them successfully,” Wolnick said. “It’s amazing to have someone who’s at the forefront of technology, but at the same time is so committed to working with kids and family.”
Despite her own commitment to technology, Speed acknowledged the switch from paper-based instruction to digital instruction can intimidate teachers.
“It can be fearful to learn a new way of providing instruction or getting content back from kids,” Speed said. “Tablets can be seen as a game machine, but it’s important to show that it’s a powerful tool that’s exciting not just for kids but for teachers.”
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