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More and more teachers are using tablets in the classroom. But just having cool devices at your fingertips doesn’t improve student achievement. We asked teachers and educational technology experts for their advice on how to get the most out of this popular classroom technology. Here are their suggestions:

1. Model Proper Use

“Be sure to properly model how to use some of the great resources that this type of technology affords us as learners—even adults can learn new things all the time, especially with regards to technology,” says Paul Pasante-Ortiz, a 4th grade teacher at Lady Liberty Academy Charter School in Harrison, NJ. “I cannot say enough about how great it is to use the tablet’s camera feature and turn my tablet into an overhead projector that easily—not having to get transparency sheets, markers, and a big bulky machine that has a good probability of breaking down on you is a much more preferable alternative.” You may need additional cables and accessories to display your tablet on a second screen.

2. Choose Apps Carefully

“Before they buy an app, teachers need to ask themselves ‘What problem am I trying to solve?’” says Karen Mahon, president and founder of Balefire Labs, which hosts reviews of more than 1,600 education-related applications. “There is such a variety of educational apps available—from instructional to creativity to tools—and they focus on very different problems. If you have a clear idea of what learning objective you're looking to target with an app, not only will your search be more efficient but the use of a chosen app will be more effective as well.”

3. Encourage Creation

At Good Shepherd Episcopal School in Dallas, students learn by creating. “Creation comes in many forms, from digital books to videos to mind maps—all of which offer students the opportunity to use and apply knowledge rather than just memorize it,” says Julie McLeod, the school’s director of technology. “In general, we look for apps that help students create or do. These are not necessarily subject-specific apps. We want the child to lead the learning and the technology—not the technology to lead the child. So we look for open-ended apps.”

4. Document and Assess

McLeod says tablets offer a great opportunity for students to document their thinking, “which opens up powerful opportunities for self-reflection and self-assessment. When students are able to ‘see’ their thinking, they tend to set high standards for themselves and want to redo the work over and over again until it is perfect.” Be sure apps are tied into a platform that records kids’ activities and levels of achievement.

5. Access and Apply Knowledge

When used correctly, tablets help accelerate learning. “Teaching is only as effective as the learning that takes place,” McLeod says. “Typical assessments of learning that include tests and papers offer a one-dimensional view of what a student knows. In addition, knowledge is vast and easily accessible in today’s world. So the true hallmark of a learned person is one who can access and use that knowledge. These are the types of learning we aspire to, which is why we want students creating and documenting.”

Margot Carmichael Lester is a freelance journalist and owner of The Word Factory in Carrboro, NC. She frequently teaches writing workshops in K-college classrooms. The granddaughter of school teachers and administrators, she’s a staunch education advocate. Follow her on Google+.

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