Sunday, April 24, 2011

Nook vs Kindle: Some New Thoughts

I'm often asked by other librarians which eReader I would recommend, and I'm always quick to mention that regardless of what I say, they need to ask themselves the question "What is the purpose for the eReader or mobile device in my library, classroom, or school?"  Sometimes when a new piece of technology arrives on the scene, we think,

I have to have this--it's what I've been waiting for; this piece of technology will transform my teaching and student learning and literacy development.

Frankly, I've yet to see this happen (although there are positive rumblings of this very thing happening with the iPad).  However, how many schools have equipped every classroom and library with an interactive whiteboard, yet it is not being used any more effectively than a regular white board?  Or, worse yet--the technology is only being used to augment strictly lecture style instruction?  What I've noticed is that teachers who use technology effectively have transformed their teaching rather than the technology being responsible for any transformation.

The same applies to the use of any mobile device in a library/classroom.  So...what is the purpose for purchasing any mobile device is one of the most important questions that can be asked and answered.  How will it be used?  Is it just an electronic version of a print book or does it offer students opportunities to increase their vocabulary by using the online dictionary that allows them to learn words in context?  Is it just a mobile device that mimics the typical library lab computer or can an autistic student who has trouble concentrating in a computer lab environment use an iPad to help with focus while searching through online resources?  Those were some of my questions I had; everyone has their own set.  After the questions are asked and possibilities considered, movement towards piloting a mobile device or two needs to take place.

Be courageously progressive but cautious remains my motto for purchasing any mobile devices.  In our media center, we decided to start with just two Nooks.  I like the Nook because of the local customer service, the library lending options, and most importantly... the students prefer the Nook to the Kindle.  However, in recent months there have been rumors about the sale of Barnes and Noble and the possibility of physical bookstores becoming extinct in the near future (similar to the DVD rental stores).

Also, the Kindle will soon be able to borrow books from the public library according to a recent news article "Amazon to Allow Library Lending of Kindle Books."  With this new information (and speculation about physical bookstore extinction), I have been asking myself if I made the correct decision choosing the Nook over the Kindle or Sony for our student use, and my answer is "Yes" only because I didn't purchase an entire fleet of these devices; I started small.

When I look back at the questions I've asked (and still ask) about mobile devices and student use, it becomes less about what piece of technology should be purchased and more about why it's being purchased.  As the list of students on our "wait list" grew for wanting to check out the Nook, we purchased two more (Color Nooks for the second round).  The wait list continued to grow, so we ordered an additional two, which should be arriving shortly.  Our next step is to have two of our Nooks to house required reading material for class, three for circulating young adult literature (that is also used in many of our English classes), and one Color Nook to remain in the library to use for magazines.  If there is no need for additional devices, I will not purchase them.

Will I switch to Kindles or another still-to-be-developed eReader in the future?  Perhaps.  I may be forced to or what another eReader offers may one day better suit our student's learning needs.  Currently, the Nook works for our students and the Color Nook also allows them to use our databases and other online resources for student research as well as to read classroom required material.  The eReader is just a tool--not the answer for increasing literacy or student learning.  That's our job as librarians and teachers.

Relevant Learning: Angry Birds in the Kindergarten Classroom

I had the opportunity to visit Cedars School of Excellence in Greenock, Scotland during my spring break.  They were the first school in the world to have 1:1 iPad implementation, and I was impressed with their technology integration and teaching theories.  They do not view technology as something to be taught in isolation but rather as a tool within the context of learning.  Problem-based learning is also used daily.  Their teaching/learning theories lined up with mine, but more importantly, they have moved their teaching theories and models into the practical realm of real student learning.  (More on this in future posts as I continue to process what I saw and learned at the school.)

The first classroom I visited was Mrs. Speirs' kindergarten classroom, which was rich with literacy and math displays and students actively engaged in a writing exercise.  One of the displays that eventually caught my eye was an Angry Birds one, which was located right next to a creative display of Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  I had to ask Mrs. Speirs how she could possibly use Angry Birds with kindergarten students.  She said, "I've incorporated Angry Birds into my math lesson in terms of positional language, so I'm speaking about above and below, left and right, top and bottom, biggest and smallest and things like that."  Mrs. Speirs' display of an angry birds scene (which I hope to post after extracting from a video) had "positional language" words posted for student instruction and reference.

The students are not given the opportunity to play angry birds during class time, but they could choose it as an activity for free time, and what Mrs. Speirs noticed was that students were actually problem-solving with each other as they encountered difficulties reaching another level, discussing ideas of how to move to the next level, as well as exploring how they could assist each other.  All this during kindergarten "free-time."  Was Angry Birds the only iPad app that the students were using for learning?  Definitely not.  In fact, it is one of the minor ones, but I think the teacher is using what is relevant to students (a popular game) and shaping that into a learning experience at a level that kindergarten students can understand.  (For a list of iPad apps that are used in the kindergarten classroom at Cedars, check out Fraser Speirs' blog.  It's from October, so it's a little dated, but if I receive permission, I'll also post a list that Mr. Speirs recently sent me.)

As a Scottish cultural side note--which has nothing to do with student learning, except my own.....Mrs. Speirs had a stuffed Angry Bird in the classroom as well as an Angry Birds iPad cover.  When I asked where she got them, she said Amazon.  Yes, they do buy from Amazon in Britain as often as we do in the States.  Also, in a country that has what I believe to be the best chocolate in the world, the Scottish teachers were devouring American peanut butter and pretzel M&M's that one of their colleagues had brought back from the States.  I was astonished!  If you ever have a chance to visit Cedars School of Excellence--which I highly recommend that you do--go armed with an arsenal of pretzel and peanut butter M&M's.  I imagine you'll be their colleague and friend for life ;-) 

Friday, April 1, 2011

iPad 2 and Mirroring Capabilities

Today a student brought in his iPad 2 and VGA cable, and.... we discovered that when we hooked the iPad up to an LCD projector, it mirrors everything that is viewed on the iPad.  I have looked online and spoken to representatives at the Apple store for the past several weeks, and no one seemed to know if the iPad would work with VGA as well as HDMI, so I was thrilled to find out that the iPad will work with any of our VGA projectors in the district. Whether it's an app, the internet, a video...anything, it will be mirrored on the screen.  It's a teacher's dream for instruction.