A (Differentiated) Classroom in Your Pocket



The iPod as a learning tool was the focus of this session, A Clasroom in your Pocket,  at the NJAET conference.  Mike Marra, a senior systems engineer from Apple, was the presenter.  Going into this session, I was familiar with iPods and had considered some of the applications it could have for classroom use.  I have used math games on my iPhone with the students that I tutor and my children love to play learning games when we are stuck waiting in line.  But, as I listened to the description of the multi-media capabilities that allow the iPod touch to capture and record video, photos and audio, I began to better understand the potential of this tool .  Its wireless capabilities, access to internet, and video conferencing applications make it a useful communication tool.  This is in addition to the more obvious gaming and media player features.  However, it wasn’t until we began discussing the accessibility features that I fully understood the power of this tool to serve as a classroom differentiation device.

IPods offer the opportunity to support learners on a more individualized basis. It has the potential to support differentiation by interest, learning style, and readiness as well as applications for use with English language learners and students with special needs.  Here are just a few examples of potential applications where the iPod touch could serve as a differentiation tool, based on features presented during this session:

  • Voice Recorder:  It can be used to support language learners (and some special needs learners) with recordings of lessons or directions that students can play back as needed.  It can also can help with recording students for practicing pronunciation and reading fluency.  In addition, accessibility features allow for screen reading, zoom and other setting to help those with physical impairments.
  • Media Player:  Support interest based and content learning by taking advantage of the many podcasts available through iTunes U and other educational sites, as well as the many audiobooks that are available.  Many museums and libraries have content available in video and audio form for use with students.  ITunes U also allows you to search for content (including lesson plans) by state standards indicators associated with the resources.
  • Applications: There are thousands of  learning games and support tools (flash cards, dictionaries,etc) available in the Apple Education site that can support the needs of individual students.  You can search for applications  by subject area and grade level.
  • Multi-media capture capabilities:  The iPod touch can serve as a digital camera, and video/audio recorder all in one, giving students more opportunity to create their own multi-media as part of a project based learning activity.  Video conferencing can also allow for additional  tools for students (and teachers) to communicate with experts in various content areas.


A logical question that follows is how to manage so many devices for so many individuals.   Mr. Marra demonstrated some of the products and tools that are available to help manage a classroom set of iPods, including power sync carts/ cases (shown here), managing playlists in iTunes to sync to a set of ipods, and the general settings feature that allows teachers to control what is accessible to students via a password lockdown.  All of these tools are meant to make using iPods with students easier and less time consuming.

Teaching with both differentiation and technology require advanced planning in order to be successful.   What I learned from this session is that there are great products and services available to help.  In order to get the most out of the technology tools available to you and your students, you have to make the tools work for you.    That means understanding and thinking about all the applications that one tool may have (even the ones that are not so obvious). It also means understanding and planning for  how the tool can support students in reaching the goals of a lesson.   Following this session, I googled “classroom differentiation with iPods” and immediately found many great resources and ideas that other educators have shared.   The presenter, an Apple employee, works with schools  and in the classroom to help teachers use their products effectively.  The information gained through this session illustrates the importance of taking advantage of resources and experts who are willing to share their knowledge.  Adopting a new technology or using a tool in a new way should be worth the work involved.  Technology should be used to make life easier and/or to enhance student learning.  The iPod is  an example of one tool that can be used in a multitude of ways to support individual students- a differentiated classroom tool that fits in your pocket.

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