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Tablet Connectivity: Apps to Support Interdisciplinary Learning

Written by Rochelle Tkach

For students to engage in rich knowledge building experiences, student learning should not happen through isolated curriculum subjects. It is suggested that learning experiences are strongest when students are required to analyze, synthesize, and connect information between two or more disciplines. The Council of Ontario Directors of Education (CODE, 2015) stresses how differing disciplines naturally complement one another and provide students with rich perspectives that reflect the real world rather than focusing on a single discipline. When considering the demands of the modern workplace, it is unlikely that anyone would learn and practice one type of discipline at a time or just focus on one discipline throughout their whole career. Students will be expected to professionally develop and practice in their field while utilizing multiple disciplines.

An interdisciplinary approach to education not only enhances students’ authentic learning environment, but it further encourages students to activate knowledge construction skills such as analyzing, synthesizing, critical thinking, and evaluating. Interdisciplinary learning overall can be described as the process of combining content, important ideas, and methods between two or more subjects to be delivered and learned together. Students should therefore be assessed on both subjects at the same time.

Interdisciplinary teaching and learning is strengthened through the use of technology, and the ability of digital tools to connect different learning environments required for different disciplines. For example, having the ability to flip between screens that support students’ content knowledge development (e.g., a science e-book) and a mind mapping app for students to pre-write and gather ideas for a report demonstrates how digital technologies like tablets can enhance an interdisciplinary approach to education. Digital technologies can strengthen a more fluid connection between subjects, enhance knowledge construction, and further strengthen digitally networked collaborative projects.


The following are a list of iPad apps to strengthen the connection between content specific subject areas (i.e., science and social studies) and language arts.

War of 1812

This app is a digital graphic novel on the War of 1812. The connections between social studies and language arts are very apparent when considering reading fluency and comprehension. This digital graphic novel could not only be used to facilitate the study of the War of 1812, but it could also be used to assess students’ reading or provide content students need to write a reading response in language arts.

The Underground Railroad: Journey to Freedom

This app provides a fantastic multi-media and multi-modal digital experience for students to understand the journey of escaping slavery. Students take on the role of a slave trying to escape. They must read information, interact with the setting, and make decisions based on what they see or hear in order to make a safe journey. This app could also be used to assess reading comprehension since students are reading text to then make important decisions in the digital learning environment. After the journey is over, students are given immediate feedback on how well they did throughout the journey. This feedback could then be used to develop a reflective written piece within another app. The ability to move fluidly between two different screens becomes a more succinct and easier process with tablets.

News-O-Matic

News-O-Matic is a daily newspaper for kids. The articles within the app cover a wide variety of subjects including science, social studies, sports, politics, and other events happening around the world. The articles are written in a kid friendly way, and the paid version of the app also has a feature for teachers to differentiate the text based on Lexile reading levels. As students read about a topic within News-O-Matic, they can highlight text for later use as a citation, supporting a connection with language arts. The app can be used as a platform for students to build knowledge and then extend this knowledge through literacy based extension activities. There is also a feature for students to collect the general citation from their articles to put in a bibliography.

TeleStory

TeleStory is a fantastic app for students to create speeches, presentations, or digital news reports. Students are able to choose from a variety of themes such as a news reporter setting. The app works like a video recorder where students record themselves, and the shot is integrated with a background, outfit, and hairstyle theme. The theme overlaps onto the students’ recording of themselves. Students are able to create cue cards or talking points ahead of time within the app so that they know what they will say while recording. These cue cards will show up as students are recording. This app is fantastic to support language oral vocabulary and synthesizing information. Teachers can easily integrate other curriculum subjects into this learning task by having students present on topics outside of the language curriculum (i.e., environmental issues).

Notability

As mentioned above in the general overview of interdisciplinary learning, certain apps make the process of integrating two or more subjects possible by providing fluid and easy connections between other websites or apps. Notability is an interactive note-taking app. If students are using an e-book to research for a science, social studies, art, or other discipline specific subjects, notability provides the digital platform for students to bring all of their ideas together. Students can upload screenshots, type notes, make connections with digital drawing tools, and highlight points within the app. The best feature of notability is that students can split the screen within the app and view their research website while manipulating the notability document at the same time. This will then help students synthesize important keynotes and allow for less transition time while flipping between researching, note taking, and writing.

Inspiration Maps

Inspiration maps is a fantastic mind-mapping app for students to brainstorm, take notes, or present ideas. Inspiration maps supports an interdisciplinary unit by providing an abundance of pre-made templates specific for different content areas. All of these maps therefore could be the beginning pre-writing points for a later written report or oral presentation. For history, the map templates available are: Civilization Analysis, Event Analysis, Issue Analysis, and Time Period Analysis. For science, the map templates available are: Cell Comparison, Classification, Communicable Diseases, Famous Experiment, Lab Report Diagram, Lab Report Outline, Six Kingdoms of Biology, and Vocabulary List.


These are just a few examples of apps that could support an interdisciplinary approach to education. The main point regarding mobile technologies and enhancing the connection between different disciplines is that technology makes the process more fluid. Whether the app itself has built in interdisciplinary connections or the app has the potential to complement other apps, tablets in general allow for an easy transition to flip between different apps and support the integration of multiple curriculum areas.


References:

A 21st Century Vision of Public Education for Canada (2012)

21st Century Learning Activity Rubrics (Innovative Teaching and Learning, 2012)

About the author

Rochelle Tkach

Rochelle Tkach (@RochelleTkach) is a guest contributor to the Learning Bird blog as well as an Ontario Certified Teacher working as an Elementary Occasional Teacher for the District School Board of Niagara.
She is a passionate educator advocating for 21st century learning practices. When she is not sparking creativity in the classroom, she is working diligently to complete a Master of Education at Brock University. Her research focuses on how tablets can enhance students’ 21st century skills through the specific features and multi-modality embedded within apps. Rochelle’s mission is to place more emphasis on EdTech pedagogy and the reasons behind why EdTech should be blended into the inclusive classroom.

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