I originally viewed these devices as just a new platform for students to work on in an engaging way... i.e. trick them into doing the same work but on a distracting new device. I searched for apps that were relevant to what we were studying or for data collection. I found that the students enjoyed the novelty of a new device, but weren't really doing anything that they couldn't do on their ChromeBooks.
Reading Lisa Gurney's article "The Smart Way to Use iPads in the Classroom" helped solidify my thinking on how I plan to introduce and use the iPads in my classroom next year. Gurney references observing the use of iPads in a Swiss classroom. "Teachers I talked to seemed uninterested, almost dismissive, of animations and gamelike apps. Instead, the tablets were intended to be used as video cameras, audio recorders, and multimedia notebooks of individual students’ creations. The teachers cared most about how the devices could capture moments that told stories about their students’ experiences in school. Instead of focusing on what was coming out of the iPad, they were focused on what was going into it." Reading this observation confirmed my trial-and-error gut instinct that I needed to inspire my students to use the iPads to document their understanding in unique ways.
The app "Explain Everything" has changed my classroom. Not only are students able to articulate their understanding of content across all subjects and submit the video file of this evidence to me over Google Drive, but they are constantly asking me if we can record more instructional videos. They're using the iPads in ways that have helped them to view themselves as teachers that are capable of sharing their thinking. This is HUGELY important to me for 2 reasons 1: I'm getting meaningful feedback on my student's understanding of a topic (in their own words) 2: My students see the meaning in the activity and want to use it to help others.
My brain is churning with innovative ways to inspire my students to capture and document their learning and thinking using the iPads next year!