6 Things We Know for Sure with iPads in School | Edutopia
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Wondering what will happen if your school brings iPads into the classroom? Is your district discussing the purchase of iPads as opposed to laptops? Here at Bellevue Public Schools in Bellevue, Nebraska, we have dipped our toes into the iPad arena and have discovered some amazing and inevitable elements from our experiences!

We are not an iPad-saturated district. In fact, we have intentionally not implemented this model as we feared that iPads would become dust collectors, picture frames or bookends. Assuming teachers will know what to do with them is a completely false assumption. Our model has been one of control, training, coaching and reflection. Not everyone in our district receives a cart of iPads. Out of approximately 800 teachers, 16 have sets of 30 iPads.

Our Process

First Step

Our teachers voluntarily undergo six intense days of Apple Foundations Training. (Our district has two Apple Certified Trainers, myself and my colleague Ann Feldmann.) These sessions focus on the MacBook's operating system, iLife, iWork, mobile learning and the SAMR model.

Second Step

These trained teachers apply to our pilot iPad Academy program. As part of the academy, teachers receive a cart of iPads for a 1:1 environment. Then they learn how to manage the devices, implement the iPads on a daily basis, and begin working with a coach. Applications are reviewed by district coaches and our Director of Technology Greg Boettger (@gkboettger).

Third Step

Chosen teachers are assigned a coach who works side by side with them throughout the year. I am one of these lucky coaches. Coaching has enabled me to make some discoveries about what happens when iPads are used effectively in the classroom.

After having been through the cycle completely, there are some things I know for sure will occur this school year with our new batch of iPad Academy participants.

What iPads Will Bring to Our Schools

1. The Need for Reflection

Reflection becomes a key piece of this experience. Being able to look back, analyze and rethink how something was done only brings us closer to being effective digital teachers. Some of our tools for reflections are Google+ communities and Hangouts, Twitter, using the #ipadacademy hashtag, teacher blogs, and periodic face-to-face meetings with the entire group. As educators, we understand the importance of reflection. However, as the years pass and we master our routines, reflection is often overlooked and underutilized. As a trainer, I get to push teachers to reflect, discuss and rethink their instruction. It is amazing to watch their teaching change as a result of quality reflection time.

2. Pacing Ourselves

Helping our teachers realize that the pace of their instruction must slow down while the iPads are being introduced is critical for a successful iPad rollout. One teacher stated this week, "OK. I know. I tried to do too much." After introducing the iPads and also trying to accomplish curriculum goals all in 45 minutes, this teacher recognized that it just isn't possible! Once the students know how to get around the device and utilize specific apps, then the curriculum pace can increase. But not until then.

3. Dealing with Obstacles

Moments of rethinking how we deliver instruction, assess students and collect their work creep up immediately once iPads are in students' hands. This creates discomfort for teachers, but they must overcome being their own obstacle for change. As one teacher asked, "How do I grade their packet of notes for review now that their work will be in Google Drive?" I replied, "Well, how can you arrange it differently so that they apply knowledge instead of just copying it in a packet?"

These daily questions arise, and I get to watch our teachers try a different approach that pushes students deeper into their own learning. There will be other obstacles like blocked websites that need to be opened, updated apps that force some relearning, and lacking enough time to accomplish teacher goals. However, we've made sure to have processes in place that deal with most of these roadblocks.

4. Embracing Change

One thing for sure, the teachers that we get to work with evolve in a way the others do not. Daily use of an iPad changes the way students interact with each other, their teacher and their content. In this supportive environment, teachers are able to try new ways of teaching old content. Differentiation becomes easier with the iPad. Teachers actually state that they have more free time once they master the paperless workflow. The delivery of information often goes through the Google Drive app. Workflow becomes paperless with immediate feedback through Drive, Explain Everything, Socrative, Kidblog, YouTube and other web-based applications.

5. Opening Us to Creativity

Students have access to a variety of apps that allow for creativity. By demonstrating their knowledge through apps such as Explain Everything, iMovie and Keynote, they provide teachers with an opportunity for alternative assessments. Students also experience flexibility to demonstrate their knowledge instead of a multiple-choice paper-and-pencil test. As they naturally begin to own their learning through the creative process on the iPad, students are proud of their work and eager to share their products.

6. Collaboration

Collaboration increases for both teachers and students as a result of our iPad Academy. Teachers collaborate on ideas, problem solving, and providing support for each other. It is scary trying new things, and knowing they have each other is a huge help! Students begin collaborating more often as well, because now the tasks have changed to creating videos, multimedia projects and Google docs. I believe we are better together, and this experience often proves my point.

Anticipating Change

While it is still early in our school year, I can't wait to watch all of these things happen as I know they will. And I will be ready to listen, to question and to guide. It's an exciting time here in Bellevue!

The next time you are in a discussion about iPads in the classroom, ask yourself and your team two questions:

  1. How do you see iPads changing the way teachers teach?
  2. How can you ensure that iPads will be implemented in a way that will guarantee increased engagement and improve instruction?

Comments (22)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Lisa Pospishil's picture
Lisa Pospishil
PreK-12 Assistive Technology and Tech Integration

Very well written and insightful article. It's not about the device, but what we do with it to inspire and foster learning and change. The openness to change traditional roles, creativity, collaboration, higher order thinking and more makes everyones' work and struggles worth it in the end. Great Job Jennifer, Ann, Brent and Bellevue staff for being pioneers.

James Pinto's picture

Fantastic article. I love the line: "Teachers collaborate on ideas, problem solving, and providing support for each other. It is scary trying new things, and knowing they have each other is a huge help!" SwiftLaunch actually built an app exactly for that purpose, for fostering school-wide iPad roll-outs in the classroom, too!

Kim Crutchfield's picture
Kim Crutchfield
Certified Teacher and Product Mentor for OnCourse Systems for Education

Excellent read, I love hearing about districts and teachers taking the initiative with technology integration.

newteacherhelp.com's picture
Adjunct Instructor at Missouri State University

It has been said that trying to get information about implementing iPads is like trying to get a drink out of an open fire hydrant! So much info. that people don't know where to start! This article was very well written, and provided a great step-by-step process. One other online resource I found very helpful is at http://bit.ly/iPadLesson1 Thanks!

Mandy Derfler's picture

After reading your opening paragraph, I was intrigued to learn more about the use and implementation of iPads in your school district. Currently, there is a big push to purchase and implement the use of iPads in my district. Like you stated in your post, there are many challenges to creating this "change" and one of the problems in my school is the teachers that do have access to them are just allowing them to collect dust and make nice decorations on their shelves and cabinet spaces.

One thing you pinpointed in your post was dealing with some of the obstacles created by technology such as first having kids learn to use them (and do so appropriately). One trick I have found that seems to be effective is I have created a bulletin board that looks like an iPad. It includes printouts that look like apps on the home screen and the printouts contain step-by-step directions on how to access content, how to complete a task, how to change particular settings, as well as other pertinent information on iPad use. This has been so beneficial to me since I don't have to repeat things 20 times; I can just point to the bulletin board and the kids can figure it out on their own. Have you found this to be a major issue in your school (kids figuring out how to use the iPad)? If so, what things have you done to overcome that obstacle?

Obviously, this is one small tidbit I took from the information you posted. I'm looking forward to hearing some responses and continuing the discussion.

David Smith's picture

I love my iOS devices and use them constantly in my work, but I'm struck by how many of the items in your list are tablet-independent. It is awesome that your teachers got time to work with coaches and to reflect on their teaching. That's very strong professional development. Why is this opportunity tied to a cart of iPads? Also, why do teachers need to be given a cart full of iPads to discover the power of trying new approaches? To me, the first four items on your list say more about the existing state of professional development than they do about anything specifically iPad-ish.

That said, I think the last two points, especially the power of iOS apps to unlock digital media for students and turn them into content creators instead of content consumers is one of the strongest attributes of iOS devices for the classroom. The other strong attribute you mention is the ability to individualize content flow, with each student doing her own research, instead of all students watching the same slideshow from the teacher.

Brianna's picture
2nd Grade teacher

I like your idea of creating a bulletin board to introduce to the students how the iPad works. This is such a great visual in the classroom and engages the students. I also like the idea that the students can problem solve on their own using this board. Great idea! I agree this article is very interesting. I like how she mentioned that the iPad gives teachers an opportunity to reflect and embraces a new change. This is a great way to change the way students learn integrating technology!

The National Math and Science Initiative's picture

This is an excellent article, one that we will certainly be sharing on our social media channels. We've written about the benefits of technology in the classroom before (http://bit.ly/16QiM3M), but it was refreshing to hear a first-hand account of how iPads have positively impacted this school. Thanks for sharing!

Jennifer Svienty's picture

Our school has been toying with the idea of integrating iPads into the classroom, but I don't believe that teacher training was involved in the process. The intense training you describe and subscribe to is an absolute must when considering implementing any type of new technology in the classroom. Often times, as a middle school math teacher, I wonder how my students can utilize an iPad to further their learning. Special education students may have difficulty grasping the technology, but then again maybe they wouldn't.

How can teachers overcome the burden of lost time (pacing) when implementing the technology? Many of my students are ELL's and have difficulty comprehending the wording of SOL questions. How can we ensure that these students are mastering mathematical concepts as well as learning typical test taking skills?

I'm enthralled with the concept - if such a program were available to my students, I would like to begin the process at the end of one school year or during a summer program so that we could jump right in at the beginning of the next school year.

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