George Lucas Educational Foundation
Technology Integration

6 Things We Know for Sure with iPads in School

October 23, 2013
Photo credit: Barrett.Discovery via flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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?

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