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The Dos and Don'ts for Integrating iPads

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator
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"Put your wands away!" Professor Umbridge from the Harry Potter stories would tell the students at the beginning of each class. After a few classes when Professor Umbridge would make the announcement, "Put your wands away," the students did not have to do anything because they never even bothered to take the wands out. Interestingly enough, I witnessed a similar experience in my own wizarding school, um, I mean just school. Forgive the allusion to Harry Potter, but there are just too many wonderful parallels.

Our freshman and sophomore students all had iPads (wands) and some of the teachers would have them looking up information, collaborating on an app, or watching chemistry movies. But some teachers were just like Professor Umbridge: "Put your iPads away. If I see them they will be confiscated." Student knew not to even expect to use them in these teachers' classes. Most surprisingly, some of these teachers were the "superstars" of the campus.

Teacher Tech Blues

When I asked them why they did not use the iPads in the classes they taught, these are some of the reasons they mentioned:

  1. I don't have time to both prepare a good lesson and then figure out how to fit the technology into it.
  2. I don't want to baby sit my students and keep track of whether they are playing games or not in my class.
  3. I am not the iPad police and I do not want the responsibility of supervising them.
  4. The iPads are just a distraction for my students.
  5. If the students are allowed to use their iPads, they won't listen to me.
  6. Not all my students have iPads so none of my students can use them to make it fair .
  7. I don't have anything for them to do with the iPads that they could not do with paper and pencil.

The two messages that I got out of these remarks are that the teachers did not trust the students, and that they did not have the skills or appropriate apps for the students to be productive with the iPads.

As I reflected on this information, I pondered the ramifications:

  • Teachers learn quickly to not trust students
  • Most of the rules, policies and procedures we teachers have set up in the classroom are because of perhaps only one student that made the rule necessary, but in the process of establishing that rule, we typically ignore all of the other well-behaved students
  • One student ruins it for all students. While giving them an expensive device is a certain amount of trust, it is going too far to expect that they will use the device appropriated of their own free will
  • Some teachers feel uncomfortable when they do not have complete control. To them, teacher control must be enforced and if they can't enforce it, then they will eliminate the distraction

Normally this is good practice, but not when it comes to iPads, which are all about discovery and exploration.

Mistakes Made

But I thought it was outrageous that teachers would not use the iPads in class because it is too hard for them to adapt or learn ("If I had this type of tool when I was a teacher...."). I knew I could not finish that statement because on further introspection, I recognized that there were a number of mistakes that I made as an administrator. I assumed that because the teachers are computer literate, that the teachers would take the initiative and find the apps and make the learning connections with the technology. They were given the summer before and a couple of months at the beginning of the school year to get ready, why weren't they? Some were ready and eager, most were not.

It wasn't until I left that school that I understood what I could have done to avoid the "wands away" mentality.

Here are my suggestions for avoiding such mistakes:

1. Setting Student Limits

While getting teachers to trust students will always be a challenge, if the teachers know that the students can only do certain things on the iPad or tablet, then this will allay some of their fears of abuse. A contributing factor of the lack of trust was that our iPads were wide open -- students could download what they wanted to (even though in their use-agreement they promised not to). I could have had the iPads locked down or a content filter installed, but I did not because that went against my belief about the iPads and learning. Our problem was that we went from nothing to the whole world at student's fingertips. Looking back, we should have increased the freedom incrementally allowing the students and the teachers to get use to each new level of freedom before going to a more open stance. Curriculum Loft and Classlink are excellent programs that can do this.

2. Selecting Software

The other thing that would have helped, and which I understood too late, was that iPads and tablets are going to replace desktops and laptop computers entirely. That means that productivity software should be on all of them as if they were laptops and desktops. These mobile devices come with a certain limited set of writing software (note pad), but they need the word processor, spreadsheet, and other creative software to make them really useful replacements for computers.

3. Properly Preparing Teachers

The final thing I should have done to help the iPad implementation is to train the teachers on how to use the iPads to teach. Sure, I sent teachers to workshops and conferences, but we did not do any concerted training as a school about iPads and student learning. Had I figured this out earlier, I would have had the teachers practice on each other, and I would have required them to submit at least one lesson a week that would use the iPads as a learning tool. I ran across a company that not only teaches teachers how to use the technology, but also teaches them (provides examples and templates) on how to effectively teach with the technology. It's called Sublime Learning. This type of embedded learning is what teachers need in order to use technology tools effectively (e.g. interactive whiteboards, multimedia projectors, electronic tablets, and calculators).

In the Future

So basically, if I had established a more rigid structure for acceptable wand use, obtained more spells (not just free ones because you get what you pay for), and provided concentrated "how do I inspire learning with wands?" training, then things would have gone much better our first year.

What implementation advice do you have to share? Please tell us in the comment section below.

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Comments (17) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Ben Johnson's picture
Ben Johnson
Administrator, author and educator


I keep forgetting that some teachers view everything they write down as part of their evaluation, and therefore are hesitant to take any risks. This is a sad commentary on our profession. Basically, if I told the teachers that the iPad lessons would not be part of their evaluations, then I could guarantee support and participation in requiring a lesson a week with integrated iPad learning... Hmmm.

I like your idea of reflections about how things were going each week. It makes the assumption that some technology was being used, and asks teachers to share lessons learned. I can see that this sort of attitudinal survey would be valuable in gauging the relative buy in of the iPad implementation.

Thanks for your comments.

Ben Johnson
San Antonio, Texas

Amanda M.'s picture
Amanda M.
Elementary Reading Specialist and TBIP teacher

I received an iPad last year and was told to look up apps that would benefit the students in my classroom. I had no idea where to begin. I began searching and I was overwhelmed. I also did not want to buy an app that would turn out to be absolutely useless. So far I have used the iPad to check my email and follow along with our agenda during collaboration times. As you said, we have to have support before we can implement new technology in the classroom. I not only need support, but I need resources. I plan to check into the 3 resources you listed, and I hope that will aid in my resource dilemma. Are there any apps or resources out there that have been proven to be useful in an elementary reading classroom? I would appreciate any suggestions. Also, I only have the one iPad so keep that in mind. Thank you for your information Ben. It has been helpful.

Robin's picture
First Grade

I bought an iPad with the hopes of incorporating in my classroom a year ago. I use it a little bit, but not nearly what I had hoped to do. Right now with my class, it is best utilized with small groups. The students are so excited to use it and it really gets them excited. I have found some reading programs that we use and some math games. I really would like to find something to use with the whole class but like everyone else need some more time to do research on what is out there. I actually just stopped by the Apple store yesterday to see what workshops they have coming up, but there was not anything in the area for teachers. I'm hopeful that they will have something soon. Thank you for the tips you shared on avoiding common mistakes. Our school does have a filter but even that is not foolproof. I have seen my 6 year old students pull up some pretty strange stuff when they accidentally mistype the address they are looking for on our classroom computers! They did not intentionally seek out the site but still got on something inappropriate.
I have also heard buzzings from the administrators that textbooks are on the way out as technology improves. The more we learn about them now, the easier it will be for all of us in the future.

Kristina's picture
4th Grade teacher

I appreciated your post. Our school purchased a cart of ipads for shared use among 3 classrooms for this year. I am very excited and have been exploring how to use them. I am also overwhelmed with the number of resources and how to narrow it down to the best, so that student learning is enhanced. I appreciate the websites you shared and plan to look into them. I was wondering if you had thoughts on how to establish criteria for adding programs or apps to the ipads. Would you suggest that teachers are allowed to add anything they want to the ipads or that there be a process that they go through to get an app approved for using? As I have been researching this summer, I have been particularly interested in making sure that the apps we add are not only drill apps, but are ones that encourage critical thinking, allow students to be creative, and encourage collaboration.

Andrew F.'s picture
Andrew F.
Math Teacher, 5th grade

The iPad Pool

Our school has recently received a cart of iPads, and they will be available for use this school year. Most teachers took advantage of a one-day training offered by the district. This was a good introduction on using an iPad, but it fell short of offering concrete ways to integrate iPad use in the classroom. We went over several apps but it is still up to the teacher to figure out how to use this technology to effectively teach content/process standards.
I, personally, am excited to integrate iPads into my mathematics classroom. I think the level of engagement will increase exponentially. I just have this sinking feeling that I will be spending countless hours of my own time to figure out how to do it. Fortunately, I enjoy technology and this will mostly feel like playing to me. Many of my colleagues, however, do not want to invent a curriculum for iPad use when there are paper/pencil options.
As a PLC facilitator in our building, I feel the most effective way to increase technology use in our building will be to have those who are excited and willing to dive into the iPad pool share their experiences with other staff members. I think this will be an authentic way to build interest and buy-in across our building and district.
Thank you for the link to Sublime Learning. I look forward to researching how this might support our staff's growing use of technology. When we launch our PLC's this year, I can see this being a useful tool as we inquire about how to best support our students.

Tracy P's picture
Tracy P
3rd Grade Teacher

I had that same problem when they typed in sites or we lose time in just getting to the site. I found that if you download a QR codes creator you can make bar codes for the kids to scan. These bar codes will be the approved sites you want them to go to so they do not accidentally get into a site they should not. I use the application called Qrafter. You can label and laminate these codes and put them in a notebook or tape them in an easy to scan spot.

Michelle W.'s picture
Michelle W.
Math Specialist/School Test Coordiator

A set of 30 iPads were just purchased for my elementary school for the 2013-2014 school year. In anticipation for this I attended a workshop over the summer that models new and innovative ways to incorporate the iPads, and other technologies, into instruction. There is a way to lock the iPad so that student searches are restricted. One of the biggest take aways for me was that it is important for your school or county to purchase certain apps for students to really be able to make use of the iPad as more than just drill activities. IBooks was a great app that, when used well, students can create presentations in class. It is important that the teachers are comfortable with the technology as well, or comfortable enough to allow their students to share their knowledge. Good luck!

Mandy's picture
First grade teacher/graduate student from Texas

Even though I don't really encourage bringing an ipad to school in first grade, I think ipads can be very useful in the classroom for secondary level education. I have junior high aged boys who both take their ipad mini and itouch to school. However, I am disappointed that they don't use their devices for their advantage. I understand it may be a challenge to keep this age of students on task but the ipads are so beneficial in the classroom. Having a mom for a teacher is not always fun, especially when I am always suggesting to "look it up on your ipad" during homework time. I just don't get it. Our children have so much at their fingertips but choose not to take advantage of the resources. I know my boys are listening to music and texting while in school because I received an imessage from my son when he should have been reading. Reading your blog would be beneficial to our teachers who may not want to deal with ipads at all. Just like any part of your day: get a plan and execute. The students will follow your lead.

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager


How about a way for teachers to share information about the apps they're using? That way there's an opportunity to build up a body of best practices amongst teachers, and if someone installed something funky, then you'll know.

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