George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Last fall, my high school handed iPads to each student in the building, and I began my journey as the school's Instructional Technology Coach. Since our faculty had spent the previous year preparing for the rollout, I knew our classroom environment and teaching methods would evolve. I welcomed it. But I could never have imagined how vast -- and rewarding -- that evolution would be.

To provide some structure for my journey, I joined a cross-curricular group of my colleagues who were focusing on action research in their classrooms. Questions permeate good action research -- mine was: "What does learning look like in a fully-committed 1:1 iPad high school classroom?" I gathered data from my three freshman English classes throughout the year while we engaged in a rich, ongoing cycle of experimentation, feedback, and discussion.

As an English teacher, I use the word "epiphany" all the time. But this year I came to understand that term on a more personal level -- not just once, but again and again. The following are a few of the most meaningful epiphanies that I experienced.

Epiphany #1: Students Should Be Partners in Action Research

Because I was as much a learner this year as my students, I was even more transparent than usual with them about my methods and purpose. Our rich cycle of experimentation and feedback provided a wealth of data, but more importantly, my 13- and 14-year-old students became far more confident as learners, self-advocates, and problem solvers than I had seen the previous year.

This growth was particularly visible in the results of my end-of-the-year technology survey. One hundred percent of the feedback I received was constructive, thoughtful, insightful, and serious. Not one of my students blew it off or used the survey as an opportunity to complain or bemoan a personal issue. As any high school teacher will agree, this seems a miracle.

Epiphany #2: Organization Is Inherently Tied to Learning

I expected my students to be most drawn to creative tools or games on the iPad. And although they enjoyed many of these, it turns out that Schoology, (a learning management system) and Notability (a note-taking and annotation app) were by far my students' most frequently-used and appreciated apps.

Is this because Schoology and Notability have some magic that other tools don't? Not at all. Rather, my students said that their learning improved because, in my paperless class, everything they needed was on their iPads, so they stayed more organized and felt more in control of their learning.

And here’s the kicker. Students began using Schoology to ask and answer each other's questions before I even saw them. By the second semester, I was answering far fewer "unnecessary" questions and had more time to spend on what they really needed to know. This alone was worth its weight in gold.

Epiphany #3: Assessments Can Be Both Fun and Effective

As I began a unit on Homer's The Odyssey, my principal told me about a free online tool called Kahoot!, which allows teachers to create quizzes that run like a game show using iDevices as the clickers. I wondered, "What would happen if I used this tool to assess students' comprehension of the text instead of using traditional reading quizzes?"

We had eight games throughout the unit. Each time, students poured into the room, fizzing with excitement and quizzing each other about the reading. The timed questions were punctuated with groans and cheers, followed by proud yells from students who found themselves on the leaderboard.

When was the last time you saw a traditional reading quiz have this effect on a class?

Yet it wasn't just a game. Using a graph provided at the end of each question, I could immediately assess and correct student understanding as needed. After the game, I was also able to download a spreadsheet containing each student's answers so that I could follow up with individuals who struggled.

And really, isn't that what good formative assessment is all about?

Epiphany #4: Digital Tools Can Improve the Writing Process and Final Product

I know there is no magic tool that will grade essays for me. But I wondered, "What would happen if I went paperless with essays? Can I improve both my process and student learning?"

To the joy of my English teacher heart, going paperless allowed me to add extra rounds of drafting, peer review, and revision for students -- essential parts of good writing process that can be difficult to include due to time constraints. I was also able to provide timely narrative feedback on both rough drafts and final essays. And I did all of this within the same two weeks I used last year, without adding extra grading time.

More importantly, almost all my students felt better about their writing process and final drafts. And I was also thrilled to discover that their final essays were of higher quality.

Epiphany #5: I'm (Gladly) Not Done Yet!

Good teaching requires continuous flexibility, innovation, experimentation, data gathering, data crunching, and reevaluation. And even when I believe that I've answered one question, another rises in its place. Discouraging? Not in the slightest. Invigorating, inspiring, and energizing? Absolutely.

Have you had any 1:1 experiences that you'd label as epiphanies? Please tell us about them in the comments below.

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Comments (13) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

PVTechCoach's picture

After 3 years in a 1:1, my biggest epiphany is that kids can do so much more than you think they can. When every student has a device in their hands, the ownership of learning can be transferred to the student, allowing the teacher to adapt to a new role of facilitator. Teachers no longer need to be the sole owner and giver of knowledge. Instead, they can celebrate that their students often come in with more knowledge because they have access to it! That background knowledge can then be used to foster collaborative work, problem solving, and authentic teaching and learning.

Jen Marie Robustelli's picture

We love hearing stories like this at Schoology HQ, and we're always happy to help. Thanks for the great article and feedback, Alyssa!

M. Goldring's picture

I thoroughly enjoyed your post because I have been struggling with the implementation of the Amplify Tablet in my classroom. Unlike your students, my students are drawn to the creative tools and games and this becomes a distraction during instruction. Although this tablet does have a quiz maker, I have had experience using Kahoot! in a workshop that I attended. In an attempt to change my students' attitudes about testing, I will give it a try during this upcoming school year. Additionally, writing is definitely an area of improvement for my students. They need as many opportunities as they can get to revise and rewrite. Your advice on going paperless may save me time while giving them more time to submit quality work. I was very selective last year about what I would use the tablet for, but your success story has given me hope! Thank you for sharing!

Alyssa Tormala's picture
Alyssa Tormala
Instructional Technology Coach and Information Science Department Chair at St. Mary's Academy

I'm so very glad the article made a difference for you M. Golding! I applaud your determination and willingness to keep trying even when the going gets rough--sometimes the best stuff happens when you think it won't. With regard to going paperless, I haven't had as much experience with the Amplify Tablets, but I can say that my best tools for paperless writing were our LMS (Schoology in this case) and Notability (an annotation tool). If you can use a combination of tools like that, it can make a huge difference. Keep an eye on my website'm planning a post in the next week or two that will detail the paperless essay process I used. Perhaps it will help.

Good luck this year!

M. Goldring's picture

I will be patiently waiting on that post! Thank you again and good luck to you as well!

CharleyH's picture

Just saw this blog and checked out Kahoot! Seems like a great and fun way to engage students. Thank you for the post. With 1:1 iPads, what do you do when students break the devices? Does this happen often?

Alyssa Tormala's picture
Alyssa Tormala
Instructional Technology Coach and Information Science Department Chair at St. Mary's Academy

Hi Charley: Glad you like the idea of Kahoot--we are loving it. And a great question! Our school bought/leased the iPads and insured them through Apple Care. So if the iPad breaks, we can get it replaced and the family pays $50. This has worked well so far.

CharleyH's picture

We're just researching this more. So if an ipad breaks its $100 for the applecare insurance and then $50 if it actually breaks? And have they been breaking a lot?

ddiianni's picture

Hi Alyssa,
I found your comments and ideas on using the ipad to improve student writing through the process of drafting, peer review, and revisions very powerful. This is a great example of using technology to increase student performance and, in this case leveraging the creative process very effectively. Can you reply about which apps you're using to do this?

Alyssa Tormala's picture
Alyssa Tormala
Instructional Technology Coach and Information Science Department Chair at St. Mary's Academy

I'm so glad you found this a useful article! The process definitely revolutionized the way I approached revision and peer review in my English classes. Our students have iPads, so the easiest way I found to make this work was:
1) Students uploaded their first drafts to an assignment on Schoology (our LMS).
2) They opened their drafts in Notability as PDFs, then handed their iPads to their partners. The partners used the annotation functions of Notability to write on the paper (and I provided a checklist of items to be reviewed.)
3) Students uploaded the peer reviewed draft to Schoology as version 2 of the assignment.
4) Students revised their papers on their own, then uploaded a new draft as version 3 to the Schoology assignment.
5) I could review and comment on any or all of these various drafts as needed. It was also a great way to assess peer review skills.

I would repeat this process as needed until final drafts were uploaded. Then I could grade the final drafts through my iPad Schoology app using the annotation, audio feedback, and rubric functions. Since all previous drafts and peer review comments were attached to the same assignment, I could toggle between them as needed.

If you don't use iPads, this process could also be done through Google Docs or other collaborative tools.

The time and paper savings as a result of this process were staggering! (I'm talking dozens of hours and thousands of pages of paper!) But even better was the immediate improvement in writing and peer review. I can't imagine going back to my old methods!

I hope this is helpful! Thanks for commenting!

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