Over two years ago, the faculty at my school were all given iPads. We had several professional development sessions to help integrate technology into our repertoire. But that was only the “amuse-bouche.” For educational technology enthusiasts such as myself, I was anxious to see how a 1:1 program would push my instruction.
I also knew there would be a learning curve. Looking back on the first year, I put together my thoughts on what worked and what didn’t. So here are my thoughts on last year – my first full year with 1:1 iPads.
I teach ninth graders. They often have one foot in middle school, and one foot in high school. The students they are in September are vastly different than the students they are by the following June. Some of them are extremely tech savvy, and blow me away with their ability to administrate their high school courses electronically. Others struggle with the distraction the iPads present.
Although distractions are inevitable, the past year taught me how to manage and minimize them.The following are my reflections on the learning curve for the past school year:
Musings on My First Year in a 1:1 iPad Classroom
- “The Honeymoon Phase”
- Engagement vs. Distraction
- Learning Styles
- The Case about Handwriting
- Classroom Management
- Fostering Engagement through Rigor + Metacognition
- Selecting Programs and Applications
#1 – “The Honeymoon Phase”
If you decide to embrace educational technology, which I certainly did, there is definitely a “Honeymoon Phase.” You feel like you have been given tools to connect/engage your students to the content like never before. Then, you spend a year in the classroom with an iPad in everyone’s hands.
If you are an educator that cares about constantly improving your instructional practices, the learning curve that ensues over the course of a year with 1:1 devices is tremendous. You quickly learn that iPads are not a panacea for the disengaged. There are so many other considerations a teacher must employ once each student gets a device into their hands.
Probably one of the biggest take-aways:
Even though we are teaching students who are “digital natives,”
this does not mean they know how to use technology in an academic/scholarly way.
#2 – Engagement vs. Distraction
When technology is engaging, it is powerful! Students can be engrossed in a task, and one idea can lead to another. The world is at the students’ fingertips, if they are aware of it. It is important for teachers to frame expectations. Teachers in a 1:1 environment are not only teaching content, but showing students how to own their learning.
While technology is a limitless tool when used correctly, it is easy to use it incorrectly. Anyone can be distracted by habits of checking social media, emails, or simply doodling. Using tech devices in the classroom can be equally distracting.
Q: What’s the solution?
A: Everything in moderation. Choose tech over other methods when it is the most appropriate solution, but do not make it the only solution.
#3 – Learning Styles
We have all heard of Howard Gardner’s “Intelligences.” As an educator, it is important to remember that devices may cater to some learners, but still do not offer something for every learning style. Opening our awareness to this will help us diversify tasks and how we use tech in our classrooms.
#4 – Handwriting
Evidence points to connection between handwriting and learning. Most annotation apps allow students to write with a stylus or their finger (E.g. Notability, Evernote).
At the end of the year, I had my students evaluate my course via a Google Form. I was surprised how many said they still preferred pen-and-paper for certain tasks. Looking back, there were activities that I could have offered more choice in how the students’ work could be executed/demonstrated.
Again, students who are supposed “digital natives” can also be resistant to educational technology. I suggest training them on the technology in your classroom first with everyone else.
Although most students liked storing all their notes and information for their classes in digital folders, a surprising number still prefer taking notes on hard copy.
Once students have tried various methods for note taking, annotating, reading text, research, etc., they should still be allowed choice in what works best for their learning style. If they can tell you how they learn best, why wouldn’t a teacher capitalize on that. Right?
Classroom management with 1:1 devices is the key to successful implementation of a 1:1 program. This is still an area of great development, that is quickly trying to catch up to the technology itself. You may have noticed that it is a topic of great question and debate at many conferences and online professional chats.
- Establish expectations with your students and be clear and follow through with them
- Let the kids play a bit with the technology to “get their giggles/wiggles out” so they won’t do it when they are supposed to be on task. It will eliminate temptation.
- Only use tech if the task is engaging and the pace can be solid. It is not meant to be “babysitting” or “entertaining” your students
- YOU are the best app on the kids’ iPads! Use the “the two eyes, two feet app” – keep circulating around the room. Once they know you are stationary – they will know they are being babysat and will start to go off task.
- Technology is not an all-the-time tool, and meant to be put away too.
Another helpful hint, which I am actually including this in my course syllabus this year:
Make it a rule that student devices should be flat on their desk. When not in use, tablets should be closed, stored, or flipped over. If students are using laptops, have them put their computers to a 45 degree angle while you are talking, or while not in use.
#6 – Fostering Engagement through Rigor + Metacognition
“Edtech” is not innovation. In the same way, difficulty is not rigor. Metacognition is the other piece I have learned to add into each task, in order to increase engagement and rigor. (See my previous blog post for more on this.)
Taking a moment to show students how to think about the task, open their awareness, and create a mindful group of learners makes each lesson I teach more successful than it would have been without the metacognitive piece.
Discussion, and having students explain things back to me are intellectually stimulating. Pulling ideas out into the “big picture,” pushing into the micro level, applying it to their experiences in life to ignite relevance all have shown to help relate to what my students are learning.
Increase of rigor is not guaranteed by these approaches, but more possible.
Choices About Process Elicit a Better Product
- Choice within the content material is also an accelerator of engagement, in my opinion.
- Giving students options on how they present what they know has shown to foster engagement in my own classroom.
- This gives a confidence boost to the students who like to “swim upstream” – and allows them to shine.
- As confidence goes up, so does one’s commitment to learning, and rigor is the by-product.
#7 – Assessment
Because of a large number of students, and the ability to quickly shift from one app to another, I did not allow electronic summative assessments. Instead, unit tests were completed on paper.
On the other hand, I fully embraced formative assessment on the devices. I included online quizzes for each unit on Schoology (our school’s chosen LMS). My students really took advantage of these self-checks. They were ungraded, and allowed students to review material covered, and check for reading comprehension.
- Play with a number of different apps that do the same thing, so you can find what is best for you (Notability vs. Evernote)
- Download free apps and play with them, or have students evaluate them!
- Get on board with what other teachers are doing, and share best practices. When multiple teachers use the same platform/apps, students are better versed on the program and can use it much more comfortably.
To Sum it Up:
- Invest in the time and energy to get “up and running” with the technology
- Know that you will need to reserve some class time for unknown tech issues
- Give students choices
- Novelty and diversity in tasks are key
- Never exclusively use one methodology monotonously
- Set clear expectations about tasks, and circulate to see that students are on-task
- Make sure students lay their device flat
- YOU are the best app there is! ☺
- Engage with colleagues about how they use tech in their classroom