Thursday, September 24, 2015

5 Things I Learned About Teaching When We Gave All Our Students iPads

We are currently in our fourth year of a 1:1 initiative in our district.  Through the use of iPads, Mac Books, and PC laptops all students K-12 have access at any given point of the day to some kind of technology.

Our middle schoolers have iPads.  The move to 1:1 devices has made for some challenging, frustrating, and learning experiences for all those involved.  Here are some of the things I have learned along the way.

1.  Know Your District's Expectations Upfront

Throughout the first year I found myself having imaginary arguments in my head with administration.  I felt guilty every time I didn't have my students using their iPad in class or every time I would print copies of papers to hand out in class.  I was worried that someone would come in and accuse me of wasting the districts money or printing too many copies.  In my head I would defend myself (and win) every imaginary argument.  It was stressful.

Eventually that lead me to making digital scans of all my assignments and having kids complete things using apps on the iPad.  We did assignment after assignment and my paper usage decreased more than 50%.  

Here's the thing.  No one ever said anything about going "paperless."  No one ever said the kids have to be using the iPads "X" amount of days in the year.  These were expectations I just figured administration wanted.  They didn't.  Administration wanted me to learn how to best use the technology in enhance the education of my students.  

2.  Learn the Terms Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition 

These all deal with the use of technology in the classroom.  Our Administration handed out this nifty little chart to help guide our use of technology.

Each level has a place in education.  Substitution works great for my room when the kids are going to do research and have to fill out specific information that I don't want them to lose.  It helps communicate make-up work for students who are absent and makes information available when needed.

However, not everything I did on paper is better on the iPad.  In fact, I have found the the students would much rather complete a worksheet paper/pencil than electronically.  

I have integrated technology at every single stage on this chart. I find I have more students excited about what we are doing with it involves creation and learning something completely new.  It helps me rethink what I am requiring of the students when I plan on having them use the device.  

3. The Word "Project" Takes on New Meaning.  Be Careful How it's Used.

5 years ago, when I would have the students create a poster illustrating the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation I called that a project.  I graded it with a rubric and it was given a project grade in the grade book.  

By the end of the year the first year we had iPads in the classroom the students were groaning and moaning when I said we were going to do a "project."  In fact, when given the choice at the end of our Civil War unit on taking a test and doing a project, they overwhelmingly voted to take a test.  That really made me wake up to the fact that we were all overusing the word "project."  

Integrating technology allowed for some really cool and creative projects for students to participate in.  However, I was still calling the poster a "project."  That along with 7 other teachers all working to incorporate the technology our 7th and 8th grade students had probably heard the word "project" over 100 times.  They were done with it.

Now, I reserve the word "project" for something that is requiring the students to produce something with the information they learn.  Whether using stop motion and adobe voice on the iPad or creating infographics on the web, I make sure that something is worthy of the name "project."  Everything else is an assignment, activity, or performance assessment. 

Also.  Communicate with the other teachers in your building.  If kids are working on a big-time tech project for Social Studies, Science, and Language Arts at the same time...they will be stressed and anxious.  

4.  Student Collaboration is Not Cheating.  Learn the Difference.

Learning something new, problem solving, and critical thinking look very different in a classroom than completing a worksheet.  Students should be talking, discussion, reasoning, thinking aloud, teaching each other (and you), and moving around.  You should be too.  Mix in with their conversations be a part of the learning.  

This is different than cheating.  Showing another student how they made the words on their video grow and shrink is completely different than copying a math problem. 

Don't be to proud to sit next to a student and work together to figure out a new App or web-based program.  They can help you solve your tech problems, and they love it!    

5.  You have to Teach the Technology You Want Students to Use.

Some kids love it.  The challenge of playing with a new piece of technology, trial and error, and the learning that comes with it.  But they are in the minority. 

Probably the biggest mistake I made while integrating technology into my classroom was say "Just play around with the app and figure it out."  I assumed at all my kids would enjoy discovering the new and exciting things all the apps had to offer on their iPads.  I was WRONG!  Big time.  

I would be so excited by the awesome project ideas that would come from one or two groups of my students that I ignored the concerns and frustrations from all the others.  Then when it came time to present there were maybe two or three GREAT ones and the rest sucked.  

This was MY FAULT.  I expected all my students to just "figure it out."  And they didn't.  So now, having learned from this, when I plan a technology project with my students, I focus on one app and teach them 1.) how the program/app works & 2.) what makes something a GOOD presentation.  It may take an entire class period to get through this, but it is worth it!  Trust me.

You still have to teach them how to use the technology to enhance their education.  This means you need to try and complete the same assignment as your kids.  If it is hard and difficult for you, it will be fore them.  You need to be able to give them advice, show examples and non-examples, and help when someone is stuck.  And use those kids who "get it" as mentors of the class.  

If your district is making the move toward 1:1 don't be afraid.  A lot of it is trial and error for everyone involved.  Try something, if it fails, admit it.  If it works, share it with your colleagues.  Don't be afraid to collaborate with anyone and everyone who might give you and idea.

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