What a day! I used my morning today to explore with an old favorite teacher, Rick Snyder, the “inner-workings” of the iPad implementation at the high school here in Waverly. Because the district has gone 1:1 from grades 5-12, Mr. Snyder suggested I take a peek at the high school’s program as it has been in existence only one semester (beginning after a year of iPads at the middle school alone). To see this newly birthed program as it is maturing was extremely interesting, and to talk to students who had only been using the technology for one semester brought forth an extremely intriguing perspective. In some regards, the high school program has lots of room to grow, which is a given being only months old. On the other hand, there are certain aspects in which I feel the high school has capitalized on the “experimental” middle school year and learned some things. Overall, I undoubtedly saw flashes of both greatness and despair, but nonetheless, I feel the district has moved in the utterly correct direction. Rather than attempt to weave scattered observations and ideas narratively, please find below a more “list-like” demonstration of the countless things I observed and conversed with Mr. Snyder about today.
From a teaching perspective, I realize I have talked in the past about the benefits of AppleTV and the linked projector systems. It was wonderful to see this tool in action again today, as Mr. Snyder taught much of his Psychology lesson from the back of the room, controlling the presentation from his iPad, and keeping focus on the content! This lesson epitomized for me the idea I’ve been “preaching” lately about teaching content through technology, not teaching technology.
During our “walk and talk,” Mr. Snyder and I had a wonderful conversation about the new elements of classroom management presented with the iPad implementation. As we chatted, we peeked our heads in numerous rooms and found, almost undoubtedly, 1-2 students in each class hiding games with their “non-playing hand,” frantically squeezing in one last email, Facebook, or Twitter check before the lesson started, or, most prevalently, playing the “4-finger swipe game.” For those readers not familiar with the iPad’s functions, a 4-finger swipe changes from one app to another through multitasking functions. Remember quickly minimizing the Internet Explorer window as your teacher made the rounds in a computer lab (not that we ever did that…chuckle)? Same game…new rules! As Mr. Snyder put it, you will almost inevitably see 1-2 students in each class using the iPad for something other than the desired task. Teachers need to decide how they will manage this, in addition to districts managing blocks, website usage, and app downloads. There are up-sides to the ability to multi-task and play games, though… In passing through study hall, I noticed a considerable difference in the volume level since I was a student. Those done with their homework aren’t running around, chatting with friends, or leaving their seats anymore; they are on their iPads playing games. This distraction has proved effective for the study hall setting because it keeps those finished from distracting those still working…a consequence I had not quite considered.
Another new element for me today was seeing how iPads are replacing planners. This is one area in which I feel the high school has certainly more effectively transitioned as opposed to the middle school. The app beginning to become prevalent at W-SR is called Canvas. This assignment distribution app allows teachers to easily distribute worksheets, administer online assessments, facilitate chat rooms for students, monitor progress, and evaluate and post grades.
From the students’ app, they are able to create to-do lists, organize content by teacher and class, manage, complete, download, and submit assignments, collaborate with other students, and check grades and schedules for future classes.
There has been a glitch in this program though…it has nothing to do with students usage, or even with the programming of the app itself…it is this: many teachers aren’t using it! Unfortunately, when polled this morning and asked how many of them had at least 4 (of eight) class periods utilize Canvas last semester, only 2 students raised their hand in each class. All students, though, were quick to acknowledge that they liked the program and wished they used more of it! Mr. Snyder, like many teachers, has admitted that he is still working more on adapting his lessons to fit the new technology rather than going back to his curriculum for a “full overhaul,” but he foresees that in the future! Many teachers are simply easing their way into assignment distributions online by sending work via email. Students will regularly send an email to the teacher on the first day of class and the teacher creates a group for distribution. With email accounts linked directly to the iPads, this is often just as effective. Unfortunately, yet inevitably, some students even mentioned teachers by name that have told classes they dislike the iPads and will not use them. Some of this resistance is certainly expected within the first semester of a new program Iike this, but it is crucial for the future of districts like this one for teachers to be on board!
Perhaps the most interesting portion of my day, though, was finding out what both teachers and students who had only implemented the technology for a semester thought of the program already.
My reactions from teachers, especially in the history department, were especially enlightening. The teachers in the department have loved the new opportunities for creation and projects. iMovie and other presentation tools have been marvelous. They also love students having access to assignments from home when they are sick. This greatly increases productivity and reduces stress. Regarding the perspective educators are taking surrounding iPad-based assessments, this group of teachers made a department decision to use Canvas and other iPad based assessment tools for smaller quizzes only. They will continue using hard copy testing for any assessment of value. This decision was made because the teachers felt that, even when watching and scanning the room, there was no way to prevent an entire class from playing the 4-finger swipe game to an Internet browser to find answers. This accessibility makes electronic testing very hard to manage. As benefits in iPad-based testing have shown before, though, this results in the loss of ability for educators to see broken down and analyzed results for better self evaluation and teaching. My question, then, is this: Is there a happy medium? Why not take paper tests, then ask students to enter scores online for break down and evaluation?
Perhaps even more intriguing than these opinions, though, were the perspectives of students when asked to talk about the new technology. Rather than comment on their underlying messages, I’d rather let them speak for themselves. Below are actual quotes from students this morning:
“I would give it up if I needed to, but I like having the Internet all the time.”
(When asked if they would rather handwrite an assignment, though, only two raised their hands)
“They distract me from homework.”
(When asked if they thought the iPads were a distraction, all but one student said yes)
“With the Web at your fingertips, it’s used more as a toy than for school.”
“With the ability to email the whole student body, we’ll probably get in trouble at some point…we haven’t yet, but it will happen eventually.”
“It will all get stricter next year. You teachers will probably all meet over the summer and come up with new rules.”
“It makes everything harder…I can’t type papers on the iPad, and I’d rather have hard copies.”
“It has been a slow start with the teachers learning right alongside us. We’d likely be more positive about it if teachers were more proficient.”
Wow. Never look beyond high schoolers for brutal honesty. I absolutely love these answers though. What they tell me is there’s work to be done. Despite teachers talking and acting optimistically about their own uses of the iPads, when given choices for taking notes from a PowerPoint in class, only 20% of the class actually typed on the iPad. The remaining students wrote by hand. Educators need to revamp and reconsider variation of instruction…How can we use this new technology in ways that get students fired up!? This will bring the future of education that sticks.
The second half of my morning consisted of a trip to one of the few (if not the only) in-house iPad repair centers located within a school district. Downstairs in an old computer lab sits the W-SR equivalent of Chuck Bartowski’s “Nerd Herd Help Center” (please excuse the crude “Chuck” reference…). Staffed for various portions of the day, those working in this ‘gutted’ lab can rip apart and re-assemble iPads, order and replace parts, sync new operating systems, and fix any daily problems the students run into. This saves the district the stiff $200 fee to send iPads for repair, and creates more jobs in the community! When done effectively, like it is here, this can not only make repairs more time-efficient, but can sometimes be done to a better quality standard with individualized attention. I was privileged to watch Eric Stover (our district’s half time band/half time iPad genius) replace a cracked screen and ripped wifi antenna today.Watching this work brought a whole new appreciation to my research as I truly saw the “carcass” of an iPad for the first time!
Eric also walked me through the location devices the district uses. This software is fascinating as it can locate any iPad, tell the battery life left on it, the apps downloaded, the space used, the last time it was online, and who it belongs to, amidst much more. With this technology, the district is able to avoid not only stolen iPads but lost ones as well. This monitoring system keeps tabs on the entire 1:1 program from a single screen.
So what in the heck did I learn today? Whew! I learned the value of time when implementing a new program. I learned there is a definite learning curve. I learned we need teachers on board, and students on the same ship. I learned that some districts are out there doing things right, while others have a long way to go. I learned that even with technology as seemingly “cool” as an iPad, students still have strong opinions and desires for traditional learning. Most importantly, though, my belief was reinforced that, with the correct preparation and education, technology and traditional classroom methods can be meshed to create an engaging, invested, and essentially stronger learning environment for our 21st Century students.