For the uninitiated, let me explain the terminology. There is a push in many schools now to go 1:1 (“one to one”), which means that each student has a school-issued electronic device to use for school work. Most often, the device is either an iPad or a netbook. The year I started at my school, our 1:1 initiative began.
The previous year, a few teachers had gotten together to write a grant to pay for the iPads. Due to many delays and red tape the students did not actually receive their iPads until October, and even then, due to getting insurance in place, they couldn’t take them home until January. The teachers got iPads, too.
And essentially no training.
We were strongly encouraged to use this new technology in our classrooms. But we had to figure out how to use it. Since all of this was happening in the middle of the year — and we also had to figure out how to do the state standardized testing on the devices — a lot of us didn’t explore too much. Thankfully, we had some resourceful teachers who during the summer months plunged ahead and found great educational apps. We shared our ideas, though not in any real formalized setting — it was mainly through lunchtime conversations and hallway connections that we communicated with one another about how we were using this new technology. It was starting to click.
Then the university with whom we are affiliated enforced some rules. We couldn’t just download any apps. Everything had to go through Central Purchasing. We lost some basic apps like Pages and Numbers and Keynote (the equivalent of Word and Excel and Powerpoint for you PC users.) We lost Nearpod and iBooks. We had the internet and little else — and those teachers whose classrooms are in the basement or the gymnasium didn’t even really have that, as the wifi in those areas is sketchy. While in previous years students were able to download apps using their own personal Apple IDs, now this was verboten. And that made some sense since kids were downloading Minecraft and Temple Run and other games which they would play in class instead of doing the assigned work or participating in discussions. But that also meant that if there was a free app that I needed students to have, I’d have to call the technology coordinator in to my room to put in the secret passwords that even teachers do not know in order to get the apps downloaded. In fact, I need to have him come in sometime in the next month to make sure all my 8th graders have iBooks so we can download Romeo and Juliet to read in January.
In the meantime, students have still found ways to download their games. It is exceedingly difficult to police their activities on the iPads because they are so able to switch between apps that it’s hard to catch them. And in the meantime, I have had little training to do much on the iPads besides research (though I have found a sweet little program called No Red Ink which gives grammar instruction and quizzes and BrainPop which has videos and quizzes on a variety of subjects — except their grammar quizzes often have errors).
Recently, I came across an article by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) entitled 6 steps to successful iPad implementation. As I read through it, I realized that our school hadn’t done any of those things. The iPads were tossed at us and we were told to “figure it out.” Oh, and by the way, part of our evaluation is how well we integrate technology into the classroom.
I like the fact that I can have my students do internet research without having to reserve a computer lab. I like that they can easily type their work and submit it to me electronically. I like that, when I have the iBooks app, I can have them download older texts that are now free, which saves a lot of money on purchasing books.
But I sometimes wonder if it’s worth it. When I ask students to brainstorm a list of adjectives to describe something, they get on the internet and type in “adjectives to describe ________.” When I want them to think about the symbolism in a story, they will search “symbolism in _______.” They don’t want to think. They just want to search and spit out answers they have found. I continually have to tell my students “Put your iPads face down on your desks” or “There is no need to have your iPad out right now.”
Now that the iPads are two and a half years old, another concern is their longevity. I had a student tell me the other day, “Sometimes my home button doesn’t work.” Another showed me how her home screen sometimes just goes blank. We got a grant to pay for the acquisition of the devices, but where does the money come from to maintain them? We currently have one functioning photocopier in our building, and it works most of the time. Teachers must supply our own copy paper. We can’t manage to keep even that technology going; how can we manage to keep our iPads running and up to date?
An additional concern I have is that in our school, students have iPads in elementary and middle school, but not in high school. So if I as a middle school teacher rely too much on the technology in my classroom, will the students adapt to the lack of it when they reach ninth grade?
I emailed my administrators and our technology coordinator the ISTE article; the tech guy said he’d look at it. I got no response from the admin. I know, they’re busy. They have much to do and maybe reading articles is not on the top of their list. But what we’re doing now isn’t working. There has been no effective professional development to help us know what to do. There has been little actual support to show us good ways to use the devices in our teaching.
I find myself leaning more and more away from using the iPads. I make my students take notes by hand in a notebook, for example. I know certain other middle school teachers are doing similar things. Part of it is to keep students from distracting themselves with gaming. Part of it is to make them use their motor skills to get the content ingrained in their heads. Part of it is to keep them thinking instead of searching and regurgitating.
I would be interested to see or hear about other schools who are using such technology to benefit the students without stressing out the teachers and in ways that enhance learning. Do any of my readers have such experience?