Sunday, March 24, 2013

Got iPads? Where to start?

So you finally convinced someone at your school that a sure fire way to move forward and take your school into the 21st century is to get iPads (or any mobile device for that matter) into your classrooms. Now what? With over 300,000 iPad apps alone, where do you start?

Well, we started with the basics...the very basics. What are basic skills that we expect our middle school students to have? We may have many answers but I narrowed them down to three areas that reflect crucial student organizational skills. First, we expect them to take notes in our class; second, they should to do their homework in a timely fashion; and, third, we expect them to study for tests or complete final projects so that we can assess their mastery of the subject matter. Pretty basic, right?

This is the process that we want our students to follow so that teaching can be focused on student learning and achievement and maybe even some fun. If we are able to keep our students organized with their materials, then their mind can be clear and open to critical thinking and open discussion.
The use of mobile devices in the classroom has been a hot topic in the last 10 years for many reasons which include alternative methods to differentiated instruction, enhanced creativity in the classroom and easy access to information on the Internet. But at some point you have to hold back our obsession with apps and start at the beginning.

So we started with the basics. The first step was to give each of our students a Gmail account through our school domain. From there, our students have access to all Google Educational Apps that can help them learn and collaborate which include Google Drive, Sites, Youtube, and my all time favorite, the Google calendar! We introduced the Google calendar to the students as a way to record homework assignments, project due dates and test dates. The iPad calendar app as well as the mail app were linked to their school Gmail account. I will admit that the iHomework student planner app is far superior to the the calendar app for recording school and student tasks but because of our initial pilot program, where our students left their iPads in school for several months, the Google calendar was the easiest choice for it’s portability, and no extra login requirements.

The next app introduced was Notability, a note taking tool. It  lets you take notes via typing, handwriting, or audio and all three methods can be integrated into one note. You can easily switch between the different types of note taking methods. You can insert many forms of media into your notes in addition to being able to annotate PDF files. This part was a key factor in transforming the classroom to becoming more paperless because students are able to annotate the worksheets sent to them electronically by their teacher. One of the main features in my opinion of this app is its seamless process for synchronizing with a multitude of cloud storage solutions. Once again, because we started off with a pilot period where our students had to leave their iPads in school and be able to access their notes at home, we needed to find just the right storage solution. Ultimately, Dropbox proved to be an amazing storage and backup solution for our students and teachers. They are able to create folders, into subject categories and even subfolders for further organization. The most amazing feature is that Notabily notes can be automatically synced to dropbox and all Notability folders can be backed up there so that it is seamless and instantaneous to the user. That means, no more “ I lost my notes.” In addition, files can be easily shared between students and teachers for collaboration purposes. A bonus to all of this the web tool DROPitTOme which offers a secure way for teachers to receive files from students so that answers cannot be seen. What a fantastic way to have students hand in assignments and even tests!

Just using these three simple apps has totally transformed the organizational process of our middle school students. Students write better notes, lose fewer documents and collaborate on more documentation with fellow students and teachers. This, in turn, results in better study skills for the students. Obviously, we have expanded beyond these three apps in our classroom but with the overwhelming number of apps, tools, and ways to integrate iPads into the classroom, these three were a great way to start our program and get our students used to this new learning environment.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Preparing teachers for their iPad Classroom - Part 2

After a long, intensive week of school orientation (described in my Part 1), our teachers were armed with a new tool and ready to face their digital students head on. It took several weeks for the students to get serious about the iPads and move passed the “new toy” excitement of it all. Once they got going and the beginning of school adjustment period was over, things began to happen. Kids were excited about having a digital notebook, calendar, organization and research tool at their fingertips. The teachers were trying out new apps in the classroom to see what the students responded to best. There was excitement in the air! It was fabulous.

The excitement wore off!

After a couple of months, teachers were in a time crunch trying to get through essential material, to assign projects, and to give tests. We fell back into our traditional teaching/learning routines. “I have a curriculum to follow, I don’t have time for the iPad!” The students were also being lax in their compliance with the rules and their eagerness to use the iPad as a learning tool was waning. There wasn’t enough motivation to use it. It became a distraction.


What do you mean? This is the best innovation in education that has been invented thus far. This tool has revolutionized classrooms across the world and has taken learning to another level for so many students. The tablet is going to be a staple in a majority of classrooms over the next 10 years! What is going on here?

We had to go directly to the front line! To our soldiers! Our teachers! We met with them and heard all of their frustrations, complaints, and even some positive comments! Access to games and videos was a distraction to students as was their tendency to doodle instead of taking notes. After the long meeting I realized that the distractions and Internet access were all valid points and measures can be taken to minimize them: classroom rules of when and where it is time to use the iPad, further Internet blocking on popular games, and strict enforcement on consequences to students who use their iPads inappropriately. In addition to the logistics of iPad management in the classroom,  the most important issue was the need for more training. Yes, the school orientation was a good start. It took us through the first few months of our iPad pilot program. We wanted the teachers to spend some time with their students getting acclimated to their new learning environment. But now our teachers needed more. They needed to know how to assess their students, differentiate instruction and motivate their students using this tool in a creative fashion. The apps were fun and cool but now we need it for core teaching requirements. “We need training!!”

After all of the feedback from our teachers, students, and administrators, we created Professional Learning Groups (PLG). PLGs are groups of people working interdependently toward the same goal. That’s us! We got the teachers together during one of our professional development evenings and told them that we would divide them into groups. We mixed and matched all of the teachers from the different departments in both General and Judaic studies so that everyone could gain a new perspective on iPad use in the classroom. We asked them to share what they have done with iPads, what they want to do but haven’t figured out yet and what strengths and weaknesses they have encountered with the iPads and if they were able to resolved their issues. In addition, we asked them to research tools that may help them reach their objectives. It could be an online tool or an iPad app. They came up with things like recording Hebrew/Judaic readings, creating videos for history projects, and using whiteboard simulation apps like Educreations to help create some flipped classroom lessons in math.

My job was to help our teachers actualize their goal and work towards improved student achievement. Do you want to know if your students understood your lesson yesterday? Give them a quick entry quiz today using the Socrative app. Do you want to liven up a dry subject matter? Together, we helped each other propose a team/group goal and create a timetable for this endeavor. Everyone had the same goal, for example, learn Socrative and use it in class within then next 4 weeks. They had to show each other data and also sit in on each others lessons using the app or directive that they agreed upon. In addition, if there were any technical issues or questions, I would be available to guide them.

Using Professional Learning Groups gave our educators more ownership of the iPad program and allowed them to become more invested and eager to see it succeed. We needed to have our front-line educators on board and comfortable with this tool and learning from each other was a great way to get everyone building up their skills as a team.

Constant professional development and training is still necessary. Lecture style (in person or online webinar) PD is still useful and will never fully disappear from our professional development plan but there is something to be said from learning from a peer who speaks your language and understands where you are coming from and where you are going.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Preparing teachers for their iPad Classroom - Part 1

Our school wanted to start a 1:1 iPad program in our Middle School for several reasons. The obvious reasons were similar to the ones you all know about. We wanted to take our school to the next level; we wanted to enhance and improve learning outcomes by introducing a tool to our digital native students; and we wanted to keep up with 21st century learning. Yes, all of those things were catalysts to launching our program but of course, we are a private Jewish Day School and we just wanted to be able to compete with neighboring private day schools for the privilege to have more Jewish students attend our school. We wanted to be better than the guys down the street. We wanted to have the advantages of a leading A grade public school with the benefits of a Jewish Orthodox education and environment.

It was an exciting venture for our administrators and even more exciting for our students. Not as exciting for our parent body (but we will get to them in another blog!) and even less exciting and most definitely scary for our middle school educators. We gave them each their very own iPad on the last day of school so that they would have an entire summer to become one with the iPad. We told them to use the iPad, tinker with it, download apps (here is a $20 gift card, go wild!) and look for interesting ways to use the iPad in your classrooms in the fall. You will have 2 months to accomplish this goal and when you come back to school for teacher orientation, tell us everything you learned, write up some lessons plans and let us know what apps you need.

Half of our educators were giddy with joy! “A new toy for me? I always wanted one. So cool.”  The other half said it was an outrage! “How can you possibly put the internet in the hands of our students, this is not ethically appropriate in a Jewish School! We are just giving our students a toy, they won’t listen to us. Why? Why? Why? I’m not doing it.” Don’t worry everyone, you will have 2 months to learn everything you want to know about the iPad and what to do with it as a teacher. Now run along, and have a great summer!


Although giving our teachers their new iPads with some time to just “play” was a good idea so that they could just be comfortable in the iPad environment (many have never used Apple products before) we did not give them much direction. Those who were thrilled with the idea of finally getting technology in the classroom did not necessarily have enough of guidance they deserved and those who were hesitant with the idea had too much time without direction and education on how to use the iPad productively. They came back to school in August, confused, annoyed, nervous and doubtful.

As we began the week of intense iPad training overload, things went from bad to worse. You all know what it feels like to be back at school in the fall. It takes a little while to get your head back in the game. You have been out of teaching (at least at the day school) all summer. You’re relaxed (hopefully) and rejuvenated. Yes, you are ready and excited for a new year with new students and a revived outlook, but not right away. You need a week to get back into the environment and talk shop with your fellow educators before the students arrive. Well, guess what Middle School teachers? You are going to see my face and hear my voice for 2-3 hours a day Monday - Friday until you are sick of me and I can no longer talk because I have lost my voice! I will give you ideas and training on every facet of iPad tools and capabilities. I will show you how your students will use it, I will show you apps to use for certain activities and assignments, I will show you tips and tricks until you are all blue in the face! OK, so maybe that was extreme!

With all of that - I would like to share with you my lessons learned.

Lesson #1 - Give your teachers their iPad while the school year is in session. Let them have time to actually use their own iPad in the classroom or for certain assignments in a leisurely time frame. Let them “play” with their iPad while their mind is still in school and with their students. Let them have time to go on with their planned lesson plans but in the back of their mind think of how it might be better when the students have their own iPad and when they have this certain app. Let them start making next year’s lesson plans with the iPad in mind.  

Lesson # 2 - Give your teachers resources on how iPads are used in other classrooms similar to their own. Send them to other schools that have a 1:1 iPad program to observe. Send them webinars or conferences and other professional development programs that educate teachers on how to use the ipad for enhances education and improved student achievement. Finally, offer them guidance by answering common questions and concerns so that you can help ease them into this new teaching environment.

Lesson #3 - Remind your teachers that the iPad is not here to change who they are as an educator. Their teaching philosophies, passion and knowledge on their subject matter will never change. They are the leaders in the classroom and in the school. They were hired on their success and positive impression as educators in the classroom and not how techie they are. We are just trying to move along with the pace of our students.

Let me clarify, our amazing, intelligent, capable middle school teachers have outdone themselves regardless of the rough and bumpy start that we gave them. They have risen to the occasion as they say. Wow! From the day school started and our 3 month pilot period began our educators and our students accomplished amazing educational feats. Although there is still a bumpier road ahead, we have seen that our teachers know how to lead the administration, students and parents on this technological journey.

Sure, we would have been OK without the iPad 1:1 program, maybe for a couple more years. But education is not static, it is constantly changing and our schools need to change along with it.  Our students are also changing and they are living and transforming themselves with the use of technology. We can’t hide from it, we can’t fight it, so let’s learn to live with it. In this forum, we can all learn from our mistakes and our triumphs and this is what we should teach our students.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A new kind of netiquette!

As students, we have learned over the years that when we walk into a classroom the teacher expects us to come in quietly, sit down and wait for instructions. At least it’s an understood concept, doesn’t mean students actually do it! We also know what we expect as teachers. There is a decorum in a face to face classroom that we have grown accustomed to. We wait for all of our students to enter and get quiet before beginning a discussion and starting the daily lesson. We call on students who raise their hands, compliment them when they get the correct answer, and encourage them when they are incorrect. We can even tell who does not participate in class and who does. So how can we replicated the face to face etiquette with online learning classroom? How can we tell if our students are the shy ones in the back of the class or they are just procrastinators, waiting for the last moment to post to the discussion board or hand in an assignment. How do we know that a student is really understanding the material just because he/she replies to everyone's posts and asks tons of questions. It is very hard to gauge these physical and personal ques from students that you would normally get from a face-to -face interaction. 

There is a certain level of etiquette that needs to be redefined in an online environment. In fact, it’s not really etiquette but more so it should be policy. Schools and online educators publicize the policies for online “Netiquette” describing both appropriate email etiquette and appropriate posting to discussion forums. However, they should also create policy for both educators and students alike to guide them in creating a warm and positive learning environment. Some examples include introducing yourself at the beginning of class and giving all students an opportunity to make intros. You should use names when addressing responses to students and try to comment on personal things they have mentioned. Refer to good comments made by other students and be visible in the classroom.

Having policies is important. The relaxed nature of an online or blended learning environment may cause a student to use a relaxed manner when communicating with other peers as well as his/her teacher. But certain fundamental concepts of a classroom still apply. Respect for your fellow classmates and teacher, punctuality, and positive responses are a few. Following basic netiquette for online courses for both teacher and student alike can facilitate a creative and collaborative learning experience that could be just as effective, if not more, as a face to face traditional classroom. 

The central importance of clear and frequent communication among students and teacher will naturally allow for relationships to manifest and thus allow the teacher to really get to know the students where they can tell if they are the eager beaver or the shy one in the back.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

3-2-1 Takeoff!!! The 1:1 iPad Pilot Program Begins!

This past summer, our team of Head of School, principals, IT members and teachers spent countless of hours researching, testing, playing, and learning about iPads in schools and how our school, Brauser Maimonides Academy could jump on the mobile device in education bandwagon. The first hurdle was winning the Administration over. There number one concern was cost and overall benefit. Where are we going to get the money to pay for tablets for all of our Middle School students? Can we ask parents to buy one for their child? What are the students going to be doing with the iPads in class? Lot’s of worrisome questions and concerns came over them. After a generous contribution to support an iPad program at our school and research supporting the benefits of ipads in the classroom, the next hurdle was the teachers. OK teachers, here is an iPad, use it in the classroom to help motivate, collaborate, and integrate technology into your curriculum. Huh? Sitting in the room with 20 Middle School teachers after just giving them an iPad to take home for the summer was a glimpse into how all adults view technology today. Some had never used one before and took some time to figure it out. Others thought it was so awesome and started to download their favorite free iPad apps almost immediately. A couple sat in the corner with a look at disgust thinking “ I am a good teacher, I don’t need or want this thing in my classroom.” An of course, those few educators looked at me with a gleam in their eyes saying “It’s about time!”. Thankfully, after months of “alone time” with their iPads, a full week of iPad in the classroom training at teacher orientation and finally, 2 weeks of iPad classroom experience. Our school can proudly say that our Middle School teachers are 21st century educators! Wow! The excitement and creativity that our educators embraced has transformed their teaching and our students learning. Needless to say that our students have welcomed the iPads into their school day just like the first time a young child is given a crayon and paper to draw a picture! It was so natural for these digital kids to embrace the iPad as an extension of their mind! After initial training sessions on what to “really” do with the iPad in class, for example, note taking and recording homework assignments, and two weeks of school, I don’t think these students can ever go back to the way things were again! The students seem to have a happier aura about them in the classroom. There have been many incidents after only two weeks of teachers sharing stories with me of their success in the classroom and with an individual student who has begun to excel, finally, with the use of the iPad. If this is just the first 2 weeks, I can’t wait for the rest of the year!
After administrators, teachers, students, the final group, the biggest challenge was our parent body. “Are you giving my child total and unlimited access to the internet?” “This is going to be a complete distraction, the kids are going to play games all day long!” “I just don’t see how this toy will help my child in school” After two weeks of school with just a couple of lengthy parent emails communicating their concern about texting and emailing and just one or two positive comments. It was Back to School night. My hands shivered, my knees shook, my forehead was drenched! We had prepared a short presentation addressing only a few key features to our iPad pilot program. What do we want to accomplish during this time. How we want to accomplish it and how this will help our student. We mentioned the few areas of concern that parents were thinking, texting, internet firewalls, and classroom supervision. And then there was silence. The parents did a walk through to their middle schoolers classrooms with their child’s ipad in tow. From class to class, teacher to teacher they were shown by example, how it is to be a kid with an iPad at BMA. Let’s just say that the overall impression from the parents was more positive and thankful then we could have anticipated.
It has been an amazing feeling of achievement for our school in this short period of time and this feeling will inspire us to move forward with our pilot program until we are no longer piloting but soaring!!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

No money? No problem? You can still integrate technology!

At the beginning of my edtech adventure, technology integration sounded like something I would have to go to my administration and beg for tens of thousands of dollars to get anything done. (Don’t get me wrong, I still want and iPad lab!) But as I did further research and after completing the YUSP certificate in Educational Technology, I found out ways of integrating technology and 21st century skills with the resources that I already had. Which meant that I did not have to beg for money! I did however have to ask for time, support and an opportunity to move the school closer to the digital age than the year before. We built a new MS Windows computer lab about 3 years ago. That was an expensive project and the administrators felt that this was a huge step into digital times.  We used the lab to focus on teaching students the Microsoft environment and basic Internet skills. What a treat it was for a student to use Powerpoint and give a presentation in class. How dreadful it was for a students to have to type their book report on MS Word (or was it mom that typed it?). Part of my job was to get them all comfortable with computers and then kick it up! As my knowledge base was growing, I was able to share ideas with the administration and educators at my school about how we can incorporate some really cool Web 2.0 tools into their already existing curriculum. How about instead of Powerpoint, let’s try Prezi. Instead of MS Word, let’s try Google Docs, and instead of saving conversation for class time, use Edmodo and extend the conversation outside the classroom! Don’t worry folks, it won’t cost extra! One tool at a time, our teachers and administration began using Web 2.0 tools for their daily tasks and to liven up some outdated lessons. Before you know it, the schools forms were converted to Google forms that our parents were filling out. Teachers were using ClassDojo for behavior management and BitStrips for Judaic lessons!

Of course, we are far from our goals but at least we are on the right path. The key to getting there is continual support by the administration, constant professional opportunities for our teachers and, yes, money! Thankfully, we have outgrown our 25 computer Windows PC lab. There are not enough school hours in the day for all of our classes to get time on. It’s time for us to incorporate a mobile iPad for our elementary school and an iPad program for our MS. We need to be able to utilize apps for the classroom to help with student organization, learning and differentiation. This is going to be a very big expense for our school but I believe that we have already justified to the administrators that our students and teachers are ready for the challenge and that we are thirsty for more educational technology!