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.