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.

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