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.