iPads in the Classroom - One Wild Ride

One Teacher’s Journey Through the 1:1 Transition Process

Katie Gaines, TES author and guest blogger

I think most people would agree that technology in the classroom is a great thing. We are teaching the “Technology Generation,” so it is important that our students are exposed to and, crucially, master various types of technology. Likewise, presenting content in an interactive manner is an excellent way to increase student engagement and maximize learning time. I absolutely love having iPads in the classroom and so do my students! I have taught them to understand that the iPad is a learning tool. It is not a toy. We are not downloading Candy Crush on it. We are using it to help further our thinking and show off what we have learned. However, there were some unexpected bumps and twists along the way as I went through the process of receiving classroom iPads. This is in no way a warning about iPads, but merely an honest look at the entire process. As I said iPads have been a wonderful addition to my classroom, but it was a long journey to get here!

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I remember getting word from my Principal that we were 1 of 2 schools selected in the district to pilot the 1:1 iPad initiative. I was super excited! Although it was my ADEPT year (our professional certification year) and I had a lot going on, I was anxious to incorporate more technology into my daily lessons. I consider myself pretty tech savvy, and was dreaming up interactive activities to do with my kids. The rollout would take a few months and we were told to be patient as we worked out all the kinks. We were given a “Technology Guru” (hi, Fran!) who was absolutely essential to this process. She was the mastermind, appointed by the district, who helped create the rollout plan and taught us excellent apps or lessons to use in our classroom. She, along with my administration, also gave us a lot of creative freedom with the iPads, something that I have learned to treasure. Although there were guidelines and expectations of how the students should be using the iPads, the administration let us come up with our own ideas of how we should utilize them on a daily basis. With many aspects of our job dictated by district guidelines, I appreciated this freedom.

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After a few months of planning and well into the school year, the iPads FINALLY arrived. I was eagerly waiting for them to be delivered. I assumed they would be delivered set up, and ready to go… well, not exactly. We were told that although the iPads were in, they were not ready yet. The OtterBox covers had to be put on, and the people who had to do that… yep, us! We also had carts that would go into each of our classrooms, complete with charging stations at the bottom. Those also needed to be set up. We had to thread each charge cord through a hole in the cart down to the charging station. Once that was done we had to break open each cardboard-wrapped OtterBox, pull it apart, clean off the iPad screen, insert it into the OtterBox, and securely snap it shut. We also had to make sure that the number on the screen of the iPad matched the serial number at the back of the iPad. After 2 hours and many broken nails later (not to mention my fingers actually bled!) we were finished. Although I surely didn’t expect someone else to do the work for me, I didn’t realize that getting iPads would be this much work. None of us had any idea that we would literally be doing EVERY step in the transition process, short of actually making the iPad. It did turn off some people to iPads initially just because it was exhaustive work. No teacher plans on staying after school for an extra 2 hours just to assemble iPad carts and put covers on iPads. But it was part of the process, and if it meant getting iPads, then we would do it.

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I still remember how excited my kids were when they saw the iPad cart appear in our room. Some of them had exposure to iPads or tablets before, and they were so excited to get started using it. Their excitement and eagerness all of a sudden triggered a new thought to me: How am I going to teach them how to use this?? I had thought of the big picture; my kids doing all of these creative lessons, taking screenshots of work they create to use as an assessment piece, uploading their work to our class website for parents to see, etc. etc. But… what if they accidentally delete an app? What if they don’t know where the volume button is? What if an update message pops up, but we’re not approved to download the update? I realized that we had thought so much of the bigger picture that we hadn’t stopped to think about the smaller details. Like, the REALLY small details. So, I decided to take about an hour or two each day for a week to first explain the expectations of the iPad, how to hold the iPad, and what each of the parts of the iPad were. This talk was a definite saving grace. I watched as some teachers tried to teach apps while also trying to teach them how to use the iPad and it was a DISASTER. This was truly a case of the tortoise and the hare… the slower you went with it the better.

The kids took to the iPads quicker than I thought. They were able to grasp concepts way faster than I had originally planned for. The only app I introduced the kids to in the first week or two was the camera app. I taught them how to take pictures of themselves and make it their lock/home screen photo. I wanted to make sure they could prove to me that they knew how to use the iPad correctly and safely before I introduced content apps. Setting expectations and guidelines is super important if you want this transition process to flow smoothly. I created an iPad mission statement and expectation cards as a visual reminder for my students, as well as a diagram of an iPad. Once we started learning about content apps, I was no longer going to teach students the parts of the iPad. I wanted them to refer to the diagram if they had a question on a certain part.

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After a few weeks, we were in full swing. We were using iPads every day across many different subjects. We had skill-based apps and project-based apps. The kids were mastering math facts with flashcards, reading interactive books, and using Book Creator.

By then, some new obstacles had arisen. I trained 2 students to plug in all of the iPads twice a week to charge. Unfortunately, if one of the kids pulled too hard on the cord, it would dislodge from the charging station and the iPad wouldn’t charge. No bueno. Also, we discovered an app called “Apps Gone Free” that gives you paid apps that you can download for free for a limited time. However, how were we going to get those apps onto our kids’ iPads? Yep, once again that fell on us. After school, I would look for an app we could use, enter in the long username and password, and download each app… times 20 iPads. We had to do this EVERY time we wanted an app on our kids’ iPads. This part was probably the most frustrating. On one hand you want the app, but on the other hand, it takes so much time. I couldn’t let my kids do it because they cannot have our username and password, so that had to be something teachers did. But it was worth it because we were able to get some great apps for our kids.

By the end of the year, my kids had produced some absolutely incredible work. I saw some of my English Language Learners make considerable gains in their vocabulary and reading skills -- thanks to many skills based apps we used. I saw some of my lower readers gain confidence because they got to hear themselves read on certain apps. Despite the obstacles and some very tiring days, the end result was worth it. My kids acquired new skills, mastered technology, gained confidence, and had fun while using the iPad. They also learned a great deal about responsibility and became problem solvers.

3 years later, I’ve learned a lot from that transition process. Each year went smoother and smoother. I transferred to a different school, and this year they were selected to be 1:1 in grades K-2. I was excited to take the mistakes and great things I learned in previous years and apply it to this year. As some teachers and I were discussing becoming a 1:1 school, I was open and honest about the pros and cons of incorporating iPads in the classroom. I think technology is a wonderful thing and essential in the modern classroom if used appropriately and effectively. However, it is be a long and sometimes wild journey. Recognizing and accepting that is critical if you are going to have a successful 1:1 transition process. I’d love to hear from some of you about your experience with the incorporating iPads into the classroom!

The iPad expectation cards and diagram she mentions in her post are available in her TES shop (along with other helpful resources for using iPads in the classroom!).