Thursday, 19 July 2012

iPads in the Classroom PD

Yesterday I was lucky enough to go to an excellent PD presented by Spectronics about the use of iPads in classrooms, particularly for differentiating instruction.
I was really, really lucky because my wonderful principal let me take along three colleagues.
I am an iPad convert. I have been using Apple products since I was seven (that's over thirty years - wow - I am old!) and as each new innovation has been launched I have been lucky enough to have at least been kept in the loop by my father, who lives and breathes Apples.
But the iPad has me really interested. I truly hope that it is the tool that will help me to become a better teacher. I want to transform my teaching so I can take my students on learning journeys we never before thought possible - and I think the iPad might help me do it.
I will admit that before I went along to the PD yesterday I was a little afraid it was going to be an "iPad for Dummies" session and that I would come away without learning anything, but Greg O'Connor managed to engage his audience that included everyone for self-proclaimed "iPad virgins" to techno-geeks.
He was honest, interesting and intelligent.
He said out aloud many of the things that I have been thinking for a while. He even said many of the things that I have been saying.
After about an hour, I was very impressed, very glad I came along and very happy that it turns out I am not as crazy as I thought I might have been.
Greg demonstrated a few simple things that could be done with an iPad - not too much to overwhelm people who were just starting out, but enough to inspire thinking about how else these devices might be useful.
He was upfront about the limitations and challenges: ICT stands for "It Can't Teach" and quality teachers are more important than ever; It's the pedagogy, not the tool that makes for good learning; learning to work with new technology is hard work.
Tomorrow my colleagues and I are planning to share some of what we learnt with other staff at our school. We all came away from the day inspired to keep on learning, and I think that is the mark of a quality PD!

Great work, guys!

At the end of my first ever month of teaching I remember reflecting on what a lonely occupation it seemed to be.
In spite of the 24 or so little people that I got to spend time with each day, and the occasional parent who popped in to help out with reading, or quick chats in the staffroom about the weather, I was surprised at how isolating teaching could feel.
At uni I was constantly engaged in conversations surrounding assignments, readings and lesson ideas. During my prac I had supervising teachers watching my every move and giving me feedback about what I was doing every step of the way.
When I got a "real job" I was left on my own, in my own little world, with no-one to watch what I was doing, ask me questions or give me advice. My principal dropped in one day not long after I started to say "G'day" but I wondered how he would know if I was doing a good job or not.
I was really surprised by the loneliness.
I was a new teacher eager to learn more from my more experienced colleagues but they didn't seem overly keen to discuss pedagogy or to share their great ideas.
I was in need of reassurance, suggestions, encouragement and inspiration, but I was teaching alone.
Doing relief teaching and short term contracts for my first few years turned out to be a great blessing since I got to go inside the secret caves of other teachers and glean ideas from things they had set up in their rooms, or from activities they had left for me to do.
Occasionally in my early years of teaching I was lucky enough to work alongside some great teachers who also seemed to think that teaching was something worth talking about, worth exploring, and worth trying to get better at... but for the most part I felt out of place since not many seemed to share my need to share.
Then came the blogging world, and Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and PLNs!
Suddenly I discovered that I wasn't alone, that I wasn't (so) crazy and that there were other teachers out there who are very dedicated to the profession.
Thankyou! Thankyou! Thankyou!
Thankyou to those of you who blog and share your great ideas. Thankyou to those who blog, Facebook, tweet and pin your thoughts, plans and aspirations.
Thankyou to those very brave souls who share their failures with others so that we can all realise that we are not alone, and so we can continue to learn together.
Suddenly I am not alone. Teaching is a community. Teachers are dedicated to their students and to ensuring that they keep learning themselves, always being challenged and always pushing the boundaries.
Great work, guys! You make me proud to be part of the profession!

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Black Hat, Green Hat: Thinking about 1:1 iPads

For the past few months I have been exploring the idea of 1:1 iPads in my classroom. I have read articles, listened to podcasts, played with apps, attended PD sessions and spoken with colleagues at other schools and institutions doing or considering similar programs. The recent QSITE conference at Coomera was an excellent opportunity to engage with other like-minded professionals and helped me to feel that maybe my dream is not as crazy as it seems.
My own friends and colleagues remain skeptical about the necessity of such a huge leap. My proposed experiment (and that is how I see it since we don’t yet have enough experience or data to prove that 1:1 iPads will have a positive impact on learning outcomes) is expensive. At about $500 for each student (to get a basic iPad2, a sturdy case and a handful of apps) could run to $12,000 for a class of 24 students.
Genuine questions arise about why do I think I need 1:1 (rather than a shared class set between a few classes or a small bank in my own class room – two legitimate alternatives that might be somewhat less expensive). Other intelligent queries relate to what would I do with all these iPads that I can’t do already, and is the teaching and learning in my classroom going to improve enough to justify the expense.
I have been grateful to my colleagues and friends, as well as parents in my current class and my principal who have asked me so many “hard” questions over the past few months as this “black hat thinking” is critical to me when I am refining my ideas and formulating my plans.
My principal is reasonably supportive of the idea but has many way-too-sensible questions about where the money is coming from and who is responsible for insurance, breakages and other problems. Those are the really “not-fun” parts of the project, and probably the reason that I am the teacher and not the principal, because at the end of the day I can hand those problems over to someone else (I hope).
So, to answer “That’s a good question” Number 1: Why 1:1 iPads?
Essentially, iPads are a personal device. Once you own your own iPad, you personalise the device to your settings, assign it your email, sign into your DropBox, Evernote, Twitter, Facebook etc. When you play a game with multiple levels, the device saves your settings. Due to the options that most apps provide for sharing files and creations, it is way simpler (particularly for young students) to have a personalised device.
A shared set of iPads is problematic for a teacher trying to do many pedagogically sound projects with students using iPads. In order for a student to continue working on a project they have started, they need to get access again to the same device they had last time. This can be problematic, particularly when different children require different amounts of time for completing projects.
Excellent applications for the iPad2 potentially use images, movies and sounds which are all saved on the individual device. Remembering exactly which device was used to take a photo three weeks ago at an excursion could be problematic.
To me, one of the biggest advantages of 1:1 devices would be that students would have access to the tools when they needed them. In a learner-centred classroom in which the teacher is responsive to the needs of individual students, the ability to use the right tool at the right time is paramount. I don’t always know a week ahead, a day ahead or even an hour ahead when my learners are going to be ready to use the device and for how long they might need it. Sharing the devices across many classes and being restricted by booking regimes and timetables can take the flexibility and spontaneity out of the classroom. If the devices are seen mostly as a “toy” or and “activity” then it is possible to “book in” some time but if these devices are seen as a “tool” to allow for learning, creativity and problem solving, then sharing the devices across multiple classes is inadequate.
Many people assume that “1:1” means that all students will be using the devices almost all of the time. Anecdotes and evidence from classrooms involved in 1:1 programs indicate that this is far from the truth. A 1:1 program allows teachers and students the flexibility to choose the right tool for the task at hand. If the iPad is the right tool for that student for that task, then they use the iPad; if another tool is the best choice, then that is what is used. It alleviates the over-use of the devices for meaningless or inappropriate tasks when teachers and students use the device for a task simply because “this is our hour with the iPads this week”.
iPads used effectively in learning are tools for discovery, creativity and communication. Students are not just game-players or users – they are designers and creators.
To get the files they create to the teacher from a shared device from many great apps can be a very complicated, multiple step process which means that with younger students, particularly, the teacher ends up with the job of chasing down the device, searching for the file and uploading it to the correct place. If this process took about 5 minutes for each of the 24 students each week, this time quickly adds up, and as they say in the business world, “Time is money.” I know my time is valuable and I want to make sure that the time I do have with students is spent on quality teaching and learning, not organising files.
Other “maintenance” issues such as uploading apps, maintaining the camera roll and daily charging are onerous tasks when needing to be done on multiple devices and knowing who is responsible for this maintenance on shared devices could cause some issues.
In a 1:1 program, these tasks could be passed onto the individual (with assistance from parents where necessary). Individually the tasks are not cumbersome, but en masse they are tedious.
I would propose that the 1:1 iPads were the responsibility of the individual (even if the ownership is retained by the school). Anecdotal evidence from the early 1:1 iPad trial in Victoria suggested that the introduction of the iPad program was a fantastic conduit for improving home-school relationship because the parents became very interested in what was happening in the classroom and were happy to assist in installing new apps and ensuring the iPad was sent to school charged.
Assuming that we were to purchase the base model iPad with 16GB of data, if every iPad needed to have every app that might me used by different students in different classes and year levels, and students and individual teachers would not be able to delete movie files and images that didn’t belong to them (in case it was something important), the devices could fill up quickly. Personal devices would assist students in establishing more thoughtful approaches to file management, even from a young age.
Personal devices would also allow teachers to install apps for particular students on the individual device only. Specific apps may be extremely useful to one or two children in a class but irrelevant to others so it doesn’t make sense to have a “one size fits all” approach to purchasing apps, because even at only $1.99 each they can add up quickly across a large number of devices.
That brings me to “That’s a good question” Number 2: Wouldn’t it be cheaper to have 1:2 or 1:4 or some other system?
After reading, reading, listening, discussing, reading, thinking, reading, discussing, listening and thinking a lot about the cost of a 1:1 Program compared to other models, I have come to the conclusion that once everything is taken into consideration, the cost of 1:1 iPads might not be that much more than the alternatives.
Schools instituting 1:1 programs usually have some kind of cost to the parents. Sometimes the parents are expected to buy the device themselves for specific use by the student at school (at least one Gold Coast school is using this model). Other schools charge a levy that means that the parents are paying for all or some of the cost over a number of years. Our initial survey of parents suggested that the majority of parents would consider paying some cost towards a 1:1 program for their child. Anecdotal evidence from colleagues at other schools is that most parents are generally happy to subsidise the program in some way.
I am not sure if as many parents would be happy to subsidise the program if the access to the device was shared.
My second point to defend the cost of the program would be to point out the “uncharged” cost on teachers in file management issues and maintenance like charging. Making sure that the iPads are locked away securely and being charged each night would be just another task to add to my never-ending list of things to do each day.
I would also suggest that the ability to purchase only the apps that are needed for a particular child could save money also. New apps could be purchased by a small group of children who are using it for a specific purpose and if the app is found to be useful to others, they can purchase it later. This could save buying apps that look good at first and then turn out to be not all they seemed.
Charging 100 or so iPads each night might not cost a fortune but I am sure this cost would add up over time. In a 1:1 program, iPads would be charged at home, meaning a small saving for the school in the electricity bill.
Not so silly question Number 3: Why use iPads with early years students?
My response to this question depends on the alternative being offered or the question behind the question. Some people think that technology use is a higher priority for older students; they should get access first. Many people are concerned that the students are too young for the responsibility that comes with using or owning an expensive device that allows them access to the big, wide world of the Internet. Some people think that laptops or iPods might be a more suitable alternative; and of course, for many purposes they might be right. Some people are concerned that when students have greater access to ICT they will not develop other skills such as reading, writing and the art of conversation.
I think that access to appropriate technology, when coupled with excellent pedagogy, is important for all students regardless of age. By suggesting that we use iPads in the early years (as one tool for learning) I am not detracting from the importance of technology for other learners. I’m advocating for the nurturing of responsible digital citizens and implementation of quality pedagogies that utilise technologies in meaningful ways.
The “fear factor” when it comes to trusting students with expensive hardware and access to the world of the web is massive amongst both parents and teachers. Some of us seem to cling to the hope that if we delay and limit access to ICT for as long as we can we will protect them (and valuable equipment). I am not proposing open slather and no supervision. I believe that as educators we have an important responsibility to teach (this is why we are called “teachers”) our charges to treat the equipment with care and respect, and to develop skills and awareness that will put them in a better position to make responsible and safe decisions when using the Internet. I fear that if we don’t take the opportunity to educate our students about Internet etiquette, cybersafety and responsible digital citizenship before they begin to access these things on their own, we are letting our students down.
Why iPads over laptops or iPods? iPads are a happy balance between being small enough to be easily portable and big enough to do some great stuff. They are reasonably affordable and quite robust. Having no keyboard or hinges means less parts to break. iPad apps are well-priced and easy to access. There is less “wait time” when powering up and the battery life is comparatively good. There are some things that are best done on a laptop or an iPod but the iPad offers enough flexibility for some very creative applications.
I would relish the opportunity to “play” in a 1:1 iPad classroom so that I can learn and discover some of the possibilities with my students. The “black hat thinkers”, while necessary and important, are not asking the “green hat questions” that plague my mind. What can I do with these devices? How can I embrace this technology to challenge and transform my own teaching so I am improving my own pedagogy, and therefore opening up a new world of possibility for my learners? How useful are these devices in monitoring the learning of my students? How will a 1:1 environment enable me to differentiate learning experiences for individual students? Which apps are going to help me provide opportunities for my students to think, create, design, develop, collaborate, explore and learn?
These are the questions I really want to answer. Now I am just asking for a chance.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Class blogs to explore

Thinking of blogging with your students? A Class blog can be a great way to create interesting contexts for reading and writing and provide a real audience for their creativity.

Here is a list of class blogs to explore as examples. They use a variety of blogging platforms, and have a variety of purposes. It seems there is no “one right way” to blog with students.

If you read something you like, feel free to leave a comment. Kids love to know someone has been reading their blog!

Useful reading and links for blogging with students

Here are some links to sites that are useful when considering blogging with your students.

Learning about Blogs FOR your students (I highly recommended reading this series!)

Mrs Yollis’ class talk about blogging

Mrs Yollis’ class talk about writing quality comments