A New Perspective…iPads in the Classroom

My students came in this year like most years, bright and ready to begin a new year with one major change.  Each and every student had an iPad.  As with the start of most years things went fantastically well in the beginning.  Then I quickly realized how much trouble I was in.  My classroom management and quality of the lesson plan were all amplified.  If I had an area of excellence, it was clearly obvious with iPads.  However, so were all my faults.  I needed to reassess my classroom tools.

The thing with the iPad, or any 1:1 device, is once its true purpose is shown everything seems to fall into place.  The iPad is a tool for learning.  No different than a textbook, a calculator, notebook, etc…  Except it can be significantly more dangerous and exponentially more powerful.  I need to be  clear about the fact that by no means am I an expert in 1:1 implementation or classroom management in a 1:1 classroom.  I have lost many battles to Madden Mobile, Facebook, and many others.  For each battle I have lost, many more have been won.  The iPad has the ability to not only change, but transform the classroom.  What used to be lost time in going to a lab to research or write now becomes much more efficient.  An article that used to be printed off and handed out was now opened and read.  However, if that was all we did with iPads the purpose would be lost.

The best instruction involves students in real-world tasks that force them to consider different options.  With the world at your fingertips the quality of your tasks just became significantly higher.  Simple questions like “Mr. Schommer, where are _____ used?” becomes a very quick, meaningful research project.  For those who say you don’t have time for that, I would challenge you to question the meaning of education.  Devices in the classroom were never meant to be used continuously.  In the student example earlier, after a few moments of looking for different uses consider having a 1-minute share out.  In a matter of seconds students not only get an opportunity to engage in something they were curious about but in the process learn many uses for it.

In my classroom, iPads are used intermittently.  Students are never on them for more than a few minutes and never without sharing their results.  My classroom has become a realistic reach into a world that was previously only accessed through my storytelling.  There are a few guidelines I am learning to use in the classroom.  The first and second are tied together and are the most important.

  1. No single iPad activity should take more than 8-10 minutes.  After that amount of time the students are starting to wander.  This is no different than a lecture or a group activity.  The attention span of students today seems to be getting shorter.
  2. Every iPad activity needs to be accompanied by a sharing session, typically starting with a partner and expanding to a small group.  Discourse is still the rule.  Without students talking to each other, learning doesn’t happen.
  3. If the iPad is causing a distraction, this is a discipline issue not an academic issue.  I do everything I can to not take the iPad away.  Several opportunities to learn will be lost.  Instead, I deal with it outside of the learning opportunity.  This guideline doesn’t always work.
  4. The focus is not 1:1 but 1 to some.  With several students using one iPad it forces conversation.  It is almost impossible for the students not to  talk.  Try it.  It works.

These guidelines are not set in stone.  I break them and bend them to fit my needs and the needs of my students.  What I know to be true is that after 12 weeks in the 1:1 classroom there is not much chance I would go back.  It has made some things more difficult, but most everything else is so much better.