iPads - Oh My!
Taking a new job 5 years ago and coming from a school that had a 1 to 1 laptop program, I saw the need to have technology available in the hands of our students when they needed it, not when it could be scheduled. Therefore, the very first day on my new job I started pushing for a change (honestly, probably during the interview). At the time of my arrival I was told that my new staff really didn't do much with technology outside typing and research. I referred to it as a glass ceiling and it appeared we had a long ways to get there. So on my first inservice day I stood in front of my staff and asked them if it was true and why. I was told that the technology didn't work well all the time and a number of other excuses. So I told them we were going to shatter that ceiling and put pressure on the powers to be.
Within the first year we were already causing major cracks in the ceiling. The district was struggling with bandwidth, access points, working hardware and more. It was clear that the staff might of been right on a few points but we weren't going to stop.
During year two I asked them to fight through the challenges and struggles. I told them we need to break through the glass. I started visiting with the powers to be and said that my staff was showing a willingness to implement the technology. They just needed it to work and needed more of it. At this point the board and superintendent started talking about a 1 to 1 program. I believe this was a goal of our superintendent when they hired me.
Year three a grant surfaced that gave the district and opportunity to take a step towards the 1 to 1 in the middle school. It also allowed us to use the technology to align with some major changes coming down the tracks in our math program. We had decided to do away with traditional courses like Algebra 1, Geometry and Algebra 2 and replace them with Math 1, Math 2 and Math 3. Our math folks decided they didn't want a new textbook. Yes I said, they did NOT want a textbook. So the question was how could we develop a tool that would provide our students with the material they needed. So in 8th grade we launched the 1 to 1 in our middle school math rooms as part of the first step to our new math.
iPads wasn't just automatically accepted. The question what kind of device did we need? Laptops, tablets or iPads was the question. Central Office suggested the iPad and even though there was a feeling that there were limited APPS for math at the time the fact Central Office was willing - why not!
I need to be honest at this point. I didn't know a lot about the workings of the iPad. I understood the laptop so much better. How to control it, filter it and more but the iPad - no clue. This would later create some problems for me.
Year four we purchased iPads for all freshmen as part of our math change. We had dropped Algebra 1 and replaced it with Math 1. Math 1 incorporated some Algebra 1, Algebra 2 and Geometry. We moved most of our Algebra 1 concepts to 8th grade math. Since math was our focus we only worked with our Math 1 teachers on implementing the iPad. We told other teachers they could do as they please but our focus was only with Math. By focus I mean, offering training and technical support. I believe the reason for this was dollars. We had limited funds committed to training and the more folks we added to the group the less we could do. Today, I believe that was a mistake. Leaving other teachers out left teachers to fend for themselves. In turn, we did not get the full use of the iPad in year one and left students to use the iPad in non-productive ways. This lead to some discipline challenges, poor P.R. with staff and parents. Doing over, I would include all teachers at the level that would be impacted with the new device.
As we approached year five we invited our Core Teachers to attend a summer training. The purpose of this training was to provide those teachers the opportunity to work together developing lesson plans that would incorporate the iPad. We had hoped that in some ways we could rekindle the excitement and willingness that we got from our math folks. Of course we took several years to get the math folks where they were and we were asking others to change over summer. So it was no surprise that we had limited success. While we working with the staff Project Based Learning was introduced.
While those who lead the training over the summer were outside presenters. We knew there would be a need to provide support once school started. This involved several actions:
- We asked our chairs to work with our instruction coach in hopes of providing more instructional support.
- Since we couldn't get additional plan time for these teachers we create a "common plan". For example: all our 9th grade Language Arts teachers had the same plan time. We asked teachers with common plans to meet at least once every two weeks to develop a common lesson (more explained in earlier Blog entitled "Plan Time). These groups were known as "Mini Focus Groups"
- We organized our monthly inservice around the iPad. This included our Learning Management System (Canvas) and various APPs. The Leadership Team recognized our staff development needed to be tailored to the level of our teachers. We setup breakout sessions that focus on those with beginning knowledge or advance. We were able to move slow enough for those just getting started and faster for those who had already grasped the technology.
It may surprise you to learn that when the fall started we did not give all of our staff iPads. Again, a decision driven by the all might dollar. Only those in our Mini Focus groups received an iPad. About midway through the fall semester we were able provided our full staff with their school iPad. With their own iPad we could really focus our training on teachers needs. This I believe is key to allowing teachers a chance to become familiar with the device.
We a course had a number of other issues during the first semester. I think the simplest way is to list them below:
- Filter Issues - we were filtering the device at school as far as browsing, but not at home.
- This meant students could download APPS of their own. Students had gaming APPS as well as APPS like snap-chat that created some poor P.R. with staff, parents and upperclassmen.
- At home we had a small handful of students browsing where they shouldn't. Again, causing some poor P.R. with parents. Making matters worse, at the start of the second year we told parents that we would be filtering the device at home. Something IT had plans on doing. As I write this blog that still isn't occurring adding more P.R. issues.
- Camera which maybe more about controlling the iPad then filtering but we had some students using the camera in ways that added more poor P.R. with parents.
- Classroom Management - while we spent time discussing how to handle the device in the classroom we discovered teachers had issues managing the device.
- Teachers who had some issues before with classroom management now had another challenge on their hands.
- Teachers who only used the device sparingly or never had struggles. While teachers who used the device often seemed to have very little problem.
- Working APPS - we found some IT issues. An APP might work one day but then not the next. Often this was related to our filter system.
- Parents - in a handful of cases parents came in anger or frustrated with the iPad. The student had locked the device and wouldn't allow the parent in. If enough attempts were made with false log-ins all history of the device was lost. So no surprise this created poor P.R. with parents. When we launched this program it was our hope to work with parents and teach students the rights and wrongs. I won't say it was amazing but we did learn that a number of parents simply don't have control of their kids. Their own child would just tell mom and dad "no I'm not going to ..." and the parent has no idea how to handle it. As my instruction coach has said, if parents have poor parenting skills then this becomes and issue. One of our solutions was to create a Parent iPad Academy offering sessions in the evenings. We will be launching our first class in February.
- Parents 2 - We've also found that the device becomes the center of attention in a few of our lower income homes. This would be a device that they could not normally own. Therefore, it became a family device. Storing photos, providing entertainment, listening music and more. We've actual had some kids who said they didn't want to take the device home or take it home and hide it from the family.
- Breakage - during the first year we had a number of devices broken. We chose a simple case. The second year we went out and got a military grade case and our breakage has dropped to almost none. The cost of the case was around 70.00 but clearly worth the investment.
- Home Use - we required parents to purchase a 50.00 policy on the iPad should they wish to take the device home. Our board agreed to split that 50.00 cost but cutting our textbook rental in half. However, we still had parents who couldn't pay the 50.00 or wouldn't pay it. Then we had some parents who requested their child not be allowed to bring it home after paying deductibles or because the parent could not handle the situation at home. (Note: With the number of students we decided to take the 50.00 and provide our own insurance. With 600 devices we were netting 30,000 used to pay for broken devices. Next year we will have around 1200 which gives us about 60,000.00.) However, requiring insurance before taking the device home did create some issues.
- How do we collect iPads that shouldn't be going home? We created two check-in points at the end of school. One location is the library the other is the counseling office. We do this because we have a very large building and there are two exit points. The devices turned in at the counseling office are transported to the library to be charged for the evening. When students arrive the next school day they check-out the device in the library.
- How do handle kids who violate the right to take it home? This was a little challenge. To no surprise students wanted to sneak out the device. We had to track students down and have a one on one conversation at the beginning of a semester. In some cases taking disciplinary action and if necessary taking the device away for a period of time. I do not like taking the device. (Blog post coming soon about taking iPads from kids.)
- How do teachers assign homework? We tell our teachers they can NOT assign anything on the iPad that requires Internet at home. However, we do expect students to complete work. Since we are on a block schedule students still have the opportunity to get work done while at school over a two-day period. We have homework lunch and after school tutor time if they need.
- Learning Management System (LMS) issues. During year one we did not have a LMS. I believe this was a mistake. The ability for teazhers to be able to delivery and accept work is so much easier in a LMS. At the conclusion of year one we did research on various systems. We finally landed on Canvas and for the most part are very happy. I do believe that all LMS have limitations and you have to swing with the punches. We chose Canvas because we felt it was one of the easier ones for our staff to learn. Our challenge was we had no one on staff that had worked with Canvas. So using youtube and reading manuals several of us started working with Canvas. Our only draw back was those doing the research were not classroom teachers therefore limited on day to day experiences. Fortunately once launched in August 2013, we had teachers who ran with it and have become our trainers.
- I don't have my iPad - As a teacher how do you handle a student without an iPad when your lesson is designed for the device? We have approach this similar to no textbook. Simply make the assignment and the student looks off another's device. Then expect the student to complete the work on their own time. The real problem is the handful of students who don't have a iPad due to disciplinary actions. (Blog post coming soon about taking iPads from kids.) Some teachers have chosen to provide an alternative assignment.
- Upperclassman with no iPad - while this is our last year with this problem, we did have to deal with it during our first two years. There were a number of classes with mixed grade levels. Our solution was to give those teachers an extra iPad or two (whatever there largest number for one hour). This created a few technical problems. Items like letting a student use their iTunes account to download APPS then trying to use that device with other kids. To avoid this we tried to get our teachers to use their own iTunes account so the device was under their control.
- Theft - we've had couple of iPads walk away. So far they've all found their way back. But this has involved detective work on our administrative staff and our local law enforcement. We even had couple of iPads make the local pawn store. But here's the question - what do you do with a student who takes an iPad from another? Do you take theirs away? What about the following year, do you continue not to trust the kid and not give him an iPad? (Blog post coming soon about taking iPads from kids.)
- Communicating with IT - One of the greatest challenges we seemed to face was our ability to communicate with our IT Department. Administrators struggle understanding the ins and outs of the iPad from the technical side. For IT communication would help them explain the challenges they were facing. Let me list a few out: (We are still working through some of these issues.)
- Find my iPad - this APP while sounds like a great idea created us problems. If a student turned this on and then moved away leaving their device locked limited what we could do.
- Procedures for breakage - where does the student go when the device is broken? What about students who have broken devices but still work. They continue to use it without reporting.
- Procedures for check-in - Check-in occurs when a student transfers from our school as well as at the end of the year. We are still working on improving our check-in for this upcoming May..
- Procedures for new students - Getting devices checked out to new students after the year started. The past two years we've done this through our math class. Next year with 1200 that's not going to work.
- iPad in the shop - When an iPad needs repairs how does the student get the loaner.
- Students with APPS that are not school approved - Without administration touching the iPad we had no idea a student had unapproved APPS. But IT had the ability to run reports but that information isn't communicated to administration.
- Setting up our LMS - We had to work through issues like getting classes and students enrolled. How to transfer classes from first semester classes to second semester classes.
We are launching a Teacher Tech Team. We identified at least one teacher in each hallway that could help trouble shoot their neighbors. This team will be trained on the iPad and our APPS. In addition serve as a committee making policy and procedure recommendations. We hope to have this team up and running by March and full operational by year six (Fall 2014).
As we prepared for year six when all students get iPads we still have a number of issues under discussion. We still have a lot more to learn. If you like to ask questions or offer suggestions please feel free to comment.
- What APPS do we need and how do we go about selecting them?
- Do we lock down the device so that students can't download games, snap chat, etc.? We understand to do this may mean we can't add APPS later to the device without going through some major work. The black list vs the white list argument.
- How do we check out 1200 devices at one time? How do we check that many in?
- Do we filter at home?
- Moving our staff to the higher points on SAMR.
I'm sure I forgot about 100 other issues or items during our past few years. But hopefully this can help others who are getting ready to move forward with their 1 to 1. Again, please feel free to comment and share your thoughts.