Over the past several years, I have visited several schools to talk about iPads. I am often called in to talk to a school in the early stages of implementation. Usually, the teachers have only had their personal iPads for a few months and the student iPads or cart iPads are still in the future.
This is the perfect time to host a professional development session. This gives me (or whoever offers it to your school) the opportunity to save your school and teachers a lot of time. We can warn you away from the mistakes we have made, and we can point you directly towards solutions that might have taken us months to stumble upon ourselves.
Below is a list of the most common questions I receive from teachers and administrators at these early training sessions.
Why should we implement iPads in schools anyway? What’s wrong with paper, pencils, and textbooks?
First off, there is nothing wrong with paper, pencils, and textbooks. Keep using them. Furthermore, putting iPads in every classroom is a huge undertaking. It takes a lot of hard work, time, and money. So it is understandable that a lot of teachers or parents might be hesitant. What is wrong with the way we’ve been doing things? How much value do these devices actually add?
The answer obviously depends on the dedication and skill level of your teachers. But then again, classroom effectiveness WITHOUT iPads depend upon the same things. You’ll have some teachers that end up being total rock stars with the devices. They’ll go completely paperless, they’ll master dozens of apps, and they’ll utilize the iPad for every class of the school year. You’ll also have some teachers that feel completely lost. They’ll use the iPads to check email, show a YouTube video, or just to Google something. And you know what? That’s okay, too.
What I tell schools is this: the most important benefit of iPad implementation is technological literacy. Sure you can come up with some amazing lessons and you can deliver the information in some truly unique ways, but even if you don’t, you are still helping the students to learn how to use technology. You are exposing them to devices and tools that will only become more and more crucial to their future success. That alone is a fantastic advantage for these kids to have.
We all know someone who is terrible with electronics: a parents, a grandparent, a friend, or maybe ourselves. They struggle to do the most basic functions on a smart phone, a laptop, or a tablet. They are at an age where no amount of training or practice will ever enable them to master these devices. Well right now they are only missing out on some fun periphery uses of technology. But in the near future? Mastery of cutting-edge technology will be crucial to everyday life and to a multitude of career paths. We don’t want our students to be at a disadvantage. We don’t want them to grow into adults that can’t intuitively figure out the latest gadget. They might need to know how to use that gadget for their livelihood!
And so, at the very least, utilizing iPads in the classroom starts training students’ brains to master technology and figure out how to utilize it to accomplish tasks. That will develop in them a mental framework that will help them with technology throughout their lives.
At least, that is what I firmly believe.
But what about formal typing skills with the home row keys and using the correct fingers for each key? The iPad only teaches students to peck!
I hate to break it to traditionalists, but learning to type on a computer keyboard as if it were a typewriter is pretty much useless at this point. The home row hand placement and using the “proper” fingers to hit each key is completely outdated and has outlived its usefulness (if it ever had any). Modern keyboards come in all shapes and sizes and there really is no “proper” way to type any more.
Please, don’t chase after me with pitchforks. It is the truth. I never learned how to “type properly” and can belt out almost 100 words a minute if I stay focused. I use almost every finger on my left hand, but stick to just my pointer finger on my right hand. I must say that my quality of life has never suffered in any way due to my improper typing technique.
For kids today it is even less relevant. Tablets utilize touch screens with minimal haptic feedback. You literally cannot type on them using proper home row placement without looking at the keyboard. Cell phones have even smaller keyboards that make typing with more than two fingers preposterous. The XBox One, Sony Playstation 4, iPhone 4S (and later), and Google Glass all accept voice commands, slowly making “typing skills” even more superfluous. Who knows where we will be in 5 or 10 years, but I guarantee you it won’t be in a place that requires you to treat your computer like a 150 year old typewriter. The only real benefit to traditional typing instruction by this point is to teach kids where each key is on the keyboard, but even that skill is probably learned much faster by just letting kids text their friends on a cell phone. They will memorize the placement of the keys pretty quickly.
Well, what about their handwriting, especially writing and reading in cursive? They won’t learn that via an iPad!
As for handwriting and cursive, the situation is very similar to formal typing. Students are writing less and less by hand. Many school districts have already ceased teaching students how to write in cursive. At every professional development session I host, a teacher will confide to me that she worries that future generations will not be able to read the Declaration of Independence because they can’t decipher the cursive writing.
My response is twofold. First, I believe learning how to write by hand is a very important skill. Hand-written documents (especially personal letters) still have their place in society and probably always will. Not only that, but learning how to write helps kids with their manual dexterity and fine motor skills. There is no reason to expect or want iPads to replace this. I still have my students write most of their notes by hand and take all their tests and quizzes by hand. There are even apps that can help preschool and kindergarten-age children learn how to properly form letters, if you want to find a way to mesh iPads into those lessons without replacing those traditional skills.
Second, with regards to cursive, there has to be a prioritization of time. The fact is that we do not have enough hours in the school day to teach everything we want. If your elementary school teachers have the time in their annual curriculum to teach their students proper cursive, then by all means go for it. It is a great skill to have. But if you can’t fit it in? Then don’t sweat it. We don’t have time to teach students the proper way to saddle a horse or plow a field either, but most students get through life just fine without those particular skills. They’ll survive without cursive. And just because you can’t write it doesn’t mean you can’t read it. I could never make my hand create the letters and the words as they appear on the actual Declaration of Independence, but that doesn’t mean I can’t read what is there.
Okay, we just bought iPads for all the teachers in the school. What should we do first?
A good first step would be to set up teachers’ email accounts, app store accounts, iCloud accounts, and Dropbox accounts. Once everything is set up, tell them to start playing around with them. They should try finding, downloading, and using a few simple apps of their choice. They should check their email and send some emails from the iPad. They should try browsing the internet, watching some YouTube videos, and loading a document via Dropbox. Learn how to pinch for zoom, and learn how to reorganize the icons on the home screen. Learn how to take a picture and how to reboot the machine if something goes wrong.
All this early time is meant to familiarize teachers with the basics. Some teachers can get the hang of this stuff easily (usually the people that already have smart phones), while others might take a while to get comfortable. The important thing is to keep practicing. You won’t learn how to use them by trying for five minutes and then giving up. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! And don’t be afraid of breaking anything. Any settings or apps you mess with can be reset or re-downloaded, so go ahead and play around with stuff.
What sort of settings should we use for our iPads and the student iPads? What sort of restrictions are available?
The iPad actually offers you a lot of options for controlling and restricting the iPads for teachers and students. In fact, they keep adding more and more as they update iOS. By utilizing the built-in settings along with an external monitoring software (such as Meraki) and an internet filtering system (such as OpenDNS), you can feel pretty safe handing the devices to students.
Within the iPad itself, you can restrict installing or deleting apps; restrict the ratings available for downloadable apps, movies, and music; restrict adult content and other inappropriate websites; turn off iMessage and Facetime; lock the iPad to a specific app; and more.
How should we start using them in the classroom?
Teachers should try to ease the iPad into their daily classroom routine. Make sure that they can mirror their iPad screen with AppleTV or AirServer and show them how to turn it on and off. Then they should start using some simple apps in the classroom. Some ideas:
- Use Google Earth whenever you otherwise would have used a globe or a flat map.
- Use Jasmine or even Safari to load videos from YouTube or TeacherTube (just make sure to pre-screen videos, as always).
- Create a seating chart with TeacherKit. This will also give you practice with the camera.
- Use any annotation app to pull up PDFs or documents for class (current event articles, copies of historic documents, worksheets, etc.).
- Use the iPad for reference materials: dictionary, calculator, Bible, encyclopedia, translator, etc.
- Use some of the free books available in iBooks to either assign for outside reading or to read in the classroom.
Alright, I am feeling more confident. Now my students are using the iPads (either 1-to-1 or with a mobile lab/cart). What are some good intro apps to use for assignments and assessments?
Now things start to get interesting. It is time for your students to start creating with the iPad. This leads to higher-level thinking and caters to all learning styles. Here is a quick list of some of the most useful apps and most intuitive apps students can use in the classroom (consider this your “starter kit” of apps):
- Type papers and make brochure, newsletters, and posters using Pages.
- Create presentations using Keynote.
- Complete worksheets using neu.Annotate+ (load them in the app via email, a shared Dropbox folder, a QR code to a website, or any other number of options).
- Create their own storybooks, how-to guides, informational texts, and more with Book Creator.
- Create concept maps and outlines using Inspiration.
- Create movies and videos with Pinnacle or iMovie.
- Create PicCollages and insert them into other projects (or even use them as assessments themselves).
- Create narrated explanations of concepts for classmates or for submission to the teacher using Explain Everything.
- Transfer their stacks of flashcards into any of a million flashcard apps.
- Use the camera to take pictures of the homework board or notes they missed while absent.
Need more? Check out our massive iPad app list organized by grade level and subject level.
You’ve mentioned Dropbox a couple of times. What do I need to know about using Dropbox with my iPad and my students?
Using Dropbox and/or other cloud storage providers is pretty much essential if you want to efficiently use an iPad in the classroom. Using cloud storage you can access all your documents and photos from your desktop or laptop, back up your projects, share stuff with your students or coworkers, collect submissions from students, and a lot more.
What about going paperless? How can I distribute and collect assignments and documents with the iPad?
There are many ways to distribute documents (shared cloud folders, email, upload to school website), and many ways to collect assignments (submit to Dropbox, email, etc.), but your best bet is to utilize a classroom workflow app such as Showbie or Edmodo.
At our school, we personally use Showbie. It allows a teacher to create assignments, set due dates, upload documents for students to access, collect student submissions, grade them/annotate them, then hand them back to students without ever needing to print a thing. Here is a walkthrough of the app.
Okay, we are ready to get started! Anything else we should know?
Just remember that this will be a learning process for you just as much as it is for the students. You will be challenged to come up with new and unique assessments and lessons. You will have to exercise some of your latent creativity. You’ll have to readjust your classroom management procedures and probably your classroom layout as well.
But it will be worth it. You’ll realize this the first time you watch a six minute video filmed and edited together by your students using nothing but the iPad camera and their imaginations. You’ll realize it was worth it when you no longer have to reserve the computer lab and walk to the far side of the school just to do some internet research. You’ll realize it when you see the savings in your paper budget, or see how much time you saved by submitting grades back to students via an app. You’ll realize it when you see the excitement on students’ faces at the prospect of an upcoming lesson. Trust me.
Good luck to you and your school.
Be sure to email me with any further questions, article ideas, or suggestions.