iPads and pens in the classroom

One of my favorite blogs is Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice.  His posts and the resulting comments are one of my must reads.  One of his latest post is “iPads for Young Children in School”.  It is a good thought provoker.  One of the commenter’s, Teachling, made a point that really grabbed me.  His school is dealing with iPads in the classroom.  There was concern by parents as to “What data are you collecting to gauge their effectiveness and impact on improved learning?”  The response was “That’s like asking us to collect data on the ways in which pens improve learning outcomes”.   I love it.  Would those parents ask the same thing about calculators? I can remember when the graphing calculator hit the classroom.  An amazing about of hoopla for and against.  “Kids will never learn to think!” and “Kids will be free to think!”.  Not much changed.  Kids still do not want to think.

Many schools dive into the technology in the classroom pool without any thought, aka the Los Angeles Unified School District, and just dump money down the drain.  But other schools go the other way and will not even look at putting a toe in the pool.  I am not an iPad fan.  In fact, as the school IT guy, I do not like the things as a teaching tool for most things schools are trying to use them for.  A laptop is a much better tool for many of the things teachers are trying to make the iPad do.  But for some things it is the best tool for the job.  For example in K-4 it is great as a targeted learning tool.  There are a lot of good apps that will target one topic and the little ones can play a game that achieves that goal.  No matter how you use it the iPad is still just a tool.  It is how the teacher uses the tool that is important.  That is where I see things falling apart in a big way.  For some strange reason many school administrators have the view of “give it to them and they will use it” in regards to technology.

Let’s look at a teacher that has been teaching say 5 years.  It took a couple of years to stop being afraid of the students, a couple more years to become comfortable with the curriculum and a year just to be in the happy zone of teaching.  Now throw a new and expensive device at this teacher and require the teacher get the school district’s money’s worth out of it in the classroom.  Odds are the teacher was not consulted on this piece of technology and I am willing to bet big money they have had zero to minimal training on the device’s use in the classroom.  The teacher is no longer in their happy zone.  This is not the road to success.

This is somewhat the pattern that has taken place in my school.  The first year iPads were handed out to each of the teachers to “play with”.  Most put the iPad in a drawer.  There were 3 one hour in-services by an iPad enthusiast consultant.  Nothing shown reduced the teacher’s classroom load, it was all just something else to add to the load.  The next year the classroom sets of iPads appeared.  The teachers were expected to know what to do with them.  The results were interesting.  A couple of teachers wanted them but used them primarily as an internet device.  Many teachers initially tried to integrate the iPads into the classroom but found they did not really contribute to the present curriculum and just added to the already heavy workload.  The simple task of adding an app to 20 iPads, no matter what the method, requires time.  The little details like keeping them charged, loss of wireless signal, a student putting their own account on the iPad and downloading app with that account all add to the confusion of working with iPads in the classroom.  After 3 years iPad use in our classrooms is starting to work itself out.

The iPad, like any classroom technology, is a tool.  Without training tools are pretty worthless, especially tools that require a lot of work to integrate.  Without time to plan the tool is useless.

One Response to “iPads and pens in the classroom”

  1. Mike Zamansky (@zamansky) Says:

    You’re absolutely right, at least to those of us that know that learning to teach takes time and experience and tech are just tools.

    But remember what the reform movement wants — TFA neophytes with 5 weeks of training, most of whom will only be in the classroom for 2 years working off of scripted lessons. Keep the teachers cheap and reduce their role so we can make money by selling tech and tech programs to schools.

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