Mastery with iPads

There is a large difference when it comes to learning with iPads and that difference has to do with mastery.  A number of articles can be found on exploring the other differences, my latest favorite is Matt Levinson’s  But something seems to get overlooked by outsiders of education in the argument.  Mastery.  I have worked with iPads since 2010 in schools and I was one of the largest advocates for laptops.  Yes, you read that correctly, laptops.  I thought that iPads were simply a consumption device and didn’t have the foresight to see beyond their current iteration.  Also having been a classroom teacher for the previous 10 years I knew how students learned best.  But that didn’t seem to make a difference to my administration.  People in much more influential positions than I in my district decided to get iPads anyway and something amazing started to happen.  Students started learning and retaining the information.  I thought, “But how could they?  They are just having fun with games!”  But I was at a point where I was frustrated with doing the same routines over and over again and not getting the results I wanted with student mastery so I dug deeper and found that I had something to learn about educational technology.

Data, data, data. In this day and age we are all looking for increased test scores and the like to prove our points, but my data on this subject is different.  It is all anecdotal, but to a teacher that has been in the game for a few years I know when learning is taking place.  Last night really got me thinking about it much more.  With yesterday being Mother’s Day, we celebrated with family and after the kids were in bed my wife and I sat down to watch a movie.  Five minutes in to the film her iPhone sounds with a message and she begins to laugh hysterically.  Our son, age the age of 7, used his iPod touch to take a photo of himself and send the following:

“Hi mom.  This is me in my room.  I love you and hope you had a good Mother’s Day.”

As all teachers do I back tracked the train of thought on how that message got from my son’s head to my wife.  And the answer was simple.  I taught him how to take photos the first day he got is iPod touch and he remembered it.  No only did he remember it, but he used it masterfully in context of importance.  That led me to thinking about all of the games my kids play on the iOS devices in our house and it is amazing how the mastery of basic tasks, taking a picture, math, spelling, definitions, writing, and other games had happened without drill and kill.  And so much more!

Walking around the classrooms don’t give me the same sense of learning in my district.  The students that I have are using shared iPads and honestly the learning is limited.  Oh they have fun and do get some concepts down, but there is so much more potential.  What places like Maine and Los Angeles have done with iPads is absolutely amazing.  Now if we can use that power for the greater good we might have something!

If your district is looking at iPads vs. Laptops there are a number of metrics you can consider, but one of the most overlooked is the amount of mastery and the speed at which it is acquired.  iPads are fun.  Students want to use them.  And with each use comes a desired learning that is cleverly disguised in games.  Laptops have games too, but it is the same thing that many of us learned on and laptops aren’t as fun.  Teachers have a unique opportunity to bring back the fun in learning with iPads.  I wish I had more data on the influence of fun in mastery (maybe a research paper worth writing), but I have to go with intuition on this matter.  If I could I would start with how long it takes a student to understand fractions Motion Math instead of worksheets!


Answers to 1:1 learning questions

It recently came to my attention that 1:1 learning (1 computing device for 1 student) is still a bit of a mystery for many educators.  While the idea of every student having a device like an iPad, laptop, or Chromebook could lead to a revolution in learning, the educators need to understand the concept and practice first.  Let the myths and (for some) hysteria of robots taking over slip away.  Teachers are and always will be essential as described in this post.  But teachers are also the crucial spark in the future of our country.  Here are the top 3 questions I get when discussing the topic with some answers and support for my fellow educators out there.

Question #1 –  If every student has a device when do they use it?

Answer:  It should be up to the teacher.  It is your classroom.  You design the learning activities and provide the tools to accomplish the desired outcomes.  It is your world.  But don’t rest on “what has worked in the past”.  Using new tools does get difficult.  Change is hard.  But remember the education you are providing is for the students future.  Technology is a part of our everyday lives and we can show learners how to use it appropriately and successfully to enhance themselves.  Also, having something new and cool in class helps students engage in what is being taught because it is modern and connected to their lives.

Question #2 –  How am I supposed to teach something I don’t know all that well?

Answer:  For many I think you know more about technology than you give yourself credit for, but for some there is some learning to do.  If you are looking to move your classroom by yourself, then I would suggest getting to know TPACK, SAMR, ISTE standards, Project RED, and then the device manufacturers very well.  They will get you information on the concepts of integrating technology in the classroom.  Personally Apple has done the most promising work in the classroom and that is why they have a high rate of use with the iPad and Mac OS X systems. Google and Microsoft are both strong in the education world, but they are second and third for a reason at this point.    If you are talking about operational difficulties (like use of PowerPoint, etc…), then I would suggest looking for online classes or opportunities (like GCF Learn) to educate yourself.  If you are looking to advance on the salary schedule or keep your state certification they may require the demonstration of continued education.  Why not do both at the same time?

If your district is moving towards 1:1 then demand the professional development to support it!  Digital curriculum, flipping the classroom, and all of the other stuff that is in the Ed. Tech world are great tools, but they need to be taught and supported.  Sometimes administrators forget about this part and need gentle reminders (I was one of those so forgive me).

Question #3 –  So you are asking me to do more?  When am I going to have the time?

Answer:  Use time to make time.  I was at a lecture once and someone put it to me this way.  20 years ago you didn’t have a cell phone.  If you had to make a call you drove to a location to do so, looked up the phone number, and talked to someone.  Now, you spend about 15 minutes a day for the first month learning how your cell phone works and use it on a regular basis for calls, texts, emails, calendars, social media, games, pictures, etc…  The same idea applies to your classroom.  If you take time to learn how to create online quizzes (I like Google Forms and Flubaroo for that), you can digitally issue, grade, and communicate with students without having to touch a single piece of paper.  Research without encyclopedias or a trip to the library.  Draw without necessarily getting all of the crayons and paper out.   Provide feedback instantly while the student remembers the topic instead of weeks later with a red pen graded paper (we have all been there).  Allow classroom collaboration online without the noise and distractions a confined verbal area creates.  It does take time to use technology well, but for many educators using technology and devices in the classroom has allowed for them to get time back!  Here is what PBS has to say on using technology and flipped learning.

Question #4 –  What is the right way to do it?

Answer:  It is up to you.  The first step is to get in and try.  Second step is to learn more than you know now.  Third step is to keep trying.  While I don’t confess to knowing everything I can say that by helping teachers for the past 10 years teachers who allow their students to use technology often see benefits they had never before imagined.  There have been failures, but most of those came from poor planning (district or teacher) or abandonment of the process because it became difficult.  If you have the opportunity to move into a 1:1 classroom I encourage you to take that chance.  Don’t be afraid to look “dumb” in front of your students.  Do you think you ever ask students to do something that they are afraid to look “dumb” doing?  This is the year.  Take the risk.  And talk to others that have done it online (Google+, Pintrest, Edmodo, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc…)    We are out there to help each other.

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Thinking about adding tech to your school? Take a look at this blueprint first!

Many groups out there have made a few dollars from educators with the best intentions and poorly based decisions.  Recently a participant at one of my sessions got me to dig through all of my materials and when I found this one I was shocked that I didn’t go back to it more often.  Intel put together this website years ago and it is amazing how important most of it still is.

Project RED

Thinking about going 1:1 in the coming days, months, years?  One of the best resources available is Project RED.  This organization is made up of several large corporations in the ed tech industry.  The thoughtful details that have been placed in these materials have jump started many districts around the US and might just be what you are looking for too!