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Redefining the (digital) Classroom

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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Reflecting on my iPad Grant Thus Far... A Story of Celebrating Failure

If you have been a regular reader of this blog, it is clear that this year's 1-to-1 iPad grant has revolutionized teaching and learning for myself and my students. From standardized test scores to portfolio student work and testimonials, I have buckets and buckets of "data" to demonstrate that - when integrated effectively and with the right mindset - iPads can transform a classroom into a magical, collaborative, yet still individualized learning environment.

So, the most popular question I am repeatedly asked is, "What made your iPad integration successful?" For the sake of efficiency, I thought I'd share my answer here.

The simple answer to this question is:
It wasn't successful. 
Well, not at first.

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This is the story I always tell folks: It is the week before the 2010-2011 school year is to begin. I'm about to go to sleep when I hear my phone's email alert go off. After checking my messages, I immediately begin to cry uncontrollably. Looking over my shoulder, Husband sees that my school has won an iPad grant. He wraps his arms around me and says, "Oh Jennie, that's so sweet... you're so happy that you're crying." I shake my head and blow my nose loudly. "No," I sob, "I'm not crying because I'm happy. I'm crying because now I actually have to do all that stuff we wrote about in the grant."

And so the year began. The iPads arrived two days before the students, marking the first time I'd ever touched one of these devices. I told myself, "Well, how hard can this be? I'm getting free technology. These little doohickeys will probably engage the kids simply by being 'cool.' I can't mess this up. No problem."

Mmm hmm... Famous last thoughts. The next two months were a hot mess. Not much progress being seen from my class. A lot more crying (me, not the kids). Poor Husband suffering the terrible wrath of Teacher-Wife gone mad. Around the end of September I knew that I needed to regroup and reevaluate. So I took a step back and did some serious reflecting.


What had I been doing so far with this technology?
- iPad Games Apps instead of Everyday Math Games
- Typing notes on iPads instead of on paper
- Worksheet Apps instead of Everyday Math journal pages / math boxes
- Using the iPad as a slate instead of the dry erase boards
- Using the iPad to surf the Internet
- In short... things were going... okay. Nothing to write home about. Not what I would consider "worthy" of a $20,000 grant.

Clearly it was time for a revolution.

I began to realize that the problem was my attitude and understanding of how the iPads should be utilized in the classroom. I saw the iPads as a supplement to my pre-existing curriculum; something I could just tack on to what I thought I was already doing well. I was spending most of my time hunting for content apps that fit what I had always done. This was simply the wrong way to look at technology. If I hoped to truly revolutionize and rebuild my classroom, I had to be willing to do some demolition work first.

I started by mentally "trashing" my understandings of how a classroom operates and what I had "always done" or "always taught." I then started over with a few Utopian goals in mind. If I could magically conjure an ideal classroom, what would I ask for? Though I could name countless desires, I settled on three main goals:

- Increased differentiation
- Robust, efficient assessment
- Increased student access to teachers

Next, I considered: can the iPads address any of these ideas? I was surprised to find that iPads not only address all three, they address them all quite well.

I then redesigned my classroom, instruction and pedagogy around my three goals with iPads as the infrastructure. I began to create interactive video mini lessons to increase both differentiation and student access to teachers. I utilized Google Forms, e-Clicker and Edmodo to not only create a faster feedback loop for assessment (allowing for same-day differentiated groupings based on exit tickets), but also allowing me to tailor assessment questions to individual students. Through technology based reflections, mood check-ins and student-teacher blogging, I was able to make each student feel more connected to the adults in my classroom, thereby increasing student trust and making each child feel more "heard" throughout the day.

Throughout this re-tooling of my iPad implementation, I also focused on the question: 'What can I do with these devices that would be impossible to do without them?' In other words, I was hoping to create new teaching methods and classroom strategies rather than replace old ones. This led to an increase in student creation. Instead of simply replacing paper math games with flashy video math games, I began to have students create their own math videos, write math blogs and conduct Challenge Based Learning math projects.

Instead of being an afterthought tacked on to my curriculum, my iPads had become the epicenter. They were out all day, every day and were being pushed to their limit so that my students could be pushed to theirs. As a result I saw ten times the growth in standardized test scores this year as compared to last year. I saw students who hated coming to school show up daily with vigor and excitement for learning. I had one young lady tell me, "[iPads] make me want to come to school everyday because I know that Ms. Magiera got a lesson just for me that day. I don't want to miss my lesson. I like it cause she's - like - talking just to me."

*********************

At the ADE institute this summer, there was much talk of celebrating failure. For me, for obvious reasons, this resonated strongly. This year has been a lesson in celebrating failure. Through my initial failure to implement the iPad integration effectively, I was granted the rich experience of reflecting, re-organizing, re-norming and re-starting.

I know my experience would not have been as fulfilling had I been successful from the start. Just as I teach my students to evaluate incorrect math strategies to better appreciate the beauty of one that works, I had to fail to truly understand why what I'm doing now works.

To be honest, I know that I still a lot of room for improvement; I'm sure I have more failure in my near future. I can't wait. :)

25 comments:

  1. I love the honesty. I had the same excitement/horror when I heard I will have ipads too. Thanks for showing how it evolved to success, nothing is perfect without work!

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  2. Thanks for sharing, Jennie! You have so many great experiences, insights and successes to share with the world. I'm looking forward to another great year!

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  3. Wow! I am so glad I happened upon your blog. I was also awarded a Tech grant for this coming school year and will receive 10 iPad2. I can't wait! Any tips and advice? I have never even held one before, I am so nervous and excited about using them with the students.

    http://ericashep.blogspot.com

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  4. Mrs. Shepherd - get ready, your world is about to change. As you read, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but am so glad I did. If you ever have any questions, please let me know - I'll do what I can or send you to someone else who can do better!

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  5. Jennie,
    You are amazing! Thank you for being so honest. I have sent this blog entry to my entire district. I think we learn more from failure than success sometime.
    Jaime

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  6. Thank you so much for all your insights. Your blog has been extremely helpful as we plan a tablet roll-out. I had a logistical question for you, though, if you have the time. What cases do you all use to protect your iPads in the classroom? Thanks!

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  7. Hi Katy,

    Right now we don't have cases for our iPad 2 devices. For our iPad 1 devices, we got the cheapest cases we could find (that were reasonable) on Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B003DQIB0Y

    I also utilized the iPad 1 devices for 6 months without cases without incident. They are surprisingly durable and resilient. If you do purchase cases I suggest the following:

    - Make sure that the case does not impede on the sync port - some make it difficult to plug them in.

    - Make sure that the case does not impede on the headphone jack (see above).

    - It is nice when there is a hole cut out in the back so that you can see a number sticker or other numeration system for the iPad (or get a light-colored iPad so you can write the number onto the cover). This is because when you sync iPads all at once - if this is what you plan to do - and you restore all iPads to one image or backup, you can't put different wallpaper images on each device (and therefore cannot numerate iPads in this way). If you have different iPad images on each device, and don't mind individually syncing them, organizing apps, etc - then you could have each iPad with a different wallpaper and thus numerate them in this way.

    Hope this helps!
    Jennie

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  8. Jennie,
    Thank you so much for your blog post on implementation of the iPads. Your honesty is much appreciated. I have worked with technology (20+ yrs) and helping teachers understand implementation and tech integration. I have oftentimes been frustrated at the lack of initiative. You were so proactive in your endeavor to make this work!! And your students greatly benefited from you taking on the task. The greatest message here, that one walks away with, is not the use of the devices, but your attempts at transforming pedagogy. You adjusted your methods to make teaching and learning more meaningful, and the results are noteworthy. I attended the Apple showcase back in June, and I was quite impressed with all the teachers who participated in the grant. Best of Luck this school year and in the future.
    Mary W.

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  9. Mary,

    Thank you so much for your encouragement and positive feedback! I am still reflecting and working on improving practice daily... hopefully I'll have more great experiences to share here!

    Best regards,
    Jennie

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  10. Thanks for the quick reply! LOVE your blog -- I know I'll refer to it often as we start integrating our iPads.

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  11. Cool Math Games-Cool math games have a large collection of gaming stuff find latest online computer games free on this website some cool math games are so simple to play online by the kids these games have great attraction for kids and they meet different targets and bonus points to achieve the specific items in these games.

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  12. Where can I submit my iPad grant proposal? I have one written and outlined, yet I am not sure where to submit it. Any thoughts?

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  13. Trying to get a grant for my 7 year old who has epilpesy to get a ipad...any suggestions?

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  14. Sadly I'm not sure of any grants that support single iPad grants for families. Again, I would point you towards Google. Best of luck!

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  15. Hi Jennie,
    I'm about to deploy 30 ipad 2's into my 6th grade math class and I'm NERVOUS! Thanks for basically breaking the mold and letting me learn from your failure, YAY!! I have a question about the mood check in and your exit slips.

    How do those work? What are they connected to and how does it send you feedback.,

    Thanks,
    Alison Nixon
    Rogers Middle School

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    1. Congrats and good luck! Here is a post I wrote about those exit slips/mood check ins. They are Google Forms!

      http://teachinglikeits2999.blogspot.com/2011/07/more-on-assessment-with-google-docs.html

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  16. Great post. I am re-enervated to do more with my iPads.

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  17. Bravo for this blog! But shame on your school system for not having given you an iPad and a thorough grounding on its capabilities in creative education.

    I just read a blog by a Burlington administrator, and he was at 30,000 feet rather than properly educated. I recall my son entering first grade with a clueless, intimidated teacher who he had to educate on how to use the classroom computer. Same with his three years older sister. Today, he's a 22 year old creative developer for a digital agency, and his sister was the center young woman in the Apple billboard honoring Teach for America - the 2011 Sue Lehman "Teacher of the Year." Sad to say, even today, most students are more savvy about iOS devices than their teachers.

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    1. eregreed, oftentimes students eclipse teacher knowledge of technology. And yet in this particular case, there was little support to be given. The grant was being released in the summer on 2010 - mere months after the release of the first generation of iPads. As such there weren't many (if any) use cases and PD for best practices to share on this device. It had yet to be vetted by a force of educators. We were truly the pioneers. Now CPS is leveraging the collective knowledge of its iPadding teachers to provide ample support to newer techie teachers!

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  18. Lots of teachers at our school (Seoul Foreign School) have read this blog post and found it very inspiring! I like it so much I wrote a song about it - see the link below. You can download an mp3 of some teachers singing it at the bottom of the page.

    https://sites.google.com/a/seoulforeign.com/cohort3/songs/2999

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    1. This is honestly the nicest and most flattering thing anyone has ever done. I'm so beyond amazed! Thank you thank you thank you! Also I wish I knew how to play the guitar!!!

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    2. Also I'm really excited you get the pun in my blog title... that's pretty awesome. Can you send me an email or Tweet? I want to give you credit for the song when I share it! jenniemisong@gmail.com / @MsMagiera

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  19. We have a plan to purchase iPad through grants:
    30 iPads for use by specials classrooms
    30 iPads for use by grades 6, 7 and 8
    25 iPads for use by 2/3 lab
    25 iPads for use by K/1 lab
    25 iPads for use by 4/5 lab
    Do you have any idead of a time line for these purchases

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