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Redefining the (digital) Classroom

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

My Brave and Amazing Colleagues

As mentioned in an earlier post, our school has the great fortune to have expanded our iPad program from one classroom last year to 9 classrooms this year. With this expansion, my role has changed from a classroom teacher and new teacher mentor to classroom teacher/new teacher mentor/STEM coach/tech coordinator/iPad program lead. While this was also an intimidating prospect, I was excited to begin the year and learn with my new iPad colleagues.

As with any expansion, I expected there to be some growing pains. I also expected there to be amazing learning and progress on both the part of the teachers and students.  Well, I expected amazing, but what I got was awe-inspiring. These new iPad teachers have taken simple suggestions, quick overviews of SAMR and innovation philosophy, and a handful of quality apps - and each have created their own innovative learning spaces. What I'm most impressed by are two teachers who originally were self-proclaimed technophobes. They both saw the potential in bringing iPads into their classrooms and were both excited at the opportunity; yet neither had experience with these devices nor the Mac operating system in general. They expressed great fear and discomfort with the new technology but applied for the iPads nonetheless.

What has set this cohort of new iPad teachers apart from others are 3 main things:
- willingness to learn a new skill set and go "back to basics" / coachability
- perseverance despite frequent frustration
- creativity & collaboration


Willingness to learn a new skill set and go "back to basics" / coachability
I recently wrote this post about the necessity to break down your notions of teaching and learning and rebuild it with an effective use of available technology (rather than trying to insert technology into your existing framework). This means that veteran, successful teachers will experience a period (sometimes a long period) of feeling like a first-year teacher. This isn't comfortable and oftentimes takes a blow to your self-esteem as a practitioner. Furthermore, teachers who are used to being the expert in their field - the person to whom others go to for support - are suddenly having to be coached. While in theory one may argue that we are never done learning our craft and teachers should be used to ongoing coaching no matter their level, this isn't always the case. There are teachers who are seen as "master mentor teachers" and have rarely been on the other side of the table.

A good many of my colleagues who embarked on this iPad expansion were considered "master mentor teachers". Their classrooms ran themselves and their students ended the year self-motivated, thoughtful scholars. We all look to them for examples of best practice. And yet once we added iPads to the equation, they were suddenly facing areas of complete ignorance - how do you close a window in Safari? How do you right-click on a Mac? What is screencasting? How do you sync an app, let alone multiple apps? What is iOS?! Each of these teachers jumped in with two feet - not only willing to learn and start anew, but positively hungering for the new information. This was the first key step to their success.

Perseverance despite frequent frustration
As I've chronicled in this blog, bringing in the iPads to my room last year resulted in lots of "hiccups." And perhaps a few more dramatic issues. I lost entire unit of writing that my 50 students had been working on by overwriting the files in the iDisk. I thought I had synced an ePub to all the iPads during an observation and realized I had not... and had nothing else planned for that period. I didn't realize a website ran on flash and had created my lesson around it. You know, that sort of thing. There were many times last year where I wanted to throw my hands up in the air and declare - "I GIVE UP!"

This is where my colleagues now find themselves. The kindergarten teacher recently had to sync a new app to all of her iPads. After completing a few, she checked an iPad and the data from one of her key apps - SmartyPantsSchool - was seemingly wiped clean. Three months of individualized assessment data for her 28 kindergarteners, gone. Possibly worse - each of her students would now have to start over despite all the progress they had already made. Instead of panicking, or throwing in the towel, she took a deep breath, turned to her co-teachers and starting working out a Plan B. I was amazed by how she took it in stride and persevered despite this blow. In the end, we were able to recover the data and move on!

Creativity & Collaboration
iPads in the classroom is still a very young field; there is not a lot of published data to point the way to best practices or models for integration or redefinition. Therefore a lot of this is about making it up as you go - and when you run into a road block, getting creative. These teachers have each taken it upon themselves to read blogs, email me or their Apple coach, Tweet, Facebook, etc - to find new ways to solve old problems. What's more is that they are even beginning to share their journeys with others. The kindergarten teacher - one of my two self-dubbed technophobes - has taken her coaching sessions with me and her own dogged persistence in learning the operation of the Mac and iPad OS and begun to chronicle her learning in her own blog. After a quick Google Hangout and a few in-person tips, she is now not only creating her own screenshot documents for her Kindergarteners to track their own data, she has transformed into a newborn EduBlogger! (Check out her amazing journey at iPads in Kindergarten!)

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I've seen other models - both this year and last - which have had less success. I've found that this has had little to do with the quality of the teachers (although this does play an important factor - inserting iPads into an already dysfunctional classroom may only exacerbate the issues). Great practitioners have been lucky enough to gain access to a 1-to-1 set of iPads only to use them as a reading games center for 15 minutes a day. What has pushed this expansion forward has been a testament to the amazing disposition of the 8 teachers I am so lucky to work with on this amazing project. I hope to loop in more of our talented staff soon and that these 8 can go on to mentor them in their iPad adventure.

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