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Redefining the (digital) Classroom

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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

10 Tips for Getting Started in your New iClassroom

The question continues to arise: OK, I'm getting iPads... How do I begin? While I've written posts about it here or there, it can be a pain to search an entire blog to find just what you need. So for your convenience, below I've curated 10 tips for getting started on your new iAdventure:

1- For administrators: One to one means one to one. 
One cart per teacher, that is. Oftentimes I hear about schools who are purchasing iPad carts and then use them as rotating resources. iPads and the iOS are a little different than laptops and desktops. Any teacher who has been utilizing these devices with students can tell you that the workflow alone can be a challenge and is a learned skill. When the cart is rotating, teachers rarely have the time to become experts - and many don't truly own the responsibility to immerse themselves in the transformation. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule; when a team of especially innovative teachers with great working relationships share the cart, the outcome can be much different. However, a great rule of thumb is to keep the cart in one room; or at least split it between a maximum of 2-3 teachers who will dig in and become a mini-PLC together. This will allow your teachers to become experts in the craft and pedagogy. The following year they will become teacher-leaders and be able support others as you expand your program. (Also to note, consider having teachers write an RFP or mini grant proposal to help determine which teachers will be your pioneers. This will build in buy-in and motivation to fully engage in the learning experience.)

2- Bretford PowerSync Cart.
Make sure you get the right cart! I makes me so sad to walk into a building and see that they have purchased the Bretford Mobility Cart (no syncing) not because of budgetary restraints, but a lack of knowledge of this better, newer Bretford PowerSync Cart. The cart itself requires some exploration and learning, but in the end it is an incredible time saver. (My first year with iPads I was manually syncing 32 iPads, one at a time, every day. I shiver at the memory.) Here is a post with more info on how to use this cart.

3- Keep it separate.
Your iTunes accounts, that is. When you begin purchasing apps for your iPads, you'll need a separate AppleID to run the Volume Purchase Program . However, you may also want to keep a separate MacBook to be the "brains" of the operations. When using the PowerSync Cart, you'll learn some handy time-saving tricks, such as adjusting the sync settings in iTunes to "sync all new apps" or "sync newest 10 videos". If you're running two iTunes accounts on one Mac, you may still run into the accidental downloading of "Hot Tub Time Machine" - your fun for the weekend movie download meant for you and your friends - to all 32 of your 4th graders' iPads. Oops. No good. Even if you're more careful than that, it can become a headache to sort through your personal downloads and the schools'. If you can get a separate MacBook to become your carts' best friend and your at-work computer, all the better.

4- Taste the Rainbow.
When buying cases, try to find ones that come in multiple colors (we got the MiniSuits from Amazon). Then have one color per table. This way, it is easy for each student to find his/her assigned iPad every day without rummaging through a bin. (I keep all of my iPads out in a bin on the tables, all day - much like teachers who keep pencils or craft supplies out all day.) The iPads are of course numerated as well, but the color coding makes things quicker and easier. Here is a post about organizing your iPads. 

5- Headphones.
Wow, now you've spent mucho moolah on carts, MacBooks and iPads! Do you still have money for things like headphones? Well for a long time, we did not. Solution: Add headphones to your kids' school supply list. I had a box of heavy-duty plastic Ziplock bags at school, and bins for each table. The kids wrote their names on the bags, threw the headphones in and they lived at school in their bins. Now, before those who teach in low-income areas start to sigh, please note that my school is 99% free/reduced lunch. Many of my kids balk at bringing even pencils to school. However one thing they didn't mind getting was a pair of dollar store headphones. For those who couldn't bring them to school, I was able to buy a couple of at-school lender headphones at the dollar store myself. Not the best solution in the world, but it was much less expensive than purchasing headphones for all 93 of my kids.

6- First day.
Let the kids explore. Give them a few expectations on how to hold the iPad safely, and basics about the buttons. Stow the settings icon into a folder called "Do Not Open" - along with others you're not ready for the kids to "discover" yet. Then let them have at it. Stop them at intervals and ask them to demo their learning. For more on this, see this post. 

7- Technology does not = Classroom Management.
Contrary to some beliefs, technology is not a magic wand that can suddenly manage your classroom for you. Just as you had to make sure kids weren't writing lewd words in books or on desks, and set expectations / build a classroom community to prevent such things, the same goes for tech. First, make sure you have clear signals for when to stop iPad use and start listening to a speaker. I say, "Screens dark, Hands in laps". Simple, clear, straightforward. Doug Lemov  tells us the importance of being concise and clear with your instructions of "What to Do." This is a great example. Let them know that they must have their screens off  (iPads asleep) and their hands in their laps (no one touching the screen or buttons). Just as you need to make these clear directions during a science lab or math lesson full of fun, distracting manipulatives, so must you with iPads.

8- Student Genius Bar.
How do you teach kids new apps? How do you decide to buy new apps? How do you figure out how to use new apps in your classroom? Answer: Kids, kids, and kids.
Pick one student per table, cluster or group to be an "App Tester." Then, when you see a new app that peaks your interest, buy just one copy. Have your app group try it out as an anchor activity throughout the week - each taking turns playing with it. Then have them fill out a form like thisApps with high enough reviews (determined by you), can be purchased for all iPads. (through the Volume Purchase Program). After you've purchased them, you now have a student trainer for each table/group/cluster to support and teach their colleagues how to use the app. 

9- Creation Apps > Content Apps.
See this post about the difference in app purchasing... and this page for great creation apps.

10- Use technology for Good, not Evil.  
Technology in the classroom can truly redefine teaching and learning for all. However, the goal of a "paperless classroom," at this point in technology advancement, is not 100% practical. There are still some students and some things that are better "old school." For example, art class. We tried to put a 1:1 iPad cart in the middle school art period this year. After a few weeks, the students - who had used iPads in other realms of their school life - politely asked to just paint. While some digital art programs are amazing, sometimes kids just want to get dirty - and should be able to. Another great example is measurement and other kinesthetic content areas... so the moral of this story is digitize to improve something, not just because you can. Here is a post that dives more deeply into this.

[10b: Use the technology to redefine.]
OK, I had to throw this one in here too... your own mindset and philosophy about the purpose of technology in your classroom also should be considered. Here are a few posts about my own journey towards understanding how to make real change with these devices:
Breaking Down to Rebuild: Redefining the Innovative Classroom
EdWeek Teacher: Redefining Education with Technology

I hope this list was helpful, and I plan to add more items as I think of them. For now, my goal is to support teachers who are new to iPads in the classroom as best I can. Please keep the questions coming! :)


  1. Jennie,
    Thank you for a great post! I think it is a MUST READ for any teacher embarking on an iPad journey. In March, I began my own journey with 1:1 iPads in my K/1 class. Your posts are always helpful!!!! Thank you for taking the time to put this information together in one post.
    An Open Door

    1. Thank you Camille! Please let me know if you have any questions, suggestions or ideas of your own to share :)!

  2. Awesome! Very helpful & loved the references to Doug Lemov!

  3. Hey Jennie,

    Such a great post for teachers gearing up for 1:1! Thanks so much for this post!

    I also think you might enjoy the article posted below, on new ways to use the iPad in an educational setting: