Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A look back at year 1.. and on to year 2!

Well, last year ended in a flurry of activity and mayhem, so it is just now at the start of year 2 that I find myself with the time and perspective to wrap up last year's experiences. A good deal of what we learned in year 1 will shape our approach to year 2 -- a year in which our iPad adventures will expand to encompass grades 1 through 5. But more on that later.

Here are a few of our take-aways from last year, in no particular order:

Mobile device access transforms how young students see themselves as technology users. Our pre/post survey data shows a significant increase in student confidence in a range of technology uses. About twice as many students now say they can use technology to find information and teach other people something they know. View a summary of our survey data here.

The iPad is a fantastic tool with which students can share their knowledge and ideas with others. Whether that means creating multimedia puppet shows, animated demonstrations, podcasts, documents, diagrams, or audio recordings, the iPad dramatically increases the number of options available for young learners to share what they discover and create. The iPad 2 (which we will have for the current year) obviously expands this potential much further. Not only can kids now create new kinds of work, but the iPad is the perfect venue for sharing that work back with the class. When our students created books that appeared on every classmate's iBooks shelf, it was a powerful experience. With most worthwhile student work, the sharing is as important as the content. Having that sense of audience gives kids pride in their work, motivation to teach others, and a sense of meaning and satisfaction in their learning.

It's okay -- even necessary -- for different teachers to use different approaches. Tailor professional development, content, and expectations to meet individual teachers' styles and strengths -- just like we do for the students!

Predictable scheduling of shared equipment increases usage. While flexibility is a nice idea, sometimes wondering whether the iPad cart will be available can make it too difficult for teachers to plan. Last year, we had a fixed rotation in the morning but a flexible sign-out in the afternoons. Result? The iPads were mostly used in the mornings. I think the sign-out method means technology gets used for stand-alone projects, rather then integrated into students' classroom lives. This year, our shared cart will follow a fixed regular schedule, with an option for teachers to swap when needed. This way, teachers know they have the cart 3 mornings and 2 afternoons a week, for example, and can plan integration accordingly.

Keep syncing simple. Have a dedicated user account on your computer for syncing. Anything that gets dropped in iTunes and iPhoto automatically syncs (be sure to check the "sync everything" boxes for photos, movies, etc). Anything you're finished with (content, photos, videos) can be left in tidy folders elsewhere so it will be ready next year. Also, figure out ways to transmit content without syncing. Syncing can be a buggy process at times, and it's good to have another way for kids to grab or submit files in case a before-school sync goes awry.

Routines are essential for young students. Okay, we already knew that, but starting with clear iPad routines and reinforcing them throughout the year is critical. Examples:

  • Have a clear route for students to take when they take iPads from the cart. Designate a "waiting spot" or "on deck circle" to prevent crowding and collisions in front of the cart.
  • Have kids push in their chairs before picking up iPads. This takes lots of practice and reinforcement, but it's the best way to keep two secure hands on those devices.
  • Keep a basket of microfiber cleaning cloths on each table or on top of the cart, and have students manage smudges as they go. You can also have a Clean Screen Team that cleans all the iPads as a Friday job.
  • Make sure there is a clear process for leaving the iPad ready for the next user. That includes exiting your own project (document, drawing, etc.) so it's not left over for the next kid, and returning the iPad to the home screen.

There are so many other take-aways about the incredible engagement we saw in our students, the power of using multimedia to reach every learner, the impact of increased access to information and learning resources, and more. These are the pieces of our year one experiences we will build on for this school year.

Our program is changing a bit for 2011-2012. We now have one-to-one iPads in grades 1 and 5. Our shared cart has moved up to grades 2 and 3, and there will also be a shared cart for grade 4. This blog will continue to address the literacy and inquiry work we are doing with our shared devices; we will also be adding a math component with a focus on computational fluency and math facts. We are starting a second blog to share our journey in the one-to-one classrooms and will share that link as soon as it's up and running. Without question, it's going to be another exciting year.