8 Mistakes I’m Apparently Making.

I read this article about the mistakes that schools make when implementing iPads. According to this article, I have made each of these mistakes, and the word “mistakes” made me pretty defensive. And sometimes when I get defensive, I write.

Mistake #1: Underestimate the power of the iPad
Sure, I underestimate the power of the iPad, just like I underestimate the power of my iPhone and my MacBook Pro. The nature of technology lends itself to humans underestimating their power. What I emphatically disagree with here is the author’s assertion that “kids do not need to be taught how to use the iPad.” I’ve used iPads in my classroom now for two semesters, and I can say with great certainty that to introduce iPads in a classroom without teaching kids how to use them is the biggest mistake a teacher can make. This past semester, I busted out the iPads for a class without doing any front-loading instruction whatsoever. These were juniors and seniors, most of whom had smartphones. If I had spent even 20 minutes going over some iPad basics, it would have saved both my students and me some major frustrations.

Mistake #2: Neglect to make real world connections
I happen to agree that one key element of using the iPads is connecting with others. But what is “meaningful”? I write on this blog (not as much as I should) and I also write on my personal blog, and I tweet, Facebook, and Instagram different elements of my life. None of these have proven (and maybe I should add here–yet) to create meaningful connections. My mom and sister read my blog (and if I trust analytics, it gets about 300 visits a month), I have over 400 Twitter followers, yet most of the time I feel my writing exists in a complete vacuum. There’s very little engagement. And I’m the same way–my Feedly delivers about 200 articles a day. I read about 25% of those, and comment rarely. How we define “connections” for our students–that’s the real trick.

Mistake #3: The iPad alone will not help kids think deeply.
Here the author suggests that students learn a range of apps instead of a handful. And that new technology leads to new learning (I don’t disagree). But anyone who thinks that apps and iPads will help kids think deeply isn’t, well, thinking deeply. Thinking deeply is work–hard work–and regardless of the available technology, it’s more important to allow students to struggle with the hard work of thinking. (Or if you’re more into video than reading, it’s all about grit. Not apps.)

Mistake #4: Treating the iPad like a computer.
The author might not know the loveliness of the Google Drive app. Yes, typing on an iPad takes some acclimating. Which again, is why I disagree with mistake #1. Give kids time to “learn the iPad,” and some of the word processing angst goes away.

Mistake #5: Not taking advantage of the mobility of the device.
My main disagreement with this mistake is the author relies on visual media to support his point. My counterargument is this: smartphones take better visual media than the iPad–at least the iPad 2s that I have in my classroom. When talking about mobility, my students love that they can move around the classroom, sit on the floor or in the hallway, and just be comfortable while working instead of being stuck in a chair and a desk at a computer lab.

Mistake #6: Sharing iPads between classes.
Admittedly, this mistake made me the most defensive since this is my reality. And I totally get where the author is coming from, that iPads were not designed to be shared and that managing accounts can be a pain. However, with some basic classroom management strategies, “disbursement of the tool” doesn’t have to be time consuming. The way I see it, in a district with limited monetary resources, sharing iPads is better than no iPads at all. I tried to use the iPads with just one class last semester. I hated it. If I have access to these devices, then all of my students should use them. In a perfect world with a perfect filtering system that allows students to take the iPads home, maybe I’d feel differently. But in the current reality, sharing iPads is not a mistake.

Mistake #7: Resistance to change.
Okay, I actually agree with this one. Especially making sure students understand why they have access to the iPads in the first place. Each semester I’ve used them, a small percentage of students complain about the iPads and wish we didn’t use them. Maybe if we’d had a discussion about why we use them, clearly defined the purpose of using them in class, they’d be less angry about using them.

Mistake #8: Overuse of eBooks
I can’t really speak to this, since in my content area I have no eBooks to use.  But I have moved to as much of a paperless classroom as possible. Between Notability, Google Drive, and Adobe Reader, my students don’t have a whole lot of paper in class. I worry that this alienates my more tactile learners–even as I revise some of my writing, I prefer a hard copy to scribble on. But in the name of digital skills and literacy and all that, I march on in my mostly paperless classroom.

So what do you think? Am I making a ton of mistakes using the iPads? Or am I just too defensive?

Unintended Consequences.

Sometimes I really like teaching with the iPads, like when I have an 18 page article I want to read parts of but still make the whole document available to students, and I feel guilty for making copies. The iPads eliminate my guilt.

Or when I’m pretty sure students won’t do a particular assignment at home, but I can give a day in class to completing it in class.

And then sometimes…sometimes I am saying something I feel is important, and I look at my students and all their heads are bent, looking at whatever it is they are looking at on the iPads, and I sigh and say, “Okay, close your iPads.”

And they’re compliant and occasionally we share a laugh about how I was the one who brought the iPads into their class in the first place, so who’s really to blame here, Ms. Rowse?

And then tonight on Twitter, I caught this–a screenshot of myths from a forthcoming book by fellow Journalism adviser Starr Sackstein.

The myth that jumped out at me? Number 9: If kids don’t comply, they aren’t learning.

Just today in Pop Culture, we read part of Henry Giroux’s criticism of Disney films. As we talked about Ariel, I said something–a throwaway comment, really–about how the Disney version wasn’t anything like the Hans Christian Andersen original. And then we went back to the text and read more.

Or so I thought.

Not much later, a student raised his hand and said he found a synopsis of Andersen’s tale, and could he share what really happened to The Little Mermaid?

Was he “with me” or the class in our discussion and reading of Giroux? Kind of. Was he learning? Yep. In fact, his synopsis helped us flesh out part of Giroux’s criticisms of Disney films.

I forget too often that an unintended consequence of teaching with iPads is that students might hear something I say that piques their curiosity, and I’ve given them a device that lets them satisfy that curiosity.

I have to be okay with kids going down a rabbit hole. After all, if I led them to that rabbit hole in the first place, who am I to tell them they can’t find out what’s in it?

Problem Solving.

In Journalistic Writing,  we are in our Sports Writing unit. I have about 10 students who covered the football game last Friday, and they split up the interview responsibilities. Most of them recorded the interviews on their phones.

Rather than have coaches and players interviewed 10 times by 10 different kids, they planned to share all reporting notes, including audio. But we encountered a few problems. 

Problem 1: students didn’t share notes on the game or from interviews over the weekend because they didn’t have emails. 

Problem 2: students can’t email audio files from Quick Voice because they’re too big. (Quick Voice won’t email audio files larger than 5 MB.)

Problem 3: though I can upload audio files to Drive from my computer, the iPad won’t play the audio files. 

I solved Problem 1 by suggesting students move their notes files into the Class Shared Folder, because once they move files there, it’s shared with everyone. Problem 1 solved. On to the next.

One student said, “What if I just recorded the audio files in Voice Memo on my phone and emailed the files to Ms. Rowse?” 

Yep, that worked. So Problem 2 solved.

Problem 3? Well, I have to import their audio files to iTunes on my computer and then sync the iPads so the audio files are in iTunes there. Not ideal, but it could be worse. 

Here’s the takeaway: if this had happened last semester, I would’ve had no clue how to start solving some of the issues that arise using the iPads. I had MANY moments of panic last spring when something didn’t work the way I wanted to, and I would get flustered and my default was often “okay forget it and let’s go back to slate and chalk.”

This semester? Every time a student has a problem, my mind has shifted to “find a solution.” And to steal from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “DON’T PANIC.” The solutions aren’t always perfect, but they are there. 

SAMR: It’s Not Just For Students.

I often agonize over the SAMR model and how I feel completely stuck at Augmentation most of the time.

Today, I felt like maybe I’m actually closer to Modification. Here’s why.

I’ve taught writing in some form my entire teaching career. This year, writing instruction is in my Journalistic Writing class. Before iPads and Google Drive, I scheduled lab time, wrote endless passes to the library, and begged students to complete drafts on time so I could grade them–by hand–fast enough to get the feedback to students in time for them to write a final draft.

This year’s students have been working on their very first news stories. Today was a writing day, where their only task was to work on rough drafts.

In the past, I would walk around the room and glance at sentences, making minor (mostly grammatical) changes.

Deciphering handwriting and scratched out comments here and there can be tough.

Today, I sat at my desk and read drafts as the students wrote them. I commented on their stories, looked for passive voice, found holes in their stories, suggested alternate sources. I worked with them. And as students had questions, I conferenced with students.

There aren’t many ways I can “significantly redesign the task” of writing news stories. But I have “significantly redesigned” how I provide feedback. Students this semester are getting feedback on their writing way more often than in semesters past, and that feedback is better quality (I type way faster than I handwrite). Later this week, we will do whole-group revisions and peer-to-peer revisions. Instead of only me reading their stories once or twice before a final draft, I’ll have read each of their stories at least 4 or 5 times, in addition to the attention of their classmates.

I have to believe that the quantity and quality of feedback will make them better writers.

For the past eight months, I’ve been thinking about the SAMR model as solely for my students. It wasn’t until today I considered it as a model for me.

How Google Made Me Feel Better.

In my previous post, I wrote about the big risk I took, letting my students take control of the content. It didn’t turn out entirely how I imagined it might.

I’ve had this problem before, when I read Nancie Atwell’s In The Middle during my undergrad studies. I had visions of my classroom as a reading/writing workshop, with students who begged for more reading time and craved for my feedback on their papers. Then I landed in my first classroom, only to realize I was in a public school, not my own private school in Maine where I could cherry-pick my students. (Don’t get me wrong–Atwell is still an educational hero of mine; I just never figured out how to replicate what she does.)

So I watched videos of students with iPads asking deep and thoughtful questions and sharing their findings in creative ways, and expected the same outcome in my class. That didn’t happen, though.

That’s not to say we haven’t had good discussions–we have–or that they haven’t covered the content–they have, mostly. But it hasn’t looked the way I wanted it to.

Today I was thinking about how long I’ve been using Google Docs, and what it looked like the first time I made my AP class use it three years ago. It was awful. The formatting often didn’t retain based on what browser I was using, only 4 or 5 fonts were available, and many formatting options just didn’t exist.

It probably didn’t look the way Google wanted it to.

But now, three years later, Google Drive is my preferred word processing suite. I do most everything in Docs–so much so that I deleted Open Office from my home computer. Google Drive works seamlessly for me (and many of my students even prefer it to Word), and I love it.

So maybe this time, the student presentations with the iPads didn’t look the way I wanted them to. Have they been functional? Sure. But it’s the first time I’ve done this particular unit this way. I know how to make it better next semester, and I’m sure the semester after that I’ll see even more improvements.

I have a baseline, and that’s worth something. I will get better from here.

Just like Google did.