This July marked the three-year anniversary of the introduction of our 1:1 iPad program at the Senior Primary.
What a challenging, interesting and eventful three years it has been! It has been a steep learning curve for the teachers, as they adapted their teaching to include the use of the iPads. For some it was easier than others; some faced personal fears and technology inhibitions, but they all embraced the iPads and invited them into their classrooms, embarking on a journey of discovery, learning and innovation. It has not always been an easy journey and tough questions have been asked along the way, but after three years we can honestly say that we are not sorry that we made the decision to infuse the use of technology into our teaching practices and we certainly do not regret that the iPad was our device of choice. While there is much competition now from other tablet brands, it is still the leading tablet used in education around the world.
The implementation of Google’s G Suite and Google Classroom has completely changed the way in which teaching and learning happen in our school. To assist our teachers we implemented Friday FaceTime sessions in which professional development around the use of technology in the classroom takes place. These sessions have been invaluable in informing the teachers about best practice and focusing mostly on pedagogy, not the technology. Most recently the teachers were introduced to HyperDocs, a Google platform to encourage deeper learning and ensure that sound pedagogy is at the centre of learning tasks. The teachers were enthused by HyperDocs and many of them jumped at the opportunity to create their own. It was wonderful to witness their excitement and it really drove home the point that teachers are lifelong learners.
Our school is considered to be a leader in the field of technology use in the classroom and we often get visiting teachers from other schools who pop in to come and talk about our approach and how we have implemented the use of iPads over the years. It is only when we have these conversations that we realise how far we have come since our pilot project was launched in 2012. We definitely do not profess to getting it right all the time, and our journey is far from over. As a school, we constantly reflect on our practices and question our methods and intentions. In a recent teacher survey, the teachers were asked to look back at the past three years and reflect on their learning and teaching with the iPads. Here are some of their comments:
- The constant training and support available for the teachers are wonderful.
- In my class technology is always used constructively. We have never just ‘played’ on it.
- I think we have a lovely system is in place. The children use and look after their iPads as if they are part of them. They have become part of our learning day. The children understand when they are to be used as an educational tool and there is a very definite line when they can be used for other purposes.
- The discipline and problems with games have improved over time. The pupils are more confident using technology and are in touch with using their devices on a daily basis.
- We have a balance between iPads and working in books. iPads have become a necessity in our teaching. They make lessons interesting and enable children to create in different ways. Google Classroom is a great platform for sharing.
- Looking at learners coming in from other schools, we expose our children to amazing technology usage and skills.
- We are constantly improving and moving forward. Integrated Learning Tasks and Deeper Learning Tasks are wonderful. Having someone push us and keep on track is important.
- The students coming up now are way more competent than in previous years. Reliable Wi-Fi has made the world of difference.
- The Technology Superhero Stop Motion project is excellent!
- The children understand that the iPad is a tool that must always be at school, and many of the tasks both teach the kids and make them excited to be involved.
Our students use iPads in the classroom. From Grade 1 to Grade 3 they use class sets and share devices, and from Grade 4 to Grade 6 (at our Senior Primary School) each student has a privately-owned device in a 1:1 environment. This means that our students have the benefit of a very powerful device as an additional tool in their learning toolkit. And that is exactly what it is – another option, along with the books, paper, pencils and crayons they already have. The iPad does not replace any of these and it should not.
In our 1:1 roll out we have been very intentional in stressing to our teachers that basic skills such as reading and writing are still very important in the whole education of a child. In designing and planning their lessons, our teachers are tasked with ensuring that they make use of the best tools available for that lesson – the tools that ensure the best outcome for the students and the most learning. If that means that a more conventional non-technology lesson is what is required, then that is the way to go. However, since our teachers are also striving to use the technology to modify and redefine their lessons (driven by the SAMR model), it also requires them to rethink their own teaching methods and styles and reimagine their lessons. That is a good thing! In doing so they incorporate many of the vital basic skills into their iPad lesson design and so our students are still reading, writing, drawing, counting, discussing, debating, contributing and LEARNING.
We do not stipulate the number of lessons or hours we expect our teachers to use the iPads in their teaching. Regular teacher reflection (vital for successful teaching regardless of methods or tools used) and open discussion takes place to keep the balance. Balance is extremely important and in a world where children are glued to screens for a large portion of their free time, screen time in school needs to be highly effective and for the best reasons. Our students need to use their iPads to create, show their thinking, collaborate, design and showcase, so typing up of documents and filling in online worksheets is not high up on our priority list.
Our whole approach is about balance and best practice – and so it should be.
Recently we ran an iPad Photography Competition at our school for the first time. It was a great success and the students took the most amazing photographs. We certainly have some budding photographers! (See the winning photos below). It also showed us what an iPad camera is capable of.
This is how we went about creating the competition and communicating with the students using the Google tools available to us as GAFE school:
- Set up an iPad Photography Competition Google Classroom.
- Create a QR-code for the Class Code to join the Google Classroom if they wish to enter the competition.
- Design a poster to advertise the competition, showing the QR-code and the competition closing date.
- Decide on the categories and number of entries allowed per category (we decided upon one entry in a maximum of three categories). We had a panel of four teachers working on this competition, so it was a collaborative decision. Share this to the Google Classroom in a view-only Google Doc for the entrants to access.
- Create a Google Slides entry template, upload it to the Google Classroom and set it to download one copy per student. By creating a template with a place to insert the photograph and a prepared text box for the student’s name, class, category and photo title, it saved us a lot of time at the end when we saved the presentation as a PDF for judging, and all the important information was already on each slide.
- Draw up a How To Enter document with clear guidelines and upload it to the Google Classroom.
- Find sponsors for the prizes. This year Digicape was very generous in sponsoring six R1000.00 gift vouchers – one for each of the category winners! The school sponsored the runners-up prizes with six iTunes vouchers.
- Launch the competition in style! We are fortunate to have a student teacher at our school who is a very keen photographer. He gave a presentation on how to take photographs, what to look for, what to avoid and other tips and hints, so the students were well prepared. It was clear to see which students had taken his advice with their photographs – and who had not! He also shared some of his own beautiful photographs with the students. The presentation created and air of excitement and as soon as the advertising posters went up, we had scores of students signing up to the Google Classroom.
After the competition closed, we were able to save the individual entry slides into one big Google Slides presentation and then we exported it as a PDF (to prevent any accidental loss of information or images) for judging. It was then easy to scroll through the whole presentation and see each image displayed full screen via a projector. The judging, done by five judges, including one of our Grade 11 Visual Arts students, took many hours and some tough decisions, but finally six winners, six runners-up and a number of highly commended photos were decided upon.
Why Google Classroom?
- It is available to all our students and they are very familiar with how it works, as it is widely used by staff in our school.
- You can create an assignment when sharing the Google Slides entry template and set a due date for the competition closing date.
- All supporting information (categories, how to enter etc.) can be shared in one space, so that the students can easily find all the information they need. They then require no other teacher input (such as class teachers), as they can ask questions publicly or privately within the Google Classroom.
- All the entries are submitted in one place, in the same format.
- Any late submissions are marked as late, so you will know who missed the deadline.
- If there are any additional announcements, they can be posted in the Classroom and each enrolled student will receive an email update.
Was is a success?
You judge for yourself ! Here are the top entries, including the winners and runners-up (click on the image):
Thank you very much to Digicape for the fantastic prize sponsorship and well done and congratulations to the winners! This competition will definitely be repeated in 2017. Watch this space!
For the second year now, one of our classes has participated in the 24-hour Skype marathon hosted by Beverly Ladd and her Grade 2 students from Pine View Elementary in Wilmington, North Carolina, USA. This year it was the turn of the Grade 5 Pelicans class and as before, it was a huge success!
Beverly started planning this all months ago – I received an email from her in October last year already, and once I had identified a class to participate in the Skype marathon (Skypathon). We were tasked with some preparation too. Out students had to prepare answers to some very thought-provoking questions, and this is where true learning came in. Not only were we going to learn about a class in a country on a continent thousands of kilometres away, but in preparation we were learning about our own community too. The questions posed by Beverly’s class were:
- How do students at your school get health care, education, and access to clean water in your community or country?
- What are the needs or wants of students in your school or local community? How can they be solved in a month from now, a year from now, or twenty years from now? (An example would be fundraiser to help cure diseases.)
- Does your community or school receive support from any groups or individuals (i.e. school supplies, volunteers, financial support, etc.)? How does this make your community or school a better place.
- What do students at your school do to help protect the Earth? What could students at your school to make a greater impact?
- How can we positively take action and make decisions that support and nurture our environment and animals?
- What other global issues affect your school/community/country and how can you make a difference now and in the future?
- Teach or show something that is unique or special about your culture or your state/country that others should know.
On the day we were blessed with a crystal clear connection – even the visuals were clear. We were very thankful for our upgraded, fast and efficient fibre internet connection. We took turns to share the answers to our questions. We were interested to learn that their communities face many similar challenges as the communities here in our area, such as poverty and homelessness. We found it interesting that they have doctors and nurses at their schools so they can get medical care there, if necessary.
A highlight for us was when the US students sang their National Anthem for us. It was very moving – especially since they were about 20 hours into their 24-hour marathon!
Click on the image to view the video:
Our students greeted the US students in all 11 official languages and then two of our girls showed them what traditional Zulu dress looks like.
I am now being pressured by our students to host our own Skype marathon, but I’m not sure if I’m up for a 24-hour stint. Twelve hours seems a good starting point. Watch this space!
A huge thanks to Beverly and her students for a very fruitful experience. They had some very tired little bodies, but it was wonderful to experience learning across the miles and around the globe!
Here are some more photos taken from our side:
Last year I had the pleasure of visiting Dainfern College near Johannesburg. I was there to see how the school embraced and rolled out technology – both mobile devices and computers. I found that Dainfern and Elkanah share many similarities in feel, ethos and technology integration. It was a most enjoyable morning and I was made to feel very welcome by Anthony Egbers, Director of Technology at Dainfern College.
One of the interesting things I saw at Dainfern was their iFrame Project. I was so taken by the idea, that I asked whether they would mind if I could take the idea home to our school. Anthony was most accommodating – he even sent one of their frames home with me!
What is the iFrame Project? Our pupils use shared iPads in Grade 2 and Grade 3. From Grade 4 they are required to have their own iPads. Before the pupils were allowed to bring their iPads to school at the beginning of this year, they had to take care of a mock iPad for a period of four weeks. Each Grade 4 pupil was allocated a small picture frame (with glass). This is an iFrame. Inside the frame are some guidelines for looking after the iFrame, including rules for handling and storage at school and “charging” at night! The idea behind the programme is to train our Grade 4s in good iPad care, management and responsibility and to instil healthy habits.
Yesterday our iFrame programme came to an end and the Grade 4s were allowed to bring their iPads to school for the first time. What excitement there was! Please read these lovely blog posts by our principal, Mr Arthur Preston, and new Grade 4 teacher, Mr Craig Bellwood. They summed up the buzz of the day very eloquently!
Feedback from both staff and students has been that this was a very worthwhile programme, and our parents have played along very well too. We will make a few adjustments here and there – for one, we will shorten the timeframe a little. Four weeks was a tad too long for everyone. The project will be followed by Digital Passport, an interactive, fun, game based method of teaching the basics of digital citizenship. It consists of five modules: Communication, Privacy, Cyberbullying, Searching and Creative Credit. On completion of all five modules, the pupils will each receive a certificate.
On the whole this turned out to be a fun and positive way to introduce student-owned iPads to our campus! Thank you again to Anthony Egbers for his willingness to share this lovely idea.
Whilst we embarked on the 1:1 iPad journey in July of 2014, we have now come to the end of our first full year with 1:1 iPads in our classes. What an interesting, sometimes frustrating yet, exciting journey it has been. Along with our pupils we have learnt so much over the past year! The year started off on a somewhat shaky note with many network and wi-fi issues, but as the year progressed and the network was upgraded and our wi-fi was improved, so our iPad experience developed and grew in leaps and bounds.
The staff continued with regular professional development and training in our FaceTime sessions on Fridays. As they were exposed to new tools, especially with the implementation of the Google Apps For Education, so their confidence grew too. In creating and developing Deeper Learning Tasks the teachers were encouraged to focus on this catch phrase – “Used Effectively, or Simply Used?”, based on a presentation by Beth Holland that I attended at the iPad Summit held in Johannesburg in February. Their tasks had to take into account a model for teaching and learning called the SAMR model (Substitution – the most basic use of technology, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition – the most sophisticated use of technology). This model is used internationally to assist teachers in effectively infusing the use of technology in their lessons.They were also tasked with creating tasks that gave pupils a chance to make their learning visible. The teachers rose to the occasion and designed tasks of a high. The final step of the process is reflection, and the teachers spent time collaboratively reflecting on the tasks, looking at what worked and what needed improvement.
In July we returned to school and received the news that our internet had been totally upgraded. Fibre had arrived and we had a 100MB connection! No more slow internet! What a difference it has made. That, along with the implementation of Google Classroom, has had a huge effect on how the teachers view the use of technology in their classrooms. The ability to set tasks, assign them and have them submitted by the students for assessment via Google Classroom, has really been a wow moment for many of the teachers.
As a school we still stand by our statement that not all tasks are iPad tasks. Our pupils must still read real books, write or draw with pens and pencils and run around outside. However, in infusing technology into their classrooms we are striving to make their learning interesting, relevant and enhanced. Did we get it all right over the past year? Definitely not. We are constantly reflecting on our implementation and will continue to improve and tweak as we go along. However, we are on the right track and with the school’s move to a complete Apple platform, our pupils will be well prepared for what lies ahead in the High School. These are definitely exciting times!