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.
iOS 9.3 has brought with it a number of features specifically for education. The one that interests me most at this stage is Apple Classroom. It does not hold much interest for parents or students specifically, but teachers might be very interested in the possibilities it holds for them in terms of iPad classroom management.
I find the name of the app a little annoying, especially when Google Classroom has been around for a while and now Microsoft has also bringing out Microsoft Classroom. This could be very confusing for teachers who are still trying to wrap their heads around the use of tools such as Google Classroom (as would be the case in GAFE schools), especially as they won’t yet have an understanding of exactly how different Apple Classroom and Google Classroom are until they actually work with both, and understand that they could use both quite effectively. However, iPad classroom management will look very different with the implementation of Apple Classroom and this is what, in my opinion, will appeal to teachers. I look forward to learning more about this product in training later this month.
Fraser Speirs, Head of Computing and IT at Cedars School of Excellence in Greenock, Scotland, always gives very honest and straightforward feedback on Apple initiatives. His blog post about Apple Classroom is a very informative read.
Note: It has been brought to my attention that Apple Classroom only works on iPad 3 and later models. This might be a problem for schools where there are staff members and students still working with iPad 2s (such as our school). Also, the devices have to be supervised in a Mobile Device Management programme (which makes sense).
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!