It must be hard being a new piece of classroom technology. Wary teachers give you the side eye and are all like, “You better not be more work.” Salivating children lunge at first glimpse, “Letmeathim, LETMEATHIM!” The old technology gathers dust in the corner grumbling about life back in their day. And there you are, new kid on the block, eager to get to work and crossing your fingers nobody breaks you. At least the first week.
It occurred to me last week that I have always taught in a one to one technology program. Seven years ago, when I began teaching 4th grade, we had Alphasmarts. I had actually filed Alphasmarts way back in the recesses of my memory and forgotten they ever existed until someone mentioned them (laughed about them) recently. Remember how the letters typed themselves during the data transfer? So funny!
After the Alphasmarts came netbooks. Little computers are totally adorable. And they are functional. Except when they take forever to boot up. Or the operating system contains mysteries never to be revealed, especially where it hid that all important, saved incorrectly file. More a logistical solution to providing an affordable way to type stories, in no way did any netbook revolutionize my classroom. Sure, I would have been glad to get an updated set, but nothing would have changed. Instead, we got iPads.
Having a one to one iPad program feels pretty fashionable. But I am not Diane von Furstenberg and this isn’t New York. I teach. I need these things to help my kids learn. This time will it really be different? Or in 3 years will I just be rolling my eyes at our naivete?
This time certainly feels different. People keep saying, “It’s not about the iPad.” But in many ways for me it is. I was just introduced to the SAMR model of technology integration where projects can be visualized on progressive levels from substitution to augmentation to modification to redefinition. With both alphasmarts and netbooks, we never got past the substitution stage. Students typed their work, drew some digital pictures, and surfed the web. Creative projects always required borrowing a “real” laptop set or me, the teacher, finishing things up on my own. The requirements to make something with video or audio felt insurmountable. I couldn’t problem solve or trouble shoot, and I wasn’t brave enough to give students’ the freedom to figure it out for themselves. I am sure the netbooks could have done more, but it seemed like too much work to overcome their limitations. There was no creativity, no real collaboration, and perhaps most detrimental to my students’ experience, no independence or ownership.
In the two months since we have received our iPads, things are already looking up. It was easy to start with making reasonable substitutions where it made sense. Some projects that we thought were just substitution become augmented when the kids put their creative spin on things. Modification ideas are turning up in every corner as we plan our curriculum for the year. And the other day I experienced true redefinition when my students were able to teach themselves how to use Explain Everything to make a problem solving video. I never imagined being able to have that experience with my kids and it turned out to be so easy.
What I am most impressed with is how the intuitiveness of the iPad and the simplicity of its interface has removed me, my fears, and my inadequacies from the process. Now my kids don’t need me to walk them through every little step as I bite my nails hoping they don’t get lost in the computer or press some button combination that causes the screen to go black. With the cloud and integrated apps we don’t need a lot of cords to transfer files from here to there. There is magic in the seamlessness. Students are constantly making decisions about how to improve their work or enhance their experience. Half of the time they are teaching me how to use new programs and 100% of the time I can let them teach each other. That’s creativity. That’s collaboration. That’s independence and ownership. It’s time to stop asking what the iPads can do for me. And maybe what I can do for them is just get out of the way.