Day One Redux

One of the good things about teaching is that you get do-overs all the time. Bad year? Do it better next year. Boring unit? You get to do a different one soon. Ineffective lesson? Reteach it tomorrow. This month, I got to roll out iPads again in one of my classes with a new group of students and a lot more wisdom than I had eight months ago. Here's what I did differently.

In February, when I distributed iPads for the first time, I went overboard. Class suddenly was all about the iPad and its apps, and it took me a little while to adjust course. (I realized that something was going wrong when I looked at my students working and realized I hadn't heard them speak Spanish for a week.) As I prepared to introduce the iPads again this year, this time in a new class, I kept these four things in mind:

1. Allow time for play. The first two or three days after the iPad distribution, I planned for constructive play time. I showed them basics such as organizing apps into folders, setting languages, and multitasking gestures, and then I let them explore the iPads independently with a purpose. On Day One, they had to find an app that intrigued them and explain how it could be used in class. On Day Two, they chose five activities to complete from a list. Giving them time to play independently allowed us to iron out some technical kinks and helped me identify the students who struggled with the iPad and those who had no trouble at all.

2. Think big, but start small. Students in my classes are used to using their cell phones to respond to text polls and to look up words and conjugations, so at first, I had students use their iPads in the same way. In the first few weeks, they have used app versions of the same resources they were already using before, such as WordReference and Edmodo. I think this approach has given them time to get accustomed to the iPads while maintaining the routines that we have developed since the first week of school. It's only been just this week, the third since the pilot began, that I assigned larger open-ended project in which they have to create a product using an app of their choosing; I rushed into this kind of activity when I introduced iPads last year, and I think many students got frustrated or didn't master content because they were struggling with the technology.

3. Identify key apps and use them consistently. One of my pet peeves is a laundry list of apps. What full-time teacher has time to road-test forty apps? What fifteen-year-old has the patience to learn a new app for school every day? My desert-island everyday apps are Safari and Socrative, followed by Edmodo and Google Drive (all free on the app store). They are intuitive, easy to use, cross-platform and versatile. I make a point to use them regularly so that students become comfortable with certain routines: polls will be on Safari via PollEverywhere; informal quizzes and exit slips will be on Socrative; Edmodo is where they can find links to resources and post resources and comments to their classmates; Google Drive is where they can store their files for class.

4. Model and manage behavior. I put my hands together, miming closing a book, and my students know to put the iPads away and out of sight. I bellow "¡CONTACTO VISUAL!" over and over and make googly eyes as I say it, and the kids know that they should be looking their partner in the eye and not looking at their iPads during turn-and-talk or think-pair-shares. Students need those physical cues to make clean transitions between iPad time and non-iPad time, which also communicates to them that the iPad is a learning tool, not the focus of the class.

The introduction of iPads in class has gone much more smoothly the second time around. How do you manage technology in your class?