5 Tips for Managing Your 1:1 Classroom

I wrote this post for Fractus Learning this month (which was my first guest blog post ever!). I don't want to be accused of recycling posts--which I guess I am doing--so instead of 4 tips, you, dear blog readers, get 5 tips.

How do you manage a classroom where every student has a mobile device?
When my high school Spanish students first got their iPads, they were paying more attention to them than to each other, and it seemed like every time I tried to integrate a new app or strategy into a lesson, it would fail spectacularly. A year later, my 1:1 classroom usually works like clockwork. Here are four lessons I learned the hard way.
1. Put the iPads away--sometimes
When will students know it’s okay to use their devices? How will they know to put them away? Setting clear behavioral expectations will go a long way towards cultivating a fun and functional atmosphere in your classroom. Let kids know what they should and should not do with technology in class, and practice it. In my Spanish class, I teach my students the vocabulary for “Close your iPad and put it in your backpack” along with hand gestures. We practice it ad nauseam. I even make “googly eyes” when I want to make sure that students are making eye contact with each other and are not distracted by their iPads. This way, students know that the iPad is a tool that facilitates learning when needed; sometimes, we need to use other tools, like voices or paper. Make clean transitions between high-tech time and low-tech time, and students will learn that the device supports learning instead of driving it.

2. Management is management.
Every time I have presented at a conference or run a workshop, teachers ask me about students misbehaving on the iPads. “If we give them the iPads, won’t they be playing games the whole time?” “How can we be sure they’re not on Twitter or Facebook?” My answer is, “How do you make sure your students are not off-task now?” A big part of ensuring student engagement is crafting meaningful lessons (which I’ll discuss more in #4), but don’t underestimate the power of the old-fashioned management tricks that you learned in your first years of teaching.
First of all, walk around the room–tablets free you from the front of the classroom, so deliver lessons while stretching your legs. Use proximity as a non-verbal warning to students who are not attending to the lesson, and redirect students verbally (or with the “teacher look”) when they go off-task. Finally–and somewhat paradoxically–don’t sweat the small stuff. Your model student was checking her Twitter feed during a class transition time; so what? If she didn’t distract anyone else and got back on task without being prompted, let it go. Students have to learn how to use mobile technology courteously and responsibly by exercising their own judgment, not just when and how a teacher tells them to.

3. Test drive the apps.
If you find an appealing app, test it. When possible, create a dummy student account along with a teacher account so that you can see what the app looks like from both perspectives. This has saved me in Edmodo, Showbie, Socrative and many other educational apps. It’s also worth investing time outside of class to figure out how an app works if you’re seriously considering using it in class; trying to make the app work in class is frustrating, undermines your lesson plan, and wastes valuable educational time. One caveat, though: if you still don’t understand how the app works after putting in a reasonable amount of time playing with it, move on. If you have trouble with it, your kids will too.
Think about how you can integrate the app slowly into your classroom routine. For example, when I began using the Showbie app for document management, I had students turn in work on the app that did not count for a grade. They did that several times until I was confident that they understood the process. Then, after notifying them, I began grading specific assignments submitted via the app. Next, they started submitting different types of files, not just documents, and soon they will submit a whole multimedia project using Showbie. In this way, we all learned how to use the app effectively before adding the stress of grades and deadlines.
4. Embrace chaos... slowly.
When students are given the opportunity to direct their own learning, learning gets messy. I often allow students to choose apps for summative assessments and encourage them to work at their own pace, which means that in a class of 23 students, most of them are working on different tasks at different times with different tools. This can be really scary for a teacher, but it's less overwhelming if you take baby steps. For example, before I was comfortable allowing students to choose their own methods of assessment, I integrated differentiation in smaller ways, such as giving students two options for homework or three options for an essay or using learning zones to capitalize on multiple intelligences. If you can shift control of the content bit by bit from the teacher to the students, students will learn how to take responsibility for their learning and become comfortable with doing things in the way that suits them best.

5. It's not about the apps.
I teach two sections of the same course; one has 1:1 iPads and the other has none. They both have to cover the same curriculum and meet the same objectives. So when I’m planning lessons, I have to ask myself, “How will this lesson work without iPads? Does it make sense? What will this activity look like with iPads? Is it worth using them?” Sometimes, a paper and pencil work just as well as an iPad. The point is that the students should be doing something meaningful and relevant to them.
This is perhaps the most important thing to remember about using mobile technology in schools: an iPad, or a Chromebook, or a Surface, or whatever technology you have in your classroom, is there to support your students’ learning. It is not the learning objective. A boring assignment on an iPad is still a boring assignment, but an activity or project that ignites students’ curiosity will be interesting with or without technology. Your students now have instant access to the Internet, can create and share multimedia projects, and can connect to millions of people around the world. What can they do in your classroom with those new capabilities that they couldn’t do before? Asking students to question what they think they know, find and resolve problems, judge information, collaborate and innovate will always trump any gimmicky app.


  1. Hi! I was wondering if you could expound upon this: "... giving students two options for homework or three options for an essay or using learning zones to capitalize on multiple intelligences." First, I'm curious as to what examples for different options for homework or essays might look like in this context: do you mean just old school "choose one of the following 3 prompts", or different ways (technologically?) to do the same assignment? I understand the old school way, but what are some innovative ways you've used the iPads to give freedom on essays or homework? Second, what do you mean by learning zones? Stations?
    Thanks!! :)

    1. Hi Kelly, I apologize for not responding sooner! Yes, I usually give choices in activities and assessments, so that students feel that they have a little freedom in how they show their knowledge. One typical way that I do this is by giving them the choice to draw what they understand, or make a mind map, or explain it to a partner, etc. Every activity is different, though, and depends both on the content and the learning objective (and the students, of course). Sometimes I allow students to choose their mode of technology to complete an assignment, but usually only for big projects, because if I did that for every class activity it would become unmanageable. Recently, my students did Prezis, videos, digital and physical picture books, and comic strips to show comprehension of a story they read in class. Each group chose the tool they were most comfortable with. And finally, yes, learning zones are stations. Some people distinguish between stations and centers but since I am speaking mostly in Spanish I found that "zonas" was the term students understood the best, and it leaked into my English. Hope this helps.


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