Sunday, October 09, 2011

Begin the Begin

My school district, Encinitas Union, is embarking on a journey of transformation. At least I hope it is. I have spent many years contemplating the day when students would have immediate and persistent access to digital technology in the classroom. I knew that with the right tools in every students hands they would have access to feedback, creative expression tools, direct communication and collaboration with their peers even beyond the walls of the classroom, and ultimately, differentiation that is true to each learner's potential. I also knew teachers would be more immediately aware of areas where students needed intervention and where they could let go of the learners that already had mastered skills to continue on their learning trajectory.

On Tuesday our first step happens. Four classes of Ocean Knoll elementary students will each be receiving an iPad that they will use as their primary learning tool. Ultimately by mid December we are going to be rolling out iPads to every student in 37 classrooms in our district. We have teachers that are hungry for modernizing their practices and have fully engaged themselves in how this tool will greatly help this in the classroom.

Many decisions and much research has been done to get us to this point. Of course we grappled with what the right tool would be. The iPad initially was perceived to have too many limitations to make it the best choice. I still know that there are limitations, but I also know the evolution of the device is rapidly occurring and that what could be a limitation now, in a few months may not be anymore. In the end the iPad offered the most personal learning experience and tool. The touch interface and simplified operating system would be a great advantage for even the most digitally unprepared teacher. Many of the students already have used iOS for iPod Touch, iPhone or an iPad. Tools like Garageband, iMovie and the iWork apps gives students the means to produce their own contents with professional design. In 2003 when I first started mapping out the complete digital classroom, I saw a tablet device as the best possible design for a one to one device. In 2011 we finally have the tool.

We will use this first year of implementation as professional development for both the teachers that will be running a class with the iPad and those that will be doing so next year. We ran an iPad Academy this summer that allowed us to monitor the usage and design instructional applications for students using the device. Many of our teachers participated in this and are much more aware of how they will be able to design their instruction in the learning with the power of the technology.

There's a lot of prep work that has had be done to get ready. When you're rolling out over 1000 iPads mindful app selection is critical. For every app that you think needs to be on the iPad you have to buy 1000+ licenses. So a cool $.99 app that works on a specific set of math skills is harder to justify when you need 1000, specially when there are six or seven other apps that would be good as well. We are initially focusing on apps that will allow for more productive and creative uses.

Beyond the apps, we also have to create a file management and sharing structure, select curriculum that will allow for automation of some of the learning and find tools that will allow the teacher to use the iPad as an instructional tool. We have have found some preliminary solutions in all these areas, but none are exactly what we need.

The decision whether to allow student to add their own software, including games, is another serious than iteration. During our iPad Academy, several of the students were continuously being redirected away from playing games. In the end is comes down to a classroom management problem. We found both positive and negative arguments about having games on the iPad, some from the students themselves. We will be offering the option of parents purchasing an iPad for their student to use in the program. This will allow students to add their own apps and be able to take back and forth from school whenever they wish. Students will district owned iPads will not be able to add their own apps.

I plan to use this blog in the upcoming months to share the story of our work so that others who follow may have an easier path.

We produced a video that we are sharing at the parent meetings we have at each school site to give a brief overview of the program and it's guidelines and policies.