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.
Managing Your 1:1 Classroom
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. 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.
Whatever technology you have in your classroom, is there to support your students’ learning
Image courtesy of Flickr, flickingerbrad