6 steps towards a successful iPad school rollout

I have spent much time discussing and reviewing iPad rollout programs in schools over the past half year, and while I am by no means an expert, I have noticed different approaches; some have been more successful than others.

I have put together a list of some steps which I believe increase the chances of a smooth, successful, educational and sustainable iPad rollout.

Research, research, research

The importance of researching prior to committing to any program, let alone a technology rollout cannot be overstated.  One of the key indicators of success in the schools I have encountered has been their dedication to researching prior to implementing.  By research, I am referring to:

– Reading research papers and other literature about iPads in the classroom

– Consulting with/visiting schools that have existing iPad programs

– Testing the iPad prior to committing

– Investigate tech setup/upgrade (Wifi etc) that might be required by speaking with different providers/tech consultants

‘Plumbing’ 

Last week I had the wonderful opportunity to listen to keynote speaker Abdul Chohan from ESSA Academy present.  He kept stressing the importance of both reliability and simplicity of resources for teachers to successfully use these. In particular he noted the importance of having the ‘plumbing’ in place prior to embarking on device purchasing.

This is an extremely important step – unless time, effort and finances are invested in upgrading your tech setup, an iPad program is unlikely to succeed.  Teachers, students and parents alike will become frustrated with the lack of connectivity and will not be inspired to use the iPads in a meaningful classroom setting.

When budgeting for an iPad program, it is extremely important to factor in any costs to upgrade connectivity and any other technology infrastructure that has been identified.

Parent involvement

While many parents are excited at the prospect of their children learning new skills, many are similarly apprehensive of an iPad rollout – they are often unfamiliar with the benefits of edtech, and are used to ‘old styles’ of teaching.  To overcome their apprehension, it is a great idea to be open and honest from the beginning as to the school’s plan.

One option is to host an open forum for parents prior to purchasing any iPads, where they are encouraged to raise any concerns, ask any question and so on.  Such an approach is likely to alleviate fears and gain parent support for an eventual rollout.

Teacher training

Like parents, teachers are often nervous about and unsure of their role in the iPad classroom.  It is important for teachers to understand and be made to feel that they will not become redundant once the iPads are introduced; rather, they will be able to better support individual student needs, as they step back and observe which students require additional support.

Once the iPad rollout has begun, it is beneficial for teachers to receive extensive training on the device.  Suggestions include: how to use certain apps; which apps are suitable for developing different skills; workflow, lesson planning and assessment suggestions and so on.   This training can be carried out in a number of ways – Bronwyn Desjardins, ICT Integration and Resource Centre Coordinator at St Sthithians Girls Prep finds it beneficial to sit with teachers 1 on 1 each week: ‘I don’t dictate what we will discuss in the sessions; it is the teacher’s time and space to receive support in whichever area they need.  I find that in such a personal setting, teachers feel non threatened and are openminded.’

Another option which some schools have implemented is to have an ‘iPad Champions’ group.  This group is made up of teachers that have expressed a keen interest in being involved in an iPad pilot at their school; they meet regularly, sharing successes and challenges.

Pilot Program

Rather than purchasing iPads (or asking parents to do so) for each student, it is a good idea to run a pilot program.  Much thought should be given to which grade level/class should be involved in the pilot, taking into consideration questions such as:

What is the long term plan?

Which students/grade/s is best suited for the rollout?

Who will be responsible for the pilot?

How are you going to track the success of the pilot?

How will Apple IDs, app purchases etc be managed?

Student preparation

Once the pilot has been established, it is a good idea to prepare students for the rollout.  If you have a technology teacher/specialist, it is worthwhile them teaching the students how to use certain apps, safety/security issues etc.  This will take the pressure off apprehensive teachers, as well as empower students for when they begin using the iPads.

Final words

Hopefully these suggestions are helpful.  Although there is obviously no guarantee that any educational program will succeed, thinking about these issues and setting in place certain procedures should help in achieving a meaningful and sustainable iPad program.

Why I write and send out reports *every week*

Like most teachers (Graduates in particular), reports were not something I was particularly fond of last year, in my first year of teaching.

All teachers know that report writing times, although generally only taking place twice a year, are extremely stressful periods.  How do we, as educators, record students’ learning over a semester, as well as set students up for success by coming up with achievable goals?

 

In my team, we don’t.

 

Instead of a traditional reporting schedule, we have embarked on a journey (some might call it an ambitious experiment), whereby we write and send home ‘mini reports’ on student progress , once per 4-5 weeks (roughly twice per term).

I would be lying if I said that I have not found some aspects of this experience challenging, both from a personal perspective and as a member of a teaching team.  However, on the whole, I have found the experience to be rewarding and beneficial.

Some thoughts:

How our reporting system works

I have set up a reporting schedule, labelled weeks 1 to 5.  I have 23 students, so each week I write and send home either five or six reports.

Reporting template

Here is a copy of our reporting template, with an example of a report (with changed student name).  Click on the report to enlarge.

As you can see, the report isn’t too detailed; we tend to identify between 3-5 things that the student has achieved for each key learning area.  Similarly, they have one succinct, achievable learning goal for each of these areas, which will often be determined based on the unit/topics we are teaching and learning at the time.

But how do I find the time?!

It may sound complicated and time consuming, but, actually, if you’re organised, it can generally be incorporated into your teaching time.

Each day, at different points and lessons throughout the day, I will find time to sit down and confer with one or two of my focus students for the week. I will listen to them read, review their current writing pieces, and use materials to explore their understandings of mathematical tasks.  All is takes is 5-10 minutes during reading (while the rest of the class is reading independently); 5-10 minutes during the writing block (while the grade is working independently or in mixed ability pairs/groups), and 5-10 minutes during maths, when the students are involved in a Just Right task.

I discuss their writing/reading/maths with them.  I ask them which aspects they feel they are doing well.  I ask what they would like to/need to improve.  We then come up with a goal together, based on growth points within the curriculum.  I discuss the report with them, making sure they understand every word, for their own success, but also so that they can discuss their learning goals with their families.  Throughout each conference, I insert my observations directly into the reporting template, which means I’m not double handling at a later stage.

But what about the other 22 students? 

Whenever I am working with a student/small focus group, I wear a pair of bright yellow striped  tiger ear headband.  Yes, they look ridiculous.  Yes, the students always laugh at me on the first day of school.  But as soon as I explain the ‘ears’ early in the year, they consistently act as a visual reminder for students; Miss S is busy helping someone with their learning.  Whenever they interrupt, I always ask the following question:

 

Is this an emergency or can it wait?

 

It can usually wait, and the student returns to their independent work while I continue conferring with their classmate.

 

Some of the benefits

1. Having a better understanding of our students and their learning needs.  As I am reviewing students’ progress on a regular cycle, I find myself much more aware of their learning needs, achievements and goals.

2. Setting students up for success.  When students know their goals, they are more likely to achieve them.  Simple as that.

3. Increases involvement of families in students’ learning. With parents receiving up to date information about their child’s goals and achievements, they are able to support their children at home, as well as to contact the teacher for any clarification.

4. It makes ‘real’ report writing an absolute *pleasure*.  As well as sending out two reports per term, we are obviously still bound by Department regulations on reporting in each semester.  However, as I am constantly evaluating my students’ achievements, this is no longer a daunting prospect; I simply review their latest ‘mini report’ for the necessary data.

5. Makes planning for learning easier and more targeted.  I will often notice over the course of writing my weekly ‘mini reports’ that many of the students seem to be struggling with similar things, such as using the correct tense in their writing, for example. Having this information helps me form small focus groups to address the learning needs of my students across the curriculum.

Do you engage in a similar reporting practice at your school?

 

 

How OneNote/SkyDrive revolutionised our planning

I am fortunate enough to teach in a team of dedicated and innovative teachers, with whom I plan my weekly work programs/planners.

For the first half of the year, this is basically how we functioned:

1) Allocate planners (I might have been planning the writing lessons, while reading and maths would be planned by the others, for instance).

2) Each of us would plan and email said planners.  Each email would have multiple attachments – a word document for the written planner, and countless additional attachments for each online resource required for the upcoming week’s lessons.  These would be opened separately and saved in folders which we would then need to access for each lesson throughout the week.

Realising we were making things harder for ourselves, we started using Microsoft Skydrive for our collaborative planning and sharing, and haven’t looked back.

What is Skydrive?

According to trusty Wikipedia,

‘SkyDrive (officially Microsoft SkyDrive, previously Windows Live SkyDrive and Windows Live Folders) is a file hosting service that allows users to upload and sync files to a cloud storage and then access them from a Web browser or their local device.’

The benefits and features of SkyDrive/OneNote

1. It can be accessed from any device, as it is hosted in ‘the cloud’.  All you need is your username and password, and you can be accessing your documents from anywhere!

2. It gives you the option of either keeping your files private or sharing them with others.  This is great for teachers, because it means that we can collaboratively share our planning/teaching resources, while keeping certain documents private/confidential.

3. You can upload/link/attach any additional materials or word documents for your lessons, so that they are all located in one place, rather than needing to trawl through (or try to remember which) folders you saved that resource you really need for Wednesday’s decimals lesson.

4. It’s free 🙂

5. You can access it via the web, or using OneNote. To be fair though, it is much more versatile on a PC than a Mac.  As a Mac user, I prefer to create and edit my planning documents using SkyDrive.

6. It is *really* well laid out and easy to navigate, with many features that will be familiar from countless years of Microsoft Word.  I was originally more inclined to use Evernote as a sharing tool, but my team members preferred the linear layout of OneNote when compared with Evernote’s notebooks.