At the beginning of this school year, AIS-R Elementary School began implementing a 3-year plan to have all students in grades 3 to 7 bring their own iPads to school. We believe that this 1:World program will empower students to become proactive, engaged and self-directed world citizens, who navigate the digital world to find, critically evaluate and use information. We want our students to understand how to use the power of their own technology tools to communicate effectively, learn anywhere, enhance collaboration, develop and maintain a healthy online identity (including social networking), reduce their global environmental footprint (through the use of e-texts and reduced printing), connect with the world in order to understand and positively change it, and experience individualized and self-directed learning.
How are we progressing so far? What successes have we seen? What unexpected benefits have we realized? What challenges have we faced? In this, the first of a three-year roll-out, we began with Grade 5 and, overall, it has been a great success for both teachers and students.
One of the primary goals of this 1:World program is to help students become responsible, ethical and competent users of technology tools. With cyberbullying making headlines, we want to ensure our students understand social networking and online etiquette and ensure that their online activities align with our AIS-R Eagle Honor Code. To this end, the Grade 5 teachers introduced a framework for students to help them identify positive behaviors. The framework is called REC, an acronym that represents Respect, Ethics and Collaboration. Students have been taught to respect their devices, keeping them safe and secure during the school day, and each other in their work online. They have been using social networking platforms such as Twitter and Instagram in a safe environment via classroom accounts monitored by the teachers. Students have learned ethical behaviors through lessons that have helped them identify and avoid plagiarism and cyber bullying. Even though the iPad is a personal and individual learning tool, students have collaborated on numerous projects using apps and online services such as Flipboard and Google Docs. The REC framework is a constant reminder to students of the expectations and behaviors they must demonstrate while using their iPads. Students have even begun addressing “REC-less” behavior with their classmates, reminding each other what it means to be responsible, ethical and collaborative.
As expected, the iPads have proven to be fantastic personal learning tools for the students. They have been used across all subject areas, using Everyday Math apps, the Internet for research, blogs, twitter and email for communication and numerous other apps in other subject areas. Having the technology tools on hand, usable by each student immediately, without any barriers like sharing devices, logging in or boot time, has allowed the technology to be truly integrated into daily lessons. Teachers have also been able to simplify many of their teaching tasks, sharing handouts and files with students easily since each student has their own device on their desk at all times. Apps like Evernote and Google Drive, combined with classroom blogs, have become assets in the classroom. This has helped us reduce paper usage as well as supported our Blended Learning efforts, providing students with greater access to learning resources whenever and wherever they need them.
One of the somewhat unexpected benefits of the having the iPads in class has been their use as powerful content-creation tools. Initially, when deciding that AIS-R would require iPads for grades 3-7, there were some concerns that tablets in general were better for viewing and consuming content, rather than for creating and being productive. Not having a keyboard and mouse, it was suggested that students would not be able to do the work they needed to do and as they had done on computers in the past. While it has proven true that iPads are great for reading and researching online, they have also been used by students to take photos and videos and to create projects and products that they simply could not do on a laptop. Students have also been able to easily work outside the classroom, notably during a mapping unit when students were able to make their own maps using the GPS data generated by the iPad.
The main challenge that some students have faced using the iPads has been the lack of a physical keyboard. In general, students have been adept at using the tablet for daily writing, but when they have needed to compose longer pieces, some students have found the on-screen keyboard difficult to use. While this was a known concern when the year began and we recommended that students bring a keyboard, or use a case with a built-in keyboard, few students have done so. Over time, some students have grown accustomed to the on-screen keyboard and so the challenge is not the same for all students. AIS-R has supported teachers and students by providing laptops for occasional use when students are composing longer writing pieces and completing large projects. Next year, when students in grades 4, 5 and 6 will be using iPads, we will continue to provide some laptops for student use. We will also continue to strongly encourage students who know they do not enjoy composing on the iPad screen to bring a keyboard for their personal use.
As we begin the second semester, it is clear that the iPad rollout and 1:World program is already a demonstrated success. Student engagement with technology, productivity and creativity, are all increasing. The level of loss, damage, misuse and inappropriate behavior with the devices is extremely low and the REC framework provides an effective way to learn from these infrequent incidents in a positive way. The capabilities of the iPad have proven powerful for student learning and new apps and new ways to use the devices are being discovered regularly. Students are learning about their own technology use, discovering their individual needs for a case or keyboard, for additional apps and tools and making the changes needed to support their own learning. On a daily basis, the iPad is proving to be an excellent personal learning companion and the school is supplementing with other technology tools whenever needed. For AIS-R, teachers and students, this has been a rich learning experience and as we move forward, planning for our new campus and rolling out iPads in grades 4 and 6, we will continue to learn and adjust to ensure the success of our 1:World program.
We invite you to explore our website, http://www.aisr.org/index.php/school/technology, as well as the Grade 5 BYOD site, https://sites.google.com/a/aisr.org/byod-grade-5/, to learn more. You can also contact AIS-R’s Director of Technology and E-Learning, Michael McGlade, at firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.