Takeaway: With a tendency to resist change and askew technology, sometimes it's wise it introduce it gradually, with direct benefit to teachers, before rolling out to students. Teacher excitement & buy-in goes a long way to a successful student program
The last few years have seen a boom in the idea, terminology, and philosophy of the “student centered” or “child centered” classroom - basically, taking the teacher and making them secondary to the learning environment, crafting the room and the instruction around the needs of the students, not those of the teacher. It is easy to argue one way or the other. When I rolled out the iPad program at my school, PS 10 in Brooklyn, I was 100% the ardent supporter of the “teacher centered” model. When it came to iPads, students took a back seat.
When the iPad was first released, my Principal wanted to order a hundred of them. Literally. She heard the iPads were available on the Department of Education’s purchasing system and had some money she could move around, so she wanted one hundred (I love her enthusiasm). My response to her was, “What are we going to do with them?” She didn't care; she just wanted them (again, love her enthusiasm). I told her no. It’s not that I didn’t want them; I wanted them, but I wanted to have a plan for how we would use them before they became a hundred Angry Bird devices, $500 glorified paperweights. In all my years of teaching and scrounging for technology funds, it is truly a luxury to have a supportive and enthusiastic Principal, especially one who kept that $50,000 aside so that when we did want to, we could get the hundred iPads (I’ll save more of my discussion on that luxury for a later blog post).
So, what was the plan? In September of 2010, a scant few months after the iPad hit the masses, we ordered four for our school. One was for me. One was for my Principal. One for the Assistant Principal. One for a 5th grade teacher. The 5th grade teacher and I are the “data specialists” of the school, responsible for all the data and assessment requirements of the NYCDOE. The plan was to have us latter two experiment as a classroom teacher, a computer teacher, and together as data specialists. The Principal and Assistant Principal were going to experiment with them on an administrative level.
By why not more? When I first came to my school, there was a decidedly large divide in the technology awareness of the staff: fear and loathing from some, excitement and enthusiasm from others. I knew the iPad had mainstream interest, and I knew that interest would carry over once teachers saw them in school. I hoped that by us few having them in our hands, the interest of the “fear and loathing” folks would be piqued, and they would request an iPad, rather than our having to force them on staff.
So we bought four. I used mine constantly, figuring out what I could do with it, how to integrate it into the classroom, how students could use it, and in general draining the battery every day figuring out every boundary that could be pushed. Teachers saw me creating sign out sheets on the iPad, being paperless. They wanted to do that too. Teachers saw how quickly I could research, communicate, share, and collaborate. They wanted to do that too. Six months later, we bought twenty more, and with four required hours of training on the device in professional development sessions with me, gave them to upper grade teachers (grades 3-5) and instructional coaches (Literacy, Math, ESL).
And once those twenty were out in the wild? I was hit with inquiries every day about when more iPads would arrive. I always answered those inquires with, “What will you use it for?” Part of my job is to integrate technology and show teachers how to use tech in their classrooms, but I didn’t want their answers to be “you’ll show me how to use it.” I was looking to get a sense of who wanted it because it was cool and who wanted it because they saw potential, had ideas, and/or wanted to replicate what they say others doing. By the end of the second year of the iPad’s existence, all but three teachers out of sixty wanted, and got, an iPad. Out of those sixty, a solid fifty of them use it constantly. When iPads have broken, teachers have come to me frantically to replace them. A large percentage of teachers are doing all their paperwork on their iPads - their reading assessments, notes home to parents, paperless rubrics. Teachers have moved classrooms with little more than their iPad.
Now most teachers want to know when they can get sets of iPads for their students. They are coming to me with ideas and curriculum driven uses before I even ask the “What would you do with them?” questions. A little over three years ago, most teachers balked at the idea of using email in their day-to-day work. Now most want iPads for their students, and have plans for their immediate, and active, implementation and engagement. I’m all for education being, in large part, driven by the needs of the students, but I am a firm believer in not forgetting aspects that need to be teacher centered and teacher driven. If we had given iPads to teachers for student use three years ago, I have no doubt many would have gone unused, or been part of a reward system where Angry Birds ruled the day. By taking the technology initiative on a slow, teacher centered roll out, I helped to build interest, enthusiasm, and a true recognition of the value of the technology before the teacher was expected to integrate it with their students. By working with teachers first, I have no doubt I can drop a cart of iPads on a grade and they'll be used effectively and immediately with students - no Angry Birds rewards program necessary.
Sometimes, the teachers need to come first...