I met Michelle Cordy (@cordym) around 2004 when I was a learning technologies coordinator and she was a young, energetic teacher looking to make her mark in the classroom. I knew at that moment in the computer lab at Althouse College that we would cross paths again. Since that first meeting I have watched Michelle grow into a fantastic teacher who integrates technology into her classrooms providing her students with amazing opportunities. I recently learned that she was successful in obtaining a grant that started with investigating the use of ePortfolios and then evolved into a 1:1 iPad classroom. With my own school moving to purchase more iPads I was keen to see how a master teacher utilizes iPads to engage students. Before making a visit to her classroom I decided to ask her a few questions to get a deeper understanding of her experiences plus I thought it would be a great blog post for others out there who have questions around iPads in education. If you have an interest in iPads I'm sure you will find the interview below insightful. I want to thank Michelle and her Principal Sue Bruyns (@sbruyns) for their time and advice.
Tell us about your school community.
We are one of the largest elementary schools within Thames Valley, with approx. 750 students and 85 staff members. We support three of the system's Congregated Developmental classes and one of the Behaviour Support classes. Of our 85 staff, 18 of them are Educational Assistants which speaks to the significant number of high needs students which we support throughout our congregated and integrated classes. We have a full time School Support Counsellor and a Settlement in School worker who provide support for many of our "at-risk" families. Our student population is very diverse both from a social economic viewpoint and from the vast number of ethnic cultures which are a part of the tapestry of Wilfrid Jury. We have a strong commitment to community partnerships ranging from Church groups running our breakfast programs to our in-house Childcare center to service clubs providing clothing, services and funds which support our students and their families. We believe that our school is the hub of the community and to that end, we ensure full access to our facility. You can learn more about our school at www.tvdsb.ca/wilfridjury.cfm
Tell us how you got involved in the 1:1 iPad project.
Funding for this project was granted through Knowledge Network of Applied Education Research (KNAER) in partnership with Dr. Donna Kotsopoulos at Wilfrid Laurier University. We were interested in investigating the use of ePortfolios for assessment. We were interested in collecting artifacts to document growth and triangulate assessment data (e.g. observation, conversation, student product). We began with using lap tops and found that adding headphones, microphones, and cameras was a lot of work for young learners in grades 1-3. The iPad was an incredible shift that allowed for seamless collection of artifacts. The iPad reduces the challenges associated with digital collecting by simplifying creation and curation of learning artifacts.
What other technology tools are in use in your classroom?
Smartboard, Smart document camera, Smart Response (Senteo), FM soundfield and 3 classroom computers.
If you could only select one app, which app would it be and why?
This is like asking an artist to pick one colour! So, I am going to try and pretend that I am Picasso in his blue period and just go for one Application. Actually, I will be even more reductionist than 1 app: I choose NO app! iPads are an incredible learning tool, even before you download a single application. I think we spend a lot of time talking about applications when we could be talking a bit more about what the device can do all on it's own: pictures, videos, speech to text, text to speech and of course access to the Internet.
How do you physically manage the iPads?
iPads are stored in a case that locks in the class. Nothing fancy and the kids are generally good about plugging in and some even enjoy organizing the cables and the devices. It's a pretty natural flow: kids get them when asked or when needed and they go away much the same way. In a perfect world I would have Apple Configurator to manage set up and syncing, but I am a bit ahead of the curve as our board hasn't gone in that direction yet.
What have you seen from your students that impresses you the most?
This video says it all
What is the biggest challenge you have faced?
The biggest challenge has been establishing a smooth workflow for handing out and collecting digital assignments. I have learned from my PLN on twitter that most people who deploy 1:1 use some sort of Learning Management System (LMS). Mostly, these 1:1 classes are in high schools, so it is easier to get kids working with 'Facebook' like solutions. I have been reluctant to attempt these types of platforms, but I still struggle with workflow. I use my email to hand out and receive student work. It's not ideal. My students generate so much content, I need a smoother system. Especially when they are working on drafts. I am exploring Google Drive, Dropbox, Evernote, Edmodo and other cloud storage and LMS solutions. Stay tuned, I will have more on this soon!
What has been the biggest challenge your students have faced?
A student who is on task looks exactly like a student who is not on task when it comes to working on the iPad. It is important to teach kids how to focus their attention. I am very aware that I must set up activities that are doable, engaging and scaffolded so my students don't wander off to their favourite applications. My students are incredibly good about getting their work done before turning to more game like applications they love to consume, such as Schoolbo. When we did area and perimeter with minecraft I was worried they were all going to be off on survival mode building their shelter, but no, the students dutifully completed the task I had requested. A bit of time pressure helps, but I think they also know that it's a pretty awesome learning deal to be able to play on Minecraft for learning math. I have never had a class so excited to learn about area, perimter and volume. Also, I have never seen deeper understanding of the concepts and more importantly the students understanding the relationship between concepts.
What has the feedback from parents been like?
The parents of my students have been wonderful. Initially there were some excellent questions about student privacy. Some parents were concerned about grade 3 students having their own email address and had questions about junk mail in particular. We are very fortunate in TVDSB to have Google Apps for Education (GAFE) where students can have their own @thamesvalleymail.ca address. It is understandable that parents were concerned about what might appear in the student's emails. The email has been safe and secure. I keep parents up to date about new applications and my ongoing efforts to keep kids safe online. We have also done a fair amount of learning around behaviour online in order to stay safe. Finally, we often use "Rover" an app for searching the internet that barks at kids when they get into anything remotely unsafe or inappropriate. Rover, as a search engine is very safe, but can be very limiting too. So, we do use Safari to search the web, but my students know how to put their settings to bump up the safety and we search with specific terms. Also, I have held regular "Sharing Afternoons" for parents to come in and look at the work students have been doing. This includes work on the iPads. Parents have a chance at these events to ask me questions about the program I run. Overall, parents appear to be pleased with the programming I am offering for their children.
If you could change anything about your 1:1 iPad project what would it be and why?
I am looking in to Learning Management Systems (LMS) such as Edmodo and Schoology. Based on what I have learned from other 1:1 teachers, most use some sort of LMS for handing out and collecting work. I was using Google Apps For Education (GAFE) to manage handing in and handing out work. Mostly I use email for handing out and collecting work but it's not an effective workflow. I need to migrate the workflow over to Google Drive, Dropbox or LMS to simplify my life and to avoid having hundreds of emails in my @thamesvalleymail.ca account!
Any final thoughts?
It's not just the device, it's about creating a future of empowered learners that fundamentally believe they can learn anything and make just about anything. We are seeing, through social media, a cooperation and connectedness never before possible in our world. I feel, as do many others, that we are reaching a critical moment in education that we must seize to move forward into an open, inspired and hopeful future. The internet is a vast and amazing place and one where we must learn to participate in the flows of networked knowledge and learning in such a way to maintain open, connected and mixed learning opportunitites. The talk of education reform is as old as education, so I don't want to sound like a reformer. I also don't want to sound like Chicken Little crying out that the world is ending thanks to a new shiny device only to jump on the next technology band wagon. It's bigger than that, much bigger. We need to push past the jargon and edu-speak of 21st century learning and get down to making learning happen now. We are not packaging learners full of knowledge to exit the system and go off and be happy workers, we are helping a new generation of learners emerge into a world of increasing abundance, possibility and uncertainty. There are many, many great thinkers out there trying to tell everyone that change is on the horizon. The problem is, even the smartest people aren't sure what it is going to look like. But, everyone from Howard Rhiengold to David Weinberger, from Clay Shirky to danah boyd (yes, all lower case) are telling us that we need to pay attention, participate, make, share, communicate and be agile. Our learners must do the same. Our learners must have access to the tools of their times or else we will condemn many of them to a life of consumption instead of a life of creation, participation and exploration that ultimately will lead them back to a deeper understanding of themselves and each other. It's more than urgent. It's more than a device. It's time to hack the classroom.
I'll be posting my reflections of my visit to Michelle's classroom shortly, so stay tuned for Part 2.