5 Lessons from the first week of our 9th grade iPad Program

This week we launched our first 1-to-1 iPad program for our 9th graders at The Frisch School. This program, made possible by a generous donation from Mr. Dan and Mrs. Marjorie Fried, was initiated with the belief that the iPad with its portability, long battery life, relatively low cost when compared to laptops, multi-media tools, and apps could transform education. This week has been exhausting but exhilarating as students and teachers quickly adapted to the iPad.

Here are 5 lessons that I have learned from this amazing week.

1. The importance of student-centered learning.
The iPad is the ideal platform for student research, exploration, and content creation. For the teacher willing to take a step back and help guide students to find and evaluate information, this can be a tremendous boost. However, for teachers who wish to be the sole source of information in the classroom, "the Sage on the Stage" as it is described, this can be very threatening.

As my good friend, Rabbi Aaron Ross from Yavneh Academy put it when I asked on Twitter about introducing iPads:
Do the teachers understand how to use them? If not, say hi to expensive notebooks. By which I mean, do the teachers understand how ipads can change the way class runs and are they prepared to change their style?
2.  The best tool in class is the one that is always available.
One of the primary justifications of a 1-to-1 iPad program as opposed to carts is the iPads are always available for students in every class. This can be transformative. The simplest lessons can become student explorations with the iPad.

For example, in one Talmud class this week, students were learning about the structure of the morning prayers. The Rebbe asked them all to open the iSiddur app and have them read through the morning prayers and categorize them. Obviously, this activity could have also been done with regular siddurim but the students do not regularly bring their siddur to class. They now all bring their iPad.

In one Hebrew class, they were learning about the Hebrew poem/song לכל איש יש שם. Rather than tell the students the song or bring it up on the Smart Board, the teacher had all of the students research the song themselves, bringing up the poem, versions of it on YouTube and information about it. Students then typed this into Evernote and shared it with each other and their teacher.

In History class next week, students will be taking a virtual field trip to the Met to research Greek and Roman art and characterize it based on which period it represented. Obviously, this cannot substitute for an actual field trip to the museum but students cannot go on field trips every day, and when it comes to other world class museums like the British Museum or the Louvre a trip would be quite expensive. Through the iPads, students can bring these great works to their classroom on a regular basis.

3. Be flexible: Expect the unexpected.
With this new technology, teachers have to be willing to "go with the flow" as they lessen the reins of the class a bit and let students have more control.

For example, this week, two math teachers planned on using an online math quiz from their textbook to introduce the lesson. They had gone over the quiz in advance, knew exactly which questions would be asked, and planned their follow-up accordingly. What they did not know is that this quiz automatically generates different questions for every student. But the teachers were flexible. Once they realized what was happening, they asked all the students to share what questions they got wrong from the quiz. A quick poll discovered that all of the wrong questions were about the same topic which students quickly started teaching to each other. The class was loud and a bit out of control but genuine learning was going on directed by the students. The teachers were flexible enough to allow their students lead the flow of the class with the assistance of their online tools. This leads to my next point.

4. When students get iPads, magic happens.
Kids use the iPads in ways that we cannot anticipate. The iPads students were given only had the apps that we had collected and installed for them. We did not give them access to the app store. This was planned out of necessity since the mobile device management software which we purchased to monitor student downloads when they receive the app store later this year, had not yet been installed. In reality, this decision was a big win for us since it meant that students focused much more on the apps that we gave them, which they might have ignored otherwise, and found new and creative uses for them.

For example, students have been using Educreations to make color coded diagrams and include notes that were color coordinated to each part of the diagram for their Math class and students in Biology class were using Evernote to photograph complex models from the board to insert into their notes. The students discovered these and other tools that we gave them and quickly found creative ways to help them personalize their learning.

5. Create lessons to harness the power of apps.
While the serendipity of giving kids iPads loaded with useful apps and letting them create with them cannot be denied, it is also powerful for teachers to plan lessons utilizing them. Besides the examples that I described above, here are a few examples from this first week of our iPad program.

  • In history class, two teachers created a Nearpod presentation to describe the difference between the Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic periods of Greek art. You can view pictures taken during this lesson here. Students were not only able to carefully explore each piece of art by zooming with their fingers, but they composed answers to a number of questions about the different time periods that immediately were shared with the teacher. The teacher then judiciously shared some of these responses with the entire class, usually choosing responses that were both high quality and came from students who were usually quiet during regular classroom discussions. This lesson will be followed up with the virtual field trip to the Met which I described above.
  • In another history class, the teacher had students read a website describe the Persian period and then create Flashcards using StudyBlue which they shared with their classmates and quizzed them on. 
  • In art class, students used various art apps including 123SculptD and SketchbookX to create self portraits for their identity unit. You can view pictures of this lesson here
  • Students will be using these same apps in English class next week to create Greek masks as an introduction to Greek drama.
  • Finally, in Talmud class students are using their first iBooks textbook entitled Makom Kavu'a: Save My Seat which includes many interactive activities and video to help students explore this topic. This iBook, our first publication on the iBookstore was created by a talented and hard working team of Rebbeim at Frisch who hope to follow up with many more books in the future. I will explore this book in more depth in a future posting.
These are five lessons that I have already learned from the 9th grade 1-to-1 iPad launch. I am SO excited to come to school Monday to see what this second week will bring.