My 1:1 Adventure: Bring on the Bandaids and Boo-Boos

Growing up, school was the pits. I was placed in the “gifted program” but couldn’t ace a test to save my life.Important dates and events in history were (and still are) impossible for me. Reading a book took me twice as long as others. My essays were atrocious. To top it off, I was surrounded by math geniuses who could rattle off every permutation known to man in a matter of seconds. Needless to say, I got really good at “not feeling well” and missed class. I knew deep down I wasn’t stupid, but everything about school told me I was. School didn’t fit me and perhaps the achievement gap we continue to deal with today suggests the same about our struggling learners. Photo Jul 08, 11 38 41 AM

When I first learned that I would be piloting a 1:1 iPad classroom, I was thrilled with the idea but I don’t think I was quite prepared for the journey and even the outcome. By the end, it was without a doubt, one of my most rewarding experiences as a teacher and as a former “failure”. Every one of my students had barriers that hindered them from learning to their potential such as language, attention, anxiety, motivation, and confidence. Like all teachers, these barriers created instructional challenges for me. I felt like I did not have enough time to work with every student and it was really difficult to make sure they were engaged all the time. While the iPad devices were cool to play with, it was the impact the tool had on our learning, thinking, and communication skills that changed everything.  Simply put, it redefined “school”. The way we used the iPads knocked down my students’ barriers. The result was a family of fifth graders who saw collaboration and communication as necessary, and homework as the continuation of class.

How we got to this point is a different story. I’d like say to others “Just go for it! Whatever you do will be great,” but let’s be real here – we don’t have super powers. The truth is, successes come after lots of bandaids and boo-boos. This rewarding experience didn’t happen overnight. But, it was so worth it!

The following are five suggestions based on my own flops. If you’re as stubborn as me, you’ll want to tread your own path. However, I hope that you find these tidbits from my adventure helpful as you create your 1:1 classroom.

#1 Play Monsters are scary. iPads…not so much. Take the time and play around with it. I remember thinking the iPad looked cool but it wasn’t until I started pressing buttons and trying odd things did I realize the potential of the device. One mistake I made at first was to assume all apps were made equal. Every app has its pluses and minuses. When you play, you have a much better chance at extinguishing or preventing little fires during class time.

#2 Choose One Focus Don’t worry, I got overwhelmed about five times a week. Part of it was my own fault. I had so many big plans and cool ideas. The teacher world outside of iPads wasn’t backing down either. I decided to try it all and sadly, nothing worked out. I decided to just focus on one subject and one specific area of need in that subject. I chose reading and I chose stop and jots. My students weren’t using post-its, or if they were, the jots had little substance to them. I knew working on this would benefit partner talks and one-on-one conferences. So the apps and the flipped lessons were first centered around reading and jotting about reading. It was how I got comfortable with implementing digital tools into our everyday schedule. Once I felt that my kids and I were both making significant progress, I was ready to tackle something new.

#3 Listen to the Kids I love how kids humble me. I sometimes come up with ideas at home and think it’s the most brilliant idea in the world. I just can’t wait to share it with my kids and rock their worlds. Then come to find out, it wasn’t their cup of tea. Evernote was one of those moments for me. I thought of how my kids could take notes and create notebooks using Evernote on their iPads. We started using it in reading and math. I kept showing them what you could do. I loved the idea so much it took me three weeks to realize that my kids were frantically trying to keep up and only two of them were using it on their own. So this idea failed, but it made me wonder why. It was this particular event that led me to the idea of iNotebooks, where book-making apps such as Book Creator became note-taking tools. My kids were trying their hardest to let me know that typing lines and lines of text wasn’t helpful even on an iPad. They needed visuals, sounds, and personalization. If it weren’t for my kids, I’d still be all into Evernote and not even notice the possibility of something greater.

#4 Think Process, Not Product It is hard enough to keep up with the timing of everything we need to do in one year. For us, our year is jam packed with SOLs which causes us to run on a very tight schedule for every subject. Spending a day focused on technology could set off the rest of my plans for the week. So as a result, I felt the urge to toss it to the side until everything “settled down”. I kept wanting to believe though that these mobile devices could be helpful but the schedule thing was making it a challenge. I ended up mapping out units in a calendar format. I looked at how many days I had for the unit and how many lessons were non-negotiable ones. This really helped me tease out the cutesy, fun technology stuff because I just didn’t have time for it. Instead, I started thinking about how I could use the iPads within the process of learning. For instance, I realized the iPads allowed kids to take photos and map out the order of their writing plans with collage apps. This is something we couldn’t do with notebooks and it would not take up extra time. Ideas like this helped me discover the valuable role iPads can play during the learning process rather than the end product.

#5 Sleep This was the toughest for me. It felt wrong to say no when a student sent me an iMessage asking for homework help. I felt guilty when I couldn’t record a flipped lesson in time. Once the playing and learning convinced me of what iPads can do, I was hooked. I saw how it helped my student with learning disabilities become a writer and how it transformed my “math hater” into an avid problem solver. Around early May, I crashed. I desperately needed a break. At the end of the day, yes, all that we did was great but half of what we did would have been just as great. This is something I still struggle with but I know that for next year, I will stop answering messages after a certain time everyday. If a flipped lesson is not perfect, so be it. Taking breaks and calling it a night is absolutely necessary for a 1:1 classroom. Rest time is time well spent.

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It was my sophomore year in college when a pair of professors finally showed me a new kind of school. A school that was authentic and redefined the norms. A school that worked for me. The shift in learning impacted everything including my career, for which I am forever grateful. Let’s not be afraid to rock the boat if it means we can move one giant leap towards helping our struggling learners. In one year, I couldn’t solve all instructional challenges I face, but I want to believe that through a 1:1 classroom, every one of my students have been empowered to be innovative thinkers and life-long learners.

🙂 Katharine

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