Learning in the 21st Century

Multimedia brought the world into the classroom, smart technologies will take the classroom into the world.” -Steve Wheeler

My 90 year old father-in-law always seemed to be fascinated by the fact that we could call him from just about anywhere with a cell phone.  This technology was as foreign to him as a phone tethered by a coiled phone cord on the wall will be to my kindergarten students.  I mean, aren’t we all just a little surprised when we meet someone who doesn’t have cable tv, or not just a smartphone, but not even a cell phone these days? The technology treadmill just seems to keep on increasing speed and incline making it difficult for some  to keep up.

Our students, even the youngest ones, get it.  They understand the value of connectivity, media, and mobile learning.  Being restricted to 4 desktop computers in a classroom of 25-30 students is archaic at best. Less than 0.01% of the information we generate today is ever printed on paper. Information technology is becoming more and more personal and “pocketed”.   The core issue is that teachers need to be at the center of their own learning if they are to change their life-long habits and beliefs regarding the use of technology.  Perhaps we’ve looked at this backward.  Perhaps instead of trying to integrate technology, we need to redefine literacy and integrate that. Information literate people are those who have learned how to learn.  It is difficult to teach students and prepare them for an uncertain future.  Our best approach is to teach them how to teach themselves. Learners are creating their own learning spaces, blending face-to-face with virtual, and formal with social.

Do you remember your 3rd grade teacher (or any grade for that matter?)  Mine had been teaching for 30 years when I was in her class.  She taught the same thing in the same way on the same day of her 30 plus year career.  Bless her heart.  Today, no teacher should believe he/she can teach the same thing the same way.  iPads have been transformative to my teaching.  Not only is the learning mobile and individualized, it is engaging and collaborative.  Our school district is continuing to explore and expand the use of iPads in elementary, middle and high school classrooms.  A recent article in our local newspaper outlines where we are as a district at this point.   As a district, we are striving to put the learning in the students’ hands.  As educators, we have to realize that mobile learning isn’t about delivering content to mobile devices, but instead is about learning how to operate successfully in and across new and ever changing contexts.

I am more energized about my teaching now, more than ever before.  iPads have been a game changer.  I can’t imagine ever teaching without them and I’m excited about finding new ways to incorporate them.  I too, am learning on the go!

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iPads in the Classroom: A Parent’s Perspective

School is officially out for summer. Today’s post was written by Angie Mizzell. Her son Dillon was in my class this year.

“Mom, how many trees are in the world?” my son asked a few weeks ago, as we were driving to school down a two-lane, tree-lined road.

“That’s a really good question. I don’t know. Billions? Trillions? A lot.” And then I remembered a blog post Kristi had written. “I wonder if there’s a way to find out?”

He responded quickly, as if he’d come to the conclusion on his own. “I could type on my iPad, ‘How many trees are there.'”

When my son started school last August, he was still learning letter sounds. Today, as an official kindergarten grad, he’s reading on a first grade level and doing Google searches to find out how many trees exist in the world. (Turns out I’m a good guesser.)

Did the iPad contribute to that? That’s a question for people who collect data. I’m a mom, and I tend to operate under this philosophy: Seeing is believing. And what I’ve seen is a teacher who uses iPads to meet her students where they are and take them as far as they can go.

I visited the classroom earlier in the year, and it felt familiar to me—a mix of what I recall about kindergarten and first grade combined: Students writing on primary ruled paper, breaking up into smaller, focused reading groups and playing in centers (think blocks and housekeeping). And of course, the children were oozing with cuteness.

I watched a child at the SMART Board, building words by dragging letters from the bottom of the screen. I was intrigued by how engaged my son appeared while working on his iPad.

It’s the natural evolution of things. Today, when my child walks around with a notebook and a pencil (his journal, he says) recording thoughts, I realize the “old” and the “new” can coexist.

My son represents the future, and I’m encouraged by what I see.

Just the Facts: Student Data and Achievement

Decisions should be based on facts, objectively considered. -Marvin Bower

I posted here recently my students’ reading scores.  Obviously, we are excited about them.  Student achievement and closing the achievement gap is our top priority.  School-wide, our MAP (Measurement of Academic Progress) scores are up.  What other positive things are we seeing school-wide?  Most striking is our copy paper expenses dropped $15,000 from last year.  Our number of  copies dropped from 400,000 to just at 100,000.  Teachers are able to reduce paper and copying by using the iPads.  Many are uploading activities as a PDF to a class wiki.  Students access the wiki with iPads, complete the activity in a  PDF annotating app and then either upload to PaperPort or to the district WebDav.  School discipline referrals went from around 400 last year to around 100 this year.   The 3 high schools in our district that are using iPads also see decreases in paper usage, copying, and discipline referrals.  Obviously, something good is going on.

Clearly the iPads are making an impact at my school.  There will always be people who feel the iPads are not worth the investment, or who question the validity of them in the classroom.  I read articles and blogs daily that dismiss iPads in the classroom as a flash in the pan.  Technology changes so rapidly and it is necessary to keep up in today’s global society.  Will iPads be around in 5 years?  I have no idea.  Will there be a better technology out there for the classroom in that time?  Maybe…but if we wait until the “newest, better version” comes out, we won’t ever buy anything.  The laptop I’m typing this blog post on will be discontinued, outdated, replaced or obsolete in less than 5 years.  I guess the way I look at it is whatever the technology is it needs to be engaging and relevant to learning.  In the Stone Age, a broad prehistoric period during which stone was widely used in the manufacture of implements with a sharp edge, or a point, that was some serious technology!  That age lasted about 2.5 million years.  The creation of the wheel, the combustion engine and the first main frame computer were all significant technology advances.  We have to be willing to change with the times.

I have no way of knowing what the long term impact of iPads will be on education.  What I do know right now is that our school data is showing early trends of iPad success.  Behind every number in that data pool is a student with an iPad and that student has a name.  I’m not sure who would be willing to look that child in the face and tell them he or she isn’t worth the investment.  Good teaching is good teaching.  Our data is indicative that iPads in our classrooms is good teaching…on steroids!

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All You Need Is Love

Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well. -Voltaire

This has been Teacher Appreciation Week at my school.  I have been thanked and celebrated, hugged and showered with flowers and gifts.  And…food.  I mean, nothing says lovin’ like something from the oven right?  My cup overflows.

While I have enjoyed receiving all of the love this week, I have appreciations of my own. One of the treats of teaching 5 year old children is their unending capacity for love and learning.  I love the buzz of activity in the classroom punctuated by hearty belly laughs that only children can do without the burden of self-consciousness.  I love how they aren’t afraid to try new things.  I love that even though we have these awesome iPads, and there is ongoing debate about whether they are worth the investment, and visitors come and go on a regular basis to see the iPads in action, these children are unimpressed with the hoopla surrounding them.  They just want to get to work. I love how they think it’s just another day in kindergarten, learning, singing, reading, writing, building with blocks, painting, tattling, adding, and subtracting with their teachers, their friends, and oh yes, iPads.

I also love the support from parents, my administrators, Apple, and the school district I have had the last 12 months implementing the iPads in the classroom.  All have been unwavering in assisting me with whatever I needed.  My school administrators and the district have trusted my judgment and given me plenty of latitude to be successful.  The parents have shown interest in the project, kept up with the apps we have and many have purchased them on their own iPads or iPhones at home.  They have asked questions and educated themselves so they can better help their children at home.

In the presence of all of this love, how can these children possibly fail?  Sadly, it is possible.  Future teachers of these children will help determine their love of learning.  As my little peeps get ready to leave me, I can appreciate the amount of work I have put into nurturing them and can only hope their future teachers will love them like I have.

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Great Expectations: Closing The Achievement Gap With iPads

Definiteness of purpose is the starting point of all achievement. -W. Clement Stone

If you search the internet for technology and educational achievement, you will find a variety of opinions as to whether technology impacts achievement in elementary school.  Having taught school through a veritable technology spectrum that ranges from no classroom technology, to having an Apple IIe with no internet connection and a stack of 5 1/4 floppy disks, to 4  networked Dell Desktops and now iPads for each student, I can say the student motivation with technology has always been higher than without.

I’ve stated before that technology without purpose will not yield desired results.   Schilling and Schilling (1999) capture well the broad idea that expectations are vital to education. … the literature on motivation and school performance in younger school children suggests that expectations shape the learning experience very powerfully. For example, classic studies in the psychology literature have found that merely stating an expectation results in enhanced performance, that higher expectations result in higher performance, and that persons with high expectations perform at a higher level than those with low expectations, even though their measured abilities are equal.

In an earlier post, I shared reading results from the 2010-11 school year.  We used iPads from the end of January until the end of the year.  It was exciting to see such growth.  This year, with only 24 school days remaining, our data is equally exciting.

It is interesting to note that I had 2 students transfer in after Christmas as non-readers.  They are currently reading above grade level.  How is this possible? Systematic teaching in the Workshop Model and the ability to differentiate instruction to meet individual student needs on the iPad is the key.  Student-centric technology is the answer to the One-Size Fits All approach to learning.

The larger debate concerning the effect of technology on student achievement goes on outside our little classroom.  I’m not a statistician nor am I a researcher, but when 100% of my students are going to First Grade reading above grade level 2 years in a row, I would say iPads are an essential part of our learning environment.

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Closing the Achievement Gap: Data and Test Scores

Where’s the Beef?  Show me the money! What’s the bottom line?

In today’s results-oriented, data-driven mentality in education, we all fall under the large accountability umbrella of test scores.  Certainly, there are skeptics who question putting iPads in the hands of young children.  It is asked, “How can we justify the cost of this technology when school budgets and programs are being cut and teachers are being furloughed?”  I too, asked those questions at the beginning of this pilot.  After all, my pay has been decreased from furloughs and no step-increases for experience or cost of living.  My answers came directly from the very people for whom I work…my students.

Let me say that I teach children, not tests.  I want my students to find a love for learning that sustains them for a lifetime.  In a previous post, I described what kind of reader I am.  I want my students to be filled with wonder and inquiry and to find joy in reading and learning.  A commentary written in USA Today states that the goal of education should be to prepare students to be competent and original in their thinking and that focusing on test scores hurts innovation.  When we start focusing on scores, we often stop focusing on innovative teaching methods and divergent thinking. Don’t get me wrong…teaching involves assessment and assessment drives instruction.  The problem comes when we stay focused on the one-dimensional scores and not look at the whole child.  William Arthur Ward states “Wise are those who learn that the bottom line doesn’t always have to be their top priority” Sermon over.

All of that being said, I do understand that the purchase of the iPads was intended to close the achievement gap and raise scores.  So far, they’ve delivered on that.  I’ve been using the iPads for 13 months.  Last school year, we began implementation in late January.  My class results are here.  ipad-data pdf  We were thrilled!  Systematic teaching in Reading and Writing Workshop, along with differentiated instruction with the iPads allowed all 30 of my students to end the school year reading on or above grade level.  This year, with 12 weeks of school remaining, 92% of my students read on a first grade level or higher and the remaining 8% are on grade level. Interesting to note, the 8% are students who came to my class after Christmas from other schools.  They have moved from being non-readers to reading on-grade level in 3 months.

While I don’t solely focus on test scores, I can’t deny the results I am seeing.  These are results that can’t be overlooked.  If good teaching, and iPads as educational tools, result in higher achievement, then how can we argue that our children aren’t worth the investment?

Fast Forward to 2012

Go forth, be fruitful and multiply:  Our pilot was so successful that every student in the school received an iPad this school year.  The three of us in the initial pilot held training sessions for the rest of the staff.

Student engagement is the key.  iPads are highly motivating tools.  The sheer simplicity of opening a whiteboard app to work on addition or subtraction number stories is bliss.  No more white boards and dry erase markers.  Need to work on word families? Open your whiteboard app and write words in the -at family.  Hold up your iPad to reveal your answers.  Need to practice your spelling words? Open up your Magnetic Letters App,  make your spelling words and email them to your teacher.  All of these are possible in a kindergarten classroom with iPads. Everyday Math lesson using calculators?  No need to pass out 15 and have students share.  Open up your calculator app and let’s get to work.

Discipline problems?  All but gone.  Kids do not like to have their iPads taken away for any length of time.

Our iPads are now an essential part of our daily curriculum.


There were 3 of us in the pilot program. I teach Kindergarten, Mary teaches First Grade and Amy teaches Third.  We became very quickly versed in the lifeline of the syncing cable.  iPads are quickly becoming the hottest technology in education;  however, their creation was intended for individual use.  Adding multiple apps became our immediate challenge.  We quickly became pros at plugging in and syncing our class sets.  Our mantra was “Time to sync the iPads”.   We kept our Apple Systems Engineer on speed dial.

What was amazing was 3 days after giving the students the iPads we were visited by our district leadership and the children demonstrated their complete mastery of them.  My 5 year old students were schooling these adults in terminology. “It’s not a GAME.  It’s an APP.”  These digital natives showed their stuff and pushed the 8 visitors in suits into a stunned silence.

We were on our way.  Over the remaining months in the 2011 school year, my students would become impeccable hosts and hostesses as we had visitors coming to see the iPads in use.

Here We Go…

“What’s a girl have to do around here to get an iPad?”  That question, posed to a friend in the technology department of our district in October 2010, has catapulted me into the realm of iPads in education.  3 months after the initial inquiry, I had 30 iPads delivered to my classroom with no rules, no plan and endless possibilities.

The initial training was brief.  I, along with 2 other colleagues in my school, were selected to serve as pilot teachers for 1:1 iPads.  We met with a Systems Engineer from Apple and in a few short hours we had our Mac book, our iPads, and our mission:    Go forth, be fruitful and multiply…

And so it begins