Wait and See

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by ElvertBarnes

Wow, when I was a kid there weren’t many things I hated hearing more than “Wait and see”. I admit it, I wasn’t a patient child and I am not the most patient adult. When I know that something exciting is going to happen I suffer through the anticipation. I think the reason I am this way is that I have been blessed with a pretty active imagination. Once I get an idea in my head, I can quickly turn it into something so much bigger than it probably will turn out to be. To be honest, I am ok with it, because while my imagination can lead to the occasional minor disappointment, it also helps me be a better husband, brother, son, teacher, and coach.

Where I really get in trouble is when I get an idea in my mind about how I can improve the education I provide for my students. Yesterday, I wrote about an iPad for every Teacher and I got a lot of feedback. A lot of the time I hear the reasons why an idea can’t happen, often its about cost, and I have to accept that while an idea might be good, we’ll have to “Wait and see if the money is there”. I don’t do well with this. Our division is on the verge of opening up the WiFi in every building so that students can access the network with their own devices. We are lucky here, I know many school divisions are a ways away from this step, but we have had to wait for some time. I didn’t deal well with waiting for this either.

I read a blog post by a principal in our division Shaye Patras, in the post he wonders why our schools haven’t changed in the last 100 years while every other profession, field and industry has? I believe it is because of the year-to-year micromanagement that is required to balance budgets and run schools. I remember speaking with George Couros last year when I was working as an Assistant Principal and discussing making decisions on technology in our building. I asked him how he moved forward in his building and started 1-to-1 initiatives in some of his classrooms. There were many things he told me about, but the main idea was that he had to break from traditional practices and creatively come up with ways to find the money and buy what his students needed. I find it sad that it takes so much work to make change happen.

This is no indictment of school administration, of school division executives, of education departments or even governments. Its more of a challenge to everyone to be sure that they are doing everything they can to make change possible.

iPad for every teacher? Can we look at stopping our purchasing of textbooks and dedicate the money towards this initiative? Can the government give a tax break to any teacher who buys their own iPad? Can a school division work out a purchasing agreement with Apple to get a better deal? Can a Parent Council take this on as a key fundraising project?

I am not satisfied with “Wait and See” solutions, or waiting for others to solve our problems. The only way we can break free of the chains of this type of thinking is to change our thinking. The only way to change our schools is to break free from what we have always done. At some level, someone needs to step up and change what is being done, so that we don’t have to have our students “Wait and See” if they can have the quality education they deserve.

iPad in every TEACHER’S hand

cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by Tsubaki Kaworu
I recently got an iPad 2. Well, I should say my wife recently got one that I have claimed as my own. Being an Apple guy myself, I was prepared for most of what it had to offer, but was pleasantly surprised by many features I didn’t expect. As I played I found that the iPad, in combination with Google Apps, the iOS5 software upgrade, Dropbox, and Diigo, served MANY purposes for me as a classroom teacher, and it got me thinking…

I have been in on conversations about the validity and affordability of setting up every student with an iPad or other tablets. I always have advocated for devices like these in the classroom, the ones our students will be using in their near futures (or for many, right now!). What I noticed the more I played with it was that it really could serve teachers in a large number of ways.

1) Digital Camera/Video Camera

In most schools I have worked in, the school makes a large financial commitment to ensure the school has a number of cameras, for documenting school events, for classroom activities etc. Along with the cost of the cameras comes the cost of memory cards, batteries and cases. There is also a hassle with making sure the batteries are charged, the disc has enough room and that the camera works. I have done more video recording in the past two weeks with my iPad then I have in the previous 10 years I have taught. It is so easy to use, the camera works quickly, and the files are easily transferable and archived using cloud resources.

2) Mobile Assessment

I have always found it difficult to circulate around my classroom and accurately record assessment of my students at work. Whether I scribbled stuff down in a duo tang, or on a prepared form, I never felt like it worked very well. The other day, as I was working in my Robotics/Technology option, I whipped up a quick Google Form with check boxes and specific criteria I was looking for. That, in addition to video of the students at work, made for easy assessment of their collaborative use of the technology provided to create a robot that could complete the assigned task.

3) Supporting Resources

So I am big on finding a video, an online article, a picture or simply a concept explained in another fashion. If I am teaching integers I want to relate the lesson to as many different real world examples as I can, and in as many types of media as possible. If in my class I saw students having trouble with negative integers, I would try and find some footage relating to bank accounts, temperature or maybe a sport like golf or football to express this in another way. It would probably require me to find a good video, hook up my projector, and stop the ENTIRE class to show my video clip, to help those 3 or 4 students who need the concept reframed. Well with my iPad, I can sit right beside a student and we can search for a video clip or article right at the desk, and watch it on the screen.

4) Planbook & Calendar

With some purchased app software I have been able to make my iPad work as a Teacher Planner, an efficient classroom calendar, and a nice place for reminders and to-do lists. Using cloud computing, I obviously can access these from multiple machines and can be sure that I always know what I need to prep, mark or plan for. You can of course have this on a laptop or a desktop computer, but I find the portability of the iPad means that I can easily take this to meet with my colleagues or administration and not have to worry about hauling a laptop and cords around with me.

I have only been using my iPad in class for a couple of weeks, so I know with more research and play time, I will find even more uses for it. The idea of dropping $600 on an iPad for each student quickly becomes a deal breaker for most administration, but $600 on every teacher is a different story, especially when it can take the place of other technology you may be purchasing.

One day, the idea of having an iPad in every students’ hands may be affordable and realistic for most schools, but for now I don’t believe that having an iPad in every teachers’ hands is that far fetched. What do you think? What am I missing?