iPads, and Netbooks, and Chromebooks! Oh My!

Posted by Will Kimbley on November 3, 2013

Netbook, iPad, and Chromebook

The times they are a-changin’. Previously, there have been haves and have-nots with regard to the presence of technology in education. Now, the demands of the Common Core, and their attendant Smarter Balanced assessments, dictate that schools provide technology tools for students.  In California, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson’s soon to be released ed-tech blueprint says the goal is 1:1 devices for everyone. So, how do we meet that goal? What devices do we purchase, and why?

We have seen a number of districts roll out one-size-fits-all solutions. It sounds a little like the Oprah show: “You’re getting an iPad, you’re getting an iPad!”  But is that the best decision? What are the key factors to consider?

One of the primary considerations is the Smarter Balanced assessments. There are requirements that whatever technology is purchased meets a set of minimum specifications, e.g. 10 inch screen, 1024 x 768 resolution, keyboard, as well as certain operating systems (click here for complete information).

Besides the new assessments, there are other considerations.  Cost, of course, is a big one. How much money do you have to make the purchase? What about sustainability? What is the life of the device? Which devices are easiest to manage? All of these are important, but they neglect one of the biggest factors that often gets overlooked: the classroom.

The decision-making process must include how the device will be used in the classroom. The mobility of tablets is great for science classrooms and allows students to do science.  What about a class where the primary use will be word processing? Then an iPad or Android tablet may not be the best solution. What about Chromebooks? They work great with Google Drive and web based applications and you can’t beat the price. You can get two Chromebooks for the price of one iPad, and you don’t have to purchase an additional keyboard. But if you need to install software, then you’ll need a different device. Netbooks are another possible solution, but they tend to have slower processors and have a difficult time running large operating systems such as Windows.

The reality is there is no single device solution that will cover all your needs. While a single device type may be easier to manage, you should consider a variety of devices. Talk to teachers who are already using devices in the classroom. Find out what devices they prefer. Pilot a variety of devices with teachers of various skill levels. Survey students to find out what they prefer to use. Weigh the pros and cons of the various devices and how they will be used. There is no perfect solution, and no way to make a good snap decision. Whichever devices you choose will require careful consideration and planning.



Same Song, Second Verse

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on April 29, 2013

Image of The Prune Song sheet music 1928Do you remember The Prune Song? A camp classic, this silly ditty reviews the travails of life as a prune. The pleasure in singing the song comes from repeating over and over its first verse —“a little bit louder and a little bit worse!” A fun way for nine-year-olds to wile away the time perhaps, but not so amusing when adults persist in this same behavior.

Two decades ago Apple Inc. hired independent researchers to evaluate the impact of the Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow (ACOT) project. One important outcome of this report was the recognition that when technology use is limited to supporting traditional instruction or increasing student productivity, any improvements in student performance cannot be attributed to the technology. Subsequent studies and models (e.g., the Substitution Augmentation Modification Redefinition (SAMR) model) draw similar conclusions.

What kinds of technology-supported activities actually make a difference? The research is clear on this as well. When students engage in project-based learning experiences or solve authentic problems using technology as one of several available tools, increases in achievement can be attributed—at least in part—to technology use. How does this information impact classrooms today?

In their eagerness to incorporate use of mobile tablet devices into classrooms, some educators are taking the same-song-second-verse approach instead of taking time to think through how this technology could be used to significantly change classroom instruction. As has been the pattern with earlier technologies, it’s not uncommon to hear about schools and districts that have purchased equipment with minimal planning for actual classroom use. Or to run across teachers who envision primary use of tablets consisting of apps that cover discrete Common Core performance indicators. The upshot of this is teachers spending their time searching for and deploying stand-alone apps that have a limited shelf-life and use minimally effective instructional strategies to teach or review very basic concepts.

What can school leaders do to reverse this trend? Here are a few simple suggestions:

  1. Resist the temptation to deploy mobile tablet devices to ‘see what will happen.’ Take time to plan thoroughly. The College of William & Mary School of Education Learning Activity Types wiki offers a variety of technology-supported activities based on the TPACK model.
  2. Work with staff to revisit Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy. Several talented educators have posted work online designed to help teachers rethink classroom use of touch technology. Check out Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy and Bloomin’ Apps for ideas.
  3. Think beyond drill and practice or task automation. The most effective use of tablets is for content creation, not content consumption. Encourage teachers to explore ways students can use tablets for project-based learning and to solve authentic problems.



A Tablet Isn’t a Silver Bullet

Posted by Stephen Vaughn on February 22, 2013

NO silver bulletI know lots of people have mobile devices, and I know most of them wonder, “How did I ever live without this thing?”  I have my iPad and I like it, too; it’s a great tool.  Unfortunately, like other great tools, in the hands of the incompetent, it can be nothing more than an expensive toy, even a tool of destruction.

I have firsthand experience with this. Last year, my district deployed iPads to all certificated employees for use in their special and alternative education classes. We had full-day mandatory trainings. We provided access to some online training as well. For most people this level of training appears to have been enough to get them started on using their mobile technology effectively, but not everyone.

Most of the teachers are using their iPads for instruction of small groups, as assistive communication devices, or as individual reinforcement of prior learning.  However, I’m still finding teachers who either lock the iPad away—they say they’re afraid the iPads are going to get broken—or they’re just using them for games to pacify students. In these cases, it would be better if the teachers didn’t have the iPads in first place.  They’re either using them as crutches or not using them at all.

As you can guess, my point is: it’s not the quality of the technology that matters; it’s the quality of the teaching that counts.  We are continuing to work with these teachers to help and encourage them make better use of the technology at their disposal.

My motto: never buy technology at the expense of effective teacher training.  What do you think?


Classroom Visits Inform and Inspire

Posted by Devin Vodicka on November 22, 2012

After 13 wonderful years with the Carlsbad Unified School District, I made the leap to neighboring Vista Unified as the new Superintendent in July.  Vista Unified is the fourth-largest district in San Diego County with over 22,000 students (25,000 when charters are included) and 32 school sites.  To help me to understand the new setting I made it a goal to visit every classroom within the first two months of the school year.  While I still have a few to see, I have managed to see hundreds of classrooms within that timeframe.

Though the duration of each visit was relatively brief, I saw amazing consistency in many respects and I also observed some unique and innovative practices.  In all, it has been a tremendous learning opportunity and I wish that I could share the experience in great detail.  In the spirit of brevity, here are three examples I doubt I would have seen even a few years ago.

High School

At Rancho Buena Vista High School the students in an English class had worked in small groups to create posters with content that would be used in an upcoming test.  In lieu of having each student copy the documents, the teacher invited students to take photos using their smartphones and then share the images with peers.  Brilliant!


High school students using cellphone in English class.
Rancho Buena Vista High School student uses phone to capture image of documents in English class.

Elementary School

In a primary classroom at Beaumont Elementary School, one teacher asked students to compose messages that could fit in a 140-character Twitter post to share their impressions of the classroom with me.  This was a great cross-disciplinary idea that required students to use a sentence frame and their writing skills.  Counting the characters required some number sense and application of mathematics.  Who knew that a Twitter assignment could be used as a prompt for first-grade students?


Twitter messages to the new superintendent.
Twitter messages to the new superintendent.


Tablets absolutely are  beginning to transform the educational experience for students.  In this photo from Temple Heights Elementary School the teacher was able to replay the work that a student had done on a particular math problem to better understand their reasoning and problem-solving approach.  The ease of use, portability, and flexibility of the tablets seem to be leading to higher levels of use than the computers that have all-too-frequently been left alone in the corners of the classroom.  I saw tablets being used for independent work, guided activities, and direct instruction in conjunction with LCD projectors.  I suspect that what I saw was simply the tip of the iceberg.


Elementary student using a tablet computer.
Elementary student using a tablet computer.


In reflecting on this experience, here are two quick insights:

  1. This is an amazing time to be in education.  New and innovative options for teaching and learning are emerging daily.
  2. Any educator in need of inspiration should find a way to visit classrooms.  The enthusiasm of the students—and the adults—is absolutely contagious.

I am already looking forward to the next round of visits!

Stay connected and follow our progress ….

Editor’s note: Here’s one of Devin’s recent Twitter posts.



Update on a One-to-One iPad Implementation

Posted by Tim Landeck on October 17, 2012

Students with iPadsIt was last January when we distributed 35 used iPad1s to 35 eighth grade students in Mr Boggs’s class at Pajaro Middle School in the Pajaro Valley Unified School District.  Students were excited and enthusiastic to receive the iPads; teachers and parents were nervous.  Nine months later we have some experiences to share.

  • After four months of students taking the iPads home on a 24/7 basis, we had one iPad that developed an issue with the connector and one that had a broken screen.  All other iPads were returned in excellent condition and used again this fall for a new set of students.
  •  Each iPad was equipped with a copy of the HMH FUSE Algebra textbook which provided access to an abundance of online resources, videos and supplemental information.  The textbook came alive for the students and was used frequently throughout the year.  Each iPad also had a variety of other apps that were downloaded by the teacher prior to distribution or that the students downloaded with guidance from the teacher.
  • The teacher accepted the large challenge of integrating this new technology and textbook into his curriculum.  He began to flip his classroom, and the students adapted quickly.  He investigated and implemented new apps to use with his students.  He found that he had more time to work individually with students during class and that the students were enjoying the class time more than before.
  • This fall, Mr. Boggs’s algebra class was a commonly requested class by students.  The forward-thinking principal, Jean Gottlob, reported that Mr Boggs’s Algebra class was one of the most frequently requested classes of the year.  (Did you catch that? Algebra was one of the most commonly requested classes!

If engagement is a key factor to student learning, Mr. Boggs had the key to learning whenever he was using the iPads in his instruction.  The students were enthusiastically participating in a variety of ways.  It is with tools like these that creative and daring educators like Mr. Boggs and forward thinking leaders like Principal Gottlob can double the learning, triple the enjoyment, and maintain an outstanding instructional institution.