Monday, January 2, 2012

1/2/2012 - Tech with iPads

I work in a K-5 school providing technology support.  This job has been both fun and challenging!  This year I plan to blog about our experience with iPads.

In 2011 we were fortunate to do some exploration with a classroom set of iPads.  In 2012 we expanded to a grade level set of iPads and what a ride it has been!  We are leaning a lot and I am having a lot of fun!

Last year we rotated the iPads to one teacher per grade level, for a month each.  We were exploring how to use the iPads with students across the K-5 grade spectrum as well as how to manage the devices with apps, email, updates, etc.  We were constantly looking for new apps to try.  The teachers could come in to me with app ideas in the morning and conduct a lesson using the app later that day.   I could hardly keep up with the management.  It added lots of extra time to my day(s).

This year we are still in exploration mode, but with many more devices, management decisions had to be made.  Even with these decisions, I'm still finding the management piece to consume a lot of my time.  Here's where we are at this point.

Most of the apps we are using during this exploration phase were FREE.  We focused our budget on purchasing devices and will wait until next year to focus on app purchases.  We did a lot of research on apps by category to build an "image" of apps that could service our needs across the K-5 spectrum for one school year.  We came up with over 300 apps!  Not bad.  Our app categories include:
- iUse:  a collection of utilitarian and productivity apps such as cameras, calculators, references, websites, etc that we use
- iCreate: apps that we use to create our own works; eg: iWork, Photo, Animation, Storytelling, Art, Music
- iDrill: apps for practicing skills in math and reading
- iExplore: apps featuring science, social studies, and fitness

Community Devices:
Our approach to using iPads is based on how we currently use and manage computers in our school.
Because the mobile devices are explored for a month at a time by grade level, they are considered "community" devices.  
However, each student is assigned a uniquely numbered device for the duration of their exploration period.  This allows students to continue or complete work assignments over time.  Having a static image of apps by page allows Teachers to develop a consistent set of student instructions.

The Image:
The image consists of apps, settings, and page views that will remain static for the school year.  Students are NOT allowed to personalize the devices, add or delete apps, or change settings - UNLESS instructed to do so.  

We started out by using an iPhone Config to apply settings, but now we do as much as possible on the device itself and limit use of the Config for additional items like WiFI account lists.  Although we started with the idea of leaving settings open, we have determined it's better to lock many things down.  Little fingers can make lots of changes without intending to.

We are learning a lot about infrastructure items, such as wifi.  When the devices were used in adjoining classrooms we initially experienced some pain.  Thankfully we have a genius at tech, Brad Katz, who was able to figure out solutions for this year without breaking the bank!  And, to practice good habits, we use AIRPLANE mode whenever the internet is not needed in a lesson.

Email/Sharing student work:
We created a "generic" email account to enable any student to send email from the devices without having to login.  This is a MUST for younger students!  In addition, our teachers email names are loaded into contacts so they are just a few key clicks away.  Our primary tool for sharing student work with teachers is via email.

Screen Shots:
Don't underestimate the value of snapping a screen shot - it allows us to capture and email work products from various apps and it's so easy for the students.

We think this will be a powerful tool but have not explored enough to gain the full advantage.  The teachers have used it to share work products onto the iPads.  Several apps that we use have dropbox built in and students have used this feature to send work back to teachers.  We plan to do more experimenting soon.

In future posts I will talk about using the iPads with students, apps we love, and more on management.

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