cool tool

Just wait…

My school is ready.  The students love ’em.  The teachers are hungry for ’em.  The administration thinks we need ’em. The PTA is buying ’em.  iPads are here.  My school is slowing moving to a tablet-enriched environment.  Sure…we only have 30 iPads and still hundreds of laptops and computers, but we made the switch.  I was in on the conversation.  I helped make the decision.  Heck…I was the loudest voice of moving towards tablets for student use.  So we did.  Our tech team and principal set down, and we hashed out a plan to buy 30 iPads, 30 cases, a charging station, cart, and macbook pro.  This is the biggest decision – both financially and pedagogically – that I have made (and possibly the entire tech team has made) for my school on behalf of students and staff.

So now what?

We wait…we learn…we study…we plan…we create…we wait…

The deal was too good too pass up.  We had time-restricted money to spend and the choice was iPads or laptops.  But I would be lying to you if I said I wasn’t scared about the decision we made.  So many times we purchase the next hot item because it’s cool, but we have no idea how to use it or worse yet we have great ideas but are afraid to put in the up-front work.  I’m nervous that these iPads will be just that or teachers will see them as a cure or quick fix.  You see I have done my research, and my team did their research.  We really do believe that tablet computing has a strong place in middle school education.  We see how well it can be integrated into a new common core curriculum full of documents, images, resources, etc.  We see how well it can used to enhance a 21st century classroom that simply lacks resources other than textbooks and 4 desktops.  My team believes that tablet computing can be our answer to moving towards a 1:1 environment.

So now what?

We wait…we study…we plan…we create…we wait…

As the resident tech guru at my school, I preach to my colleagues and administrators that just acquiring technology such as iPads, clickers, laptops, or smart boards does not instantly improve classroom instruction.  Just like hiring teachers does not mean they will be good teachers.  Lecturing using a projector and lecturing using iPads where students can flip through the slides is exactly the same.  Technology integration is an artform just as project-based learning and flipping the classroom are artforms.  You cannot just add in iPads and expect magic to happen.  Learning will not improve unless you are prepared to put in a little TLC.

So now what?

We wait…we study…we plan…we create…we wait…

There’s no reason to rush into this.  It’s a marriage.  Technology isn’t going anywhere, and tablet computing has proven it’s place in society and in the classroom.  That’s why it’s important to wait, learn, study, plan, create, and wait.  Our students have to wait for their teachers to be ready to use the iPads.  As a staff, we have to study and put in the time to know what it means to teach in a 1:1 environment and use tablets as effective vehicles of learning.  Our administration team has to plan for the direction we are moving as a school.  Tablets in the classroom are very different from laptops and smarts boards and we need an instructional plan.   As a tech team, we have to create appropriate and meaningful staff development to help our staff feel ready to use iPads effectively and with minimal setbacks.  As a school, we have to wait.  It’s important to wait to make sure we have 100% buy-in.  It’s important to wait to ensure we use the iPads to the best of our abilities and to benefit our students in the best ways.  It’s important to wait, study, plan, and create so that we can teach.

Today’s Meet

Currently, I teach 8th grade Social Studies.  We are learning all about the development and creation of the United States.  One of the many perks of being an 8th grade Social Studies teacher is that every 4 years we are able to discuss the Presidential election in class.  Since I’m a fairly new teacher (and a very new 8th grade SS teacher), I have not had the opportunity to cover the election in class until this year.  And lets just say…it’s been a fun few weeks.

This past week on October 3rd, Obama and Romney squared off in the first of 3 Presidential debates.  Needless to say, you probably heard of all that happened and the analysis that came with it.  I won’t bore you with the gritty details.  However, my students have had a hard time buying into all the hoopla over these Presidential candidates.  So during this past Presidential debate, a colleague and myself used a tool called TodaysMeet (http://todaysmeet.com/) to engage our students as the debate was happening live.

TodaysMeet is normally used as a backchannel.  A backchannel is “everything going on in the room that isn’t coming from the presenter” (http://todaysmeet.com/help/backchannel).  The idea of TodaysMeet is very similar to Twitter in that you must write your responses in 140 characters or less.  However, “TodaysMeet gives you an isolated room where you can see only what you need to see, and your audience doesn’t need to learn any new tools like hash tags to keep everything together” (http://todaysmeet.com/about).  The room is simple yet engaging.

My colleague and I created a chatroom  at http://todaysmeet.com/MrMiles and told the students to visit the URL at 9:00 and be prepared to discuss the debate as it was happening live.  I asked them to be sure to use their first names to indicate who they were and leave off their last name for privacy reasons.  After they became familiar with how TodaysMeet worked (that took 90 seconds or less) we started discussing the live debate.  I had a few rules they had to follow while chatting:

  1. Be respectful – You must respect other people’s opinions. No name calling or insults even if you disagree.  Everyone is entitled to their opinion.
  2. Pay attention to the chatroom – There might be a lot of people in this chatroom so if you are chatting with just one person you will need to follow the chat very closely to see what they are saying.
  3. Answer my questions – If I pose a question, please answer it.
  4. No TEXT talk – It’s okay every now and then, but we need to understand what you are trying to say. However, you only have 140 characters.
  5. Do not ask who anyone is voting for.
  6. Do a little research beforehand. (I gave them a list of resources on my class website)

For the most part I served as the moderator of the chat.  I posed questions to the group or guided their thinking as they discussed certain things about each candidates.  I also made sure the rules were followed to protect the online learning environment.  At the of the chat and debate, TodaysMeet allows anyone to view the transcript of their chat, which I archived and shared with the students that participate. It was a great activity, and I received a lot of very positive feedback. With the exception of a few minutes, the backchannel worked flawlessly and provided a great technology tool to engage my students as they had fun learning.  It was a different and unique experience for them.