Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Takeaways from ACTEM, Part 1

Every year, the Association for Computer Technology Educators of Maine (ACTEM) puts on a conference where teachers, integrators, IT directors, administrators, students and more gather to discuss and learn about how better to use technology in education.  I attended the two-day conference at the Augusta Civic Center, and wanted to share some of the takeaways that I got from the event.  Here is part 1.

Here are links for part 2 and part 3.

The opening half-day session that I attended was about the use of iPads at the elementary level.  The workshop was led by Mauri Dufour, who teaches kindergarten in the Auburn School Department.  As you may remember, Auburn is the district that rolled out a 1:1 iPad initiative for all of its kindergarteners, and received a large amount of attention (and plenty of derision, too) from state media sources and even outlets like Fox News and the Christian Science Monitor, in the process.  And not without good reason; when people think of the iPad, they often think of games and flashy things, not of serious learning.  Mauri, however, showed us that the iPad, along with other Apple hardware and software, have the potential to seriously transform education and increase the amount of individualization and sharing going on in the classroom.  One of the tools that comes in handy is the Apple TV, which we have rolled out at Searsport Elementary, the Weymouth School (which has iPads), and at the two middle schools as part of MLTI.  The Apple TV allows just about any Apple device to connect to a television set or LCD projector wirelessly.  Mauri talked about the potential of the Apple TV to "untether" the teacher, meaning that they can move freely around the classroom without losing their connection to the projector.  And, because the ability to connect to the projector is not dependent on being in one specific location, an Apple TV facilitates sharing by students on their own iPads.

Mauri also uses the front and rear-facing cameras on the iPads frequently, and so do her students!  Her students know how to take video on the iPads, and she shares their learning with parents and guardians through private YouTube videos.  With a special app, the cameras can also read QR codes that Mauri creates for each student, and each QR code takes her students to different activities or videos, allowing her to differentiate and focus on what each student needs to work on when it is time for students to work in stations.  In short, the iPad is a tool (one of many) that allows you to create more "you's" in the classroom.  Technology should not replace you as a teacher, but allow you to extend your reach and target and work with those students who need your support the most.

The problem that often accommodates iPad rollouts in schools is that teachers and students are often unprepared to use these devices in a way that promotes learning.  My first takeaway from ACTEM 14 is that, FROM DAY 1, the expectation has to be set with technology is that it is a learning tool.  This is not always an easy sell with students, mind you.  When I was bringing the iPads we got at Weymouth last year into the classrooms for the first time, the first question I got in every classroom (no joke!) was, "Do the iPads have Angry Birds on them?"  iPads and other devices are getting into the hands of children at younger and younger ages, and their history with technology is increasingly that of gaming and occupying and keeping them quiet in public, and less and less about learning.  If we give in to that impulse early, it is very difficult to get students to see those devices any differently down the road.  Which foot we get started on makes a huge difference, and I know it is a major area of improvement that I need to work on.

I know that I have a lot to learn about effectively integrating iPads into the classroom.  iPads are NOT laptops, and we will not be successful with using iPads if we try to use them that way.  I will be attending Auburn's Leveraging Learning Institute in a couple of weeks, which focuses on iPad use at the elementary grades.  I'm looking forward to expanding my learning around tablet use in the classroom and hope to come back with new ideas for my schools.

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