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Managing the Technology Takeover

From iPads and tablets to mobile devices, technology is on pace to transform the classroom. Are you ready?

In Guilford County, N.C., each of the district’s 17,000 middle school students will soon receive an iPad. And the county isn’t alone—more than 600 U.S. school districts have plans to provide a tablet device to each student.

In Calcasieu Parish, Lake Charles, La., students have access to cell phones and tablets in the classroom during instructional time, thanks to the district’s BYOD—Bring Your Own Device—technology strategy.

“It may seem like technology’s taking over,” says Sheryl Abshire, now chief technology officer of Calcasieu Parish School System, “I even see it as a mobile revolution. But the fact is, hand-held technology is changing the classroom. The key is whether we’re changing our teaching as well.”

Susan Hess, a teacher at Franklin Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles, Calif., agrees. “I was intimidated at first because I approached my iPads as just a supplement to my lessons,” she says. “I didn’t realize that what I actually needed to do was rethink my lesson plans with the integration of the technology. Instead of just a research tool, my students used their tablets and apps to create videos, blogs and infographics and interface them into a presentation.”

Hess points to a blog by Chicago area teacher Jennie Magiera, to help her think beyond iPads as just a fancy new tool in the classroom.

Magiera’s blog, Teaching Like it’s 2999, addresses how she got 32 iPads for her classroom, and her initial failure with using them as classroom tools when she relied on traditional pedagogy.

Magiera revamped her classroom by focusing on one key question: “What can I do with these devices that would be impossible to do without them? In other words,” Magiera writes. “I was hoping to create new teaching methods and classroom strategies rather than replace old ones. This led to an increase in student creation. Instead of simply replacing paper math games with flashy video math games, I began to have students create their own math videos, write math blogs, and conduct Challenge Based Learning (CBL) math projects.

Magiera then used additional apps to assess student learning. She was also careful to examine what worked in the classroom and what didn’t. Instead of being an afterthought, Magiera’s iPads became the core of her classroom because of the way she used them.

That’s exactly the approach, says Abshire. “Technology is just a catalyst for learning. It’s still the teacher that’s key.”

With technology, the goal is to create projects that do more than deliver information, but also prompt students to become critical thinkers and problem solvers.

“And don’t forget to use the technology to assess what the students learned through the project,” Abshire adds. “We’ve been seeing achievement gains in the last four years in the same way, not because we have these cool tools,” she says, “but because teachers are using these tools in a project-based approach to learning and aren’t afraid to reexamine their teaching.”