The Hitchhiker’s Guide to a 1:1 Classroom* (Lessons Learned from Year 1)

As I was watching The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on the way to New York City on Sunday, I came across this piece of dialogue:

Mr. Prosser: This bypass has got to be built and it’s going to be built!
Arthur Dent: Why has it got to be built?
Mr. Prosser: It’s a bypass. You’ve got to build bypasses.

This exchange happens when Arthur Dent attempts to save his house from demolishment for the sake of progress. Arthur, who was quite attached to his house, wanted to find out the reason why it was going to be demolished and was unsatisfied with Mr. Prosser’s answer.

This past year, my school went 1:1 (one student per device) with iPads. When I started the year, at times I acted like Mr. Prosser. I did not always think about the reason for using the iPad. “I’ve got to use technology because technology is great to be used!” I thought, “Why? Because it is there!” However, over the course of the year I have realized that technology is not a panacea. It is merely a tool in my utility belt. As a result I have taken a look back on my year and created tangible new strategies that will help make my management of a 1:1 iPad classroom much more effective. 

(image: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Lesson #1 

Avoid using technology solely as a gimmick

or…What’s tech got to do, got to do with it?

When I began the year, I used technology solely because I had it. When students walked into class on the first day, with their iPads they scanned a QR code that brought them to an electronic Class Expectations document. Students illustrated different forms of government through a note-taking application (which was a challenge for students who had a difficult time typing on the virtual keyboard). Students took quizzes on Google forms that they arrived at via QR code. If I found a new tool over the weekend, sure enough, it was introduced in class that week. Now, these are neat uses of the tool and some students told people that I was “tech-savvy” (which I enjoyed). However, this ended up overwhelming some students (and rightfully so – see the “We may need an education (about tech)”).

New Strategy: Ask, “How does this add value to the class?”

If it adds value in a meaningful way, then do it! If it doesn’t, scrap it. Technology does not replace good teaching. While using technology as a gimmick may work a few times, it is not a long-term strategy. Use technology with purpose!

Lesson #2

Do Not Expect Students Will Just “Know How to Use Technology”

or…We may need an education (about tech)

When I began introducing technology into the classroom last year, I had the incorrect notion that students would simply “get it”. “Of course this will go smoothly!” I’d say to myself,  “They have grown up with technology.” But whenever we’d use a new app (even after an introduction), I spent the majority of my time answering questions about app rather than the assignment. After class on those days, my hair was much higher than normal (I run my fingers through my hair when stressed) and I would contemplate going unplugged for a bit.

New Strategy: Tech Trio

At EdCamp Social Studies this year, I discussed this issue with Suzie Nestico. She told me that she used a “Three then me” strategy. This community building strategy calls for students to ask three classmates prior to the teacher (freeing the teacher to be more like Caine from Kung Fu, wandering the class to right wrongs). While I love Suzie’s strategy, Katrina Kennett came up with the idea of the  “Tech Trio” that (metaphorically) blew my mind. When working on a paperless term paper using the iPad (also posted here), Katrina divided students into groups of three to work together to help solve each other’s problems. Next year, I will implement this strategy in the classroom so that I can focus more on the content.

New Strategy: How-to Screencasts

While working on a side project (Educators Village, a site dedicated to sharing teacher-created tech-infused lessons), Andy MarcinekMolly Stuart, and I began playing around with screencasting how-to videos (this is an example using twitter). I plan on creating screencasts for the apps that my students will use so they can learn at their own pace! If you are interested, I will be sharing these! 

Lesson #3

Manage Technology Effectively

or…You don’t have to go and make things so complicated

When the year began, I fell in love with Posterous. This blogging-site brilliantly displays 30 blog posts per page! I had visions of using this as a student-created guide of everything that we covered in class. For my first major assignment, students had to describe a form of government, explain its strengths and weaknesses, and identify modern countries that use that form of government. Then students were to comment on at least two of their classmates’ posts asking clarifying questions (if needed). This is going to be awesome (I thought)! It wasn’t. This assignment became a massive chore to assess since finding the two comments that Vlad (fake student) made proved to be difficult among the 50+ comments on the blog (even more when students responded). Another issue is that while some students’ posts had six comments, others had none. While I would use blogging later through Edmodo, I scrapped my plans with this site for the year. 

New Strategy: Blogging in Quads

Next year, students will be assigned to a group of four students and they will respond to each other’s posts. Not only does this ensure that comments are spread out, but it also makes the process much easier to manage.

Bonus Strategy: Managing Distractions!

Last year, the iPad did prove to be a distraction to some students who were quite adept at playing Zombie Highway and Words with Friends. For this upcoming year, I am going to include “properly utilizing tools” in students’ participation grades. Also, I am going to follow the words of my department head, Todd Whitten,  who tells students that if they are constantly off task due to the iPad, it will simply be a shiny piece of metal on their desks (put facedown). 

Lesson #4

Reach Out to Your Colleagues (both within your district and out)

or…Don’t be a Rock. Don’t be an island.

You are not the only person going utilizing technology in your school! Be open about your triumphs and tragedies in your classroom. Getting an additional perspective is always helpful! And fear not to develop and maintain a PLN on Twitter, LinkedIn, message boards or wherever people get together to talk shop.

While rocks feel no pain, they do not grow either! Get out there!

I am very excited to make these changes for the upcoming year and believe that Year 2 of my 1:1 classroom will go much smoother than Year 1.

For those who have been in a 1:1 setting – what other lessons have you learned? What do you wish you knew before venturing into a 1:1 setting?

*Much like the actual Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, this is not a definitive guide. But if beauty is truth, and truth beauty** then it is moderately attractive.

** A special thanks to both John Keats and Douglas Adams for the above note.
Related Posts ~
 I’m No Guitar Hero and I’m OK with That (Now): Expectations in the Classroom
We’re Not in Kansas Anymore: A Take from a Modern Classroom
 My Why I Teach Essay: The Importance of Teaching and the Zombie Apocalypse
Connecting Lessons to the Common Core: A Missed Opportunity  

About Michael K. Milton

I teach students Social Studies at Burlington High School. When I became a teacher, I believed that students would frequently give me apples. This has not happened (not even a Red Delicious ~ a name which is a misnomer). However, my school has given me a MacBook Pro and an iPad in an effort to right this wrong (I assume). I'm very lucky to work in a 1:1 school.
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8 Responses to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to a 1:1 Classroom* (Lessons Learned from Year 1)

  1. Tell me more about the typing factor. Do some students have the extension keyboards or did they get better with typing as time went on? Or do you have lap/desktops, too? So many questions :)

    • Some students used extension keyboards, others became skilled iPad typists. We did use desktops to work on our term papers (our school actually repurposed old keyboards to work with the iPads ~ very impressive).

      If you want to learn more about the paperless term paper, check the links under New Strategies: Tech Trio above.

  2. Amanda says:

    What a great post! I’m glad you mentioned the blogging in quads…what a great idea!

  3. teachcmb56 says:

    I echo much of your post. We are not iPad; we are an open digital device, and I can attest that students DO NOT know all things digital. We do a collaborative essay…similar to your paperless term paper. Our biggest problem was Internet access when all students tried for the same digital address….we lost incredible amounts of “teachable time”…not sure if the trade off for a digital element was worth it on every lesson. Hard to be on the forefront of a “C” change in education!

  4. Cathy Musci says:

    Thank you very much for insightful reflection. I’m one of 6 teachers district-wide who are implementing 1:1 devices, (some with tablets, others laptops). I appreciate the advice not to use technology for technology’s sake. Did you change your teaching style?

    • Hey Cathy-
      I am a relatively new teacher so my teaching style is constantly evolving. However, prior to the iPads, my goal was to have more activities in my classroom – this made utilizing the iPads much of an easier switch. The iPad really is a great tool for students to create (but don’t fear going unplugged every now and then).
      best,
      michael

  5. Frank Vitale says:

    Thanks very much for this post, Plenty of useful things to hear/read and consider. The tech trio and blogging in quad ideas were things I had never considered.

  6. Pingback: Going Meta: Cataloguing My Past Two Years of Blogging | Michael K. Milton ~ @42ThinkDeep

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