Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Yes, my classroom is paperless. No, you don't have to buy your kid an iPad.

My classroom feels different than ever before.  It's more vibrant.

My relationships with my students are different than ever before.  They're better.

I'm in the midst of my 12th year of teaching, and I have the idealism and workload of a first year teacher all over again.

Why?

Because BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) along with a few supplemental devices has empowered me as a teacher and my students as learners.  I'm planning everything I've taught before in brand new ways.  While we are in class for 55 minutes together, I'm doing less teaching and my teenage students are doing more learning.  And I don't use paper. At all.  Sound suspicious? Unorthodox?  Do you have concerns?

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Concern #1: I know it seemingly goes against everything we've been taught as parents to take the plunge and purchase a breakable piece of technology worth hundreds of dollars and hand it over to a 14 year old.  They're irresponsible, distracted, and materialistic.

Response:  Use the opportunity to teach them responsibility.  Three of my students worked to earn the money to buy themselves tablets within the first three months of this school year.  They had jobs at supermarkets, worked as babysitters, or even toiled away at yard work for a neighbor (snow is here... shoveling is a distinct possibility!).  Because they were spending their own money, they researched and compared tablets, netbooks, and laptops.  Each student ended up choosing a different product, but they are confidently and proudly using their devices in class.

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Concern #2: Some kids are too busy to hold a job and earn their own funds.  They are in three clubs and play four sports.  They carry 4 honors classes.  Maybe parents of those kids feel like they deserve their own electronics.  But schools are all about iPads, and iPads are the most expensive option out there.  Why does it have to be iPads?

Response: It doesn't.  Not everyone in my classroom has an iPad, iPhone, iPod, or iAnything.  And yet, we all complete the same tasks.  Sometimes we are all able to use the same apps, sometimes not.  But when I ask the students to research information or complete a task, it doesn't really matter which app they use. What matters is that they are developing the problem solving skills to use what they have to do it.  Here is just a small sampling of students in my classes today using non-Apple products to have the exact same learning experiences as everyone else in the room.  Again, all of these pictures were snapped in one day in my classroom.  Notice that their screens all look completely different.

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Concern #3: There is a lot of research out there about the dangers of screen time and the lack of person-to-person interaction.  Do we really want to encourage teenagers to spend more time looking at their phone/tablet/laptop screens than they already do?  

Response: In my classroom, they are talking to each other, helping each other, and working together MORE because of the technology.  When designing presentations, some group members are researching, some are creating illustrations, some are snapping pictures or filming, and still others might be narrating the work.  Just this week I had one group of students working together on a presentation about the 19th century common school reform movement.  Sound boring? It wasn't. Each was using her/his own device, but none of them were on the same app.  They were browsing the notes on our class website, creating an animated presentation in Prezi, watching clips on YouTube to link to the Prezi, searching for copyright free images to illustrate the Prezi, and reading primary sources from a database our school subscribes to.  In the mean time, they were sharing their finds, making suggestions to one another, and they never stopped talking. Their product was personalized, engaging, and based on their research and design. Before technology, that same group would have been made up of one student writing on a poster board while the others sat around glazed over with a book and a packet of handouts in front of them.  The result would have been based on their teacher's research, not their own, and it certainly wouldn't have been engaging.  Technology is teaching them to interact better and create more interesting real world products.  So I don't have a broad research study to counteract the studies and articles put out there by psychologists, but I know what is happening in my classroom.

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If some kids still don't have time to get a job, or if parents still don't think spending the money on a device for their teen is a worthwhile investment, or if it just isn't possible as part of their family budget, no worries.  I'm lucky enough to have a few devices to supplement what my students are able to bring with them.  NO ONE in my classroom goes without a tablet or smartphone.  In the mean time, I promise I am changing the way your child learns.

Go ahead, ask your high schooler what he/she did in Mrs. Gallagher's history class today.  I bet they will remember.  And if *gasp* they can't, it will take mere seconds to look up notes, artwork, video clips, and primary sources from today's class on the nearest device with internet access.