Using One-to-One Devices in the Classroom

A few years ago, my district implemented a one-to-one iPad program for middle school students. Since then, the program has evolved, although somewhat slowly and without direction. In this post, I will explore pitfalls and successes of one-to-one device implementation as I’ve experienced in my classroom.

First, let me say that I use the iPads in the classroom a lot. If I don’t use the iPad, in fact, it is a strange occasion. That’s because I post all of my assignments and resources on our online classroom, Schoology. While other teachers continue to slave away at the copy machine with Office Space fantasies, I am in my classroom doing more productive things. I pride myself in not wasting paper when there are other options available. That is not to say, however, that there aren’t problems in paperless classrooms. In fact, I seem to have students who repeatedly do poorly because of the lack of paper.

Often, students will:

  • Forget their iPad at home
  • Will not have charged their iPad
  • Will have their iPad in repair (broken screen most frequently)

Insurance for the iPad can also be a financial burden for lower SES families.

If you can get past these setbacks, you might be okay. There’s more that your district should do though to best incorporate these devices into your classroom.

  • Students should not be given permission to download applications. Instead, apps should be pushed in uniform by the district.
  • Students should have strict proxy settings on their internet access.
  • Screen brightness should be fixed at an appropriate level. Too often, students turn their brightness all the way down (“to save battery”) because they’re doing things they shouldn’t be.
  • Districts should enable use of Apple Classroom, which allows teachers to monitor student iPad screens from their own monitor.

On the teacher’s end, the following should apply:

  • Long periods of reading should not take place on the iPad. Short stories are usually fine.
  • Drafting writing pieces should be done on paper. Final products should be typed.
  • Students should not listen to music on their iPads.
    • Although some studies might suggest that music helps students think and focus, many students spend far too much time figuring out what they’re going to listen to.
    • Music with lyrics can be very distracting, and you never know what they’re listening to.
    • Some students listen to their music so loud that it distracts other students.
    • You’ll wind up spending more time monitoring headphone use than you will teaching.
  • Accept written documents as PDF’s only. You might be able to open .docx files or .pages files, but make your life easier and only accept PDF. Besides, when they get into college, if their professor accepts digital submissions, they’ll likely only accept PDFs.

Enhance Your Classroom

Many a time in the faculty room I’ve heard teachers lamenting about a recent observation gone awry.

I don’t know why I got a 2! I used the iPad…

Negative faculty room teacher who probably also overshares

Your one-to-one device shouldn’t be used just to check a box on your observation. It should be integrated into your classroom and students should know how it’s used.

Lesson Structure

In my classroom, students have two choices of how they can spend the first ten minutes of class. They can either practice on or complete the week’s written discussion, posted on Schoology. This discussion is related to the topic or theme at hand. Students are required to post one original post, post one comment agreeing and expanding on someone else’s post, and post one comment agreeing and explaining on someone else’s post.

After ten minutes, we go into the mini-lesson, details of which are posted on our Schoology page in a dedicated folder. In this assignment, the teaching point, teaching element, and activity expectations are clearly posted. This way, students who are absent, or students who just need to revisit the lesson, can do so.

When students are in the work period, they complete the work in their reader’s or writer’s notebook. Their work is then photographed and uploaded to the Schoology assignment. This way, I never have to collect notebooks.

Testing and Assessments

Online classrooms like Schoology are also great for assessments because they grade them automatically. Even more useful, they provide statistics for each question. We’ve all written tests where every student gets a particular question wrong. Here, it’s a little bit easier to make comparisons.

Another thing I like to do is randomize questions. That way, students in one class can’t say, “Question 4 is really hard. I put A. What did you put?”

Online test submissions also benefit students with poor handwriting. Before one-to-one devices, I spent a lot of time trying to read students’ poor writing. In effect, everyone’s tests looking exactly the same removes inherent bias as well. It’s easy to forget whose test you’re looking at, which is great!

Sharing Media

I don’t have a projector in my room, and I’ve stopped asking for them as well. That’s because if I have a presentation or video I want to show my students, I post it on our online classroom and have them view it from there. Similar to lessons, they can view them as many times as they want or need. Short stories are also very easy to share.

What Does the Research Say?

For one of my Master’s classes, I conducted a research synthesis in which I compiled data from several different studies. The general consensus seemed to be that the use of iPads in the classroom doesn’t really hurt or particularly benefit a student’s academic outcome. In most successful cases, teachers had a heavy hand in regulation of devices. Students were least successful when teachers had little to no training for use of the devices.

You can read the full research synthesis here.

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