In January 2013, educators in Ohio’s Mentor Public Schools decided to align the district’s academic focus to the instructional practices of blended learning. After extensive piloting of a variety of devices, the district chose the iPad for its durability, battery life and, most important, its power to transform instruction. The district embraced a 1:1 structure that gave every student in grades 6–12 an Apple device.
Although most of our students are tech savvy enough to post pictures on Instagram, create YouTube videos, and use Facetime, we at Mentor wanted to shift their mindset from the iPad being an entertainment device to being an educational tool. We wanted to prepare our students to be productive citizens in a digitally rich society, to harness their connectivity and redirect their technology skills toward problem solving and critical thinking.
After the first year of the initiative, the leadership teams at Mentor’s three middle schools realized they needed to develop a robust onboarding process. From these collective conversations, the iPad boot camp was born.
The Warm Up
Although the school community was excited about our blended learning/iPad program, we were concerned about handing a young adolescent an iPad without proper preparation. Students needed to realize that the main focus of the iPad was to be an academic tool and not an entertainment device.
We watched with interest as students navigated the technology even as we realized the need for training around using common educational apps and using the technology for educational purposes. As the novelty wore off, we saw students mishandling the devices and treating them with less care. This included a student using his foot to jam the device into his overcrowded locker and small numbers of students who tossed their devices onto the floor as they rushed to their next classes.
We decided our students needed to complete an iPad “boot camp” before being allowed to take their district-issued iPads home. We wanted to roll out these devices in a responsible way to ensure the maximum focus on curriculum, Internet safety, antibullying, classroom management, and student discipline.
Each of the three middle schools varied their boot camp program to fit their specific building needs, but the ultimate goals are the same.
The process at all three middle schools begins with a parent meeting that outlines the reasons for the instructional shift, the rationale behind the selection of the iPad, parent and student responsibilities, and an outline of the topics that will be covered during iPad boot camp. We also use this time to help parents create Apple IDs and get acceptable use paperwork signed. The school personnel explain the district policies on device misuse and device repair and give parents time to ask specific questions before the meeting adjourns.
The structure of each building’s iPad boot camp varies according to their daily schedules, but the main themes are constant. Each topic is introduced in an advisory period. Each content area is assigned a topic and the team is responsible for developing a “curriculum” so that each teacher is providing similar content to each student. Students must pass a pretest and a posttest before they are allowed to take their iPads home. These assessments are given throughthe district’s learning management system, which allows teachers to create, manage, and share content and resources with their students in an online classroom setting.
The topics that are covered during the first week of school at every school are:iPad Care
- Rules and Procedures
- iPad Basics
- Digital Citizenship
- Home/School Connection
- Schoology (the district’s learning management system)
- Google for Education
- Achieve3000 (the district’s online curriculum)
After successful completion of the iPad boot camp, students earn the right to take the iPads home.
After four months of implementation, we are pleased at the progress we have seen and in the way our students view the iPad. Initially, they saw it only as a means to play online games and socialize through social media apps. Now they are improving their online communication skills and are better able to set aside their favorites games until their assignments are complete.
We have had far fewer behavioral referrals for game playing/social media usage during the school day. We have also seen fewer issues of harassment and bullying through social media because we spend more time discussing appropriate versus inappropriate use.
Most students show responsibility in care and handling of the iPads. Damages to the devices are unavoidable but the school provides a solid case for the iPad and each school gives constant reminders to keep students cognizant that these devices are not indestructible.
This is a rewarding learning process districtwide. The students are being introduced to the online world in a responsible way—with a full time coach next to them. The staff and the students are going through this process together.
The staff is receiving internal and external professional development to make their curricula more relevant to this new generation of students. The staff also is encouraged to collaborate with their colleagues as they share their lessons and step up to lead internal building professional development.
The initiative has been stressful for some teachers, but most would say they are rejuvenated and this iPad initiative has given them an opportunity to be on the front line in making sure students are using these powerful devices to maximize their educational journeys.
The administration, in an effort to “practice what they preach,” runs district and building staff meetings as mini-lessons where they share new technology, to meet the needs of the staff. The meetings are run as less lecture and more team discussions. Collaboration is encouraged and the administration is in charge of leading the conversation on using the technology resources to consistently analyze the formative data that is being gathered.
Constant communication with parents is vital so they understand what they can do at home to ensure a successful implementation. The Mentor Schools have been offering Tech Talks for interested parents, and we check regularly to make sure they are monitoring the iPads at home and sharing information with us.
The district’s IT department has been working behind the scenes to ensure a smooth rollout of these devices. It was difficult to predict what would happen when thousands of devices were issued to students and staff. They experienced Wi-Fi speed issues, overloading network issues, and tech issues throughout the district. Our IT department was quick to resolve issues and were excellent in communicating their directions to the staff.
Eyes on the Goal
Whether we like it or not, technology is vital in the success of our students. Although this technology has given teachers an efficient and relevant way to deliver the curriculum, this program also allows us to train our students on how to responsibly communicate in an online world.